Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tips for tour guides

It's hard to believe that school tours are going to start in about a month. So many of us are just settling into our schools--and some of us are still waiting for the right one. But I'm sure there are some people who are preparing for tours, and a few new kindergarten parents who are ready to take on the responsibility. I thought it might be useful for everyone to talk about what was helpful and unhelpful on tours. Was it important to hear the principal talk? Did you like seeing the upper grades? Did it help when schools offered tours on more than one day? What days and times were best? Did you prefer tours led by parents or self-guided tours? Please offer up tips for up-and-coming tour guides.


  1. understand that all schools are governed by CA state law, teach the exact same curriculum, and are required to do much of the same thing. what differentiates a school is the PTA, population, money coming in, and how it's spent.

    Kinder classes always have 20 students. Each school administers the same tests, starting in 2nd grade. Teachers have the same curriculum standards, and are required to evaluate students periodically. don't waste time on asking redundant questions about class size and what do you do if a child is smart/or falling behind. it's always the same answer, i swear.

    instead, find out what time the school starts
    what is their conflict resolution program
    what is the before/after school care/cost
    how much money does the PTA raise/how
    what extra curricular activities do they have that are paid for by PTA/parents
    what extra curricular activities are funding by other sources.
    What is their focus (when we get extra money we spend it on ART or PE or SCIENCE...
    do they have a computer lab
    what is the space like? large school? small? intimate? outdoor space? are they greening the school?
    ask the principal what her biggest challenge is and what she likes best about her job and her school.
    finally how long have the principal and kinder teachers been there.

    then log onto this blog and get the rest of the scoop.

    good luck, and i apologize in advance for sloppy typing. i'm actually lying down!

  2. let me also ad that the "poorer" schools, or the schools with English learners tend to be more rigorous and academic. the artsy schools are also more middle class and have bigger PTA budgets.

  3. Meeting the principals helped. I fell in love with Monroe's Jen Steiner on the tour; that was a big part of why we went with Monroe, our assigned school, rather than holding out for our first choice, Fairmount.

    I was shocked and saddened by the disparity in what PTAs can raise. I've already joined the fundraising committee at our school. Coming from Australia as I do, I am appalled at the effects of Prop 13 on California's infrastructure. It's essentially shifted the burden of school funding from the State to the PTA. That means that middle-class schools with dedicated grantwriters in the parent body are two or three times better off than the majority-Latino schools.

    This doesn't translate directly into school quality. I liked Marshall a lot better than Alvarado, and ranked them accordingly. It just seems really unfair.

    The fact that you can get language immersion at elementary school here, though, knocks the Australian public school system into a cocked hat. You just couldn't get language immersion in Sydney when I was growing up. Any language exposure at all was considered very fancy indeed (and my French teacher was just terrible.)

  4. While PTA's do raise a lot more money at more middle class schools, they in many cases receive less money from SFUSD and the federal government. SFUSD uses a weighted-student formula, meaning that schools receive more for needy students (high poverty, ELL, etc.) than for non-needy students. Also, schools with more than a certain percentage of free/reduced lunch students are eligible for Title I funds.

    So a school that increases its percentage of middle class students can often lose a bunch of money, necessitating those same middle class parents to turn around and raise money to pay for the programs that attracted them to the school in the first place.

  5. Make sure you watch the kids at recess. I think this tells you a lot about the school. One school I toured, there was a fight that broke out the minute the kids came out (kindergartners), and it took about a minute and a half before it was broken up. I wasn't impressed.

  6. yatima -

    i loved monroe too. are the kinder classes overenrolled?

  7. Anon@7.41am - That's a great point. Monroe is sunsetting some Title VII money and we're scrambling to cover the gap, but we do have 67% free or reduced lunches, which helps a lot with fundraising.

    Anon@9.58am - Monroe gets more applicants than it has places. Demand went up 27% last year. But it's not as wildly popular as Fairmount or Flynn, yet, and it's a bit more out of the way (though very handy to the Mission Street buses.)

    It is a fantastic school with a very active and welcoming community. It faces some unique challenges - everything has to be translated into three languages! - but it really is a gem.

  8. Just a clarification, the budget / law that mandated 20 or less for K-3 expired a while ago. SFUSD decided along with some other districts to continue to budget / allocate 20 students for K-3. Budget pressures etc. could change that at any time. Just more reason to fundraise and keep on top of your school district.

  9. Yatima,

    I found meeting the Principal very useful, too.

  10. Hi everybody -- I was the tour coordinator at Lakeshore for two or three years (my younger graduated from there in '05). When I paid close attention, I discovered that quite a few of our wonderful parent volunteer guides were giving misinformation, and when I started researching to get the info right, I found out that in some cases, I was too.

    So I made a carefully researched FAQ answering the questions that we had (rapidly) learned were the most common, and we handed it to everyone, then all pulled out our copy when the questions came up.

    One example was "why is this an alternative school and what IS an alternative school?" The parent giving the worst misinformation (and the most authoritative-sounding) had actually attended Lakeshore himself, before it was an alternative school, so that was ironic. In another case, a volunteer with kids in both my kids' grades had no clue that anything about the enrollment process had changed and described it exactly as it was in 1996. (On that topic, our FAQ basically said "it changes frequently so please contact PPS and don't take anything you hear from other parents as gospel.")

    Another example was how school food works -- almost none of the parent volunteers knew a thing about how the system provides free/reduced lunches, for example.

    To summarize, try to make sure your volunteers have the facts right, and I strongly recommend something like the Lakeshore FAQ; and also, if you're a touring parent, remember that they're volunteers and may be getting a few details wrong.

  11. does anybody know when tours begin? when parents should be calling to sign up?

  12. Probably this will be posted on the SFUSD website under enrollment. Flynn's tours will begin Oct 2 and continue every Thursday until Jan. We'll also have two other tour days (1 Monday and 1 Friday) but I don't know the dates.

  13. Starr King's tours start this month!

  14. My advice is to go ahead and tour as many schools as you can, but realize that the odds of you getting into any of them (especially "coverted" ones) are so slim, that investing too much emotional energy into asking the right questions just is not worth it.
    Look at the REAL enrollment numbers, and the REAL odds ... not the ones PPS or SFUSD touts, but do the math yourself. If 800 parents apply to a school with 40 openings, and if 20 of those openings automatically go to siblings, you have about a 2.5% chance of getting your kid into that school. And then they have all sorts of other factors, which will probably lessen your odds even more. So it isn't even fair to call it a lottery.
    As for the advice someone gave earlier about asking EPC for CORRECT information -- AREYOUFRIGGINGKIDDINGORSOMETHING?

    You can ask all the questions you want and look at scores and how active PTAs are, but I found that you sort of just "feel" when a school is right for your kid.
    I know it sounds drippy, but that's how it worked for me.

  15. Perhaps this is obvious, but if your family is not "traditional" - it's important to ask how the school views and discusses alternative family structures. It's important to know how the school will deal with any potential teasing, etc "on the ground" - regardless of whether there is a district-wide standard (which there is in SF). Along the same lines, it was also important for me to find out if there were other families at the school that looked like ours.

