BY MATTHEW SENEKERIMIAN
Krouzian Zekarian Vasbouragan Armenian School was established in 1980 by the St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church of San Francisco. Since its inception, it has remained the only Armenian-American day school in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the mid-1970s, the community felt the need to establish a day school to meet the educational and cultural needs of the Armenian community in the Bay Area. As the community grew, the urgency and need for a day school became evident, and in 1976, the property at 825 Brotherhood Way was purchased. The base donations were originally bequeathed by Carl Zekarian and Krikor Krouzian who were active members of the community. The groundbreaking ceremony, took place on July 9, 1978.
Following the purchase of the property a building committee of engineers and architects who were members of the community was established. The construction of the present building required two phases. The first of these was completed in August of 1980, leading to the opening of the primary school in September 1980. At that time, the school’s population was thirty-four students in preschool through first grade. As the community and student body grew, a second story had to be added. The second phase of the construction began in August of 1985 and was completed a year later. Funding for the opening of Vasbouragan Middle School was made possible through the generous donation of community member, Hratch Tarpinian. Through this grass roots effort and the donations of three very active community members, the establishment of Krouzian-Zekarian-Vasbouragan Armenian School became a reality.
The school recently celebrated its 35th anniversary and KZV Principal Grace Andonian in an interview published below spoke proudly about the school’s achievements.
“The school has received the highest accreditation offered by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, has numerous award winning staff members and has one of the highest number of acceptance rates to the best high schools in the area for our students. It is with great pride that our graduates go on to attend some of the most competitive universities. Many have chosen to invest in our school’s heritage by sending their own children to KZV,” said Andonian.
MATTHEW SENEKERIMIAN: How many students are currently enrolled at KZV?
GRACE ANDONIAN: Today we have 144 students enrolled from Preschool thru 8th grade. For the fist time in its history, we have 35 students enrolled in our preschool and many are on the waiting list. By 2011, the school experienced an increase in the number of preschool student. To accommodate new students, the school board transformed the school library into a preschool classroom and distributed the library across appropriate classrooms.
M.S.: KZV recently embarked on a partnership with First 5 San Francisco is now part of Preschool For All. How has this partnership benefitted KZV?
G.A.: We are very thrilled to announce that as of last March, our preschool was qualified and approved to be a Preschool For All site! KZV met the city standards and requirements for classroom environment, curriculum, teacher qualifications, family engagement, and more.
Preschool for All (PFA) is San Francisco’s universal preschool initiative, administered by First 5 San Francisco. It was created by a local proposition and its goal was to provide quality preschool education available to all 4-year-old children in the City of San Francisco. It’s built upon the current early care and education system, bringing together public and private providers to ensure that children enter kindergarten with a strong foundation for learning and succeeding in school and in life.
PFA-funded preschool enrollment is available to all San Francisco city-resident families, regardless of income. Attending a high quality preschool is a research-proven step in preparing children for school success. Moreover, our preschool as a whole benefits as well from the PFA investment. As a PFA site, our school receives funds for continuous professional development for our teachers and new materials for the classrooms.
M.S.: Looking forward, what are some changes foreseen at KZV?
G.A.: We are in the process of updating our facilities to include a new electronic gate system, as well as a new security camera system. However, being an educational institution, our biggest focus is integrating the 3 “Rs” of education – Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. Furthermore, integrating technology and making our curriculum relevant in the realm of 21st century skills is an ongoing focus.
M.S.: How is the Armenian curriculum being integrated with common core practices?
G.A.: The focus on common core skills, namely, the integration of critical thinking skills is consistently addressed in Armenian classes as well. However, since our school is a private school, we believe our standards are higher than those of the common core. I am in the process of working with the staff on backward mapping curriculum based on Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC) while also translating rubrics from such tests into Armenian.
M.S.: What steps is KZV taking to make the teaching of Armenian more accessible to the students, who are at this point some generations removed from when it was initiated?
G.A.: The high number of students registering at our school is a testament that second and third generation Armenians value bilingual Armenian school education. Also, many of our new families are returning alumni who have chosen KZV as the school for their children. For student who transfer in the middle grades, our ASL (Armenian as a Second Language) program helps transfer students strengthen Armenian skills.
M.S.: What are some of the ways that KZV is adapting to technological advances that are available to students?
G.A.: All classrooms are equipped with Smart boards, document cameras, and LCD projectors. Three years ago, through an alumni initiative and fundraiser, we began providing a Kindle to every middle school student to own. The Kindles are used for English Language Arts and eventually will be used to read Armenian books as they become available.
M.S.: KZV is one of the few Armenian schools to have an Endowment Fund. Can you tell us more about it?
G.A.: In the year 2000, an endowment fund, in the amount of $250,000.00, was established in honor of the school’s twentieth anniversary. The creation of the KZV Endowment Fund was the cultivation of the Finance Committee’s vision of a stable long-term financial resource for KZV.
With the leadership of our Finance Committee, the KZV Endowment Fund set goals to raise one million dollars on the celebration of our 25th anniversary that was held in November of 2005. In the pursuit of this, Mr. and Mrs. Henry and Rita Khachaturian pledged $ 1,000,000 to the KZV Armenian School. Elated by the level of commitment by this particular family the KZV Endowment Fund was born with the sole purpose of supplying funds in perpetuity. Today, proceeds from the Endowment are used to provide financial aid to needy Armenian students. Surely, there can be no rewarding gift more to the donors than knowing that they are enhancing the Armenian heritage and education of the children for the years to come.
M.S.: What will be KZV’s greatest challenge in the upcoming years? What do you see the role of Armenian schools in the future?
G.A.: An ongoing challenge that all Armenian schools in the diaspora face is the recruitment and training of Armenian language teachers. Armenian schools play an integral role in the development of a strong diaspora. We continue to prepare generations that not only have the language skills and cultural knowledge as American Armenians but able and willing to help and stand by Armenia in the future.
M.S.: Why should parents send their kids to KZV?
G.A.: Research shows that children who have a strong sense of culture, who grow up in a tight-knit community, who are in small classes where they get one-on-one student centered learning and have the ability to become bilingual, grow up to be successful adults. We often receive letters from our local high schools complimenting the high educational achievements of our students and their deep engagement to their culture and heritage.