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.
PKS goes all the way up to the 8th grade for middle school. The school was 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 presidioknolls.org. Overall, I had a neutral impression of PKS due to an overly focus on fundraising efforts and poor experiences during the interview process in 2019. It may have just been suboptimal timing because the school was in the middle of a large expansion. Your experience may differ and I hear they've since changed their parent-facing admissions officer at least once since.
I visited PKS in person several times. I distinctly remember the admissions director was sick and kept coughing aggressively in our 1×1 meeting. It's kind of weird now to think about it post COVID. Further, it felt off that she didn’t know any Mandarin, didn't have any link to Mandarin or Chinese culture, and didn’t have a member of her family at PKS.
PKS Didn't Feel Welcoming
Here is one of the main reasons why I felt lukewarm about PKS. It was the way the admission director treated my son. Due to a visual condition, our son needs to wear transition lenses (lenses that turn dark) to protect his retinas. We e-mailed the school as a heads up about his visual condition, and that he does not see well.
However, when we arrived, the admissions director lined us up like cattle and started taking pictures of each child. When it came to our son, she faced him in the bright sun and told him to take off his prescription transition lenses. When we told her the sun really hurts his eyes, she didn't care and insisted he take off his prescription glasses anyway. So we did as we were told, he squinted, and she took the photo.
Unfortunately, this experience really soured my view of PKS. In a city that is supposed to celebrate diversity and inclusivity, we felt the admissions director completely disregarded the biological difference about our son. I want our kids to go to a school that is as supportive as possible for all types of children.
When we asked the admissions director whether the school could provide any accommodations, such as letting him sit closer to the white board, printing out lessons, writing in bigger font, or using higher contrasting markers, she said “no.”
This was in stark contrast to Chinese American International School (CAIS), which said they absolutely will do what they can to help children learn.
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 8th grade. The expansion finished by the 2020 school year, which has made a huge difference.
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 3-4 blocks away from a difficult area. The entrance to the new campus is on a busy three-lane street with constant pollution. But they are able to cone off one lane for pickup, which is important for safety.
There is no real neighborhood surrounding Presidio Knolls School, so it doesn’t have that warm and fuzzy feeling. The neighborhood is quite industrial/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 were hollowed out. The Westfield Mall, for example, is exiting its lease. As a result, the PKS location lacks vitality. It will take over a decade to rebuild a community around the PKS campus.
If you go east on Mission Street or How Street to 6th and 7th street, you will see a tremendous amount of poverty, drugs, and unseemly behavior. I would not let me children taking walking field trips around the area. It is simply too sketchy and dangerous.
Commuting To PKS Is Tougher For Most
The majority of San Franciscans live west or north of PKS's location. Therefore, the commute can be difficult 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 ideal for families who live in SOMA, downtown, Bernal Heights, The Mission, Potrero Hill, and the Dogpatch. See map of PKS’s location below.
Partially due to the pandemic, there's been a great migration to the west side of San Francisco. The west side is more family-friendly with more parks, less density, less traffic, less crime, and greater housing affordability. If you're looking to buy real estate in San Francisco, I'd recommend looking on the west side.
CAIS, the Chinese American International School, will be moving to the west side on 19th avenue across from Stonestown Mall in fall 2024. Its campus will be on 5.4 acres and go through a $30 million renovation.
Diversity 3/5 Stars
Given PKS is a Mandarin immersion school, the school is majority Asian and Asian/Caucasian mixed kids. There are extremely few Black or Hispanic kids. The Caucasian-only population is also underrepresented.
The lack of diversity reflecting the city's demographics is a common problem among all independent schools, not just PKS.
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 like the one adopted by PKS. Every child is different and you really won't know for sure until after they try out one method or another.
Starting in the 2019/2020 school year and beyond for preschool, PKS dropped their four days a week program and only offers a five day program. The reason was clear: the need for more money to pay for their new campus expansion, but to also support working parents.
A five day a week, all-day program may not be in the best interest of preschoolers ages 2-3. Instead, perhaps half days are better, as argued by other well-regarded private preschools in San Francisco such as The Little School and Lone Mountain.
At the same time, providing five days a week of preschool is also a way to help families who cannot afford to take time off, afford a nanny or an au pair, or have one parent not work at all. This was a blindspot of mine that I didn’t think about until 2023.
