Thursday, March 27, 2008

Must-read: Sandra Tsing Loh's public education piece in The Atlantic

You may know Sandra Tsing Loh as a commentator on NPR's "Morning Edition." Or maybe you read the Los Angeles–based writer's best-selling book, If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now. Loh also gained quite a following for her one-woman play Mother On Fire, which recounts the story of her search for a kindergarten for her daughter. The play ran to sold-out audiences in Los Angeles for seven months.

In the March issue of The Atlantic, Loh writes a classic story, "Tales Out of School," which touches on her experiences with sending her daughter to a Los Angeles public school. The piece might start out a little slow if you're unfamiliar with the writer Jonathan Kozol. But I encourage you to persist through the first part—or skip over it—so you can get to her tale about starting a band at her daughter's school. This story made me laugh out loud and brought me to tears. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wanted: guest bloggers

Visitor comments are the heart and soul of The SF K Files. The strong opinions, heartfelt outbursts, and even the snarky attacks bring the site alive. Many of the comments are incredibly intelligent, emotional, honest, funny, sweet. I'd like to highlight some of the voices on the site. I'm inviting visitors to submit posts and I will feature them as guest bloggers.

I'm looking for well-written essays of about 450 words that tell a tale, reveal a personal reflection, or offer an informed perspective on a specific issue. Posts should be about education or San Francisco schools—uniforms, immersion, homeschooling, SFUSD enrollment process, all topics welcome. I'm open to strong opinions, but I expect featured guest bloggers to be thoughtful and sensitive to everyone's feelings. I see these as being similar to the personal commentaries on NPR.

You can submit your guest blog posts to thesfkfiles@gmail.com. Please include Guest Blogger in the subject line.

Getting ready for SFUSD Round II

Round II forms are due on Friday. Parents for Public Schools offers a helpful Round II tip sheet.

If you have questions, this is a place for you to post. Also, you can give Parents for Public Schools a call at (415) 861-7077.

And please everyone think lots of good thoughts for those participating in Round II.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Kate's update

Sometimes I wonder about this blog that I've created. Has it helped the community of parents in search of schools or has it complicated the situation? Has it directed families to up-and-coming schools or has it flooded popular ones with an overabundance of applicants? Has it allowed private and public families to understand one another or has it deepened the gap?

I'm not sure what my intent was for starting this blog. I simply couldn't sleep one night and I like to write. It was a way to cope and I was feeling alone and hoping to connect with other families who were intimidated by the school search.

The past two weeks, I've been thinking a lot about the purpose of The SF K Files because I've been overwhelmed by my own blog. About two weeks ago, our family received an acceptance from Marin Country Day School, a school that I had toured two years in a row and absolutely loved. MCDS is my dream school. But when I received the letter in the mail, I was paralyzed. I was so immersed in the hysteria surrounding the school search (the debates over private vs. public) that I was frozen—so I apologize for the silence. I needed time to think on my own and to separate myself from the hysteria. I needed time to focus on Alice.

I'm deeply hurt by the families who didn't get into their top school. I've listened to friends cry. A friend told me about her friend who said the rejection from a school was more hurtful than her miscarriage. I've heard from two close friends who are making plans to move. In this city where children are rare and precious, we can't afford to loose a single child. In this city, where some families are still without a kindergarten, I find it hard to celebrate.

We have accepted our spot at MCDS. Last Wednesday, Alice and I drove over to Marin to officially accept it. I felt like I needed to physically step foot on the campus. As usual, the drive felt long and we were late (the deadline was 10 a.m. and we didn't get there until 3 p.m.; of course, we had called ahead) But once we arrived, I felt like I was home. I knew that I had made the right decision.

A friend and I went out for drinks tonight and we talked a lot about the school situation (she's actually the one who nudged me to finally post again). After a few hours of talking, we both finally agreed that the San Francisco school search is like child birth—only it's extended over many months, for some years. You go in with a birth plan. You want this public or this private and you want to be able to choose between the two. You pour your heart and soul into the search (pregnancy); it becomes your life for several months. And then you go into labor—and everything that you thought would happen doesn't. People who want epidurals aren't able to get them and those who want to go natural end up with C-sections. It's personal and emotional. It's all consuming and at times very painful. But it does all work out in the end. It's just unfortunate—and unfair—that some people have much longer labors.

I promise to start posting again. I'm crossing my fingers for all of those on waiting lists and I'm looking forward to hearing the results from Round II. Also, I have numerous ideas for topics to help us all prepare for kindergarten. Thanks for the support. I wish that we could all start kindergarten together!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

K Files Council: Paul Revere vs. Miraloma?