  16. "Can we walk here from our house/"

  17. I think it's important not only to see the Kindergarten classrooms and get a feel for who your child's teacher might be, but also to check out the upper grades.

    What's the general mood of the school: Do the kids seem excited? bored? drilled? Do the teachers seem energetic? friendly?burned out?

    How does the school handle conflict resolution?

    Could you imagine your child in this environment?
    Does the start time work with your family's lifestyle? With your work commute?

    Is language immersion important to you?

    What are your top three MUST HAVEs?

    What is the aftercare program like? Is it on the school grounds or are the children bussed somewhere? Who runs it? How hard is it to get in?

  18. Well I hate to say it folks, but the tours were worthless. I would SO like to have back all those precious hours my partner and I spent touring (some 15 schools)
    Most of our tours were bogged down by folks asking the most useless questions (see Kortney's post, I agree!) and/or were so short or so crowded as to impart no info whatsoever. You can spend so much energy and time touring,arguing with your spouse over the list of 7, talking to everyone under the sun and still end up with NOTHING or a school you never even toured. Oh and don't forget, with the state budget being as it is, much of what you see on a tour will have been cut by the time your child ends up at the school. My best advice is decide your criteria (immersion, proximity, etc) make a list based on those and skip the tours. It's a huge waste of time folks and will drive you crazy with wanting what you cannot have.

  19. Politically IncorrectSeptember 5, 2008 at 11:56 PM

    Families about to start this process:

    I guess the most important thing is to try to be open to many different possible outcomes and solutions. Be prepared for the worst and have a backup plan in case things don't go the way you expect.

    Try not to take other's opinions too seriously. Just because someone raves about a school doesn't mean it's right for your child or your family. Try not to judge other's decisions even if you don't agree with them. Go with your gut and try not to get hung up too much on statistics or you'll drive yourself crazy.

    Unfortunately, much of this is out of your control. try to accept that.

  20. Tour the 7 schools that match your top 3 criteria and ask question relative to your criteria. I agree with Kourtney--don't waste your (or others') time on general SFUSD questions. Tour 1 or 2 alternative schools to find out what all the hub-hub is about. Find out that the hub-hub "ain't about nutin'" and move on to your list of 7 schools with good odds (someone already explained the numbers game). Make sure you list 7 schools!!! Can't say that enough times. Everyone hears that advice, and for some reason ignores it, listing only 1 or 2 or 5 schools and getting pushed way down the waitlist ladder.

    I would love to hear your impression of self-guided tours, which can be offered more frequently, with more flexible time schedules.

  21. About balancing your chances: I found Adams's spreadsheet absolutely indispensible for this:

    2007-8 was probably the last year Paul Revere will be undersubscribed, but I would imagine Daniel Webster will remain a great option for Spanish immersion for a year or two. Marshall's also a wonderful option to include in your seven, if you can cope with the very urban setting. I loved their science program and am joining efforts to build something like it at Monroe.

    Anyway I ran the numbers with Adams' spreadsheet and was reasonably confident we would get one of our seven, and we did.

  22. Oh, and it's probably worth mentioning _why_ I fell in love with Jen Steiner, Monroe's principal. I asked her: "What's your number one priority for the school?" She said "Improving outcomes for Latino students." Since I am lily-white, this struck me as a very ballsy answer.

    It also struck me as the _right_ answer. I realized that I wanted my daughters to learn what social justice means, and to have as a role model a woman prepared to stick up for the under-served in her community.

    Fact is, unless something awful happens, touch wood, my kids will be just fine academically. We're wonks. We live in a house full of books, we belong to the CalAcademy and Exploratorium. The question is what kind of women will they be? Will they be kind? Or will they be callous? I want so badly for them to be kind!

  23. "I found Adams's spreadsheet absolutely indispensible"

    It is mathmetically worthless, it didn't take into account many factors, least of all 300 extra Kindergartners coming into SFUSD ...

    you have to compute your odds on a school-by-school basis

  24. acck. Mathematically.

  25. "It is mathmetically worthless..."

    Of course it left out a bunch of variables; the real world is complex, and your models are only as good as you can make them. ("Assume a spherical cow of uniform density...") And since what it does is calculate your odds on a school by school basis, I'm at a loss to understand your final remark there...

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

  27. There's a lot more violence and bullying in private schools, where mean girls reign supreme and teachers turn a blind eye because their daddikins gave them millions for the new gym.

  28. I know it seems early since so many people don't even have their school set for this year, but wondering about the touring process for 2009 kids. When do the tours start? I'd love to get it over with as soon as possible, put in my application and have a few months not to stress about it! SFUSD has last year's schedules up - anyone know if they are the same this year?

  29. Most of the tours start in October. You can call the schools you are interested in for the specific dates. They are almost always first thing in the AM.

  30. Does anyone understand why Yick Wo is an alternative school?

    I've spent so many hours this weekend developing lists of schools to visit and I just keep trying to pare them down to a manageable number. I figure I should allot at least 200 hours over the next few months to this process.

    I have to say after looking at all of the information and reading all of the parent reviews, the public schools as a group are much more inspiring than the private schools.

    I'd appreciate everyone's advice for the following scenario. I've got boy/girl twins with an August 29 birthday. Both are very, very smart (I know, everyone says that, but for purposes of this question assume they would be GATE kids). Girl is motivated by traditional reward systems. Boy is more of a hands-on project-based learner. I plan to separate them for K. Finally, we live in the Richmond and want them to go to school close to home.

    What are my best options, public, private, parochial--you name it, for getting them a reasonably differentiated academically challenging education?

    TIA to all responders.

  31. Anon@2.35pm - wow.

    Well, let's see. I've been beaten up exactly once in my life, and it was by a middle-class white American boy from a good college. And in spite of that very unpleasant experience, I've managed to maintain a sense of perspective and to avoid stereotyping people by the colour of their skin or their parents' income.

    I hope my daughter is similarly lucky. Sorry you weren't.

  32. Annette,
    Yick Wo is designated an alternative school because in the past it had a science and visual arts focus (just like in the past Lakeshore had a languages focus). In practice, this alternative designation simply means that there is no neighborhood preference in the lottery. The school has 2 kindergarten classrooms, one of which is more traditional (some parents say "academic") and the other more hands-on and creative. This might be a good fit for your twins.

