Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kindergarten prep: Are your kids emotionally prepared?

Several SF K Files visitors have suggested that we start a topic on kindergarten prep. There are several components to this topic and so I plan to write a series of posts over the next few weeks. I've decided to start with the emotional aspect of kindergarten prep--specifically for the child. (We can touch touch on emotional preparation for parents in a later post.)

Here's an excerpt from one of the emails I received:

"A topic perhaps of interest to others is how our soon-to-be kindergartners are reacting to the upcoming changes in their lives. My son's preschool, where he has been going for two and a half years ends tomorrow. He knows he's starting a new school in the fall and he has visited it. To add to the changes, we're moving this summer. My son has always been extremely adaptable so I thought he would be fine with it all. And he did appear to be until . . . I finally put two and two together and realized all of the upcoming change is probably the reason why he started frequently wetting (even occasionally pooping) his pants about a month ago. I have read many times that perfectly potty-trained kids can regress when they face changes or stress in their lives, and I felt so horrible when I FINALLY realized a full month into it that this is probably what's happening. Since then I have taken time to talk with him more about the changes and how it feels and to assure him that it is all good. No pee incidents today!"

Are your kids emotionally prepared for kindergarten? How are you preparing your child? What sorts of things are you saying to your child? What are parents saying to children who still don't have a kindergarten? What are preschools doing to prepare kids emotionally?


  1. Are you parents emotionally prepared for your children to enter kindergarten?

    Much of the stress kids feel comes straight from the mouths of their parents. Your attitude and demeanor will do more to/for your child than you think, I think.

    I taught K for 4 years and can't tell you how difficult new K parents can be.

    On day one, drop off your little darling, and leave. Don't hang around, waiting to be needed.

    Don't scare your little one by talking about how big and scary school is.

    Bring a change of clothes, but NO toys.

    Act natural. Step away from the chipper.

    Enjoy watching your little one mature, quickly.

  2. Dear frustrated teacher,

    Well...of course we're not emotionally prepared! And neither are our children! How can you be emotionally prepared for something so momentous that has not yet happened?

    By the way, it sounds like, despite your years of teaching, you might not be as emotionally prepared as you think --otherwise you might have a bit more compassion for and insight into why new kindergarten parents might be a bit anxious (oh, I'm sorry, I meant, "difficult").

    Anyway. My son is 5 1/2 and I do think he's emotionally ready for kindergarten. There was a shift in the last year where he really started getting into learning facts and starting to read and he's so excited about starting kindergarten! And we're excited for him!

    We still don't know exactly where he'll be next year, but we brought him to the school we enrolled him in, and showed him around a few weeks ago. He thought the school was huge, loved the library, and had a lot of questions about the kids' projects he saw. We also told him that if a space opens up in a school closer to our house, he will go there instead, which he seemed fine with.

    As a child psychologist, and...well, as a mother, I know that kids can be very responsive to parents' levels of stress, so I do plan to be relaxed (or at least act relaxed!) that first day, but I also plan to treat it as the big deal it is. My husband and I will both bring our son to school, with new clothes and a new backpack and lunch box.

    I will "act natural", of course, but --as with the first day of any preschool year --I will most definitely hang around a bit on the sidelines if the school allows it. Not to "wait to be needed", but to make a good transition. Also, I have not met my child's kindergarten teacher, I have only a vague idea of how the school works (as it was not one of the 18 schools I originally toured) and --to tell you the truth --I would like to get a sense of what kind of hands I'm placing my child's welfare and learning in for the next year.

    Maybe the kindergarten parents you perceived as "difficult" were really just not trusting you. It always has frustrated me (personally and professionally) when some teachers (or psychologists, for that matter) think that they know more about the needs of a child they have just met (or known for some months) than the parents who are raising him or her!

    The teachers I respect most are the ones who make an effort to get a handle on each child (some children do better if their parents leave right away, some do better with their parents in the background for a few minutes etc.), and who respect the parents' knowledge of their child's temperament and internal world. Of course, parents don't always know best or get it right, and sometimes can make their kids more anxious, but the important thing is mutual respect between parents and teacher, and a teacher who is also tuned in to each child, as well as the needs of the group.

    I am really hoping my son gets a teacher like this, for his sake and mine, because otherwise I might end up being a "difficult" parent indeed!

  3. tft, your response reminds me of DS's first day of preschool at CDS, where parents were not permitted to linger for more than 10 min after dropping off their kids even on the first day of school. My DS (a vetran of childcare) waved good-bye and became immediately engrossed in play; a few kids howled and clung to parents and then teacher; most seemed fine. But it was the parents (many of whom were crying in their partners' arms outside the school) who really seemed to have a hard time. IMO these sorts of transitions are often much harder for the parents than the kids, most of whom are adaptable.

  4. I have a question. My daughter's pre-k goes right up till the end of summer. Should I have a break for her between pre-k and kindergarten? I checked the schedule, and it would be possible for us to go right from one school to the other. (We have a vacation planned for July.)

    Is a break a good thing, giving us a clean line? Or is a line a bad thing?

    I honestly have no idea how my daughter will adjust. She used to adjust to change very well, but I've no idea how it will be for her to give up her day-to-day friends from the past two years, and trade them in on another set.


  5. Hi Anon -9:46
    If you can possibly swing a mini-vacation (3 days?) in between end of preschool and beginning of K, it might be a good idea. Although, it does sound like you already have a vacation planned next month. Maybe you could organize a small party for her to say goodbye to her friends or some other special trip or fun celebration to mark this special time the weekend before her new school starts.

    We are going to try to visit the new school at least once and also try to organize some sort of playdate to ease the transition. Good luck!

  6. I think in general at this stage of things the less that is said about K the better. As we get into August it's nice to be able to have a couple of playdates with kids they will go to school with and do fun things like pick out a new backpack and a first day of school outfit, but don't discuss the K transition all summer. Summer is a long time for a 5 year old!

  7. After two years of preschool. where they stay from 9 am till 5, I just don't see how kindergarten is that big a deal anymore. It's not like when I was 5 and was left for four hours by my mom for the first time with other kids. Or first grade where I was left the whole day.

    What's the big deal to kids? Even to me as a mom, I feel that first grade is still first grade.

  8. As a parent who's seen off 2 kids to kindergarten, I agree with some of what tft says (though I think s/he is probably more understanding of difficult K parents than s/he lets on). The more parents can do not to project their anxiety and stress onto their kids, the better. Contrary to some current parenting philosophies, this may mean not talking about the upcoming change very much at all. Or talking about it only when the child brings it up--and being positive about the change (even if you don't feel that way yourself!)

    For me, kindergarten was a big deal as a parent. I was not prepared for that the first time around. Even though both my children had been in preschool, kindergarten just felt very, very different. I'm a calm person, but that first day was pretty emotional for me.

    My guess is that your child's kinder teacher will do so much to allay your concerns--s/he has most likely dealt kindly and gracefully with all kinds of kids and parents and situations. The teacher will ease both you and your child into kindergarten.

    Practical, well-meaning advice (from someone who's been there):
    1) Visit the school a couple of times (maybe w/other kids who will be going there) to get used to the playground and layout. Treat it like an outing at a park.

    2) Make sure your child knows how to wipe him/herself pretty well.

    3) Make time to connect one-on-one w/the teacher that first week, but try not to overwhelm the kinder teacher w/lots of questions or commentary about your child on the first day. Remember, s/he has to meet the needs of 20 brand-new kids and 20 families.

    Just my 2 cents. Best of luck.

  9. -- It always has frustrated me (personally and professionally) when some teachers (or psychologists, for that matter) think that they know more about the needs of a child they have just met (or known for some months) than the parents who are raising him or her!

    As a parent, this burns me, too. I have one child who has little trouble with transitions, started Kindergarten with no tears, and is about to enter middle school confident and secure, with me having been almost totally hands off throughout her early school years. I also have a child who has great difficulty with transitions, regresses at the beginning of each year, and is anxious to the point of being mute and dissociative with new teachers. I have a very different strategy with her, and each year form a partnership with her teachers to give input on her learning style, monitor her anxiety level and to ensure that she is thriving in the classroom.

    I feel it is condescending for a teacher to tell me that my youngest child's anxiety is a product of my own. My oldest can tolerate a wide variety of stress and pedagogical styles and a huge range of teacher warmth and personalities, and I will wordlessly hand her off each year knowing that she will find her way and do just fine no matter who the teachers are. With my youngest child, I will stay as involved as is necessary to facilitate her transition into the new classroom. I don't care how difficult you think I am.

  10. Maybe the kindergarten parents you perceived as "difficult" were really just not trusting you. It always has frustrated me (personally and professionally) when some teachers (or psychologists, for that matter) think that they know more about the needs of a child they have just met (or known for some months) than the parents who are raising him or her!

    Maybe, 9:19. Or it could be that they are anxious and it has nothing to with me personally. But, I see your first inclination is to assume that the teacher is a creep. And you wonder why I caution about anxious (difficult) parents. And child psychologists tend to be the most anxious.

    I am sorry to hear that you are making a big deal out of this with your child. Enjoy your narcissism, and I hope your anxiety, and your husband's, and the new lunch box and backpack, don't cause stress for the other children in the class who don't have both parents, or new lunch boxes or backpacks.

  11. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  12. Yeah, just ignore the creep. He comes here to insult parents on a regular basis, hasn't quite figured out that perhaps parents don't relate well to him because he is such a pompous condescending JERK.

  13. Actually, I'm kind of a fan of TFT's blog and have added it to my rss reader.

  14. Oh, the balancing act. Kindergarten is a big deal. Yet, no one wants to project their own anxiety onto their child. Even for my son--who is in pre-school 8-9 hours 5 days a week and for whom kindergarten, even with some after-care, is going to mean slightly less hours away from home each day--I know it is going to be an adjustment.

    In these moments of transition and change I cling to one fact: the entire point of parenting is preparing our children to go out into the world on their own. My job is to somehow get him from complete dependency to mature independence. I hope (and believe) that when we get there we love and cherish each other, but my job is to help him fully become his own man.

    How any one of us interprets this is up for debate, but it is an insight I have found useful at every challenging or stressful junction of his childhood so far. I hope it helps others find a solid, centered, peaceful place in their own parenting, whatever style it may take.

  15. I'm sure it will be a big deal and all that, but I must say at the moment I'm feeling like I CAN'T WAIT until my DD is in school full time (she goes to a morning program right now). I love her dearly. She's clever, funny, sweet. But she's also driving me up the FREAKING WALL these days. I'm not sure how much more of the whining, harrumphing, and general "mommy, you're an idiot: 'tude I can take.

  16. Here's a tip which might work for some families. Teachers start back to work the week before school starts. Most K teachers will be setting up their classrooms during that week. I have in the past taken my kids to visit their new classroom and new teacher for a few minutes on one of those days. It's a nice low key way for your child to meet the teacher with no one else around, and have a chance to get a sneak preview of the classroom.

    If you decide to do this, a couple more tips. First, don't stay more than 10 minutes! The teachers have a lot to do getting ready for the new year, and it isn't fair to expect them to devote half an hour to getting to know you and your child while they are focused on getting ready to meet 20 new children. Second, bring a gift for the classroom. You would be surprised to see how usual it is for common items like boxes of tissues or rolls of paper towels to appear on teachers' "wish lists." They usually have to buy these things with money from their own pockets, and K students go through A LOT of tissues and paper towels. So bring something for the classroom, and let the teacher know that you will be happy to contribute needed materials throughout the school year, too.

  17. 7:44 : Do you call in advance to make an appointment?

  18. question: when do you find out which class your kid is in?

    i love the idea of dropping by (briefly) the week before with a gift for the classroom. that makes a lot of sense.

  19. I do not try to be condescending. I am trying to give you parents a teacher's perspective. I have been working with children and families for many years, and have seen my share of successes and disasters.

    So, to those of you who think I am a condescending jerk, sorry. For those of you less inclined to jump to erroneous conclusions, thanks.

    About visiting the teacher during prep week: that is our time to get our rooms ready, put together lists, find curricular materials that have been put somewhere, have meetings (endless meetings), and generally get everything ready for day one (like Hillary). If students and parents all decided to come visit for 10 minutes, that would take a lot of time away from our work. We have very little time as it is. If you require a visit prior to the first day, you should talk to the principal and suggest there be a picnic or something (we do that on the weekend prior to the first day) so the teachers can focus on setup during their setup time. Many principals and districts will fund such a get-together, so teachers can get paid for it. To just show up and expect a meeting is a bit presumptuous, as we normally make appointments to meet with families.

    And if you bring a gift, make it a gift for the teacher, not the class. That way the teacher can take it home and you never have to know whether the teacher actually liked it. If you don't see it in the class, but expected to, you might be upset, and we don't need that now, do we?

    Teachers see many first days in their career. Most of these days go just fine, even with nervous kids and nervouser parents. Remember, teachers, especially K teachers, take their responsibility to care for the children emotionally, educationally, culinarily, and psychologically, very seriously. You all can remain relaxed.

  20. I disagree about taking a gift for the teacher, not the class. My son's Kindergarten teacher loved the 12 boxes of Kleenex and the big box of 144 washable markers. She said 1/2 her supply budget went towards washable markers.

    If in doubt as to what the teacher needs for the class, ASK. But things like paper towels, kleenex, reams of paper and other generic supplies are always welcome, and much appreciated, from my experience.

  21. TFT: would you please go away. Your sexist and condescending remarks are so painful. You have seriously killed this blog.

  22. Another teacher's perspective...
    I agree that unscheduled visits the week before school could be disruptive and it's true that we are usually in meetings that week. My advise is call the school and schedule these meetings first. Some teachers are more that willing to accept visits, but it is an individual thing. I agree that a Kinder play date before school starts is a better idea. It's casual and fun for all, but not all schools pay teachers to go. It's mainly for students and parents to network.

    As for gifts, I think it would be very inappropriate for a parent to bring a gift to the teacher before school even starts. I would not accept such a gift. Gifts at holiday time or at the end of school are fine and show appreciation for my efforts, but a gift from someone that I have no relationship with feels wrong. Now a gift for the classroom is always welcome and is very appropriate.
    Suggestions: Facial Tissue, Paper towels, Dish Detergent, Photo paper, Markers, Cleanser, Sponges, Folders, other art materials...
    You can also ask the teacher what he or she needs.

  23. A terrific gift for a K teacher is to volunteer to be a room parent. This is the parent (some lucky classrooms get more than one) who volunteers to help organize the other parents to help with field trips, class parties and activities, and generally any kind of support the teacher requests. Lots of parents are willing to pitch in and do their share, but very few are willing to be the "leader", and this job usually ends up falling to a parent who has older children in the school already (and so, is probably already overcommitted.) It can be a real blessing for the classroom and the school volunteer pool as a whole when a new Kinder parent offers to take on this job for their classroom.

    And in case you are thinking that you don't have time to be constantly going to the school, you have to work, you have other younger children at home who need you, etc., it doesn't have to take a lot of your time, nor do you need to necessarily be in the classroom to help. You can set up a phone tree or e-mail group (for those parents/guardians who have e-mail) and take care of a lot of the communication that way. Or maybe join up with another parent from the class, someone you met on the first day who seems willing to get involved, and both of you volunteer together to be co-room parents.

