Friday, May 7, 2010

Hot topic: Wait pools

This from a reader:
My daughter is spending 1 more year in her amazing preschool, but I am quickly getting overwhelmed at the idea that this fall I'll be going through this whole process. Sheesh! I should have been preparing for years!

Two questions that I can't find the answers to any place else -

1) If you choose a school for your wait list, will the school tell you where you are on the waitlist so you know whether to "work the waitlists" at other schools with a lower number of kids on the waitlist?

2) How do schools decide the order of the waitlist? What puts me number 15 on the waitlist and someone else number 2?

Thanks so much - ARG, this is already stressful!


  1. Under the current system, people do not get assigned a position on the wait list. When the school has an opening, they look for somebody whose diversity profile is needed to balance the school. If they don't have such a person in the wait pool, then it appears to be by random drawing.

    I expect it will be more or less the same under the new system, except that the profile factors (CTIP1 residents get preference for high-performing schools, then people who live in the school's neighborhood) will be different--residence will be key rather than whether you qualify for free/reduced lunch or live in Section 8 or sent your kid to preschool.

  2. At this point, I would encourage you to learn all you can about the new system. It's a waste of time to try and decipher this year's system. It will be different next year. Check out Lot's of info there.

  3. Does anyone know when the new school neighborhood maps for next year will be released? What will happen to alternative K-5 schools like Clarendon, Feinstein, and New Traditions that are not K-8 and do not have immersion programs? What will happen to people whose neighborhood school is West Portal but do not request immersion? Will there be enough GE spots? What will SFUSD if there are not?

  4. I think you should read the topic called "New Student Assignment system" earlier this month and see which priority category you fall into. Also read the actual description of how the new assignment system will work on the SFUSD website:

    Then I would read up on the schools that are your likely attendance area assignment and where you might get assigned if your attendance area school doesn't have enough spots for everyone in the attendance area. Then read up on the citywide schools as well as attendance area schools that are more likely to have openings.

    And from all that come up with a list of schools you like. I would avoid falling in love with a really popular attendance area school if you don't live near it.

  5. 2:17,

    Basically, unless you are in a CTIP 1 or have a great neighborhood public school, your kid is screwed!

  6. Clarendon, Feinstein, and New Traditions will become neighborhood schools. All language programs will be citywide, plus schools like Argonne that are year round. West Portal has 1 K class for immersion and 3 regular GE K classes, has for years. So attendance area kids will get assigned to the 3 GE classes and anyone in the city can request the Cantonese program.

  7. New maps are finalized in the fall Sept/Oct. Clarendon, Feinstein, and New Traditions will become attendance area schools. All language programs will be city draw, no preference if you live in the attendance area. West Portal has 1 K for Chinese immersion and 3 Gen Ed K classes.

  8. Can someone explain the CTIP 1 thing to me? It seems to mean that if I own a house worth $1.5 million dollars on that great block of Shotwell Street in the Mission, or a $1.2 million loft n that amazing loft building on York St, my children can get in anywhere famous, like Clarendon. But if I am jamming my family into a $1800 per month flat on Russian Hill, I am going to end up at the bottom of the list.

    They can't be serious, can they? All of the Mission or Pacific Heights are not created equally, and you can't just slice up the City like that.

  9. Forget about income and how much the house is worth. The court has decided that the district cannot use social economic data when assigning schools, so to achieve diversity, CTIP1 is used. It is pointless to dig out all the cases which you think is unfair. That's the rules of game, work with it. If that means you should buy or rent a house in CTIP1 area, it may be a good option for you.

  10. explanation of ctip 1

    but the map is tough to read. anyone know of a clearer map? or know if north bernal is green?

  11. 8:00 am -- to examine it carefully, you have to compare the CTIP map to the census tracts at

    Quick answer though--the line between dark green and not is Cesar Chavez Street. North side of Cesar Chavez is CTIP 1. All of Bernal is CTIP 2.

  12. 5/8 5:34 If you live in Russian Hill, then your neighborhood school will likely be Yick Wo (which is also losing its alternative school designation), which is a wonderful school.

  13. There are several good schools in the Russian Hill and Chinatown areas. Universally good test scores (for what that is worth). That same fact is of course very much not true of all the Mission and Bayview schools, which is why it makes sense to give families over there a chance to get out.

  14. what other schools had an alternative school designation that will be changing? thanks!