Question: What is the difference between a "Paul Revere" and a "Miraloma"?

The Miraloma-type schools seem great when I walk around them. They have nice facilities and people, lots of happy faces, plenty of enrichment activities, parent involvement, et cetera, But are they really better than the "Paul Reveres"? I wonder if it is simply that at schools like Paul Revere, I (an upper middle class Anglo) feel out of place. The kids and adults look different than me and speak a different language. Is Miraloma a "good school" merely because it is a familiar place? Is Paul Revere equally good?

K Files Council: to be in kindergarten or not to be

Here's our dilemma:

Our family resides in the Richmond district and went 0 for 7 in Round 1. Our daughter has a November birthday, which makes her eligible for kindergarten in the fall for public school, but not for privates. She is presently in a preschool program that we are very happy with. We'll do Round 2, but should we go for the gusto, and wait list our 1st choice (highly popular) school, with the chance of getting nada? If we get nothing on our amended list or our wait list we can keep her in preschool for the year and try again next year and then she would be one of the older K's in the class (Fall 2009). She is definitely ready for K this year, so would waiting another year, if we had to, build her confidence or bore her to death? Or should we wait list at a less sought after school, not our favorite school, and place her in K this year (Fall 2008)?

Thanks for the help!

K Files Council: Sunnyside?

Here’s my dilemma:

We were assigned to Sunnyside Elementary and went ahead and registered after our school tour there. We were pleasantly surprised by the school and are hoping that other like-minded parents have an interest in coming to this school and making it the next shiny gem. I haven’t heard much on the blog about the experiences people have been having on their tours. Are people excited about this school? Is there some interest in enrolling/putting it on your amended list of choices? What are people thinking? Maybe folks aren’t comfortable posting anything out of concern that the competition will become more intense (which I completely understand). I would love to keep the momentum going on this school. Any thoughts, opinions, ideas on the school would be appreciated. There’s something exciting about this school and I’d love to connect with others who feel the same way.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

K Files Council: wait list options for kids with special needs

We're submitting an ammended list for Round II as we went 0 for 7 in Round I. As the importance of the wait list school increases (in my mind at least), we are gathering info and advice on schools that have outstanding caring environments for kids with special needs who are in the standard classroom setting. This would be reflected in staff who are not overburdened and overstressed with meeting the variety of needs and goals of their site. Staff with experience accomodating the classroom to meet the special needs of the children, and a principal who works well with teachers and parents in this area.

We are familiar with the schools in our geographic area that have RSP, Inclusion and Special Day Classes. The concern is how to identify that ONE wait list school that has the positive qualities referenced, AND to compare/contrast them with other high quality options . . . so that we feel good about the ammended list and also really dedicated to holding out through the summer for the wait list school. Our wait list candidates are: Fairmount, Alvarado (sp and ge) and Miraloma. The ammended list would include SF Community, Sunnyside, C. Sloate. This should give you an idea of the area of town we are in. BTW, Spanish immersion is REALLY important to us.

If you have knowledge/experience with these schools and/or kids with special needs, it would be great to hear your thoughts.

And, thanks to all for such a supportive and engaged community!

Monday, March 17, 2008

K Files Council: Miraloma, Sunset, or Dianne Feinstein?

I have been going around and around in my head with our dilemma. It'll be great to get some more advice . . .

We got 0/7 on our Round I list; we were assigned to Sheridan (a school I had never heard of, in the Ocean View). I visited Sheridan last week and, although it's an impressive school for many reasons, it would not be a good fit for my son or our family. I'm not going to register there, which is a bit risky, considering we have no back up.
We did not apply to private schools.

We are debating whether to list Miraloma, Sunset, or Dianne Feinstein as our wait pool choice. We live in the Sunset, but we're about the same distance from both Sunset and Miraloma (I clocked it!). Sunset is on the way to our younger children's preschool and Miraloma is on my husband's way to work. We love the schedule at Sunset (8:40-2:40) and Miraloma's 1:50 ending time may be problematic because I work part-time and MEEP (their after-school program) is only full-time, 5 days a week (and expensive). If we can't find another after-school option, it potentially means that choosing Miraloma (assuming we could get it off of the wait pool) would mean my working much, much less than I would like to for the next 10 years (we have three kids!) Still, in that time, we may be able to find other options. Sunset has a YMCA after-care program, which you can do two, three, or five days a week, and it will most likely be easier to get from the wait pool.

Aside from the logistics, we really loved both schools (slightly preferring Miraloma), though they have different feels. I keep going back and forth trying to think about which school will be a better match for our family. And then there are all of those unknowns: what if the wonderful Sunset principal leaves? Miraloma's PTA seems better suited to coping with a big funding gap than Sunset, but maybe that's just my impression.

