Thursday, September 24, 2009

Debbie's Story: My Plan

I thought writing here would help me organize my thoughts, and it has, but it has also caused me to obsess about this process….every day. I know, get a life! Well, my obsessing has led to a plan, and here it is:

1) Make a list of what’s important in a school (e.g., close to home, start time, before/after school program, etc.), and rank order the list.

2) Don’t tour a million schools. It won’t be the best use of time/energy. Instead, tour a handful of decent or up-and-coming schools considered 2nd or 3rd tier that meet my top three needs. Tour only one or two big buzz schools just to see what the hub bub is all about. During the tours, ask good questions. There’s a great thread posted last year called "Tips for tour guides" – read it to make the most out of a school tour.

3) Determine comfort level with risk. This is where I really need to be honest with myself and will probably lead to my changing my original list of schools to tour.

If my tolerance for risk is LOW, do NOT put any big buzz schools on the list of seven on my application, but DO put all schools considered 2nd or 3rd tier (ones I’d be willing to live with of course) and/or schools where I would be contributing to the diversity. Hopefully, if I’ve done my research right, and the moon and stars align perfectly, a true low risk plan will yield the highest chances of getting one of my seven (no guarantees of course).

If my tolerance for risk is MEDIUM, do NOT put any big buzz schools at the top of the list of seven, but DO put schools considered 2nd or 3rd tier (again, ones I’d be willing to live with) towards the top (1-3). Then fill the rest of the list (4-7) with big buzz schools that I’ll never get (but if I do, great) so that if I go 0/7 both rounds, I’ll be towards the top of the wait list for a school (or at least not at the bottom).

If my tolerance for risk is HIGH, and I fall in love with only one school, put it #1, fill the rest of the slots with big buzz schools, expect to go 0/7 both rounds, and sweat it out on a wait list.

4) Have a back-up plan. This seems to mean: private/parochial (and that’s not easy or guaranteed either), move (not an option we’re willing to consider), home school (I admire people who can do this, but it’s not for us), or…..geez, what else is there?

5) Try not to complain about the process. This one is difficult because it seems so complicated, and right when I think I understand it, someone says something, and I go back to not understanding it again. It is what it is. DO, however, get the FACTS about the application process by reading the SFUSD Enrollment Guide. I don’t think the 2010-11 one is out yet, but I’ve read last year’s , and my guess is the info about the process will be about the same.

Is this a good plan? Who knows – I’m just a newbie, but it’s the plan I have right now that helps me sleep at night.

50 comments:

  1. I think it's a good plan.
    Another thing that kept us sane when we went through this was to not get too obsessed with your "odds" or with Adam's Spreadsheet, whatever.
    If you get lucky and get a school you like, it's pretty much dumb luck, IMO.
    If not, you must go to Plan B (move, parochial, try again for 1st grade, homeschool, etc).

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  2. I think it's a great plan. One thing though. I don't think it really ever makes sense to put big buzz schools low on your list (as suggested in option 2.) That just seems a waste to be. Those big buzz spots (if you can tolerate risk) as I understand it can only be (realistically, which is not even that realistic) in spot one and maybe 2.

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  3. Marin Prep is probably a good "safety" on the private school front and it is slightly less expensive.

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  4. Jenny's right. The ranking of the schools is important, no matter what anyone says...unless you want to go to round 2.

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  5. I think it's a great plan. I wish I would have thought through the consequences of our Top 7. We were told not to strategize and to list our favorite 7 schools in order. Of course, we went 0/7 because proximity to our home was most important for us... but every single school close to our home in the Inner Sunset is extremely popular. For example, our closest school is Alice Fong Yu, next closest is Clarendon, our neighborhood school is Grattan, etc.

    And it's really true that you start brainwashing yourself into thinking that you can live with a difficult commute or unworkable start time when you fall in love with a school or become desperate.

    My son's elementary school starts at 8:40 and even making that start time is tough (despite the school being 8 minutes away). In hindsight, I know without a doubt that Grattan (7:50 start time) simply would not have worked had we been lucky enough to get it in Round 1.

