Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hot topic: How are things going?

How are parents doing in this year's school process? Are you finding lots of great schools? Are you overwhelmed? Excited? Stressed? Are you leaning toward private or public? How many schools are you touring? Are the tours helpful? Have you come upon any hidden gems? Pleas share your stories and experiences.

66 comments:

  1. I would like to hear from anyone with an opinion on Flynn General and SF Community Alt. Any thoughts?

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  2. I toured Flynn and I really liked it, although it won't be my top choice, but might end up among my 7 choices. The tour was given by a very engaged father which I think helped a lot. One of the things I was a little concerned about was that I found the gate to Alabama street open and that makes me a little nervous, the school being next to Army street - for safety reasons.
    I loved the focus on arts and also that they are planning to offer some Spanish in their general track.

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  3. I would also love to hear thoughts on SF Community. There were things I really liked, and yet there seemed to lack a cohesion in the leadership. Anyone else?

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  4. I know someone who started at Flynn General this year and they love it. SF Community seems to have a strong parent community. I heard they're trying to put in a garden. I think it's close-knit, like a big family.

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  5. I have done my research, compiled a killer Excel spreadsheet, booked 20 (yes 20!) school tours, arranged childcare with friends and a babysitter... and voila! The public schools in SF are GREAT! What's not to like? I already have 6 schools that I would be happy to send my daughter to, AND they are all more or less in our neighborhood. AND it's FREE (oh... what we as a family can do with that extra $40,000 or so we save every year...)

    Every school has its' strengths and weaknesses of course, but, in most cases, my cons list is small and my pros list is large.

    The most overwhelming and disheartening part of this process is that you will enter a lottery to "win" the school of your "choice". What is getting me down is not the quality of the schools, but the fact that after all this due diligence (which gives me some sense of control over the process), and time spent, my reason for getting into a school or not comes down to some mathematical formula buried in a computer program. This is not a choice at all, it's a raffle. Apart from that biggy, I think that SF public schools get a bad rap from the uninformed among us, and I am more than pleased by what I have seen.

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  6. Oh, I also wanted to post about the tours themselves... The tour structure and the way you are treated as a prospective parent speaks volumes about a school.

    If the tour starts late and runs long - bad sign that they do not respect your time. Do they make you sign in and out? Leave ID? Good sign about how seriously they take security.
    Are you given ample Q&A with the principle?
    Are parents involved with the tours?

    I toured Claire Lilienthal today and we weren't allowed to go inside any of the classrooms... not one - we had to peek in the windows! Now I certainly understand how disruptive these tours must be to the classes, but to not even be able to see the k teachers at work... come on. I have taken this school off my list. (Not that I would get in anyway!!)

    On the flip side, I have been to several schools where the class has greeted our bleary eyed group of tourers with a hearty "good morning" or at least a smile- which do you prefer?

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  7. Clarendon definitely is a fabulous school - wondering why one would choose JBBP over the General program or vise versa.

    I personally would choose the JBBP program because it's an added element to an overall excellent program, but did I miss something on the tour? Can anyone share insights on this?

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  8. Personally, I wouldn't judge the school by whether you are allowed to enter the classroom or not. I can't imagine the amount of disruption with the tours happening week after week. I'm sure once the raffle results are out, the majority of the schools will be accommodating in terms of parents meeting the teachers. As one of the previous posters said, it's a raffle and you won't have much control if any. The best we can do is to go with our gut feeling about the research.
    I have friends how tried 3x in the lottery and finally got into Claire Lilienthal. They loved it. The child is now in private highschool and very accomplished. It's too far away for us.

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  9. I am wondering if there are any opinions about E.R. Taylor. I haven't seen the school yet, but we live close to it. Would also love to hear what people thought about Sunnyside. Thanks!

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  10. On a tour last year at Lafayette, the parents tour leaders gave us little notebooks and had scones for Q&A. Made us happy at the time but it didn't make a difference in us having to go through the lottery.

    Tours are what they are - bells and whistles, or not. The tough part is getting a choice from the lottery.