I feel like our family easily fits in with Miraloma and the parents I've met, and I don't have that feeling so strongly about Sunset—but how can you really tell? Also, despite the fact that it takes almost exactly the same amount of time to drive to Sunset and Miraloma, Sunset feels more like our neighborhood school. What I really want is for someone to say: this is what it's like at Sunset and this is what it's like at Miraloma, and this is what it's like at Feinstein—this is the difference in feel. But I know this is impossible!

Dianne Feinstein was our 5th choice in Round I, but we live about five minutes away (walking!) and are now really considering putting it as our wait pool choice. I didn't have a strong gut feeling about it as the others and I toured Feinstein twice! But I know people who are happy there. The teachers are great, and the kids looked happy (as they did at Sunset and at Miraloma). We have mixed feelings about the principal and about the apparent split in the parents about the principal. I think we could be happy there, and it sure is close (I could take the stroller and walk my older son there!), but I still have my doubts.

We will list some longshots on our amended application (Lafayette, Lakeshore, Peabody) as well as Sunnyside and FS Key (a bit more likely). Anyone have any idea whether Sloat is a good amended application choice?

I have thought so much about this (and talked my friends' ear's off!) that I'm not sure there are any new thoughts to think . . . but if you have any opinions or ideas, I'd love to hear them!

K Files Council: private or public?

We applied to only one private boys school. We were not expecting to get in but then we received an acceptance letter on
Friday. We are a middle-class family and we have been offered tuition assistance at the private school.

For the public schools, we got our first choice, Sherman, which we already enrolled in last week.

We like both schools. We want to make the best decision possible but we're totally unsure which way to go.

I would really appreciate any comments.

K Files Council: where to wait list?

I think a lot of people have the same problem, so here goes:

Wait listing: Shoot for the moon or . . . a smaller moon?

Our family lives in upper Noe Valley and hoped to get into an immersion program, but we went 0/7 in Round 1. The school we listed as No. 1 on our list, Alvarado, was massively overenrolled. We also liked two other immersion programs, Fairmount and Flynn, which were also overenrolled but not to the same extent. (In spite of its early start time, Alvarado had the edge for us due to its arts program; our kid is really into art.) Last year's wait pool data indicates that only three people out of 26 in the wait pool received a spot at Alvarado by September. The odds at Flynn and Fairmount were a little better. But Fairmount and Flynn received threefold increases in applicants this year, so perhaps last year's data is irrelevant. Overall, we noted that few families who receive offers to immersion programs in Round 1 give them up. The question is, do we wait list for one of the schools that had a much smaller wait pool last year—and may or may not this year—or do we hold out for the fourth most overenrolled school in the city? We really liked all three programs almost equally, but for different reasons.

K Files Council: Jose Ortega?

Here's our situation:

We put only four schools on our list. Miraloma was number one and it's still our number one choice. The other three were the obvious top-of-the-list schools.

We toured about five schools. Now I know that's not enough, but we assumed we would get into Miraloma—wishful thinking!

Our assignment is Jose Ortega, and we're not happy with the assignment at all. We live in the Sunset and immersion is not a priority for us.

At this point, I feel like we have no where to go and the clock is ticking away quickly. If I knew then what I know now I would have had backup parochial schools set up—even though we really want to go the public route. Other private schools are really not an option for us because of money. Any one know of parochial schools that are still accepting applications?

For our family situation, I think it would be difficult to go to a school in Bernal or the Mission due to logistics.

I submitted round two with my waitpool request, and I have been told the odds are not in our favor.

What do we do????

K Files Council: girls schools

Here's our situation:

Admitted at one girls' school, waitlisted at the second one (our first choice). We told the second school to let us know ASAP if a spot opens up, which they said they'd probably do by late Monday or early Tuesday. We haven't said anything to the school we were admitted to. My dilemma now is that the one we were admitted to has grown on us over the past few days, and let's be frank, they do really want our daughter as opposed to the second one, which was our first choice up until now. We can't help but feel slightly hurt by the second school. Now, we are totally confused and not sure what to do when and if we get a call on Monday saying we have a spot at the second school.

Any advice is appreciated!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New feature: K Files Council

Can't decide between schools? Don't have any schools and unsure how to proceed? Going over a million different scenarios in your head? Let SF K Files visitors offer input and advice.

Here's how it works:

Email your dilemma to thesfkfiles@gmail.com and include "K Files Council" in your subject line. Please remain anonymous but mention your neighborhood. Kate will post your situation, and then SF K Files visitors can offer constructive input and thoughts.

