Saturday, June 20, 2009

Open forum: Summer!

I'll be traveling for a few weeks so here's an open forum post where you can bring up various topics. I will check email and the site periodically but not daily. Thanks! Best, Kate


  1. Michelle Obama is visiting San Francisco on Monday, June 22, to deliver the keynote address to the National Conference on Volunteering and Service at the Moscone Center. Earlier on Monday, she will join California's First Lady Maria Shriver to participate in the building of a playground at San Francisco's Bret Harte Elementary School.

    Congrats to all the families, teachers, and staff at Bret Harte. No one is more deserving.

  2. I have a question about high schools.

    I have a 7th grader and we are going to be looking at high schools next year. It seems that many families strive to get their kids into Lowell because it is perceived as the "best" school because it admits only those that have high academic scores. And looking at the test scores of the kids there, they do do well, but I would expect that given the admissions criteria. What I would like to hear from parents/students/others in the know is whether the Lowell teachers themselves are exceptional relative to the other comprehensive high schools (Lincoln, Bal, Gal, Wash etc.). I know that teacher quality is hard to measure, or compare, especially when your child has attended only one high school. So, I am interested in the experiences of others, especially families that have kids that have attended Lowell and another high school in the city.

    Thanks for your opinions.

  3. I, too, would love a discussion about the high school admissions process! Does anyone know of a blog similar to this one about high schools? Thanks.

  4. I am a veteran classroom teacher, becoming more confused by the year about learning abilities. Why are there discrepancies between one expert's diagnosis and another's? Do we even understand the human brain well enough to identify organic causes of learning discrepancies? Also, how do we know that the interventions provided by resource specialists are effective? Do thirty minute lessons, twice a week, really have an impact? What if those lessons are often canceled because the RSP has to do IEP meetings or go to trainings and meetings off-site?

    If there is a message board or blog I can look at, post the link. I'm not so interested in the this-is-what-I-had-to-go-through-to-get-my-child-serviced genre -- it's hard for parents to take a broad view when their own children are involved, and anyway I've read enough along those lines. I'd rather see something with a mix of postings from parents, educators and, maybe, neurological experts.

  5. Kids have so many teachers in high school that it's inevitable that not all will be great. I've heard plenty of Lowell kids (and their parents) complain about teachers. As a veteran high school mom with plenty of contacts at lots of high schools, I don't get the sense that Lowell's are better overall.

  6. 2:33
    It is cool you are asking these questions, but also alarming that a "veteran" teacher would not already know all this. Do they really teach teachers nothing at all about learning disabilities? Apparently.
    And that is very disconcerting.

    There are discrepancies between one expert's diagnosis and another's because the school district experts say only what school districts want them to say and the parent's experts say what the children really need to get in order to learn.

    The RSP intervention of two 30 minute a week sessions are nowhere near enough, if the children need tutoring, they need it every day.
    If the child doesn't get the little amount of tutoring they are supposed to get, because the RSP is in IEP meetings or something else happens, then that child is supposed to get compensatory services, to make up for the missed time, but the kids never get the missed time made up.

  7. 7:36: Yes, of course, I "know" things about learning disabilities. I've been through workshops, and took related coursework in college; even so, I do have questions about what seems to me to be the nebulous quality of many of these diagnoses (whether preformed by district personnel or by other experts). My question was if anyone has access to blogs or websites that might address the challenges of accurately diagnosing and treating learning disabilities.

    By the way, I agree with you that twice a week is not an effective intervention. But does it really disconcert you that teachers ask questions about learning disabilities and their treatment? I'm sure you can find something more controversial than that to get worked up about.

  8. 9:11
    It's called a search engine. Learn how to use one instead of insulting parents.

  9. 9:11
    District personnel are not allowed to give any child a diagnosis, they are not medical doctors or real psychiatrists and should stop trying to act like them at IEP meetings.

  10. Why would a teacher be looking for such information on this blog? There are numerous blogs for teachers. I think he/she is just looking for an argument, so take it with a grain of salt.

  11. Prospective Lowell ParentJune 23, 2009 at 9:52 AM

    My child is in 7th grade, so next year we will do the high school application. This year the kid worked hard and will be a possible Lowell applicant. She likes to do well, but there has been a certain amount of parental pressure (and support :-)). My question is: how much of a grind is Lowell for kids who do not find school work easy?

    Another question is about admissions to UC schools. With the new rules it may be harder for a non-genius kid to get into UC from Lowell. Does anyone know what percentage of Lowell students get into UC nowadays (i.e. with the old rules)?

  12. To the teacher 9:11
    I am very embarrassed by the comments that have been thrown your way. I find you very admirable that you are asking. learning disabilities are very complicated and there has been quite a bit of cutting edge brain research in the last few years. If I was not rushing off for vacation, I would send you some sites. There is a very good column in the online SF Examiner for Special Ed issues that might be a starting place. The writer of the column would be a good resource for links - she has done years of research. The link to the column is:

  13. Lowell makes all the "Top 100 US Public High School" lists so people are anxious to get their kids in there. But it's not for everyone. I've known several people who wouldn't let their kids have anything to do with Lowell because they felt it was too cut-throat, but others whose kids, coming from both hothouse private and big public middle schools, are thriving there. I think our older kid (extremely shy and recovering from an abusive situation) would have been overwhelmed and miserable at Lowell and our younger one (sociable and confident) will be fine there if he gets in.

    I would not know how to measure "teacher quality" per se. Each child has his/her own response to different teachers' personalities and styles. Your kid may have an unproductive relationship with a teacher most kids find very effective. I have never heard of a high school that did not have some good teachers, some average teachers, and some crummy teachers. At the same time, there are odds in this game. If the performance data for a school shows that kids in your demographic are failing in droves, that's probably a hint that it would not be an ideal choice.

    Having been through the high school admission process, my one bit of advice would be that it's essential to involve your 8th grader as much as possible, unless you have a good reason not to trust their judgment. At that age they want more control over their destiny. If they make the choice, they tend to be motivated to prove to their parent(s) that they were right.

  14. to prospective Lowell parent...

    Is your child entering 7th? If so, that is the first year that counts toward Lowell admission (grades for the 4 academic classes both semesters + test scores).

    My child is entering 9th at Lowell - 7th grade she had challenging teachers/classes(SFUSD K-8), with more than a few late nights spent completing homework/projects, hopefully giving her a preview of the level of work at Lowell.

    My child's biggest challenge is staying organized, so we'll see what happens when she has 5 academic classes, the confusing (to me) modular schedule, and a long daily commute. I'll have more to report in a couple of months;-)

    I also used (mostly) gentle pressure/support to encourage her to keep her grades up so that she would have the choice to attend Lowell, and we're both glad for that.

    Although the other comprehensive high schools (Gal, Bal, Wash, Lincoln, Mission, etc.)have great programs and supportive, caring faculty & staff, I don't think they would have been good choices for her - I know I may get attacked for this, but so many kids don't want to be in school at this age, and too many kids at the other schools just don't want to be in class - such an atmosphere would have been demoralizing for her. What she saw when she visted Lowell (shadow visit and open house) were students who wanted to be at school and learn, and this captivated her.

  15. Check out the reviews for Lowell. They are written by students and they are pretty amusing.

  16. Prospective Lowell parent,

    My SOTA Class of '09 son and his friends in numerous high schools just completed the college admission process. The outcomes were more successful than I expected (so far, assuming that most students do well and are happy in college).

    Currently, all students who meet the UC qualifications (A-G requirements with a C or above in every required course, and a set GPA) are guaranteed admission to UC Merced or UC Riverside if they apply to those schools. (IF.) So as you can see, that means the answer to your question is more complicated than it seems.

    Based on the many kids I know there, my view is that Lowell is not a good choice for a student who doesn't find schoolwork easy. (Most students like that wouldn't get in anyway.) Don't sweat it; there are other fine choices in SFUSD.

    12:05, I'm not going to attack you, but I would gently disagree that anyone can confidently say that no other school would be a good choice for his/her child. Both my kids have many middle school friends at Balboa and a few at other schools -- Bal has especially been a very successful choice for high-achieving kids who didn't quite make it into Lowell, or in some cases had the option but chose not to attend Lowell. Also, BTW, Bal has much better college admissions counseling than either Lowell or SOTA, which is no small thing.

    By the way, the big-name "top high school" list -- Newsweek's -- is basically 100% bull****. It's based on one single extremely artificial and easily manipulated criterion and is widely criticized. 38 superintendents of high-performing school districts sent Newsweek a letter last year objecting to the rankings and requesting (fruitlessly) that their districts' schools not be included. Lowell deserves admiration and respect for many reasons, but Newsweek's list does not.

  17. What a wonderfully helpful person you are, 10:57. On the Examiner site I found a link to a PBS site featuring recent research on learning disabilities:

    Thanks so much. Enjoy your vacation.

  18. My daughter also shadowed at Lowell and was given a "shadower" that told her how much she disliked going to Lowell. She was careful to say that it wasn't for her and there were kids there that loved Lowell, and maybe it would be OK for my daughter, but she was clearly unhappy about being in school and regretted her parents' decision to send her there. It was not her choice.

    I have a friend with a daughter at Balboa that is thriving and when asked (I did) said that many of her classmates are as motivated as she is to do well, get a get good grades so that they can go to a good college. She said that even the kids hanging out on the corner with the low slung pants are not the scary, bad kids they might appear to be.

    Often the reputations of schools take awhile to catch up to reality, so best to walk the halls of the schools you and your child are interested in attending yourselves and get your own impressions of what the school has to offer.

  19. 7:08. Educational and/or developmental psychologists, not psychiatrists make these decisions. Although special ed teachers don't diagnose, many of them do, indeed, have expertise about developmental issues and can, therefore, make useful recommendations about childrens' educational plans.

  20. Regarding different results for tests about learning differences...

    1. Tests are both administered by and taken by individuals in situations that can not be 100% controlled (i.e., the child slept well before on tests and not before another, the child felt uncomfortable with or particularly disliked the person who was administering the test, etc.).

    2. Children perform differently across environments and over time. As such, a mild or moderate learning issue might not "show up" in all environments, all the time.

    3. Different tests have different criterion for an LD classification.

    in terms of brain function, experts are just beginning to understand the myriad reasons for learning difference.

    And if there were simple tests? They would not account for the ways that the organism interacts with the environment.

  21. "the ways that the organism interacts with the environment"

    ugh. They now refer to our kids as "organisms"?

  22. 9:14

    yes, they can make useful suggestions, but they cannot give a kid an ADHD diagnosis, only a DOCTOR may do that.

  23. 1. By organism, I mean brain. We all have 'em, and referring to them in biological terms in no way obscures the fact tat they exist inside of real, small people. I'm guessing that you do want educators, mental health providers, and doctors to know and use the lexicon of their profession, no?

    8.41. I've said it before and I'll say it again. There are different measures for diagnoses. Psychologists (even at the MA level) can an do diagnose. It's scary to think that many people trust doctors--who often don't spend "real" time with children--are vested with so so much knowledge. Doctors are fallible people, and the school district isn't out to get you.

  24. About Lowell- I've had multiple kids there and I really think there are a lot of inaccurate stereotypes about it. It's a large comprehensive high school and there are many different types of kids and experiences there. They are not all drones or and many aren't even that academically motivated. There are jock partiers, stoners and many wonderfully quirky artistic kids. Yes there are some that study 24/7 but for some reason my kids never had too much contact with them.

    As for what makes it different, its really not the teachers. Some are wonderful, but as with any other school, some are awful. But, I think as whole there are fairly polite, and quite interesting kids there. There are many creative types, but they are are bit more humble than the SOTA types for the most part. Honestly, despite its reputation I think a lot of Lowell kids are the most wonderful and unique kids I've seen anywhere.