  33. annette et al: with the following comment, my intention is not to rain on the parade per se, but to inject a dose of reality based on our experience this year.

    everyone here knows i am pro-public school to a fault, so perhaps you can look at my comments in light of my disappointment in how hard SFUSD made it for so many people to find an acceptable school this year.

    assuming the enrollment system does not change dramatically for 09, it is a waste of valuable energy to parse your educational ideals for a program to the extent that you are now. not to contribute to the general panic, but the reality presently is that if your home language is english, you are working people who sent your kid to preschool, you do not qualify for public assistance and you do not have an older sibling in school bestowing sib preference, you do not really have enough "choice" to use the term with regard to your round I list.

    i have thought for several days how to contribute something helpful to this thread. still thinking about that. at this point, all i will say is that it behooves you if you fit the preceding profile to book tours to trophy/popular schools for the end of the season. focus your energies when you are fresh on the schools you have never heard of; the likelihood is you will end up assigned to one in round I and possibly round II as well.

    now, the good news: we are on our fourth assignment, hoping for a fifth, so we've had a chance to get to know several schools pretty well, and a few of them more intimately. i suspect strongly there is not anything particularly different going on in the classrooms of trophy schools vs. up-and-comings vs. hidden gems vs. strugglers; it depends so much on the individual teacher and the school culture. i don't even think that enrichment is THAT different ("rich" schools have big PTA budgets and longer-running infrastructure; underperforming schools have government funding for said).

    of course, i am oversimplifying somewhat. my point is, i went into this thinking one was supposed to exercise this glorious "choice" SFUSD promises us in its raggedy marketing materials, but for some of us, there really is none (statistically, if you are competing for a spot in talked-about programs). so it is a much better use of your time to spend more hours in lesser-known schools getting down to brass tacks.

    for instance, i wish i had toured paul revere in round I instead of round II. (i also have regrets about not getting revere in the flynnarado lottery, but that's another story.) i wish i had compromised more on my vision for attending school in our "neighborhood," because only a huge dose of good fortune is going to net you an accessible school that also meets any of your other qualifications. (in fact, i am now convinced that SFUSD's entire diversity-index-lottery-house-of-cards rests squarely on the middle class's willingness to taxi their offspring -- on their dime -- all over the city, to secure an acceptable school. as someone who thinks we should all be driving less, not more, this inflames me! let me give you an example of why i think this is all but deliberate on SFUSD's part: at the 11th hour, in the flynnarado lottery, we were assigned to clarendon jbbp. at the time, we had put it on our special lottery list because it had a language component -- which we'd lost when we were kicked out of flynn -- a reasonable start time, and a school bus stop near our house. by the time school started, SFUSD had ELIMINATED the afternoon stop near our house! [strangely, not the morning one.] thanks, guys!)

    anyway, i'm going to think more about touring and what people should hope to get out of it (its value is, quite frankly, limited). but i will say now that it is wise to accept in advance that you will likely end up with something far different from one what you envisioned. that said, for the aforementioned reasons, it will probably be fine.

    p.s. i'm really struggling to understand what SFUSD wants from its middle-class constituents right now. read the strategic plan; with all this talk of closing the achievement gap and social justice for the underprivileged -- which i fully endorse, btw, although i am concerned about the implication that this goal must necessarily be a zero-sum game at another group's expense -- i am not sure where our children fit in. i used to think they *wanted* diverse schools -- i.e., an influx of active middle-class families -- but now i am not so sure. now, i suspect the leadership at SFUSD regards miralomization as a policy failure (i.e. raising performance due to a complete change of demographics based on middle-class "takeover" rather than a measurable improvement among the pre-existing population). i definitely look at what happened at flynn this summer as an example of this tension. (that is, a clerical error following what the hardliners term "years of systematic redirection of spanish speakers away from dual immersion programs," leading to 11th-hour, closed-door meetings without the full buy-in of the flynn community and, ultimately, a harsh and unforseen eviction from the school of 8 unknowing families without full consideration of less impactive alternatives.) how else to explain the ambivalence of these hardliners at flynn to the increasing influx of middle-class families and the magnet-like effects of offering dual immersion?

    i do not think this is an isolated sentiment. i am very concerned about where my kids fit into this zealous pursuit of equity. and what is expected of us as parents who want to give as much as we can to the system. does SFUSD want us in weird "white" enclaves? or do they want us to accept our -- sometimes unacceptable -- round I placement and shut the fuck up? or do they want us to enroll in schools with largely disadvantaged populations, but only in numbers small enough that we do not change the culture (or become a headache for the staff, with our helicopter parenting style and endless offers to "volunteer" in the classroom)?

    i just fail to see how something this big, this organic, this uncontrollable, can be managed this way, but maybe i am giving SFUSD too much credit. maybe they just react. or are so focused on the areas of greatest perceived need -- the achievement gap between AA, ELL and L students and others -- that they haven't thought coherently about how best to harness the valuable energy, resources and passion of the others?

  34. Wow, Kim, great food for thought here. FWIW, I'm pretty sure there is no monolithic answer to the question of "what SFUSD wants" in the terms you have laid out. I think there are competing agendas at work here, ranging from the BOE all the way down to the bureaucrat who is low on the totem pole and just wants the problems to go away.

    All that said, I think your advice is wise. Don't imagine that touring 200 hours will somehow create this magical "choice." There may be better ways to spend your energy. Definitely focus on sussing out the non-trophy schools. And, somehow, your kids' school experience can still be great, despite the enrollment problems, because there are a number of good schools out there.

  35. Annette,

    I don't have twins, but I've heard some schools have a strict policy whether they keep twins together or separate. Some always put twins together and others prefer them apart. Given your wishes to have them in different classes, that would be a quick way to shorten your list. I recommend you first call all schools within a 2 mile radius (or whatever you deem an acceptable distance) of your home and find out their twin policy.

    Good luck.

  36. You are so right Kim! Every time I hear the words "social justice" I throw up a little bit in my mouth. The way that once-noble concept has been perverted by politicos in SF is so discouraging. Now it means, We don't care what you think if you are white/middle class. I will not be voting for anyone for school board or board of supes who utters "the SJ phrase" ever!

  37. I'm still a couple years out (I have a 2-year-old) but given the amount of time people are spending on this process, I'd like to start now. So a couple of very basic logistical questions:
    1) Is there a list of all the schools that have a language component or do I need to call/visit the website of every school to figure it out?
    2) Is there an existing map of all the schools (in Google, ideally) so we can easily see what's within a reasonable distance of our house?
    3) Is there a list of aftercare programs or do I need to compile this on a school-by-school basis?

    I don't plan to tour this year (making the tours even more crowded). Just want to start compiling the relevant data.

    Thanks all -- I wouldn't have even considered public schools if it weren't for this blog and the helpful and thoughtful people commenting here.

  38. Kim, I completely agree with your rant. And I would urge you and others who share your concerns NOT to vote for BOE candidates Sandra Fewer and Bobbi Lopez, who don't even have middle-class SFUSD families on their radar screen.

  39. I think it would be a shame if we had to forgo social justice in order to include middle class families. I would like to vote for candidates who are seeking "win-win" solutions that include both. Rachel Norton seems to be one, FWIW.

  40. 11:42 with a 2-year-old, you can do a lot of investigating online.