  15. Only K-8 will be city-wide. All K-5 will be neighborhood schools. I believe Sunset is also K-5, so it will be neighborhood school

  16. WHy are k-8's alternative schools?

    Lilienthal and Rooftop don't even have middle schools on the same campus.

  17. K-8s are city wide b/c not everyone would want to go to a K-8 so no one will be assigned. It's a choice program, like language immersion or year round classes. You are right that the campus are separate but the schools function together, same administration, etc.

  18. "The court has decided that the district cannot use social economic data when assigning schools, so to achieve diversity, CTIP1 is used."

    No, actually, the district could use socioeconomic data. It can't use race. The district doesn't want to use individual socioeconomic status because it wants to avoid using data for assignment that is self-reported.

  19. Lilienthal has a k-2 campus and a 3-8 campus. The middle school isn't separate.

  20. i have to say as someone what has generally been disgusted, as many on this blog are, with the lottery system, the more i learn about the latest update, i am impressed. the school board had a LOT of competing points of view, and this is about a good a compromise as we could get. yes, someone will get "screwed" by this system, but what system doesn't have it's inequties? it gives the poor some advantages, but doesn't totally the more successful folks out of the perks the would need to stay in the system.

  21. meant to say: the poor some advantages, but doesn't totally CHEAT the more successful folks out of the perks the would need to stay in the system.

  22. Will Clarendon really become a neighborhood school? I had assumed that because it has two language programs that it would remain an alternative school.

  23. Only immersion programs and k-8 are city-wide. Claredon have two language "culture" programs. It will be a neighborhood school unless the district changes plans again.

  24. Does that mean the Rosa Parks Japanese program will also be a neighborhood program? That seems absurd.

  25. That's the current plan, that only immersion, K-8, year round are city wide. The other schools with language but not immersion would go neighborhood. Go to SFUSD's website, they list several meetings where the public can give input. If you feel strongly about it, you could go.

  26. 2:14,

    Meaning you are one of the people that will be advanced by the new directive and can careless if others loss by your gain!

  27. Anybody see Rachel Norton's blog? Looks like the May budget revise will be worse than expected. Might this mean K class size increase? As a K waitpooler for Fall 2010, I can only hope. I mean with budget cuts this bad, it is more important this year than ever to get your kid in a well funded school. I just don't think it will matter that much if there are 22 or 24 kids in the K class.

  28. it is a waitPOOL, not a list.

    my advice when listing schools you want. make sure to only list schools you will be happy with. if that only equates to 3 schools, then fill the rest of your list with the hardest-to-get-schools. you just might get your 7th choice! don't settle! if you don't get anything in round one, at least you will have higher priority in the waitpool.

  29. Does anyone know if the EPC will be posting a revised waitpool list after the May 14 deadline?

  30. Actually, SFUSD could use race. The latest Supreme Court decision left open the possibility of using race if socioeconomic zoning would leave schools deeply segregated.

    Under the Sanchez Board, there was some discussion of taking up such a challenge. That is no longer the case given the current Board.

  31. EPC posts the next waitpool list on May 28 and sends letters out that day to anyone that got a spot.

  32. "The latest Supreme Court decision left open the possibility of using race if socioeconomic zoning would leave schools deeply segregated."

    Err, no. Justice Kennedy left it open in his opinion. Not so for the four conservatives on the court who also made up the 5-4 majority against Seattle's use of race in their old system.

    "Under the Sanchez Board, there was some discussion of taking up such a challenge. That is no longer the case given the current Board."

    Which is good, given that whether the challenge would succeed would depend on what Justice Kennedy had for breakfast that day.

  33. Just moved here from a Chicago suburb and have been immersed in the SFUSD system. I am coming really late into the "game" unfortunately and so I'm sure my kids (K & 2nd graders in fall) will probably get into "bad" schools and be at separate schools to boot. I have been sifting through all this mess and have been reading SF K Files to help me understand more.

    At this point, I'm waiting to the end of May to get our assignments.

    I don't understand what you are all talking about in regards to CTIP 1. Is there "change" coming where the neighborhood you move into is where your kids can go or will the lottery system be around forever?

    Should I just give up and pay an arm and a leg for private?


  34. Yen Graney,

    There is hope. Seriously.

    1) Call Parents for Public Schools ( and make an appointment to meet with someone who can help you understand and navigate the system. They are a non-profit that is separate from the school district.

