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.”


  1. My daughter won't attend Kindergarten until next year, but I've been reading your blog nonstop to get some insight into what lies ahead. Thanks Kate for providing so much valuable information. I hope you will continue your blog through the summer and even into your daughter's first year of school. Can you archive it for future K parents? This interview, for example, is so useful - and I'll really need it a year from now!

  2. i'm torn between 2 schools, so let me ask this:

    Imagine I waitlist at "School A" and list "School B" in the top spot on my round 2 application.

    if a slot opens up at "A," am i assigned that school automatically, such that i now have NO CHANCE of getting "B"?

    or is my Round 2 application still processed? if i get into "B" then, would i then have chance to really choose between "A" and "B"

    sorry if this question has already been answered previously!

  3. I would like to put in a little plug for Marshall Elementary, one of the "up and comers" that Ellie mentioned in the article. We are a small (only 240 students) Spanish Immersion school in the middle of the Mission district. We have a focus on Biliteracy, Bilingualism, and the Life Sciences. My two kids have been in the program for several years, and we feel that they are getting a solid education, where they are gaining the ability to think, express and do in both Spanish and English. We are always on the lookout for English speaking parents who want to check out what Spanish Immersion has to offer. (don't worry if you are not fluent in Spanish, there are resources available!)

    We are open for touring tomorrow, March 13, at 10:00 AM. Come check us out!
    Marshall Elementary
    1575 15th St. (near Capp)
    SF CA 94110

    Mark Jeffires
    Marshall Dad
    SF-AME Member
    PPS-SF Board Member

  4. WARNING: this is not expert commentary and does not constitute advice...

    Waitlists are run before the amended apps. In the above scenario, if you got your waitlist choice A, your name would be removed from the amended app run, therefore you have no chance at B from that approach.

    On the other hand, I believe that the district is being purposefully unclear with the below statements, in order to scare people into not trying to hog too many seats before deciding.

    ATTENTION: If we are able to assign your child to one of your newly requested school(s), the new assignment will replace your previously accepted school.

    If I register at a school but also choose to apply for a Waiting Pool at another school, I can then choose between either school if I receive an assignment offer to the Waiting Pool school.
    • False – Waiting Pool schools are considered first choice schools. If you receive a space in the school through the waiting pool run, your previous school assignment will be cancelled. If you change your mind about your waiting pool school, please notify EPC in writing to remove your name from the waiting pool. "


    Registering at your school holds your spot. The computer doesn’t know whether or not you enrolled

    The computer can't enroll you in a school Neither can it unenroll you from a school. So while "your previous school assignment will be cancelled," your enrollment won't! For example, if you get your waitlist choice in the 10-day period after school has started but find you like where you are enrolled, you stay. It happens all the time. The district doesn't yank you out and make you go to your waitlist school. They move on to the next person.

    Enrollment is power.

  5. Can I get clarification:
    I got 0 for 7. If I get one of my amended choices, am I still in the preferred group for my waitpool choice? Or do I lose that edge?

  6. I think this last poster is correct--but obviously it would be important to know for sure! PPS people, can you clarify this? I can see why the district would not want people "hogging" spots or whatever, but this would be an important strategy for many folks.

  7. Does anyone know:

    They use the diversity index AND the 10 priority groups in the wait pool. But which one do they apply first? Do they (using, say, Clarendon's wait pool as an example), assign the first poor-housing-project kid they can find, starting by looking in pool #1 (Medical Appeals) and proceeding through pool #10 until they find one? OR do they begin by looking in pool #1 to find a poor-housing-project kid, proceeding through pool #1 until anyone from that pool, regardless of their diversity-index score, will do (because Medical Appeals trumps all)?

    Ah hell, probably don't matter anyway...

  8. I've found the data for last year's May 2007 and June 2007 wait pool counts on the EPC website (http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/?page=policy.placement.round_one). What I can't seem to locate is outcome. Specifically, how many people ultimately made it from the waitpool to an assignment after each phase, or even after the 10 day count. Does that data exist?

  9. If I'm getting all the facts about the waitlist pools and amended applications in my head straight, then it appears that Round II is run very differently than Round 1. Waitlist pools are run before the amended lists in Round II, right? So it seems to me that if you really want to get into an oversubscribed school, your only chance is to list it as your one and only Waitlist School as the number of people in the waitlist pools exceeds the probable number of spaces that would open up.

