The Little School in San Francisco is a preschool for children ages 2.5 – 5 years old from mostly wealthy families living in the Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights neighborhoods.
It is considered one of the best preschools in the city with great resources. Overall, I give The Little School 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Little School does try to diversify its student body. However, given their location in Lower Pacific Heights and the application pool, it can be a challenge to avoid racial and socioeconomic homogeneity. The homes in Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights are among the highest in San Francisco after all. We're talking homes regularly worth $5 – $30 million dollars.
The school's address is 1520 Lyon Street at the corner of Sutter St. Everybody on site is very friendly and the building and facilities are impressive.
Here's a detailed review of The Little School if you are considering sending your child or children there for preschool. I have visited The Little School in person three times over four years. Their web address is littleschool.org.
The Little School San Francisco Review
Overall, I thought the people at The Little School were welcoming. It feels like a nice place to attend preschool and has one of the most unique spaces I've seen. They also have a high number of teachers who have been with the school for over a decade, some for over two.
However, there have been a lot of operational changes in recent years including a long period with an interim director, a new executive director, new director of finance, and several new teachers.
If you are looking for a very diverse school, you may find it to be a relatively homogenous environment. The homogeneity is in contrast to the incredible diversity of San Francisco. Now let me get into the nitty gritty.
Facilities: 4.5/5 Stars
The Little School has fabulous facilities on two levels. It was built from the ground up as a preschool, which is rare. Therefore, they were very thoughtful in terms of the layout, flexibility of the spaces, soundproofing, safety, offices, and more.
They have various classrooms for the different grades on two floors. I would say The Little School Campus and Pacific Primary’s campuses are the two best in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, they have a relatively small outdoor play area of around 1,000 square feet, which is somewhat par for the course in San Francisco. Half of the area is in the shadows for most of the day because the school is sandwiched between several buildings.
That's preschool for you though in big cities. At least it is enclosed, safe, and private. There is also a good variety of outdoor activities for the children.
Diversity: 2.5/5 Stars
Given the location of the Little School, the majority of its applicants, attendees, and parents are from white and wealthy backgrounds. It's just the way it is due to its location. People naturally want to send their kids to schools close to home – walking distance preferably. The homes in Pacific Heights and Presidio Heights range from $3 million to $50 million.
The Little School emphasizes diversity and inclusion. And since I first visited the school in 2017, the student and family population has become more diverse. However, it still has a long way to go to reflect San Francisco’s actual diversity.
The Little School network has a very wealthy alumni base. And given rich people tend to hang out with other rich people, it's natural to have a very wealthy caliber of families flow into each class. Further, given siblings are almost always guaranteed to be admitted, the homogeneity of the student body continues. There are very few spots open to new families each year.
During my visit to one of the open houses where over 40 parents attended, there were zero Black and zero Hispanic parents. About 75% of the parents were white, 10% Asian, and the rest were mixed.
The Asian population in San Francisco is around 36%, yet the representation of Asians at The Little School is around 10%. Further, San Francisco is a majority minority city. Unfortunately, The Little School does not yet reflect the demographic makeup of San Francisco.
Opportunity To Get In: 1/5 Stars
It is almost impossible to gain admission if you are not connected, don’t come from a similar background, or are not a legacy. As a result, The Little School will continue to mostly accept wealthy families who live in the neighborhood.
100% preference goes to the siblings of existing families, leaving only a small handful of spots for non-sibling kids. For example, in one class of 12, 11 spots were designated for siblings, leaving only one spot open for others.
Unfortunately, there were over 80 applicants for this one spot, putting the acceptance rate at a mere 1.25%. If you are wondering how people from different ethnic and social economic backgrounds get shut out, this is where it begins.
Also, I met several parents who gave tours who said they attended The Little School as children. This continuity is great. However, it also shows that those with the most opportunity continue to get the most opportunity for their children. This is called legacy admissions, which predominantly helps wealthy white people.
If you apply, you are likely throwing your $100 application fee away. The average acceptance rate is easily less than 5%. Unfortunately, The Little School also does not reimburse the application fee if you do not get in. This is pretty standard for preschools, but application fees are sadly another way lower-income families are left out.
“In fact, four out of every five seats in their 2019/20 2's classes are being held by siblings of current Little School students,” wrote Matt Linden, the former Executive Director at The Little School.
