Thursday, May 1, 2008

K Files Council: What would you have done differently?

Today, I received emails from three parents who will go through the school process next year. They all suggested that we start a thread focused on giving future kindergarten parents advice.

Here are some questions to get us started:

What would you recommend for people applying to private and public schools?

What advice would you give to a parent going only through the public school process?

What would you have done differently?

What did you wish you'd known beforehand?


  1. My advice is to...know your child and really understand his needs. Interview his preschool teachers 2x a year. They will give you great insight into what may be the ideal type of school.
    Know yourself and your family's needs. What types of families do you want to live with/form a community with? how do you feel about paying tuition? how do you feel about volunteering? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves to improve a school? How do you feel about commuting to your child's school? thoughts about aftercare? hours that work for you?
    Then using the answers to the above, chart out schools to visit. I took 2 years. 1 for public (saw 17), 1 for private. I also spent hours on the phone talking with parents of kids at private schools and school ambassadors at my top 7 picks.
    And then after round 2, I discovered Rosa Parks JBBP, and tossed my thorough school research (but not my soul search) aside.
    My son is finishing K in 1 month+ and he and I are looking forward to year #2.
    Take your time, spend some of it thinking, and Good luck!

  2. If you really want a public school, or can only afford a public school, then my advice is to do what Kim Greene suggested on another thread -- make sure your list includes no more than 2 wildly oversubscribed schools and at least 2 or 3 that you like and have a decent chance of getting. So look for the hidden gems early on instead of wasting a lot of time touring Clarendon, CL, Rooftop, etc. By all means, check out one or two of these oversubscribed schools as a reference point, at least, and then list one or two if you think they'd be a good fit. But then move on and consider the lesser known schools. I'd check out New Traditions, J. Serra, Hillcrest, Rosa Parks.

    If you might have a back up plan (either private or perhaps redshirting), and you find that you only want 7 oversubscribed schools, then it might make sense to list them all, knowing that you'll likely go 0/7 and then you'd have priority for the waitlist. This strategy would obviously be very stressful and some won't be comfortable with it for that reason. I personally wouldn't have wanted to wait all summer to find out where my child would be going to school. But, if you truly believe only the oversubscribed schools are the right fit for you and your family, then I think this is the best plan for actually getting into one.

    I have no advice/knowledge about the private school process. Frankly, just thinking about all the interviews, tours, coffees, playdates, etc. exhausts me. I could see fitting in one or two maybe, but I don't know how people handle applying to 8 or 10 private schools, especially if they're also touring publics.

  3. The word is that the public school process will be different next year because they are going to change the assignment process (maybe a little, maybe a lot).

    The thing that I didn't realize (and that no one will admit officially) is that how you rank the schools is important to whether or not you get chosen in the lottery. A school (or EPC) will more likely choose you if you rank them first than 6th. So make sure that you really, really want that hyped up school if you put it first. And think about putting a slightly less in demand school first if you really like it.

  4. If you are considering public and private, start touring the publics and doing the research like talking to parent ambassadors the year before you are ready to apply. It is extremely time consuming and stressful to do everything the same year.

  5. not be attached to "the perfect school." understand the limits of the California school system and judge schools on how much money the PTA raises, and what they spend it on. then hold your nose and put 7 schools.

  6. I advise: Try to understand that psychology plays into the whole process. No, I am serious; it might help you understand why you end up where you do and why you don't seem to mind. There may be a school you dismissed for whatever reason at the beginning but by round II you find yourself hoping to get into that school because it is oversubscribed for the first time ever. It's crazy but true, the psychology of scarcity is irresistible for most humans.

    You can likewise expect that if you do get assigned to a school that you listed and it is not a super-duper oversubscribed popular school, you will wonder why it was so easy to get the school and start to doubt your choice.

    Nuts. The system is nuts and it will make you nuts.

  7. Figure out what your priorities are before you start the process. Cost, foreign language, faith based education, diversity, location? Then stick to them. Otherwise you will find yourself swept up in the hysteria and lemming mentality described by kinderplot. Oh, and make sure you and your spouse/partner are on the same page.

  8. Give yourself a backup plan even if it's not exactly what you want. I wish that we had looked at parochial schools even though we are not christian (or religious at all for that matter).

  9. Remember that nothing is set in stone forever. So even if you have to resort to your backup plan (like catholic school), you can try again for what you really want (public or private) in 1st grade.

  10. I will add that another nice thing about having a parochial school as a backup to public is that it gives you the option to wait it out through the 10-day count (yes, you will lose some money but it will be worth it in the long run and it's a fraction of a full year's tuition at a non-denominational private). Also, many parochial schools have something like a rolling admissions (like they test your kid and if he/she does well, he/she is offered a spot right then and there). It certainly makes the process more bearable to know you have a decent school.

  11. Find out what the sibling situation will be early in the process and take this information seriously in making your application decision. I think a lot of people were taken by surprise how many siblings there were this year (and how many were girls). Yet even people who knew that there were so few spots only applied to 2 privates. I heard a rumor that it will be even worse next year (like 80% of spots will be taken by sibs).

  12. Take advice from current parents with a grain of salt. What parent is actually going to tell you they hate their school? For every public school I researched (including ones people on this board might view as "sketchy"), I was able to find a reasonable, articulate and intelligent parent who loved the school. Everyone has a different set of priorities and a different perspective -- you need to decide what is right for YOUR family.

  13. don't suck up to the privates -- it's totally transparent and they don't like it. this is to be distinguished from showing genuine interest. private schools will only admit families who really want to be there.

  14. i am sitting here at work reading this and beginning to have a panic attack. my daughter is 4 so we are applying for 09-10 and i have already spent several saturday nights with spreadsheets and websites and such to just determine where we would like to go and tour, let alone where we should apply. yet i am now reading that i should be calling parent ambassadors, other people, etc. how are you supposed to do this and work fulltime, be an effective parent, loving wife and then MAYBE sleep? this is why people leave this wonderful city. it is amazing to me....i do appreciate this blog and many kudos to kate and others.

    thanks and if you have any valium let me know :)

  15. 6:37 realize this sample of parents is not exactly representative. many people who don't do all this work get a school they are happy with. probably more of the people onthis blog got none of their choices than people who didn't read this blog.

    i felt like i got the most information by far talking to other parents at playgounds/parks, and through the grapevine. the tours do not really tell/show you much about the school.

  16. We fought the big fight to get out of a then-disdained, unpopular school (Miraloma) and into a then-trophy school (Lakeshore).

    For middle school, we chose the then-underdog school (Aptos) over the prestige choices (Hoover and Giannini).

    While my kids had a fine experience at Lakeshore and I wouldn't trade it, I now know that things would have worked out fine at Miraloma and probably most other schools too. And having now been a parent at an underdog school -- against the advice of many people --I now know firsthand that it can work too.

    What I'd do differently is somehow have the insight that my kids can thrive in a variety of settings -- that there's not just one right school for them, or just a few -- and not to stress as much as I did.

  17. If your child is turning 5 in June or July, don't bother applying to what has been referred to as "top" privates. Or red shirt your child a year if you really want those schools.

  18. To 6:37. Seriously, you do not need to do all of the stuff many people who participate on this blog do. The entire tour process pissed me off--I work full-time and could not take all the time to do 7+ tours (nor, honestly, did I want to). I toured 4 schools, asked around about others, knew we wanted something in our general neighborhood (and thus did not consider schools more than a 10-minute drive away), knew we wanted immersion. We also knew we were willing to wait out the 10-days to get a "neighborhood" school we liked. We were lucky and got our first choice in Round 1, which also happens to be an "oversubscribed" school.
    I was able to take this tactic because I do not believe there is one perfect school for my child. He is a bright kid who I think would do well in a variety of environments. The idea of an "ideal" school for him (or the great majority of kids) strikes me as a bit absurd. I'm not on that bandwagon.
    In short, you do not need to get caught up in the hype. You can, and I see why people do. But it is a choice. I have too much to do to spend 1 or 2 years devoting myself to going through schools with a fine-tooth comb and analyzing spreadsheets. I'm sure many people reading this blog would accuse me of not caring enough about my child's education. They can think that. They are wrong.

  19. One of the things I would do differently is this: I would actually believe it when people told me not to list over subscribed schools. I thought if I listed seven of the popular schools I was bound to get at least one. I also thought that since I lived in the magic zipcode of the Mission District, I'd have a better chance.

    It didn't work out that way.

    When you see that there are gajillions of families trying to get into a school, believe it. Your chances are practically nill. Surrender.

    I would have put several schools that I would have been happy with. But for a newbie, how can you lower your sights when you are playing the game for the first time? It just isn't natural. But it is a better idea, if you want to have a good chance of getting something.

    I would have listed no more than 2 or 3 top schools. The rest would have been b list and c list schools. I would have gotten something. I would at least have an option. And I don't think I'd be sitting here with my head up my arse 0/15 looking at rentals in (yuck phooey ick) Marin.

    As for private schools, I would have applied to a dozen of them, and hoped for financial aid. I think I qualified, but I applied to only three schools. Had I applied to more, I think I might have gotten some bucks. Which would have tied me over till I lucked out and got one of the top publics in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th grade.

  20. One thing I did right was, I didn't spend a lot of time touring schools. I toured by doing a few drive-bys and looking at the kids on the playground. Anything more would have been a waste.

    I just went to the school fair, talked to the principals, talked to friends, and called it a damned day.

    It's useless to spend time, because at the end of the day, you put your chit into a computer. End of story.

  21. 8:31, which school DID you get in Round 1?

    Zip code counted in the '90s (94110, 94124 and 94134), but it hasn't been a factor for quite a few years. Did you get bad information or just hope it was somewhere in the Diversity Index?

  22. Kinderplot: You are absolutely 100% correct. The psychology of scarcity is very difficult to resist.

  23. The thing that I didn't realize (and that no one will admit officially) is that how you rank the schools is important to whether or not you get chosen in the lottery. A school (or EPC) will more likely choose you if you rank them first than 6th.

    Could you elaborate on how you got this information or evidence? It is definitely contradictory to the policy.

  24. Not to mention the process.

  25. Don't be fooled by the myth of "school choice" in SFUSD. Don't be fooled by the '81% of parents get one of their choices" bullshit. It is a lottery, with all sorts of bizarre stipulations. They will pretty much send you where THEY want to.