    Believe it or not, the SFUSD website actually has accessible maps showing the locations of all the schools (

    Language component schools--this is also on the sfusd site, if you go school by school, but it's a pretty simple list, so here it is. Please, someone, correct me if I am wrong about any of this:

    Spanish Immersion:

    1. Alvarado (also has GE)
    2. Buena Vista
    3. Daniel Webster (also has GE)
    4. Fairmount
    5. Flynn (also has GE)
    6. Marshall
    7. Monroe (also has GE)
    8. Paul Revere (K-8)

    Cantonese Immersion:

    9. Alice Fong Yu (K-8, add Mandarin in middle school)
    10. West Portal

    Mandarin Immersion:

    11. Starr King (also has GE)
    12. Jose Ortega

    Korean Immersion:

    13. Claire Lilienthal (also has GE)

    Japanese component:

    14. Clarendon JBBP (also has GE)
    15. Rosa Parks JBBP (also has GE)

    Middle schools:

    1. Hoover, Chinese/Spanish Immersion
    2. James Lick, Spanish Immersion

    High Schools: Galileo, Chinese Imm.

    You can also join various online yahoo and PPS groups and learn a lot, e.g., the language immersion group, or the sfschools list, or the pps listserv.

    Finally, even if you don't choose to tour yet--and it is very early if your kid is only 2, since schools are changing, you might want to attend the Enrollment Fair this fall. It can be overwhelming, with so many schools/booths, but it would be a place to start. You could see which ones excite you and also ask about afterschool programs.

    Unfortunately, I am not aware of any central listing about after school/before school care. Many school communities are aware of this issue and have lists of options either on- or off-site, so the Enrollment Fair would be a great place to start compiling this data.

  41. RE: before and aftercare. Ask whether the program at the school is for all kids (generally higher quality but costs money) or only/primarily for low-income kids (typically so-so quality and requires full-time attendance with no days off for sports practice but free).

  42. Are there any schools in the district with sliding-scale childcare fees that avoids the childcare for the haves & have nots problem that previous poster alluded to?

  43. Map of elementary schools may be found here:

    Is also available on the sfusd site under "school information." There are also maps of middle and high school locations.

  44. Childcare listings found here (not school-by-school, but by neighborhood).

    This was justed posted on the PPS listserv by a parent who just went through the search--again, these lists are great resources where you can pick up sorts of tidbits and not have to re-invent the wheel.

    Caveat emptor though--always double-check with the site to check on current availability, schedule changes, etc.

  45. FYI: our excellent ES is deliberately trying to stay under the radar of most middle-class parents (not participating in K night, etc) so that neighborhood parents, many of whom send their kids to a local co-op preschool, will more easily be able to get their kids into the school via the SFUSD lottery. I imagine there are other ESs using a similar strategy. My advice is to not rely only on those you see at K night and other such district-wide events.

  46. if the above link to child care options doesn't work, try this:

  47. There are many west side elementary schools that are really good, but off the radar of the bougie-pwoggie class in Mission/Bernal/Noe. If you are willing to drive across town, these are high-performing schools with few behavioral problems. They are not on the list of 25 or so schools that are sought by the folks on this blog in great numbers (the 15 language schools plus about 10 others like Miraloma, Grattan, Clarendon, Alvarado GE, McKinley, and so forth). You could expand your list to about 40 this way.

  48. LOVE YOU, KIM!!!! Esp. "but the reality presently is that if your home language is english, you are working people who sent your kid to preschool, you do not qualify for public assistance and you do not have an older sibling in school bestowing sib preference, you do not really have enough "choice" to use the term with regard to your round I list." -- that is the conclusion my husband & I have come to after reading this blog for 6 months - we will be applying for fall 09, but are taking the advice of all of our friends whose kids also speak only English, went to preschool, and are above the poverty line, (all got their kids placed in the lowest ranked schools in the least desireable neighborhoods)... Look at Albany or Novato or privates.

    Kim, do you realize, you have just told the emperor that he has no clothes?

  49. I find some of the advice on this page a bit too pessimistic.

    Some families (such as ours) do get lucky. We managed to get our first choice language immersion program in the first round. We were lucky again when we were not disenrolled during the summer.

    All our "diversity" bits are unfavorable (preschool, english, no free lunch, no neighborhood or sibling preference) yet we still got lucky.

    Fortunately, our neighborhood public school seems to have enthusiastic supporters while also being easy to get into (The school had a short waitlist at some point but then spots opened and poeple were getting in for the asking.) That means we would have had a nice school (with no driving) even if we had gotten totally unlucky in the lottery.

    My advice is to figure out what your personal SFUSD dream school is and put that down as your first choice. You just might get it. The way the lottery seems to work, you are unlikely to get a highly sought-after school that is not listed as your first choice, so don't bother touring dozens of schools just to work out your entire "top 7". Concentrate on touring the "hidden gems" for the case that you're not so lucky in the lottery.

  50. 4:29 PM - You are very, very lucky! I am very happy for you & your family. Trust me, for every family like yours, there are 15 who were assigned to John Muir.

  51. My advice for those about to go through the process is that you first need to decide how tolerant you are of risk. Uncertainty over whether you'll get an acceptable school must be very hard to handle. Also, some don't feel comfortable with having their child start at one school (whether public or private) and then potentially switching after the 10 day count. If you think you and/or your child don't have the stomach to handle potentially months of uncertainty, then you should focus on maximizing your odds of getting a school you like in the first or second round. The best way to increase your odds is to look for lesser known schools. I recommend touring no more than 2 of the trophy schools -- maybe pick the one or two that are most convenient for you. I toured Rooftop early on and found it helpful to have as a reference point when I looked at other schools. Unless you have a viable back up plan, there is no point in listing 7 of the 20 most requested schools. Yes, you might get lucky. But, more likely you will be disappointed. Tour a few of them and list the ones you like best as your top choices, but then focus on lesser known schools.

  52. We got lucky--Miraloma in the first round (5th choice), and then switched to Daniel Webster Spanish Immersion in the last month--I feel optimistic about that choice as well. And another family got lucky when we gave up our spot at Miraloma. Depends what you mean by lucky and how long you are willing to play the game. There are lots of good places to land in SFUSD. Not that I don't have a critique of the process...

  53. Kim, regarding this:

    (i.e. raising performance due to a complete change of demographics based on middle-class "takeover" rather than a measurable improvement among the pre-existing population).

    You are wrong. Miraloma raised test scores of ALL subgroups (especially socioeconomicaly disadvantaged and ELL) and met all it's california and national goals.

    My son was in the 5th grade class that represented the diversity of SF - those kids made giant stides in the 4 years they were tested.

    Just want to correct the misperception that in this school's case it is only about demographic change. It that - and way, way more.

  54. Kim, you ARE correct on this one:

    maybe i am giving SFUSD too much credit. maybe they just react. or are so focused on the areas of greatest perceived need -- the achievement gap between AA, ELL and L students and others -- that they haven't thought coherently about how best to harness the valuable energy, resources and passion of the others?

    The new administration is trying to turn around the Titanic - and it's hard with the political factions rearranging the deck chairs (let's get more parents on the BOE!) I think they are trying really hard to figure out how to harness the energy of not only parents, but also the City community as well.

  55. Unless you were never going to look at SF public anyway, it would be very silly not to try the lottery. Very silly. The majority of families even this year ended up with something acceptable, and more will get something tomorrow, I hope. That's not to say the process doesn't need major improvements, *certainly*, but it's not an all-or-nothing proposition.

    The advice is good: put your dream schools (one or two) up top. But if they are very popular schools, you will helping your odds of not going 0/15 a lot if you put five or six schools that are not as popular.