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  11. For anonyomous, nov. 6 at 10:11 - I don't think you can go wrong either way. Because our daughter was in an Italian preschool and we liked the idea of the continuity of exposure to language/culture (which is my husband's heritage)and perhaps a smoother transition to Kindergarten because it would be familiar, we listed the italian (general) program first. Since we loved the school so much, we listed JBBP second. Never in a million years did I think we would get either choice (in fact, on the assumption we would never get in, we did not even bother to stick around for the principal's presentation at the end of the tour). Turns out we got JBBP in the first round. So yes, it happens! Even better, it turns out that the JBBP was a really fantastic choice for us - offers enrichment that our daughter would not otherwise get from us at home (unlike the Italian), a wonderful teacher and an incredibly committed group of parents. I don't have as much exposure to the other program, but all of the kids have access to the library, computer, art, p.e., movement classes etc. In my opinion you won't go wrong with either program.

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  12. The tour didn't leave me impressed with Clarendon, especially after all the hype. Rosa Park's JBBP program seems much much better, to be honest.

    Also, I don't like that Clarendon JBBP gets art only every two weeks.

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  13. But you can do art for free every weekend at the DeYoung ;-)

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  14. 8:43 PM

    Some schools leaves gates and doors open during tours that would normally be locked. Parent tour guides generally don't have keys, so it's easier just to unlock everything before the tour and lock up later. Also, some gates are not allowed to be locked due to fire code issues, so this may be another reason for it to be unlocked. So it would be worth asking if the gate is normally locked if this is a concern to you.

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  15. I was wondering if any of you had some more insight into how the lottery works.
    If we should end up not getting any of our top choices for K and decide to put our child in private for K, are the chances to get into a school of our likes for 1st or later slimmer than they are for K?

    It just all seems like such a balance act!

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  16. This assumes you will get into a private K, not an assumption I would make.

    It depends on what school you are trying to transfer into. Look at the numbers from this past year (on sfusd website) to get an idea how many people try to switch schools in 1st grade vs. how many spots are available. The wait list doesn't tell the whole story but it will give you some idea.

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  17. Private school admissions are going to be tight this year; a lot of siblings plus the schools' learning from past mistakes of accidentally admitting too many people.

    But, if you apply to public school without having previously been enrolled in the district, your application takes priority over those already enrolled.

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  18. So many schools we toured we liked or loved. The SF public schools are great. The lottery sucks. I am still suprised about security issues and concerns? How many kids are abducted from schools per year? How many are abducted by strangers rather than relatives?

    When I was in school, I remember very little fences and very little if any security.

    In short, SF public schools are the way to go.

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  19. 7:30

    Well, art appreciation maybe. I'm not qualified to teach technique, for instance.

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  20. I don't think most parents are worried about abductions. More like worried that little Aidan will decide to go for a walk out that open gate over to that busy road while there are only two adults watching 30 kids at recess. Security and safety are issues we should all pay attention to.

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  21. Yes, we toured Miraloma today and there were a lot of open doors. Maybe it was just for the tour and most days it isn't like that, but it did make us think.

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  22. I am a tour guide at Miraloma, although not yesterday, and the open doors are for tours. After tours they are all closed up. Normally the only door that is unlocked from the outside is the main door by the library.

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  23. Ok, that's good to hear. Thanks.

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  24. Thanks to the Miraloma tour guide for the reassurance. Great school! To the other poster who mentioned that the concern is the child wandering off; that's exactly it. I might be less concerned about this in a few years, but now my child is not even 5, and they come up with ideas at that age... His current preschool is locked door and sign in type of security and I have gotten to appreciate this, for this age that is...

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  25. re: Clarendon art

    In the JBBP program, it is every other week but they do lots of art in the class - like origami. Origami is used at Sherman as well because somewhere is says that it stregthens a part of the brain for math (so I've been told).

    So although technique isn't taught weekly, the JBBP program has art in the classrooms and are exposed to Japanese art and culture.

    JBBP Rosa Parks vs. Clarendon...


    Clarendon seems to get a better deal since the resources are shared with with an already established general program. The parent involvement is outstanding and the aftercare program dreamy.

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  26. 11:48, a veteran parent of school-age kids, I understand the feeling. I can only say, you will be amazed by how quickly your child adapts to the elementary school environment. Most kids this age love rules and routines and would never dream of wandering off, even if that were easy to do, which it is not, at least at my kids' school. Elementary age kids are very focused on the rules, and will tend to enforce them on themselves AND others ("Teacher, she climbed the wall when she wasn't supposed to!"). Hence the security culture at this level compared to preschool can be a little different. Not non-existent by any means, but not the same either. Afterschool programs will still have sign-outs, though, as required by CA state licensing.

