Presidio Knolls School Review: Expensive Mandarin Immersion Program

The Presidio Knolls School is located at 250 10th St in San Francisco South of Market district. PKS, as it is commonly known, educates 2.5 – 5 year olds in English and Mandarin for preschool. In a relatively new endeavor, PKS goes all the way up to the 8th grade for middle school. They are a relatively new school, having been founded in 2008.

Here's a detailed review of Presidio Knolls School in San Francisco if you are considering sending your child or children there for preschool, elementary school, or middle school.

The PKS web address is Overall, I had a neutral impression of PKS due to its overly focus on fundraising efforts and poor experience during the interview process. It may have just been timing because the school was in the middle of building a large expansion in 2019.

The admissions director was sick and kept coughing in the meeting. Further, she didn’t know Mandarin and didn't any link to Mandarin or Chinese culture. I visited them in person several times.

Presidio Knolls School (PKS) Review

Facilities: 4.5/5 Stars

PKS moved to their new SOMA campus in 2016 after originally being based in the Presidio Park when it was founded in 2008.

They underwent a massive expansion which cost them multi-millions of dollars to build capacity for more students through the 7th grade. The expansion finished for the 2020 school year.

Their outdoor play area is open and terrific for preschool and lower grade school children. The extra space for higher grades is wonderful for all children.

Location: 2.5/5 Stars

One of the biggest downsides of PKS is its location. 10th and Howard isn't in the seediest part of town, but it is an undesirable location in San Francisco. The entrance to the new campus is on a very busy three-lane street with constant pollution.

There is no community surrounding Presidio Knolls School. The neighborhood is quite commercial. It is only a few blocks away from one of the highest crime zones in the city. You do not want to be walking around there early in the morning or in the evening.

Due to the pandemic, downtown and areas around downtown have been hollowed out. As a result, the PKS location is dull.

The majority of San Franciscans live west or south of PKS's location. Therefore, the commute can be a pain if you don’t live in the southern area of SF or south of SF.

If you are coming from Golden Gate Park, it will often take 20-25 minutes in rush hour traffic because you have to cross Octavia Street, Franklin Street, and Market Street.

PKS's location is good for families who live in SOMA, downtown, Bernal Heights, The Mission, Potrero Hill, and the Dogpatch. See map of PKS’s location below.

Presidio Knolls School Review And Location

Diversity 3/5 Stars

PKS is majority Asian and Asian/Caucasian mixed kids. There are extremely few Black or Hispanic kids. The Caucasian-only population is also underrepresented.

It would be great to have more diversity away from mostly Chinese-related cultures so the kids can get exposed to all races and cultures more equally. They are already in a school to experience Chinese culture.

Teaching 4/5

The feedback about the teachers has generally been good. Most of the Mandarin teachers are from China, which has a more old school way of teaching than teachers from Taiwan or other Mandarin speaking countries.

For preschool, PKS uses the Reggio Emilia method of teaching, which is basically a more free flowing, less rigid way for children to play and learn. Their main goal is to foster a lifelong passion for learning and exploration.

You'll have to make up your mind whether you like more rigid schooling like traditional schools or more free flowing schooling.

Schedule 4/5

For the 2019/2020 school year and beyond for preschool, PKS dropped their four days a week program for 2019 and only has a five days a week program. The reason is clear: the need for more money to pay for their new campus expansion.

A five day a week, all day program is not in the best interest of preschoolers 2-3. The five day a week program is in the best interests of the school and for working parents who don't take care of their own kids.

With no flexibility in schedule, PKS is a disappointment for children ages 2-3 and parents who have flexible hours or who work from home. However, for K-8, having five days a week and a pickup time until 6 pm is great.

Tuition: 3/5

Tuition at Presidio Knolls School is expensive at $35,990 for the 2022/2023 school year. This is actually lower than competing private schools.

Expect tuition to go up on average 5% – 7% a year forever. Middle school has a travel and technology fee of $4,000 extra a year. This is for one international travel and technology.

To pay $35,990 a year to have your children play with blocks and sand is a lot. Your family should probably try to make at least $250,000 per child. This is the guidance I have when deciding between private and public schools in my WSJ bestselling book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom.

If you don't make at least 7X the net cost of tuition per child, perhaps it's better to do more homeschooling or public school. However, you know your child best. And being in a nice community with good social interaction for all is good, especially after COVID.

Language immersion is fantastic. However, learning Mandarin can also be achieved going to free language immersion meetups, watching and listening to videos, or even taking a trip abroad to a Mandarin-speaking country like Taiwan or China for far less.