With less flexibility in schedule, PKS may be suboptimal for children ages 2-3 and for parents with flexible hours or those who work from home. However, for K-8, having coverage five days a week and aftercare until 6 pm is great.
Unfortunately, private school tuition in San Francisco is expensive. Tuition at Presidio Knolls School is at $38,450 for the 2023/2024 school year. This is actually slightly lower than competing private schools.
Expect tuition to go up on average 3% – 5% 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 $38,450 a year to have your children play with blocks and sand is a lot. Your family should probably make at least 5X the net tuition 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 5X the net cost of tuition per child, perhaps it's better to do more homeschooling or public school. However, you know your child and situation the 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.
Please inquire about tuition assistance at PKS. Part of their fundraising is to help more families afford tuition.
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 $38,000+ 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. Early drop off is complimentary, and afternoon extended care is optional for an extra fee. There is also an “enrichment program” that has variable costs. Please check with the admissions office for the latest fee structure.
Parental involvement 4.5/5:
Given the majority of families come from wealthy backgrounds to be able to afford the $38,000+ in tuition, at least one parent works full time.
If you're working full time, then it's harder to be involved in the school. However, many families have one spouse who works part-time or is a stay-at-home parent, who volunteer. And many working parents will make time to get involved in the school.
I met up with some PKS parents playing pickleball at GGP and they were great. Parental involvement is one of the best indicators for school quality and community quality.
Main Concern About The Presidio Knolls School
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 spend time at the school before making a commitment. Keep asking questions and getting a feel of the environment. Talk to as many parents and administrators as possible.
2021 marked the first year in which their 8th graders graduate and apply to high school. The school may need more time in existence for some parents to feel comfortable paying such a high tuition. If possible, see if you can talk to the middle schoolers about their experience at PKS.
Final Verdict On Presidio Knolls School (PKS): 3.85/5
I used to give PKS a 3/5 in 2019. For 2024, I’ve upgraded the score to 3.85/5 as the school has finished building its campus, has a longer operating history, has a new admissions director, and is over its intense focus on fundraising.
The application fee is $100 and non-refundable. That seems harsh and automatically shuts out many families from applying. Maybe they can provide an application discount for lower-income families.
What disturbed me was the lack of communication and “next steps” once a family is waitlisted. Every other school provides detailed next steps if you are waitlisted and still want to keep your application active.
This type of poor communication was a big turnoff. It seemed arrogant, like they viewed it as a privilege for families to apply, which is contrary to Chinese customs. Perhaps this was the fault of the admissions officer in 2019, who is no longer there and who was not Chinese.
If you want to save money, there are 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, such as Jose Ortega or Star King.
Perhaps Bad Timing When I Met With PKS Admin
I did not like the way PKS was so focused about fundraising. During my visits, I saw a huge fund raiser banner on the front gate asking for financial support to raise $1 million for their campus for example. During my interview, fundraising was brought up, which made it feel like a quid pro quo in order for our son to get in.
PKS reminded me that it is a business first and a school second, and that's too bad. All schools should be about educating kids first and putting the money part behind the scenes. But this is the reality of most independent schools. Schools need to fundraise to stay open and thrive.
My impression was based on my timing during the middle of their buildout in 2019. Hence, my impression and your impression may be different today now that their fundraising for the buildout is complete.
PKS Could Be A More Inclusive School
PKS is a fine school. But there are better schools and more cost-effective alternatives in my humble opinion.
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 richer history. CAIS is the oldest Mandarin immersion school in the country. CAIS also purchased a 5.4 acre campus that will be fully ready by fall 2024. Having so much land is going to be amazing.
It is likely that if you send your kid to PKS, they will enjoy their experience. So long as your child is safe, loved, and educated, that’s what matters most. Location is also a big factor because the daily commute can really add up. I suspect with the move of CAIS to the west side of San Francisco, some families living on the east side will want to go to PKS and vice versa.
You will NOT regret spending more time with your kids. You will likely also not regret spending money on your child's education given there is tremendous value in learning a second language in this competitive world. Just beware about the higher expectations you might have for your kids if you end up paying $500,000 in private grade school tuition.
If you can't comfortably afford to pay for private grade school tuition, please find a more affordable option. It's not worth putting your family through tremendous stress and jeopardizing your retirement.
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