    By the way, doing this does not affect your chances of getting that top school if your lucky number comes up (as in, you hit the right moment in the lottery when your demographic works for that school). It used to be that all picks were considered as equal, but they do get priority rank now--if you get matched to more than one school in the lottery, they'll give you your higher pick.

    I know there were 0/15ers who put down some less popular picks. The fact is, they got extraordinarily unlucky. But many people did get their picks, both popular choices and certainly the less popular ones. It would also be helpful to figure out which schools are not yet oversubbed but on their way--this year I think Sunnyside gets that prize.

    The point is, there is a way to make your odds more likely. And, while I feel very badly for those who are still without schools, and hope very much for good news this week for them, they are in the minority. Again, it would be very silly not to try just because of these stories.

  56. Getting more parents onto the BOE won't help if half of them want neighborhood schools and half of them want more immersion schools :)

  57. 4:57: but what percentage of miraloma is presently being counted as a subgroup?

    admittedly, i am math challenged. but i went back five years, to 2002. according to the ed-data site, miraloma's subgroups did not meet the growth target in 02-03, 03-04 and 04-05.

    in 05-06 and 06-07 they did.

    note that "To be significant, a subgroup must have at least 100 students with valid test scores or be 15% of the school's tested enrollment with at least 50 students."

    in 05-06, for the first time, AA students at miraloma dropped under 15%. does that mean their scores aren't even counted as a subgroup? seems so, to my read. L students dropped under 15% in 03-04.

    i say this not to pick on miraloma, but to raise the issue of how, in spite of happy attending parents and glowing SF chronicle articles, district officials seem to regard miraloma as something they DO NOT want to happen. a friend of mine who teaches in the district and shall remain nameless attended a meeting led by the superintendent in which this very phenomenon was discussed -- in disparaging terms. there is just such a disconnect between what SF's middle-class is thinking and what is driving SFUSD. *that* is what i feel deserves mention. it concerns me.


  58. Kim, please, please consider running for BOE in the future!

  59. 4:16 et al: one of my points, which i think was buried under an avalanche of anger that -- gasp! -- i cannot control my children's school assignment, is that by enlarging your comfort zone EARLIER in the process, you will spare yourself a bucket of grief. and things may turn out fine. how do you do this? by (1) spending more time at schools that are under the radar and getting to know them (and like them); and (2) compromising on some of your wants on your ROUND I LIST. not later. ROUND I.

    not doing that was my biggest mistake.

    i venture to say that while there are certainly some families who put historically underenrolled schools on their round I list and still got the old SFUSD buggering, many more of the 0-15s neither accepted their (unrequested) round I assignment (some of which started looking pretty good around open enrollment time) nor submitted a round II list containing 7 choices that were easier to get into.

    what could our round I list have looked like if we had not gone for broke for both neighborhood AND immersion (god, were we greedy)?

    if we compromised on neighborhood/nearness (in no particular order):

    alvarado spanish
    fairmount spanish
    flynn spanish
    marshall spanish
    monroe spanish
    paul revere spanish
    starr king mandarin

    would we have gotten one? probably. maybe not next year, though ;- ) .

    and if we had compromised on immersion:

    harvey milk
    flynn GE

    and, i suspect, we'd have been ensconced in one of them.

    what we did was, we picked our FAVORITE immersion programs and loaded the rest of the list with ungettable trophy schools we were sure not to get, to position ourselves in the top cohort in round II. diabolique! i suppose you could say it worked, since we got into flynn off the waitpool. thing is, we really didn't, since they overenrolled english speakers, right? i'm being transparent here because i really have changed my mind about strategy AND goals. there is something to be said for peace and acceptance.

    to some extent, i CHOOSE to be embattled. had i adjusted my attitude and expectations at the outset, i'd be a lot happier right now. (which is not to say there is any excuse for SFUSD and its mutant limb, EPC.)

    AND...adjustment of expectations not to be confused with *lowering*. i liked all the schools i listed above very much, just for different reasons.

  60. Yes, please, KIM GREEN FOR SCHOOL BOARD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHOOOT!!!!!!!!!!!

  61. Annette Hurst: Check out Sherman. Great, academic school, they separate twins, and not far from the Richmond (especially if you work downtown).

  62. Hi All,

    mom of a 2 and 4 year old here, both summer girls, so 2009 is when we start this craziness. i've called and looked at a lot of schools already - grounds, tested the commutes (logistically w/ our preschool as well, drop off times, etc), have talked with principals over the phone, even with parents in the neighborhood at pick-up, etc. think we've narrowed our "list" and making sure to only look at one-two "trophy" schools, though after looking @ the odds, i'm pretty turned off over feeling like i'm begging to get into a place, but what to do - we've also looked at some on the other side of the park (lawton, grattan), as we realize that finding 7 in the richmond is a long shot(and whose to say we'll really get the richmond, but here's hoping), and we're 100% public, hands down. in any case, i'm a semi-rookie on the touring circuit in the Richmond (and beyond) - can I say what a huge asset all of you and this blog has been! *whew* not to say I'm not freaking out over the entire process, where, what if's; have toured 2 already, many more to go, all the calls made and appts. scheduled (btw, many schools are starting tours in sept). Okay, so onto my question as i'm stumped - what is 0/15? does this represent being on a 15 day wait list? can someone fill me in?

    thanks for allowing the ramble session. my husband's been getting an earful lately.

  63. 0/15 refers to going 0/7 in the first round, and then 0/7 in the second round and on the waitlist, which you can get onto after the first round. The waitpools are run several times beginning sometime after the first round and continuing through November (?) this year. So, hopefully many of the 0/15's will get something soon. Good luck with your search. We really liked Peabody when we toured.

  64. Thanks 10:49! I really appreciate it. yep, touring Peabody & looking forward to it. fingers and toes everything pliable crossed. we have vowed no suburbs for us.

  65. 10:40--

    Drop me a line if you're willing. We are in the same boat and I'd love to have someone to compare notes with. I am willing to share information freely and not worried about the perceived "competition."

  66. Even if you *know* you are not interested in private schools, it still does not hurt to look at a couple for comparison. You can even (shudder) apply if you like one so that you have more options. I'd look at all the TK programs and parochials as well. Many schools do offer generous financial aid packages. Always good to have more options rather than fewer....

  67. I'll second the suggestion to keep ALL options open, even if you have your heart (or wallet) set on public. Tour a private or two and a parochial or two just for the sake of comparison. Doing this really helped us figure out what we wanted from a school. The more you see the more you realize what you do and don't like.

  68. ^I agree, but also try to remember that the tours at the private schools tend to be led by paid staff whose job description includes marketing the school, whereas the public school tours tend to be led by volunteer parents (sometimes the principal pops in for part of it).

    It's like the difference between Whole Foods and Costco in presentation--just walking into WF is quite an experience for the senses, but you can get great deals on quality items in Costco if you look beyond the fluorescent lighting and vast warehouse aesthetic. Certainly some of the privates have amazing programs on offer, but the bells and whistles can also get in the way of assessing the possibilities of getting a quality education at a much better price. We've been very happy with our public schools on that front (elementary and now middle), despite the relative scruffiness.