This new feature is meant to help people think outside the box—not to offer expert advice that will solve problems. Also, visitors who comment are expected to be supportive, encouraging, and understanding.

Anyone want to go first?

Paul Revere tours: Monday and Tuesday

The Paul Revere principal is leading tours Monday and Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Kate takes a break

Anyone feeling overwhelmed? I've decided to take a brief break from the blog; I'm turning off my computer until Monday. Today is Alice's birthday and I want to leave the school stress behind and focus on her for a few days.

I've talked to many parents who are struggling with the process and sometimes I worry that my blog is feeding the frenzy. I'm terribly saddened by the stories from people who have put so much effort into this and haven't gotten into any schools or a school that they love. People keep telling me that it all works out in the end but I hate that we have to go through this.

Feel free to use the comments section to pose questions and share information.

And please everyone, get some rest.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kate's recent public school tours: hidden gems

What do you do when you're 0/7 for SFUSD public schools? Tour more schools, of course. Hunt for that hidden gem.

This past week, I furiously set out to track down that up-and-coming school with a fresh coat of paint, a fabulous principal, peppy teachers, and a PTA with potential. Here's a rundown of what I found.

Junipero Serra
This was my assigned school. It's actually within walking distance of my house and sits right on Holly Park. I was thoroughly impressed with it and I give the principal, Eve Cheung, and the teachers a standing ovation. They are truly dedicated, hard-working, highly intelligent, and they've poured their hears into this school. A few years ago the teachers—not the parents—at this school raised some $37,000. The teachers and principal have helped bring up the test scores. There's a computer lab with shiny new Macs and a full-time computer teacher. That said, we decided not to accept the assignment because we're set on immersion if we go with public.

Marshall
This Spanish immersion school in the heart of the Mission (Capp and 15th) has a lot of spirit. When I walked through the door a group of kids were doing capoeria in the cafeteria. Colorful mosaics and tiles adorn the school's inner courtyard. The kids in the classrooms are cheerful and clearly excited to learn. In first grade, a little boy guided us around his classroom, telling us—in both Spanish and English—about the tadpoles swimming around in a dish, the plants growing in the cups, the students' ice cream chart on the wall. The school is tiny and cozy and there are plans to rebuild the playground and renovate the bathrooms this summer. The neighborhood might seem a little sketchy but the school is a safe haven.

Paul Revere
I wanted to shout, "Eureka!" as I walked through this school's hallways. It's truly the hidden gem that I had been searching for. If you want Spanish immersion and you're interested in getting involved in an on-the-rise school, this is probably the one. The reasons are endless: big, beautiful building with fresh coat of paint; K through 8; small classes (around 20 students) all the way through eighth grade; paraprofessional assigned to each classroom (meaning each classroom has a teacher and an additional teacher); Spanish immersion (2 SI classes and one GE); uniforms; huge library stocked with books and a fabulous librarian; IRF coach who helps all the teachers become even better teachers; young, vibrant, dedicated teaching staff; 50 new Macs and 60 Dells; teacher professional development programs; three full-time counselors (one for elementary, one for middle school, and another working with the entire student body) . . . and the list goes on and on. The PTA is small yet growing and waiting for parents who want to become more involved.

Jose Ortega
I took a brief tour of this school when I attended one of the district's counseling sessions. The school introduced a Mandarin immersion strand last year. I met the kindergarten teacher and she's lovely and animated. A parent told me about her kindergartener counting to 80 in Mandarin. The principal is warm and friendly, and motivated to continue to improve the school; she's open to parents' ideas. It's near San Francisco State and sits atop a hill offering gorgeous views of the surrounding city and ocean.

Eureka! I found the hidden gem: Paul Revere

I don't have time to post details right now but I toured Paul Revere this morning and I was thoroughly impressed. If you're interested in Spanish immersion, go check out this K-8 school in Bernal Heights. Be sure to meet the principal. He's fabulous.

Private schools to the rescue?

This week, many of us will be receiving letters from private schools. I'm thinking good thoughts for everyone.

Because the private schools aren't based on a lottery, we need to be more sensitive about acceptances and rejections. To me, it feels much more personal. Does anyone have any thoughts on how we might share information? I'm thinking that we should hold off on the private school talk for a few days. What do you think?

Ok, ok, I read your comments...let's go ahead and share. Has anyone heard anything yet? I'm so nervous!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Tout your school tour

Now's the time to tour schools for Round II. School's out for Spring Break after March 21, so take advantage of this time. If your school is offering a tour this week or next, please post details. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

PPSSF answers your questions about Round II and the Wait Pool

Yesterday morning I met with the program director from Parents for Public Schools. Ellie Rossiter lives in Bernal Heights and sends her two kids to Miraloma, where she's in charge of school tours. When Rossiter went through the process for her child, who's now in the fourth grade, you could put only five schools on your enrollment form. Miraloma was her fifth choice.