  24. HAH! - TFT is being diplomatic.
    If you could hear some of the complaints and horror stories that teachers circulate among themselves about parents you would be appalled. (FWIW, Doctors do the same thing - something about the 'caring' professions bring out the need to vent in private among their colleagues). Not that ANYONE on this blog would be an overwrought, helicopter parent. Doesn't mean that the teachers don't care about the students tremendously - parents on the other hand, can frankly be pains in the butt. Just accept it and move on. They do have you child's best interest at heart - it just doesn't always match your own viewpoint - but you just have to relinquish control (which is what causes most of the parent's anxiety). Remember, teachers have a whole different schema than you do, regarding parent - teacher involvement.

    On a more practical note, if you have never left your little darling alone - you might want to practice - if only so they know that you will come back. IKEA daycare, friends house for a playdate. Just little practice separations before the big day.

  25. It's me, June 21st at 9:19 again. Boy, what an attack from TFT!

    I simply meant to say: I think many parents are anxious about kindergarten starting, and why not? It's a big deal! Just because it's a big deal doesn't mean it needs to be a bad thing, or scary thing (it can be an exciting thing, like your baby's first haircut, or a birthday).

    I also think many new parents don't necessarily trust their child's new teacher until there is proof that that person is trustworthy. I know that one proof of trustworthiness for parents is to see that the teacher (or counselor or whoever) is paying attention to your child, and ready to take them in as a unique person. Also, of course, more trust comes when parents feel that the teacher is sensitive to them and not just operating on their own agenda.

    I really don't understand why my saying that both parents showing up for the first day of school with a new lunchbox and backpack makes me narcissistic. Are you (I think, mistakenly) assuming that a new backpack and lunchbox for the first day of school is a class thing?

    Actually, don't answer that. I'd rather we get back to the topic at hand...

  26. I've been enjoying TFT's comments. Sure, they are grating sometimes, but I appreciate the honesty. Even if his views are quirky in some aspects (e.g., most teachers in my experience have appreciated donations of markers, Purell, tissues, etc.), that doesn't make his own experience invalid; the best thing, obviously, is to ask first what is needed.

    Regarding lunchbox and backpacks, I think he's wrong on that one (most families probably get a new backpack if not lunchbox as a lot of our families get the free lunch), but his larger point of being careful not to communicate anxiety about the transition still stands. If a new backpack makes the first day of school special enough to be enjoyable without seeming overwhelming, then that's a good thing.

    TFT's frustrations are not with the children, but with the parents, and that doesn't make him a bad teacher per se. I've known lots of teachers from preschool on up who dealt better kids than with parents. It might even be a characteristic of teaching skill at the younger child level. I knew a preschool teacher who seemed almost autistic when it came to communicating with us parents, but she really understood the mind of a three-year-old.

    Let's be honest. There are pain-in-the-butt parents in every setting with kids. Sometimes advocacy is greatly needed (especially with special needs), but often enough this is about control, is it not? Not saying you all are that person :-), but I would say, if you can, try to keep the mindset of respecting the teacher's space with your kid and the need for the teacher to establish a separate relationship, one that is not mediated by the parent.

    This thing about assessing trustworthiness on day one and that's a reason to stick around the classroom the first day--geez, I just don't get that. If there are issues with a teacher that will surely emerge, but what good could it possibly do to be "assessing trustworthiness" on the craziness of day one? Give the teacher a chance to establish a connection with the kids. This means not hovering. Yes, I do think you have to have some trust from the get-go. If the teacher turns out to a total disaster after a few weeks (unlikely), then do something at that time.

    Also, looking for unique attention to your child on day one, and attentiveness to parents' needs too? I don't get that either. Again, give those teachers some breathing room to turn the classroom into a living, breathing community with him/her as leader. Until then, it is just chaos with 50 people crammed into a small space and anxiety you can practically taste in the air. I have seen this every year on the first day of school in the kinder wing of our school.

    Also, re the comment about a teacher operating on his/her own agenda and not yours--well, yes, that is the point. The teacher has an agenda. Ultimately, his/her goals are the same as yours, which is the education of your child and nineteen other young human beings. However, how to get from here to there may not be the agenda you would think of. Give the teacher a chance to do his/her job. You will be given a chance to be partners in this, certainly at home and yes, in the classroom too. But give the teachers a chance to establish the classroom environment first.

    My advice to new parents is to relax and roll with it. It will all seem big and new at first for both you and the kids, but you'll both get through that. TFT is right in the sense that most kids (there may be 1-2 exceptions per class, in my experience, for kids who are painfully shy outliers) will adjust beautifully, but they will do so faster away from the anxious eyes of their parents.

    For both my kids, the experience of sitting on a rug the very first day and singing a song with the teacher was so familiar from the preschool routine that they just settled right in with the other kids, legs folded "criss cross applesauce." After a few weeks, they knew the kindergarten schedule by heart, they knew every corner of their classroom, and most of all they knew their teacher belonged to them, and they felt secure. They eventually delighted in showing off this world to me.

    Most teachers wait a few weeks before inviting the parents back in to volunteer in the classroom. This gives the teachers time to establish the classroom routine and themselves at the head of it. The classroom supply request lists usually go out as well after a few weeks, often around Back to School Night (the evening event where parents visit the classrooms, get a formal presentation from the teachers on curriculum, homework issues, field trips, etc., and get to ask questions).

    In the meantime, you can look out for veteran parents--there may be older siblings of your kid's classmate, and experienced parents who go along with them--and invite yourself out for coffee with them, or get their attention on the yard. You can get a lot of questions answered that way, without getting in the way of your child and teacher starting off on the right foot.

    At our school we start off with a "Parents' Tea" on the first morning of school. It's a chance for parents to meet, to join the PTA, and frankly, to stop the hovering (and the teachers are very grateful for this, even if they are not as undiplomatic as TFT about it.)

    Also, Kim, at our school the classroom assignments are posted on the yard on the Friday before school starts. I don't know about Leonard Flynn, but maybe Kathy B can answer that one.

  27. 1:19: Thanks for a thoughtful, balanced post.

  28. 1:19 Great post filled with excellent information & advice. I was trying to figure out a way to say what you said, it wasn't nearly as eloquent.

  29. Hey 9:19

    My perspective is a teacher's. Your post, to which I responded with some vigor, left me feeling, well, bad. Bad that parents assume the worst about teachers, and by extension, schools. This blog, in my eyes anyway, is that attitude made digital. This blog is devoted to pitting one school against another, without even talking about why you feel the need to do the pitting (what are the determinants? teachers, administrators, facilities, per pupil spending, student population? What?).

    So, I rail.

    I rail against the things that make school that much more of a nasty place to work--we aren't allowed to teach anymore, parents blame us when their kids screw up, administrators are more likely to back a parent than a teacher (out of fear, not righteousness), NCLB is a disaster, and folks on this blog who don't know me call me a misogynistic jerk (not sure where the misogyny came from).

    The anon poster summed up much of what I was trying to say, even though anon called me undiplomatic. Guilty! But I am not unreasonable, nor am I unwilling to be wrong.

    I have a dry, biting, irreverent sense of humor, and I can't help but feed it. Some of my comments are grotesque for effect. But I try not to say anything I don't mean, though, I will admit, my tone puts people off, obviously.

    I actually like this blog, and have read many interesting posts and comments here. I am not trying to hijack anything, nor am I doing this for traffic at my blog (your visceral dislike of me insures that I will not have much luck generating traffic here. Oh, and I don't care to generate traffic; the blog is my outlet.)

    So, please look at my words through different lenses. Lenses that allow you to understand my perspective, not agree, but maybe understand. In my world, the kids come first (well, second, after my son).

  30. Our elementary school does a "welcome to kindergarten" session before school starts, organized by the school, so the teachers and principal are there. There is a short session with everyone, all the teachers are introduced, and then you find out your kid's assignment and go to the classroom to meet the teacher.

    Kids are welcome/encouraged. They get markers/paper and can play with the classroom toys and books while the teacher gives a short introductory talk (not as extensive as back to school night--this is designed to help the new parents make the plunge).

    As I recall, we were also asked to take home a one-page, short essay questionnaire thingie wherein we could describe our child, name any concerns, strong attributes, and so forth. We returned those on the first day.

    Don't know how common this is. My older child's middle school had an official welcome program too, for incoming 6th graders, but back in the spring. I think the letter for the kindgergarten gig goes out in August. You can also ask online if your school has a parent/teacher listserve.

    Thanks, TFT, for this most recent comment (@5:21). I like to think that underneath the anonymous rantings and railings of any one of us there lurk real human beings who have, most of us at least, a fair amount of concern for the children of our fair city. Regardless of our disagreements about strategies or anything else, there lies our common ground.

  31. For the record, I teach and live in the East Bay. And thanks anon. I am a decent guy, really!

  32. I'm reading all of the above comments and all i can think about is the the title ane in regards to my own child - emotionally prepared for Kindergarten! She sure would be if we knew what Kindergarten we would be attending. My daughter is very ready and very aware although i have managed to keep most of the ordeal of getting a Kindergarten away from her.In the car ride home (from having a group playdate) last week she totally broke down (so unlike her) i pulled over and talked about what all the tears were about. It boiled down to why does she not have a school to go to and why does she not have any play dates with any of her future Kindergarten friends..... I felt so terrible and felt that i had failed her, her tears were so real and i have nothing to tell her. Emotionally prepared - this is a child who counts (each night getting into bed) the days down on the calender to each special event in her life - bring it on!!! i just wish we had a school to attend!

  33. @7:59, so sorry for this stress. I'm guessing something you like will open up between now and the 10-day count, but you have a back-up plan at all? Also, have you seen any current data on waitpools?

  34. I have seen all the data over and over and have been to the EPC at least once a week for for the past months. We have NO back up plan and my waitlist school doesn't have huge numbers on it but we still know nothing. The EPC told me on Friday that really i wouldn't know anything until after the 10 day count as schools are out now for summer and not much is happening. Explain that to a 5 year old who just wants to go to Kindergarten she said "any school will do mama".

  35. I take it you have an assigned school that you find completely unacceptable, even as a short-term backup? And/or you find current available options at EPC unacceptable? And that you would not consider parochial (often there are openings through the summer and into the school year)?

    If no, then there are really two things that could happen, assuming you stay in SF. One is that a waitpool school becomes available. It really could happen by the 10-day count, especially if there are not huge numbers as you say.

    I would certainly be prepared to stay in touch with the EPC to let them know of your continued interest in your waitpool school. As Caroline has pointed out, it can't hurt to keep your name front and center *at this point in the process*--when the human factor and persistence may play....if they are making phone call to a waitlist name and it goes unanswered, and your name is next--they might move pretty quickly to yours, knowing of your availability.

    The second route is: assuming you don't get a waitpool option, you wait all the way through the 10-day count, wait for the waitpools to be dissolved, and then go down to EPC and register your child as a new student from the list of available openings. She would miss the first weeks of the year, and there is no telling what will be available at that time, but availability can be surprising at that point. You may find an acceptable, even popular, choice. Odd, but true.

    Both of these routes more or less require you to stop thinking about this process right now, though, other than a weekly phone call to EPC (picking up this pace in mid-August and after school starts) to make sure they know you are out there. I can only imagine how hard it would be not to think so hard about it all, but if you are pretty much resigned to waiting for an option that is more likely to be available in September than right now, I can't see the advantage of focusing a lot on it right now. Remind yourself that this is YOUR strategy--you are holding out for something more to your liking than is available right now, and you are sticking to this plan through September.

    Next, reassure your daughter that something good will come up. I believe you when you say that you have not been stressing out about this in front of her, but children are perceptive and they also have remarkably big ears. Things she may have overheard from you, and perhaps from other moms and kids, are seeping in. If you can dial down your stress and anxiety for a time, then she likely will too; she will take her cue from you. Keep reassuring yourself that you have this strategy, then take a deep breath and tell her in a firm and loving voice that she will have a good school. Tell her that the waiting is part of making sure she has one that is a good school for her. Tell her that it is her mommy's job to find that school for her, and that you will do just that. Then, go and do silly summer things with her.

  36. we are in the same situation, FWIW. we have a back-up that will not work for us - schedule, location, no aftercare available, and generally not what we wanted. i have been to EPC every week. there is nothing they can do really. i just save my quarters and make the weekly trip down there. not the best way to spend the summer before kinder, but what can we do.

    anyone have recent wait pool numbers? why aren't they posting them on their site?

  37. We're also in the same boat. The counselors at EPC have made it relatively clear that not much movement is expected before August (maybe) or even until the 10-day count. Which I heard is the 6-day count this year. We are trying to put this debacle in the back of our minds as we enjoy summer but the low-level (and sometimes high-level) stress that this has created since March is getting to me.

    Luckily, my daughter seems to be handling the uncertainty with her characteristic flair. Perhaps because her two closest friends from school are in the same boat. But as we get closer to the start of school, I wonder if she too will begin to worry.

    As for the quarters/EPC visits, I finally figured out that there is plenty of free street parking within a couple of blocks or even around the corner on Fulton. The one parking ticket I was graced with down there was enough. It's like pouring lemon juice into a (huge, painful, sad) wound.

  38. I just spoke with the District. Apparently, there was so little movement during this latest waitpool run that they may not even post data on the website. Just FYI...

  39. I wonder how many families are truly in this situation now. Kate's recently closed poll indicates 21 who are reading this blog, anyway. I suppose there is no way of knowing, because many who are in the waitpools at this point may already have a private/parochial or even public school they are willing to go to, but are holding out for a dream school in the waitpool; or, possibly, unfortunately, there are families who are pretty sure they are going somewhere else but haven't yet removed their names.

    I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but please people, if you know you won't be attending your registered school (especially) or even your waitpool school, make the effort to remove your kid's name from the list or the pool! Thanks go to Kate, Marlowe's Mom, and Kinderplot for already doing so. The sooner we can all clear the decks, the sooner folks like Kortney and these various anonymouses can get a spot.

  40. Maybe an article in the Chron about the huge number of people living with uncertainty over schools right now would goad those who are hanging onto spots in schools or in waitpools but have no intention of using them into some action.

  41. Last weekend I ran into a very famous San Francisco resident who is basically worshipped by a large number of people who have actually begged him to run for office, and he is in that fortunate situation. His early fall son was accepted at both a private school and at one of the most sought after immersion programs in the City, and he is taking his time to think it over. He displayed no insight into the kind of pain his indecision might be causing. What is going to change over the summer? He'll decide when he wants. But I think I might change our wait list to that school! He seemed blase about the chances of getting it again.

    (I am convinced that the lottery is rigged.)

  42. 9:30, I think I know who you're talking about, and his son is a shoe-in for private school (diversity candidate, well-known and affluent parent) and for an immersion program (Spanish as home language). This is not evidence of rigging (at least for the public school lottery).

  43. No diversity and no Spanish (I do think a different language might have been cited due to one of the parents) so I think you are talking about someone else. Both parents are non-Hispanic caucasion.

    Probably a "shoe-in" for status-seeking private schools due to fame; wealth is there but it's not Getty-esque.

  44. It's definitely uncommon for an early fall b-day boy to get into private school, unless you mean that he will be turning 6 this fall, not 5.

  45. Well, don't leave us hanging..... Why don't you divulge the identity of these famous personalities and end the speculation.

  46. Will it make a difference?

  47. Man, this system just brings out the WORST in people doesn't it? I understand why, it is so maddening and frustrating. But to hold on to a spot that you have no intention of keeping is beyond inconsiderate.

  48. Is anyone else trying to figure out how to prepare their child for the emotional (what I presume will at least be at first) wierdness of language immersion? Our child will be in Mandarin Immersion and I am trying not to project my worries onto him (too hard, too stressful), but also want to give him some idea of what things will be like. Any experienced immersion parents out there?