  26. I would not do much differently. Like a few others who have posted here, I did not go on a bunch of tours. My husband and I looked at the schools near us we were interested in and called it a day (we went on 2 tours together--the schools closest to us that based on research and asking friends we thought would be our first and second choice--I went on one more tour and stopped by another school and took a quick peak). I also got a lot of information from this blog (I know Kate and trusted her assessments--thanks for the time-saver Kate!). We based our ranking decisions as much as on location and start-time as anything else, and the tours were just a way to check and make sure we'd be comfortable sending our kid there.
    Like 8:27, I am not interested in having either me or my kid spending a lot of time getting to and from school (I recently quit a great job because of a commute), which really narrowed down our choices. We also threw out any 7:50 start-times. We also wanted a good on-site after-care program. Also like 8:27, I think my kid could do well in many different kinds of programs.
    So my advice is pretty simple: do what feels right to you. Ignore as much of the "have-to" language from other parents as possible.

  27. Can we try to keep this an advice thread rather than a complain about the lottery process thread (which nearly every thread on this blog turns into)? It's really not helpful.

    To 6:37am, you need to do what works for you and not worry about what everyone else is doing. For me, spreadsheets would have been a waste of time -- I was looking for a good feeling about a school (and was only able to get that from touring and talking to parents and teachers).

  28. The advice about the lottery is helpful, I think, about not really falling for the propaganda about "listing your 7 choices". The problem lots of parents are having now is that they believed they would actually get one of their choices. If you go into the process knowing that is not, in fact, always the case, you will not be so crushed when you do not get one of your 7 "choices".

  29. My advice:
    Trust your gut and try not to panic.

    If you saw a school that you really liked, even if you do not know why (a vibe, perhaps?) trust your instinct about it and give it a chance. Try not to follow/listen to or take too seriously other people's opinions about a school. We all have different needs and different children!
    There were a few popular schools we saw that parents RAVED about but for us we felt it was a lot of hype.

    If you can, start early in the process. We spent the first year, hitting schools in our radar and the second year looking beyond that.

    Good luck!

  30. Another thing to add-
    Even if you are not considering Private schools, we found it really helpful to tour the ones near us just to get a good comparison.

  31. My advice would be to pace yourself. I got exhausted by November and could not drag myself to one more tour, parent coffee, info night, etc.

    Some of the advice on here is really excellent and wish I had had it before we did this process. I think if you can know concrete things as much as possible (IE start times that work, location, immersion or not, etc) it really helps you narrow it down.

    I would also third the whole notion of the psychology of the process. We actually GOT something we wanted (we applied last year) yet got nothing else (no private, no Creative Arts) - and several of our friends got great choices. That made it really hard for me even though we got something on our list. Crazy but true.

  32. Be open minded about schools. Don't listen to rumors. Go and see for yourself and trust your own opinion. There's still a lot of negative talk about all but a handful of SF public schools, often by people who have never set foot in one. Don't get sucked in by the uninformed opinions of others.

  33. I would look at my neighborhood public school first.

    No matter its test scores or demographics, if the school has an excellent principal, you and your friends can get together, choose the school, and quickly change the atmosphere there. For people with the energy for volunteering and a pioneer spirit, I truly think that this is the way to go.

    For private schools, I would talk to some parents of current fourth and fifth graders to get the real lowdown on the internal politics. These schools change quickly. At my son's private school, the parents of the incoming kindergarten class last year were completely different than the class that my husband and I saw six years ago.

    And don't fret too much. If you have raised your son/daughter to be a reader, an ethical person, and someone who shows respect for others, he/she will thrive almost anywhere as long as the school is safe.

  34. Caroline, I am 8:31 and you asked me a question. I was assigned to Chavez, which is not a remote possibility for my child.

    I was waitlisting a school I liked, but now that I found out how many people are on the list, I decided to waitlist a school with only 5 on the list. I am still hopeful, but even if I do get that school, it's across town which depresses me.

  35. And also Caroline, as far as I know, zip code DOES count. They will accept a child from the Bayview or Mission into a Clarendon, before they would Pacific Heights or Upper Market, because it's one of the few factors that might increase the diversity.

    Am I wrong? Zip code does count.

  36. I can assure you zip code does not count.

  37. Actually Clarendon is one of the few schools (because it's alternative) where zip code does NOT matter at ALL. For non-alternative schools (the vast majority), they will separate the applicants from the enrollment area from those outside the enrollment area and run the lottery on the "local" kids first, giving preference to those families who add diversity. If the diversity parameters are not satisfied by local kids, only then will they run the lottery on the non-local kids.

  38. Right.

    There is a slight preference for neighborhood attendance area kids for neighborhood schools. This is not classified by zip code but by attendance zones--you can find these on the SFUSD website--mostly includes the surrounding neighborhood plus some satellite zones. A hold-over from busing days.

    There is NO zip code or neighborhood preference for alternative schools, such as Rooftop. None, zip, zero.

  39. For those applying to privates, schedule the playdates and parent interviews as far apart as you can (you have 2 to 2 1/2 months to do them). Most families I know tried to get them all over as soon as possible (I know one girl who had 4 playdates in one week!) either because they wanted to get it over with or because they thought it would give them some "edge" in being first (it doesn't). Pace yourself. It is a grueling time-consuming process and the playdates and interviews are the only things you have some control over with respect to scheduling.

  40. If I could 'do over,' I would have reviewed the Demand Spreadsheets available on the SFUSD website, before we finalized our list.
    We are in the Sunset and listed 2 immersion programs, 1 K-8, and 4 'local' schools.
    Based on rumour, urban legend and playground chat (not the spreadsheet data:-), we knew that the immersion and k-8 were a stretch, but we were fairly sure that we'd get one of the 4 local. I had been forwarned by friends not to load my list with the 'top' schools, and thought that I was including a few that weren't.
    One of the local schools really didn't impress us, but it was ok, so we included it as our #7. Turns out it is consistently in the top 20 requested schools and all the others are very popular too.
    If I had seen the spreadsheet and the trends BEFORE Round 1, I probably would have broadened my list and included at least one less 'popular' school (instead of including the 1 that we were underwhelmed by).

    I think that looking at the Demand trends can be really helpful in this process...but you have to be willing to accept that you really might not be one of the lucky ones who gets something off their Round 1 list, if you only include popular schools.
    ....and I know that it is a lot harder to give up your dream of immersion (or whatever you really want) before you have been hosed and 'offered' a school that you've never even heard of (although you toured and/or researched a gajillion of them:-)...sadly, after the hosing, you tend to see things a tad differently.

  41. I would also recommend scheduling the parent interviews after your child's playdates (and if possible, near the end of the cut-off which this year was the end of February). The admissions director might tell you how your child did on the playdate and (as in our case) might tell you what your chances are. It's no guarantee of course but it's nice to have some idea of where you stand.

  42. If you are a fulltime working parent, research aftercare carefully (for publics and privates) -- they are all over the board and can make or break a decision. For example, it is very difficult to get aftercare at Rooftoop and the aftercare at one of the privates is basically daycare.

  43. Does zip code matter for immersion programs?

  44. When they look to add "diversity" to a school, do they look across the board at the whole school if it has two programs, say immersion and gen ed?

    Or do they look to diversify each strand?

    We're interested in Starr King for Mandarin immersion. Our home language is Spanish, which is *not* common for that strand, but common for the school overall.

  45. Each program is treated separately (thus on the application, a gened program and immersion program will count as 2 choices even if they are at the same school). So the diversity index will be applied to each program.

  46. As for a foreign language being spoken at home, does it matter what that language is? I thought the diversity index only looks at whether any language other than English is spoken at home.

  47. Charter schools have their own separate application and application process. So even though charter schools are part of SFUSD, they do not count against the 7. If I had known this I would have applied just to have options.

  48. I was told by the Enrollment councilor that what language did not matter. It matter if English was spoke in the home – yes or no.

  49. I am pretty sure that's not true in the case of language immersion programs. (That language doesn't matter.)

  50. You are most probably right. The question I asked the councilor was about GE programs.

  51. Not sure I would change any of what I did this year, and it looks like we are going to red-shirt our son based on not getting any of our choices. That's okey-dokey for us.

    But for next year, I will keep the following in mind:

    1) Choose 7 schools on the publics form. There is no downside, and there is possibly an upside as you will have preference on the waiting list.

    2) Apply to private schools only if you would really attend them. I have several friends who are now struggling with how they will pay the tuition for the private school they were praying to get into a couple months ago.

    3) Keep realistic expectations. This process is not particularly logical or fair. Next year I will keep that in mind and expect nothing. If I get something, won't that be a present surprise!

  52. I did not coach my child at all prior to his one parochial school play date. It did not occur to me. He had some behavior issues at the play date that kept him out in spite of his strong results on the test. We loved that school and could have afforded it. If I had it to do over, I would have had a little chat with him about being on his best behavior before the play date. I don't know if it would have helped and you don't want them too afraid to be themselves because you risk a bad fit, but at least I would have known I tried.

    As far as the public school process goes, if I had it to do over, I would start by finding out which schools had no waiting lists last year.

    Then from that list I would look at special academic programs, geography, and start time and see what seems workable.

    Then I would investigate. Talk to the people at the school fair. Listen to the playground buzz. Try to talk to as many current parents at the school as you can to get a balanced perspective. Pay particular attention to parents whose values and priorities seem to be similar to your own. If there's a way for you to spend some time at the school, it will give you a sense of the atmosphere, even better if it's not a tour where you're herded around looking at kids when they're fresh first thing in the morning.

    Several schools are having spring fund-raisers that you can still attend and that's a great way to see the schools and mingle with the parents. Grattan has their Fun Fest Saturday April 17 during the day, and Rosa Parks is having an auction starting at 6 in the evening that same day. Check this blog and school web sites for other fund-raiser listings. If there are fall fund-raisers before the application deadline, try to hit a few of those.

    If the school has no opportunities to meet parents you can relate to, that's probably a sign it may not be the best choice for your family.

    After you've got a sense that even though a school may not be in the perceived top 20, it's a pretty nice place where your child would do well, then look at some of the "big name" publics. It won't hurt to list a couple of them IF you really like them. As they say, "If you don't enter, you can't win." But try to list at least 3 schools with no waiting lists last year.

    We discovered and got into Rosa Parks JBBP, our Round II hidden gem, by a stroke of luck. Parents were at the Round II counseling session. With their encouragement to look past the test scores and the Japantown projects location, we visited the school several times. We now feel that it's nurturing, safe, academically strong in JBBP and up-and-coming in General Ed, and has a great community of involved parents who are really going to put that school on the radar. It would not have occurred to us to even visit had we not met those parents.

    Do I still love Clarendon? Yes, of all the "big name" publics I visited, that was the one I was most drawn to. But I could have saved myself soooo much stress and wasted time had we not let ourselves get stuck in that top-20 mindset.