    I also will admit that it's hard not to second-guess the 2nd and 3rd tier schools you love, wondering if you missed a glaring problem because you think it should be a more popular school. By the same token, it's easy to get caught up in the hype of the popular schools.

    Try to keep a level head. I wish I had been more realistic.

    We went through the application process last year for this K year. We went 0/7 in Round 1, got a great school in Round 2 but realized after school started that the commute just wasn't going to work, and then got our waitlisted school on Day 5 of the 10 day count. We were sweating bullets. I wish we would have used a more conservative strategy.

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  6. Oh, one other thing (9:59 here). I had erroneously believed that the worst that could happen when going 0/7 was that we'd be assigned to McKinley. Our friends had gone 0/7 the prior year and were assigned to McKinley, which is a good school. So I thought 'How bad can it be???!!'

    Well, it was oh so BAD. We were not assigned to McKinley. We were assigned to a school that we would never send our kids to. It was much worse than we could ever have imagined.

    So, yes, we were desperate. We started casting our net further across the city than comfortably commutable and also started scrambling for private schools.

    We got a great public school in Round 2 and a great private school but we were not realistic about the commute - both were really tough. It was really mortifying to realize after all that that we still did not have a school that would work in the long run.

    I really don't know what we would have done if we hadn't gotten our waitlisted school. I still thank our lucky stars that we got it.

    As I already said, I do not recommend the strategy we used. It was ridiculously stressful.

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  7. Wow. This is really an amazingly sophisticated grasp of the lottery. It took me months to get anything near this understanding.

    These strategies are great, especially your raising the issue of risk tolerance, except I'd tweak Option 2.

    For option 2, medium risk: I'd risk a "Big-buzz" school in Slot 1 and maybe also Slot 2, but then fill the list with 2nd or 3rd tier schools, or ones where you're fairly confident you're contributing to the diversity.

    Worked for us. We got the "trophy" school we listed in Slot 2. Still amazed we did, really.

    Or, I'd list all 2nd/3rd tier schools, rather than filling the rest with big-buzz schools. A friend got Harvey Milk in their 7th place, and I'd call Harvey Milk a 2nd or 3rd tier school. But your idea does leave you in a better position for the waitpool

    Also, you'd want to consider the issue of before/aftercare in the school you want. If there's not enough afterschool slots to meet demand (like at Alice Fong Yu or Longfellow, say), then it's not that great to get the school you want off the waitpool but then have a major headache with aftercare because all the slots are taken and you're way down the waitlist. So it might be better to go all out for Round 1 rather than hanging on the waitpool, depending on your circumstances re. childcare and aftercare availability at the school you're waitpooling.

    But, bravo. You've cracked the code.

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  8. I second the after-care advice. Fortunately, our waitlisted school hires as many teachers as necessary to accomodate all the students that need after-care. We got our waitlisted school during the 10-day count (yay!) and it was nice not to have to worry about scrambling for after-care.

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  9. Also, I think you're hearing a lot from others about the importance of choosing a school that makes sense logistically. It's not worth chasing a school far away because it has 50-75 API points better than a more convenient school where, honestly, your child will do just as well.

    It's tough for folks in the center of the city, as those schools tend to be more popular both because their test scores are excellent but also 'cos they're accessible. (Also see the drop in applications to Lakeshore, not because of anything Lakeshore is doing wrong, but because folks are opting for other alternates not as remote).

    We're in the position of having a long schlep to our public, and are getting used to it and the extra time it puts in our day. It's about a third a way across town, not impossible but still an extra 30-40 minutes out of the day.
    However, we were lucky enough to get into a "trophy school", and if I whine about the commute to friends I know I'll get clobbered. We did put our neighbourhood school first, though, and the trophy school second. Go figure.

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  10. I would put the schools you're selecting in the order that you like them. Unless the software is completely broken (which it probably is) or the white paper describing the algorithm is wrong (which it very well may be) then the order should only matter if you get slots at more than one of your selected schools.

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  11. Not quite, 11:19. Rank order can matter as a tie-breaker between two equally diverse (or non-diverse) candidates, deep into the algorithm.