  49. The vast majority of kids adjust just fine. They are such fast learners, and they are not burdened with ideas about how stressful it is to learn a second language! Many, many kids have gone through these programs and are speaking if not reading & writing in the target language just fine within a few months. The teachers use songs, art, movement--universal languages--to keep the kids engaged through this process.

    My biggest piece of advice is to relax and give it a couple of weeks. And, as with the advice above, stay out of the teacher's way during this time. If your kid seems upset or resistant in the first few days (mine did not, but some others did), tell her or him gently but also confidently that it will be okay, he/she can do it, it will get easier. I really do think that kids can get lot of confidence from their parents' encouragement, and this can help them push through. It's a good life lesson too.

  50. My son appears to be having some anxiety over the start of kindergarten (waking up at night, talking about fears, etc), though we are not talking about it too much with him since he tends to do better with new experiences without a ton of talking beforehand. He knows we will be going to a play date at the school soon and will meet some of the other kids in the K class. We have walked by the school twice and he didn't want to go in, so I've taken his lead and answer his questions when they come up ("why do they leave the doors open at the school?", "What is the mural about...?" thigns like that.

    He loves his preschool and his teacher, which is making it harder for him (and me) to imagine the transition. We spent a year abroad and he was in a preschool from age 3.9 to 4.6, immersed in the native language of that country. The experience was interesting -- he made a few friends and spoke some of the language when we left. But, he has been bringing up that experience as one that was hard for him and I do think that is partly why he is slightly anxious about starting somewhere new. That said, it was character building and having gone through that I know he'll be fine with the change.

    He will be 5.9 when he starts kindergarten, and he's very social and comfortable, and is becoming interested in reading and writing now, so I think he is ready in many ways. I know we just have to take it one day at a time when it starts and figure that by Thanksgiving he'll be pretty well adjusted.

  51. I know we just have to take it one day at a time when it starts and figure that by Thanksgiving he'll be pretty well adjusted.

    This all seems right to me.

  52. I have to say the Kindergarten transition (we did it last year) was difficult, but not unbearable. Kindergarten is very very different than preschool in many ways - school is BIG, lots of seemingly chaotic behavior (yet there is an order to it!), kids are expected to be much more independent than in preschool, expectation of getting to school ON TIME (and in our case it was early!), homework, etc. -
    but I do think that it is doable and that the anxiety people have expressed on this blog is really normal.
    The first day is really exciting, despite the anxiety. I love looking at the pictures of my daughter all dressed up in her uniform, wearing her backpack, holding her little lunchbox - for sure she was nervous, I cried, we took pictures - I don't know, it just seems part of the ritual of being a parent, watching your kid on another step toward their independence.
    I think we have to give ourselves a break as parents and just do the best we can.

  53. "I think we have to give ourselves a break as parents and just do the best we can."

    Thanks bigandtinygirl-
    You seem to be a consistent voice of reason on this blog! :)

  54. We were lucky to feel good about our school, and our son is a happy, confident kid. He also got a chance to visit his K-8 for about an hour during its summer session, so the transition to "big kid school" went smoothly for us. There have never been any separation issues: he wants to be cool and run off to join his friends.

    If you are not so comfortable with the environment into which your child is going, or if your child tends to anxiety, it must be far more difficult. I would hope new teachers would have some patience and understanding of the style you feel works best for your kids. I would also hope and actually expect that the teacher would tell you if your child has a major separation problem after you leave and work with you on strategies to resolve the problem.

    HOWEVER, I think this anecdote is worth bearing in mind: Occasionally I would hang out at preschool drop-off time chatting with the head teacher. There was one boy in particular who would whine and cling and cry and fuss and hold his breath until he turned purple and his mom would stay for as long as she could, sometimes 45 minutes or an hour, comforting him. As soon as she would finally pry herself away because she had an appointment or something, within 30 seconds of the door closing, that hysterical child would run off to play as though nothing had ever been wrong. We've also babysat for people whose kids have "don't go" meltdowns when their parents are putting on their coats to go out. I have never seen a kid fuss for more than a minute or two after the parents left. The desire to have fun with other kids and explore is a powerful thing. You know your kids, but they know you too, and they're not above trying to see what kind of power they can exert. (This is not just a right-wing Dr. Dobson assertion, progressive Dr. Spock will tell you the same thing.) I'm a big fan of the ten-second, kiss and "bye, sweetie, have a good day," drop-off myself.

  55. To Anon June 24, 2008 9:30 PM

    I know the famous Sf resident with the immersion top school choice AND private choice. It's hard, because we wanted that private spot (and public.) We still have no school, and yet have to support their decision to wait and decide.

    They may move, and it would effect which choice they make.

    I wonder, did you express your concern over their wait and see attitude? They are friends of mine, and so I cannot.

  56. I have to say that all of the "something you like will open" support makes me want to scream.

    We have nothing, and this year is different from previous years. Maybe it's the number of people trying to get into public schools. But the truth is no one knows if families from waiting lists will flood into schools, or not.

    Frustrated? You betcha.

  57. tft

    I must say that whether or not you are a good guy, a great teacher, or even a well meaning blogger. You come off defensive and bitter on this blog.

  58. oh, don't reveal the names of the people who you think you're talking about. we don't know everyone's situation. lets play nice, yo

  59. Kortney, we are in the exact same place as you and you're family, that is with no school, i feel we share a lot in common just from reading this blog. I am on the waitlist for Grattan and i'm hagging tough on that. The system is totally different this year with over 300 new applications. Things may sort themselves out a little but i can't see everyone being happy. Do you have a boy or a girl?? and are they aware of the issues with school, i have a daughter who is very aware but thankfully still happy to know that we will be going somewhere!!

  60. is anyone on the list sending their kid to junnipero serra? we were assigned there, but then thought we were moving -- and weren't 100% comfortable with the idea of sending our son there. now it looks like we aren't moving, and i don't have high hopes of getting into our waitlist school. i know there was an orientation a couple of weeks ago. did anyone attend? (and yes, i know i sound like a lemming. guilty as charged.)

  61. We are also currently enrolled at Serra but are not thrilled with that option for various reasons (logistical as well as reasons specific to the school). I am still holding out hope that we will either get into our waitlist school or something else closer to home. We weren't able to attend the K orientation...

    For what it is worth, I found it somewhat heartening to see that so many responders to the poll seemed to know where they were sending their kid. At least this perhaps means that there are less of us without a viable assignment who will be scrambling for those precious spots come September.

  62. grattan waiters... i have a friend with two kids with spots at grattan and they plan to give them up as soon as their private financial stuff goes through. that makes three spots coming...

  63. The Chronicle website, sfgate has an article mentioning that the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury issued a report about kindergarten admissions.

    Here is a link to the report:

    If you enjoy reading bitter reader comments be sure to find the sfgate article as well and check out the comments.

  64. I'm the anon who gave the anecdote about the famous SF resident. No, I didn't say anything. If I were to take him to task, I would start with some of the about-faces of his revered presidential candidate, but I didn't do that either, because it wasn't the right forum, and quite frankly, he didn't really seem to care what I thought about anything.

    People will do what they want to do. Of course, it bothers me when certain people who are respected for being a certain way, act a different way in their personal life, but that's pretty much the way the world is, and anyone who thinks differently is just plain naive.

    But yes the school his child was assigned was about our first or second choice, but again, I'm convinced that the lottery is rigged, so why even bother caring. We went O-7, 0-8, no wait list school, and are sending our child to private.

    As to the SF Gate article, I'm sorry, but that's just sad. Do they honestly think that we don't like the lottery because we don't like diversity? I like diversity! But unfortunately the lottery screwed us so we're stuck paying for private and deprived of maximum diversity. Thanks, lottery!

  65. "ut yes the school his child was assigned was about our first or second choice, but again, I'm convinced that the lottery is rigged, so why even bother caring. We went O-7, 0-8, no wait list school, and are sending our child to private."

    I'm curious, why do you think the lottery is "rigged"? Did you think this initially (b/c then why bother for sure) or do you think it now for some reason?





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  67. I do know two families who did get into their wait pool schools after the 10 day count (Rooftop and Lilienthal. Best of luck to all of you still waiting.

  68. tft

    I must say that whether or not you are a good guy, a great teacher, or even a well meaning blogger. You come off defensive and bitter on this blog.

    Sorry. I won't comment on your grammar.

  69. I know a Grattan kinder spot-holder who is going private, about 90% certain...

  70. Lester -- thanks so much for posting the link to the Civil Grand Jury report!! It was fascinating!! Did anyone else see that this blog made page 6 of the report (page 10 of 32 of the pdf file)?

  71. I'm glad you liked the report. I certainly got a kick out of reading it. It seems that the comments on this blog had a major impact on the grand jury findings.

    I do think they are deliberately avoiding mention of the language immersion programs (as opposed to the bilingual programs) in the report. It seems to me that the success of those programs conflicts with their "neighborhood schools" conclusion.

    I also get the impression that these grand jury reports are routinely ignored by whatever branch of government they are aimed at.

  72. i'm not sure what to do about our K situation, and probably like many parents, am feeling depressed about it. any advice would be appreciated.

    here's our situation -- we're not sure if we have a better chance of getting our daughter into a public immersion program at this point, or of finding a spot at a private pre-K.

    up until thursday, we thought we were moving to Denver for my job. i was told back in april that my department was being moved there. now, at the 11th hour, they've really f&cked me over and canceled the transfer (once i find a school for my daughter, it's a new job for mom!).

    So, we had done the public school lottery, but struck out and were assigned to Cobb. No offense to anyone, but I really don't want to send my daughter there.

    We're on the wait-list for Flynn Spanish immersion (which I now am glad I was too disorganized to call and remove myself from -- i swear i was going to do it this next week!) It feels like a real long shot that we'd get in there at this point. But we'd really like immersion, as we're a bilingual family (i'm originally from Chile). Our daughter understands a ton of Spanish, but doesn't speak it much. I just know though if she were in an immersion program, she would eventually flourish.

    But when we did our parent-teacher conference last spring, our daughter's preschool director told us she thinks we should really hold her out a year -- she's on the young side, and lacks some confidence.

    So, in Denver, we found a program and held a spot for her. But here now, at this date, I'm not sure we'd be able to find something.

    Can anyone recommend any pre-K programs that would have spots at this point? Because at this point too, now I'm realizing I don't want the heck I would do for after-school care even if she did get into Flynn. I imagine their programs book up.

    Thanks very much.

  73. I am in a similar situation as previous poster, only we were just transferred here and need to find a school for our Nov. birthday boy. our next-door neighbor told me about some T-K/pre-K programs to contact (Eureka Valley, Treehouse PreK, Lakeside Presyb., Little Bear, Holy Family Day Home) -- she also told me about this blog :-)

    If anyone knows of other programs to check out, I'd love to hear about them. (we are fortunate enough to be able to pay for another year of preschool/private, which would at least keep us out of the competition for the public spots that open)

  74. Off-topic, but since it came up here:

    Re the Grand Jury report, while I agree with the overall conclusion (that the Diversity Index should be scrapped), I found the research and understanding level so poor-quality that my guess is they actually failed to grasp the difference between a bilingual program (to teach English to English-language learners) and an immersion program. There were many similar lapses -- it was as if they took everything they found and flung it into the report without trying to understand what they were talking about.

    Another commentator on sfschools points out that the report notes that the most segregated schools tend to be the schools that draw mostly from the surrounding neighborhoods. So its disapproval of the lack of diversity under the all-choice process and its conclusion that neighborhood assignment would be preferable seem contradictory -- and it seems that the researchers/authors didn't understand their own findings well enough to grasp that. Here's a cross-post from sfschools of some of my other observations, for what it's worth.
    I also agree pretty much with the report's conclusion that the
    Diversity Index is complicated, alienating and ineffective -- though I certainly don't agree with the uninformed notion that neighborhood schools would magically fix everything. Going to a straight lottery
    would at least be comprehensible to most parents and help them feel
    less like they were being blindsided by an impossibly complex process.

    I was shocked at how poor the research was on this report, though. There are some huge gaps, including attempts to discuss bilingual education that make it clear the researchers didn't get the difference between bilingual education for English language learners and popular
    language immersion programs.

    The description of the Ho decision makes it clear that the
    researchers/writers didn't grasp the facts of that case at all.

    The implication that the system immediately prior to the Diversity
    Index was popular and made everyone happy, and that it was the current
    system that spread discontent, is totally inaccurate.

    The report notes disapprovingly that seven bus routes run to westside schools from Bayview, Hunters Point and Vis Valley while only one goes in the other direction; the researchers and/or writer completely failed to mention (and apparently to grasp) that this is because the westside schools are higher-performing and this system gives families in low-income neighborhoods an opportunity to choose higher-achieving
    schools than are available in their own neighborhoods. (Would the
    researchers/writers deprive those high-need children of that
    opportunity? Probably not, if they had the slightest grasp of the
    actual situation.)

    The report applied a tone of contemptuous disapproval to the fact that SFUSD doesn't know how exactly many students are in each school till the 10-day count (which it inaccurately claimed happens on the first day of school), without noting that this is standard in all school districts.

    There was huge reliance on anecdotes, and the researchers/writers
    didn't understand the anecdotes in many cases.

    If this had been the term research paper in Mr. Addiego's 8th-grade
    social studies class at Aptos Middle School, the researchers/writers
    would be looking at repeating 8th grade. I admit to knowing very
    little about the grand jury and how it works, but I am definitely not
    impressed. In fact, the 8th-graders from Mr. Addiego's social studies
    class would have done a much better job. Maybe they should be the next
    grand jury.

  75. "There was huge reliance on anecdotes, and the researchers/writers
    didn't understand the anecdotes in many cases."

    That is exactly what you do!

  76. There's a big difference: I'm not writing a formal report that's supposed to be assessing legal evidence and has official standing.

  77. Here's my attempt at a comprehensive critique of the Grand Jury report:

  78. Easy enough for you to rip the report apart. You fail to offer up any solutions or bright ideas to make the assignment process better, all you do is say: "they've got it all wrong."
    But what else can be expected from someone who bases her attempts at "journalism" almost completely on anecdotal information?

  79. All journalists rely on anecdotal information. That's why they use quotes and not just statistics. But for this report that has legal standing to rely on so much anecdotal information seems troubling.

    I can't agree with the notion that it's inappropriate to expose a false and flawed proposed solution even if one doesn't have a true solution, though. The report is really potentially harmful. It proposes unrealistically simplistic solutions while its authors clearly had minimal (if not zero) understanding of many circumstances facing the school district. To me it's not just valid but essential to point that out. Obviously anyone has the right to disagree, as presumably the Grand Jurors will.

  80. To answer Kim Green's question about when you find out about which teacher your child has: At Flynn, we got a letter last year at the beginning of August. But the letter told us which room he was assigned to, NOT the teacher. It wasn't until the Orientation that we found out which teacher corresponded to which classroom. BTW, Miss Gretchen is in 104 and Miss Erin is in 103.

    Last year, the first week of school I asked my son's teacher if there were anything she needed for the classroom, and she said a fan. Boom, done. It felt good to contribute something so useful, so quickly.

    One day I sharpened all the pencils and found the sharpener (one of the old, mounted, electric ones) so CRAPPY, that I thought it would be a very useful and unique gift to offer to have your classroom's pencil sharpener sharpened.