    You'll still need good luck and a well-stocked liquor cabinet, but much to my surprise based on where I was ten days ago, I speak as an optimistic survivor.

  53. Several schools are having spring fund-raisers that you can still attend and that's a great way to see the schools and mingle with the parents. Grattan has their Fun Fest Saturday April 17 during the day, and Rosa Parks is having an auction starting at 6 in the evening that same day.

    4:02 PM meant to say that:
    Grattan's Fun Fest is MAY 18th from 1-5pm.


    i meant to say Saturday, MAY 17th from 1-5pm.

  55. good question.

    1. Focus first on touring schools you haven't heard of, not schools everyone's talking about. It is a much better use of your time. What if you fall in love with one? Then you can rest easier throughout. (Caveat: You should book late-in-the-season appointments to tour overenrolled schools early, since tour spots fill up. Not that anyone checks or you'll get turned away. "Clarendon wannabes! Just slip in amongst the other heifers and shuffle this way!")

    2. Research district-wide data and curricula info in advance of tours.

    So many valuable minutes were eaten up on tours with discussion of what are essentially district or state-wide mandates. Educate yourself about funding streams, class size rules and other facts in advance so you can really focus on what is DIFFERENT about each school, like the enrichment programs they choose to spend their $$$ on. Sometimes tour leaders will present a data point as a point of positive difference when in fact that item is true of all SF schools (like Prop H funding or class smaller class size for lower grades).

    3. Know your apples and oranges.

    Decide what your priorities are and keep separate ranked lists of different types of schools (based on start time, immersion Y/N, science/art emphasis Y/N, etc.) Then decide whether you want to pursue one type of school specifically, or a pot pourri.

    4. Take rumors with a grain of salt.

    Could be true, could be bullshit, could be the blatherings of a demented K-seeking mind. You'll never know.

    5. Ask an IRF (instructional resource facilitator) who works for the district what you should be looking for as you evaluate what's going on in the classroom.

    Everything looked similar at first -- essays, art, messy files. Then I got more granular and differences jumped out at me.

    6. Trust vibe radar.

    Vibe matters a lot. I disliked some of the most popular schools intensely because the vibe clashed with the sort of life education I wanted my kids to get (e.g., the prevailing attitude at Clarendon appeared to be, "thank God we got sooooo lucky or we would have haaaad to go private).

    7. If you have a bilingual household, think about taking English out of the equation on the application.

    I have my doubts about whether the system can even tag a kid as bilingual (in terms of the home language survey and the "diversity" index). I know a lot of families who got stripped of their chance to diversify an English-dominant school by being tagged as English speakers in the system. At least find out in advance how this black box really works (next year).

    8. Get school bus routes in advance for schools that interest you.

    If proximity is a goal, you may find that you can throw a larger net than you thought if there's a bus stop near your house. Remember: Your kid won't always be in K, and many Ks take the bus in any case. Routes are sometimes online and always at the school.

    9. Register at whatever you get in Round 1.

    Why not? Worth it for karma alone. I got soundly spanked for my former attitude about J. Serra and was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. It wasn't perfect, but, hey, what is?

    10. Put 7 schools on your Round I app, for God's bleedin' sake. that you'll be in the top cohort in Round II if you go 0/7. For that matter -- and I hate recommending this, HATE it, but I have to -- decide early on whether you're going to "go for broke' on a couple of favorites or not. If you are, that is an incentive to load the bottom of your list with overenrolled schools you don't really want and probably won't get, so that you can plan for Round II.
    There were a couple of schools I really loved that I didn't put on the round I list because they weren't immersion and we prioritized that very highly. It all worked out for us in the end, largely because we were in the top cohort (we went 0/7 in round I). That said, if we had gone 0/15 like so many people, I would be questioning that strategy big-time now, and wishing I had indeed put less popular schools on our round I list. Just something to ponder.

    11. Shrill public school advocates like myself: Spend quality time with your private-inclined friends now, because you will start to think the other is a grade-A asshole before it's all done. Thankfully, you'll be as big an asshole, so you'll come out even and reconcile when you both go 0 for whatever from your respective lists.

    12. Understand that if you did absolutely nothing, your results would be about the same. It's a fucking lottery, people! (My husband Gabe is a fan of this approach, and it has worked well for him.) Think of the angst you can spare yourself! The Zen brownie points!

    13. Visit playgrounds near schools you're interested in and corner current parents after school for some info. (Tours are only worth so much.)

    14. Get to know your inner xenophobe.

    White people, I'll tell you right now: You probably do not have as many friends of color as you think you do. I'm not saying you're a big racist or anything. Just that you're probably going to have to do some personal work -- of the Deepakish sort -- to raise your comfort level sufficiently that your list does not read: Miraloma, Grattan, Clarendon. So let that SF smugness go and realize that, until you enter the public school system, you might as well have been living in Minnesota, for all that your ideals have been tested. Eating at Papalote does not count. Dressing up as Bootsie Collins for Halloween in 1998 does not count. Sorry.

    Remember: This system does not give you enough choice to really be called choice -- in the sense of the word you know and love, as in, you CHOOSE your breakfast cereal in the morning...or your husband. Think of this in a good way -- it takes the pressure off you having to approach this as a problem that can be solved by gathering enough data and studying your kid, blah blah, blah...Things like "good fit for your kid" are just PR blatherings. Accept the madness. You'll be happier for it.

  56. can i suggest a new metaphor? "hidden gem" is not just way over-used, it isn't quite right. it suggests a school that is sterling yet undiscovered. to me, the right metaphor is "fast riser," these "fast risers" are schools that have hit the tipping-point because enough pioneering parents (maybe 2 or 3 years-worth) have put enough energy into a school to make it vibrant and up-and-coming. it may not be a Clarendon or Miraloma yet, but it will be... in a matter of 2 to 3 years. "take-over school" is a description given to Grattan because parents essentially took it over and turned it around. i'm not too keen on that descriptor, because it suggests a lot of clique-y-ness and an over-bearing PTA... a PTA that is less-than-balanced between parents-teachers-princial. This year's fast-riser award probably goes to Flynn. I'm guessing SK is a fast riser too due to the growing Mandarin immersion program.

    So no more talk of looking for your "hidden gem." I say, keep your ear to the ground and get a good sense for the schools that are on the cusp of being a "fast riser."

  57. i'm one of those parents that toured 20+ schools - probably 20 publics and 5 privates. i have my own business so i have the luxury of not answering to a boss in the morning. at the same time, it was a huge drag on my productivity and i regretted the burden.

    i understand where posters who say "forget touring a ton of schools" are coming from: it's time consuming and ultimately frustrating because there is no guarantee you'll get anything you want.

    BUT, BIG BUT: if i had not toured all those schools, and dove into all the spreadsheets and websites, and blogs, etc. i would have NEVER ended up at the school we finally landed: SK Mandarin. when i entered this process, i had the following criteria:

    1. not 7:50 start-time
    2. good API scores (850+)
    3. strong/involved PTA

    i had never thought about language immersion. i was scared to death of schools with low test scores. i was scared to death of schools in sketchy neighborhoods.

    where did we end up? Starr King Mandarin. it doesn't start at 7:50, thank goodness, but the test scores are abysmal and the PTA is just pulling itself together.

    it was through the long, horrendous process of touring schools, and educating myself on the process and odds of getting the Clarendons, I learned the value of diversity, the value of learning a second language, the reason for the low test scores in certain schools, the potential reward in turning a school around.

    it was hard, hard, hard and i'm still not sure how things will turn out. but i feel good that we've taken this plunge and landed where we landed.

    some parents do not have the time in their days to do all the tours or do all the research, but whatever tours and research you can do, makes you more aware of all the options out there.

  58. this is off the subject, but seems like there are some other sk mandarin parents out there, any interest in getting kids together for a play date or two in august so that the kids will be a little more comfortable when school starts??

  59. Research can help you have a better idea about the odds you are facing with your 7 choices -- it is a lottery after all -- a numbers game. My husband and I both work FT and I did much of my searching (surfing) in the evening. The SFUSD site has all the data and links to school sites. has verbatims. Parents for Public Schools is also a terrific resource (see the Adams spreadsheet as a tool -- not a guarantee).

    As many parents have already said, I'd advise you not to list more than one or two "heavily oversubscribed" schools -- it is nearly mathematically impossible if your 7 choices are Rooftop, Clarendon, West Portal, Claire Lilienthal, Lawton, Alice Fong Yu, etc. These schools are all listed as 1st choice schools and have less slots open than the 1st choice demands. And, you cannot predict siblings!

    The school we really wanted was not one of the above, but looking at last year's data, they already had more people listing it 1st than open spots. That means in order to get the best shot at getting in it needed to be listed 1st.

    So, I didn't list any of the "heavily oversubscribed" -- who knows if I might've been one of the lucky few who got in, but I'm thrilled we got our 1st choice.

    Also, list 7 schools. We really only had 6 schools we liked, but if you go 0/7 in Round 1 your Round II priorty is higher than if you went 0/3 or 0/6. We listed Lawton as our 7th choice knowing there's no way we could get in listing it 7th, but it was better than putting a school we didn't want and listing seven is better.

    When looking at this year's data, don't freakout so much by the "overall" numbers -- look to see how many times the schools was ranked as a 1st choice -- it's a better indicator.

    Looking at school webistes, taking tours, talking (or emailing) the parent or PTA volunteers, attending school activites -- many schools have their annual fundraisers in May (auctions, carnivals, fairs) -- check those out -- see the schools in action.

    And, PLEASE take everything you hear/read with a grain of salt. Most of the posters on this blog are unhappy with their situation (understandably) ... but you're probably not hearing from parents who are happy (or very lucky). I've also seen misinformation and rumors on this blog. Honest mistakes or red herrings?

    If you're able, have back-ups (private & parochial). Or, at least tour a few to confirm you don't want private/parochial -- you may be surprised.

    Keep an open mind, and take a deep breath. The process was like a 2nd job to me, but I personally needed to know I did all I could to make the best 7 choices I could. My choices were based on more logic than emotion, and prior to Round I announcements I read-up on Round II just in case -- that way it wouldn't be a total numbing experience if we went 0/7 -- we'd know what to expect (sort of).

    Good luck to everyone next year! I know the lottery bites in many ways, but it did work for us. Our neighborhood school didn't even make our list of 7 (and it is a good school -- we just didn't like it).

    And, remember to form you own opinions. For example, we expected to like Grattan, but at the tour it wasn't a good fit for my husband and me -- not a good vibe for us. But others love it --you need to see it for yourself!