  69. Tours at private schools are led by volunteer parents (sometimes volunteer students, too), not by paid staff. You meet the staff during the interview process. I would guess that the parent volunteers leading private school tours get more training than the ones leading public school tours, so they might be a little more "on message" (but you never know - I'm sure it will shock you, but some parents CAN be loose cannons).

  70. Remember if you apply to a private as a "back up", your odds of getting in are not very great. Yes, in some sense you have more control over the process -- interview, play date, essay. But in order to get in you really have to make the school believe you love it and it's your first choice. If they think it's just your back up, it's unlikely you'll be offered a spot.

  71. RE: private schools, if you've held your kid back a year so s/he is older and more accomplished, you either don't apply for financial aid or add diversity, and you have twins or younger sibs in the pipeline, you have an excellent chance of getting into at least one private.

  72. I love how everyone assumes that if you tour both public and private schools you will automatically be 'blown away' by the facilities and extras at the privates. We toured both to get a comparison and were actually pleasantly surprised at how much we DIDN'T like one of the privates we toured. Sure it had all the bells and whistles, but for us it just like a good fit. I think when the school clicks, you just know it. Ultimately, we ended up at one of the grungiest schools in the whole city, in fact. :-)

  73. My experience on private school tours (SF School, for example) was that they were led by admissions or administration professionals. They were great, and articulate, and appealing. And hard to compare with the tours of some of the public schools that are basically herds being led around by parents.

    For many reasons, including the fact that we *really* needed financial aid, and didn't add diversity, and didn't have our hearts in the project of trying to persuade the admissions folks that we loved their school more than many others, we didn't go through that grueling process.

    FWIW, we are a white family (not that that matters in the lottery), median SF income (75K), and got one of our 7 choices in Round 1. Not a popular school, and not our top choice, but it filled up by Round 2.

    From our experience, Kim Green's advice is spot on: expand your gaze on what might be an acceptable choice for your child in ROUND 1. Not Round 2. There are plenty of acceptable, if not dream, choice out there that are available in Round 1, but they fill up quickly in succeeding rounds as people scramble. For families seeking immersion, the choices may always be popular, but Marshall and Paul Revere (this year at least) did not fill up in Round 1. They also have have tended to have higher-poverty populations than Alvarado, and more Spanish-speaking applicants, so your chances of getting in as an above-poverty-level, English-speaking family are higher for those two schools, at least so far.

    I don't know what the off-the-radar schools will be next year, but another strategy might be to get together with a group of fellow preschool parents and pledge to go into a school like J Serra together. I know, this is only for those who can afford to give time to a school and so forth, but something worth thinking about if you have a strong cohort. J Serra has an active, welcoming principal and teachers.

    I guess this is just to say, all is not doom and gloom. There's lots to fix in the process, but it is possible to get a school you like. Start by being careful of your Round 1 choices, and limit "dream" schools to two or so, and include at least one that you are very likely to get.

  74. Another question: this year, it seems that the district got 300 or so more kids than it expected. It's not unreasonable to think that the same thing might happen next year. At some point, all the spots (at all schools) do fill up. Then what? Are schools going to have to open up more classrooms? Make existing classrooms bigger? Is the district going to have to open up more schools? Is this discussion already happening at the BOE or is that too optimistic of me? I imagine doing any of the above takes quite a bit of planning (years?) Any insight?

  75. Did anyone tour a school in the cow hollow/marina area that suprised them? Schools near us - Sherman and Claire Lillenthal are obviously quite (prohibitively?) popular. Just curious if any others near here were a pleasant surpise. Thanks!

  76. 1:04--The irony is that there's always schools that are on the chopping block, year after year. The district SHOULD open more classrooms. They also SHOULD be planning for a higher influx of incoming Kindergarteners. The key word here is SHOULD. The reality is that they probably are too short sighted and/or financially strapped to do this.

  77. to 1:44 question about Cow Hollow and Marina area schools:

    I know these are over the Van Ness line, but not so far away:

    Spring Valley....oldest school in SF, and a sweet one. Has high test scores considering a high ELL population (Cantonese, mainly, but others as well). If you are game for being with high-achieving kids who are immigrants and ELLs, who will also push your kids actually, I would encourage you to take a look.

    Yick Wo. Not so easy to get into, but a great school that is not on the radar of the folks on this blog, mostly.

    Going over the Pacific Heights hill: Rosa Parks JBBP. A definite up-and-comer with strong principal and parent community, and a strong Japanese component.

    Not so far from Claire Lilienthal: Peabody and Sutro. Totally worth a look. Peabody is sweet, sweet, sweet.

  78. This was the first year there was an increase in applicants/ registrations in many years. Hopefully the start of a trend.

  79. That seems to be partly due to the great PR work of PPS plus an influx of families that simply cannot afford private anymore.
    Too bad SFUSD had to screw so many families this year, tho.

  80. Regarding enrollment numbers, the reason that enrollments were up this year is related to a small baby boom that happened in the wake of the dot-com bust. Next year will be the same, because the number of live births in SF County five years ago is only about 30 or so less than the number six years ago. I can't find the numbers right now, but you can get them on the web site of the state department of vital statistics.

    Additionally, I have heard it said from private school admissions directors that sibling placements are expected to be high this year. I would expect that would hold across the public population as well.

    In short, this year is likely to be worse than last year. There will be conditions of high demand and even fewer slots in choice schools based on lottery results for older siblings 2-3 years ago. It would be very helpful if EPC would do the sibling placements first and give us the information before we make our lottery choices, but c'est la vie.

  81. Does anyone know overall how many under enrolled schools there are this year, given the influx of K applicants? We all know there are many schools with long waitlists and certainly there are some with many openings. I imagine there will be no consideration of adding space/classes to schools to accommodate increased enrollment unless some high percentage of all the schools are at capacity. Anyone know how close the district might be to this goal?

  82. A piece of advice for incoming parents: meet the teachers--*especially* your possible future K teacher-that is the person who will be spending the most time with your child. If you have a fabulous teacher that you have faith in, your child will pick up on it from you and be more willing to accept her/him.

  83. To Annette with Twins: in SFUSD whether to keep your twins together or separate them is UP TO YOU, the parent. The school cannot dictate this. We chose to keep ours together this Kg year and the school did not bat an eye. We did however eliminate schools where there was only one class at each grade level (e.g. Creative Arts) so as to have the option to separate them later.

  84. FYI- Creative Arts will have 2 Kinder classes next year. (they add a class every other year).
    For those of you about to start this process it is a wonderful alternative option and has it's own sep. admission.
    You can find out more here:

    So far, we are very happy at CACS. We were not looking for super rigorous academic program, tho, so probably not a good fit for everyone.