    I was very surprised when my son's kindergarten teacher called us the week before school started to have a chat with me about the kind of kid he is. When she didn't get us the first time, she even called again. It is unrealistic to expect that teachers would do this because they are extremely busy, but it was a wonderful gesture - especially for an incoming kindergartner (and nervous parents!)

    Be aware that many kids do very well the first few days of kindergarten, and then some of them begin the tears and clinging later. I think the initial excitement wears off and reality sets in - everything is new, the day is long and intense, they are learning so many rules, and if they are in immersion they have the added frustration of not really understanding anything.

    For us, my son started crying on the Friday of the first week and continued off and on for a couple weeks. Some kids cried daily for the first few weeks, others on and off, some not at all. Just be prepared! Also, know that it's not like at pre-school where a teacher can help extricate the child from your leg to let you leave. The teacher has begun the lesson and cannot help. My son realized that I was pretty much trapped - and would follow me to the door, and then I would bring him back to his chair, and then he'd follow me again. You see what I mean - he knew I couldn't leave. On about the fourth day of this when I was trying to leave, I turned to a parent still standing in the classroom - someone I didn't even know! - and said "would you mind helping Miles to his chair while I leave?" She said "sure" and I turned and left. Miles was shocked, but it broke the pattern too. He had to know that I had to leave and he had to stay.

    Note that some tears were shed by me after leaving the school too. It's heart wrenching knowing they are upset, but know also that in almost every case, the child stops crying and joins in within minutes.

    Yes, this transition is very hard on Moms! Symbolically kindergarten is a BIG deal.

  81. Have to agree with Caroline on this one. I agree with her AND with the Grand Jury's conclusions that the Diversity Index is way unwieldy and confusing and needs an overhaul--it may be that a blind lottery would have the virtue of being comprehensible to most. But seriously, folks, the Grand Jury report is overall a piece of shoddy work. I can understand lots of frustrated parents here wanting to "stick it to the Man" (the EPC, school board, whatever) by relishing in this document, but we should not be defending a half-***ed job. It certainly won't help build a better school assignment process when it fails to grasp the key issues of conflict and contradiction.

    The bottom line problem with any assignment system is that there are more parents wanting certain spots than there are said spots. How to allocate these? No system will be seen as fair by those who miss out. A lottery at least gives everyone a shot regardless of residence in a high-rent or high-mortgage district. And the current system has had the virtue, over several years, of sending motivated parents out to every-widening circles of schools, particularly those with attractive immersion or cultural programs. This would not happen with a neighborhood system. This is how schools like Flynn have been improving--but Miralomas and hopefully now Sunnysides too. I realize this doesn't help those parents who don't want to be on the front lines, but it has been working in a system that for years was stuck with widely held perceptions that there were five "acceptable" schools for middle class people, whereas now there are probably six times as many.

    The huge downside of the lottery, for most upper-middle class parents, the ones with college educations and professional jobs, is that it takes away the comforting sense of control, that we can do something, anything, to improve little Janey's or Justin's chances at that gold star school--by camping out for three days, or by having a house in the neighborhood assignment area. The lottery puts us in with the whole mix of folks and spins the wheel. Aggravating, but it's fairer for those kids whose parents are (for many reasons) not able to maneuver the hands of fate in the way of the advantaged classes (by which I mean, those of us who are college educated and have family income above the city median of $75K or so--I would guess that's most of us here).

    Meanwhile, the only solid answer to the school assignment problem is better schools all around--but that would take a greater investment from state and feds. The city is doing a reasonable job of ponying up (we can argue about Prop H third-thirds and such, but still--Prop A and Prop H are to be commended). However, our school board is making do with a situation of serious underfunding and this has been so for a whole generation now.

  82. RE: which class your child is assigned to: in our school, kids receive an orientation packet in mid-August and the label on the envelope carries the room # (i.e. 104) above the name. There is no other mention of the classroom or teacher in the packet of materials. So be sure to check the label and don't discard the envelope before ascertaining your child's room #.

  83. Great idea re getting the classroom pencil sharpener sharpened. I was not aware that this could be done. Where did you take you pencil sharpener to be sharpened?

  84. To the folks on 6/28 who are suddenly looking for a K program or PreK program but are finding preK programs full and public schools with openings not entirely satisfactory:

    We were in that same situation last July when our son's preschool teacher told us he'd matured suddenly and would be bored to tears staying another year. His birthday is December 29 so he could not legally attend public kindergarten. And with a boy, the tendency is to worry even more about readiness than with a girl (though I know each child is different). Every pre-K program I called was full with a waiting list.

    I found Adda Clevenger in Noe Valley on the Internet, billed as a "junior preparatory and theater school" with no prior training required. It's a K-8 with 170 students total. They are around in July running their summer creative arts day camp. When I called in late July, they were willing to take our son on a trial basis starting in the fall for a few weeks without our committing to a one-year contract. That trial was not cheap, but it totally worked for us. Our son was 4-3/4 when he started. We had a safety net in that our preschool teacher told us he could come back and she would teach him separately if the experiment did not work out.

    The small classes at Adda (14 kids with a teacher & an assistant in each class) allowed the teachers to work with him to help him make the transition and proceed academically at his own pace. He loves the variety with different teachers for each subject. He's outgoing and transitions easily, which helps. He's not at the same place academically as kids in his class who are a year and a half older and who had a year of K before starting Adda, but he's made a lot of progress and now loves the school. He hates to miss class. I put him in a different summer camp thinking he needed a break, but now he's disappointed at not going to Adda camp.

    Adda is definitely not everyone's cup of tea (it would be interesting to post a separate thread with Caroline and I going back and forth) but we love it. It's a bit under $18K for everything (tuition, costume fees, performance tickets, insurance, and a four-week summer creative arts camp) except after-care, which is $100 to $200 per month depending when you pick up. If you take advantage of the summer camp, the school is closed 11 weeks per year compared to 16 to 18 weeks for other schools. You also need to buy tap and ballet shoes and spend about $175 for uniforms. You pack lunch and a snack daily for your kids.

    Unlike many private schools, parent participation expectations are virtually non-existent. You have to take your kids to a weekend rehearsal 4 times a year (older kids also require some after-hours rehearsal pick-ups) and of course you attend the performances, also on weekends. Fundraising is very small (maybe $20K per year to help keep costume and performance equipment fees down) and participation is entirely voluntarily, but happily near 100%. You are not required to volunteer for anything, though help is welcome setting up and following performances and you can contribute snacks and wine or soft drinks for the performance intermission bar.

    The hours of 8:30 to 4:30 plus aftercare available until 6:15 without a too-early start time are great for working parents.

    I don't want to babble too much about the performing arts (though I first did then realized this post was already way too long) but the program is really extraordinary. Aside from technical skill, the kids learn a lot about self-discipline and teamwork. Expectations are high (but age appropriate) and the music and dance teachers outstanding.

    The academic curriculum has a great mix every day. There's something physical (PE-gymnstics or dance) and studio art daily, plus English and math. Science is twice a week and our son loves it. They also have a fun class called "Social Studies and Civility" three days as week where they learn about etiquette and community and have some unstructured time to develop fine motor skills (he calls it "playing with Legos"). Creative Expression, also 3 days a week, includes story-telling and theater games. Some of the curriculum is old-fashioned--they still use phonics and near-antique Sally, Dick, Jane and Spot books to teach beginning reading--but it seems to work.

    8th graders get into good private and public high schools. This year's 13 graduating 8th graders will be going 3 to Lowell, 3 to Lick-Wilmerding 2 to Crystal Springs-Uplands, 1 to Immaculate Conception Academy, 1 to Beacon (a competitive-admissions public in New York City) plus a few publics without a competitive admissions process outside San Francisco.

    They don't have any sort of "inclusiveness" curriculum and it's not as ethnically diverse as public school, but it's not all-white, all-hetero either. They say that it's up to the families to teach values. They teachers were all laughing to tell us at pickup the other night that upon learning that a friend was going to Texas to visit relatives, our son said, "Diego, you can't go to Texas. There's a very bad man named George Bush who lives there."

    Other possible downsides, depending what your family wants or needs, are no computers, no foreign language, and no financial aid. Sports are limited by space and facilities and the playground sucks. Report cards are limited so you have to depend on looking at your child's work to see if their progress is satisfactory. I believe this was the first year ever that they had an open house where you could visit with your child's teachers. The school days are so long that your child won't have time for after-school activities. Some people are bothered by the fact that this is a for-profit school with no school board or PTA. If you have religious objections to Harry Potter, this is not the place for you. If you are the kind of parent who thinks that if your child is having a problem that it must be a problem with the school, you will not like this school. Although you are welcome to visit the school, they want to be let alone to do their jobs, and they expect parental support when a child is having a behavior or academic problem. The anti-public school rhetoric you hear can grate when you know how hard SF's public school teachers and families are working to make the most of the limited resources they have.

    But, if you are arts-oriented, don't mind the downsides, can afford it, and need a place for a youngish but bright, energetic and reasonably mature child who is ready to really start learning, we think this is really worth a look for a pre-K/K transition year. We found it by accident and are very glad we did. We are also very glad we came up with the money at the last minute for our son will be able to stay another year. Because this school is so unique, they've usually got a slot or two available in each class

  85. It's not that I have any particular personal hostility to Adda Clevenger; it's just that we are close to five kids who've gone through the school, over a period from the late '80s to 2006, and I know a LOT about the place.

    I've been at parties where I was the almost the only guest who wasn't an Adda Clevenger parent (and the Adda Clevenger parents were rolling eyes, telling war stories and declaring "thank god we're almost outta there"). So my context is different from Marlowe's Mom's.

    In some ways I have a lot more information about it, but of course I've never actually had my own kids there...

  86. "In some ways I have a lot more information about it, but of course I've never actually had my own kids there..."

    So,just because you have "friends" who's kids went to AC, that makes you somehow as or more knowledgeable than an insider?


    Thanks for a REAL insider perspective, Marlowe's mom

  87. Since there's no separate thread (though perhaps there should be) I generally agree with Caroline's conclusions about the Civil Grand Jury report. They got the surface level of parent frustrations but the lack of depth of understanding was appalling. Sure, I think neighborhood schools would be peachy, but my nearest school is Grattan and I can walk there.

    I have concluded the following based on this blog, the grapevine, other education news and blogs, and a little bit based on the Grand Jury report: (1) Most people prefer a neighborhood school if it's at least adequate, clean and feels safe. (2) A lot of people are willing to inconvenience themselves to one degree or another if a school offers or appears to offer something special like Rooftop's arts-based curriculum, Clarendon's high test scores, or Flynn's language immersion program. (3) There is still is not enough connection between the system and some communities if virtually all white and Asian families participate in the lottery but 1/3 of Latinos and 1/2 of African Americans do not. (4) If the Civil Grand Jury is correct on this point, and I suspect they are, parents of all backgrounds want socio-economic and racial diversity, but not as much as they want either a good, convenient basic education or a special curriculum, with foreign language being the hot hot special right now. (5) Public schools still have to meet the needs of English learners and special needs kids.

    Maybe (this is just a jumping-off point for discussion, and really who am I to talk having just re-enrolled our son in private, but that does mean I don't care) these would be starting points for improvement:
    (1) Ditch the lottery in its current form with all the associated costly bureaucracy.
    (2) Ditch free bus service except for special needs kids who also have economic need.
    (3) Spend money saved on the lottery and the buses on introducing the kinds of special programs engaged parents want (language immersion, etc.) into less popular schools so all neighborhoods have better, more desirable schools. Sort of an "every school an alternative school" concept. District money can kick-start the kinds of programs that PTAs fund in more affluent schools, and hopefully that will spread the kids and the PTA energy and fund-raising around. Get out and ask parents in the different neighborhoods what they're interested in.
    (4) Figure out what needs to be done to bring more and better after-care programs on-site so you're not busing kids all over town after school. Give weight to teacher recommendations about what would be most beneficial for each child, homework help or enrichment activities or a combination. If a parent wants an off-site aftercare program, they should arrange their own transportation.
    (5) Since our society is too stupid to adequately fund public schools, also devote some of the lottery bureaucracy and bus savings to hire some good grant-writers for district-wide private grants. Have grants be for one-time projects like facilities improvements so you don't have to depend on them year after year to keep your magnetic academic programs running, and you don't get too dependent on or answerable to one foundation's agenda.
    (6) Give kids who have special needs and kids whose parents establish a need and desire for bilingual ed first choice from among schools with suitable programs. (I don't know for sure but I understand some parents actually prefer their non-English speaking children not be placed in bilingual ed.)
    (7) Re-draw the neighborhood lines so everyone has a neighborhood school and have a "neighborhood first" policy. This is not currently the case because of the diversity index. People who live in the neighborhood get that school first (after bilingual and special needs) if that's their first choice. If that school over-enrolls, they get the next school on their list with space and on down.
    (8) People who choose not to list their neighborhood school as #1 get assigned to schools on their list in the order space is available, but neighbors who list their own school as #1 always have priority for that school (after special ed and bilingual).
    (9) All parents (other than those of special needs kids) will need to take responsibility for figuring out what transit alternatives will work for getting their kids to school.
    (10) There will still be people who don't get any schools they list. Assign them to the physically closest school with space available. (Yeah, that put us in John Muir in this lottery. We'll still have to live with that, but hopefully with step 3 that would be an at least acceptable option.)
    (11) The September scramble will probably have to continue, but if more people get schools they want, it won't be so awful.
    (12) This will raise hackles I'm sure, but there's got to be a better way to weed out inadequate teachers and administrators regardless of where they are on the tenure scale or the union contract. There are times when people simply should not be doing a job because they are not able or willing to do it well. When I was on the endless-tour-go-round, I saw some teachers who made me want to go back to kindergarten and some teachers who made me want to put them in a trailer with a satellite dish in the Grand Tetons, and not necessarily based on age.
    (13) Lobby, lobby, lobby. Make the loudest political noise you can. You can't buy happiness, but it helps!

  88. Wow, we've gotten off subject! Back on subject. As someone who has sent off two kids to kindergarten now, I have to second (or third) the commenters who recommend not making a big deal out of kindergarten. In particular, I think the 10 minute rule the first day is a great idea. On the other hand, I think it is fine to talk up kindergarten over the summer -- how exciting it is going to be, etc. Playdates are a good idea, but just a couple of visits to the school itself can work wonders,e ven when the school itself is closed. For example, we went to the school a couple of times over the summer and my kid rode his bike around the school and then played in the playground nearby. Sounds silly but it seemed to really excite him about the place.

  89. marlowe's mom-

    you should post your cogent and thoughtful response regarding the Grand Jury report on the sfschools list serve ( In addition to various analyses, someone also started a solutions email thread - your list certainty deserves to be shared and perhaps eventually could be presented to the Board.

    It is unlikely that we'll come up with a perfect system anytime soon, considering they have been mucking with various aspects of enrollment for decades now. But something radical could change, perhaps spurred by the report, by the frustrations of this enrollment year, and with the new superintendent.

    We'll see. We're still 0/15, and hoping for a decent spot closer to home.

  90. So,just because you have "friends" who's kids went to AC, that makes you somehow as or more knowledgeable than an insider?

    Well, because I've spent 20 years in close contact with AC families (one family are cousins of ours).

  91. Agreed that thoughtful posts should be added to the thread over @ sfschools, and Marlowe's Mom is always thoughtful.

    I'm still trying to figure out what could possibly be a "perfect solution" when the simple math is that there are more parents wanting spots at certain schools than there are spots. I mean, the problem is not that there are not enough spots altogether--there are certainly spaces for all the 0/15 families, but not ones that they find acceptable (and I make no judgments about that, just stating the situation).