    I remember that as a preschool parent I wondered how my small child would navigate a school with 500 kids, many of them twice her size. Plus--the school bus! But she stepped right up. It helped that the K kids are somewhat cloistered from the rest, but really, within a matter of weeks, she was a confident elementary school kid who knew the rules and the routine.

    Same with the transition to middle school. How would she adapt to an even larger school, filled with hormonal adolescents, multiple teachers, more academic work including more homework, and above all, more expectations of independence, like navigating the hallways by herself with jostling students, and not in line monitored by the teacher? Middle school loomed as a scary place for me, her mother.

    Well, she has adapted very well, thank you. In fact, she loves the independence and is spreading her wings. Of course, I keep my eyes and ears wide open for signs of trouble, but really, it's been a great experience. The right amount of independence at the right life stage. She sometimes "goes to ground" with me, i.e., reading books together, needing a hug and quiet conversation, but in many ways, she is launched on a journey toward youth and young adulthood.

    Funny how these transitions are harder on the parents than on the kids in many cases. It has been my experience that the schools are used to dealing with whatever age group they serve, and aim for the right developmental level in terms of expecting independence, rule-following, and in offering supports and of course, adult supervision.

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  27. Jose Ortega has an artist-in-residence who does origami with the kids.

    RE: Clarendon... Our friends who sent their kids there complained of overcrowding. They ended up switching to Buena Vista, though mostly because their kids were losing their Spanish faster than they were gaining Japanese.

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  28. I'm going to be honest. After touring both privates and publics I'm frustrated that I can't get an accurate feel for the publics. They just can't spend the same amount of time and resources on the touring parents and I feel like I haven't seen enough in the classrooms to know what they are about. I guess we're just supposed to rely on feedback from other parents. I don't know. Maybe I'm just not approaching this in the right way, or I'm doing something wrong. I will say that I was surprised to find myself vastly preferring the first public school I toured, which is not even really considered a hidden gem yet, almost there maybe, over the super popular schools I've visited.

    Maybe I like the underdog, who knows? I loved the energy I saw, though.

    I just wish I could figure out how to really get a better feel for these schools. And then I start feeling like I shouldn't stress about it too much because it's so unlikely I'll get something on my list anyway and I'll be rushing to tour whatever I get assigned in the end.

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  29. 3:30 You might want to contact PPS-SF, which can put you in contact with parents whose kids attend the schools that interest you. I did this after my child was assigned to a school and found it very helpful. (As it happened, the family lives near us and we ended up carpooling.)

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  30. This may not be the best forum for this, but I just wanted to note that today was the last day that the waitpools were open this year. They are now closed. How many of us who went through the lottery last year are now planning on entering the 1st grade lottery for next year???

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  31. 2:51

    Overcrowding? In what sense? Clarendon can't be more 'open' in terms of space.

    When choosing a school, everyone is trying to get the closest they can to a 'private-feel' without the 20K price tag. Clarendon already has most of the desired wants (and needs) in place.

    Other schools may have them or not, it just means extra elbow grease to bring in those things.

    We're lucky to be at Clarendon because the parents before us made it happen and it continues to happen. I believe it's possible for all schools. It just takes time.

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  32. The rooms at Miraloma and some of the other schools seem a lot bigger and brighter. Maybe that's what they meant, and there are no prefabs like there are at Clarendon.

    I think Clarendon doesn't really 'show well' or we were there on an off day because based solely on that tour we couldn't see why it is a 'trophy school' or how it competes with private. The work on the walls was much less impressive than, say, Miraloma and Rosa Parks. The classrooms didn't seem too inspired or enthusiastic. But again, that was probably timing. I'm curious what you think makes it terrific, if you don't mind listing it out. I did think the principal seemed like a great guy and very enthused.

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  33. At least when I was touring Clarendon ran overly large tours, which definitely interfered with getting a good feel for the school.

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  34. The yard at Clarendon is *really* crowded during recess/lunch.

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  35. I will be touring Yick Wo and Sherman in the upcoming weeks. I haven't heard much about either school so far. Any comments on those two schools?

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  36. I really wanted to like Creative Arts Charter. I loved their philosophy, and the first part of the tour was awesome. We got to sit in their Friday all-school meeting, and I was pretty impressed with the energy of the school. But then we toured the classrooms---what chaos. It seemed really crowded. And the building is trashed. I know they are in the process of moving, hence the lack of investment in maintenance. I'm really curious to know where their new campus will be. Does anyone know?