    2) Re your kids being in separate schools. It could happen, but remember that your older child, the 2nd grader, will put your younger child into a high priority waitpool for that same school. This is called sibling preference. Waitpools will be run throughout the summer, but most schools open up at least one spot when registered kids don't show up within the first week of school--and waitpools will be run then as well. So your priority should be to find a good spot for your second grader.

    3) Don't worry about CTIP 1 right now. That is a system to be implemented NEXT year. Yes, it will move the district to a more neighborhood-based system, at least for elementary, with some preference given to high-poverty neighborhoods (CTIP 1) to select schools beyond their assignment. It's actually more complicated than that--anyone can apply via lottery to any school, and some elementary chools will be citywide admission by lottery (K-8s and language immersion). There is more info on the website, under "Enrollment." But it does not pertain to this year.

    4) What neighborhood do you live in? Have you chosen a waitpool school? If you let us know your basic area, we can help you think about schools that might have openings in Open Enrollment, which will happen starting June 1. You will want to get down to EPC @ 555 Franklin Street *very early*, as in, middle of the night, to get your pick of open spots. There will be some up-and-coming gems, like maybe Junipero Serra or Daniel Webster or Rosa Parks, and there will also be a bunch that you probably won't/shouldn't want. It's important to know the difference! The gems go fast when Open Enrollment starts, and you'll need to say yes immediately.

    5) Know that you can pick a school in Open Enrollment--even different ones for each kid if necessary--and still waitpool for the one(s) you really want. The point of OE is to guarantee you an acceptable spot. As mentioned above, there will be spots opening up after school starts in the schools with active waitpools. If you like your 2nd grader's school, you can have your K-er in a high priority pool with an excellent shot.

    6) If all of this uncertainty still makes you feel overly anxious, sure, sign up at one of the rolling admissions parochials or privates. But you really do have a good shot of getting something decent, as long as you understand that it might take you through the summer. In the longer run, you save money and will most likely find a community you really like. But it is stressful going through the process for sure, especially coming into the middle of it.

    Good luck!

  35. 4:18

    Wow! Thanks for all the words of wisdom! You broke it down simply!

    First of all, I don't think we're in a wait pool yet. We are waiting to the end of May to find out what school the kids will be assigned to. When I was at the enrollment office, the counselor practically laughed in my face when I have my list of 7 picks. The list topper was Sherman. The rest consisted of schools like Clarendon, Roof Top, etc. the usual suspects I gather.

    We just moved to the Financial District (Jackson & Front) in a tall apt bldg. We have a 6 month lease but will either renew here for another year or scout out some other neighborhoods around SF (not Sunset or Richmond though--too cold and cloudy for us). So, we are not married to a neighborhood yet. I chose Sherman because I met a group of moms around the Moscone Rec Center in the Marina who was singing its high praises. Also, I checked out and it had high marks.

    Others have told me about "hidden gems" like Spring Valley or Jean Parker which are within close walking distance. But at this point, walking distance doesn't matter as much as the quality of school. Since all the schools in SF don't seem to be created equal it is a daunting task to know for sure which school will fit us. I don't really want my kids to go to an all (or mostly) chinese school and I would like more diversity.

    Overall, I guess I just don't know about any of the schools to say that one especially jumps out at me.

    In the meantime, I have applied to NDV who has an opening for 2nd grader but not K. My daughter will be 5 in June so she will be a younger K-er so we are contemplating holding back one year and have her go when she is 6. These are all the things that run through our heads at this stressful point.

    Back to NDV, we liked the school--the uniforms, the french, etc but we are not religious at all and by no means Catholic. So that part is new to us. And I worry about the religion aspect of schooling but at this point, we have heard good things about NDV and they are not $20K + as other good private schools. My son went in for an all-day assessment yesterday and although it seems promising, we won't know until next week.

    Any suggestions of other schools are welcome and I will call PPSSF to get further advice. But they probably won't have the low-down on the favorite schools or even hidden gems.

    My head aches all the time thinking about this topic. I keep reading this blog to find more clues or it just makes things messier. But I am grateful to have this blog, that's for sure.

  36. Yen Graney,

    Me again from yesterday.

    Yeah, getting into those top-scoring or high-reputation (interesting point of note: they are not necessarily the same) schools is tough if you missed Round 1. Lots of others were in line before you got here.

    One practical piece of information for you: About half our schools have good test scores. About a third have lousy scores. There is a much smaller percentage in the middle. (Welcome to San Francisco, where the middle class is an endangered species.) That's one reason why everyone is freaking out; it can feel like falling off a cliff from one set of schools to the other.