    So, how to allocate those popular spots in a fair way? Another system would just shift the same question over to the new system.

    This has been debated for years. We had terrible segregation with neighborhood schools. Much more than now. That's how forced busing happened (and then the white flight). Now we have some mixed and some very segregated schools--and those tend to be the ones that draw mostly from the surrounding neigbhorhood, in low-income neighborhoods. Unless they have special programs, like Starr King Mandarin, they do not draw cross-overs from other neighborhoods.

    It's not just about wanting diversity. It is about how to serve disadvantaged kids, and not leave them in the worst schools in the poorest enclaves. The problem is trying to address that AND middle/upper-middle class frustration. Big contradictions here.

    I would definitely make changes to the lottery if I were in charge, but the parental preference system is superior in my mind to both strictly neighborhood schools and forced busing. It's had good results, too, not in all schools but in the sense that many previously shunned schools are now considered attractive and also diverse. I realize this doesn't help those families who remain on the wrong side of the lottery.

  92. I have a big problem with the idea that a system of neighborhood schools will automatically lead to happy families and diverse schools. The fact is, no one can make any family enroll in a school. If they don't find the assignment acceptable, they'll go elsewhere.

    If there were a system of assignment zones, in nearly every zone there would surely be some schools that were considered prizes, some that were "good enough," and some that were completely unacceptable. In fact, the zones would have to be drawn that way to ensure any kind of fairness.

    Let's think of a hypothetical "neighborhood zone" that included five schools:
    1) An extremely popular "neighborhood" school
    2) A school with a popular general ed program and a coveted Spanish immersion program
    3) A school with an acceptable general ed program and a Chinese immersion program
    4) A "neighborhood" school considered so-so
    5) A school nobody on this list ever visited

    The first would be a popular choice for most people. The second and third would attract those interested in immersion and would take up some of the slack with their general ed programs. The fourth would be considered acceptable, but not great. And the fifth school? Most people assigned there would opt out of public altogether.

    How does this system offer an outcome any different than what we have now? Not to mention the machinations of actually drawing up the neighborhood zones.

  93. The difference is that parents would only have to tour 5 schools and not 20. With fewer schools to tour, parents might just find that the fifth school isn't as bad as they'd initially thought. This is what has happened in past high enrollment years when parents have pushed past their comfort level to find an acceptable school. Alvarado, Miraloma, Grattan, McKinley are all good examples of once overlooked schools that turned out to be pretty good, and are now overenrolled. People have told me (granted, only in the last year) that I was "lucky to get in to Miraloma at the ground floor." Well, a lot of those same parents wouldn't have been willing to give it a chance five years ago. I see that now with current families wavering on J. Serra and Paul Revere.

    One advantage to zones is that it decreases the touring craziness. I agree that the most popular schools will always have more applications than seats. But, would parents be willing to give up some choice in exchange for some certainty?

  94. one of the reasons i am not excited to send my children to SF public schools is because THEY will have to experience six years of touring parents.

    let's not forget how the lottery system as it is effects the kids! just the same as the children often not knowing which school they will will attend until mid september!

  95. oh, the tours are okay, if annoying. just once a week. there was a funny moment last year when my 5th-grade girl got approached by a prospective mother who was hanging about one day as we were leaving (it was okay, i was there)--"how do you like your school?"--basically. my daughter launched into a very articulate (and positive) response about the teachers, the arts programs, the field trips, and school spirit. did the school proud!

  96. Whatever happens with kindergarten, I think I would cry if they changed to neighborhood assignments for middle and high school.

    We are in the Everett Middle School district but send our oldest across town for middle school, and we and she are very happy. I am all for being part of improving schools--we've been there--but I'm pretty sure I would want more options than our high school assignment school, which would be Mission High....would be glad to check out up-and-coming Balboa, Galileo and of course Lincoln, Washington etc. I do NOT want to be left with one choice plus special-entry Lowell/SOTA.

    We had no problems getting an acceptable middle school slot, and with more high schools coming up, I am not hugely worried about high school--unless they go to a neighborhood assignment in which case we are screwed (but westside parents will be thrilled, I suppose). As someone who lives on the eastside, with its many fewer wonderful options at the upper levels, I tend to think that choice *rocks*.

  97. Regarding the idea to create neighborhood zones to reduce choice but increase certainty. Well, maybe. Maybe such a thing would reduce the craziness. But I suspect it would just push the problems around the chess board.

    For one thing, there is the question of immersion schools and other specialized programs. Unless there is one of these in every "zone," wouldn't these have to be considered alternative schools, with a different process for admission (this is similar to what we had in the 1990's), in order to give everyone fair access? What I envision is that parents who don't get into the top one or two schools in their zone would be fighting furiously to get an "alternative" spot. What is the process for that? Pure lottery? Lottery with extra points for truly low-income families? And then we are back to lottery craziness AND touring not only the five schools in your zone, but an additional 10-15 alternative options. Not that much different from now.

    Given the level of neighborhood segregation (in terms of income) in San Francisco, the zones would have to be seriously gerrymandered to include families of all income levels in each zone. This would work okay with Potrero Hill/Bayview/Hunter's Point, and for Noe/Mission, and the Bernal schools could be combined with Hillcrest or Cesar Chavez or Bryant; and maybe the Tenderloin could be mashed up with Russian Hill or something, but who goes with the desirable schools on the west side of town? So many of our low-income children are on the east side of town, and south. How combine school zones in a fair way? I can just hear the howls of protest from west side parents whose kindergarteners are being put on a bus to a "zone" school on the east side, like John Muir. It would make sense--short bus ride down Oak Street, but you know we would be seeing parents sitting in on 555 Franklin Street.

    The poster at 7:05am suggests that this system might force parents to consider schools in their zone that are more marginal. Well, again, maybe, but are professional-class Potrero families going to allow their kids to be bused to Malcolm X? Really? Or will they just skip that school on the tour and hope they get one of the top two in their zone, an alternative option, or bust? Wouldn't this system just create new protests that one's kids are limited to just a few choices, two of which are acceptable but impossible to get into, with the other way too segregated and low-income to consider?

    At least with the full-choice option (ideally with some tweaks to the lottery process), there is more room to maneuver. I know families that work downtown and have their kids in school in Chinatown close by. I know another family that specifically chose Rosa Parks JBBP because of their Japanese heritage, and was willing to commute for it. Every family is different, and a wide preference system at least widens the options (understanding that popular schools will always be difficult to get). I'm not sure that "zones" wouldn't leave the same problems, but take away the benefits of the current system.

  98. Regarding the school tours, some schools enlist students to help with them. At Aptos, the tours are at a set time, and some classes, expecting the tour group to come in, take a break to let the students answer the touring parents' questions.

    In the spring of my daughter's fifth-grade year at Lakeshore, an acquaintance (now friend) who had previously homeschooled decided to enroll her child in grade 3 the following fall, and they got into Lakeshore. The parents were nervous and the child was TERRIFIED. My daughter and a classmate gave the child a private tour -- they were so proud, and the child was really reassured. (She wound up very happy and successful at Lakeshore and will start Aptos in the fall.) That was a meaningful and memorable event to my daughter.

    Off-topic again, except to point out that the tours actually are of some interest to the students and can enhance their sense of pride and school spirit.

  99. I've now heard several people say that the diversity index lottery doesn't work because "look how segregated many of our schools still are." This point is actually used to argue for a neighborhood system.

    I would just say, be careful what you wish for. I don't see how anyone can argue that neighborhood schools wouldn't create MORE segregation than we have now, unless the "neighborhoods" were mapped in a very crazy way--which would lead to some very strange "neighborhood" pairings, and, almost certainly, some busing from 'hood to 'hood. Such a thing would have the virtue of creating more certainty--something that parents definitely want after going through the current lottery--but would drive them crazy with its likelihood of their being assigned to many of the schools that parents disdain today. Unless you band together with other parents, a la Sunnyside of this year or Miraloma of the past, I imagine the same reactions to going to those schools--no WAY.

    Again--if you want to tout an argument that the current system leads to too MUCH segregation--watch out. The school board may take you seriously. Some of its members feel that we have already gone too far with parental preference (even when combined with some amount of successful voluntary desegration through creation of magnet programs such as immersion). Mark Sanchez basically said, in response to the Grand Jury report, that parental choice isn't working; he implied we might need to impose desegregation solutions beyond parental choice. People, he doesn't mean neighborhood schools! He means central assignment ACROSS neigbhorhood boundaries.

    The quickest and most secure solution, if the goal really is to desegregate our schools, would be to 1) ban private schools and therefore, white flight; 2) don't let anyone with kids leave the city for the burbs, and so, ban white flight; 3) central student assignment based on some combination of race and income; which would lead to 4) forced busing.

    Please be clear--I am not advocating this draconian (and probably unconstitutional) solution! But can we understand the problem? It's a big one, the elephant in the room, really: Privileged folks (by both race and class) find ways to resist desegregation when it is happening in serious numbers. We want our comfort zone. So when there is forced busing, we flee to the burbs or to private/parochial. We call for a return to the security of a neighborhood system. In a parental preference system such as we have now, we are glad for some measure of choice but get really mad when assigned to school with too many poor kids and brown folks.

    I think it is helpful to understand that the present system is already a compromise between the goal of desegregation and creating educational opportunities for low-income kids outside of entirely low-income environments, combined with enough measure of preference/choice and magnets to keep middle class+ folks from leaving the system. THAT is the goal of our leaders and many others in the district, and to be honest, I support it too. However, the goal of mixing folks up is basically very much at odds with the goal of most privileged folks, folks with college degrees and higher-than-average incomes, to keep their kids in their comfort zone. That's where the craziness begins. Any system any of you could suggest that doesn't mix folks up will be a total non-starter, and that means any neighborhood solution that isn't mapped across income lines.

    The main way desegregation has happened in the present system is through a combination of magnets and through small groups of pioneer parents going in and making the school look more acceptable to middle class and/or white parents. It's been a slow process, but gradually, schools like Alvarado, Grattan, Fairmount, Flynn, Miraloma, etc. have joined the list of "acceptables." It hasn't touched the John Muirs yet. The next few years may see Sunnyside and Revere join the list, though. In that sense, it is working--not entirely, if you look at Malcolm X or Cesar Chavez, but better than a neighborhood system would, though not as well as forced busing.

    Again, please be careful what you wish for (or how you argue for it). It may be that there are changes that should be made to the lottery to improve communication and basic understanding of how it works, but I can guarantee that there really isn't a great solution just waiting out there, given the contradictory goals out there of all who are involved.

  100. 12:10, you are right about what would happen with high schools under a "neighborhood schools" assignment plan. Parents living near Lincoln and Washington would be thrilled. Also benefiting would be those who own a home close to Lincoln or Washington, but rent it out and live in Bayview or the Excelsior. These families would only have to show the PG&E bill for their Richhmond or Sunset property to "prove" that they live in the Washington or Lincoln assignment area, and presto - they get a guaranteed seat at a top choice high school. There were plenty of families who did this back in the 1990's, when students got assigned to their neighborhood school.

    In fact, there were so many families who claimed to live in the Lincoln and Washington assignment areas that those schools became seriously overcrowded, and remain so to this day. There was tremendous pressure on the district to enroll more and more students in those schools, because everyone expected to be guaranteed a place in their neighborhood school.

    The Sunset is a huge neighborhood, but Lincoln is the only high school there (except Lowell, of course), so every student coming out of Hoover and AP Giannini (the two biggest middle schools, each graduating about 400 8th graders a year) expected to go to Lincoln if they didn't get into Lowell, or SOTA, or a private. Same thing with many who went to Aptos or Lawton, and now Alice Fong Yu too. And then there were the students who had gone to private school K-8 but who, for whatever reason, did not go to private high school/Lowell/SOTA - if they lived in the Sunset, they also expected to get into Lincoln. Add in the students whose parents used a fake address to "prove" residency, and you have a recipe for a very crowded school.

  101. Re the school assignment process, there is a very interesting, and also constructive, discussion happening over at the sfschools yahoo group. Someone named Teri has posted a long set of ideas for neighborhood assignment (trying to mitigate some of the social justice concerns mentioned here) and responses have been interesting. I recommend heading over there if this topic is of interest.

  102. Thanks, 1:47. I do not want to move away from my North Mission home just so my academically-minded kid can have a non-Lowell/SOTA option for high school! Middle and high school kids are often willing to commute to get to a school they like, and even more than parents, they want choice! (My middle schooler loved going on tours in the 5th grade, and took them very seriously, and her preference was definitely a factor in our decision.)

  103. How does one get to the sf schools yahoo group?

  104. Anon July 1 1:27pm - thanks for the spot on commentary - IMO the first really good analysis

  105. 2:16, go to and search for sfschools.

    There is a system for joining yahoo groups if you are not already a member of an interest group; just follow their instructions. Sfschools is pretty active (at times acrimonious, but you can learn a lot there).


    (TheSFKfiles feels more acrimonious than the sfschools yahoo listserve these days.)

  107. I think maybe my idea for "neighborhood first" assignment was not fully clear, probably because I had not yet fully articulated it in my own mind (and still have not). Excuse me while I continue to think it out online:)

    The intent was definitely to address issues of social justice as well as parental preference and control.

    That's why I suggested the step of re-directing budget currently spent on lottery admin and busing toward instituting programs preferred by engaged parents in schools throughout the city that don't currently have them as a precedent to a "neighborhood first" idea.

    And I also suggested outreach to parents in neighborhoods about what they want in schools. I would also advocate for culturally sensitive parent education on the notion, which I believe is statistically borne out, that schools that drill and kill on the "three Rs" actually have lower success than schools with perceived "extras."

    Two fundamental trends appeared to me from all the data I've seen, and I don't pretend to have seen all of the data. First, most parents across ethnic and economic lines who don't have some over-riding religious or social reason to choose private want a good neighborhood school and want to send their kids to one if they have one. Second, parents are willing to go to some trouble and stretch their comfort zone if they perceive something special and desirable for their family in a particular school. I know that if John Muir had a French immersion strand, I would not have given up on it as quickly as I did, and there are other francophiles in this town besides me. In fact I even posted on this blog asking if any other John Muir assignees were interested in pursuing one.

    The "neighborhood first" idea as I thought of it was (a) solid general ed and/or magnet program AND a variety of good aftercare choices in EACH neighborhood school FIRST. This would be a tricky step because programs take time to evolve, but I was hoping saved district money would jump-start at least one new program in each school that does not already have one and make it more acceptable to a wider range of parents.

    Another idea might be to think carefully about placing new special programs and relocating existing programs so that you attract a wider range of parents to different locations. For example, maybe put an African-American studies strand at Claire Lilienthal, move the Lilienthal Korean immersion program to the Mission, and put a Russian immersion program at Cesar Chavez. The Rosa Parks JBBP strand moved there from another way-out-west location a couple of years ago. The Profile on the SFUSD web site (which combines general ed and JBBP) shows the white student population at Rosa Parks has gone up a lot in the last few years even though the school is on the border of the Japantown projects, and has dicey overall test scores and a majority population of African-American and Latino students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. If we could have worked out the aftercare, we would have sucked up the 7:50 start time and enrolled there.

    In my idea, each "neighborhood" would be a question of geographic proximity and would have ONE elementary based, ONE middle and ONE high school, each offering something special. (The zones would of course physically expand as the grades advanced from elementary to middle to high school.) "Alternative schools" per se would be eliminated because every school would have some sort of special program.