  60. Bopper pye -- yes, we're also headed to SK in the fall. I have heard from a current parent that they'll be setting up some playdates over the summer. Maybe Kate could start a new thread to facilitate connections amoung parents who already have school assignments for next year....

  61. I'm not sure I would have done anything differently (better stocked liquor cabinet, perhaps?), but do have some suggestions, some echoing those above:

    1. Tour public and private. You may be surprised either way, and it's nice to have a reference point.

    2. Don't fall in love with any one or two schools. Be open minded about the strengths of each of your favorites and list them. Our list was 1. private 2. private 3. public 4. public 5. private 6. public 7. public 8. private 9. private and 10. public. We rounded out our public school application with over subscribed schools so that we would go 0/7 if we didn't get one of our choices. And the publics we liked high on our list did not include Clarendon or Claire Lil.

    3. Do space the private play dates. We did one a week. Many kids at our child's preschool go private, so the kids did talk about having play dates at potential kindergartens. This helped our daughter a lot. She looked forward to her play dates and saw them as a fun way to check out a school and compared notes with her friends (to the extent that a four-year-old can). We didn't coach her, but did tell her to be on good behavior, to remember that the main point was to have a good time, and that she should do her best at everything she was asked to do because just like she was getting to know about the school they were getting to know about her. After every "play date" she swore that that school was the place she wanted to go. Low stress. Lots of fun.

    3. Take your child to see some public schools, too. Go with a friend's child for drop off or attend an event. It will help you and your child to know that there are many possibilities.

    4. Schedule private school interviews later in the season. I agree that it's nice to have play dates done with when you interview. Be yourself. Ask all of the questions you really want to ask. Don't worry about what you wear. We knew what schools were a good fit and what schools were not based on how hard we had to "try" in the interviews. Two schools on our list of five were easy matches for us and those are the schools we got accepted to.

    5. Know your child. Don't try to find the school that you attended or wish you had attended. Find the school that would or could work for your child. Immersion is not for every kid. It freaks some of them out. Intense academic privates are not for every kid. Small/big classes or schools are not for every kid.

    6. Realize that even if you do what you think is best for your kid and for you, you can always try something different the next year if it doesn't work. You are not stuck anywhere.

    7. Don't apply to private schools (independent or parochial) that you would not send your child to. It's a waste of money and time.

    8. Remember that the private school coffees and other events are really an opportunity to get to know the school and the community. Don't feel that you have to attend all of the events to get in. You don't. You will be better positioned in your interview and when you write your application if you do know the schools, however, and can articulate what it is that attracts you to the school. Best if this matches up with what the school sells itself as offering!

    9. Begin the private school process as early as possible--sign up for tours, play dates, get interviews scheduled. You can do a lot of this in September. The public school process doesn't kick off until October. Don't kill yourself touring public schools. Use the criteria stated above to narrow your list. Only tour the "big five" if they match your criteria.

    10. Talk to everyone you can--on the playground, at your preschool, in the supermarket, on this blog. Then form your own opinion based on all the data points. I loved schools my friends didn't.

    11. Have low expectations and have a back up plan. We were never sure if public was our back up or private. In the end we were very lucky to have a choice and went with our number one overall school.

    12. Don't plan any big events or changes during the fall/winter that you do this search. It will take up A LOT of your time.

    Good luck!

  62. 6:45 wrote:
    "take-over school" is a description given to Grattan because parents essentially took it over and turned it around.

    That couldn't be further from the truth. Grattan is a great school with great parents, BUT so much of what makes our school fabulous has to do with our engaged, devoted, enthusiatic principal, teachers and staff. Our teachers are experienced and work together closely and cohesively. Our principal is a strong leader with a vision. Yes, some people on tours are turned off by her style. So be it. We love her. And our support staff (not really sure what the official job titles are -but if you've spent any time in our school you know who I talking about!), well I can't imagine how these people could care any more about our students. To say that parents turned around the school devalues the hard work of these amazing people and is just plain wrong. I would question the idea that there was anything that needed turning around.

    I think that's what people have been saying over and over about many of the lesser known schools. There are good things happening if you just look. You just have to be willing to try it out. Yes, with an influx of more affluent families, you can raise more money to support additional programs. But these programs don't turn a school around. Enrichment programs are just that, enrichment. The strength of our education will always be based in the teachers and staff.

  63. I think there is a lot of confusion on this blog around the terms "turn around" or "take over" as applied to lesser known schools. It really is not possible for a committed group of parents to come in and "turn around" a school academically, no matter how much money they raise or how much enrichment they provide. The academics are, first and last, the responsibility of the Principal and staff; parent involvement (or lack of it) really doesn't have an effect here.

    What can be (and usually is) "turned around" by involved parents is the reputation of a school - whether it has the buzz, whether people are talking about it on the playgrounds and in Peet's and yes, even on Kate's blog. Some have mentioned the herd mentality. This can be, and is, successfully exploited by schools with involved parents, and you might be surprised to find how effective a group of just 3 or 4 parents can be at getting the word out. Once people start to hear parents talking about how great their school is, they tend to repeat what they have heard, and before you know it, a school starts to have a buzz. How many people reading this had never considered Rosa Parks JBBP before learning about it here?

    Parents shouldn't feel like they are being asked to go to an underenrolled school where they will have to devote massive amounts of time to "turning around" the school. In nearly every case, the school's academics are fine, and if they aren't, there is nothing the parents are going to be able to do to change that. What parents can do is try to find ways to add value to the academics by providing additional art, crafts, music, dance, or whatever it is that attracts parents to other, better known schools. This usually involves helping to write grants, or seeking community partners (UCSF, SF Ballet, or symphony, etc.) who will sponsor additional enrichment. In schools which don't have a strong parent volunteer presence, this work is usually done by the school staff. Adding parents to the volunteer force means that twice as much can be done.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that when you are looking at schools, keep an open mind. If you find a school which has a strong Principal, good test scores, and a safe vibe, don't be put off by the fact that the parent organization might still be weak. You will never be the only person trying to singlehandedly "turn around" the school; when there are not enough parents to do the work traditionally done by a PTA, this work gets done by school staff.

    More likely, your help is needed getting the word out to other parents that the school is a viable choice. This is something that doesn't require you to come to the school when you need to be at your job. It can take as little as wearing your school tee shirt to the playground or to the supermarket on weekends and talking about your school to the other parents you meet; keeping the community informed about good things happening at your school by posting here, or on your community boards; or volunteering to be a PPS ambassador so that people who want to learn about your school can call you at home, at your convenience, to learn more. Helping a school build a high profile really isn't as daunting as "turning a school around" sounds.

  64. I echo many of the above comments. One thing I wish I had known before entering the K process - the private/independents test your child and they care about the results. I knew they tested but didn't know how important the results were (and found out from an inside source once the process was over). If your child doesn't do well being put in the spot, is shy, doesn't write well, doesn't respond to being shown flash cards with shapes and being asked to draw them, don't count on getting into many of the privates. Or at least apply broadly to improve your chances.

  65. I would have started and ended the choice process using Adam's spreadsheet for guidance. Of course it's not gauranteed to predict your individual results, however, it did help me remember that we are just a number in the system. This is especially important for those of us who are accustomed to getting what we want if we apply ourselves. The lottery, contrary to what some people say, probably doesn't really respond to positive thinking. I remember running the numbers with a particular list that gave us an 80% chance of getting one of our 7 choices. I said "that's pretty good". At the same time, I had to really think it through. That's a 20% chance of getting nothing. That means one out of 5 people with that list will get nothing. Many people (including Kate) ran lists with way lower chances. It really isn't logical to pick popular or moderately popular schools and then feel victimized when you don't win the lottery. (I'm not saying Kate in particular expressed feeling like a victim, but many others on the blog did). This is my statistics based way of saying that I would have put even more energy into looking at low demand schools like Starr King (which did make my round 1 list), Paul Revere, Marshall, Rosa Parks and Jose Ortega (which didn't). I would NOT list Rooftop if I had it to do over. On the other hand, I feel happy with the school our kid is going to (SK) so I'm not losing sleep over my mistake. Oh, and I would have skipped applying to a private.

  66. Options, Options, Options, my advice is that you give yourself as many options as you can. Apply to privates and publics. Apply for financial aid. Apply to perochial schools too. There are not enough spaces in this city. Have options so you can wait out the one you want. Also consider if you cannot afford private, and if you cannot get the public you can live with, consider then leaving The City. Yes, leave this place. Your kids education is too important. This city sadly is not set up for families that don't have a lot of money. I am sure I will get lots of negative comments for that sentence, but facts are facts. Just have all your options open and give yourself choices.

  67. I would agree with 7:44 with respect to affording private school -- you should figure out beforehand what "affording" means to you. Does it mean tightening the belt and shopping at Costco rather than Whole Foods and going camping instead of vacationing in Hawaii or does it mean dipping into savings? I know if families who have sacrificed everything, including retirement and the kids college funds in order to pay for private elementary school and I think that is crazy.

  68. Kim Green. Best post ever. :)
    Bust out laughing and scared the cat.
    White Folks, good advice. Don't assume you are down with diversity. My very brown son got called 'poor' this morning by some kids at the playground. The kids didn't mean anything by it. Just stuff they pick up. He was a little confused, though. Good teaching moment.

    What would we have done differently? Talked to more people and taken their opinions with more skepticism. The boys of summer thing was a unpleasant surprise. Don't take the minority sell by the privates too seriously.

    Talk to the principal. It all starts drom the top.

  69. Everyone should read this article, "How Not to Pick A School" (this is a link to a blog which includes the full text of the article):

  70. My advice is visit a few schools, do some research and then expect that your time and effort will be wasted. Upon receiving the second letter(after your hopes are dashed in round one) come to your senses and flee San Francisco or else hope that you did enough schmoozing at the private schools that your darling child will be accepted.

  71. Having gone through both the public and private school process (getting our top choice public and private schools - we ultimately went private), I would say that you need to be very methodical about your search and systematic. I suggest that you spend alot of time on seeing the schools, network like crazy with anyone who has influence at the school(I am convinced at this point that "who" you know in the private school arena does make a significant difference)and cast a broad net in terms of choices. I agree with the other blogger that you must resist the temptation to fall in "love" with any one school and approach each school as though they are your first choice (without ever saying it). Recognize that there is only a small number of private school spots and that if you only apply to your top three or four, the chances of getting into one are very very slim. Think out of the box and it will all work out!

  72. Thanks, 9:36 pm, for that link. To everyone else, I second that you read this superb article. It talks about how, notwithstanding No Child Left Behind's downsides, it does allow you to clearly look at test scores by ethnic group. White children pretty much are unaffected by the school they attend, while minorities tend to do better if they attend integrated schools.


