Monday, August 31, 2009

Hot topic: SFUSD meal application

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:

Every fall, school officials and school food advocates urge SFUSD families to return the school meal application form, writing “not interested” if they know they don’t meet the income criteria for subsidized lunch.

This year, we are recession victims and are filling out the form for real. So now I know – this form is awful. Even though it’s pretty short, it’s ugly, intimidating and user-unfriendly. That’s not the fault of our school district – even though the form is customized for San Francisco Unified, its contents are mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program.

Many school food advocates are calling for the feds to eliminate the form and the massive bureaucracy that it creates and just feed every student free who shows up in the cafeteria. Among other benefits, that would mean the caf workers could actually pay attention to providing lunch for the kids, rather than devoting much of their energy to the “counting and claiming” process – keeping track of the record-keeping for qualified students to ensure that no “cheats” get a school lunch they don’t “deserve.” The nation’s current best-known school food insider, Chef Ann Cooper, has joined that call.

Here is an explanation of why families who think they qualify are urged to fill out the form (even if their kids aren’t likely to eat in the caf), and why all families are asked to return it, even with “not interested” on it. It benefits all our schools and our kids when those forms are returned!

Why do parents need to fill out a meal application?
Student Nutrition Services (SNS), the district department responsible for providing school meals, is asking all families to fill out the meal application, even those who know they won’t qualify based on family income. See below for more details.
SNS has annual expenses of about $16 million. Their main source of income is from federal and state reimbursements for breakfasts and lunches served to students who qualify for free and reduced price meals. Without a meal application on file, SNS cannot receive the full government reimbursement for those meals.
Based on family size and income, as reported on the meal application, students are designated eligible for free or reduced price meals, or they are designated as being on “paid” status (meaning not reimbursable). The “paid” category includes not only students whose family income is too high to qualify for reimbursement, but also students whose families have not filled out a form at all. SNS receives just 25 cents from the government to offset the cost of “paid” lunches, while total reimbursement for a student qualified for free meals is $2.78. Students on “paid” status are expected to pay for their school meals. However, not all of them do so.
How will my school benefit if parents fill out the meal app?
-- Schools receive money based on the figures that come from these forms.
-- Free and reduced lunch counts determine individual school eligibility for
Federal Title 1 funding.
-- There are other grants and award available to schools based on percentages of students enrolled in the NSLP.
-- Higher rates of students qualified for free or reduced price meals brings higher WSF funding.
-- Having a free/reduced lunch participation rate which accurately reflects the economic status of the school’s students ensures a more accurate “similar schools” ranking on the Academic Performance Index.
-- Eligible students can receive breakfast as well as lunch.
-- Often school lunch is more nutritious than what students bring from home, because the school lunch must comply with USDA nutrition standards.
-- Studies show students who eat a nutritious breakfast and lunch learn better and behave better in school.
-- Enrolled students pay a greatly reduced rate for each AP exam they take, and are eligible to participate in other paid programs at reduced or no cost.
-- Higher participation in the lunch line means better quality food for everyone!
-- Student Nutrition Service is working to improve the meal quality at all schools, but changes require money. The budget for SNS comes from government reimbursement and from student’s payments for each meal served. No revenue is generated when students don’t sign up or use the lunch program, when students buy their food off campus or from vending machines, or when students do not pay for their lunches even when they should. If more students enroll and use school meal programs, more money will be available to order fresher, more appealing food for every student’s lunch, whether they are eating the NSLP lunch or buying a la carte food from the Beanery.
(This information is available as a flyer which can be printed out at:
What about families who know they won’t qualify because their income is too high?
SNS is asking all families to fill out the meal application, even those who know they won’t qualify based on family income. Those families can simply provide the student’s name and write “NOT INTERESTED” prominently on the top of the form. The reason why families are being asked to return the form even if they are not interested, is that SNS has determined that fear of being identified as “poor” created a stigma for students returning the form in prior years. Having every student return a form eliminates this stigma, and makes it more likely that students who would qualify for reimbursement will return their forms without embarrassment.
Why not just add a “not interested” box on the form to be checked off if the family knows they won’t qualify?
The contents of the meal applications are tightly regulated by the state and federal government. No changes can be made to the form with prior approval. SNS did ask for permission to add such a box to their form, but permission was denied by the state.
Why should a family fill out the form if their child doesn’t want to eat in the cafeteria?
If there is any chance that the student might qualify for reimbursable meals, the family should fill out the entire form, even if the child won’t eat in the caf, because every qualifying child raises the school’s free and reduced percentage. It is on this percentage that funding decisions are based. So being identified as qualified helps the school even if the child never sets foot in the caf. Of course, if the child does decide to eat school meals sometimes, then that helps too, by bringing in more reimbursement money for SNS, which is then available to fund better quality food.