    Special need, bilingual need and hardship families would first work with the district in person to find a suitable program (to avoid need scams).

    Then a modified "neighborhood first" lottery would kick in. Each parent could list maybe up to 10 schools for elementary. The family would have to figure out what programs and transit options would work for them.

    If a family lived in a neighborhood and listed their neighborhood school as their #1, they would get that school (and their preferred strand) as long as there was space. People with siblings in the same school would get preference over people without siblings to avoid family disruption.

    If a neighborhood school (or strand) got too many #1 requests from its own neighbors, there would be a random drawing (after siblings of current students) to determine who gets the available spots.

    Anybody who did not get their own neighborhood school that they listed #1, or anybody who did not list their neighborhood school as #1, would have all of their listed choices reviewed according to rank. Say if school X has some openings after the neighborhood assignments, people who listed their neighborhood school as #1 and school X as #2, and people who did not list their neighborhood school as #1 but listed school X as #1 would be put into the same drawing for the spots at school X. If the whole ranking thing is too complicated, maybe it should be assumed that if you listed a school at all, you're willing to take it and you will be assigned randomly to one of your other choices if you don't list your neighborhood school #1 and get it. If all the schools you chose are over-full, you'll get assigned to the nearest school to your home with openings.

    Maybe to beef up the "choice," limit the #1 neighborhood preference to general ed strands and siblings, while making the special programs a random drawing according to how parents rank them.

    It's not perfect of course. There's still too much lottery bureaucracy, but I don't think that can be eliminated without unacceptable segregation. It would be useful to see some proper research beyond the anecdotes in the Civil Grand Jury report about what parents value most and what teachers feel best contributes to their ability to educate children: curriculum quality, neighborhood convenience and cohesion, parent choice, diversity, other factors.

    A neighborhood-first approach will probably keep some schools fairly segregated at least at the beginning. But if you make all schools more attractive and mix up your programs geographically against ethnic stereotypes, that might be a more market-based approach to spreading the ethnic groups and the parent involvement and fundraising to achieve diversity without sacrificing quality or the neighborhood preferences that many parents, even those in currently under-performing schools, seem to have, unless the anecdotal evidence from the Civil Grand Jury report is way off base on that point. If you don't give people what they want, and they have the option, they'll shop elsewhere. If people are not adequately informed, they won't go shopping and settle for substandard goods.

    San Francisco has gone a long way toward building a vibrant urban public school community but too many people are still isolated (look at the ethnic and poverty isolation at some schools), too many people are being under-served (especially African-American and Latino students, look at the gaps on the SARCs), too many people are still opting out (30% private enrollment, who knows how many moves out of the City).

  108. Marlowe's Mom, I appreciate your time and energy in thinking this through, and I always appreciate the balance and thoughtfulness you bring to your comments on this blog.

    This is based on a quick read of your post. I'll read it through again and think about it, but my main thought about your "neighborhood first" proposal is that this is basically what Oakland has, and it has created huge inequities in school quality between the hills and the flats, and huge race/income disparities as well.

    There are supposedly some spots open in the Oakland Hills elementary schools for poor kids from the flats, but what's been happening lately is that even some Hills families, who bought homes based on them being within an assignment zone for a prized school, are finding that they are being zoned out of those schools due to overcrowding--the zones are being drawn tighter and tighter (and those families are seriously pissed!--million dollar home investment and they still figure they have to pay for private school!).

    As long as we are filling schools first based on neighborhood residence, the "good" schools will look like the "good" neighborhoods they are in. It may be possible to lure some middle- and higher-income families into lower-income schools with magnet programs like language immersion, as we are doing already in the present system (Starr King being a great example of that); but that will be just some schools, especially if the higher-income folks are guaranteed a spot in a relatively affluent school in their neighborhood.

    I'm afraid just can't see how any "neigbhorhood first" policy doesn't create much worse segregation and exclude low-income families from gaining access to schools across town that are not all low-income.

    Unless we are talking about multiple schools in one neighborhood zone--but it would have to be mapped much as it was back in the 1990's to eliminate income disparity, and that would still mean: busing, and a lottery within the zone that would leave some families feeling cheated when they got assigned to the "wrong" school. It would mean moving affluent kids from the west and north sides of town to the dreaded east side schools, and poor kids to the more affluent parts of town. I foresee even more pissed-off families than we have now.

    Although the bus routes are a bit screwed up now and very expensive for the district, this is the reason they exist, actually, to make it possible for kids from the Mission/Bayview/Excelsior/Tenderloin to attend schools on the north and west sides. If we eliminate those bus routes we may as well acknowlege that we are not intending for kids from Vis Valley and the Inner Mission to attend Alvarado, or kids from the Outer Mission to attend Claire Lilienthal. These buses do get used. My kids have taken one to school for years, but we are the only white/non-low-income family on the bus as far as I can tell.

    Though heaven knows it would be GREAT to find resources to create fantastic arts/gardening/tech/language programs in each and every school....this is why I would START with school quality, not the assignment process.

    [cough, cough, raise taxes, cough, cough].

    I think it is really amazing the strides that have been made to improve San Francisco's public schools, actually, given the constraints and contradictions.

  109. The PPS listserv (also on yahoogroups--you have to be a member of PPS though) is also having an interesting discussion on this topic. This has been the subject of many debates, surveys, and recommendations. Great improvements have been made over the years (believe it or not....when we went through it you could list only 5 schools and you got the one to which you contributed the most diversity if you went there at that moment in the lottery--seriously--meaning that NO ONE put any marginal schools down--you ONLY shot the moon with the most popular schools).

    There is some frustration being expressed because some of the PPS recommendations over the years, including straight lottery (no DI) and some great suggestions for improving proximity/neighborhood without compromising equity, have not been acted upon by the BOE. PPS has done great work to reach out to diverse communities and to advocate for parents on this issue, but more needs to be done!

    Anyway, check it out. You can sign up through PPS.

  110. Summing up this blog thread, then, we should all put more emotional energy into figuring out a new school assignment system, not into stressing out our incoming kindergarteners!

  111. You should check out the Civil Grand Jury report. Very interesting data that you won't find elsewhere. Neighborhood schools are the way to go - I would imagine that if this blog actually reached out to/ or was accessed by a more diverse group of folks we might hear from Asian familes in the Richmond or African American families in the Bayview/Western Addition that they would like to send their kids to their neighborhood school for the same reason us middle income folks would - becuase its our neighborhood. My son went to what is essentially our neighborhood school back in the day when the school wasn't popular , so I guess our "demographic" was more desireable then. But that wouldn't be the case nowadays - our younger son didn't get into the same school - we haven't changed. What's wrong with this picture? Now we get to travel across town to go to a school we didn't ask for, the school starts later so I'm going to be late for work, and we'll spend lots of money on gas. This is crazy!

  112. Here's the Grand Jury report:

    ... and my blogged critique of it:

    The implication that African-American families in low-income neighborhoods are being prevented by the assignment process from going to neighborhood schools is confused, because almost no schools in low-income neighborhoods are oversubscribed. That means that any applicant requesting them can get in. And because those schools have room, nearby families who don't fill out the application and are assigned by default (to the closest school with openings) will be assigned to them.

    Schools that serve a critical mass of high-need, low-income, at-risk students face huge challenges -- those are the schools often deemed "failing" (and calls to "make all the schools good" are just out of touch with reality when it comes to those challenged schools). That's why it's widely viewed as appropriate to offer those high-need, low-income, at-risk students access to higher-performing schools, and there starts non-neighborhood enrollment. So what's the right thing to do?

  113. Re: neighborhood schools vs current lottery - there are some other major issues at play here besides diversity. We are nearly at $5/gallon for gas, may soon indeed run out of the stuff and our city is choked with traffic. Parents and kids are trapped in cars and stressed as a result. Sure, diversity might suffer a bit (though I doubt this) but our city, our planet and our families would benefit hugely in other ways by our not having to drive or bus kids all over this town.
    We failed to get our kids into any of the 'hood schools we wanted, so now will have to drive them to the inner Mission & back every day. In order to do this we will have to maintain 2 cars and each drive to work & school every day. Had we gotten into one of the close-by schools, we could have walked the kids to school and done only one car trip per day (b/c one of us also works near home). Less time in the car for all of us, better quality time with kids (walking to school) etc. Diversity is important to me, but so is the petroleum fuel crisis and the health of our city. Before long I suspect the moving kids all over town to facilitate diversity will truly be a luxury.

  114. Thank you to 1:27 and 1:47. I think I'm coming to some sort of conclusion (for now) about the assignment process. Someone asked on the sfschool group why diversity is always discussed as a priority. In terms of discussing social policy, diversity is undeniably important; however, in terms of human behavior, I think it's sad but true that (most) parents don't really value diversity as a priority in the end. In less negative terms, parents would rather place a priority on choosing a school which has at least a cluster of a similar race/class demographic than "risk" enrollment at a school with a more diverse population. The resegregation that is happening with the current all choice system is at least partially testament to this and in a way, Commissioner Sanchez is right. If SFUSD leadership agrees that diversity is a key and important goal in creating equity, parents are not making the right choices when it comes to voluntary racial integration. Middle class parents want predictability and guaranteed access to "good" schools. The BOE and Garcia want to create true diversity in hopes to narrow the achievement gap. These are mutually exclusive goals as far as I can tell. Forcing diversity is going to require taking away at least some parent choice. Allowing parent choice to run full reign is going to ultimately lead to resegregation.

    Gleaning various tidbits here and there, it seems to me Superintendent Garcia and the BOE pretty much on the same page about taking real steps to tackle the achievement gap and have declared the current resegregation patterns unacceptable. Among other things, I think this means we are headed towards more forced racial integration via the Berkeley model - neighborhood assignment zones with possibly using race as one of the factors for assignment (especially since this weathered a recent lawsuit and was ruled constitutional). And I believe they are going to take advantage of the current outrage and sell this to the middle class for all the reasons why it seems like a better process in theory. However, you simply need to look at Berkeley and see that there is no less aggravation and white flight. OK, maybe there is a little less aggravation during the school touring season as it will cut down how many schools need to be toured, but as noted by a previous poster, this simply pushes the problem around in different ways. There just aren't enough seats at enough perceived good schools to go around no matter how the seats are assigned. Furthermore, I don't think neighborhood zones have done much to improve middle class buy-in; Berkeley's private/public school attendance rates are similar to SF I believe. However, what Berkeley does do well though, is integrating the schools. There is a fair mix of ethnicities at all the schools and even at the highest performing school, Oxford. But note that the achievement gap is STILL HUGE. There is a 300 point difference between White (950) and AA (650) within the same schools. And even with such stellar subgroup APIs, many middle class parents still struggle with how diverse the schools are and opt out anyway. Also note that Berkeley's assignment zones are hardly within a normal definition of "neighborhood." The assignment zones stretch from east to west, flatlands to hills. With the segregated housing patterns in SF, I can just imagine "neighborhood" zones will HARDLY be based on actual neighborhoods. I don't necessarily think commute times will be improved overall. AND add to all this, the headaches of address falsification which will occur as parents try to move from one zone to another (i.e. there will always be more "popular" zones, etc.) In the end, I predict that there will be equal amounts of aggravation with the neighborhood zone assignment system and it won't do much to quell the current middle class angst. But perhaps Garcia and the BOE will achieve their goal of more diverse schools. I just pray and hope they can strike a delicate balance and achieve this goal without increased middle class/white flight.

    My own two cents is that the all choice system is the fairest way to distribute seats to the "good" schools. (Yes, ditch the DI in it's current form and go with a straight lottery, but give outright assignment preference to those who live in public housing and are on welfare.) I also personally credit much of the increase in the number of "good" schools to the all choice system (hand in hand with PPS efforts, of course) as the recruitment efforts have done a lot to bolster parent groups and principals. The rallying around I saw around most of the schools I toured this past season has been truly inspiring. Whatever changes are made to the assignment system, I hope these efforts and trends will not be reversed.

  115. I have to agree with ellen&nicole's thoughtful post. I think there's a huge value to be gleaned from walking your kids to school and investing in your own backyard. I know the parents of kids going to Potrero Hill's Daniel Webster in the near future have set an amazing example by making a commitment to improving the school so that their kids can go there. It's completely idiotic and stressful (not to mention wasteful) to be spending so much time in the car shuttling kids back and forth. What an amazing concept: your kids play with the kids they go to school with. You know your neighbors and can watch their kids, etc, etc.
    That said, we are dreading this fall's commute across town to get our daughter to school on time.

  116. I hope people will really think about this:
    "Also note that Berkeley's assignment zones are hardly within a normal definition of "neighborhood." The assignment zones stretch from east to west, flatlands to hills. With the segregated housing patterns in SF, I can just imagine "neighborhood" zones will HARDLY be based on actual neighborhoods. I don't necessarily think commute times will be improved overall."

    It is not much of a stretch to imagine our BOE adopting a similar plan for SFUSD - "neighborhood assigment zones" with neighborhoods running across the City from West to East, and parents being allowed to choose from schools within their zone.

    Take a look at the district map found here:

    It's pretty easy to imagine a neighborhood zone which would include both Clarendon and Chavez, or Grattan and Sanchez, or Sloat and Hillcrest, or SF Community and Bret Harte. Does anyone really believe that the people who are complaining about not getting any of their choices, and being assigned to an unacceptable school, would be happier under a system which might give them a better shot at Grattan but also increase their odds of ending up at Sanchez?

  117. These last few posts are very thoughtful. I especially agree with 10:51's overall conclusion, with a few points:

    "...parents are not making the right choices when it comes to voluntary racial integration."

    But maybe there's a positive note. The Grand Jury report (in an area where it does seem accurate, though a lot of its information is unreliable) notes that the most segregated schools are those that are functioning as neighborhood schools, closely reflecting the makeup of the surrounding neighborhoods. So at least in some cases, the schools that are being filled by parental request not just from the adjacent area are more diverse. My kids' elementary school alma mater, Lakeshore, was and is an all-request alternative school, and at least in our day it was much more diverse than other schools in its area, west of 19th Avenue -- its fairly significant numbers of black and Latino students were unmatched at other schools in that part of the city.

    " I think this means we are headed towards more forced racial integration via the Berkeley model..."

    This would be SO unpopular -- and now, unlike when that was previously happening, SFUSD is not under court order -- that I can't believe the district would push it. But maybe I'm wrong.

    "There just aren't enough seats at enough perceived good schools to go around no matter how the seats are assigned."

    While this is true, the number of schools perceived as good has expanded steadily under the all-choice system. It hasn't expanded fast enough to accommodate every applicant, of course, especially in a year where K applications jumped, but it still seems like a healthy sign. And maybe that's WHY K applications jumped.

    "I predict that there will be equal amounts of aggravation with the neighborhood zone assignment system and it won't do much to quell the current middle class angst."

    Since there WAS a neighborhood assignment system not all that long ago, including the year we went through the process, I agree. The notion that it's a solution just doesn't jibe with recent reality. It seems clear to me that it chased more families out of SFUSD than the current system -- a more limited choice of schools seemed much more unwelcoming.

  118. "Since there WAS a neighborhood assignment system not all that long ago, including the year we went through the process, I agree. The notion that it's a solution just doesn't jibe with recent reality. It seems clear to me that it chased more families out of SFUSD than the current system -- a more limited choice of schools seemed much more unwelcoming."

