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What We Do

ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE is central to what we do. We know that students become critical thinkers with deep conceptual understanding by engaging in an inquiry-based approach to education. Our program is designed to develop independent, curious, self-directed learners who can apply knowledge and deep understanding, not only in the realm of abstract theory and thought but also in the context of real-world problems and situations. We embrace this approach because it produces higher academic achievement in the long run.

Although we do not hold standardized testing as the ultimate measure of student learning or achievement, our students consistently perform very strongly on the Comprehensive Testing Program, a standardized test that our accrediting organization, the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) suggests member schools administer yearly.

Academic excellence, while important, is merely a basic requirement, and that is why we offer much more.

We are committed to cultivating the UNIQUE GENIUS IN EVERY CHILD. Rather than expecting the same skills of each student, our faculty believes in finding your child’s passion and inspiring them with the confidence and mastery to pursue it. At the same time, we do not neglect to ensure that they excel in all subject areas. 

Our students develop a BROAD VIEW OF THE WORLD. Our academic program engages children meaningfully in the real world around them through ongoing partnerships and dialogue with local organizations, and our leading farm and garden program teaches valuable lessons about the wider context of our ecosystems.

Families consistently tell us that they experience FAMILY AND CHILD HAPPINESS at CDS. Alongside their children, parents and guardians find that they, too, grow as family and community members in this learning environment.

How We Do It

Our COMMUNITY has consistently been one of our greatest strengths throughout our 35 years of operation. It is often said that it takes a village to raise a child, and at CDS we enjoy a series of traditions that bring families together, from the annual rituals of the auction and Country Fair to the ever-popular “Friday Coffee in the Yard,” where parents/guardians gather to watch the weekly assembly and catch up with one another.

We are very proud of our diverse community. 47% of our students are students of color, 7% are from LBGTQ households, and 5% of our families are single parent families. In addition, we advocate for access. We are a leader in socioeconomic diversity among San Francisco independent elementary schools, with 28% of our students receiving sliding scale tuition.  

The footprint of our founding CAMPUS at 333 Dolores Street comprises a sunny, protected 1.2 acres in the Mission District. On any day you’ll find students working in the garden, cooking in the kitchen, conducting a science experiment, practicing athletic skills, or building outdoor art. The Middle School Campus at 601 Dolores Street, completed in April 2015 and located just three blocks away from 333 Dolores, houses classrooms, two science labs, a sustainable roof garden, an innovation lab, and a student common room. 601 Dolores also includes a beautiful performance space where the whole community can gather.

With the addition of our second campus at 601 Dolores, our learning canvas has grown extensively, and the two large, vibrant campuses allow us to offer a CDS education to over 475 students.

CONSTRUCTIVISM is our teaching philosophy. Born of “learning by doing,” it is how we achieve excellent academics while also identifying each child’s unique gifts.

In preschool, we guide children through in-depth investigations of real-world topics that integrate all curriculum strands into one large topic of study such as snails, families, rocks, birds, or baseball. This approach emphasizes concrete experiences and exposes children to a wide range of learning opportunities as they explore a topic using social studies, math, art, literacy, Spanish, science, and other curricular areas.

In the elementary grades, constructivism comes to life in classroom projects such as the first grade study of neighborhoods and discussions about how the neighborhood serves its members. In second grade, students study Bay Area marine life through beach clean-ups and examine the impact of environmental changes on our oceans and their inhabitants.

In middle school, students engage with real-world issues like generating a petition in support of Southern Sudan, partnering with a school in Pakistan, creating voter information pamphlets for a “get out the vote” campaign, or corresponding with the White House about issues that are relevant to the students.

Why Do We Do All This?

Simply put, we believe that passionate citizens change the world.

Passionate citizenry is why our teachers come to school every day. It’s why they teach other teachers, make presentations, pursue professional development, and embrace best educational practices.

Passionate citizenry motivates our students to:

  • start programs such as the Green Task Force, which promotes environmentally-friendly commutes to school and waste-free lunches
  • coordinate a blanket drive for homeless people in our neighborhood
  • work to restore native habitats in the Presidio and beyond
  • collect food for the San Francisco Food Bank
  • participate in a cultural exchange with Huruma Kings Academy in rural Kenya

Passionate citizenry is what motivates our amazing families to come together and combine their collective talents to build a wonderful, warm and inventive CDS community.  

There's an old saying: “If you can find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is the kind of happiness we all wish for our children.