For more information on the meal applications and all other aspects of SFUSD school food, go to, the volunteer-maintained website of the SFUSD Student Nutrition & Physical Activity Committee.

-- Caroline Grannan, Parent, San Francisco School of the Arts, and member, SFUSD Student Nutrition & Physical Activity Committee

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hot topic: 10 day count

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:
I'm still on the wait pool for my number-one school and am hoping to get a call this week or next, though I have no idea if EPC actually will call. I'm curious if others are still waiting and if there has been any movement off wait pools yet.

Free Workshop: Top Things You Need to Know to Navigate the Special Education System

Free Workshop sponsored by
Support for Families of Children With Disabilities

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Top Things You Need to Know to Navigate the Special Education

Parents and professionals are invited to attend this workshop that will explore
how to be an active participant throughout the IEP process, including assessment
and the determination of placement, programs, and services. Presenters will
discuss how to get organized and get educated!

Presented by: Robin Hansen (Parent & SEAT Advocate )
and Katy Franklin (Parent) from the San Francisco Unified School District
Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC).

John O'Connell High School, 2355 Folsom Street, (@20th Street)

Limited parking is available in the schoolyard -- Enter from Harrison
Street (between 19th and 20th Streets).
8:30 am-12:30 pm

In addition to providing childcare and interpretation services, a light
breakfast is offered to all those who pre-register.
RSVP required. Call 415-920-5040 to sign up for a workshop, clinic or
for more information, to reserve childcare or interpretation.

Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council Sponsors 'Back to School Night'

The new SFUSD school year has now begun, and that means that the public school kids in our neighborhood are back to being students again. So what a better time to have an event to showcase the public schools in our neighborhood? The “Back to School Night” General Meeting sponsored by HANC will take place on Thursday, September 10, at 7 PM, at the Park Branch Library (1833 Page Street between Cole and Shrader Streets).
At this meeting you will have the opportunity to hear and have exchanges with representatives from the following schools: Grattan; New Traditions; McKinley; and the brand new Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila. Topics will include: general school overviews; special features about the schools; Green Learning; and possible volunteer opportunities for neighborhood residents. In addition, a representative from the SFUSD Admissions Office will discuss enrollment issues. And, of course, there will be Q&A.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Are you faced with a big decision?

I have heard from a few parents who got calls from SFUSD in the past few days. These parents are faced with big decisions. Should I stay at the school where my child attended school the past five days or should I switch him to my first-choice school where a spot just opened up? Should I pull my child out of the private school to go to that public school I never thought I'd get into?

Please feel free to share your dilemmas. A lot of readers have already been faced with these situations and had to make similar decisions last year, so throw out your questions and I'm sure someone will respond.

Hot topic: SFUSD makes changes for next year

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:
Next school year will start on August 16, 2010. SFUSD has changed its policy, from a 10 day wait to a 3 day wait, to drop any students who are not at the school where they are enrolled. What that means is any students who are still on vacation on August 19 will lose their place at Clarendon (or any other district school.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Creative Arts Charter School has a new Web site

As we kick off a new school year, I hope you'll take a moment to look at the newly redesigned web site for Creative Arts Charter School (CACS).

CACS is a public SFUSD K-8th grade charter, open to all via a separate random lottery that runs parallel to the main SFUSD lottery.