    The main advantage to Lowell IMO is that it allows a greater choice and the ability to take more academic classes than any other high SFUSD high school (and probably more than the privates). My kids took 7 classes for some years, an option not available in other schools. The fact that kids take advantage of these opportunities is part of what makes the school demanding. But students don't HAVE to take a heavy load and many don't.

  25. I thought that the term "comprehensive high school" applied to the other than Lowell and SOTA high schools that don't have specialized entrance requirements.

    I do support having specialized schools for specialized needs, but in the end it really isn't fair to compare Lowell to the other "comprehensive" high schools. By design it has a highly selective group of students that you would expect to perform better than high schools that admit everyone.

  26. Ok, I'll ignore 8:51 who is obviously just here to take swipes at parents who mistrust the school district.

  27. I'm 8:51 and, believe me, I'm no apologist for special ed at SFUSD. The district has plenty of problems. Moreover, I don't expect anyone to trust administrators, teachers, or parents blindly. Rather, I'd like to see a more integrated approach that honors the humanity of all parties involved.

    It's unfortunate that SF Unified does not have unlimited resources (I'm not just talking about money here) to provide premium services.

    There bottom line is this... SFUSD's special ed department is more of a village than a monolith. It is, indeed, possible to work with the district.

    An open approach, realistic expectations (i.e., more services won't cure kids, the teacher can't be your kid's 1-1, etc.), frequent communication with teachers and aids, and an eye toward the child in the classroom*: all of these things oil the wheels.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Calling all Daniel Webster Kindergarten 2009 Families!

    Please join fellow kindergarten families for any or all of the following summer playdates so we and our kids can start getting to know each other.

    All playdates are from 10AM - 1PM.

    Saturday June 27th at Jackson Park (17th & Arkansas)

    Sunday July 12th at Jackson Park

    Saturday August 15th at Daniel Webster

    Bring your own picnic. Join the PTA. Learn more about life at Daniel Webster. Meet current and future families.

    I look forward to meeting you!

    Dena Fischer
    mom of Henry & Sam Rothenberg (K Immersion '09)
    PTA member
    PREFund Founding Committee (

  30. By the way, for those of you on Daniel Webster’s waitlist for SI, you should know that the school was just notified by the Superintendent that the start time has officially changed from 7:50am to 8:40am. Dismissal will now be at 2:40pm.

    We believe there is a very short waitlist for the program for English speakers and a few Spanish speaking slots are still available.

  31. Wow,

    How can they just change the start time like that?

    What about people who need to be at work by 8:00? Do they provide free childcare before 8:40?

    This stinks.

  32. I think at most schools, before- and after-care are available on a sliding fee basis and open non-school hours from 7:30 to 6:00, but I've heard some care programs are free.

  33. typical sfusd, they try to get people to enroll their kids at less-than-great schools, and then they switch the time the school starts, messing up EVERYTHING

  34. The comment about SOTA's college admits brought this to mind: I noticed that private high schools (I checked Drew, Urban, University and Convent) post their college admissions and/or matriculation information on their web sites. Are college counseling resources so limited, even at specialty publics like Lowell and SOTA, that they don't have the time to post that information on their web sites? I realize they are dealing with hundreds of students in a graduating class rather than 50 or 100, but the data could certainly support those who argue that private schools are no better than public and parents are fools to waste their money, and attract more kids to SFUSD high schools. Maybe an opportunity for parents who like to volunteer?

  35. I can't speak for Lowell, but in the past, the SOTA college admissions info has been posted on the SOTA PTSA website, though right now I can't find it for past years.

    SOTA used to have a minimally functioning, bare-bones school-staff-run website, but this year it was greatly improved, so the webmaster should be posting the info on the school website.

    I saw a draft of the SOTA college admissions list just a few days ago and it wasn't quite finished and ready for posting, though.

    Posting college admissions info is largely about marketing, and the private high schools put a high premium on marketing, while the public high schools tend to view it as an afterthought -- after all, the notion that public schools would need to market themselves is pretty new.

    Other points: SOTA and Lowell DO have weak college counseling compared to private high schools. That's also an area to which private high schools simply devote more resources. If only I could tell some wealthy philanthropists where to put their money, funding equally high-quality college admissions counseling at all public high schools would be at the top of my list.

    It's also important to realize that many students are constrained by financial limitations about what college they can afford to accept. That's much more likely at urban public schools than at private schools and suburban high schools. One of my son's friends attended SF State after being accepted to Berklee College of Music (Boston) because Berklee's financial award was insufficient. Another is going to Manhattan College of Music, which is great, but that was after being accepted to Juilliard and being unable to afford it.

    That said, here's a random and partial list of the colleges my son's Class of '09 peers in San Francisco high schools are attending:

    Berklee College of Music, Columbia University, Cooper Union, Curtis Institute of Music, Harvard, Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, McGill, New York University, Oberlin College, Pace University, the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, University of Indiana, University of Michigan, University of Southern California, George Washington University, University of Washington, plus many other UCs and CSUs.

    -- Caroline Grannan, Class of '13 Oberlin Conservatory mom

  36. More High school queries.

    What is the current trend on high schoolers taking AP classes? Does every student headed to college feel the need to take as many AP classes as possible to keep up with the highest acheieving students? How are your kids/their peers doing in AP classes? Are colleges looking to see that your schedule is stacked with AP classes? Honors classes? Can kids that aren't at Lowell and don't have the honors/AP options available there take classes at City College? Do they get credit for taking these courses? What resources exist for students to get college counseling if it isn't available at their school? Which high schools do have adequate college counseling?

    Is there somewhere to get answers to these questions? :)


  37. How awesome that Daniel Webster got its start time changed. That will make it much more appealing for a broader variety of families who are willing to help that school continue its already impressive turn around. I wish my son's school would do the same - it's brutal for our 2-working parent family to get him out the door and drive to meet a 7:50 start time.

  38. 11:13
    what is good for your family is not necessarily good for others, and people use starting time to choose schools and many of those who chose webster wanted 7:50

  39. 7:09. Back at you. The earlier start time simply isn't tenable for many families.

  40. Then they shouldn't pick a 7:50 start time school.

    You are missing my point, people pick a school that has a 7:50 start time and then SFUSD changes it without ANY community input or discussion.

  41. For the record, I am an incoming DW parent, and chose the school because I felt it was the ONLY SIP we could surely get into, despite dreading the 7:50 start time and knowing it would be very hard on our entire family. Mornings have been the only reliable window of family time with our busy work schedules. Evenings are always chaotic and everyone is exhausted. Now we can preserve our mornings, get our daughter to school on time, and get ourselves to work. We are just thrilled at this unexpected turn of events.

    Interestingly, the letter from the SFUSD did actually state that this time change was one parents have been requesting for many years, so it appears there was input taken. I will also say that in the event we have to be at early morning appointments, the school will continue to provide early drop off care and breakfast. So as far as I can see there really is no perceptible change for families, as parents would have had this same care service on the other end with a 1:50 vs. 2:40 end-of-school time.

    Net-net, we are one family that is thrilled with the change, and I got an email from a friend who is also an incoming SIP parent who is also ecstatic.

  42. 10:02, I think only a very well-versed insider could answer all those questions. In general, the larger schools (not just Lowell) have more AP classes simply because they can offer more classes.

    College admissions officers do take into account the number of AP classes OFFERED at the school when they look at the AP classes taken.
    I personally don't think it's worth it to obsess about that superficial BS -- what's important is that your child have a rewarding, enriching experience getting a solid education.

    My Class of '09 grad is an outlier in that he's going to a conservatory and it was his musical accomplishments that mattered. But I do have a rising sophomore who may not be in the same situation. I'd still far rather she attend a less-elite school (UC Santa Cruz rather than UCLA?) than drive herself relentlessly racking up AP courses to impress Ivy League admissions officers.

    Regarding college admissions counseling: You'd just need to assess each school's resources case by case. You can make up for deficiencies by paying a private counselor if you have the resources (private school families do this too), and while it's of course not fair, parental attention, research, input and effort can compensate too.

  43. 11:21 Just so you know: I work with a number of recent UC Santa Cruz graduates and they have uniformly told me that we're lucky our kid did not accept her offer there because it's not a very good school. They're great people, bright and willing to work, but they don't attribute that to UC Santa Cruz. It's tragic that the same factor that plagues California's public primary and secondary schools--taxpayer and legislative idiocy--is also diminishing the once-time crown jewel UC system. It's hard to keep the best faculty when you can't pay competitively and provide competitive teaching and research resources. I 100% agree with the broader point I know you were making: it's better to have a sane happy kid than a miserable kid engaged in a relentless chase for a prestige college.

  44. That's funny, 12:12, because I recently worked on a project with a large number of UCSC graduates who were huge boosters of the university. They ranged from graduates of highly regarded suburban high schools to parochial schools to SFUSD high schools, and were all very complimentary about the quality of the teaching and the campus environment.

  45. So has anybody dealt with the nightmare that is the receptionist at SFUSD's School Health Program? My husband and I have both been yelled at for having the nerve to call while all the school nurses are on vacation. We received a letter saying our son needs another Hepatitis B shot (which is wrong -- his pediatrician says our son received all the needed shots) and we're trying to straighten it out.

  46. I know a couple of kids who have washed out and/or been unhappy at UCSC, and more who have been happy and successful there.

    1:05, you might try SFUSD Parent Relations -- Deena Zacharin is the director.

  47. Did anyone ask Daniel Webster's gen ed (project) families about what start time works best for them?

  48. re: Daniel Webster--It sounds like if they offer before care, then it may not make much of a difference to those families already there.

    IMO I think it would be great if all the schools had the exact same start time, 8:30, and offered before and after care to those who needed it. Even if you live in the same neighborhood as your school, 7:50 is insanely early for the majority of parents I've talked to.

  49. They can't all start at the same time, they have to stagger the buses to save money.

    Anyone else think SFUSD should get rid of school buses and save a whole lot of money? Put the money in the classrooms, and not toss it away destroying the ozone?

  50. Board of Education members that epitomize what's wrong with the District:
    - Kim and Fewer -- sour and pouty when the votes don't go their way. Both are mean spirited.
    - Maufas -- unable to conduct a Board meeting and allow for public comment. Pissed off all the time. Seems to hate dealing with people.

    Just watch a BOE meeting and you'll see how awful these members are and the lack of collegiality.

  51. Did you see how Fewer spoke to Myong Leigh at the meeting in early June? It was so disrespectful and bitchy that it was embarrassing to watch. Sandra Fewer and Kim-Shree Maufas are vindictive back-biters and don't think about the kids, it is all politics to them.
    I like Jane Kim and Rachel Norton, at least they are intelligent, even if I don't always agree with them.
    Jill Wynns is smart but should have retired, she is too old, not in good health and misses most of the meetings.
    Norman Yee never says much of anything. I think he cares a lot about children and has a good heart and mind.
    Hydra Mendoza seems to be checked out and thinking of other things these days.
    God help us all.

  52. Hmm, someone here must view him/herself as permanently youthful to perceive Jill Wynns as "too old" to hold office -- she's in her early 60s. Everyone here will be there before you know it. God help us all if you view that as "too old"...

    (Wynns is currently in poor health with a treatable malady and is missing meetings for that reason.)

  53. I agree that Fewer and Maufas are so disrespectful it's not even funny. They were elected to represent the people yet have such disdain and anger for the public.

    The BOE published meeting agendas are also ridiculous -- why are they 447 pages long!! It's no wonder that Maufas can't hold a meeting as President.

    Also, the Board should be acting like a corporate Board of Directors. You don't see a corporate board approving a $5400 expense for approving student travel.

  54. Also, the Board should be acting like a corporate Board of Directors. You don't see a corporate board approving a $5400 expense for approving student travel.

    No, I see them failing to offer any oversight whatsoever, approving massive and unwarranted pay packages, ignoring shareholders, and making sure that each and every one of their meetings is held in Tahiti, thereby approving travel expenses in excess of $5400.