  73. Cate - I have been wondering what became of you and was happy to read your post about SK, and your general perspective on the whole process.

    Good luck and I hope to run into you in the neighborhood.

  74. Just wanted to say that our experience was different that 7:35's, and that yours may be too.

    We also applied to private and public, and I don't have much advice to add that differs from what's been written above.

    However, we also were accepted to our top two private choices and were not at all "connected" at either one. We only applied to three private schools, the ones we felt would be worth $20k+ a year for our family, but we toured five. While who you know may help in some cases and at some schools, especially if you are trying to get in off the wait list in a year that the schools actually go to their wait lists, it is not necessary to know someone to get in. We did no networking apart from attending the coffees (not really networking). I called some friends of friends to ask about their experiences at these schools, but as far as I know they didn't mention this to the admissions directors, nor did we ask them to. We know other families who got spots who were similarly unconnected. Just to say that if you don't know anyone at the schools to which you would like to apply, don't fret.

    We spent a fair amount of time on our application essays, making sure they reflected who our daughter is and who we are and being careful to articulate why it was that we were interested in the schools we chose--what fit for our daughter and for us. We did not schmooze. We did ask lots of questions about every aspect of private school, both in general and specific to the schools, that worried us. The schools our daughter was admitted to are among the most popular and competitive in SF. We do not add diversity and are not wealthy.

    It might be worth noting that our daughter is very verbal and bright, but was not expected to test well necessarily. It could have gone either way as she can be "shy" around strangers. She is social (with other children), so the play dates were not a concern to us, just the one-on-one screening at the JCC. She did fit the general profile that these schools seek, and if she had not, we probably would have cast our net a little wider. This all goes to knowing your child and understanding the reality of the process. Some children are harder to place than others. This might not be fair, but it is the way things work.

    I think more than "who you know" it is important the the preschool from which you are applying knows your child well. The preschool evaluation seems to count more than the screening and play dates, or at least what the preschool says can back up or refute what the schools observe in the little time they spend with your child. Your preschool director and teachers are a great source of information about what kind of learner your child is and what kind of learning environments might be best for him/her. That said, what preschool your child attends is not all that important. It's clear the schools are seeking kids from many different preschools as another of their "diversity" factors. I'm talking about private here, of course.

    We ended up with a public choice in round 1, not our top, and two private options. We went private and did not participate in round 2. We're glad that we spent time exploring both options and would have never guessed in September what our top choice would be in January. Keep an open mind.

    Best of luck to everyone!

  75. I would have toured and applied to more privates. We wound up at Starr King Mandarin and I'm thrilled with that but when we went 0/7 on Round 1 I regretted having applied to only one private school where we waitlisted w/ zero chance of being placed. BTW SK was on my initial list; we only just got it off Round 2. Of course, had we gotten into the one private school we did apply to, we would have gone there and missed out on the excitement that is SK.

    Anon 9:01 5/2 suggested a thread on hooking up folks registering at the various schools. To that end, I've created an ID for myself so for any of you (like anon 9:01, Snow Walker, Bopper Pye, Cate whom I know already) going to SK, email me and I'll pull together a mini, preliminary list for us. Neither the school nor the parent group rep I spoke with are ready to do this now and I think it makes sense to take advantage of our "we just got in" energy to organize and plan. What say you SK-ers?

  76. "She did fit the general profile that these schools seek..."

    Can you elaborate? Is there a gen'l profile they seek?

  77. Did any of those who applied to private school receive financial aid? How much? Care to share anonymously?

    We hear it is wise to apply to both public and private, but fear that since we earn less than $80,000/year, hoping for financial aid is unrealistic.

  78. "She did fit the general profile that these schools seek..."


    That is sickening; we're talking about LITTLE CHILDREN!

  79. that's the nice thing about public. They take all kids and aren't picking and choosing...

  80. The "profile"? Like JonBenét Ramsey? Yuck.

  81. As icky as it may seem, there is a profile. Since this is an advice thread, we might as well be honest about it. It doesn't have to mean that we agree.

    It's different for different schools, but generally the "easy to teach" kids are easiest to place at private schools. They get along well with others, follow directions, are curious, are bright but not off-the-charts geniuses (as discussed before on other threads), fall within a certain age range (too old or too young makes it more difficult), have parents who don't seem "high maintenance" to the admissions directors. If your kid doesn't fit this description, then it might be harder to find a spot for him or her and it might not. If you want to apply to private school and have a child that might not do well in the assessments (individual screenings and group play dates), you might want to apply to more schools both to give your child a comfort level with the whole drill and to cast a wider net.

    I don't necessarily agree with how this is done, but this IS the way it works. Your child is being evaluated because the schools have to have some way of determining who they want to admit and who they do not. It is selective. They want a variety of children, families, learning styles, ages, genders, etc. Private schools do not have to take all comers, so the admissions directors compose what they think will be an ideal class. It is not an open lottery process like public school.

    If you don't like this, then don't apply to private school!

    Trying to help people going through this hell next....

    Some schools aren't interested in the "quirky" kids, some school are. Some schools take kids with special needs, some do not. Some schools tend to admit younger kids, some do not. Some kids require very high IQs (Nueva), some might hesitate if your kid is already reading chapter books by himself at age 5.

    As part of your research, you should find out what type of child does best at the schools you are looking at. They will tell you!

  82. i'll second the "yuck" factor. but more importantly, thanks for the comment Cathy B! i'd love to run into you in the neighborhood again too. the decision to WaitList SK Mandarin rather than Flynn Spanish was the last and hardest decision we made. It was based on 2 factors: 1) the growing excitement we felt around Mandarin/China and 2) the realization -- after seeing how popular Flynn became this year) -- that we had a better shot at getting into SK than Flynn. Having gone 0-7 in Round 1 and REALLY reaching the end of my rope on the whole process (!) we made the strategic decision to just go for the one we had a better shot at. Phew! Happy it's over and looking forward to the challenges and rewards that lay ahead.

  83. I just wanted to say that Adams' spreadsheet is not the be all and end all --especially this year when the numbers were so different.

    I, and many other parents I know, made sure our choices were balanced enough to get an 98%- 99% chance on Adams' spreadsheet and got... NOTHING in Round I (or Round II, for that matter, listing at least 3 schools that were underenrolled the year before).

  84. So... should we downplay the fact that our kid started reading at 3?

  85. If your kid is outside the "mold" it might be a red flag.

  86. We had no connections at any privates and didn't attend a single coffee (who has the time?) and yet we got into 3/5 that we applied to. I attribute it mostly to my kid who is bright, funny, sensitive and confident (we didn't do any coaching for the playdates). My advice is DON'T buy into the notion that you have to pull strings and schmooze -- if the school is a good fit for your family you won't need to do any of those things.

    I will point out that privates generally look for older boys -- I have heard that one of the "big" privates won't accept a boy who isn't 6 by the time school starts no matter what. I don't anything is written in stone but it is something to be aware of if you have a son who is not mature for his age -- the privates (particularly co-od ones) do NOT want to deal with wild boys.

  87. One comment - I do believe it matters about preschool in terms of getting into Privates. Not in terms of feeder preschools, that is not really what happens. But some of the preschool directors really know the private school admissions directors well, and the privates in turn trust the assessment the preschools give the children. Look at where prior graduates of your preschool have gone on to Kindergarden. If most go to parochials, you will likely have a harder time getting into the non-religious privates, all else being equal. Always better to know in advance so you can plan accordingly.

  88. Which "big" private shuns boys under 6?

    We're all posting anonymously, why *not* name names?

  89. That makes no sense that a boy has to be 6 before starting K. My son's birthday is in December and he would have been close to 7 by the time school started. I really can't see any school wanting kids to be that old in kindergarten, or being that insensitive to the invidual skill development of children over some completely over-the-top age cutoff. A policy like that would have been a deal-breaker for me!

  90. December's perfect. It's the late Spring-Summer birthdays that are tough (it might mean you have to do the process twice).

  91. One thing that I realized was very important, and I realized it too late: Ask the preschool to see the recommendation form they fill out for the private school. You aren't supposed to see it, and it is confidential. However...

    When my son went 0/8 with the private school, and was waitlisted at three schools, I smelled a rat. So I asked politely to see the form. The preschool (which I'd liked a lot) gave him a really lousy recommendation. He was ranked 3 on the 5 scale attributes and 2 on some. I was floored, because I'd never received any bad feedback from the school head. Not a word. And I'd asked and had conferences, too.

    So I called them on it. I said, this form simply does not reflect the son I thought I had. What gives?

    The school head reviewed the recommendation, and agreed with me. She said the teacher must have had an off day when she filled it out. I asked them to correct it and send it out again.

    Now, I know this was stupid and too forward of me, and maybe a little neurotic. But at that point, I'd gone 0/7 in the public and 0/8 in the private round. I was feeling pretty desperate. Nobody would tell me (or admit) the bad recommendation was a factor, but I just felt sure it might have been, especially in this cut throat climate. I'm glad I asked, and I'm glad they corrected it and sent follow up letters to the schools.

    With a week, I got calls from two of the private schools telling me my son would be offered a spot. ONe of the schools had turned my son down flat, and now wanted to accept him. Very strange.

    I felt a little icky about this. But my point is, please don't overlook this small factor. I haven't seen people mention it, but it is worth remembering.

    Crazy. That a five year old kid can get a recommendation letter or rank from anybody. The whole process is crazy.

  92. Which "big" private shuns boys under 6?

    San Francisco Day School (but since they have a new admissions director this year, perhaps this "rule" has changed).

  93. 9:49am, I am appalled by your story. Our preschool met with each family before evaluations were due to discuss any issues and I know that the person in charge of kindergarten admissions reviews each and every evaluation to make sure it gives the most positive "spin" possible. So this would not have happened at our school.

    The lesson learned is ask how evaluations are prepared (to make sure that at least a second set of eyes is involved to avoid a problem if a teacher has a "bad day") and be proactive before the evaluations go out (i.e., don't assume you will get a positive eval -- approach the teachers and director and make sure any issues that need to be addressed are addressed). 9:49 is very lucky that a couple privates actually reversed their decisions -- I have never heard of this!

  94. I know it feels "icky" to have someone judging your baby, but how else are schools supposed to make a decision among hundreds and applicants? I guarantee that if they made it a lottery or first-come first-served, parents would be just as outraged. As for the "profile," this varies greatly among the schools. I know that more progressive schools like Live Oak and Friends do not have a profile (I know of kids with social and other problems who got into both) -- they are looking for true diversity. I would imagine that more conservative schools like San Francisco Day have a much more limited view of the ideal candidate. But isn't that life? Some places will suit some families and some won't. You need to find the one that fits your family and not try to shoehorn your family and your child into mold that does not feel right.