We're just one great option in a great District, but sometimes we're also SFUSD's best-kept secret.

The site gives us a fresh new public face and will give you a lot of wonderful information about our school.

Ok, I'm a little biased -- I'm the school's Director and parent of two current students -- but I hope you'll still feel inspired to take a look and decide for yourselves.

Liz Jaroslow

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back-to-school advice for parents with kids in elementary school

An SFGate article with tips for parents with kids in elementary school:

Carver Elementary gives kids warm welcome

Today, SFGate is running a story about the first day of school at SFUSD's Carver Elementary School.

Here's a link:

Hot topic: Questions to ask on school tours

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:
It is just about that time to start touring public schools for my daughters entry into K next fall. I know how the lottery works etc, and I have a list of schools already want to tour, but I am wondering if any parents who have gone through the process could recommend any good questions to ask in order to get a good feel for the school, teachers and principal. Anything you are glad you asked? Anything you wish you had asked but did not?

Monday, August 24, 2009

First-day-of-school photos

You'll notice a First-Day-of-School photo gallery in the right-hand margin. These photos are from last year. Feel free to email me photos of your kids' first-day-of-school from this year and I'll add them to the gallery. You can email them to Thanks! Best, Kate

First day of school: Share your stories

Today was the first day of school for SFUSD stories. Please feel free to share your experiences and stories in the comments.

Parents rescue inner-city Potrero Hill school

Be sure to check out this story from Sunday's SF Chronicle about SFUSD school Daniel Webster:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hot topic: SFUSD kindergarten welcome

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
My kid is starting Kindergarten at an SFUSD school and I have heard nothing from her school. No welcome picnic, no getting started packet, no student handbook or policy manual. I have no idea how to get her signed up for school lunches, whether she is supposed to bring a snack, if there will be naps like when I was in Kindergarten, or what she is expected to bring on her first day.

Am I expecting too much? Is this just a problem with our school and others are doing a better job of welcoming and informing new parents?

I mean, everything else we have done with our kids (preschool, summer camp, lessons) has involved some sort of basic 'what you need to know' before sessions begin. I can't believe SFUSD just expects you to wander in on the first day completely in the dark.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hot topic: Where to start for 2010

An SF K Files visitor put together the following guide for parents starting the search for a kindergarten:

Where to Start for 2010?

While there are still parents who are waiting to know where there child is going to kindergarten next week, there are those of us who are looking to Fall of 2010. We all know that the SFUSD enrollment process is ... trying, but with a little bit of knowledge, parents can make the process less so. The problem is getting that information. The SFUSD website is full of information, but some of it is "spun" and that makes it hard to believe what they say. However, there is good info, if you can find it.

Despite the assertions to the contrary, location of a school is very important to families. Here's a map of all the schools in the district (including charter schools):

Another very important thing to consider is the quality of the school. With mandatory testing, new parents can easily see which schools have students who perform well on these tests. These results probably don't say "how good" a school is, but they are the best we have. (It's also notable that these scores are not available from the district website. They have "highlights" which list the 7 schools that got a 10, but don't list the 12 schools that got a 1.) Here are the raw scores, from the state.

For more detail, the district does have some good breakdown of how a school is doing with English and math. It's not easy to compare the results, but the detail is good after having a set of schools in mind:

As at least one regular will comment, these scores are more likely to predict mother's level of education and household income. The district doesn't seem to make that data public, but they do have racial/ethnic data here:

The most important thing however, is the likelihood of getting in. It's dog-eat-dog out there, and it seems like black magic getting into a "good" school. As parents, we don't have very much good info, but the 5-year historical demand data is as good as we can get:

The Adams' spreadsheet can be helpful in evaluating your choices and likelihood of landing an acceptable school in the first round:

For those of you interested in language programs, the district has an enviable number of in-class immersion and enrichment programs. The official list is here:

There are also many schools that provide aftercare language classes. Unfortunately, these are not tracked by the district, but the SF-AME multilingual parents group has collected a list of programs. Yahoo Groups registration is required to get the file:

Good luck, and may you get into your first-choice school (as long as it's not my first choice school, that is).

