No clue how the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) enrollment process works? Heard horror stories about parents quitting their jobs to homeschool their children who didn't get into an SF kindergarten? Friends in the suburbs asking you to explain why you don't know where your child is going to kindergarten next year? This post is for you.
SFUSD uses a "school choice" system. That means families may apply to any school in the district regardless of where they live. A family in Noe Valley can apply to a school in the Outer Richmond or in Pacific Heights or in Noe Valley. Freedom of choice doesn't sound so bad, but there's a catch.
Just because you want to go to a school doesn't mean that you automatically get to drop your little spawn off there on the first day of kindergarten. Actually, a lottery system assigns you to your school. Here's how it works:
The district consists of some 80 schools. Parents pick seven schools where they'd be happy sending their child. Usually, they come up with their list of seven by visiting schools on organized tours. Parents actually fill out a form, ranking their choices in order of preference. They turn in their forms by January 11—and hope for the best. On March 7, they receive a letter with a school assignment. If they're dissatisfied with their assignment, they can go through a waiting list process.
Sound insane? Actually, the odds of getting one of the seven schools are quite good: for the 2007-08 school year, 87 percent of families who applied on time received a school of their choice, and 67 percent got into their first choice. The district tries to accommodate a family's preferences or at least to get them into schools close to their homes. Those who aren't lucky the first time around usually get in through waiting lists.
Why do you have to play the lottery to send a child to school in San Francisco? Diversity. SFUSD uses what it calls a diversity index lottery system to achieve a blend of students of different backgrounds throughout the district. The index isn't based on race but rather parents' academic achievement, family income, and English proficiency. The diversity index kicks in only when there are more applicants than spots. So for example, there were 855 total requests for Rooftop (one of the more popular schools) last year but only a few dozen available spots.
For more information on the process, visit the San Francisco Parents for Public Schools Web site.
For those who have been through the process, please post your stories in comments.