  95. My son was accepted at SFDay with a late spring birthday. The "has to be 6" comment is completely not true. He is also very spirited and definitely doesn't fit into a conservative "mold." He was accepted at both single sex and coeds. I disagree about not going to the coffees. Make the time. Go to as many as you can. Not to schmooze necessarily. Believe me - I suck at it. But to demonstrate your interest and to meet current parents. They are the real source of info about a school. We didn't have any outside recommendations - nor did we do any "coaching." Just told him to have fun and be a good friend. That was that. I did spend a lot of time on my essays, though. This is an area noone talks of much on the boards and I think it was a big part of our success in the process. A thoughtful, well-conceived application is appreciated by the admissions director and really gives them a sense of your child before he/she does his/her playdate.

  96. I am a current Day parent whose son was admitted under the previous admissions director and it has alywas been the understanding boys under 6 would not be admitted except in rare circumstances. So perhaps the "policy" has changed under the new regime. I would expect that all boys schools would be much more flexible about this than coed schools.

  97. There are definitely boys at Day who turn 6 after kindergarten starts. There aren't a lot of boys who turn 6 after April or May, but there are certainly boys with winter and spring birthdays.

  98. Enough about Sf Day -- can we get back to the tips? Here's one: don't overthink everything to death!

  99. re: 11:45 am comments.

    Having just gone through the process, I completely agree. I know that Town, Friends, SF Day.MCDS,and Live Oak accepted boys with December through Spring birthdays.

  100. Connections Do matter - don't kid yourselves. I know one family (very well connected) who only applied to the top three boys school - with no public back ups and got into all three. Likewise, people who were perfect fits, went to all the events and had delightful kids got no where. The three privates that accepted us were ones that we all had "ins" at. Its reality. If you have connections in these schools - my advice is simply to use them!

  101. A friend at SF Day told me that they'd "love having me" at that school because I had been the fundraiser at our Co-op preschool. I think who you know DOES indeed help.

  102. Some people need more help than others!

  103. Connections -- you either have them or you don't. But if you don't, don't panic -- if you have a great kid and you are not PITA parents, schools will want you. In my experience, the most important factor in getting into a private is your kid and whether your kid is a good fit for that particular school. All of the other factors come into play only if there are other kids who are like your kid (same sex, similar personalities and intelligence level) competing for the same spot. Connections do play a large role if you are waitlisted, however.

  104. One piece of advice is not to depend too heavily on anything your friends say. The most that friends can generally offer (unless they work for EPC or are the admissions director at a private school!) are a good ear for listening and reflections from their own experience. You need to go with your own assessment to determine what's right for your family.

    Also, some friendships might be tested along the way. Try not to let school stuff get in the way of your relationships, at least not in the longer term.

  105. My preschool director's evaluation of my daughter was extremely honest. She predicted my daughter would have trouble adjusting to kindergarten (she did), that transitions were difficult for her (they are), but that she is sweet and good-natured (she is.) While I would have loved her to paint my daughter in a more flattering (though less true) light, I appreciate that their reputations rest on accurate assessments. Our director gave me a copy, I think so that I would be prepared!

    We were applying to parochial school, where we were parishioners, so she got in anyway. Plus people at the school knew my daughter and would have been surprised to find an evaluation that didn't match the kid!

  106. Hmm... Alice is lucky to have a Mom who can write. I've got other skills and talents but am nervous about the essays.

  107. After laboring over essays for hours, I was horrified to realize that in several interviews - Live Oak in particular, it was clear the admissions director had not even read it. (We were waitlisted there, btw - like everyone else). I think the essays obviously play some role in some instances (mostly I suspect as a mechanism to screen those who clearly haven't paid any attention to the particulars of a specific school or are just wacko) but for the most part I don't think they made a lick of difference. Your kid, his or her evaluation, how you come across in the interview and any connections you may have to the particular school is far more important.

  108. I think attention to the essays differs by school. We were at a group event at Presidio Hill and I overheard the admissions director specifically mentioning something to another parent about his essay. Presidio Hill has a very extensive written application with a large number of essays and they take it very seriously. At other places the essays are probably not such a big deal. I'm sure it varies both by school and by admissions director.

    And to the parent who is worried about their writing skills - don't worry, I'm sure you'll do fine. After all, you have a great subject to write about.

  109. I agree with you about Presidio Hill. There was an inordinate number of essay questions and I do believe that substantial weight was given to the responses. The same is also true at Cathedral, where Cathy Madison had highlighted portions of our responses and commented on what she liked about them. Having said this, there were some schools - Live Oak in particular, where it was clear to me that the admissions director had not read anything and knew nothing about our family.

  110. I totally agree about Cathedral - Cathy quoted our essays during our interview. We had to quickly remember what we had said! LOL I'm surprised about the Live Oak responses. They had most definitely read our application and seemed very well prepared. I thought this was one of the most thorough interviews we had - we were admitted but didn't accept. I would say that essays don't have to be pulitzer prize winning - but just show effort and thoughtfulness. Don't just "bang them out" in a night. Individualize them to each school and really tailor them according to what you've learned in the tours, etc. And give a lot of thought to how your child would be a good fit, etc. If in the course of writing the essay, you realize you can't come up with anything, then you've done yourself a favor and probably shouldn't be applying to the school anyway.

  111. I have a hard time with the essay part of the process. My child is quiet, very smart, loves to draw, loves books and to be read to. I think he'd do well at a school where he could have a lot of individual attention because he'll likely need teachers to draw him out a bit. But isn't this (or shouldn't it be) nearly all private schools? Small classes and individual attention is what we're paying for right? I'm really not sure how to write an essay about why my very young child would be a good fit at any particular school.

  112. 12:29, as you tour you'll become clear on what differentiates the schools, what you like and don't like about each one. This will help when you sit down to write your essays.

    Some schools provide writing prompts (questions) and some do not. You should at the very least describe your child, what he likes to do, how he around others, what makes him special to you, and explain what attracts you to the school specifically and generally.

    I agree if you have trouble coming up with something to say about a particular school then it is probably not worth applying. You will know which schools are for you after you tour several and know what your options are.

    Do give yourself time to write your essays and then let them sit for a day or two before revising.

    Now, back to work. Why do I keep spending time reading this blog?! Anyone else addicted?

  113. Small classes and individual attention is what we're paying for right?

    how big are most private school classes? are they significantly smaller than 20 as found in K-3 public, or 24 as found in many 4-5 public? or perhaps there is more than one teacher in the classroom so that the ratio is better?

  114. At the private school our child will attend in the fall, the K classes have up to 16 kids, one teacher and one assistant teacher.

    Grades 1-5 also have two teachers and up to 23 kids (around 45 kids per grade total in the school with two classes per grade after kindergarten, or maybe 1st--yikes, I'm not sure about when the three classes turn into two classes, but definitely by 2nd grade).

    Grades 6-8 rotate by subject and will have around 23 kids per class, sometimes fewer depending on the subject.

    In addition to the grade level teachers and assistants there are foreign language, art, music, science, technology and PE teachers with separate specialists in these areas for the lower and upper grades (lower school science taught by a different teacher than upper school science, for example. The full-time librarian has at least one assistant librarian. There are also separate learning specialist for the lower and upper schools and counselors.

    Most of the teachers have master's degrees. The assistant teachers all have at least bachelor's degrees and are fully credentialed, I think.

    A good portion of tuition money goes to teacher salaries!

  115. thanks, 2:46. may i ask which school this is? also, is what you describe the norm in the private school sector?


  116. I just want to say that Kim Green is hilarious! (though I had to look up who Bootsie Collins is)

  117. In answering the question, "is there anything I would have done differently?" I have to say that in retrospect I wish I hadn't stressed quite as much as I did and agonized over every detail of the process. Inspite of all the "handwringing" and flailing around that I did behind the scenes at home, I realize now that it all ended up the way it should and that I should have spared myself some of that. We got into our top choice private school (and had other school choices) as well as a decent public school. I know that spending time on the process, thinking about the needs of my child and our family, being engaged with each school we applied to and being honest about our child was all important in the end. I don't think that the hysteria I displayed at home to my husband helped at all and I know that that negative energy impacted our child. He certainly faired better through the process than I did. So, my advice to everyone is to take it one day at a time, don't worry if the interview does go perfectly, your essay isn't stellar or your kid has an "off day." If you are sincere in your interest in the school, show up when you need to and be yourselves, it really does end up just fine.

  118. I didn't post the information about student/teacher ratio above, but this sounds typical of Town, Hamlin, Burke's, etc. I believe some parochial schools have larger classes. Some schools are smaller, like Presidio Hill, and so might not have as many types of classes/teachers.

    I think that the only schools that might have more students per teacher than public schools in grades 4 and up are some of the parochial schools. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

  119. For the public school folks - my advice is list seven schools! When it comes to the waitpools, which unfortunately it does for so many, it is a terrible thing to be placed in a different cohort, with a lower priority than every single other family who listed seven. Your chances of getting a spot at many schools is dramatically reduced, as most never get through the waitpool group of folks who went 0/7.

  120. 6:32, thanks. I'm the one who keeps asking the question. It doesn't surprise me that the exclusive, high-end ones such Hamlin would have small classes and two teachers. It also makes some sense that the parochial schools would have similar or even worse student/teacher ratios than the public schools (especially since class-size reduction came into play and also PTAs started buying an extra teacher or two in the upper grade).

    What I'm wondering about is the so-called progressive private schools, like Live Oak, Synergy, Friends. The ones that are at least trying to reach into a more middle class milieu and a more diverse one (and in fact they do seem to to do better on these fronts than the Hamlins, though they still, obviously, don't look like the public schools). What I'm wondering is, are they able to provide a better student-teacher ratio than public? Seems like the contradictions of keeping tuition more affordable or offering scholarships might get in the way. I'm wondering how this plays out in a more nuanced way than just "all" privates are like this or that, because it seems to me there is more diversity among the privates schools than that. Can anyone say what the deal is at those schools in terms of class sizes and student/teacher ratios?

  121. My kids are at Friends. Class sizes are around 20-22 kids and in K-2 they have a teacher and assistant in each room. 3rd and 4th grade have 1 assistant floating between the 2 classes. At this point the school is K-5 (they add a class each year) and there are 2 PE teachers, 2 Spanish teachers, 2 drama teachers, 2 learning specialists, a music teacher, and a librarian. They add staff as they add grades. On the whole staffing at Friends is really not so different than the staffing at other schools, except that at this point there is no school counselor. Also, FYI, it doesn't have a progressive curriculum like Synergy or Live Oak.

