Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A blog is born

Every few nights my sleep gets disrupted by a recurring nightmare. I go to drop my daughter off at school on her first day of kindergarten. It’s our dream school—the one I ranked first among the seven on my San Francisco Unified School District enrollment application or the private school where I'm certain my daughter will thrive. We walk up to the front door, I’m holding her little hand, and the school suddenly grows legs and runs away from us. We chase after the school, running as fast as we possibly can, but we’re unable to catch up. Finally, we give up, our tired bodies flopping down onto the ground.

Have you had similar scary dreams about the kindergarten search in San Francisco?

I’ve had several. After waking up in a feverish sweat the other night, panicked about where my daughter was going to end up next fall, I realized that I had to start a blog about my kindergarten search. “The SF K Files” was born.

I’m not launching this blog to feed the frenzy. I don’t want to whine, gossip, scare, exaggerate, overhype, or compete (please, let me know if I do). Nor do I want to brag endlessly about my precious little spawn who only deserves to go to San Francisco’s very best school (that would get really annoying). Rather, I want to recount my experiences while also offering tips on the kindergarten search and directing you to helpful resources. I’m also hoping to provide a place where parents can ask questions and empathize. Finally, I want to make sure my nightmare never comes true!

So let the search begin.

Tomorrow, I’m off on my first public school tour at Lakeshore. I’ll report back.


  1. I haven't had the nightmares, but the playground gossip runs rampant.

    So how did it go at Lakeshore?

    Are you going to check out Buena Vista?

  2. Cool blog!

    I'm a veteran SFUSD parent of 8th- and 11th-graders -- and in a weird parallel universe have just started a college admissions blog. When you're doing your college admissions blog, will I be doing my nursing home blog?

    Good luck, don't panic and don't worry, you'll find a great school!

    (FYI, mine have gone to Lakeshore, Aptos Middle School and School of the Arts.)

  3. I was a parent of 5 and 3 year old children in San Francisco a little more than a year ago. With my kids reaching the age of kindergarten and our doing the research of public elementary schools in the city, because private ones were not possible under our economic situation, we just got depressed and more depressed. More precisely, madder and madder. Finally my husband found a school outside of California; an ideal place for our children. I am from Japan and I always speak Japanese to my children whether or not they appreciated it. As a result, they are totally bilingual. My husband, instead, is cocasion and does not speak the language. However he has a deep love of Japanese culture and a strong belief that they should learn Japanese as they grow up. We could not find such schools in San Francisco where there are so many Japanese residents and even you find a Japan town. Well, actually there is one that offeres a bicultural Japanese-American education, but the depth of education in terms of Japanese is not comparable to what we have in Portland, Oregon. That’s where we relocated our family. We were a little fearful that how we fit in this new place. I mean, San Francisco is the only place I lived in the US. My husband has spent twenty years of his life there. Both of our children are native San Franciscans. I can write so many great things about the city, but looking at public schools is a different story.

    Our school is a public Japanese immersion school in Portland. They teach Japanese from Kindergarten. How do they accomplish such a task? Half the day, kids learn things in English; the rest in Japanese. In Japanese class, they have two native Japanese speakers. One is a qualified teacher and the other is an intern from Japan who homestays with families enrolled in the school. First year of Kindergarten, it is tuition base, since the city of Portland does not cover the fee for the afternoon. Yes, there are kindergartens that only run for mornings. So everywhere you go if your children have a full day which means about six hours a day, you pay tuition. In our case, it is $265 a month. Starting from first grade to fifth, it is free of charge. To your surprise, this Japanese education continues all the way to high school. And, it is still public. To me, this is beyond expectation. Once you start school here in the states, you kind of forget about your mother tongue.That is obvious to look at my son who clings to English all the time. However once you are in this school system if you would like to say so, you and your Japanese develop together for a long time. To understand a different culture, this is crucial that you keep learning. I, almost two years later, still greatly appreciate my husband that he found this wonderful school for us.

    There is no perfect school, though. We, as parents, have to work closely to make this school as great as it can possibly be. For instance, we have parents’ organization that collects funds in order to provide a small class size, a reading specialist, and to gain high quality teachers for our children. I happen to be a room rep this year, so I am getting to know our teachers better than last year. Also I go to school to volunteer as much as I can, partly because my son really enjoys my presence at his school. Spending time, energy and giving the financial support that you can afford are the keys to having a fantastic school for your children. This was a bit hard for me to understand since fund-raising type of thing does not exist in Japan where I grew up. Now I am getting used to it and am willing to do whatever we, a hard working family, can.
    For Portland’s sake, we also have immersion schools forcused on Spanish and Mandarin which is also great that you have quite a few choices in affordable education. You can also have a choice of art forcused schools, math/science oriented and environmental schools here. And, the great thing is, to get in your prefered school is so much easier than in San Francisco. Once we were considering Clarendon, the odds that we would be in was 40 out of 800 if I remember correctly. It is a big enough number for you to give up your hope.

    Hopefully, like Kate, there will be a lot of strong will parents in San Francisco who try to make changes. San Francisco is such a diverse city, consequently there are so many different needs. However providing a great learning environment at a resonable price for their children should be everyone’s desire and goal. I still have friends in San Francisco. I sincerely hope that they will find a school where parents and children are both happy and content

  4. In the winter of 2005, my wife and I, parents of a boy, heading into 5, and a girl heading into 3, and we were facing the task of determining which school our kids would be going to for the next five to eight years. In San Francisco, this became a daunting task, a painful task, a demoralizing task.

    The task of interviewing at a broad series of schools because the school district does not provide, across-the-board quality and focus in the schools, looking for kernels of hope, is like turning public schools into a set of elite schools in which parents are in severe competition to achieve the rest of their childrens’ lives. Only thing, the schools are not elite, and the scores they achieve only deepen that impression.

    Are the teachers committed? I am sure they are. Are the administrators focused? I am sure that they are. But the system is almost rigged. The work for the parents is intense, researching, reading, meeting schools and meeting the people involved, and then to find out that the top schools have 800 applicants for 50 slots; it is really altogether too much. A city that is supposed to be top-notch should provide a raft of schools that are top-notch. It is not that the populace is unwashed and unruly and unteachable, it is that the administration has not the stomach to take on the actual task of providing services at the level the citizens deserve.

    Frankly, as parents, we came to the conclusion that the city was telling us very clearly that it doesn’t actually care about families, certainly not about families that are not wealthy and cannot afford $15,000 to $20,000 a year in tuition beginning in kindergarten.

    So, what did we do? We got the message, we left San Francisco for Portland, Oregon. Here we found a Pre-K to 5 public school that is Japanese Immersion (half-day), has been rated Exceptional two years in a row, won a prestigious award for best international education; and, I repeat, it is public. And for 80 incoming spots there were approximately 150 families applying. And there are other schools with Magnet programs that are as stellar, focusing on Science, Arts, Environment, and all public, and we are so happy, and so unstressed, comparatively, and we put our efforts into supporting the school, supporting the community, instead of fighting just to maintain in the city that doesn’t care if we are there or not.

    In companies, those with over-rated attitudes of themselves and hence poor customer service start to fall without understanding or noticing why, and then one day they are not as stellar as they once were, and they have to figure out where they went wrong. Not caring enough, not understanding that all fish rot from the head down, rather than from the tail up. It is the administration of the city, it is the administration of the schools. It doesn’t actually need to be so hard. It really doesn’t, and we feel sorry for all of you and what you have to go through seeking perfection in a really imperfect system that works so hard to sell you off of itself.