Having Money Helps With Getting Into The Little School
Make no mistake, money and connections are a big driver for admissions. Families are asked to make donations in the thousands of dollars each year. The parents are judged more critically than the kids during the admissions process as well. The Little School admissions directors are guaranteed to Google you to analyze your status and potential wealth.
I was playing doubles one day at a private club. It turns out that all three fathers's kids attended the Little School. How can this be if the acceptance rate is so low? Was I playing in a magic foursome? Of course not. It's because all three fathers were all cut from the same cloth.
Legal bribery to get your children into private schools starts here at preschool. It's just the way the system works as wealthy, privileged families gain more access. Such schools will also never drop their legacy admissions, which accepts a far greater percentage of kids than standard admissions.
Teaching/Administration: 4/5 Stars
The feedback about the teachers has generally been good. They try to customize their teaching to students by different needs.
The average tenure of each teacher is 11 years, which is considered long. Some teachers have been there for decades. From the teachers I've met and seen in video, they all seem to be great. Also, TLS provides a very detailed report about each child during the parent-teacher conference.
In May 2020, The Little School hired a new head of school. At 28 years old when hired, this is the first preschool executive director role for Kaile Thomas.
Therefore, there may continue to be further changes in personnel, as is often the case with new management. If you want to apply to TLS, it is worth inquiring further with Kaile to understand the school’s new management style and philosophy. The former Head of School was there for decades.
Curriculum: 4/5 Stars
One of the best features about The Little School is its curriculum. Two-year-olds start the school two days a week versus 4-5 days a week at other preschools. Allowing kids to ease into school at such a young age is more optimal for development.
However, if you come from a middle-class or poor family, only sending your kid to preschool two days a week for three hours is not going to fly. You need more childcare help.
Again, only rich and extremely privileged people have this capability of having so little preschool. It's why politicians are pushing so aggressively for universal preschool, to help working families.
For those parents who have flexible work hours or work from home, The Little School may be ideal. But for those parents who have full-time jobs, The Little School does not provide enough school time without the additional cost of after-care.
Recognizing its privilege, The Little School is offering a new 5-day format starting at age 2 in the fall of 2023. A great step to help under-resourced families. However, 3.5 hours a day of care is not a lot for the price one pays.
Tuition 3.5/5: Stars
On a cost per day, they are pretty much on par with most private preschools. Below is their last posted tuition menu along with days, times, and hours.
Given The Little School has great resources, families can apply for need and get discounted tuition.
Extended Care: 3/5 Stars
One of the main complaints about The Little School is the limited extended care hours. Since most parents work full time, they require someone else to take care of their kids more than normal.
As you can see from the Extended Care Program below, the earliest time extended care starts is at 8:30am and the latest extended care goes is until 5:30pm.
“Late Afternoon Care” between 4:30pm – 5:30pm is not going to cut it for an executive who works until 7:30pm – 8pm every evening. Although with work from home prevalent now due to the pandemic, it is more feasible.
Parental Involvement: 4/5 Stars
Parental involvement is generally very high given most families come from wealthier backgrounds where at least one parent has more time and flexibility. Many households have one parent who can afford to stay at home and take care of their family.
High parental involvement is one of the biggest reasons why you may want to send your child to an independently run school. The simple fact of paying for education creates more incentives to stay involved.
The Little School Overall Score: 3.5/5
I would give The Little School a higher rating, but it lacks diversity and has hours that are a little too limited for most families. Further, it is hard to get in The Little School if you have no connections.
Therefore, you may want to save your application fee. I wish they would reimburse rejected families who make under a certain income, like $100,000. Why take their money only to reject them?
If your child does attend, he or she will hob knob with some of San Francisco's wealthiest people. Your child may think everybody is rich, lives in a multi-million dollar house, goes to private grade school, goes to private university, and lands jobs due to connections from their parents. This is clearly not the real world.
Unfortunately, the excess desire for money and prestige has shown to make people miserable and ruin lives. Perhaps this high-pressure path may not be ideal. However, the situation clearly depends on the child and you, the parent. It's really up to you to decide.
You may be better off sending your child to a co-op where parents are highly involved with the school in their child's education. If you enjoy what San Francisco has to offer, then consider more diverse preschools both from a racial and socioeconomic perspective. A school should ideally reflect the city in which it is located.
If your background is similar to the demographic makeup of existing families at The Little School, then you will feel very comfortable in this environment. For the rest of you, you may feel out of place.
At the end of the day, you just want to send your child to a preschool that is safe, loving, and close by to you. There are plenty of quality preschools to choose from in San Francisco.
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