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  37. I highly recommend using Adams spreadsheet from the PPS website. After touring so many schools, it's helpful to see what your chances are of getting into your top choices (mine change every day), and helps you prioritize. ie, do you want to just list rock star schools and risk getting into none, or do you try to add a few more hidden gems to have a better chance of getting into a school you actually toured? the spreadsheet puts some science into the balancing act we need to do when listing the 7 schools. I've just heard of way too many people getting random assignments to schools they would never even consider.

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  38. I'm commenting as a parent and school blogger who has followed issues around the SFUSD assignment process for many years now.

    While I've strongly criticized the Educational Placement Center and many aspects of the assignment system, for the benefit of newcomers, I wanted to comment on the idea of applicants getting random assignments to schools they would never even consider.

    The assignments aren't random, strictly speaking. If an applicant doesn't hit the lottery on any of the requested schools, he/she is assigned to the school WITH OPENINGS geographically closest the home address. Only less-popular schools have openings after the first round, and they're likely to have lots of openings, so that's why you'll hear of a number of people who didn't get any of their choices being assigned to the same not-highly-regarded school.

    And the comment "schools they would never even consider" has nuances too. A lot of posters on this blog really did take a serious look at the less-popular schools they were assigned to when they didn't hit the lottery, and while I think most found the schools better than they had expected, many did decide that they wouldn't work. But I'm pretty sure there are some folks here who decided to give those schools a try -- some that come to mind are New Traditions, Sunnyside and Flynn general ed -- again, schools that some families were assigned to without requesting.

    I would hope that parents would not reject schools out of hand without checking them out -- it really might be their loss, and their kids'.

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  39. I also think it helps with strategy to get an idea of what undersubscribed school you'll likely be assigned. For instance, if you live in the haight you might be assigned to Muir, pacific heights to Cobb, russian hill to Spring Valley, etc. The year we applied I was fairly comfortable with the schools we'd likely be assigned so we could be a little more risky with our list. That may not be the case, if you know you won't like what the distrtict is likely to give you if you go 0/7.

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  40. 10:45, here is the response from CACS to my recent email inquiry regarding where the school might be relocated:

    "We do anticipate moving in summer 2009, it's not definite and we do not know of any location where SFUSD will offer us a site. We will know in the Spring when SFUSD will offer us a facility and then we'll know more."

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  41. I think most of the people in my neighborhood (Glen Park) who went 0/7 were assigned to either Junipero Serra or Paul Revere. Both these schools are geographically pretty close, but not on a lot of people's radars. But knowing this, if I were applying this year I would check out those schools in the Fall.

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  42. does anyone know what the default school was last year for 0/7 families in the outer richmond/sea cliff area? I would guess something like Sutro or maybe McCoppin, but I don't really know.

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  43. This info is available, but without checking I would speculate that ALL the schools in the Richmond fill up on the first round, and the default would more likely be Rosa Parks or Cobb. If you live in the Richmond, be aware that ALL the schools are highly thought of and popular.

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  44. The Gloria Davis site should again be available if the new Bayview charter school isn't approved. I imagine the CACS folks will once again refuse this option.

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  45. Yick Wo and Sherman are both excellent schools and you would be lucky to get into either. The main difference is Sherman is a little bigger and starts at 7:50 and Yick Wo has 250 students and starts at 9:30 (drop-off at 9:10). It just depends what works for your family

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  46. 3:33 -- Spring Valley -- isn't that a Science Magnet school? I wonder why it is not popular? In fact I thought it had more demand than spaces.

    Just curious -- I heard Science/Math based programs were just crazy oversubscribed dowin in Foster City, CA - one of the best districts around.

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  47. I know at least 3 families in the Richmond who went 0/7 and were assigned to Cobb. They did end up at schools they preferred after some scrambling/coming off wait lists.

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  48. Does anyone know what the default school(s) was last year for families in the Mission/Dolores area?

    I just called EPC for that info, and the person who answered said they didn't know. I do find it hard to believe they don't have that information.

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  49. Technically there is no such thing as a default school. If you don't get something on your list you get assigned to the closest thing that did not fill up. That may be different every year. You would have to look at the SFUSD's request lists to see which schools are more requested and therefore more likely to fill up. And which ones aren't. As of last year.

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  50. I toured at Saint Mark's School and it is a hidden gem in San Rafael. They have a bus service that picks up kids to and from Mill Valley and Larkspur to the school. If we don't get in one of the SF private schools, we may consider moving to Marin.