Hot topic: Schools with openings

An SF K Files visitor suggested that I start the following thread:

As people spend this week volunteering to set up classrooms across the district, they're getting early looks at classroom lists. Perhaps a topic on what schools have openings?

For example, we appear to have a few openings in the first grade Mandarin immersion classes at Starr King. No previous Mandarin experience is required for first grade (though count on your kid being a little confused at the beginning, but they'll pick it up quickly.) Anyone who's interested should call the school and then EPC. We know of at least two families that aren't coming back, but which don't appear to have officially removed themselves from the rolls yet. The seats won't officially come open until the ten day count, we believe. Everything could change in a heartbeat, of course.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hot topic: Public school recess

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:

My daughter starts kindergarten at a public school in August. She's so excited. But I'm a little bit worried about her dealing with recess. She's a sweet girl, a little shy. Not good at sticking up for herself. I have heard that the public school recess can be rough. I hear that there aren't enough teachers out on the yard. How can I prepare her for recess? What do you think schools can do to improve recess? I might want to get involved at my daughter's school. Also, do you think recess is bad as some parents make it out to be?

Registration now required

Longtime readers of The SF K Files know that I have seriously considered requiring registration on the site. At one point, I introduced registration but later turned it off after so many readers convinced me that this was the one place where they could freely share their feelings. I also introduced a poll where readers voted on whether to require registration. They voted it down.

I'm now introducing registration again because there's a serious spam problem within the comments, and it's becoming cumbersome to read. It's openID registration so you don't need to identify yourself by name and you're free to choose any username. But this will allow me to block spam.

Thank you!


Hot topic: How can we get more parents to choose public over private?

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
It seems as if there has been a movement of parents returning to our city's public schools. This is wonderful and the schools are improving. Yet still so many families are opting for private over public. Our city has more kids in private school than any other city in the country. It seems as if in order to have a top-notch district we need even more families to choose public. But how do we get them to make this choice?

Hot topic: How hard should you lobby to get into a school after school starts?

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
Although our child has a spot at a private school for kindergarten, we are keeping our fingers crossed for our wait pool public school choice. I would be interested in people's thoughts on how hard we should lobby our wait pool school after school starts. Does it even matter? Does the school want to hear from us, or have we all been assigned a number and the school will just go down the list as a spot becomes available?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hot topic: How to make that 7:50 a.m. start time!

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
With only a few weeks until our daughter's first day of kindergarten, I'm beginning to wonder how we're all going to get out the door in time to make our 7:50 start time. Up to now we've had a later, flexible pre-school start time. Now we'll have to get everyone up, do breakfast, brush teeth, dress, braid hair, get little sister ready, etc., etc, all by 7:30-ish.

Perhaps some veterans from last year could offer tips for creating relatively stress-free school mornings. It would be great to hear from families who have struggled with this and then found a way!

Hot topic: Switching schools after school starts

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:

We're enrolled in an acceptable school for K but it's going to be a tough commute. We're on a waiting list for a school that's closer to home but it's likely we won't hear anything until after school starts, if at all.

My question:
If you plan on switching your child to the waitlist school if/when you get in, how are you mentally preparing your child for Kindergarten? Do you tell your child not to get too attached because he/she may not stay there? Do you give your child the impression that the school you don't intent to stay at is "his" or "her" school?
It's been difficult to know how to approach the topic because we don't know where our son is going to end up. We *have* to switch to our waitlisted school if & when we get in because of the shorter commute.

Hot topic: Swine flu and back to school

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
I have been thinking about this topic for awhile. What do people think of swine flu in public schools? I was ready to ask our principal what the policy was, when voila! there is mention in our newsletter that it is indeed at our school (public, grade school). I know the mandated course of action is the same as regular flu (after researching) but still feel a little uneasy with it, especially because I am pregnant with #3 due around Christmas. What do other parents think? What would they do? etc. Perhaps you can re-word this to sound a bit better than what I've put together, and also, please keep me anonymous, it isn't hard to figure out which school given that it is the middle of summer.