    There is another reality, though, which is that there are quite a number of good schools, with good test scores, that are not the ones most favored by anglos / whites / upper-middle class families (that would be Clarendon, Rooftop, Miraloma, Grattan, Sherman, Lilienthal--check out the % of white kids, well over the norm for the district, also free lunch % is low at these schools). There are other schools, including in your neighborhood and on the west side, that are also quite good. Just something to keep in mind.

    One philosophical piece of advice for you, and you can take it or leave it: You can't have it all. You are most likely going to have to choose between a number of competing desires. E.g., the west side of town, which is indeed windy and chilly and foggy, is also home to the most consistently good set of schools. You may have to choose between preferences for or against a certain location versus a highly functional school; between lower-cost alternatives to public and the prospect of your child being marinated in religious values as well as a strong education; between a desire for diversity (as in, you don't want mostly Chinese) and the fact that many of our best schools here in San Francisco are majority Chinese American (and 40% of SFUSD kids are Chinese American, versus 11% or so who are white, so do the math).

    One piece of good news for you: if you choose to hold your 5-year-old back for a year, then you can check out the assignment maps for the neighborhood system to be implemented next year, and move to live in the assignment area of a school that you like. You have that flexibility, right? I'm less sure how that would work for your older child, if he went to either public or parochial this year--something to talk through with PPS about how a child entering at a non-transitional grade would fare, or how a child can transfer across town. Unfortunately, a younger child doesn't give an older child preference.

    I'm still trying to figure out if you are in any process at all with the district right now. Why on earth not put in a waitpool for the next run? The deadline is tomorrow, I believe. Who knows, maybe you would get lucky with Sherman or wherever.

    A concrete suggestion I would make is for Yick Wo, whether waitpool or Open Enrollment on June 1, or either/or. It's not far from your current house, is a gem, and is more diverse than some of the schools around you. It often sits on the edge of having actual spaces through the waitpool/enrollment process, in contrast to Clarendon with its dozens of waitpoolers.

    PPS will definitely have an idea of what are the up-and-coming gems. If you were willing to move to Bernal I would look at Junipero Serra which will definitely be jumping in popularity for various reasons. Finding the "gems" is all about ignoring the standard playground advice (especially in the Marina ;-)....) that there are only a few schools that are worthy. Finding the gems is about seeing the wave coming and jumping on for the ride.

    Again, good luck.

  37. Yen Graney,

    Apologies!! It is too late to put in a waitpool pick for this round as the deadline was one week ago tomorrow. So your best first step is definitely Open Enrollment.

    Once you have secured a spot in OE, do put in a waitpool pick for your desired school, for both children.

    Remember that waitpool movement is most likely to happen once school has started, because some families don't bother to tell the EPC that they are not taking their spot, and just don't show up in August.

  38. Thanks again for more sage words!

    I actually think I'm on a wait pool (?!) because I went in to register the kids at the EPC on 4/29 (the day before the mailed out the 2nd/or 3rd round letters). when I was there, I gave them my 7 choices and they told me to wait until the 5/28 when more WP letters will be sent out.

    FYI, my choices were:
    1. Sherman
    2. Yick Wo
    3. Claire Lilenthal
    4. AFY
    5. Clarendon
    6. Rooftop
    7. Garfield

    I couldn't put down the good schools over in Sunset and other "farther away" schools...since I don't have a car (we have one now but I sold mine before moving west), I just couldn't see taking buses and trains every morn. Even some of my above choices would need transportation of some sort but I felt pressured to put down the "usual suspects" because I had not fully researched all the schools/neighborhoods in SF. I went solely off of test scores, diversity, etc.

    At this point, I would love to get anything decent. I am trying to decipher the April WP document provided by the EPC but don't understand how to read it! For Yick Wo (2nd grade) specifically, it says there's 1 in the WP and 1 in Round 1 No Choice. No idea what this means.

    In the meantime, NDV just called me today and said they would love to enroll my son into 2nd grade next year. Which is great, so I have a back up plan I suppose. I just wished they had a spot for my K-er. Oh well.

    Still keeping fingers crossed for public but won't know until Memorial Day weekend or afterwards and I have to get in on 6/1 to do the OE stuff!

    Thanks again for all your patience and advice! It is truly appreciated!