"It was an up-and-coming school, a lot like Sunnyside is now," she says. "When we got it, we were initially disappointed because we had really wanted our child to attend an immersion program and be ‘a bilingual citizen of the world.’ But we went for it, and the school has been everything we hoped it would be and more."

I started our discussion with the question that’s keeping me up at night: Should I wait pool at Alice Fong Yu?

"You really need to think about that," Rossiter advised. "Last year, 80 people were on the wait pool at Alice Fong Yu, so your chances of getting in are low. You risk giving up an opportunity of going to another school. But at the same time you don’t want to settle."

Rossiter sensed my utter disappointment and said, "Let me give you an analogy. It might help. When you’re pregnant and until you know the baby's gender, you’re having both. You can dream about life with your little boy one minute and life with your little girl the next. Once you find out the gender, whether it's at an ultrasound or at birth, you have to let go of the other one. It feels like a bit of a loss. Soon after, though, you realize that your life is all about the baby you got. You couldn't imagine anything else."

I also asked Rossiter a bunch of questions that came from SF K Files visitors. Here's a rundown:

Does it seem like a lot of families didn't get any of their seven schools?
Yes, this year the number certainly feels high. Last year and the year before we waited for the phone to ring and it rarely rang. The past few days the phones have been ringing nonstop. We've haven't experienced this level of activity in a few years. Apparently, 300 people were sitting at the EPC [educational placement center] at 8 a.m. on Monday morning.

If we request to be placed in a wait pool for our No. 1 choice, do we leave that school off our amended list?
Yes. You get your wait pool plus seven more schools. Your wait pool selection is considered your top choice. The amended list is your opportunity to expand your list—to opt for schools where your odds might be better. You need to start looking at up-and-coming schools. The wait pool choices are run before the amended lists, so if you want to try for a high demand school such as Rooftop you should list it as your wait pool option not on your amended list.

So what are those up-and-coming schools?
A few that come to mind are Harvey Milk, New Traditions, Sunnyside, Marshall, Sutro, Jose Ortega, and Francis Scott Key. We're waiting to review a document that the district will make available on Thursday at the first counseling session. It's last year's wait pool requests sorted according to wait pool demand. Schools with zero wait pool requests last year may be potential amended choice possibilities. But you have to weigh that data against this year's Round I demand data to gauge the "tipping point". For example, last year, Peabody showed zero people in the wait pool, but for two years in a row, Peabody has shown spikes in Round I enrollment requests, so it might not be an obvious amended choice anymore".

In terms of the wait pool, how do I know where my odds will be better?
You can find last year’s Round II wait pool data and this year's Round I demand data on the Parents for Public Schools and SFUSD Web sites.

Is the wait pool first-come first-serve?
No. It’s run just like the lottery in Round I. You don't get any special priority if you turned in your wait pool on Monday morning. You really should take the time you need to think about your situation. You have about two weeks to look at schools, since spring break starts on March 21. You should also talk to other parents at schools that interest you.

Can I change my wait pool request?
Parents can change their wait pool requests as many times as they want. Knowing this can be helpful in case you wish to change your wait pool school to one with better odds. Additionally, if your name comes up and you are assigned to your wait pool school, you will lose your spot at your current school of assignment—so make sure you really want a different school! If you are not assigned your wait pool school in this next run, then you will remain on the wait pool until one of two things occur: 1) you get assigned to your wait pool school; 2) you remove your name; or e) the wait pools are dissolved at the end of September.

Does registering at your assigned school affect your chances of getting into your wait pool or amended application schools?
No. Registering at your school holds your spot. The computer doesn’t know whether or not you enrolled, so it doesn't factor into you’re assignment.

If you know that you don’t want a school should you enroll?
This is a hard one to answer. You may not be excited about the school now, but giving up a spot means your child is without a school. If you're absolutely certain that you don't want that school then you can consider releasing a spot that someone else may want. But before you entirely write off a school, especially one that you haven't even toured, you should visit.

It's great that parents are following our advice by exploring new school options and touring their assigned schools; however, we want to remind everyone to be sensitive to the fact that all schools are working hard to serve the children that attend them. Even if a school is not the right fit for your child or family, please try to hold back your negative comments.

Is our original application now void?
The computer will always know if you applied on time, which round, and what your priority cohort is. Your Round I application only affects you in terms of whether or not it was in on time and whether or not you received any of your choices.