Even paying $35,990 for grades 1 – 8 is a lot of money when public school is free, including several language immersion public schools in the city. San Francisco, after all, is a minority-majority city with large numbers of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers.

Curriculum: 4/5

PKS's preschool and elementary school are “full immersion” with 80% of instruction conducted in Mandarin to ensure their students become as comfortable in their second language as they are in their first. When students enter middle school, 50% of instruction is conducted in Mandarin and 50% is conducted in English to ensure a more balanced literacy.

PKS elementary and middle school curriculum is project based and designed to encourage collaboration, problem-solving, and a growth mindset. Their integrated curriculum focuses around Units of Exploration that are broad enough to incorporate multiple disciplines and provides students with the opportunity to explore the aspects of greatest interest.

If you're going to spend $35,000+ a year in tuition, it's good to at least learn a second language.

Extended care: 4.5/5

Extended care is pretty good, starting from 7:30am start through 6pm, Monday – Friday. The cost is $20 for extended care in the afternoon, and free if you drop off at 7:30am. There is an “enrichment program” that has a variable cost.

Parental involvement 4/5:

Given almost all the families come from wealthy backgrounds to be able to afford the $35,000+ in tuition, at least one parent works all day.

If you're working all day, then you certainly don't have time to be as involved in your kid's life and in the school. At least these families are rich enough to have nannies and allow one spouse to stay home to take care of the household.

But it is often the case one parent doesn’t have a day job and can volunteer for school activities. I met up with some PKS parents playing Pickleball at GGP and they were great.

Presidio Knolls School Overall Score: 4/5

One of the concerns with PKS is that it doesn't have a long operating history. Middle school is relatively new, so it doesn't have a long track record for high school placement.

When you add on expensive tuition and a potentially suboptimal location, make sure you and your child time at the school before making a commitment. Keep asking questions and getting a feel of the environment.

Nothing is more precious than your child. Are you willing to pay a fortune in tuition to a relatively untested school given it was founded only in 2008? It's up to you to decide.

Maybe if the school cost less than $15,000 a year, it might be worth the risk for preschool since they are mostly playing. But it gets harder to justify the cost as your child gets older.

2021 marked the first year in which their 8th graders graduate and apply to high school. The school needs more time in existence for parents to pay such a high tuition today for middle school.

Final Verdict On Presidio Knolls School (PKS): 3.5/5

I used to give PKS a 2/5. For 2023, I’ve upgraded the score to 3.5/5 as the school is finished building its campus and has a longer operating history.

The application fee is $100 and non-refundable. That seems harsh and automatically shuts out many families from applying. What really disturbed me was how there was simply no notification or no “next steps” once a family is rejected.

Every other school provides detailed next steps if you are waitlisted and still want to apply. Not PKS. This type of poor communication showed arrogance on their part, which is contrary to Chinese customs.

Only if you are wealthy, work all day and can't spend time with your kids, and live in the eastern and southern portion of San Francisco does PKS make sense.

There are better and cost-efficient ways to educate your child in San Francisco, especially during preschool. The city is incredibly diverse and there are plenty of language immersion public schools.

I did not like the way PKS was so focused about fundraising. I saw a huge fund raiser banner on the front gate asking for financial support to raise $1 million for their campus for example.

They made preschool days 5 days a week all day in order to charge full tuition. It may be good for parents. But is all day schooling 5-days a week good for 2.5-3-year-olds? Probably not based on all the developmental research.

PKS reminds parents that it is a business first and a school second, and that's too bad. A schools should be about educating kids first and putting the money part behind the scenes.

PKS, A Preschool Not For Everyone

PKS is a fine school. But there are better schools and more cost-effective schools.

I like Stepping Stones Preschool in Inner Sunset, given it is close to Golden Gate Park. During a pandemic, being able to teach outdoors is huge. But the school may be inconvenient if you live on the East or North side of the city,

I also prefer the Chinese American International School (CAIS) because it has a much richer history. CAIS is the oldest Mandarin immersion school in the country. CAIS also purchased a 5+ acre campus that will be fully ready by fall 2024. Having so much Kand is going to be amazing.

You will NOT regret spending more time with your kids. But you will regret spending more time chasing money and prestige when you look back on your life.


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Review Summary
Review Date
Presidio Knolls School San Francisco
My Current Rating
Product Name
Presidio Knolls School San Francisco
USD 35990
Product Availability
Available in Stock