    ...Okay, not ALL corporate boards, but I'm really uncomfortable with the idea that private innovation will save public education. It tends to end up with for-profit ideas (all of which have failed), reflexive anti-unionism, and no game-changing ideas that actually work and lead to significant learning gains for all students.

    I don't want the BoE to be nice. I don't care how long their meetings are (although I wish they were faster in posting the minutes). I suspect that "overly political" sometimes means four hour conversations about irradiated meat and sometimes means that the BoE is concerned about the opportunity gap. I would like to see the Board visiting more school sites, and for longer periods. It wouldn't hurt them to cultivate relationships with school site staff.

  55. holy shyte, 60's is so not old.

  56. fyi, my friends just got a house in oakland and will be giving up their spot at grattan.

  57. My point about the Board of Directors pertains to focus on the big picture issues like the opportunity gap and how to get our children ready for a global competitive market. The BOE appears to micromanage small expenses and similiary minor hot button issues that have the potential to make a political statement and add intrigue to the political resume.

  58. They spend an hour talking about SODA POP but ten minutes talking about truancy.

  59. Does anyone out there know of any blogs similar to this one that discuss San Francisco middle school or high school issues?


  60. maybe you can start one

  61. Applying for K in 2010, how many schools should I realistically attempt to tour with a full-time work schedule? Any advice on where to tour? My goal would be a smaller school, good academics, community feel and one that is not across town (hopefully near the Richmond). Natural light is also important to us. Optimally, I would also like the school to be balanced in terms of socio-economic and cultural background. Immersion/language would also be a plus. These are the schools I am considering targeting based on location, a bit of research but admittedly mostly hype:
    1. Sherman
    2. Claire Lillenthal
    3. George Peabody
    4. Rosa Parks - JBBP
    5. Argonne
    6. Grattan

    I would love to hear from parents who have kids at these schools or from other parents who can recommend schools. I have a sensitive child who is not out going and does not do well in loud or unorganized settings but who can read at 4 years old and likes to learn.

  62. Lilienthal and Grattan are real long shots. Sherman and Argonne are also very popular but I don't think they get quite as many requests as Lilienthal and Grattan. Peabody is not a moon shot. Rosa Parks JBBP is probably the most realistic on your list. It's gaining in popularity but I don't know if that trend will continue since they are losing their respected principal Monica Nagy. It's natural to want "the best" for your kids, but if your time is limited, better to focus your tours on schools in the 4-6 API range that work for you as to location and start time. Also, before you write a school off or choose it based on API or "Great Schools" ranking, look at the SARC to see how kids in your demographic are doing.

  63. To 12:33 -

    My son just finished K at Argonne and we really enjoyed it. It has the things you mentioned, plus a real benefit for kids who are a bit shy or not as outgoing. They run all the kids through a two week orientation session so they can get to know the three K teachers. One teacher in particular is very organized and structured, and has a wonderful personality. Her name is Ms. Cheng. I can't imagine she even raises her voice. At the end of the session, you can state a preference for a particular teacher. This might work for your little one, just a thought. Also, because it's year round, it works like this: school ends on the same day as the other schools in SFUSD. They get roughly a month off, go back for a month (shorter schedule), have two weeks off, and then start again at the end of August on the same SFUSD schedule. We LOVE it! Best of luck to you.

  64. You can discuss any San Francisco school issues -- certainly including middle and high school issues -- on the SFschools listserve,

    Really it makes more sense for discussion to take place on a listserve than a blog anyway. It's true that you have to join the listserve and can't just ID yourself as anonymous, but you can be incognito if you want.

  65. 12:33
    I would add Lafeyette to that list. Too far west for us, but seems like a pretty cool school.

  66. I was surprised to read that Argonne is a year-round school. Are there other year-round schools in San Francisco?

  67. 12:33 - We're in the same boat (also applying for 2010, are looking for schools in the same neighborhood, and have limited availability for tours). Other schools we plan to check out include: Lafayette (agree with other poster, plus know two families who go there and really like it), New Traditions (small setting...also know two great families from our preschool who are sending their kids for 2009 K), Sutro, and Alamo. You could also check out McCoppin, which is small and fairly under the radar. We plan to apply to the JCC after school program and there is no bus from McCoppin to the JCC, so we're ruling it out for our family. Good Luck!

  68. "I have a sensitive child who is not out going and does not do well in loud or unorganized settings but who can read at 4 years old and likes to learn."

    uh-oh. Sounds like hyperlexia.

  69. @12:33 We toured I think 15 schools, and it felt pretty grueling. In the end when we went 0/7 with 950 other families, it felt pretty bitter given the number of hours we had logged. But, I kind of needed to see first hand what the range was and when we were making our list of 7 there were at least 11 or 12 schools we would have put on the list.

    Your list looks like a decent start. Someone here recommended families tour the school they are likely to be assigned to, for you that would probably be Sutro or McCoppin. That way when you go 0/7 and are assigned there, you know already what you are up against, whether it's acceptable or not to your family.

    We had toured the school we were assigned to and it was really fortunate that we knew what being assigned there meant to us.

    I thought Argonne was great but it is definitely way oversubscribed. This year 513 requests for 70 spots, which made it the #13th most requested program.

    Have heard good things about Lafayette and have a friend whose kid is going there.

    Good luck.

  70. It makes no difference what choices you put down, it's a lottery and it is all pure luck. Investing any time at all in looking at schools is mostly pointless.

  71. 5:24 is absolutely correct.

    But to get a school, you must fill out the form and put something on it.

    The point is, people need to pick one or two "names" on these lists, and write down at least 5 no-name schools that are never ever on the lists, in order not to end up on the awful 10 day count. At least you'll go into the summer with a school. It's an awful feeling not to have a school.

    Frankly, most of the best slots go to people who are willing to wait it out. Most people turn their noses up at an offer for a "name" school that comes in October or November. But that is an easy change to pull off. The kids adjust well. It's just that, most parents are not willing to go through this hell.

    If you are, you will get a school you like. And that is true.

  72. Well, no, 5:24 isn't correct. He/she is correct that the school lottery is tough, but you still choose which schools your child is in the running for, and to do that you probably do want to look at schools. It DOES make a difference what schools you put down.

  73. "These are the schools I am considering targeting based on location, a bit of research but admittedly mostly hype:
    1. Sherman
    2. Claire Lillenthal
    3. George Peabody
    4. Rosa Parks - JBBP
    5. Argonne
    6. Grattan"

    Immersion programs are mostly in the SE of the city, so I think you're SOL there if you want to stay near the Richmond.

    Claire Lillenthal is a long shot, as are Grattan and Argonne. List only 1-2 heavily oversubscribed schools, and, as another poster mentioned, fill out the rest with schools in the 4-6 range of rankings using the state or rankings. Rosa Parks JBBP is a good pick, IMHO.

    Place the oversubscribed schools top of your list; placement on the list is used as a tie breaker between kids with the same diversity indicies, so if you put Grattan number 4 or lower you have essentially no chance of getting it.

    The only case where I'd put heavily oversubscribed schools low on the list is if you really can't find 7 SFUSD schools that you like, but want to fill out the list to 7 to ensure you get in the higher priority 0/7 waitpool if you get none of your picks.

    Others mentioned Sutro and McCoppin. Also, if you're willing to stretch out to Grattan and Lillenthal, maybe look further afield.

    Think about a private or parochial Plan B, also. There are good parochial schools in the Richmond.

  74. The thing about the private or parochial Plan B -- well, if that's on your radar anyway, fine.

    But as 11:55 posted, parents who are nervy enough to wait it out are likely -- almost guaranteed -- to get a school they're happy with. (Yes, there are exceptions, but all those who've posted here have had some kind of usual circumstances.)

    Meanwhile, if you decide not to go the "nervy" route, you're paying how much per year to avoid that? It can be a pretty high price just to avoid some stress.

  75. I am slowly working through the IEP process with my youngest (my oldest is at Grattan and we love it) who is going to preschool. What pre-k special day classes do you recommend? Do you have any advice about getting through the IEP process unscathed? Everything seems to be moving at a snail's pace. Is t his normal?

  76. If you want immersion and you're willing to travel to Grattan, you might consider DeAvila, the new Cantonse immersion program, which is just a few blocks away from Grattan. It seems quite promising.

    7:04 is correct that you choose the schools your child is in the running for in the public lottery, but you have no control over whether you get any, unless you list and can live with at least one school with fewer requests than places. The number of those schools is dwindling and very few people participating on this blog are willing to send their kids to such unpopular schools. That's THE difference between here and the burbs. In the burbs you are guaranteed the public school where you live. Here most people try for the public school lottery, or the competitive private school application process. They're both crap shoots. For many private school applicants, financial aid adds a further element of crap shoot. You may get a school you love but an insufficient aid package.

    The other option that many seem to overlook is the open-enrollment parochial and private schools in the city. These schools take kids first-come, first-served. They represent a cure for uncertainty. Some of them cost less per month than some public school parents spend on after-care. Many but not all of the more modestly priced ones are church-affiliated, which may be unacceptable to some but a matter of indifference or a positive factor to others. There seems to be snobbery out there among some people that open-enrollment private schools are less prestigious and therefore less "worth the money" than those with a competitive admission process, but see for yourself. Some of them are very sweet, close-knit places that may offer programs well-suited to your child and your family. As has been remarked elsewhere, better that your child be happy in a nurturing and effective-for-them educational environment than than miserable in a "prestigious" pressure cooker.

  77. 9:56

    get the book

    by Pete Wright

    it's next to impossible to go through the process unscathed, but you can learn to keep your emotions in check.

    And please consider full inclusion for your child ... why segregate him/her in a special ed only special day class? Those classes are often so horrible, like a mini version of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOOS NEST. Truly awful. The district tries to keep our kids out of the mainstream, but the default placement, according to IDEA should be in a regular classroom, with whatever supports or modifications your child needs.

  78. What's the Big IDEA?

    * Written By: Deborah Blair Porter Columnist
    * Categorized in: Commentaries and Reports, Special Education

    “What’s the Big IDEA?”
    By Deborah Blair Porter - June 29, 2009

    In California, we know spring has arrived when school districts and education “powers-that-be” begin to bemoan education budget issues. This year’s annual rite of spring, laying blame for California’s fiscal problems at the feet of special education, came right on schedule. California’s local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) led the way, armed with stats and rhetoric apparently provided by California School Boards Association (CSBA), Schools Services Corp. and other education agency allies, urging parents to take part in weekly letter-writing campaigns, community rallies, and even circulating articles at the state and national level blaming special education students and their parents.

    Apparently shocked and dismayed at the cost of educating students receiving special education services, they imply California’s education crisis is primarily due to the cost of educating California’s children with disabilities. They also seem to believe the responsibility for educating such children lies elsewhere.

    article continues:

  79. Hello, 10:23.

    My son has some pretty significant impairments and I am hoping that a year or two in a special day class will get him the extra attention he might need to do well in inclusion kindergarten.

  80. 11:51
    Good luck, but keep an eye on things. The district often says your child will get extra help in SDCs, but in many cases, they just get ignored and shut away.
    Pop in, unannounced, several times just to see what is happening in the class. Observe the class from outside school grounds, at recess, to see what is happening with your kid.

  81. 12:15.

    You're making me nervous. I've talked with a few families through Support for Families and, although they aren't overjoyed with their kids pre-k programs, they aren't miserable. These parents mentioned that the classes themselves are pretty good, but that the district can be a real challenge. Do you have a kid in special ed? I'd like to know more about your experiences?

    For my own kids, I plan to be as involved as I can. I don't plan to sneak around the school, but teachers and others will know that I'm paying attention and ready to advocate or help.

  82. 12:51: You're on the right track. It's counterproductive to start from an adversarial stance: the more you work with your child's school as a supportive team member, the more likely the staff is to welcome your input.

  83. On the subject of parochial schools, does anyone have any input regarding St. Finn Barr or St. Brendan's?

  84. "But as 11:55 posted, parents who are nervy enough to wait it out are likely -- almost guaranteed -- to get a school they're happy with."