How important is neighborhood preference in determining my school assignment?
Neighborhood preference has very little influence on you’re assignment. The Student Assignment System considers a few factors to try to create balance in the schools (socio-economic status, language spoken at home and whether the child attended preschool or not). Choosing your neighborhood school won't help your chances if you don't meet criteria they are seeking to balance the schools, especially if it is a high demand school. It always comes back to supply and demand.

Is there a human factor involved in who gets picked out of the wait pool? Does calling the principal help?
No. The school sites have no Influence on your placement The district Educational Placement Center (EPC) handles the process. If you are still without a school and have questions after the Round II letters go out at the end of April, you are welcome to go the EPC. Create a relationship with a counselor there and feel free to check in with him from time to time about the status of the wait pool.

Do we need to attend a counseling session if we know what school we want to put down on our wait list?
No. Attending the counseling session is not a requirement of the Round II process. They’re set up so a bulk of people can ask questions, get a lot of information at once, and fill out forms. It's also a chance to meet PPS Parent Ambassadors, parents who will be there to tell you about their schools -- schools you may want to consider in the second round.

Can someone post a list of the schools that have openings for Round 2, or must I go to a counseling session to see it?
All we have is data from this year's Round I demand and a snap shot from last year's wait pool, which you can find on the Parents for Public Schools Web site. You can use these two documents together to evaluate trends and help determine your odds. In May the EPC will publish a list of wait pool requests from this year.

What if I want to tour a school and the school isn’t offering them?
Call Parents for Public Schools. We will connect you with a PPS Parent Ambassador representing the school.

Does the district plan to add more immersion programs?
Not this year. Currently, they’re evaluating language programming in general, including immersion models and considering other languages and programs besides immersion. Also, they need to set up more programs in the middle schools and high school to accommodate the current elementary students in immersion.

We are trying to decide whether to put our #3 choice as our wait pool choice (small, neighborhood school, better chance of getting in), or our #1 choice (very high in demand, but some parents may choose private and spaces may open up). We'd be quite happy with our #3 choice, but also can't quite give up yet on #1 or #2. What should I do?
The best thing to do would be to look at last year’s Wait Pool data and use that to inform your decision and figure out which way to go. This goes back to the tough decision about whether to "shoot for the moon" or play it safe. Rossiter said, "If it were me, and I knew I would be happy at the school that has better odds, I would choose #3 for my wait pool choice. I would want to avoid being without a school again after this round"

We did not save our original application, which is listed as one of the documents we need to register. Does anyone know if we can register without it?
Yes, try to register at the school. If you’re having a hard time registering at the school, you can do it through the EPC.

At the end of our conversation Rossiter added:
“Many rumors, myths and misinformation have been spreading around blogs and list serves. Please read the SFUSD Enrollment Guide, pages 33-36 (available at www.sfusd.edu or any school) and PPS' "tips" at www.ppssf.org to get clear, correct information about the round II enrollment process.”

It's time to soldier on

The past few days have been rough. When I opened that letter, I felt crushed, deflated, demoralized—as if I was lying sprawled out in the middle of Market Street and a Muni train ran right over me. Yesterday at work, a coworker of mine said that he knew I didn't get into a school before even asking because the bags under my eyes were so big and dark. Can anyone relate?

And I worry about Alice. I'm trying to hide the situation from her. If someone calls to talk schools and Alice is in the room, I say that I have to call back or I whisper or I try to use some sort of code. She must have a clue? She must sense the stress? The anguish? That can't be good.

But finally I'm starting to rebuild my strength and I'm feeling ready for private school letters later this week and SFUSD Round II—bring it on! This morning I meet with a representative from Parents for Public Schools. I'm excited about the meeting and I feel lucky that we all have this organization available to us (huge round of applause for Parents for Public Schools). I have a long list of questions for her (thanks so much for the input). I'm also touring Juipero Serra with the principal and another friend who received the same assignment. I'm keeping an open mind and I'm impressed that the principal actually invited me to tour on this blog. I only wish the school had an immersion program; I don't think I can give up on that.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who is contributing to this site and making it an engaging, informative, and supportive place. The SF K Files is about the visitors. I'm so happy for all of you who got into a school. And for those of us who didn't, I'm terribly sorry—and it's time to take a deep breath and soldier on.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Do you have questions about Round II and the Wait Pool?

The line was practically out the door—and moving at a snail's pace—at the SFUSD administrative offices this morning. I dropped by hoping to get some of my questions about Round II answered. Unfortunately, I'm on deadline at work so I opted not to wait.