    This is speculation, but I think it might especially make a difference at a moderately popular school (one with more apps than spots, but not overwhelmingly so).

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  12. That's a great list -- amazing you've got it so organized so early in the process!

    I agree with 10:52 that there's one other option you can slip in between your second and third options.

    Also, another backup plans (question #4) is redshirting -- holding your kid out a year and enrolling in kindergarten next year.

    Whether that's an option for your family depends on a lot of factors including financial, but the most important ones being how ready your kid is for kindergarten. In general girls are more ready than boys, and earlier birthdays are more ready than later birthdays.

    If you think it's weird to wait until your kid is 6 to enroll in kindergarten, remember that many private schools insist on it.

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  14. 11:47

    "If you think it's weird to wait until your kid is 6 to enroll in kindergarten, remember that many private schools insist on it."

    Well, mostly only private schools in San Francisco. Many private schools on the peninsula use the public school age entry cutoff, which is in December. Don't know how it is in other cities.

    If you ever move to another country and you've held your child back, he or she will be a year behind.

    A November or December birthday cutoff date is pretty much the international standard.

    Few people in other countries would ever dream of hold their children out of kindergarten until grade 6.

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  15. Inner Sunset poster, would you mind telling what school your child is in? I'm in that area too, looking for K 2010. I'd like to know where you made your happy landing. Please share. THX

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  16. One caveat – if you’re applying for Mandarin immersion, remember that you’ve got almost as much chance getting in on Round II as you do in Round I.

    That’s because half (i.e. 30, 20 at Starr King and 10 at Jose Ortega) of the Mandarin immersion seats in Kindergarten are reserved for Mandarin-speaking children. If those seats don’t fill with Mandarin speakers, they are opened up to everyone in Round II.

    Note for people with Mandarin-speaking children: You should always get in first Round, as we’ve never had the Mandarin slots fill up. If you child speaks Mandarin and you don’t get in, run, don’t walk, to EPC and get it fixed. It happened to a few families last year and they were all quickly given assignments in Mandarin.

    The seats reserved for Mandarin-speakers which aren’t filled (and historically that’s been about 2/3rds of them) open up to everyone in Round II.

    For 2010-2011 we will have a fairly large number of siblings coming in to Mandarin immersion (we’re trying to count up how many, but it’s a lot) so it’s even possible that there will be more open seats in Round II than in Round I.

    Also, we usually have spaces open right before school starts. In addition, there have always been a few spaces open in first grade. You can send your child to Mandarin immersion first grade with no previous Mandarin exposure. Though if you’re’ thinking of doing this, contact the Mandarin Immersion Parents Council as there are several summer programs you might want to consider to give your child some familiarity with the languages.

    The upshot of all this is that if you want Mandarin immersion, the strategies are a little different than for other programs. But historically, most families that really wanted in to the programs were able to get there. One never knows what will happen next year, but we have 60 Kindergarten seats between Starr King and Jose Ortega every year, so there’s a fair amount of availability.

    If you have more questions about Mandarin immersion, check out the MIPC blog at http://miparentscouncil.org/

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  17. If you ever move to another country and you've held your child back, he or she will be a year behind."


    Well, OK, I disagree with that, but even if it were true it's not as much a concern for most people as whether their child is ready for kindergarten.

    There's an enormous developmental difference between girls born in January and boys born the following December, yet they're both in the same classroom.

    For some kids (mostly boys, certainly mine, obviously not yours) starting a year later would have been a really good thing.

    It's not that uncommon in SF, it's not that big a deal, and it's simply more other option to consider depending on your circumstances.

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  18. I think factoring in moves to another country unless it is high on your list of possibilities in the next 2 years should not change your options. Your kid will likely be grades behind other students of the same age in certain other countries. For example, we have friends who moved to Japan for work, their kids were placed 2 and 3 grades behind in the English school there (and were considered good students here.

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  19. Sounds like you've thought carefully about what was appropriate for your son.

    I was just putting the information out there for parents who might have been pressured by the private schools in this city.

