San Francisco Kindergarten
April 12, 2011 4:23 PM   Subscribe

What are some strategies for surviving the San Francisco public school lottery?

We have a nearly-3 year old and live in San Francisco. We would like for her to go to public school. I've followed the recent re-organization of the placement lottery and understand that since this is the first year it's being implemented there are some uncertainties about how it will effect families that choose to send their children to SFUSD schools. Has anyone applied this year and can tell me how it went?

I know what our attendance-area school is and will be taking a tour of it this week and will hopefully get some sense of it from that, along with information I've found online. I'll probably look into a few other schools too but I don't intend to make our daughter's kindergarten enrollment a huge drama or spend infinite hours grilling principals and making spreadsheets of test scores.

I wholeheartedly believe that as long as we're involved with her schoolwork and her daily life that she'll be okay no matter where she goes. I believe in the public school system and want to support it and be an active participant in improving it but how I can do that now, even before she enrolls? Since she won't enroll until Fall 2013, I have some time to get my act together so i thought I'd start thinking (but not obsessing!) about it now.

I've seen the Parents for Public Schools website. Is that a good place to start? Are there other things I should be doing to make the enrollment process easier/less confusing? have you gone through the process and have some suggestions?

There is one alternative school (SF Community School) that I'm interested in but is it really just the luck of the draw (and being in a disadvantaged neighborhood) that gets you in?

Tell me of your experiences with public kindergarten enrollment in San Francisco.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I live in SF. I don't have kids.

But wait!

Our next-door neighbors and friends have kids, and I have witnessed many, many conversations between them and the parents of their kids' friends about the school lottery.

Like nearly everything in life, it all seems to boil down to networking and gossip. Not necessarily to get the kid into a particular school, but to share resources, email addresses, names, and strategies. And support. Lots of support.

So, if your kid is in daycare now, start talking to the other parents and the provider. When you go on school tours, ask them to hook you up with some parents of current students (if they can't or won't, that's probably not a good sign). There must also be listservs, but I don't know of any myself.

I hope this is helpful - good luck! (data point: we live in the Mission.)
posted by rtha at 6:19 PM on April 12, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, she's in daycare and I'll ask there. It seems like most of my friends with kids are either moving out of the city or planning on private schools so I clearly need to network further.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 8:07 PM on April 12, 2011

Each school seems to have its own mailing list--mostly through Yahoo Groups. The middle school group I'm in for my daughter's school is insanely active, useful and helpful. Before getting your school, the Parents for Public Schools is a good starter.

If it's any help/reassurance, after all the school tours and stress and looking up how to debate placement if she didn't get a decent school, we got my daughter's first choice without a single hassle.

Get involved in Parents for Public Schools, volunteer with something like Urban Sprouts (the school garden programs) to network with other involved parents, listen to the school board meetings on 91.7 (if you can't attend) because they're making serious budget decisions right now that will effect what you get in a few years time.

San Francisco's an amazing school district and even the "not great" schools have great parent involvement that I've seen. I've been really impressed compared to Pacifica/San Mateo County.

Also, districting and choice is so contentious, it will likely get adjusted again, at least before you're doing the whole thing over for middle school.
posted by Gucky at 9:08 PM on April 12, 2011

There's a fair amount of discussion on the Golden Gate Mothers Group boards, but I'm not sure it's worth the group's $75/year membership fee just for that. But a few other useful resources are:
- Rachel Norton's good blog about the process
- Data from SFUSD on demand by school (PDF) -- important stuf as you decide where to apply
- SFUSD's website

But from what I've seen -- we're a few years away still -- it's pretty rough. As one of the GGMG moms wrote, in frustration: "Got our SFUSD kindergarten assignment today. For the second year in a row, we got assigned to a school that we would never, ever in a million years send our kid to. Last year it made the list of one of the worst schools in CA. // This, despite the fact that we put 8 schools on our list, including our neighborhood school -- which we didn't even want, and still didn't get. I'm frankly shocked we didn't get it -- it's not one of the ones that has ever had high demand."

I've joked with my husband that we should move to Hunter's Point, nevermind the crime rate, because for the "top" schools demand is so high that ONLY kids from "CTIP-1" neighborhoods (i.e., census tracts with historically bad academic performance) will get in, since they get first dibs on all spots.

But the "best" strategy seems to be to try to find a neighborhood with a good-but-not-overly-popular school and move there. Oh, and still apply to lots of other good-but-not-overly-popular schools, because you still might not get in.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 2:03 PM on April 13, 2011

Response by poster: That Demand by School report is very interesting and I hadn't seen it yet. We went and toured our attendance-area school (Hillcrest) and met a parent and the principal. I was actually really impressed with it. The demographics are pretty tough with most of the kids coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and the majority are English-learners so they have some significant obstacles to overcome. However, there seems to be a lot of potential there and a core group of active and supportive parents. It doesn't seem like a high demand school, either.

But it's true about the CTIP1 neighborhoods. I have a friend who lives in Hayes Valley/Lower Haight and despite the fact that they paid about $1 million for their house, they are in a CTIP1 zone. Seems crazy but true.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:22 PM on April 13, 2011

We just went through the system and managed to get our kid into our first choice school. It was our neighborhood school and not hugely oversubscribed, but it was still a huge relief when we got the results. We also know a lot of parents who didn't get any of their choices who are now left with some very difficult decisions.

In terms of picking a school to apply to your best bet is to really understand the rules on how places are assigned, and use that to inform your strategy on where to apply. We didn't have the report CruiseSavvy already linked to when we were making our choices; you do and you should use it.

It's also worth looking at:
- the SF K Files
- Great Schools

The CTIP1 areas are probably the most important thing to understand. Firstly, they're set up based on low test scores not low income, although the two obviously overlap hugely, which is how your friend ended up in one. The statistics show that the parents in those areas don't necessarily act the same way as parents elsewhere in the city - for example page 15 of the SFUSD PDF shows that they were more likely to apply to Buena Vista (which has a great Spanish program) than average. Geography is still important to them, so if you're not too near a CTIP area then their tiebreaker matters less to you.

We know too many people that made the mistake of putting down the same 10 schools that everyone else puts down, all of which were oversubscribed so they didn't get anything. If you don't live in a CTIP1 neighborhood or the attendance area then there is no point in listing schools like Alvarado or Clarendon because you're just not going to get in. There's also no point in listing more than two of them. Page 15 of the PDF lists these schools.

Instead look at the good schools that aren't on that list. Go visit them, see which ones you like, and put some of them down. If you like your attendance area school then apply to it. Living near your school is worth more to your child's upbringing than a school with slightly higher test scores, and you're significantly more likely to get in.

The SFUSD's reputation lags behind the reality by several years, and most of the horror stories you'll hear from older neighbors are no longer true. The story you'll hear again and again when touring schools is "this school used to have problems, but in the last 5 years it's got much better". Above all, remember that the reason most of the "good" schools are seen as good is because a group of parents put in the extra work to make them good. It sounds like you're already planning on being part of that...
posted by paranoidfish at 7:46 PM on April 13, 2011

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