    "(Yes, there are exceptions, but all those who've posted here have had some kind of usual circumstances.)"

    That was true in 2007. Not sure it was true in 2008 based on postings here, and I'd doubt it'll be true this year. According to the June 1st figures, there's still a lot of schools with 20+ long waitpools, and a handful with 60+ waitpools. I think you're two years out-of-date.

    "Meanwhile, if you decide not to go the "nervy" route,"

    You're not understanding. You do the parochial or private route so you can take more risk on the SFUSD application.

    "you're paying how much per year to avoid that? It can be a pretty high price just to avoid some stress."

    About $50 application fee, and maybe a $200 to secure the place if you get an acceptance before getting your SFUSD results; at least those are the rates for the parochial schools. If you get a school you like in the lottery, great. If not, you have a backup option, and can still do the "nervy" route, but with considerably less stress.

  85. "On the subject of parochial schools, does anyone have any input regarding St. Finn Barr or St. Brendan's?"

    St. Brendan's: Great school, but had 87 *parishoner* applications for 30-odd slots. If you're not a parishoner, you'll be on the waitlist.

    St. Finn Barr's: Has first-come first-served application, so get your application in early. I knew we'd a spot there mid-December, which was reassuring. Some people diss St. Finn Barr's on this blog, but I thought it was a solid option.

  86. I don't know about St. Finn Barr's. St. Brendan's has more applicants than places and generally favors parishoners. Some Catholic schools are open-enrollment; others like NDV and St. Brendans are competitive and have application deadlines. If a Catholic school has enough applicants to pick and choose, they typically favor parishoners, then out-of-parish Catholics, then everyone else. They also tend to want fairly tractable children, since their classes are large (30 in K).

    Not all schools affiliated with religious organizations are Catholic. I've heard very nice things about Zion Lutheran. The web site indicates they are still accepting K applications for fall, tuition is $6500 all-inclusive, and the after-care programs seem fun and inexpensive. I could not get much information from the web site but I think the Hebrew Academy is open enrollment and relatively affordable. Hillwood Academic Day School is non-sectarian, open-enrollment and has very reasonable tuition that includes meals and aftercare. I have not been to any of these schools and am not "recommending" them. (I think would be a dangerous business anyway; the best we can do is share information about what we like and wish were different about our schools, since one person's swan is another's vulture.) I just know they are out there and if you are uneasy with your current SFUSD assignment and the wait list odds look long, they might be affordable backups where you and your child will be happy.

  87. "There seems to be snobbery out there among some people that open-enrollment private schools are less prestigious and therefore less "worth the money" than those with a competitive admission process, but see for yourself."

    Agreed. There's self-interest on the part of the tonier private school admissions directors to hype up your chances of getting in and simultaneously hype the exclusivity of their school; it raises revenue for the school, and it makes the admissions director look good, and makes the school look more exclusive (because the kill ratio goes up with the number of applications).

    I applied to only SFUSD and parochials myself, but read the feelings of betrayal expressed in the comment threads here from parents who felt led on by independent school admissions directors, but later discovered there was only 1-2 places for their kids gender & demographic. The anger of those parents was even more acute than the frustration directed at SFUSD.

  88. " If a Catholic school has enough applicants to pick and choose, they typically favor parishoners, then out-of-parish Catholics, then everyone else."

    That's generally true, but there are exceptions: St. Philips favors parishoners, then families in the Noe neighbourhood, then out-of-parish Catholics.

  89. 2:50, absolutely agreed about correctly-directed parental anger. SFUSD's process may make you insane but they have no control over how many people request schools. Private schools have no business misleading families about the number of available places for boys/girls/non-siblings. If they do, they should be called out publicly, early and often so that people applying have fair warning that the admission director is not to be trusted.

  90. And to add to the above, I HOPE SFUSD's revised admission process (whatever that might be) admits siblings and special needs first, THEN opens the lottery with an accurate announcement of available places. That's a level of transparency they should provide as a (ahem, given the state budget mess this is a stretch) taxpayer-funded entity.

  91. 12:51

    Yes, I have a kid in special ed, and, NO, I would never put him in a Special Day Class because most of the ones I have seen are horrible.
    Picture "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest", with 3-5 year olds, and you will grasp all. Very little, if any teaching happening, it is all crowd control and bad babysitting.

    If you think observing the playground when nobody knows you are there is "sneaking around", well, OK, to me that is a true way of "keeping an eye on things", and seeing what the day is like for your kid. If people think that is "an adversarial stance", well, they just don't want to know how shitty things are for their kids. If you observe and find everything to be great -- fantastic!

    Most parents I know who have their kids in SDCS never hang out with the classes and rarely go to the schools. They send the kids to school on the bus, make hardly any contact with the school, and don't have a clue what is happening in those classes. But if you are planning to be involved, that will help a lot.

  92. 7:40pm. I'm an involved parent to my older daughter and I plan to be an involved parent to my son. That involvement does not include fostering an adversarial relationship from the first day of school. It does involve regular contact with the the teacher and OT and speech therapist. I'm not an uninvolved parent. I am a nervous mom who has no reason to believe that a busy and hectic inclusion classroom will serve my child better than a small special day class with a dedicated special education teacher.

    You sound really angry at the district and at some particular schools. Could you please tell me wich ones they are and which ones are better? That's what I want to know.

  93. 8:53
    Just keep an eye on things, is all I am saying. If you think doing that is adversarial, then nevermind. I get along well with my kid's speech, OT and special ed and general ed teachers, it is the DISTRICT administrators who I have learned to never trust, and after a few years of dealing with SFUSD Special Ed you will see what I mean. District administrators will tell you that your child 'is not ready" for inclusion, and come up with all sorts of reasons why they should not be included, but there is no "test" for inclusion, by law, inclusion is where you start. If you don't want your child in a regular classroom, that's one thing, but if you are believing SFUSD content specialists when they tell you your kid is not ready, then that's another matter.
    I'm not going to trash individual schools and classes in this public forum, but one the whole, with very few exceptions, SFUSD SDCs are nothing more than warehouses for kids with disabilities. If telling you to be aware of that is bothering you, fair enough, I'll shut up and let you find out for yourself.
    You sound very hands-on and proactive, that will serve your kid well.

  94. No matter how dedicated the special education teachers are in special ed classrooms, they can only do so much. If there are 10 children with big issues, even if there are three adults in that class (which is not usually the case, they lie to you about that) even if they did have 3 adults, and even if those teachers are the best in the world, there is little they can do other than to try to control the kids. I agree inclusion, with GOOD 1:1 aide support, is far better for most children.
    The "cuckoo's nest" analogy is unfortunately fairly accurate.

  95. Our daughter will be starting RP JBBP in the fall. We are really excited about it and have gotten to know one of the kindergarten teachers, Lisa Tsukamoto, who seems great! We went to a JBBP fundraiser and everyone there was very nice. It was a community feel.

    Also, there is a bus that goes to the JCC for their afterschool program. Bussing is also available to Kids outdoor club in GGP and to Nihonmachi Little Friends.

  96. I hope you will have a great experience at Rosa Parks JBBP--there seems to be a lot to like about that school, especially the parent community--really terrific people.

  97. nice to read a supportive, positive comment. Or was that last post being sarcastic? You see how jaded reading this blog has made me??

  98. Hi, 9:16.

    Let me switch tracks here. Can you recommend any particularly good classrooms at the pre-k and k levels?

    I've looked at the Presidio and it's on the map for the future. Are there any other good programs?

  99. It is interesting to hear the back and forth on special day versus inclusion. I guess it all depends on how good a particular program is at a particular school. I've got a kid in inclusion and have been very dissatisfied with my school's program. On the other hand, I had heard generally positive things about my school's special day program. My problems with inclusion revolve around the school promising things (more reading tutoring, more 1:1 extra help) that just don't happen of happen for a week or two and then end. I've tried to be nice, but what I find is that the special ed people at my school see my being nice as meaning that they can get away with things. Having multiple people helping (OT, reading specialist, para) makes it easy for any one of them to check out. And having a kid who isn't good at telling me whether the reading tutor showed up this week is the final killer. I've actually had the situation of going to a particular special ed person and thanking her profusely for all her help in the extra reading sessions for a particular semester for my kid and, then, later on, finding out through another source that she did it for about a week and then never came back again!

  100. New topic. What are those of you in immersion programs doing to help your kids not forget what they've learned? We are in Mandarin immersion at SK and I have yet to crack the packet of materials sent home. I know some of you are in Mandarin camps or Spanish camps, what else? Kid TV? Games? We have them but haven't tried playing yet. And it's July already! --Bernal single mom

  101. you all should start an immersion summer school program next year

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  103. Thanks for the balanced view about inclusion. The bottom line is that class quality varies across the board. Inclusion isn't every child's magic bullet nor will a special day class marr every child for life.

  104. As a parent of a child with severe autism who has lots of potential, but has not been served by any program in SFUSD, I am disheartened by all the inattention paid to what type of programs or methods ought to be implemented in S.F. classrooms to help not only learning disabled students but general ed. ones as well. We need to be more scholarly here. If we don't have recommendations for our educators, we will only sound like whiners.

    Everyone keeps mentioning "extra services". Extra doesn't cut it if the services aren't implemented in the right comprehensive manner. Supervision is the key. Quality training is essential.

    Is it even possible for public education to educate our kids? When do we start demanding support for kids' educators, who seem to be working in a vacuum from what I've observed. When do we demand scientific evidence based methods implemented across the board?

    I don't think parents can leave these decisions to the administration. We need to have concrete recommendations.

    I have been reading a column about mostly ADHD issues, but they relate in the same way to Autism ones.

  105. Did anyone else get a letter today? We were surprised (letter wasn't supposed to come until Tuesday) and got our waitpool school for 1st grade. Finally. Of course, we have mixed feelings leaving our old school and also because we compromised a bit on our waitpool school after being told our original waitpool would have no chance of openings... But we're still guardedly happy.

    It's our neighborhood school so now we can never ever move!!!

  106. I hope your neighborhood school can meet the needs of your child. I wish mine could.

  107. 7:41: It is not only "possible" for public schools to educate children, according to recent studies (although I encourage you to view educational research with some skepticism, see below) it is probable that they do as good a job, if not better, than private schools.

    As for "scientific evidence based methods", you will find (perhaps paradoxically) that the schools with the lowest test scores adhere to research-based curriculum more closely than the hot-shot schools so many parents are dying to get their children into. That's because teachers at so-called "Star" schools are encouraged / forced to attend extra trainings, and are observed more often to ensure fidelity to the curriculum.

    All curriculum claims to be research-based. What most teachers are aware of, and you may not be, is that research often validates one approach for a few years, and then another, and then swings back again to a previous premise. When studying what works in education, it is difficult to tease out all of the contributing factors. Also, of course, there is researcher bias. Teachers look for research that is longitudinal and has been verified by multiple researchers in a multitude of environments.

    Teachers are not "working in a vacuum". They are trained professionals who get retrained regularly, and receive constructive criticism not only from principals, but also from curriculum experts who work for the district or are hired to come do staff development.

  108. Congratulations, 8:26, and good luck!

  109. 8:26 - What school are you leaving behind with a potential opening?

  110. 7:41: Are you referring to S.F. or CA? Can you refer to the studies you mentioned? It's easy to quote studies without being specific. I am very aware of good and faulty research. I am also aware of going the cheapest route and the easiest route and leaving the rest up to parents. I am also aware of lip service and show when it comes to observing a classroom. If the parent has done their homework, it is very easy to see how classrooms are not functioning effectively. All you have to do is ask the right questions, such as; what method do you use to teach reading?

  111. 8:26 again. I should have clarified that actually we got a spot in a 1st grade class after nearly a year and a half now of lottery after lottery with no result... the school we're leaving has openings already in 1st grade, so I don't think we're creating a new spot for someone waiting to come in...