    My daughter was ready to start kindergarten this year. She has an early September birthday. I was irked by the rigid attitude at FAIS and Friend's about their
    September 1st birthday cutoff. It turns out that some private school in the city do have a December cut off, like the public schools.

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  20. One other thing to remember: if you get an assignment in the first or second round, you can still waitpool for a school you want more.

    Most of the waitpool movement at the hot schools happens after the school year starts, when it becomes clear that some families made other plans, such as private school, but didn't release their spot. (I can't blame them -- the hot public school is their backup plan.)

    In practice, the odds are slim to none of getting into a hot school through the waitpool if you got a first-round assignment, but you can still use the waitpool to upgrade to someplace you want more.

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  21. This is a good list.

    #1 & #2 are great.

    The #3 MEDIUM RISK option is wrong though. Putting a "Buzz School" at 5, 6 or 7 is part of the high risk option, where you try for 0/7 in order to have a chance in the waitpool at a hot school.

    For #4, another backup plan would be a charter school. Creative Arts (http://www.creativeartscharter.org/)is the one SFUSD charter elementary school. There is also Edison charter school, which is chartered by the state of California. It has problems (like no website!) but it exists. "Redshirting" is also a possibility, as mentioned.

    All in all, this is a good plan for Round 1. What about Round 2 and waitpools and the 10-day count?

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  22. We know a family at St. Phillips that just got the call about an open spot at Alvarado, Spanish Immersion. It ain't over 'till it is over!

    Kid starts on Monday.

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  23. 10:51 -- If FAIS was your top choice, you should have started at the Lycee and transferred later. The Lycee uses the French cut-off of December.

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  24. "10:51 -- If FAIS was your top choice, you should have started at the Lycee and transferred later. The Lycee uses the French cut-off of December."

    Actually, FAIS was a shocking disappointment and I just couldn't wait to get out of there. The topper was when Andrew Brown, that british snob, started going on about the Greek Classics. As my husband is Greek and speaks Greek, I didn't think we needed to go to FAIS learn about Greece. And I really felt that I should ask, right then and there, for the marbles back.

    Not to mention the fact that the kids seemed to be able to understand French, but not speak it. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe it is full immersion.

    His idea of promoting diversity by sending the kids on a field trip to Tahiti didn't help either.

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  25. Inner Sunset poster here. We got into Commodore Sloat off the waitlist on the evening of Day 4.

    All the schools on our Round 1 application were tier 1 and tier 2 schools in terms of popularity. In hindsight, it would have been better for us to list the tier 2 schools at the top of the list instead of in the middle and bottom. We might have had a better chance getting one that way. I wasn't completely sure of the complexities of the lottery at that time... and I was feeling lucky (yeah, that totally backfired!).

    When it came time to waitlist a school, we vacillated between choosing Jefferson and Sloat because they weren't as insanely popular as Miraloma/Clarendon/Rooftop/Grattan on our list, where getting in off the waitlist would be more of a long-shot. In the end, we decided to waitlist Sloat because it just worked better for our family in many ways. We got lucky!

    We are thrilled to be at Commodore Sloat. The other day as we were going to school, my son exclaimed, "Commodore Sloat is the best school in the whole world!"

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  26. "There is also Edison charter school, which is chartered by the state of California. It has problems (like no website!) but it exists."

    Wow. I thought that school had closed. Didn't see them at any enrollment fairs. Talk about low profile.

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  27. Edison is problematic. I'm not opposed to charters, and I'm not trying to start that little debate again, and I support CACS as a first-choice or backup option for families that like their approach, but Edison is troubled. They were never able to make their model work (make a profit off of teaching very low-income kids) and they have had to cut back on staff. They even have the kids "learning responsibility" by picking up janitorial functions as they cut back on custodial staff. No joke. Edison is my original (now defunct) assignment area and several of the neighbor children go there. I think do families like the semblance of structure and the uniforms, which look a lot like parochial (without the cost and the religious instruction), and also look a lot like schools in Latin America. But I myself would be avoiding this one! Not at all in the same league as CACS. Outcomes not so good either despite their proclamations that they were going to save education way back when.