    Different schools have different systems. I remember that Children's Day School had 1 kindergarten class with 30 kids and 3 teachers - that seemed a little chaotic for my child, but obviously it depends on the kid. Presidio Hill keeps their classes very small, I think aiming for just 16-18 kids per grade (K is a little bigger because some kids do a 2-year kindergarten there).

  122. 9:43, you might be able to figure a lot of this out online and will surely be able to figure it out once you start touring. I would encourage you to keep an open mind and tour, or go to the open houses, at a variety of schools so that you can get a lay of the land perspective on what's available in SF, public and private.

    We found that Hamlin actually does an excellent job (at least in the last three or so years) of putting together a fairly socioeconomically diverse class, and there's plenty of racial diversity, too.

    Before we started our search process I thought there was no way that I would send my daughter to a school "like Hamlin" but discovered that it was actually my top choice, and that's where she'll be in the fall!

  123. I don't know the back story, but one of Live Oak's top teachers - featured in their last open house - is headed to Hamlin.

    I agree with previous poster - don't be overly swayed by playground word-of-mouth or this board. I find a lot of the views here are very skewed. Visit the schools with an open mind and trust yourself first.

  124. Thanks again, everyone, for responding. You have been helpful in sharing specifics. Yes, I will keep an open mind and will also do my own research....just sometimes, it is helpful to hear from real-life experiences and not brochures and websites with marketing photos.

    To 10:28, I am sincerely glad that you are happy with your choice of Hamlin. I am sure your child will get an excellent education there. For myself, I just can't see the socio-economic and racial diversity there or at the other "most exclusive" privates as being anywhere comparable to the public and most parochial schools, or even to Synergy's. They are just not in the same league. And it is important to me that my kids not be sheltered in a community that looks so much different from our neighborhood and city--and our own family. It's one of the reasons we live in the city!

    We are a multi-racial family. One parent is solidly middle (not upper-middle) class and the other comes from a working class background. We are conscious of staying true to our roots.

    The financial burden is another question. We both work already, and have two children. We are paying for one preschool now, but two tuitions would be a big stretch. There will be no financial help from family, although they have been tremendous with hands-on child care.

    We are trying to balance these issues with the question of educational quality, which is why I am asking the questions about staffing ratios. We are wondering if the more "progressive" privates--and okay, maybe Friends doesn't have the progressive curriculum, but it is moving to the Mission, at least, and claims to address emotional and social issues from something of a Quaker background--might be options. Perhaps they would mean sacrificing some diversity for smaller class sizes, but leave a little balance in terms of a social circle we could relate to.

    We are also hopeful that we will get a spot we like at a public school--and we will certainly be doing the lottery--knowing that if we do, we will be gaining the advantages of public but also giving up some of the delightful-sounding offerings of these privates. And they do sound delightful and attractive.

    I am certain there is no perfect solution. I am looking for schools that fall in acceptable ranges along several different vectors, including social, academic, and financial.

    Again, thanks all.

  125. To 10:28, regarding Hamlin, you wrote:

    "We found that Hamlin actually does an excellent job ... and there's plenty of racial diversity, too."

    Pardon me, but Hamlin may be a great school, but I went to the tours there. There was practically NO racial diversity. Unless they were all out sick that day. I mean, there was NONE.

    Economic diversity, maybe. But racial diversity?!

    I truly sincerely beg to differ.

  126. We just attended the welcome dinner for new kindergarten families at Hamlin and there were plenty of non-white faces in the room. This may not be the case in the upper grades, but attracting diversity is definitely a focus of the school now. I suspect having an African-American head of school (starting this summer) will strengthen this focus. We found other private schools to be less diverse and less welcoming.

    Hamlin does not take students just because they are racially diverse, but if your child is likely to do well in a challenging academic environment and happens to be non-white, then she certainly has an edge.

    Just our experience!

  127. What I'd do differently? I don't know, given that "hindsight is 20/20" and all. We looked at both public and private, although after comparing the two, we definitely were leaning toward private and using public as our back-up (unfortunately like most, we went 0/7 and found the school we were assigned to unacceptable to us.)

    That said, I did want to tour as many publics as I could just so I could intelligently speak to the issue and knew what choices were out there. I would have started touring publics 2 years prior to my child entering kindergarten. It was very difficult fitting everything in with work as well. In the end I toured 12 public schools, and really got a sense of what I wanted in a school (be it public or private), so I do think touring was helpful and gave me perspective for the ultimate choice to go private.

    With regards to private, I think I would not have declared a "first choice" as that is not where we ended up. It clearly didn't help us get into the first choice school by letting them know it was our first choice. And, it limited our view of the school we got into until we were faced with the proposition of actually sending our child there. We are very happy now, but were momentarily disappointed when the waitlist letter came in the mail.

    My advice to those looking private is to cast a very wide net, looking at more than those few schools with few spots (Live Oak, Friends, SF Day, Presidio Hill, etc.), but also looking at the parochials (if the religious aspect doesn't offend you), single sex schools (even if you are initially turned off by these), as well as schools in Marin and SF that have more spots available. It really is a numbers game, and given the trend of familes having 3and 4 kids, it doesn't look like it is going to get any better anytime soon.

    Good luck, and prepare yourself for a marathon!

  128. Hamlin does a TERRIFIC job of recruiting racially and socioeconomically diverse families in kindergarten.

    It is just that most of these families drop out by 4th or 5th grade (if not earlier).

    It is not a recruitment or admission issue as much as it is a retention issue. Their kindergarten classes have always been quite diverse by private school standards. But by middle school they are back to lily white and wealthy.

  129. BTW, the last head of school at Hamlin was Hispanic. But do you see a lot of Latino families in the upper grades?


    Most of the "diverse" families never get that far, though many are admitted at the kinder level.

  130. Re: Hamlin...

    Is it true a third to a half of the kids have had to hire outside tutors (at the parents' expense) to keep up with the academics by third grade?

  131. 3:56, :58, :59 (same person, right?),

    You seem to have knowledge that I don't. Since I'm all for sharing and learning, how about you share how you know this. Did you pull a daughter out of Hamlin?

  132. Went to the Kinder Info Night at the JCC yesterday and wish I had brought my husband along. I barely had time to cover the hall where they had private schools in the two hours allocated. I wish we had both gone so we could divide and conquer.

  133. We know a former Hamlin family at Live Oak. The learning specialist at Hamlin told them their kindergartener had a learning disability that was keeping her from reading and that she needed lots of extra tutoring. (Never mind that brain research shows many children's brains are simply not ready to read until they are closer to 7.)

    Anyway, this so-called specialist was way off. Turns out the girl had hearing loss due to chronic ear infections, NOT a learning disability. Quick surgery did what months of tutoring could not. THey lost faith in Hamlin after that. (Turns out the specialist is not really qualified, compared to specialists at other schools.) BTW, their daughter is now an avid reader, reading way above grade level.

    According to this family, it is quite common for Hamlin to insist that families hire tutors to help their daugthers keep up with the rigid (perhaps developmentally inappropriate) standards...

  134. I know kids at both Lick Wilmerding and Adda Clevenger whose families were also required to pay for offsite tutoring, so Hamlin isn't unique.

  135. Someone just re-posted this interesting article on another almost dead thread. It was in SF Mag last fall, and talks about the tutoring issue at Hamlin as well as the high stakes atmosphere generally in Bay Area private schools these days:

  136. If more than a third of the kids in a particular class need tutoring, it probably means there is a problem with the how the material is being taught (or whether the kids were adequately prepared or ready for it to begin with). ANd if you're already paying $20,000/year for the school to educate your child, well, yes, paying for extra tutoring seems unfair.

    Now, if yours is the *only* kid struggling, that is a different story.. maybe.

  137. I was at the JCC event last night, too, picking up brochures for all the schools I'm interested in.

    Anyone else struck by how similar the brochures are for MCDS and Live Oak?

    They look nearly identical... Same colors, look-and-feel, graphic design. Eery.

  138. I have to agree that if there are a large number of kids in the class being tutored then that's a red flag for how the school manages kids' academic achievement overall. Asking about the proportion of kids receiving tutoring at different grade levels is a good thing for parents looking at private schools to evaluate. One grade to ask about it for would be 1st grade - IMO that's a serious issue if a lot of first graders are getting academic tutoring, since kids are naturally at such different places at that age.

    You might not get a very straight answer when you ask that question at private schools, but it's worth bringing up. Don't worry about seeming like a troublemaker - you're a parent trying to make the best choice for your kid and your family.

  139. The suggestion to ask about tutoring in 1st grade is an excellent one. Wish I had thought of it! I know someone who used to teach at Town and now tutors Town students who are in the lower grades. Seems there's tutoring going on at many privates.

    I'm curious how many of the students being tutored are the younger siblings of older kids who were more suited to academic environment at Hamlin or elsewhere.

    Agreed that 1/3 or more of a class needing tutoring would be a red flag.

    I got the impression when touring Hamlin and attending the open house that no kindergarten student is expected to read. Some K students start school reading and others don't read until they're in first grade. The teachers seem to do a good job providing differentiated instruction for the kids at different levels in the class.

    By comparison, at the public schools it seemed there was a definite push to make sure all of the kids were reading by the end of kindergarten. A real problem for the younger kids in the class. I got the impression that this was related to state curriculum mandates.

    Those of you going through this process next should definitely ask when students are expected to learn to read and a question or two about tutoring couldn't hurt either!

  140. Anyone else struck by how similar the brochures are for MCDS and Live Oak?

    They look nearly identical... Same colors, look-and-feel, graphic design. Eery.

    not surprising since holly horton used to be the head of the lower school at mcds and has made it her express desire to turn live oak into a a mini mcds.

  141. so should people applying to/entering private schools go into it expecting that their kids will need a tutor? that's messed up. i went to private schools (not out here) and an ivy league college and grad school and never knew anyone that had a tutor. i guess times have changed.

  142. 11:56, I don't know about those impressions, but the stated hope/expectation/push is that public school students are reading by the end of 1st grade, which is on a par with how you describe Hamlin. They do introduce reading and writing (journaling, with lots of pictures) in K, however--which is speeded up from a generation ago when K was voluntary and mostly about social skills and school readiness, as preschool is now....

    The focus in 2nd grade is on reading fluency (in two languages, as we are in an immersion program). There is lots more reading for content starting in the 3rd grade. This is why so many schools focus their Reading Recovery literacy programs on K-2: it's the push to get everyone reading well by third grade so that no one falls behind in content starting in 3rd.

    We have experienced excellent teaching in terms of differentiated instruction, however, recognizing that there are different levels at any given time.