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  51. I don't think St. Marks is terribly hidden. I'd wait until I got in there (it's private) before moving. But why not go public if you move to Marin?

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  52. 9:10 am -- the demand for Cobb may be different this year... with the new Montessori program. The preK has had the Mont. program for a few years now but I believe they are just starting the K program.

    The program sponsors are the Haas as in Levis' so money abounts. If the program can get parents who understand the M philosoply and are interested, it will be very successful.

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  53. Cobb is too far away for us, but I was informed about the Montessori focus at the school enrollment faire this Saturday. I don't think they have it yet on their website. My twins are currently in pre-K montessori (private) and it has been SOO good for them, I can't even describe. If anybody has any questions re: Montessori I'd be happy to answer. We are currently applying for Montessori elementary in the South Bay, as a Back-up/Alternative.

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  54. Hi - maybe you can post your comment over on the private schools blog also -- some of those parents interested in Montessori programs may not know...

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  55. I think what people wind up seeing as default schools are the ones that get fewer applicants, so they have openings after the first round is done. Applicants that don't luck out in the lottery with any of the choices they listed then wind up assigned to one of those schools. (That's before they go into the 2nd round/wait pool/expanded choice process, at which point many get other schools.)

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  56. de fault schools.

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  57. re: Adams' spreadsheet. We did it last year and had a "99%" chance of getting on of our 7 choices. We got none. We know many people in our position. I think it's great to diversify your list, but I wouldn't be overly confident with some of the percentile chances...

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  58. Adam's spreadsheet can't account for the effect of the diversity index or of a spike in demand from year to year. So it's not perfect. But it is helpful in letting you know how much of a chance you are taking.

    You can try to figure out the likelihood of an enrollment spike by looking at the number of parents who are touring (for example, the crowded nature of the Flynn tours made it pretty clear there would be a demand spike there this past year). The diversity index is more difficult, because the factors it includes (preschool attendance, socioeconoimc status, etc.) are not observable characteristics.

    If you really want to make sure you get something on your list rather than a "default" assignment, you might try to figure out how you feel about including a school that had openings after Round One last year -- ones that come to mind that seem to me to be pretty strong schools include Jose Ortega (MI and Gen Ed), Sunnyside, and New Traditions.

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  59. Someone asked about Spring Valley. My husband and I did not tour this year but did last year. Our son loves science and the test scores looked decent so we thought it might be a good fit. We did not see any science going on so that was a little strange. The location was difficult and to us it did not have the warm feeling we were hoping for.

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  60. How would I find out which schools had openings after Round One last year?

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  61. Hi 2:44 PM:

    Regarding Saint Mark's, if you are considering a Catholic school in Marin PLEASE check out St Hilary's in Tiburon. We were blown away with the school when we saw it and seriously considered it vs MCDS (we got in to both).

    St Hilary's is a truly fantastic school and largely undiscovered. Beautiful new facilities, breathtaking location in Tiburon, awesome teachers and administration, very low teacher / student ratio (comparable to most independents at 8:1), close-knit parent community, and some of the happiest kids you wil ever see in school.

    I do not work for the school or am affiliated with it - I was just truly impressed with the school. It is truly undiscovered, and any parent or person who ha seen this school will probably echo my views.

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  62. 10:41, I don't think the list of schools that had openings after Round One is publicly available, but I think there are three ways you could try to find out: (1) Call Parents for Public Schools or EPC to see if they know/will tell you, (2) Look at the postings from last year from people who didn't get into one of their seven and see where they were assigned, and/or (3) look at the demand from past years (available on the PPS and SFUSD websites) and check out schools that had fewer first choice requests than openings. There's no guarantee they didn't fill, because they might have filled with people who listed them in choices 2-7 but I think it's a fairly decent proxy. Please others with better suggestions chime in!

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  63. The year we applied - not last year- there was a list that the district handed out at the counseling sessions with suggestions for round 2 choices. I never saw it on the webiste. Was there a similar list last year? That might be handy to get your hands on.

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  64. Does anyone have any idea if the rumors of siblings taking 09-10 English speaking spots at Flynn SI are true? What about at other schools? It seems like on some tours the leaders have an idea and on others they're either clueless or won't say (like when I was at Buena Vista today).

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  65. Oops. I meant to say "all English speaking spots" re: Flynn SI.

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  66. ^^Thanks!!

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