    Note also it is a state charter, not a district one; it leases from the district. I would love to have SFUSD take back the building and start up a new magnet program there. It is in the perfect location to draw from both Noe and Mission communities to create a diverse place. Maybe another Spanish immersion school, with an arts focus, like Alvarado? We could use another one of those.

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  28. "I would love to have SFUSD take back the building and start up a new magnet program there." (at Edison.)

    Totally agree.

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  29. How about a Spanish immersion k-8? Or ALL Spanish-immersion middle school?

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  30. How about giving Creative Arts a permanent location?

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  31. Revere is a k-8, which has a Spanish immersion progam. Don't know if the immersion program will extend through grades 6-8 though. Maybe a parent from there can fill us in.

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  32. I've heard different things about having to put the popular school high on the list in order to have a shot at getting in. Isn't the official information that it doesn't matter where on the list you put it because each school has it's own lottery and your order of preference only comes in play if you get into more than one school on you list? But I still hear people saying that the order does matter. This one point really makes a huge difference. I wish there wasn't so much confusion about it.

    Does anyone know of anyone who got into a really popular school that they put low on their list and listed a less popular school higher but did not get it?

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  33. 1:53, I've heard of ALL scenarios happening, because truthfully the only thing that matters is whether, at a certain point in time, as a school's diversity index is calculated and the recalculated, your child would contribute the most diversity to that school at that moment. And in a tie-breaker between two equally diverse children at that time in whatever cohort is being looked at--diverse/neighborhood, diverse/general, general--then the child who has the school ranked higher on his/her list will be chosen. That is where ranking comes into play in the lottery.

    And yes, it also comes into play if you are lucky enough to be chosen for more than one school--you will be offered your higher pick.

    There is no real way to game this, because so much is random, but there is some thinking that it is generally a waste to use a super-popular pick at the bottom because there are so many equally diverse (or non-diverse) candidates who will beat you in the tie-breaker. So unless you are using it as filler or a huge, huge longshot, chances are slim that it isn't a waste.

    There is also a school of thought that says it would be useful to put a moderately popular or bubble school at or near the top, as the school is likely to fill up, but in a close tie-breaker with a few other families, you could grab a spot based on ranking it high. Especially since so many families put Clarendon-West Portal-Rooftop-Miraloma-Alvarado-Liliethal and then fill in the bottom with Harvey Milk or Sunnyside as their "backup".

    Hope that helps.

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  34. Yep: Put Harvey Milk #1 (really was our top choice) filled in list with Clarendon, Rooftop, Lilienthal, Alice Fong Yu, Alvarado etc because we REALLY wanted Milk. Got it in the first Round.

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  35. Hi 3:29, Thanks for your the information. It does help. I think the main point I did not get was this statement:

    "And in a tie-breaker between two equally diverse children at that time in whatever cohort is being looked at--diverse/neighborhood, diverse/general, general--then the child who has the school ranked higher on his/her list will be chosen. That is where ranking comes into play in the lottery."

    Do you know for sure this is true? I always thought that in this sort of tie breaker, the choice would be made randomly - not based on who ranked it higher.

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  36. As I understand it, the technical language re tie-breaking by rank order comes late into the process--and for geeky or lawyerly people the language is available online:

    All other things being equal, and all diversity factors already gone through the system and only folks with your diversity (or non-diversity) factors left in the mix, there is a tie-breaker that goes to the family or families that rank a school higher. Within the cohort of families who put the same rank, the assignment is by random lottery.

    I think this could maybe benefit someone who was willing to play the longshot at a super-popular school like Clarendon. But remember that at a school like Clarendon, there will probably be a LOT of people in that category: no diversity left in the pool, so the computer searches all the non-diverse #1 ranked families. That could be hundreds of families, still not great odds. So it could be really be a waste to include a super-popular school as a lower-ranked school on your list, unless you are specifically choosing to use it as filler for a 0/7 waitpool strategy.