    10:51 here: Caroline, that's what I fear about the neighborhood zone assignment system too. I think limiting choice is going to ultimately drive more parents away, especially if they force racial integration. Historically, that seems to be the trend. You force racial integration and you will get more white flight. I truly hope history can change and I DO feel like public/private school attitudes ARE changing somewhat. Seeing parent efforts in Berkeley and even in Oakland to take back the public schools is REALLY very encouraging.

    Finally, I might also add that I think a strict neighborhood school (not zones) assignment system has no chance in hell of ever happening. It's pretty clear this will only worsen segregation and I don't think Garcia and the BOE would ever ever consider it seriously.

  119. 10:51 yesterday/9:56 today (the Berkeley analysis): I'm the person who wrote in yesterday @ 1:27 about "the elephant in the room." I find your summation of the situation, and comparison of potential "zones" to the Berkeley model, to be right on target.

    Berkeley does create diverse schools. And even though the achievement gap there is still huge, a score of 650 for African American kids is still way better than the scores of AA kids in SF. and 950 for white kids is astronomical. One could argue that in terms of social policy of raising everyone's scores (if not yet closing the gap), Berkeley is doing the right thing. But of course, lots of middle class+ parents are still not buying in.

    I share your concerns that moving to such a model, in order to force a greater measure of race/class integration, would be experienced as extremely aggravating by middle class+ parents and would drive folks away, as it has in the past. As frustrated as people are to have to fight for a choice if they are unlucky in the lottery's first round, or to have to drive across town, I can imagine even more frustration if the choices are limited to just a few schools, yet in the same ratio of popular/unpopular as today, with at least some of the zoned schools not within walking distance.

    I also agree that there is no way that strict neighborhood schools, which would certainly worsen segregation, are going to happen. That idea is politically dead.

    The only ideas that are even close to being on the table are the parental preference system we have (hopefuly modified to reduce frustration and complexity) and cross-neighbhorhood "zones" that would support integration. The latter proposal would be sold to us as bringing back "certainty" to the process for parents, and somewhat more neighborhood proximity.

    I also think you are right to be concerned that a return to zones-- and more certainty--would dampen the "rallying-around" effect that the all-preference model has brought us. The friendly competition to improve schools (to get, in effect, those "apples" Kate used to award on this blog) has had a good effect on parents and principals, and not only in cosmetic ways.

    If I were on the BOE (as if that'll ever happen), I would do the following:

    * Modify the current DI to make it a straight lottery, with outright preference for siblings (with those numbers reported out early) and extremely low-income families--perhaps 200% of Federal Poverty Level, which is quite poor.

    * Consider putting the immersion programs into a separate lottery, which would also address the language-testing issue that is needed to build dual-language programs. This would also give parents a chance to "shoot the moon" for one of these while still putting in a preference for non-immersion schools. There might have to be a rule that parents would have to accept the immersion spot if it was listed, or something....I'm not sure.

    * Find a more rational, inclusive, and informative way to address the families of special needs and inclusion kids--I'm not on expert on the details, but I know there are big problems here.

    Next, and working with PPS, I would initiate targeted recruitment programs, including outreach and organized school bus tours/open houses of popular schools on evenings and weekends, to encourage low-income and Latino and AA families to participate in Round 1 of the lottery.

    Next, I would focus on placing more magnet programs and high-quality free afterschool programs (in conjunction with various non-profits) in less popular schools in high-poverty areas.

    Finally, I would look at the current school bus lines and redraw them in order to match current reality, with the goal of offering free transport from high-poverty neighborhoods to high-performing schools.

    Okay, that's my nickel, for whatever that'll buy ya ;-).

  120. I checked the most recent district API scores for Berkeley and SFUSD out of curiosity. Maybe the ones mentioned earlier came from a previous year?

    Berkeley Unified 597
    SFUSD 582

    BUSD 885
    SFUSD 849

    BUSD 781
    SFUSD 843

    BUSD 672
    SFUSD 649

    Socioeconomically disadvantaged
    BUSD 641
    SFUSD 730

    English language learners
    BUSD 649
    SFUSD 722

    Students with disabilities
    BUSD 548
    SFUSD 544

    Overall API
    BUSD 746
    SFUSD 764

    I don't know what this all means, but the differences aren't as significant as originally reported.

  121. Elizabeth HalperinJuly 2, 2008 at 3:28 PM

    Two things:

    1. I wish all the brilliant posters on this blog would come out from behind the anonymous curtain and run for the School Board. (11:32 a.m, you rock!)

    2. I love the bus tour idea. I've thought for years that the district should do the reverse as well--offer bus tours (leaving from the enrollment fair, perhaps) to all the "popular" schools in an area, and throwing in a couple of the shunned ones at the same time. People would be able to see the high spots, like Rooftop and Alvarado, but they'd also have to tag along while the tour visited Sanchez. I really think that often all you have to do to break down people's prejudices about schools is get them in the door.

    That was one of the great things about having the enrollment fair at a school, when it was still possible because the attendance wasn't so huge. Lincoln H.S. started coming up in popularity after the enrollment fair was held there several years ago, and I think it wasn't a coincidence.

    All the tinkering in the world with the enrollment process isn't going to change the fact that there are too few spaces for too much demand at the schools considered "good." We really have to work at this from the other direction as well. PPS and the district have done so much to begin changing these perceptions. We really need to keep the momentum going, until every school in S.F. truly is considered a "good" school.

  122. This refers to a thread from some time ago, but I wanted to add my two cents. I am a teacher, and I would be very irritated if a parent showed up (especially unannounced) during my prep time before the first day of school.

    I have to say the free markers, purell, kleenex, etc. swayed me, because I'm always reaching into my own pockets for these things, but the bottom line is that time is for classroom preparation, not meeting parents.

    You should know that for new teachers, this may be the first time they've been in this classroom. Returning teachers likely have not been able to access the classroom over the summer. This is a time when you are working like crazy (and also might be wearing clothes appropriate for cleaning and not so appropriate for meeting parents) to get everything finished in time.

  123. Yes 11:32 (who is also 1:27 from yesterday), you are summing things up nicely and SHOULD consider running for school board!

    I like how this blog has become a task force on these difficult subjects, and hope that the BOE is taking note of the thoughtful solutions in here. Hey, this group here has been extremely invested in all of this and spent hours thinking about it and blogging about it. And you are dissecting and vetting not only the present system, but also so many alternatives.

    And civilly too!

  124. Caroline - I read the Civil Grand Jury Report and your critique and I don't really get the same sense that you do that they were befuddled.

    I do believe that there are so many good schools out there, that have turned around in many neighborhoods and that lots of families - I guess the ones that would be deemed "less diverse" are now interested. A few years ago you would have lousy public schools in your neighborhood, but that is no longer the case. It seems as if the current assignment system worked in a way - forcing families to send their kids to the "hidden gem" schools. Issues around the achievement gaps between Asian American and White students when compared to African American and Latino students still remains however. Why? The teacher and principals are trying their best, I would imagine, in most cases to work with to address this matter.

    I am one of those people who strongly believes in the beauty and power of the "neighborhood". The neighborhood school, where a parent can walk their kid to school, participate easily in school events, or work closely with teachers, is the ideal. I wonder if school distance from home is a significant variable in the achievement gap issue.

    From the sense I got from reading your item today is that you had huge concerns back in the 1990s when you first had to deal with the SFUSD system. I think that the demographics have changed since then, as well as number of desirable schools, and I do feel it is time for a change to the system, and I would like to see neighborhood given a higherr consideration in any revised process.

    It would be interesting to know which schools had the highest number of neighborhood families put the school down as their first choice, and how many of those didn't get in. Also, it would be good to know if there is any way to know if they also put surrounding schools down on their list, in the hopes to get a school somewhat close to their home. I think this data would be helpful in getting a better understanding of demand, and parent interest.

  125. i'm hoping someone can help me understand the SFUSD Wait List that's posted on the district website. (the one marked may 2008).

    if a school isn't on there -- i couldn't find Starr King or Junipero Serra (though maybe i'm just blind) -- does that mean they don't have a wait pool?

    also, if you're someone who has gotten zilch so far from your list of 0/15, do you have a priority in the waitpool for a school? for instance, Rooftop has 50 people total on its wait list and 24 are listed as Round 1-7 Requests, No Choice. Does that mean those 24 people are "first in line," so to speak?

    pls forgive me if this has been explained ad nauseum before; i'm just really starting to stress about the fact my son has no school, and want to start strategizing. Also, can you request to speak with a specific EPC counselor when you go downtown? (of which, i know to wait until august at this point.) any recommendations for people to talk to? i ask because the woman who helped me last time, while very nice, had a super-strong accent, and I sometimes had a hard time understanding her -- and worried whether she was understanding things no my end too. thanks much.

  126. 10:51 here:

    Thanks Caroline for the data. I was recalling stuff that I had looked up before on some of the better schools in Berkeley including Oxford, Jefferson and Cragmont. Reviewing the API data again, the most striking thing that I take away is how average Berkeley schools look on the surface (scores for all 11 elementary schools range from 700 to barely over 800) but when you break down the scores based on ethnic groups, you get a clearer picture of what's really going on. The schools are fabulous. Where data is available for Whites at individual schools, scores show above 900 for all of them (950, 935, 972!). It is striking to see that 200-300 point differences between the subgroups within the same school.

    And in the demographic data, you will see that the schools are very well integrated showing that Berkeley is doing a lot to try to make all the schools equal and hopefully, "all the schools good" - something we hear relentlessly from the neighborhood school advocates. They are in effect spreading the middle class parents around to all the schools and trying not to let them cluster. I think this assignment strategy asks for a lot from parents, a lot of openmindedness and trust. It's like what 1:27 said, "Be careful of what you wish for." One strategy for "making all the schools good" is to distribute middle class parents equally to all the schools, including the "bad" ones. If a similar system is implemented in SF, I hope parents are ready for it and think there may actually be a chance with PPS and people generally having a renewed commitment to public schools. Forced integration is going to be a seriously hard path and I really really really hope we don't lose more middle class parents as a result. However, the pessimist in me thinks that many will not tolerate it.

    But on the other hand, the data you posted shows that overall, the SFUSD and BUSD are quite comparable. I don't know enough about the achievement gap to make an assessment as to what this means either. I personally believe there are a lot of merits to the all choice system but obviously, the changes to improve and turn schools around have not been happening quickly enough or often enough for Garcia and the BOE.

    1:27/11:32 - I also want to pipe in and say your ideas are great! I agree with the broad strategy of creating incentives for people to take a chance on diversity as opposed to forcing them into it. I think the district will retain more parents this way.

  127. I would argue that immersion programs require a separate process.

    All the research indicates that immersion programs work best when there is a balance of kids who are dominant in each of the target languages as well as kids who are fully bilingual.

    This is not happening because people "claim" their child is fluent in a particular target language when they can barely count to 20 and name 3-4 colors. The children in these classes need really strong PEER language role models for the programs to live up to their potential. Dora Spanish doesn't count. (Especially since so many of the teachers are not native speakers.)

    They used to test kids to try to balance the immersion programs but no longer do that and the programs are therefore not as successful as they could be.

    Also: Putting immersion programs in schools that are struggling works as a magnet but has other consequences as well. The Mandarin tracks at STarr King and Jose Ortega would be *much* much stronger if they could attract Mandarin speakers, most of whom do not live near either school.

  128. If anyone knows Garcia personally, can you forward 11:32's post?

  129. "Caroline - I read the Civil Grand Jury Report and your critique and I don't really get the same sense that you do that they were befuddled."

    Well, just defending and clarifying my point: I agree with the overall conclusion that the Diversity Index should be scrapped.

    But my critique provided many examples of areas where the Grand Jury clearly didn't understand what they were talking about, such as their description of alternative schools. It vaguely linked alternative schools with bilingual programs and schools too small to be sustainable -- links that do not represent reality -- and less vaguely suggested eliminating half the district's alternative schools.

    I was also alarmed that the Grand Jury eagerly cheered the idea of getting rid of and replacing as many SFUSD principals as possible. No one with contact with the schools would endorse that -- it came out of nowhere. And, again, this report has weight and official standing.

    More befuddlement: The report specifically and sharply states that SFUSD left Claire Lilienthal out of its most recent enrollment guide, purely just to blast SFUSD. But the report is wrong. Claire Lilienthal is included in the enrollment guide.

    And: the report states at least twice that the number of SFUSD alternative schools has increased to 15, without giving a previous lower number or time frame. Actually, in discussion about this on sfschools, we determined that in the '90s, there were 15 alternative schools. The report seems to have confused a "before" number with an "after" number, without really grasping what it's talking about.

    These can be viewed as smallish points, but I cite them because they are hard-and-fast factual errors. My critique cites numerous other areas where the report misunderstands or utterly fails to register the very existence of a concept -- such as its claim that bilingual programs are unpopular and its incomprehension about why there are far more buses running east to west in SFUSD than the other direction (to give low-income kids voluntary access to higher-performing schools than the ones in low-income neighborhoods).

    To me it's genuinely scary that such a sloppily researched report -- produced by a body with only a vague understanding or even out-and-out misunderstanding of the issues, and completely un-fact-checked -- makes specific recommendations, and carries weight and has official standing. It really surprises me that others seem to think that's no big deal.

  130. I am wondering how many of us are genuinely "driving across town" to get our kids to school. While not my neighborhood school, my kids' school is 1.5 miles from our house. It's a very quick drive (5 to 7 minutes most times of day) and we usually carpool with another nearby family. My neighborhood school growing up was about the same distance from my house (just over 2 miles.) The city is a lot denser than the suburbs so there are a lot more schools per square mile.

    I'm not sure what my point is other than that "neighborhood school" vs. "driving across town" is a false choice for most of us.

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of the average distance children travel to school under the current system. While most people may not choose their neighborhood school, most do choose one within a reasonable distance from home. I searched my address on Greatschools and found 20 public schools within 2 miles of my home address. Who knew? Not all of them would be practical -- crossing freeways, steep hills, etc. -- but there really are a lot of schools out there.

  131. "More befuddlement: The report specifically and sharply states that SFUSD left Claire Lilienthal out of its most recent enrollment guide, purely just to blast SFUSD. But the report is wrong. Claire Lilienthal is included in the enrollment guide."

    Yup Caroline, I pointed that out to you on the sfschools list. Claire Lilienthal is included in the 07/08 guide and also the 08/09 guide ...

    I dunno, maybe they looked it up up under "C" instead of "L"? (laughing)

    Point is, if you are going to write up a report and in it you basically accuse SFUSD of "leaving out" a much coveted school, it is important to check your facts.

    All sorts of groups have made repeated suggestions to the BOE and SFUSD on ways to improve the enrollment process, and all of those have been ignored thus far ... but "GRAND JURY" suggestions are much harder to ignore, even if those suggestions are simplistic compared to what PPS and DCYF and others have suggested before.


  132. "I am wondering how many of us are genuinely "driving across town" to get our kids to school."

    I timed the drive to our new school: 15 minutes without traffic. I'm not counting the time it takes to get the kids buckled into the car. We need to leave about 1/2 hour to get there on time. It takes another 15-20 minutes to return to our house.

    It takes us 7 minutes to walk to our nearest school.

  133. Anne C: I agree with you. Isn't the going statistic that at least around 40-60% of elementary students attending the average non-alternative school live within a reasonable "neighborhood-y" radius from the school site? I don't really know. It would be interesting to have actual current pin maps on this. On the SFUSD website, I found pin maps for individual schools from 1998-1999 but no current ones under the assignment system we have now. The 98-99 maps certainly reflect that most of the elementary schools were indeed pretty neighborhoody. I think for middle class folks, the end result of going to a neighborhood zone system will be equal/more frustration, fewer choices.