But I put in a call to Parents for Public Schools. I'm hoping to interview a representative about Round II and the Wait Pool. If you have a question, post it in the comments section and I'll try to get answers for everyone asap. Thanks!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

SFUSD success stories

"We got our first choice," Molly said. "Buena Vista!"

After hearing from countless friends who didn't get any of their seven, I was relieved to listen to a cheery voice on the other end of the phone. Most of my calls with friends over this weekend have been filled with tears and four-letter words.

Before going through this process, I was worried about these sorts of situations. I wondered, Will I be jealous if a friend gets into Alice Fong Yu and I don't.

When I talked to my friend Molly this morning, I wasn't jealous. I was delighted to hear a positive story. And I think many of us would benefit from some good news. Please, if you're sitting at home sipping champagne because your little honey got into Clarendon, speak up. Those of us who didn't need some inspiration. And if you have a story about successfully going through the wait list process last year, tell us. I'm so happy for those who did receive assignments to schools they love. It gives me hope.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The big day: SFUSD assignments

I just received the mail. We didn't get any of our seven. We were assigned to Junipero Serra Elementary. I'm in shock! And I'm so sorry for those who are in a similar situation.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Change

For the past three years we've had the perfect next-door neighbors—a friendly and generous couple, Cath and Nate, and their two adorable twin sons, Jack and Tom, who happen to be the same age as Alice. Our backyards are connected by a gate built by Nate and my husband, Ryan. The kids go back and forth between the yards—running through sprinklers in one, collecting bugs in the other. Once they found a caterpillar and named it Cutie, and once they spent hours splashing around naked in a big plastic tub. While the kids are playing, Cath and I are typically chit-chatting about schools and Ryan and Nate talking about the latest bike gear (they share an obsession with cycling). Usually, we bring out some food, maybe a bottle of wine.

Of course, this backyard bliss doesn't happen every weekend. Only on those Saturdays and Sundays when it's actually sunny and when neither of us have a birthday party, a preschool fund-raiser, or a play date to attend. In fact, in the past three years, we have enjoyed only about 10 of those days. But those days with both of our families sharing our backyards have been some of my fondest memories of where we live.

Tonight, we said goodbye to our neighbors. They're renting a condo in the Presidio so they'll be closer to their jobs and to the boys' school. It's a good move for them but I'll miss them terribly. As we all sat around our big old dining room table noshing on Goat Hill pizza (the last time as next-door neighbors), I was fighting back the tears. Change is hard for me.

It's also hard for Alice. This week, we moved Alice from a swim class at the La Petit Baleen in Half Moon Bay to the location in San Bruno. Alice learned to swim at La Petit in Half Moon Bay; she overcame her fear of the water there. She shed a lot of tears but she created strong bonds with her teacher and the other kids in her class. The transition to the new location with a new teacher and new kids was a complete mess. Alice cried. I cried. The lady at the front desk felt so badly for us that she was practically crying. Alice kept saying, "I want my teacher Terri back! Where's my teacher Terri!" Usually, we're more grounded than this, but it's been a tough week—filled with major drama at my real job, an economy that's imploding, a nerve-racking race between democratic candidates. And I fear it's not going to get much easier.

Over the next few days, we're all going to receive some great big changes in our mailboxes. I'm looking forward to kindergarten and I know that Alice is too. But right now, I'm wishing I could go back to one of those sunny Noe Valley days when our family was relaxed and happy in the backyard with our (former) next-door neighbors.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hot topic: SFUSD school assignments and Round II

I dropped by the SFUSD administrative offices today—just to make sure they're on track to mail school assignments on time. Indeed, they're going out Friday night so you should receive your assignment in the mail on Saturday, Monday, or Tuesday. If you haven't received anything by Wednesday you need to visit the office at 555 Franklin Street and bring two proofs of address.

Many SF K Files visitors have already been asking about Round II. The Parents for Public Schools web site offers a clear rundown of the process. If you have questions or additional information, please share. Thanks!

I've got my fingers crossed for all of you! Hang in there!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Interview: SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia

San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia has been on the job for only seven months and he has already accomplished a lot. He has filled many empty positions, spoken out against Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts, and he’s about to introduce a strategic plan for the district. He has also visited 84 of the district’s 104 schools—and plans to walk the halls of each and every one.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with Garcia and I asked if he was disappointed in any of his district's schools. He says that when he visits a school, he asks himself, “Would I want to send my child here?” He has seen only one school in which he wouldn’t let his daughter or son step foot. I asked him if he was doing anything to help that hurting school. “If you’re in a family and someone is sick,” Garcia said, “You help him.”