  112. All you have to do is ask the right questions, such as; what method do you use to teach reading?

    So in SF, ALL classroom teachers should respond that they are using a Balanced Literacy approach, combining aspects of phonics-based and whole language reading theories. This is a District-wide decision.

    STAR schools are not required to demonstrate total fidelity to their reading program - Reading First schools were, but RF is over. In SFUSD, total fidelity would be somewhat problematic given the District adoption of Balanced Literacy - HM is fairly phonics-based.

    Elaine Garan has written extensively on issues with phonics-based research. Gerard Coles and Frank Smith have, too. There are political issues around phonics-based curricula, but there are also issues with their theories. Some of these are philosophical, but others are bad research. For instance, they assume a relationship between phonemic awareness and phonics but do not even correlate that relationship.

  113. "'I have a sensitive child who is not out going and does not do well in loud or unorganized settings but who can read at 4 years old and likes to learn.'
    uh-oh. Sounds like hyperlexia."

    Or like a verbally gifted kid who happens to be an introvert.

  114. yeah, I read the hoagie's site thinking the same thing ... then he got diagnosed with autism.

  115. We received a letter on Saturday, too. Our twins entering 2nd Grade both got into our wait pool school (Clarendon GE)!

    We had just managed to get the second twin into Lakeshore about a week earlier (the first one got in on Round 2), but our hearts were really set on Clarendon. We are elated!

  116. is there an acceptable reason that EPD hasn't posted the new waitlist on its site?


    why is it like pulling teeth?

  117. I do think it shows a demographic shift in the amount of families applying to SFUSD that a second grade family can get twins off the waitpool into Clarendon, while with K and 1st grade that would be impossible...

  118. Is anybody besides me worried that the state budget impasse poses an imminent and serious risk to the upcoming SFUSD year? How are the schools supposed to pay their teachers? Their outside specialists? Their suppliers (to the extent they can actually buy supplies rather than depend on parent donations)? What will that do to programs and morale? What will suffer more, special ed or general ed? I know there are many funding sources--the federal government, the city's rainy day fund, some private grants--but isn't the CA treasury the main source? Am I stupid to be concerned? Am I just looking for an excuse to put off SFUSD for another year?

  119. SFUSd is fine for the upcoming school year ... it is the years after that which look grim

  120. Cool new blog on School lunches and nutrition:

    One of the authors is Ann Cooper, who's revolutionized school food in Berkeley USD.

  121. "I do think it shows a demographic shift in the amount of families applying to SFUSD that a second grade family can get twins off the waitpool into Clarendon, while with K and 1st grade that would be impossible..."

    Well, there's 2-3 factors behind that;
    1. A higher %age of parents applying to SFUSD.
    2. A post 9/11 peak in births in 2002-2003 in SF.
    3. The ramp-up in housing prices in the 2000's, and Prop.13, means that buying a house in the 'burbs means a big increase in property taxes, if you bought pre-2003. So homeowners are more reluctant to move out of SF to Burlingame or Walnut Creek.

  122. I'm not sure it signals a huge demographic change. Over the years at my highly requested school we've had families come and go every year. These were middle class families who were happy with our school. People move to the subs, people move to other states and even countries. Some sell their homes to move, others are renters. I imagine this will continue even when this year's K class gets to second grade.

  123. In response to 8:26PM on July 3rd, the same thing happened to us last Friday! I'm still shocked that we were able to get a school in our neighborhood. Our daughter is an incoming 1st grader and was attending private school for kindergarten. So I feel like the year and a half battle is finally over!

  124. Something has finally shifted with the waitlists (as I recall several folks on this Blog said it would once we got into summer). We also received good news last weekend with one of our twins entering K. We got our #1 choice, which was also the waitlist school we stuck with throughout the 0/15 process. Now, it's getting the other one in and we'll join the relieved club. This says something, I think, about the number of backup options families may have prepared for in anticipation of *not* landing in the school of choice. I wonder whether the question of coming public budget constraints are swaying families to the private school option.

  125. Anyone giving up a private (independent) spot?

  126. Interesting article in The Economist this week about elementary and secondary private schools.

    The biggest attraction of private schools, according to the author, is that they greatly boost the odds of getting your child into a prestigious university, thanks to the connections that counselors at privates have with universities and the help they provide in applying to colleges.

    The article said the privates are as popular as ever despite the recession, but that middle-class people are being increasingly squeezed out of privates due to economic constraints and dwindling endowments for providing scholarships.

  127. "I wonder whether the question of coming public budget constraints are swaying families to the private school option."

    I'm considering private school more seriously now for that reason. I'm afraid of what will happen to public education in California. Parent volunteers can only do so much in the face of these cuts.

  128. 9:45, as a blogger about both SFUSD and college admissions, this is exactly the observation I've made:
    The biggest attraction of private schools, according to the author, is that they greatly boost the odds of getting your child into a prestigious university, thanks to the connections that counselors at privates have with universities and the help they provide in applying to colleges.
    As the mom of an '09 high school graduate, I definitely saw my son's classmates getting into prestigious universities -- but I also saw a number of them with narrowed options because they didn't have the kind of wraparound college admissions counseling/assistance that the top private high schools provide. And that includes disadvantaged minority students who could truly have set their sights higher if they had stronger encouragement and more effective counseling!

    SFUSD high schools provide whatever college counseling assistance they can come up with, so it's spotty. (And it may be surprising -- Balboa's college counseling is better than Lowell's or SOTA's.) If the district or a private funder grasped this, it would be a really valuable place to target some funding.

    -- Caroline Grannan

  129. funny the convo should turn in this direction. my sister just sent me a book review of a tome called "the new global student."

    i found its take on things compelling. now, the idea that the ivy league rat race is bullshit is floating around in my head, along with free-range parenting and the growth- vs. fixed-mindset dialogue.

    i don't know if i'd have the balls to sidestep the conventional academic track completely, but i am going to read the book in the hope that i can strengthen the few free-range impulses i have (those withered ones that managed to survive my own upbringing -- thank god my dad was one of those "i walked 10 miles in the snow for food" types).

    earlier, on another thread, several people questioned my parenting -- and, i suppose, my sanity -- in pulling our kid out of clarendon jbbp and transferring to fairmount for spanish immersion (and 'hood, of course, and, to a large extent, a more meaningful diversity of people and possible experiences). this article kind of validated -- and provided context for -- some of the reasons that drove me to do that. (focus on collaboration, flexible thinking, trustworthiness, curiosity, communication, self-direction, the explains these things.)

    anyway, food for thought. i'd be interested to know what other people think.

  130. Even if the SF rainy day fund and the city property tax increase help for 09-10 (though how much, with the state already issuing IOUs, remains to be seen), there seems to be little hope for subsequent years. Tax revenues will continue to dwindle, and it's hard to imagine that opponents of the Prop 13 zealots will garner enough support to overturn it. How bare-bones can the public schools get before the parents who can manage to do otherwise will continue to send their children? Before teachers say f--- you to a "public" whose elected representatives do not value their work? We've already got partially privatized public schools anyway, since they are so heavily dependent on parent (i.e., user) volunteering and fund-raising. Even Parents for Public Schools is a PRIVATE, albeit nonprofit, organization to try to drum up support for public schools. At the rate the public revenue stream is drying up, "public" schools will be a thing of the past.

  131. Interesting article, but poses a false choice between teaching kids to be competitive or collaborative. It isn't an either-or proposition. You can be on the AP/SAT track and still be a well-rounded human being - it's just a matter of priorities. Also, the desirable qualities listed gain the key qualities listed (flexibility, awareness, curiousity, trustworthiness, and self-direction) can be gained in other ways than spending a year abroad.

  132. Regarding the Balboa college counseling being better than Lowell's, how do you know this? Should my child who was just accepted to Lowell transfer to Balboa to have a better chance to go to the college of her choice?

    What is wrong with Lowell's college counseling? Is it that there are too many students so that counselors do not have adequate time to give students comprehensive assistance?

  133. Interesting comments about limited college counseling resources in SFUSD high schools; as usual, lack of funds seems to be the culprit. Isn't it ironic to get this information in light of recent announcements that SFUSD plans to require every high school student to complete a college preparatory curriculum sufficient for entry to the UC system? (Whether that's a good idea is another big question there seems to be little interest in taking up.)

  134. Question for Caroline: Appreciate the college data you posted earlier about SOTA--exactly the sort of thing that boosts parent confidence in SFUSD high schools-- and also your more recent comment about how some kids at SOTA had their options limited because they did not get the same level of service, if you will, that college counseling staff provide at the costly private high schools. Do you happen to know if any SOTA seniors worked with private college counselors, and whether that favorably affected their outcomes? That seems like it might be an option for families at any school who are concerned that the college counseling services their high school offers are inadequate, not a good personality fit, etc.

  135. "The biggest attraction of private schools, according to the author, is that they greatly boost the odds of getting your child into a prestigious university, thanks to the connections that counselors at privates have with universities and the help they provide in applying to colleges."

    I am not sure that expensive private high schools actually "boost your kid's odds" of getting into a prestigious college is true any more, particularly at the highest levels (though the perception may well hold for many parents forking over the money). The Ivies and places like Stanford have far more overqualified applicants than available seats. These days they want applicants from all kinds of backgrounds, not just the old-time prep school feeders. A private school probably does boost your kid's odds of getting into a college that's a good fit, because the college counseling office will be well-staffed, well-acquainted with your kid, and have lots of resources and information at its disposal. And of course a kid can't get into a "prestige" college if his home and school environments are such that he's not aware that it exists, or not aware that its within his reach.

    While the college game may motivate many parents to choose private high schools, maybe even a majority, there are other attractions, like small classes, personal attention, and community service requirements. Those qualities can really make a positive difference, especially for kids who are bright enough but not so brilliant or self-motivated that they can learn with little teacher mentoring.

  136. Given as one can hire a college 'coach' for around $8,000, that would seem to me to be a much cheaper route to get that boost than a $30 K a year private high school, if counseling is the only concern. Of course classes are important too. Though we've had friends who have said they wished they had sent their children to public high schools, as percentage wise they felt they would have had a much better chance of getting in to a 'name' college from a public school, as their rather pricey Catholic high school only got a small number of students into them. I have no idea if that's actually true or only frustration on their part.
    One thing I've noticed is that the competition to get into name college (and private schools) is much increased from the generation previous, so parents who went to those schools and presume their children can get in now find that it's a far harder thing than their parents experience would have predicted. The playing field has altered.

  137. I get a good laughter out of people talking about ivy league schools and how they really want their child in one. Frankly, I know plenty of kids today that are in an ivy league school or were accepted into one and will be attending in the fall. I gotta tell you, these kids grew up going to PUBLIC SCHOOLS. All have very different backgrounds. Some of their high schools were wonderful, some middle of the road and a couple of them were TERRIBLE schools! The kids all worked hard, studied, volunteered and asked for help on their college applications. It cracks me up how SF is soooo hung up on high schools and Ivy League schools. These kids earned their spots, not because of the schools they attended--but because they had their eye on the prize and sought for help to get there!

    Seek and you shall find regardless if it's not Lowell!

  138. I'm on the way out in a few minutes but will answer two points right now...

    Re Balboa's and Lowell's college counseling, I have quite a few friends with kids at one or another school, and one close friend who's had kids at both. Balboa's college counseling program is sponsored by the Bar Association, aimed at guiding low-income students to college, but obviously there's no means check on who takes advantage of it. It includes college tours; I don't know much more detail. Lowell has a college center that's staffed by parent volunteers. There's minimal attention from an actual paid counselor; the attitude is largely "you're on your own." The Lowell PTSA and I believe the alumni assn. do sponsor informational programs.

    I don't think I'd choose between Bal and Lowell on that basis -- the choice should be based on where your child can best realize his or her potential, enjoy high school, benefit from it, etc. My son, who just graduated from SOTA, planned (back in 8th grade) to refuse Lowell and go to Bal if he hadn't gotten into SOTA. That was fine with us -- the student needs to buy in to the high school decision.