    This is all laid out pretty clearly in the content standards at the CA Dept of Eduction website, which will be more informative and accurate than what random parents (even tour guide volunteers) may tell you. Of course teachers understand that kids are all over the map, but this is a very important guide to expected educational progress all the way through 12th grade.

    Both my kids started K well-prepared in terms of knowing letters, numbers, shapes, etc., but neither child was really reading until the 1st grade--a surprise to me since I was an early reader and of course read to them all the time. The K teacher was very reassuring about it, and in the case of my daughter, it just "clicked" early in 1st grade, and (as described by the teacher at the time) it all came together one week using all the reading strategies: phonics, whole word recognition, and context. In the case of my son, it was a slow, steady process, mostly based on phonics and sounding out the words. Both are now fluid, avid readers in the upper elementary grades and reading well above grade level.

  143. I think it depends on the school. Some schools try to admit only the children they think will perform well academically so they can hold them to a "higher" standard.

    Other schools purposely seek out a more diverse class in terms of learning styles and pride themselves on the differentiated instruction.

    The former schools tend to stress academic achievement above everything else and emphasize their great high school admissions record. The latter tend to talk about the "whole child", social-emotional learning, etc. They want kids to love school and to be happy and well-adjusted above all else. Their high school admissions rate might be comparable, but there is a lot less pressure on the kids.

    Then again, siblings are the great equalizers ;-)

  144. ...which is exactly why some schools are getting more stringent with their sibling admissions policies.

  145. SF Day for one - at least as reported at the admissions open house I attended (in response to a question about how they intended to increase their academic rigor).

  146. does SF Day really have a stated goal of increasing academic rigor? I thought it was the most rigorous of the co-ed already, despite their developmentally-appropriate, play-based kinder curriculum...

  147. In my tours of SF public schools with general education (no immersion program), I had a very certain impression that there was push for kids to read and write by the end of Kindergarten. For this reason, we are holding our kid back for a year in a private program that specifically does not teach reading and writing to the 5 - 6 year olds. The rest of the world doesn't start academic school till 6 or 7 so it's hard for me to have faith in this push for literacy at 5 years old.

  148. When I toured schools last year I didn't feel that there was a strong push to have kids reading and writing by the end of K. I don't remember any schools stating this as a goal, although several had kids keep "journals" that varied widely in terms of writing -- some were mostly pictures and others had some simple sentences. I didn't get the feeling there was undue pressure to read and write early, and now as we're nearing the end of K at a non-immersion public school, I can say that my child loves to write and is able to read a lot of words but is not at the stage where he'll just pick up a simple book and read by himself. More often his spontaneous reading is of street signs and posters. His teacher most definitely does not push all the kids to be reading by the end of the year. She's told us that for most kids this doesn't happen until 1st grade.

  149. In England the kids start "reception" (like kindergarten) at 4, and are definitely expected to start reading and writing. Maybe not fluently, but there is an academic focus. My American-raised friend was somewhat horrified by her child behind labelled "behind" at 4 because she wasn't ready to read. Now at 8 she reads just as well as any other 8 year old, but it's tough when it's your first child. Who to believe? Your gut telling you it's ridiculous to expect a typical 4 year old to read, or your child's teacher, telling you she is "behind?"

    Now her child is again "behind" because she doesn't have all her multiplication tables memorized perfectly. This child is very bright, and it's clear to me that she is not at all behind, and will do fine. The pressures are just unrealistic.

    My own child here in the US (same age) could only write her own name when she started kindergarten at nearly 6. She didn't know any other letters, and was completely uninterested until she was taught. We spent 3 weeks this summer with our friends, and our kids were reading at the same level, despite my friend's daughter starting (theoretically) 2 years earlier than mine.

  150. ANd yet... The Finns outscore the Brits on every measure, from language arts to mathematics, and they don't start academics until children are 7.

  151. The Waldorf loons don't try to teach the kids how to read until their adult teeth come in.

    And now they have an outbreak of whooping cough because they never got their kids vaccinated.

    What a world.

  152. 12:34 is correct. In the public curriculum, the kids do "journaling" in kindergarten on varying levels (pictures, simple writing if they can), and they learn their letters and numbers--and some kids learn to read. The goal is that all kids are reading by the end of 1st grade. Fluency in reading is the goal in 2nd grade. And kids are at all levels throughout this process.

  153. I wonder what Waldorf schools do with kids who lose their teeth early? One of mine lost her baby teeth at 4! And, no, she wasn't an early reader.

    I can see their point though. Most kids lose their teeth at 6 or 7, coincidentally when most kids are ready to read.

  154. Parent of SFUSD ES StudentMay 10, 2008 at 11:58 PM

    I am the parent of an ES student at an excellent (but not super-popular) SFUSD school. We have high test scores and many enrichments (art, P.E., music, dance, poetry, field trips, etc). FYI, in contrast to the strategy at many schools like Fairmont, Flynn, etc the parents at our school are deliberately trying to stay under the radar of parents of incoming kindergarteners. Why is this? They want to make sure that active, involved neighborhood parents will be able to continue to get their kids (many of whom attend a nearby co-op preschool) into this school. My guess is that there are several other schools like ours that are not calling attention to themselves, and not appearing at events like the JCC kindergarten night. My suggestion to you is to spend some time online searching for these "hidden gems" (good, but not oversubscribed schools), visit them yourselves, and don't just rely on word-of-mouth at the playground or blogs like this.

  155. Okay, 11:58, now we are all dying to know ;-) but I guess you won't be telling.

    6:55, my younger kid's adult teeth did not start coming in until 8.5 years as he is (per the dentist) a "late dental developer" or something like that. He was reading by 6 though. I wonder if Waldorf would have withheld books or reading materials until halfway through the third grade?

  156. Sort of off-topic, but so what:

    Taxpayers in San Francisco, California will pay $1.8 billion for total Iraq war spending approved to date. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:

    25,093 Music and Arts Teachers for San Francisco Schools for One Year

  157. What is with everyone putting dow Hamlin for it's lack of diversity? Has anyone ever done a study showing that a racially diverse student body makes a child any happier, more successful, more wealthy, more well adjusted? No. A good, safe education with caring teachers and involved parents: yes. If a school also has diversity, all the better, but only in this kooky city is diversity held up as the uber-value in education. Any kid who lives in SF, regardless of what school they go to, is going to be so far ahead of the rest of the planet in being open minded and comfortable with people from all walks of life.

  158. What are people's experiences at Children's Day School?

  159. 12:25 - Studies do show, fairly consistently, that children who attend diverse schools are more likely to live diverse lives as adults. That is a very important value to me.

  160. A few comments.

    Our son's preschool teacher did not approve of either of the private schools we wanted for him (Lycee Francais, Ecole Notre Dame des Victoires) as she thought they would be too strict for his "free spirit." We wanted a strict environment as we do not want an over-indulged brat on our hands. She actually told us that either of those schools would ruin his life. It was a small preschool and there was nowhere over her head to go, and I'll bet the recommendations she wrote were not very good.

    My cousin went to Waldorf school and her single mom went whole hog buying into the delayed reading program. My cousin is a fabulous reader and writer. The problem is that she's never managed to adjust to life after her Waldorf world ended in 8th grade (small-town Waldorf without a high school program). She's 21, never finished high school, still sitting around home as far as I know. Apparently the combination of upbringing and Waldorf convinced her that reality does not apply to her and she's entitled to live in a bubble paid for by others for the rest of her life. (Not that that does not happen outside Waldorf--ask my father-in-law with his public-school-educated middle-age dependents.)

    Our daughter went to Convent HS and *although she struggled in some of her classes, it was never suggested that we hire a tutor for her. Her teachers seemed to work with her when she needed extra help. That still seems like a good question to ask both public and private schools. Public school parents: If a student is struggling does the school provide extra instruction? Does the school district provide tutors as part of NCLB? I know some of the public after-school programs include homework help, and my brother-in-law is a contract math tutor for public schools in Nevada County, but I thought there was sort of a sliding scale arrangement where parents who could afford it paid him out of pocket, but parents who could not had his fees subsidized or paid by the district.

    Loved the comment about the Iraq war taxes. Someone at a meeting I was at this a.m. jokingly suggested we solve the housing crisis by invading a few more countries and taking over their housing. Does anyone think we can heal this sick society of ours?

  161. At least at James Lick Middle School, after-hours tutoring is provided in part by certificated teachers in the free afterschool program. Some teachers also teach cool stuff like fencing in that program. James Lick will also be getting 826 Valencia writing tutors on site, starting this fall.

  162. If you're patient and can live with uncertainty, one good option for some families that don't get a public school assignment they like (or get nothing at all) is to just wait it out until something opens up. If your child is not enrolled in an SFUSD school, he/she can transfer in as soon as a spot opens up, whether it's in September, November or January. This applies to children in private/parochial schools or those not attending school at all, since kindergarten is not mandatory in the state of California. We enrolled our daughter in kindergarten at Alvarado in January, and it's worked out just fine. Once we arrived at the school, we found that nearly everyone had some kind of story about how they got in - most did not get a placement through the Lottery process at all, and many started at other non-public schools before transferring in sometime after the start of the school year. You'll need to establish contact with people at the school and at the Education Placement Center in order to be in the loop on openings as they arise. This works best if you have a single school you're focusing on - maybe a school in your neighborhood or one where you have friends already.

  163. May 14, 2008 2:56 PM

    Interesting post... Sounds like this is why there is little movement for 1st grade (the spots get filled by people waiting it out in private)

  164. Yes, I want an academically challenging program for my daughter. But I also want my daughter to know that not everyone lives in big houses and flies private. I want her circle of friends to include people from all walks of life, not just the lily white and super rich.

    Sounds like Hamlin goes out of its way to attract "diverse" families and has raised additional financial aid funds. GOOD FOR THEM. But if its larger community, including parents, is unwelcoming, those families will eventually drop out.

  165. Sounds like Hamlin goes out of its way to attract "diverse" families and has raised additional financial aid funds. GOOD FOR THEM. But if its larger community, including parents, is unwelcoming, those families will eventually drop out.

    This is true. Private school have a lot of trouble keeping their "diversity students." Just the fact that they are labelled "diversity students" tells you something. This may be why some families of color prefer public or parochial schools. It's nice to be part of a community where everyone is just a student.

  166. A Leonard Flynn SI parent told me next year's kindergarten SI class will be completely filled by siblings, with only one other open slot.

    Can anyone confirm?

  167. A Leonard Flynn SI parent told me next year's kindergarten SI class will be completely filled by siblings, with only one other open slot.

    Can anyone confirm?