Here’s more from our conversation:

Where did you go to school?
Los Angeles public schools K through 12. Magnolia Avenue Elementary. Wilmington Middle School. Banning High School. Also, my two children, who are now 23 and 25, went to public schools. I’m a staunch supporter of public schools.

Most of the parents visiting The SF K Files are applying to kindergarten—what was that first year in school like for you?
I didn’t speak English. If I spoke Spanish in class, my teacher would hit my hands with a ruler.

That must have hurt.
I had a steep learning curve in kindergarten.

Were your parents involved in your school?
Both of my parents worked full-time at factories. My mom worked nights, so in the morning I walked to school with my three brothers. But in the afternoon my mom met me after school and walked me home. She was always really on top of things.

So how does the Spanish-speaking son of two factory workers become a superintendent? Was there a teacher or someone who influenced you?
When I started at Wilmington Junior High I didn’t always hang out with the best people. I was a tough barrio guy. My friends were hardcore. So I was surprised when one day, a few weeks into the school year of seventh grade, my teacher Rita Stelle came up to me during break and asked to talk to me. This was cramping my style and embrassing me in front of my friends, so I said I had nothing to talk to her about. This didn’t end here. She approached me every day at break. Finally, I agreed to talk and said, “What do you want?” She noticed that I was a leader among all the groups in school and that I got along with everyone and that wasn’t a common sight in this school. She mentioned that everyone else stuck to their own kind but I crossed all groups. She said that I would make a great leader and asked if I would run for student body president. Next thing I knew I was school president.

And now you’re a superintendent. So what exactly does your job involve?
My job is simple. I work for kids.

Why should a parent deciding between public and private opt for a SFUSD school?
It’s the real world. If we hope for the best for our kids, we can’t shield them from reality.

What do you think of SFUSD parents?
They’re the smartest parents that I’ve ever encountered in a district. They’re strong advocates for their children. I was at Alvarado the other day. Parents were everywhere. It was like a family environment.

The district is supposed to be coming out with a strategic plan—a vision for the next five years. When can we expect that?
We’re working on the final drafts of it. We’ll be finished in April at the latest.

What do you think of Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed education budget cuts?
This is the biggest budget crisis in the history of California education. I’m amazed that everyone isn’t out on the streets saying this is outrageous. We all ought to be as mad as hell. Every day I go out and express my anger about the budget cuts. I call our legislators. I’m sure the governor doesn’t think highly of me.

Maybe I'll plan a protest.
That's a great idea.

Will you have to close schools?
Definitely not this year. We might have to reconsider next year.

Increase class sizes?
If we don’t get the Rainy Day Fund—the $30 million from the city—there would be huge increases in class size in 4th through 12th grades. Kindergarten through third is protected by law—we can’t increase the class sizes in those grades.

So when do we know if we’ll get the Rainy Day Fund?
The city budget has to be passed by the legislature. Hopefully, soon.

Any plans to change the SFUSD lottery system?
I realize that the system isn’t perfect. Eventually we will revisit it. But no matter what plan we come up with, there will be people who won’t like it. If everyone were assigned to their neighborhood schools, there would be some parents who wouldn’t want to send their kids to the neighborhood school. We’re examining a lot of options. But I think the bottom line is that we need to start making more of our schools top schools.

Does the district plan to hire a grant writer?
Absolutely. We’re working with the city to jointly fund someone.

What are your goals for 2008?
Literacy is one of my goals. I want every child in my district to be literate by the end of third grade. If a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, it can have a profound negative impact on his or her future. Twenty-two of our country's states use third grade test results to determine how many prison cells to build for the future.

And the achievement gap. We're an urban district and we generally have great test scores. But I can’t stand to think that our Latina and African American students are performing so poorly. Special ed students outperform the African American kids. We need to fix that.

Also, paying teachers more and making sure they’re doing a good job. We’ve put a parcel tax on the June 1 ballot. If this passes—it has to pass with a two-thirds vote—we hope to increase starting salaries for teachers from $40,000 to $50,000. We also want to introduce incentives for teachers to work at less desirable schools. A teacher might get a $2,000 bonus for going to an underperforming school. And we will introduce a stricter evaluation process.

The parcel tax will also contribute $3.75 million toward upgrading technology in our schools. Our technology is outdated. If this parcel tax passes it could really revolutionize our schools.

Was this parcel tax your idea?
There are many dedicated people behind this idea.

What’s the biggest problem in the district?
I don’t think everyone in this city has ownership of all of our children. We need to stand up for all of our kids. Whether they’re kids living in the Presidio or Bayview, we need to take responsibility for all children.

Do you have a mantra?
Our schools will not be good enough for any of our children unless we can make them good enough for all of our children.