    2:16, I don't know of any SOTA families who saw private college counselors, but I have good friends with a Lowell '09 daughter who did, and they thought it was a worthwhile expenditure (they consulted with Joanne Levy-Prewitt, who used to do a college admissions column in the Chron). They felt it helped their daughter clarify her priorities and choices. Maybe it's ironic, then, that their daughter is going to her mother's alma mater, Oberlin (as is my son) -- it's not like they NEEDED the consultation to be steered there. But they still say it was worth the money.

  139. What % of Prop 13 $$$ goes to education? How much has the Gubernator swindled from Prop 13 funds for other purposes? Does the Lottery provide funding for education too? Based on median home prices in our fine state, I bet that CA home owners pay among the highest taxes nation wide. It doesn't make mathematical sense that we should be among the lowest for per student spending.

  140. While Caltech is not an "Ivy League" school, per se, it is highly competitive to get into. My husband, an alumni, noted the following comments from Caltech's President made at a recent dinner about the incoming freshman class:

    “Of the 235 new students, 42 percent are women, 73 PERCENT COME FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS, and 98 percent were in the top 10 percent of their class. The middle 50 percent had SAT scores ranging from 2170-2310, based on a perfect score of 2400.”

  141. 6:18, you're misconstruing what Prop. 13 is. It's a LIMIT on the amount of assessed valuation on a property and a LIMIT on the amount of taxes that can be collected, with some other twists (such as the 2/3 requirement for approving the state budget).

    It isn't a pot of money; it's basically the opposite.


    Proposition 13, officially titled the "People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation," was a ballot initiative to amend the constitution of the state of California. The initiative was enacted by the voters of California on June 6, 1978. It was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1 (1992). Proposition 13 is embodied in Article 13A of the California Constitution.

    The most significant portion of the act is the first paragraph, which capped real estate taxes:
    “ Section 1. (a) The maximum amount of any ad valorem tax on real property shall not exceed One percent (1%) of the full cash value of such property. The one percent (1%) tax to be collected by the counties and apportioned according to law to the districts within the counties. ”

    The proposition's passage resulted in a cap on property tax rates in the state, reducing them by an average of 57%. In addition to lowering property taxes, the initiative also contained language requiring a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It also requires two-thirds vote majority in local elections for local governments wishing to raise special taxes. Proposition 13 received an enormous amount of publicity, not only in California, but throughout the United States.[1]

    Passage of the initiative presaged a "taxpayer revolt" throughout the country that is sometimes thought to have contributed to the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980.

  142. ...and no, California homeowners don't pay high taxes compared to other states -- because of Prop. 13. And we reap the punishment in our underfunded schools, shredded safety net, crumbling infrastructure and ongoing state fiscal crises.

  143. CA ranks 45th in terms of percent of home value and 17th in terms of percent of income in real estate taxes. On the other hand revenue is up 56% from 1991 while spending on social services and education is up 160% in that same time frame. Overall spending is up 120%. (Wall St Journal)

  144. Another issue on Prop 13 is that your taxes are based on the value of your house at the time you bought it, not its current value. They can be raised only 2% per year, plus whatever local governments pass by a 2/3 majority--and that 2/3 majority is a high hurdle in most communities. The property can only be reassessed when you do new construction or sell it. There are loopholes that allow houses to be passed to family members without reassessment. I saw an article that said CA did experience increasing property tax revenues every year since Prop 13 passed, since during the mostly boom years, there was so much flipping going on. Whether that "increase" was inflation adjusted I do not know. I highly doubt it since California's schools have gone from the envy of the nation to hanging out with Mississippi at the bottom of the barrel. It can't all be pinned on kids from high-need and ELL communities: California has been an immigration magnet and had wide economic disparities for decades.

    Property tax revenues are now dropping precipitously in non-inflation-adjusted dollars because so many houses being sold at foreclosure for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than was paid for them a few years ago. It's hitting already-skimpy state and local government budgets hard.

  145. re. cal tech. 73 percent is low and actually backs the private argument. 11 percent nationwide and 10 percent or less in CA. A whopping 30 percent in SF go to private school. (says bad things about the SFUSD)
    If things were equal, that 73 percent number should be 89 percent. If things were better at public it should be even higher. Demographics are a huge part of this of course but pointing at that one stat and claiming Public School equality doesn't work with your own stats.

  146. 10:20, I was wondering the same thing and found several online sources that said about 89% of American students attend public school. You're correct to point out that private school populations skew heavily towards kids who come from more advantaged backgrounds and would be, statistically, more likely on track to go to a place like Cal Tech. Even if they are on scholarship, they come from families who are sufficiently focused on education to seek out those schools for their kids.

  147. 10:20, SFUSD has a high private school percentage, but consider:

    -- Higher-income families in urban areas tend to choose private school at a high rate (as compared to higher-income families in non-urban areas or non-higher-income families in urban areas). So to use the percentage to judge SFUSD, you'd need to compare it to other urban areas and control for those comparison cities' percentage of higher-income families. Or you'd need to sort out demographic subgroups in different urban areas and compare their private-school rates.

    -- It's not sound to compare SFUSD's private-school rate to the nation's, or the state's, or the Bay Area's, private-school rate overall, for that reason. National/state/regional rates include areas that may not even have any private schools, areas with extremely well-funded public schools, areas with mostly low-income families who couldn't consider private, etc.

    -- San Francisco has historically been a heavily Catholic community, and Catholics have historically tended to view parochial school as the optimal educational choice even if they lived in an area with highly regarded public schools.

    -- I've seen info on SF private-school rates going back to about 1980, and the rate has been static at about 30% for all that time, for what it's worth.

    And to expand on 10:36's comment, there are many mitigating factors impacting college admission and attendance. Lots of students must make their college choice based largely on finances. Sometimes that means students who were accepted to far more prestigious schools wind up at City College (because it's more affordable to live at home). Sometimes private colleges, including the less-prestigious or at least lesser-known ones, offer better financial packages than public colleges. Some students work the college process themselves without much adult help; some have high-powered assistance. It's way too simplistic to make judgments just based on "graduates from X school go to Y college in greater numbers."

  148. Regarding the above comment. I don't think that SF's private school history has anything to do with kids attending Catholics, or privates for that matter. I do think that there is an overwhelming amount of people who do opt for private - my two kids being in one. If you look at Marin, for example, it has the highest rate of kids in private, yet the schools are excellent. That is a sign that parents can and choose to send their kids to private, so the public-quality education doesn't necessarily hold up. I agree with your comments that people simply can and do afford - and choose - to send their kids to private.

    I don't mean to offend anyone who reads on this site. But really, it's black and white .. at least the top privates (that we had looked at and toured) are simply better than the top publics. I mean, when you are paying in the mid-20's (thousands) per year you had better believe that you would (and should) be getting a lot. That being said, they are definitely not for everyone, diversity for example is a much different picture in public.

  149. What's the private-school rate in Marin? Anyone know how to find it? I would say that if I separated my own friends into socioeconomic strata, the family who would choose private in SF would be far more likely to choose public in Marin (or their demographic twin would). Obviously anecdotal.

    Parents are just more likely to be wary of urban schools, and urban school districts face challenges that are unknown in high-income suburban districts. In other words, I disagree that any family that can afford private will choose it, no matter where they are.

    The definition of "better" is ambiguous, and different to different people, too. 1:41 does acknowledge that diversity has value to a lot of families, and private schools fall short in that area. My kids' private-school friends and relatives are simply not better-educated than my kids are. But private schools DO have more resources and attributes (like the aforementioned college counseling) -- more bells and whistles. Still, anyone pragmatic weighs the costs against the benefits. More bells and whistles vs. somewhat bare-bones -- hundreds of thousands of dollars vs. free -- it's not that simple a calculation.

  150. Just like with publics, there is a huge difference among privates. I don't think that I would send my kids to a middle-tier private vs a good public, but given a top private (regarding the above post) I do think there is a huge difference.

  151. Oh no! You had to go there didn't you? Do we really need to rehash the Top-tier privates are better than public schools debate? Believe it if it makes you feel better. Rely on your tours - because that really showed you a lot. Better is soooo subjective. Better for you, no doubt. Really not better for me though - and yes, I love me children and want what is best for them. You stay where you are and I'll stay where I am. Can we all move on now.

  152. Wikipedia proposes the following definition of "education": "Education in its broadest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character, or physical ability of an individual."

    How does one decide if two children are equally "well-educated"--or not? What does one compare to make that determination? To what extent are educational outcomes products of the child's inherent abilities and to what extent are they products of the school's efforts to maximize what the child does with those abilities? How do you measure familial inputs (e.g., park kid in front of TV or take kid to museum)?

    If public school kid A is just as "well-educated" as private school kid B (however you define
    "well-educated"), that just says how they came out, it is not necessarily reflective of what the respective environments did for the individuals. Maybe kid A loved the public and kid B hated the private. Maybe kid A has greater inherent intelligence than kid B. Maybe kid A is a hard worker and kid B is a goof-off. Maybe if kid A had gone to the same private as kid B, kid A would be way ahead of kid B because of the different opportunities at the private school. Maybe if kid B had gone to the public instead of the private, kid B would be way behind kid A. Or maybe the private school made no difference and kid B could have gone to the public school with the same results as kid A. It depends on the individual schools, not the broad category of "public" versus "private," and it depends on the individual kids.

    Sometimes there seems to be an assumption that all kids are equally educable in all subjects and it's the school's fault or the family's fault if the outcomes are not the same. Nonsense. It's also silly to assume that just because many kids do well at a school, all kids will do well at a school.

  153. 2:59, yes, it's difficult to definitively assess whether someone is well-educated. But you can still make judgments based on what you know about kids, at least by the time they're middle-school age and up. Are they, by whatever standards, well-read? It's not that hard to learn what they read in school and for recreation (IF they read for recreation). Do they seem informed about current events and news? Do they have some knowledge about culture? World language? In my life, math is the last thing I would chat with someone about, but I even hear kids talking about that -- perhaps in describing a notably weird teacher.

    I can envision situations or conversations that would make me realize my kids' education had been substandard compared to their peers'. My kids ARE sometimes pretty lame in their knowledge of popular culture, so sometimes I pick up on those mini-moments of embarrassment -- never seen that show, don't know who that pop singer is.

    Of course much of this -- even most -- depends on the individual kid, but that's part of my point.
    You can't deny that you can make these judgments about your adult peers from conversation too -- often quite easily.

    It's not like I sit there listening intently to everything so I can stamp my assessment on every kid's educational attainment compared to my kids'. But on the other hand, I hear enough to get an idea, by my own standards. I don't think that's invalid.

  154. "Even if they are on scholarship, they come from families who are sufficiently focused on education to seek out those schools for their kids."

    Since when do parents seek out colleges for their kids?

  155. 2:18, it was a simple discussion. Nobody went off the deep end yet and it started with a statistic on CalTech that seemed to say the opposite of what the poster intended as well as a percent statistic that seemed way off kilter with the rest of the country. The private school rate in SF is extremely high and others were discussing why.

  156. 10:20 Very good point but I think if you adjust for the population demographic of a private then the 16% difference is actually low. If you went apples to apples on the socio economic side of private student to public student then I believe the number would actually favor the public scenario.

  157. 10:20 here, yes that is true. Actually, when you use Apples to Apples, the difference does seem explainable. That should even things out public to private. In fact, I think I agree with you that 16 percent difference might even be quite low.

  158. 8;52

    "Since when do parents seek out colleges for their kids?"