    On the other hand, this little technicality could very well pay off for a moderately popular school such as Sutro or Harvey Milk. The computer will search out diversity, and faced with a relatively smaller remaining pool that is all the same diversity profile, you could be the one getting the nod with a #1 rank choice. So if you want a lower-risk strategy, put the moderately popular school at #1 on your list.

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  37. "Do you know for sure this is true? I always thought that in this sort of tie breaker, the choice would be made randomly - not based on who ranked it higher."

    That was how up until last year everyone thought it worked, that ranking except to eliminate lower-ranked options if your kid was assigned to two slots during the running of the algorithm.

    But Vicki Symonds of PPSSF sat down last year with the guy who runs the algorithm and found this tweak in the code.

    So, what used to be a pretty simple strategy (rank the schools in the order you like them) has become a bit more complex, as you have to think about how other people will rank your choices also.

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  38. "It turns out that some private school in the city do have a December cut off, like the public schools."

    Which private schools have a December cutoff?

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  39. "So, what used to be a pretty simple strategy (rank the schools in the order you like them) has become a bit more complex, as you have to think about how other people will rank your choices also."

    Ug. That makes a big difference. Then it really does seem pointless to put a popular school lower on the list unless you are really trying to have better odds in the waitlist if you get 0/7.

    I liked it better the other way when I thought it was random. This narrows your chances for getting a school you like. If you happen to like a moderately popular school better than a really popular school, but you still like the popular school, then there doesn't seem to be much reason to even put the popular school on you list if you are going to put the less popular school first on the list.

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  40. What private schools are you planning on touring?

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  41. '"It turns out that some private school in the city do have a December cut off, like the public schools."

    Which private schools have a December cutoff?"'

    Don't know about the independent private schools, but several of the parochials have a December cutoff (Notre Dame des Victories has a very early cutoff date). They may still take applications after that date, but you'll be considered only after the earlier applications.

    For the more popular parochial schools (like NDV) I'd say if you blow the deadline there's not much chance of getting in. I missed the NDV deadline myself - it was right at the beginning of December last year.

    Also, St. Finn Barr's last year were using a first-come-first-served system, so the earlier you got application in the sooner you got a response. We knew we had a place there by mid-December, which made the wait for the lottery results a lot more bearable.

    Adda Clevenger also uses first-come-first-served rather than a deadline, IIRC.

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  42. "If you happen to like a moderately popular school better than a really popular school, but you still like the popular school, then there doesn't seem to be much reason to even put the popular school on you list if you are going to put the less popular school first on the list."

    You've got it. Although surprises can happen. I wanted to put our neighborhood, non-trophy school's immersion program first, but Dear Spouse liked a certain Trophy School far more.

    I persuaded her that it was a better strategy to put the immersion program at our neighbourhood school first and Trophy School second, and that way maximize our chances of getting into the neighborhood school (given attendance area preference) and avoid going 0/7. Plus, the wife is bilingual in the target language for our neighbourhood school.

    Personally, I thought we'd probably wasted the #2 pick, but thought it necessary for marital harmony.

    We don't get our neighborhood school, but got the Trophy School we'd listed as #2. Go figure.

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  43. Immersion at Paul Revere will go through 8th grade.

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  44. Adda Clevenger isn't oversubscribed, so it's a moot point whether it's first come first served. Since it offers no scholarships, it's not in that much demand.

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  45. "Adda Clevenger isn't oversubscribed, so it's a moot point whether it's first come first served."

    Well, except you'll know in short order whether you have a place there or not.

    Which in turn will affect how much risk of going 0/7 you're willing to tolerate on your SFUSD lottery choices. It's one thing to intellectually know you have a good chance of having a private or parochial Plan B, but not be sure, and another to have a Plan B slot in hand.

    "Since it offers no scholarships, it's not in that much demand."

    I don't follow this. AFAIK Adda Clevenger is, like Synergy, has its tuition at a lower price point than other privates. So you're not getting a cross-subsidy among families, but the overall price families are paying is going to be the same or lower.

    I'd think the idiosyncratic nature of the school is more of a reason why it's not oversubscribed than the lack of scholarships. Some kids and families love it, but it's not for everyone.

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