  39. Yen,

    For the waitpool list, the number in the far right is the total number on the waitlist. The other information is the number in each cohort (Round 1 no choice). Importantly for you, it means one total. If it were me, I would take the spot at NDV and hope your daughter gets in during the school year (people do move) or next year. Alteratively, you can send her to a transitional kindegarten at a preschool and she would have priority at NDV as a kindergarten applicant next year.

  40. I am trying to decipher the April WP document provided by the EPC but don't understand how to read it! For Yick Wo (2nd grade) specifically, it says there's 1 in the WP and 1 in Round 1 No Choice. No idea what this means.

    The waitpools are broken down into priority cohorts. Siblings and medical appeals get top choice, and they go from there. Families that listed 7 choices in Round 1 but didn't receive any of them will get higher priority than those that did get one of their choices, or than those who listed fewer than 7 choices at all. Based on the # of spots that are open, the EPC computer draws from the top priority waitpool cohort until that cohort pool is exhausted, then moves to the next priority cohort, and down the line.

    It sounds like you may be in the Sherman waitpool. You probably don't have a good priority there b/c of no sibling preference and no participation in round 1. It's too bad no one at EPC thought to steer you to Yick Wo, which may have a much, much smaller waitpool and therefore a better chance.

    Depending on what happens for you in Open Enrollment, you may want to switch to Yick Wo waitpools given your relatively low priority. However, if you manage to score a school you like for your older child in OE, then your younger child can be in a sibling waitpool--high priority!

    Definitely talk with PPS about your options and about the schools. Remember to show up at OE very, very early to get a spot in line (middle of the night May 31st/June 1). Arrive with a list of schools you would be willing to accept at this point--remember, you can waitpool for one you want more--this is to get a spot.

    FYI there will NOT be openings for a school like Sherman or Clarendon or AFY. Schools with likely openings are the ones on the waitpool list with very few in the pool or that are not even on the list at all.

    Yick Wo has a small waitpool (so far) so there actually may be spots there (no guarantee though). Given your lack of a car, you might also look for the other Chinatown schools or anything on a decent BART or MUNI line. Glen Park is a possibility, right there on BART, or Marshall too (by some miracle).

    Talk with PPS! And go through the list of all the schools before June and make a list of what is acceptable as a school and logistically. Feel free to post here to ask about them. PPS also has parent ambassadors available from a number of schools. PPS will also have a sense of which schools are likely to have openings. There's not a lot of point torturing yourself hoping for Sherman or Clarendon in OE.

    Congrats on the NDV acceptance. It is always good to have a choice, or a backup. You can always keep that and also pursue waitpool, etc.

  41. Another suggestion is to enroll your child right now in a school. Even though the year is almost over, I believe they have to enroll your child if you are a resident of the city. EPC can tell you which schools have openings for current 1st graders, and then your younger child will automatically have sibling preference for next year, which moves you to the top of the list. You might be surprised to find some of the "trophies" or "hidden gems" on that list.

  42. 5:42 p.m., that is a most excellent idea.

  43. I agree with 5:42 - try to enroll the older kid in school right now! You might grab whatever weird seat might be dangling at a good place, from a family moving mid-year or whatever. If there's nothing available for you that you like, you can go to Plan B, Open Enrollment, or Plan C, put your older kid in at NDV and your younger one in a preschool or transitional K, and then move to a CTIP 1 area. Or switch B and C, paying the deposit at NDV and then losing it if you get something you want out of Open Enrollment.

    Sounds like something will work out for you ... good luck!

  44. Actually, I did try to enroll my 1st grader in school now but none of the schools I wanted were available or had spots. But then again, I really didn't know which ones were "hidden gems" and the counselor asked me to give her school names and didn't offer any information as to which schools had openings.

    So, I wait with bated breath for when letters get mailed out this Friday.

    Any suggestions for preschool or transitional preschool for my soon-to-be 5 year old (June 17th). I think I will hold her back another year and wait to enroll her in K (she'll be 6) once I figure out what's going on w/ my older one. Unfortunately, she's already had 2 years of preschool.

  45. When we first moved here a month ago, I went to the EPC to enroll my 1st grader thinking that it would help me get into a good school that just happened to have a vacant spot. Unfortunately, at that time, I didn't know which schools were "good" or "hidden gems." The counselor didn't give me the name of schools w/ available spots--she wanted me to give the names. So I didn't get him into any schools--I decided to enroll him in the Home School dept of the district for the last months of the school year.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for transitional kindergarten at a preschool?