    The reference you are responding to was to prep schools, not to colleges. (By the way, right or wrong, some parents do push their kids strongly towards a particular college, often mom or dad's alma mater.) The context was a discussion was about whether attending a private prep school would give a kid an advantage at getting into a "prestigious" college. To make an argument that private school does afford an advantage, someone pointed out that 27% of kids at Cal Tech went to private high schools while only 11% of the population overall went to private high schools. My point in response to that statistic was that kids who attend private prep schools are ahead of the game to get into a school like Cal Tech from the get-go, because either they are already at the top of the socioeconomic heap, or if they are on scholarship at the prep schools, they come from families who are strongly focused on education.

  159. Open forum, eh? Well here's a non-sequitor: Does anyone know of a private K-5 or K-8 school that is spanish immersion in SF? Or even near SF?

  160. What happened to that private school that was supposed to open, I think in the Castro? It was -- not Spanish immersion but Spanish infusion or something?

    But why make the effort to seek out a way to pay money for a private school, when SFUSD has so many excellent Spanish immersion schools?

  161. Private K-8 school in SF? No. But Paul Revere in Bernal Heights is a public K-8. The principal is rockin'. Check it out.

  162. Oh, we're going to shoot for a SFUSD spanish immersion program for sure (my daughter will be enrolling in 2010-2011 - just missed the cutoff). But I was starting to think about back ups if we went 0 for 7 / 0 for 15 like so many others.

  163. Marin Prep is the private, K-8 Spanish infusion school that is definitely opening this fall in the Castro. They have a young kindergarten class. Not sure how young you can be. But it might be a pre-K option for people who want their kid to pass the district Spanish test. They are still accepting students for young-K, K, and maybe first grade.

    It's not immersion. But there are plenty of partial-immersion models that work well in Europe. And a child will still receive more Spanish than in any of the other privates.

  164. Todd, almost all 0/7 and 0/15 families end up getting a school they chose or were willing to accept by the end of the process. The few who really haven't and have posted here have had unusual circumstances of one kind or another. And now we're hearing from those who got their chosen schools for first grade, after hitting the wall for kindergarten.

  165. Todd-
    i think you are smart to have a backup. when you go through this process it is comforting to have many different options/scenarios. (worked for us)

  166. Thx for all your thoughts! I'm optimistic that we'll find a great spanish immersion school here at SFUSD, and we're willing to do wait pools and the like. But esp. after reading all the blog posts here, we *definitely* are going to try to find a suitable, spanish immersion backup. We'll look at the Marin Prep choice, but what we've found in pre-schools is that unless it's immersion, the kids don't speak much spanish, definitely not enough to become fluent. My guess would be that K-5 would be the same way.

  167. "I don't mean to offend anyone who reads on this site. But really, it's black and white .. at least the top privates (that we had looked at and toured) are simply better than the top publics."

    I toured 32 schools in total, and I just can't agree with you. Frex, Live Oak was one of the flavors du jour, but while it has a nice facility, I didn't see clear blue water between what it's students were doing academically and say, McKinley or JOES, never mind the trophy public schools.

    Also, I don't know what the metrics are that you're using. On language immersion, for instance, options from SFUSD far outstrip the private sector. See Todd's question below.

    "I mean, when you are paying in the mid-20's (thousands) per year you had better believe that you would (and should) be getting a lot."

    An LMVH handbag costs a buttload more than a generic, but they both do the same job of holding one's stuff. Similarly, when you adjust for socioeconomic status, privates do a slightly worse job of educating kids than do public schools.

    You seem to be confusing a parent belief in that they've getting quality for their money and the actual quality of the school.

    Are parents in the elite privates getting more? Probably. But not $25K difference (unless you're factoring in access to social networks). Probably more like $5K difference in enrichment programs.

    So save the $25K, and buy the enrichment options directly - the SF/Oakland/Berkeley area is filled with starving artists and musicians, and a fraction of what you're spending on private school would buy a sizable number of their hours for one-on-one teaching.

  168. "Thx for all your thoughts! I'm optimistic that we'll find a great spanish immersion school here at SFUSD, and we're willing to do wait pools and the like. But esp. after reading all the blog posts here, we *definitely* are going to try to find a suitable, spanish immersion backup."

    Hi Todd,

    I'm not aware of a private Spanish Immersion option close to SF, not to say there isn't one. In general, you'd need half the intake to be native or fluent Spanish speakers for the immersion program to be successful (as then the playground language will be predominantly Spanish), and there just may not be sufficient demand for a private immersion option in that demographic. Maybe in a few years, though; it is a gap in the market.

    However, you do have the selection of 8 public Spanish Immersion options. If your kid has some facility with Spanish, get them tested by SFUSD for their proficiency, although be aware the test is pretty stringent. If they test out as proficient, they have a much, much better chance of getting into an immersion program.

    Good luck!

  169. School starts in 6 weeks! I have questions about packing lunch! Buying lunch! lunch in general!

    We've been pretty lucky (spoiled?) that the pre-school DD is at includes a hot lunch and 2 snacks per day. Packing a lunch is one headache I am *NOT* looking forward to.

    Is the hot lunch menu the same for all schools each day? Is it individual for each school? And, do parents here use it all the time, 1-2x per week as needed to fill in gaps, or only as an absolute emergency? (I remember as a kid hot lunch was somehow a special treat because I never got to buy it, even though in retrospect it was probably totally disgusting fried greasy gooey stuff.)

    Any tips/tricks?

  170. Can you really tell much about the quality of education a school can provide based on a tour? I have a hard time believing that. Maybe you can tell which have nicer facilities - library, gym, and otehr things you can actually see.

  171. Hana's mom, SFUSD school lunch is probably not that different from what you remember. I know adults and high schoolers who say it's disgusting, and kids who look forward to it (or at least to their favorites).

    The Student Nutrition page on the SFUSD website has info, including some menus:

    For info on the meal program: -- this website is mostly about political advocacy for more funding for our desperately underfunded school meals.

  172. Hana's Mom: Our private school does not offer a food program, so I have been packing a box with his lunch and snack every day for the last two years. We tried experimenting last year, and finally settled on this: a thermos of either spaghetti with marinara and meatballs or mac and cheese, a yogurt, a banana or strawberries, and a bottle of water. He likes to eat a substantial breakfast at home, so what I pack keeps him going from 8:30 to 6:00. Maybe other kids require more variety, but I'm amazed at how simple it's been once we found a reasonably balanced combination of foods that he likes. I remember eating a bread-and-butter sandwich every day for about 3 years in elementary school. Advice: Avoid those flexible plastic-coated zipper boxes in the shape of the old metal lunchboxes we had as kids if you can. Little kids love the cute designs, but it's very difficult to rid them of the stench of spilled food and they don't hold up very well.

    Todd: I would strongly encourage you to have a private backup if it is not a financial hardship. It's wonderful to hear so many SFUSD success stories. However, my sense from talking to people--all over, not just public school refugees at our school--is that the level of dissatisfaction with SFUSD elementary schools, while remarkably low considering, is not just limited to a tiny minority of people in unusual circumstances. In fact it's higher than some people would like you to believe. SFUSD budgets are shrinking in the face of increasing demand. Class sizes will be larger. It's going to be a major challenge to avoid at least some erosion of the significant gains of recent years.

    I am not saying you won't be happy with an SFUSD elementary--most seem to be--or that you will necessarily be happy at a private kindergarten, only that absolutist talk, happy or negative, should be taken with a grain of salt and it's smart to give yourself options if you can. Good luck with getting a Spanish immersion program you like.

  173. Hana's mom: Whatever you decide about the hot lunches, unless the school/class has a set snack program, SEND YOUR CHILD WITH SNACKS. It's a really long day. Snacks help.

  174. "Todd: I would strongly encourage you to have a private backup if it is not a financial hardship."

    I'd echo this. Have a Plan B and Plan C.

    [However, be aware that the most popular independents, like SF Friends or CAIS, are just as much of a crapshoot getting in as e.g. Alvarado or West Portal. So widen your options, e.g. such as including the parochial schools.]

    While I'm very happy with the SFUSD lottery pick I got, having a backup plan made the wait till March that much more bearable.
    Plus, shopping around will make you more comfortable with your choice.

    Right now, my feeling is that if you offered me a voucher for any private school in SF instead of the school I got, I'd turn the voucher down. [Well, I might take it and then auction it off on Ebay.]

    "It's wonderful to hear so many SFUSD success stories. However, my sense from talking to people--all over, not just public school refugees at our school--is that the level of dissatisfaction with SFUSD elementary schools, while remarkably low considering, is not just limited to a tiny minority of people in unusual circumstances."

    Understand your perspective, but won't Todd only find out that an SFUSD school doesn't work for him and his kid, assuming he gets his kid into his desired program, after the kid's entered kindergarten?

    "In fact it's higher than some people would like you to believe."

    This may be true, but remember that it's not that long ago that sending your kids to SFUSD schools was considered by the chattering classes as close to child abuse. Only a decade ago Alvarado was considered unacceptable. If there's too much happytalk about the SFUSD schools, it's 'cos there was a lot of unhappytalk previously.

  175. " Anonymous said...
    Can you really tell much about the quality of education a school can provide based on a tour?"

    Not really, but at least you can get a gut feeling for whether your child might "fit in" there if you know your child well. Every school has it's own vibe. If a school seems rigid and tired, it probably is. If it feels like a ripe learning environment full of excited happy kids, that's a school I'd pick. Safe to say in that case, the kids are probably learning and happy to be there.

  176. "Can you really tell much about the quality of education a school can provide based on a tour?"

    No, but it beats making the assessment based on what the friend of a sister of the cousin of the brother-in-law of someone you met at your kid's local playground said about it, or somebody's anonymous comment about it on or here or on yelp.

    Of course, it's only going to be one component of making a judgement. But it's a very valuable one.

  177. Tours are a helpful component of your judgment. It can start to seem like a waste of time. Tour fatigue sets in and the presentations all start to sound the same after a while. You may start to notice that you only love the schools with near-impossible odds. Still, only a tour can give you your own sense of the neighborhood around the school and the energy and enthusiasm at the school. You get a sense, albeit limited, of whether it's a place you'd like to be involved in. You might be able to talk candidly with some parents you run into in the hallways. I won't name names, but last year I saw two schools, neither oversubscribed at the time. They seemed to have fairly similar student populations, academic approaches and results, but as it happened, during my visits, each school had an incident with a child who had not taken his medication that morning. One principal handled it in a kind, calm, efficient way--the kid was cared for and disruption minimized. The other principal allowed the situation to drag on and escalate. You can bet that one of those schools stayed on our list and the other did not. Unless you have very high risk tolerance and a backup plan, I would suggest that you tour at least one 9 or 10 API school for comparison's sake, but focus your energy on schools with APIs of 6 and under, because those are the schools you are likely to get. Remember to look at the SARC detail because kids in your demographic may do far better than the raw API suggests.

  178. regarding lunch, at Marin Day our kids seem to eat better than I do at school. Organic meals with vegetarian options and open healthy snacks (apples oranges) placed all over campus in baskets. There is the rare one that brings their lunch but for the most part they all eat the hot lunch.

  179. About school lunch (for Hana's mom and anyone else interested) - yes, the menu is the same for all of the public elementary schools; if it is chicken nuggets day, every school will be serving them. A handful of elementary schools also have a salad bar; nearly all of the middle and high schools have them.

    Your school will likely send home the monthly menu, but you can also see it online here
    You might want to bookmark this site so you can find it easily each month.

    I packed lunches for my own 3 kids for years (starting in preschool), so it was a happy day when my younger two began getting lunch at school. I would suggest you look over the menu with your child and see if there are a few things which she thinks she would like to try; it will make your life so much easier if she gets the school lunch at least a few days a week.

    Due to the meal program being underfunded by the state and federal government, the quality of the food is not what we would all like (yet) but it is nutritious, much more so in fact than many of the lunches I see coming from home (Lunchables, anyone?)

    There is fresh fruit every day (or else unsweetened applesauce, or pineapple packed in juice, not syrup); last year all of the bread and rolls were whole grain and we are hoping to have that again this year. The entrees are the stuff kids like - pizza, nuggets, spaghetti, burgers - and the milk does not have bovine growth hormones. There is also a hot breakfast available at school.