  85. First, thanks to Kim for an, as usual, excellent post.

    As to tours. I agree it's a waste to ask questions to which there will be canned answers or that parents should already know, such as "talk about the curriculum" or "what do you do if a child is ahead or behind classmates." Here are questions I think are useful for parents to ask and for tour guides to be prepared to answer:
    1. What makes this school different from other schools in the district?
    2. What are the three things you are most proud of about this school?
    3. What are the three greatest challenges this school faces?
    4. (If not addressed by the tour guide): What are your funding sources for "specials" such as extra arts, extra PE, a language teacher? How likely is it that those funding sources will continue?
    5. (If not addressed by the tour guide). Please discuss your PTA and any other parent groups. What's the level of participation? How active are they? What do they accomplish? What are the hopes/expectations for incoming parents?
    6. Tours should be required to include visits to upper grade classrooms. The kindergarten and first grade kids you see first thing in the morning while they're fresh are not necessarily representative of what goes on in school all day.
    7. Tours should include visits to the library, gym, computer facility, art or music rooms, performance space, and cafeteria, and should include a brief discussion of the food program.
    1. What are the options?
    2. Are the options oriented towards extra academic help or enrichment activities?
    3. Are they on-site? If not, where are they, and is there transit available?
    4. How much do they cost?
    5. How late are they open?
    6. Is there flexibility on number of days per week?
    7. How do we get on the waiting list, if there is one?
    8. If you don't know, whom can I contact with my after-care questions?
    FAMILY/SCHOOL-SPECIFIC QUESTIONS (these may be more or less important to individual families or may or may not apply depending what you observe at the school and what you hear on the tour)
    1. How do you talk to kids/engage in activities to build understanding and acceptance of different family structures and different cultures?
    2. Can I visit the special education class and talk to the teacher?
    3. What plans, if any, are in the works, to improve the physical plant?
    4. How do you deal with conflict resolution?

    1. Look at your priorities and find as many schools as you can that meet those priorities. In this initial go-round, don't even look at test scores, "the top 20" or any other "trophy factors." Just go by your priorities. Write a list that includes all those schools including ones you know are over-requested.
    2. Look at last year's enrollment statistics for each school you chose including sibling preferences. Next year's demand will be different from last year's, but if your choices are all over-enrolled schools and you really want public, expand your choices.
    3. After you've looked at your choices and their odds, tour as many as you can squeeze in, with an emphasis on those that have reasonable odds. There's no substitute for your own instincts about the "feel" of the school. If some trophies made your list, no harm touring a few them if you've got time. Write notes if you find that helpful. If you start feeling like all the schools are the same, stop touring.
    4. Once you've got your round 1 list, get onto the aftercare waiting lists for the programs you want.
    5. Submit your Round 1 application. Don't cheat yourself out of a chance at at least one over-enrolled school if it's truly your dream school, but otherwise, be as realistic as you can in the rest of your list. I know a lot of people thought they were being realistic this year and got 0/7, so be prepared to participate in Round 2.
    6. Have backup plans in accordance with your own capacity for stress and uncertainty. Accept that in San Francisco, even though public schools eventually work out for most people who really want them, there is no guarantee you will get into a public school and aftercare program that you can live with. Think about your own life and what changes you can make, if any. Keep an open mind about privates and, if available (it's not at all privates) apply for financial aid if you need it. Some privates really are just the same old thing in a fancier package, but others have truly unique offerings that could be a great fit for your child. Each private school has a different culture just as, despite the mandatory curriculum, each public has different leadership and a different feel. If it's an issue, check out the policy about whether you forfeit only an enrollment deposit or an entire year's or semester's tuition if you enroll in private but get a great public at the last minute. Parochial schools are quite affordable and offer financial aid. Check out neighborhoods outside San Francisco with an eye towards moving. Think about homeschooling. Obviously not all of these options would be available to everyone, and there may be others.
    7. Don't forget that the point of all this is to get your child an education.

  86. I've heard really good things about San Francisco Day School. Does anyone here have any personal or anecdotal information about it? It's one of the privates we will be visiting this fall. (We will be visiting publics, too.)


  87. Thanks, Marlowe's mom, for that excellent list. Helpful to those of us starting to host tours of our schools, too.
    As for aftercare, what are people experiencing? Are you getting what you need at a price you can afford? What does your school offer re aftercare and can it meet the demand? For those folks who aren't on site, what are you doing for aftercare?

  88. Marlowe's Mom -

    Your post is the most helpful piece of information I've received on this site. I am going to print it out and take it with me on the tours I do in the next few months. Thank you so much for sharing your insight.

  89. Ann-

    My daughter attended SF Day from kindergarten through 2nd grade so I can respond to your question. My daughter was very happy at the school and it was a great place for her. Unfortuantely, when it came time for our son to apply, he was rejected from the school. The reason is that he has facial abnormalities that affect his appearance, and the school was not interested in dealing with the social situations that could arise from his presence there.

    Although our example is extreme, the common thread that you hear in stories from SFDS is that there is a pretty narrow range of kids that they are comfortable teaching at the school, despite their image of broad-based inclusiveness. If your kid fits into that range (as our daughter did) then it's a great place. I believe that our son would have been successful there academically, but I think the teachers would have seen him as a potential "problem" and I think that a certain amount of teasing, exclusion, etc from the other kids would have been tolerated.

  90. Wow 3:28. Thanks for the reply. That certainly is not pleasant to hear. Wow.

  91. 3:28 here. All's well that ends well. Our kids are now at Friends and couldn't be happier. I meant to include that in my first post, sorry.

  92. 3:40 PM - Is it true that Friends is mainly for the well-heeled & well-connected? I'd love to apply, but were middle-income renters...

  93. Our family isn't what you would call "well-heeled and well-connected". There's a pretty big mix of parents there, with a large proportion of working moms. You don't see a lot of designer duds around the place and the drop-off doesn't even begin to resemble a luxury car dealership. Friends tends to attract people who are seeking something toned down, so while there are wealthy families, it's not flashy. And they are sometimes considerate to a fault about money issues. There is no live auction at the school auction, for example.

    Friends has become a popular school and I think this year it will be more so with the new building, so they get a lot of applications for relatively few spots.

  94. I made a horrible mistake thinking the school was the thing and after-care would take care of itself. Our child would have needed 20 hours per week of aftercare at the school we got in Round 2. I waited until after we turned in our school list for Round 2 to sign up for aftercare and and landed on wait lists for the two programs I liked. I waited several weeks after the Round 2 enrollment deadline had passed and called to follow up and we had not moved up the aftercare wait lists, so we stayed private and gave up our Round 2 school spot. We love the private so have no regrets, but we were lucky to have had that option at such a late date.

    If I had it to do over, I would have first devoted more effort to learning about aftercare options and second run over and put myself on the wait list for my top choice aftercare program as soon as I'd finished touring a school I knew I'd be listing for Round 1. I would also have signed up
    for aftercare programs for backup schools I had in mind for Round 2. Individual program policies no doubt vary, but in hindsight I would have gladly forfeited some aftercare enrollment deposits to get a better shot at a program I really wanted.

    Be aware: different aftercare programs have different wait list opening dates. JCC in particular tends to have a very long waiting list and they have not yet opened the wait list for the 09-10 school year. Find out as much as you can as far in advance as you can on the most popular aftercare programs and be prepared to sign up as soon as the list opens.