  134. I appreciate your checking on that Claire Lilienthal point, M***y -- the report was so sharp in its tone on that issue that it was particularly revealing when they turned out to be dead wrong. I cannot even begin to tell you the unflattering and unprintable adjectives and nouns I have to restrain myself from using.

    On another point, I love the term "neighborhood-y" school. As noted, we chose one (and fought to get into it, in the era when assertiveness and persuasiveness were the keys) in our general region of the city. Our actual school of assignment is directly around the corner -- I guess a 5-minute walk considering its entrance is on the far side from us. Our chosen alternative school clocks in at 13 minutes' drive unless there's a real traffic barrier. There were brief periods when my kids took the bus, getting on at Sunnyside Elementary; for that we had to allow an hour.

  135. We will be driving our child 25-30 minutes each day to and from school (no aftercare, early start time). It was the closest acceptable school we could find, and --as we went 0/15-- we found it in Open Enrollment. We are in the waitpool for our neighborhood school.

    Regarding the Berkeley system: there are only 3 zones in Berkeley, they stretch North to South, mostly (though there are some patches in each zone that are geographically more western or eastern to racially integrate the zone a bit more). I have many friends in Berkeley and I can say two things without hesitation: first, the system is much, much less frustrating to parents as there are a lot of great options in each zone (including immersion) and pretty much everyone is satisfied in the end, with schools relatively close to them. They also have a much more extensive busing system (I think everyone may be able to take a bus to school) and great aftercare options. Also, they only have to tour and rank something like 4 schools and mostly this involves going to a kind of evening "open house" for each school. My Berkeley friends are shocked and appalled when I describe the San Francisco system to them.

    The second thing is: I don't think that the Berkeley system would work here. For one thing, our neighborhoods don't really work that way (if you draw a north/south line, it doesn't necessarily come out racially/economically integrated). Also, the city is so much larger, so there would be so many, or much larger zones!

    But the thing about San Francisco neighborhoods is that there are so many that are not rich that have great schools nearby. Who would call Diamond Heights/Sunnyside rich (Miraloma, Clarendon, Rooftop, Sunnyside)? Who would call the Parkside ritzy (Diane Feinstein, Sunset, West Portal, etc. etc.)? I can think of many more examples, and I bet most readers of this blog can, too.

    The problem is not that there would be so many rich enclaves with dibs on "the best" schools, but that there would be a few neighborhoods that didn't have great options (yet). I think that is a problem that needs to be addressed.

    If the neighborhood sections are big enough, with some options and a mini-lottery in each, most sections would have some great options, some options that some people liked and others didn't, and some less popular options. Still, it would leave us in a similar situation to now where some are "lucky" and some "loose" the lottery. Still, at least we would be walking to school or driving only a short distance.

  136. Re driving your kid to school.

    Just want to point out that many families do not have a CAR and do not have the option of driving their kids anywhere. They have to rely on the bus system if they go out of their neighborhoods.

  137. We will be facing a 25 minute drive each way from our house in Potrero to Clarendon. At least they have a late start time. (Not sure when I'll get to work, though.)

    We are flirting with the idea of moving.

  138. Anyone else thinking of moving? Do you rent or own? We're wondering if shortening our commute would be worth it given k-8 school=9 years. We rent, but would likely buy if we moved.

  139. This comment has been removed by the author.

  140. The map can be found here for the Berkeley zones:


I'll split the difference with you. They run Northeast to Southwest for the two north zones. But the idea is the same; they group the hills and the flatlands together in each zone thereby really stretching a normal definition of "neighborhood."


I looked up the census data for private school attendance in Berkeley and it's over 45% for grade school. I'm guessing Berkeley parents are pretty aggravated overall. Interestingly, SF's private school attendance is around 30%.

  141. I thoroughly disagree with the idea that neighborhood schools would lead to more segregation. I live in the Mission, and if kids in my immediate surrounding area were assigned a school, that school would be profoundly diverse. Most neighborhoods in SF are quite diverse. Only a few neighborhood areas would be segregated, and that would indeed be better than it is now.

  142. I am considering moving because I went 0/15, and I know I can rent my big flat for a lot more than a rental would cost. I was lucky and bought my 2-unit house 15 years ago. With the difference in rent-in and rent-out, about $2000 per month maybe, I could pay for an effing top tier private. But I didn't get into those either. But then too, I don't want to move. The thought of living in Marin as a renter makes me really sad.

    WE NEED NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS! The lottery only works for some people, and bussing is a disaster for the environment, and any discussion about it being a good system and offering choices is simply BS for those of us who are left out.

  143. Anon 10:30-
    Have you looked at schools in Albany?
    They are all fantastic. (3 Elementary Schools total)
    If you live near Solano Ave, most are walkable or just a short drive.

  144. I feel bad about throwing any cold water, but it's not that simple. (Agreed that busing is a disaster for the environment):

    "WE NEED NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOLS! The lottery only works for some people, and bussing is a disaster for the environment, and any discussion about it being a good system and offering choices is simply BS for those of us who are left out."

    But neighborhood schools will only work for some people too, in a diverse city with many high-need children. In homogeneous high-income suburbs, neighborhood school assignments work fine, but this is not a homogeneous high-income suburb.

    And a neighborhood school assignment system will similarly be BS for those who are left out because they find their neighborhood school unacceptable.

  145. "I live in the Mission, and if kids in my immediate surrounding area were assigned a school, that school would be profoundly diverse."

    Maybe - IF the parents of all those kids in your immediate area were willing to let their kids go to that neighborhood school, instead of fleeing to private, or the suburbs, or just complaining that they want more choice.

    If your neighborhood school is currently considered undesirable, how likely is it that all of the neighborhood families would be willing to take a chance on it, especially in the first year? Isn't it likely that at least some of them would be as unhappy with a forced assignment to a low achieving neighborhood school, as you are right now with your situation?

    You can assign kids to their neighborhood school, but you can't force those with options to enroll, and the students who ultimately did enroll might look a whole lot less diverse than the group originally assigned.

    I bet Sanchez Elementary, and John Muir, and Cobb all had a pretty diverse group assigned in the first round this year, but how many of those families accepted the assignment?

  146. I came across the printed version of the Enrollment Guide, and the Grand Jury was right, Lilienthal is indeed left out of it, but not entirely, it is in there on page 29 under bus routes.
    The online version (that I first looked at) includes Lilienthal. Apparently the district added two pages to the online version.

    So, uh, nevermind:)


  147. So? Any Kindergarten meets? How did it go?

  148. Is it just me and my biases, or is there a theme starting to emerge that some kind of geographic "neighborhood school" preference really does exist?

    I wish there were some solid data, rather than just anecdotal evidence, about who stays in under-performing neighborhood schools and the reasons. Is it lack of awareness about the lottery? Is it a belief that the lottery only works for the already-advantaged? Is it a desire for convenience and community? A combination? None of the above?

    If you went into those under-performing schools and asked the families, how would they respond if given a choice between a guaranteed spot at Clarendon (or fill in your own high-performing blank) with free bus service and free aftercare or a good, solid-performing school with decent aftercare within walking distance of home? It's easy, and a temptation to which I have succumbed myself:), to play amateur social engineer and speculate about what would work. I'd rather have statistically meaningful data about the desires of the disadvantaged families to whom the system is supposed to offer opportunities rather than speculation, however well-intentioned, before coming to any conclusions about what options to pursue. Maybe there is such data and I'm not aware of it, but I think the resources are too limited to be thrown at experiments that are doomed to failure or inadequate because they don't obtain sufficient buy-in from the people whom they are supposed to benefit.

  149. Marlowe's Mom: My guess would be that, like our housekeeper (whose children, who could easily have gotten into Clarendon if she so desired, but instead attend their low-performing neighborhood school) many parents value the convenience and familiarity of a nearby school attended by the kids of friends and relatives. The ability of Grandma, Auntie or cousin to easily fetch the kids after school and provide childcare may seem more important than test scores.

  150. For marlowe's mom:

    Here is a link to the Student Enrollment and Retention Report by the SF ED Fund, PPS, and SFUSD. According to Rachel Norton, on the SF Schools listserv, they 900 people from every zip code in SF were interviewed in small groups to find out what they want from our city's schools. The population
    was self-selected, so it's not a random sample, but all the groups did a diligent recruitment effort and talked to parents and community members in all walks of life and in several languages. (the report is also available in Spanish and Chinese)

  151. Thank you 7:44 a.m. I found this to be a very worthwhile read. I was not successful in pasting the link into my browser but it's easy enough to find the report at the PPSSF web site.

    The need for better school funding to provide more of what parents want hardly needs repeating.

    Pages 17-19 pf the narrative section in particular seem to reflect a preference for devoting resources to improving under-performing neighborhood schools rather than transporting kids around town, though the Appendix shows that only African-Americans and Pacific Islanders ranked "convenient location" as "very important" or higher. Interesting . . .

  152. In a perfect world, schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods could be effectively improved. In the real world, that's a struggle everywhere, always. No school system in the nation or the world has found the formula for success when a school is working with a critical mass of high-need, low-income students.

    There are funding streams from the feds, the state and the district that provide extra resources to schools that serve a lot of low-income students. Kate posted a link some time ago to a witty Sandra Tsing Loh take on that:

    (Loh's children's school presumably falls short of that critical mass of high-need children that truly overwhelms a school.)

    Some points to keep in mind regarding "transporting kids around town":

    -- Pretty much all schools in low-income neighborhoods are struggling and are in LOW demand. So any family in such a neighborhood who requests the nearest school will get it.

    -- Under SFUSD's system of assigning applicants to the nearest school with openings, a family in that same neighborhood that neglects to make a request at all will be assigned by default to the nearby school.

    I'm pointing that out because so many people misread the situation to believe that low-income kids are automatically being transported out of the neighborhood. That WAS happening under past assignment systems, which meant that some students were bused out of low-income neighborhoods to low-performing, struggling "ghetto schools" often located in middle-class neighborhoods (unless those students specifically requested otherwise). Two examples from that era (believe it or not) were Alvarado and Miraloma.

    But then there's the other looming question: A disadvantaged family living in a low-income neighborhood almost definitely lives near low-performing, struggling schools. Should that family have the OPTION of choosing a higher-performing, better-functioning school (which by definition will be elsewhere in the district)? And should that family have enhanced access to such schools -- that is, should a low-income family in Bayview have a better shot at Clarendon than an upper-middle-class family in
    Forest Hill, through a process giving preference to the low-income family?

    If the answer is yes, right there you're talking about a major disruption of the "everyone automatically gets their neighborhood schools" process.

    Of course there are folks who claim that if families in low-income neighborhoods all went to their neighborhood schools, those schools would magically improve because the families would be so invested in them. That view is way out of touch with reality -- just look at Oakland, which does have neighborhood school assignment. As a commenter on my Examiner blog pointed out, the neighborhood schools serving low-income students are overwhelmed by the students' needs, and the students wind up trapped in those schools.

  153. If you gave straight preference to low-income families for Clarendon (just to use that school as an example) so that the critical mass of socio-economically disadvantaged students doubled or tripled or quadrupled from the current 13%, would it be the same school? There are only so many seats. For every socioeconomically disadvantaged student who gets a place, you lose a middle class student. What would happen to the parent fund-raising for the so-called "extras" that help a school succeed? Would the teachers feel as well-supported? Does the socialization with kids from more educated families help student populations that under-perform in other environments? The test scores at Clarendon from the SARC suggest this might be the case. If you reduce the population of students from more educated families, would that adversely affect the socialization that appears to benefit economically disadvantaged kids? I don't pretend to know the answers, and I don't want to appear to oppose increasing disadvantaged populations at high-performing schools because I don't (Clarendon certainly has fewer than its share), but I think these are valid questions.

    I am not so naive to think that just putting everyone in his/her own neighborhood school would magically make schools in the most economically distressed neighborhoods better because the families would become more engaged. I would instead expect that a pretty significant number of families in those areas to be too overwhelmed by other problems to put a lot into the local school. Rather, I think the real question is how to make optimal use of limited resources to improve educational opportunities for the most kids.

    The lottery and the buses consume a lot of resources. Maybe they are the best available way. But don't a request system (lottery or otherwise) that requires substantial investment of parent time to make informed choices and long daily transit or car trips place heavier burdens on economically disadvantaged families who already have other problems more affluent people can solve with money? Do the most impoverished families even have the resources to get involved in a request system?

    At Rosa Parks, bringing the Japanese Bilingual program in from another location brought in more middle-class educated families to what had been a very distressed population. Per the 2006-07 SARC, Rosa Parks is 78% socioeconomically disadvantaged, 34% English learners, and 16% disabled students. Compared to other schools on the same year's SARC, this represents a quite high percentage of high-need students. It's also in a scary location in the midst of the Japantown/Western Addition housing projects. The initial proposal to move the JBBP was controversial and not all of the JBBP families from the old location chose to stay, but many have. The school also got a new principal with a solid reputation for turning around troubled schools. They've got Title I money for lots of cool extra programs. The JBBP parents are working to form an all-school PTA. Of the major ethnic groups enrolled there, the population is approximately 32% African-American, 14% Latino, 27% Asian, 7% white and 14% multiple race or no response--balanced enough for everyone to have some "people who look like us" in the school. I met people at the welcome night who (at least to me) appeared to be educated middle-class Asian, Latino, African-American and white and they all seemed really excited about the opportunities the school presents. I'm confident it will only improve over time and go from being available to oversubscribed.

    It's sort of an opposite model where instead of moving kids from struggling neighborhoods to more affluent schools, you move middle class kids and their families into a struggling school with a desirable program and and strong principal leadership. Because the middle class families WANT the program, they're determined to make it work. I don't know if this model would work everywhere in SF, but I think there are a lot of idealistic families in SF, so it's worthy of serious consideration as an alternative to the current system. The weakness I still see is that instead of busing kids from struggling neighborhoods, you've got JBBP parents driving their kids from places like Glen Park and Forest Hill so the environmental issue remains.

  154. Putting desirable programs at struggling schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods DOES look like a promising way to improve diversity. (I can't think of any programs that have pulled this off except language immersion, but I could be forgetting something.)

    There are probably some limits -- middle-class parents probably won't go for a really, really blighted neighborhood or one far off the beaten path. And of course you wind up with separate programs, or a school-within-a-school -- but that's also the case with the honors track at Aptos (a diverse middle school that was scorned by the middle class as a "ghetto school" not that long ago). It's not the perfect situation, but it's better than segregated schools.

  155. "Does the socialization with kids from more educated families help student populations that under-perform in other environments?"

    The following link is an oft-cited report about efforts in Wake County, North Carolina to narrow the achievement gap by integrating the schools.

  156. Here's a link that should work:

    The Daily Howler, a blog that does a lot of interesting parsing of education claims but in a heavily bombastic tone, claimed that the miracle test score rise was an illusion:

    But then in a lot of cases the goal isn't so much socialization with kids from more educated families, but rather to pull kids out of schools that are overwhelmed by high numbers of disadvantaged, high-need students -- or to get kids away from the toxic influence of "street" culture, as described by sociologist Elijah Anderson (this link is to my blog item about the book):

  157. (Sorry, I meant my blog item about Anderson's book "Code of the Street." )

  158. Our new K teacher is awesome. He's already organized 2 "meet and greet" picnics for K families at some local SF playgrounds.

  159. 10:52, that's wonderful! Is your child attending a public or private school?

  160. It's a charter school (public).
    We're very excited.

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