    Do fill out the free meal application which comes home at the start of school; even if your own family earns too much to qualify, it makes the process much less embarrassing for the kids who really do need the free lunch if everyone fills out and returns a form. That way, the low-income kids don't stand out when they turn in their form. Kinders are oblivious, but the slightly older kids start to pick up on this kind of thing in just a few more years, so it really does make for a less stigmatizing atmosphere if every student in the school fills out the form and turns it in, even those who know they won't qualify.

    Finally, there is a ton of information at, and not all of it is what someone here called "political advocacy" for higher funding for school meals. If you still have questions about school food and can't find the answers at this site, feel free to e-mail me directly at nestwife at owlbaby dot com.

  180. For those of us who have children with severe food allergies or autoimmune diseases that are set off by particular food ingredients, with whom should we speak regarding lunch possibilities? I admit, I personally prefer to pack my child's lunch, but in the future my child might want school lunch just to be like everyone else. Additionally, what about children in the same situation whose parents can't make lunch everyday?

    There are no ingredients listed on the lunches. Even if there were a safe lunch for my child, I would never know without being informed of all ingredients. Shouldn't this information be provided, at the very least online somewhere? I don't imagine it would be that difficult of a task to list ingredients.

    I will disclose here that my child has Celiac disease. It's been in the news lately, so I believe more children who suffer from it will be diagnosed in the coming years. School districts should be prepared for this. Health, behavior, and academic issues can be caused by such conditions. For these children, staying healthy in school can become quite an ordeal. So who is the point person with whom we can discuss such things?

  181. "You can bet that one of those schools stayed on our list and the other did not. Unless you have very high risk tolerance and a backup plan, I would suggest that you tour at least one 9 or 10 API school for comparison's sake, but focus your energy on schools with APIs of 6 and under,"

    Nitpick: these are school ranking index you're talking about, not APIs. APIs are in the 650-900 range.

    "because those are the schools you are likely to get. Remember to look at the SARC detail because kids in your demographic may do far better than the raw API suggests."

    All sound advice, although I'd say that there's about a 20-30% chance of getting into a "trophy" school. Maybe list 2 trophy schools (like West Portal or Alvarado or AFY), and then for the remainder schools in the 700-850 API range.

    The advice on digging down into the SARC scores is very sound; for instance when you look at the breakdown by demographic group, Monroe scores better than Rooftop. Raw API scores or school rankings are influenced by the demographics of the school, for instance if one school has a higher %age students from disadvantaged socioeconomic status.

  182. Do you really think someone without a sibling preference or special need has a 20-30% chance of getting a trophy school? That seems optimistic to me. Agreed it probably does not hurt to list 1 or 2 trophies you like as long as you have several more realistic choices on your list. When you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous that SFUSD kindergarten is like applying to college where you go for "reach" schools, "likely" schools and "safety" schools.

  183. "Do you really think someone without a sibling preference or special need has a 20-30% chance of getting a trophy school? That seems optimistic to me."

    Yup, based on the numbers of applicants and experience this year in my social group. I figure there are 15-20 trophy schools out of the 70 in SFUSD. 20/70 is about 28%. Take off a third of that for sibs, and you get that about 20% of first time intake are going to get into the 20-odd trophy schools in the district.

  184. Regarding children with special food needs, Student Nutrition Services can make special arrangements for your child only if you qualify for free or reduced price meals. You can see the income eligibility guidelines here:

    Your "household" includes everyone who lives with you, not just your spouse and kids, so if you have an older live-in relative, or an out of work childhood friend of your husband's crashing indefinitely on your couch, they count as a household member.

    Assuming you qualify for free or reduced price meals, contact Student Nutrition Services at 749-3604 and ask to talk with someone about your child's special dietary needs. They will work with your child's doctor to develop an acceptable meal plan. Again, this is available only for those who qualify for subsidized meals.

    If your family does not qualify, then eating the school lunch would not be a realistic option for your child. The meals are not designed to accomodate a condition such as Celiac disease. Meals sent from home will be your best bet. You will also want to discuss the situation with your child's teacher, because there are many events at school at which food is served, generally some kind of party where parents send things in; if you consent, the teacher may want to let other parents know about your child's dietary needs so that those who care to might send food for sharing which would be in accordance with your child's needs.

    I hope this is helpful; good luck!

  185. "When you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous that SFUSD kindergarten is like applying to college where you go for "reach" schools, "likely" schools and "safety" schools."

    I think that's inevitable in a situation where you're allocating by lottery and have a lot of possible choices, rather than "can you afford to live in XYZ neighbourhood".

    The change is that the field of trophy and solid SFUSD elementary schools is quite a bit larger than it was even 5 years ago.

    Also, it's the same situation in the independents and the more popular parochials. 2/3rds of St. Brendan *parishoner* applicants to kindergarten were waitlisted this year, and there were 12 applicants for every slot at SF Friends, which menat SF Friends had a lower acceptable ratio than Stanford. So maybe college applications is not a bad analogy.

  186. It depends on what you mean by "trophy school". If you mean Clarendon, Claire Lilianthal and Rooftop, I actually don't know anyone who got into those schools in Round I who did not have a sibling preference or a diversity criteria point. Some people I know did get off of the waitlist in the 10 day count.

    But if you mean neighborhood schools like Grattan, Peabody, Sunset and Lakeshore (actually the last two are technically alternative schools), sure, I would say the 20% (or possibly more) chance is accurate.

  187. Actually, I know folks personally who got into each of those schools last year: Rooftop round 1, CL GE off the wait list, Clarendon JBBP round 1, Alvarado SI, round 1.

    Not one of these folks had kids with older siblings nor any diversity factor--they were just lucky.

    Personally I dislike the term "trophy schools". None of these schools even made our list, but to each his/her own....

  188. To the parent of the child with Celiac, I don't know about the SFUSD but several private schools have taken this into account. At one school I know, there is a whole gluten free menu where they make specific lunches for several kids, two that have Celiac. They also make sure the prep work (knives bowls etc) don't touch gluten so there is no cross contamination. The staff also has epi pens but families are expected to provide them for the individual student. It actually works quite well. The student walks up and knows the kitchen staff and his lunch is ready to go and already set aside when he gets there. Thus, no social issues on ordering or anything either.

  189. "It depends on what you mean by "trophy school". If you mean Clarendon, Claire Lilianthal and Rooftop, I actually don't know anyone who got into those schools in Round I who did not have a sibling preference or a diversity criteria point."

    Nope. I know personally folks who got into Alvarado SI and GE, Clarendon, AFY, West Portal, Miraloma on Round 1. Far more than I expected, in fact.

    For trophy schools (I also don't like the term, but using it for shorthand), I'm including the three above, plus Grattan, Argonne, AFY, West Portal, Alvarado, Buena Vista, Francisco Scott Key, Peabody, J.Y. Chin, Lakeshore, Lawton, Miraloma, R.L. Stevenson, Commodore Sloat, Sherman, Ulloa, etc. Basically, those with absolute API ranks between 8-10.

  190. 1:19pm--
    I personally know two parents whose kids got into Clarendon and do NOT have a diversity point. Just your middle class white parents!

    Yes, it does happen, people get in
    without a diversity point. One of them lives down the street from the school, the other does not- a bit further in the city.

  191. 11:27 here-- the kids got in Round 1.

  192. Somebody does get in to "trophy schools;" the point is not that it never happens, only that the odds are very long. If you look at this year's demand for the 20 most requested Ks in Round 1 (which inadvertently omits Grattan), 20 requests per non-sibling place is not unusual, and the average number of requests per non-sibling place looks to be around 15. I'm sure the fact that each family can request up to 7 schools does something to the math, but I still have a hard time believing that the odds of getting a place in kindergarten at one of the so-called "trophy" schools go up as high as 30%.

  193. "Somebody does get in to "trophy schools;" the point is not that it never happens, only that the odds are very long."

    The odds are not 50%, but they're not 10%, either. If the trophy schools are the top 25-30% of schools in SFUSD (by my estimation), then 25%-30% of the incoming kindergarten kids will go there.

  194. If you're a sibling of an enrolled child, the odds are 100% you can go to a "trophy school." It's the non-siblings who face the longer odds. There are 1338 places at the top 20 schools. Of those, slightly under 1000 places were left for non-siblings this year. There were over 4400 non-sibling applicants for those places in Round 1. Under 25% will get places at the 20 most-requested schools; over 75% will not get places in those schools. True, it's not as bad as 10% odds, but it's not so good that it would be prudent to list only the most popular schools on their list of 7. Unless you are sibling, odds are still pretty strong that you will get a school with a Great Schools ranking of 6 or under, and therefore it makes sense to focus your tours and attention on those schools.

    Here are some schools ranked 7 and up with somewhat less demand for general ed programs. I did not list Spanish or Chinese bilingual ed (as opposed to immersion) programs, and statistics about sibling spaces were not available

    John Yehall Chin 152 apps/22 spots
    Garfield 39 apps/22 spots
    Francis Scott Key 240 apps/88 spots
    Lafayette 328 apps/88 spots
    Gordon Lau 178 apps/44 spots
    Longfellow 125 apps/88 spots
    Moscone 142 apps/22 spots
    New Traditions 150 apps/34 spots
    Jean Parker 141 apps/22 spots
    George Peabody 177 apps/44 spots
    Sherman 503 apps/66 sots
    Spring Valley 117 apps/22 spots
    Sutro 154 apps/22 spots
    ER Taylor 106 apps/44 spots
    Visitacion Valley 114 apps/66 spots
    Yick Wo 166 apps/44 spots

    The low number of requests for Garfield, Longfellow, Taylor, Visitacion Valley and Yick Wo seem particularly puzzling. There's no bus service to any of those schools anywhere near where we live and the drive would be horrendous--maybe that's a factor for some--but there is some bus service.

  195. It depends on what you mean by "trophy school". If you mean Clarendon, Claire Lilianthal and Rooftop, I actually don't know anyone who got into those schools in Round I who did not have a sibling preference or a diversity criteria point. Some people I know did get off of the waitlist in the 10 day count.

    While this may describe your experience, it cannot be universal. After all, Clarendon, Lillienthal and Rooftop are over-subscribed by white, middle- and upper middle-class families. So someone with few/no diversity points must be getting in - otherwise the schools would better reflect SFUSD's demographics.

  196. "There are 1338 places at the top 20 schools. Of those, slightly under 1000 places were left for non-siblings this year. There were over 4400 non-sibling applicants for those places in Round 1."

    You mean 4400 First-place applicants, yes?

    So the non-sibling cohort is running around 18% by your numbers. (

    "The low number of requests for Garfield, Longfellow, Taylor, Visitacion Valley and Yick Wo seem particularly puzzling. There's no bus service to any of those schools anywhere near where we live and the drive would be horrendous--maybe that's a factor for some--but there is some bus service."

    Taylor and Longfellow are in the far south of the city. Longfellow is charmless, although good academically, and both Taylor and Longfellow are large schools. Yick Wo is in Chinatown, IIRC, so driving there would be the suxxor, although I'd have thought it would be a good option if you were working downtown.

  197. Actally Yick Wo is in North Beach.

  198. I'm looking for information/perspective on taking high school AP classes. I have heard about overload/burnout in high school students stressed by the need to make their college applications stand out from the masses. What is the reality?

    Did your kids take AP classes in high school? What were the advantages/disadvatages of the courses? Did they enjoy the challenge? If the classes are not available because they are not offered or there is not enough space, can the student take commuity college classes for credit in high school?

    I went to a high school that offered 0 AP classes and was able to get into and graduate from a good college and go on to finish graduate school. My parents encouraged me to go to college and helped me look at and choose where I applied, but we didn't obsess over it. I wonder whether the competitive college admissions process that you hear about today is an offshoot of the more intensely competitive parenting that goes on today.