  95. AnnetteHurst - This is a bit late to respond, but here it goes. You had inquired about parochial schools to recommend. There are some great ones on the west side of town. St Stephens, St. Cecilia's. St Gabs and St. Brendans. Most of these schools, with the exception of St. Gabs will first select students from active parish members and can have limited openings. An active parish member is defined as someone who is registed in the parish and contributes in the weekly church envelopes. You call up their church office and ask to regiser with the parish and soon weekly donation envelops arrive in your mailbox along. You could view this as a reservation fee:) and I've known of families who are registered a year in advance in more than 1 parish and contribute financially to both as a way to hedge their bets.

    all these schools will have a screening for kindergarten readiness and tend to favor older ks. The birthday cut off is end of August which is the same for many of the privates.

    Of the schools listed above all aftercare available and you are guaranteed a spot if you attend the school. There is now wait list for these after care programs.

    Good luck in your search - many of these schools have active parents who are not catholic so it really does make sense to tour them and ask about their breakdown of parish vs non parish - the principle's tend to be straight forward in letting you know what size sibling class they expect and number of open spaces they may have for non parish members.

    Good luck

  96. I wish we could have a separate thread about private schools. We are definitely applying to some, and I would love to hear the good, bad, and ugly about specific schools.

  97. My two cents worth:
    Don't tour at the tour times. Think of it in this admittedly cynical way: Most tours are packaged deceptive advertising by parents/teachers/principalsdesperate to get you to send your kid to the school in spite of all its problems. (The same is true of 99% of the positive school-specific comments on this blog.) Go instead at 11:30 am. Just give the front desk person your driver's license and say you accidentally missed the tour. Then check out the principal's office and front office. Is it filled with kids who've gotten into trouble that morning? Or is it quiet? Look down the hallways -- are teachers outside their classrooms dealing with troubled kids? Are the kids in the hallways under control. Or is the third grade teacher spending her time talking to a kid outside the class who whacked a fellow student while the students inside the class learn nothing? Check the schoolyards -- are fights breaking out? I'd do the same drill for the afterschool care program --In fact, it is even easier as most of them have an outdoor component and you can check things out from the sidewalk in most instances. I'd go at 3:30 or 4 pm (after homework hour) and check out what is happening in the schoolyard. Are there adults there supervising? Are organized activities going on? Or are the kids engaged in barroom brawls with nary an adult present?

  98. I went to my kid’s school last spring during lunchtime. There was a class waiting to go into the cafeteria. The whole class suddenly burst into song, one they learned for their earth day sign along. Thought that capsulated what the school was all about more than anything else I ever encountered there

  99. If you take 3:45's advice, be prepared for the possibility you may be turned away. The tours are a necessary element of our public school system, but they are somewhat disruptive to the business of the schools -- learning. The schools each schedule the tours to minimize the impact on teachers, staff and principals. You may get lucky and catch the principal when he or she has some free time and is able to show you around and answer questions. But you may not, and should not be offended by this.

  100. Reply to Sept. 15 at 10:05 pm -- Thank you for giving the party line. Of course, the schools don't want you coming at odd hours. Most definitely the PTA doesn't want you - particularly the PTA's that work the marketing angle at the tour times. And, yes, you may not get to talk to the principal if you come at an odd hour. I'd rather get a half hour of watching real time activities happening in the hallways and schoolyards and front office than 90 minutes of a canned tour with PTA members who've been trained to do the hard sell. And, PS, lots of savvy parents do it. I volunteer at my kid's school and I regularly see prospective parents wandering the hallways and, you know what, good for them!

  101. Don't be so cynical about the marketing issue. There are also child safety issues involved. I honestly don't know if my child's school allows strangers to roam the halls unaccompanied, even if they have provided an ID at the office. There are certainly good reasons not to allow this. Reasons that have nothing to do with marketing.

  102. As a tour guide I only wish I had a "canned speech from the PTA." It would make my life a lot easier! Some people certainly have more of a knack for leading tours than others (I, unfortunately, don't have that gift, and lead tours mostly because I have the flexilibity to make myself available.) I can answer most of the questions, but it's not effortless by any means. I really doubt my tours sound much like cheerleading, but I hope the information is accurate.

    But, really, particularly at the beginning of the touring season, most parents have a lot of the same questions -- how does the kindergarten day run? How much recess time do the kids get? How is the playground supervised? How is discipline handled? How often do kids have PE? How do teachers differentiate instruction in a class with mixed abilities? How does the GATE program work? What is the aftercare program like?

    There's definitely a learning curve for touring parents, that all of us have been through. As parents tour more schools, they seem to relax a bit, and the questions seem less frantic. Overly big tours are a pain, both for prospective parents, and for the school community. It would be great to find a way to give parents the information they need without disrupting the kids and teachers that are there too much.


  103. If you require aftercare most days but want your child to attend an outside class or sports practice one or more days/week, be wary of the Excel programs offered at many schools. They are free, but the district requires FT, 5 day/week attendance, so your child will not be able to participate in the program. Some schools, like Alvarado, offer both Excel (free) and another program (typically higher quality and more flexible, but costs several hundred dollars/month).

  104. I have to respond to the Sept. 19th commenter who raises the issue of Excel afterschool program's inflexibility. Since he/she refers to Alvarado, a true "tier one" school which I hear has a wonderful paid afterschool program, he/she makes the sweeping generalization that the paid afterschool programs are "higher quality" than the Excel ones. Well, my friend, that depends on your vantage point. If your kid is not going to a tier one school with a wonderful paid afterschool program but a tier two school with an inferior afterschool program (ok, folks, cheetos as a regular snack at the program, how's that for lame?), Excel is DEFINITELY a cut above. I finally got my kid into the Excel program at his school and he is thriving compared to the not-so-glorified childwatch the paid program offered. So please don't make broad characterizations. Also, Excel is not that strict about full participation -- my kid leaves early one day for an extracurricular and no one breaks a sweat about it.

  105. Agree that it's not good to making sweeping generalizations about childcare programs. Excel programs vary, just like paid childcare programs. It's good your child's Excel program isn't overly rigid about leaving early, but many are, which is a dealbreaker for many families.

  106. The Excel program at my child's school allows parents to fill out an "early release form" for extra-curricular activities (sports practice, music lessons, etc.) - we had to fill one form out for each activity that we requested early release for. If you are interested in your school's Excel program, you should ask your program director about this option. From what I understand, all the Excel programs are being audited on a regular basis to make sure grantees are following the guidelines.

  107. at the flynn tour yesterday, we were told a rough estimate of how many incoming siblings were expected next year. this is really helpful information to give parents as we choose which schools to include on our applications. i would appreciate hearing these numbers, even if just estimates, at future tours.

  108. Parents come to schools ready to interrogate and attack tour guides (and the school itself). A little food for thought for these parents...have you ever considered the fact that it may be YOU as a parent that is being weeded out, and not the other way around??? If you do not "trust" the public school system and the expertise of those in this educational system, please stick with that private school you were thinking about in the first place. Good luck.