  10. Hi Everyone. Thanks for your comments. This is Ellie Rossiter (PPS) responding to some of the clarifying inquiries mentioned here. I don't always get to this blog, and there are SO MANY questions. Please feel free to contact me directly at ellie@ppssf.org and leave your phone number. Some of these questions are easier to answer in person -- especially when dealing with scenarios and specific schools.

    But I'll give some of it a go -- Assuming the scenario is this: 1) you registered at your designated school. 2) you chose a wait pool school -- your highest choice 3) you listed up to seven additional schools with good odds on your amended application, then here's what happens, assuming you get none of your additional school selections again: you remain in your designated school -- the one you registered for. And your name remains on the wait pool school throughout the summer and into September unless 1) you get your wait pool school, 2) you take your name off the list 3) the lists are dissolved at the end of Sept. Your seven amended schools are no longer considered after this next run. However, Open Enrollment begins in June. During this time, you may opt to take a school that you prefer over your current designated school and still remain in the wait pool for the school you want. You can also change you wait pool school at any time if you feel you want to increase your odds.

    Here's the bottom line: 1) a child can not be assigned to more than one school -- that's why you lose your spot in one when you are assigned to another and 2) if you get your wait pool school, it's over because you got what you wanted.

    One person asked, if they get an amended choice, do they still carry the priority cohort in future runs? Yes. Your cohort will not change throughout the rest of the process.

    A note on Wait Pool vs. Amended Applications -- Wait Pools are run before Amended applications, so yes to one blogger -- don't bother putting a highly requested school on the amended application -- it's sure to be taken by someone else's wait pool. the Amended apps are meant to expand your options -- to try for a school that you feel is a better fit than the one you were designated.

    Also, keep in mind that most parents get what they want if they stick with the process, and there are great schools out there with good odds. So hang in there!

  11. I toured Sunnyside yesterday and registered my daughter today. I was pleasantly surprised by the calm and friendly nature of the school and the family feel between principal, teachers, children and parents.

    The strengths of Sunnyside... small and cozy school in a nice and mellow neighborhood. Many new teachers and a principal who seems committed to continuing to improve the school and who welcomes and encourages parent participation. Decent test scores (mid 700's). Diverse student population. Strong after school program with on-site Y program with flexible spending options. Lots of room for parent involvement, new ideas and fundraising. Lots of enrichment programs and a new play structure in the yard.

    On the downside... parent participation could be improved upon although it seems that most families are dual-working and don't have as much time/resources to contribute. While principal has been infusing new teachers into the school... school could benefit from more movement.

    Overall I feel that Sunnyside is ripe with possibilities. I firmly believe that we could make Sunnyside an amazing school (it's already pretty great). I encourage you to take a look at this school and to keep posting your experiences. Would love to hear other opinions.


  12. We just registered our daughter at Sunnyside as well. We're excited about the potential of the school and I hope more kinder parents will be involved this coming school year. I know we will.
    I think they're having an open house this evening.

  13. anyone look at Jose Ortega-Mandarin Immersion or Sutro?

  14. Here's the bottom line: 1) a child can not be assigned to more than one school -- that's why you lose your spot in one when you are assigned to another

    Sorry, this still sounds like rhetoric to me. You can't have two assignments. You can't have two enrollments. But assignment and enrollment are two different things. You cannot be forced to unenroll from one school just because you were assigned to a different one after the fact.

  15. We looked at Jose Ortega Mandarin immersion and liked it a lot. We listed it #5 and would have been pleased to be there. Principal came up through the ranks and I've heard very good things about her from people who have worked with the school and people who work for the District. Active PTA, though I don't remember that they were able to raise a lot of money. Teachers were very impressive. Seemed like a very warm, cohesive place. The Mandarin program is small, just one class, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The K was only half full this year but I suspect next year's will probably fill.

  16. Was Jose Ortega a uniform wearing school and did they have many extra enrichment programs or an after-school program?

    I am considering it for Round 2, although a friend of mine toured it and said I wouldn't be happy there.

    I guess it might be hard to compare it once you had your heart set on AFY.

  17. ^^Thanks!!