Thursday, September 9, 2010

Emily's Adventures with the SFUSD Placement Process

Hello! I’m Emily and I’m going to share my SFUSD placement adventure with you all. My husband (we shall call him Jared) and I have two boys—we’ll call them Nathan and Nolan—who are 5 and 1. Our home is more west than east and more south than north. We’re new to the city-- we’ve lived here for a year and come from a place where you walk to the nice, decently funded school down the street for elementary school. There is no lottery there and people don’t go on school tours. So you can imagine when I first heard about the way it works here, I was a little shocked (shocked, appalled, frightened-- all words that apply). But, I’ve had time to get used to the system and now school placement doesn’t seem quite as scary to me (most days…).

Nathan just turned five so technically we could have sent him to kinder this year, but we knew our son could benefit from another year of preschool and we decided to wait (gasp!). Now he’s in pre-k, and I’m much more familiar with our school options and we’re certain waiting was a great decision for our family.

Our hope is to send him to a lovely public elementary school that I can put lots of my time and energy into. However, I know myself and I know I DON’T have the patience, self-control, strength, etc, to go through next summer not knowing where my child will go to school in the fall-- despite hearing over and over again it all works out in the end. I’m anxious by nature and I just know that situation will send me right over the edge. Our solution is to tour a few religious schools to have more choices and we are open to the idea that one of them could be the best fit for our son, regardless of public school placement. The “M” word has also come up, but we really hope to avoid that as we like it in SF and feel it has a lot to offer our family. So here, in no particular order, are the schools we (I) plan on touring (one of the first 4 is our “neighborhood” school, but in an effort to remain anonymous I won’t share which one… yet):

Rosa Parks JBBP (a little far for my liking, but I have heard such great things about this program and I love the idea of language instruction without immersion)
SF Community (I went to an elementary school that sounds a lot like this one. I’m intrigued.)
West Portal Lutheran (Fairly close with a religious background similar to ours)
Zion Lutheran (I’ve heard great things about this school)

I think that’s all for now. I look forward to sharing our journey with everyone!


  1. Any of the first 4 you name are wonderful schools with lovely communities and are highly sought after. I'd happily send my kids to any of them - all good.

    I live by Sunnyside - my kids are older (at Aptos Middle) and know it's blossomed into a terrific community school with many (mostly?) neighborhood kids. My kids went to Miraloma back when "nobody" thought it was a good school and the API was in the 600s- it, too, is (and already was) a great place with a great parent-teacher community. Same with Lakeshore and Sloat.

    Go with your neighborhood school, whichever it is. You won't go wrong with this list of schools.

  2. I second what 12:40 just said. These are all good schools with nice communities. You'll have strong neighborhood preference for whichever one is your assignment area school--if you like your local school, you are looking pretty good. (For those who don't like their school, it's a harder deal, unless they get CTIP1 preference under the new system).

    Anyway, welcome to the city!

  3. I am curious about Rosa Parks JBBP.

    People speak highly of it. However, Rosa Parks' API score hasn't improved since JBBP moved to RP several years ago.

    Can someone give some insight?

  4. I would highly recommend touring Monroe (its right by SF Community) and may be a good fall back if your first four fall through. You can list it for round 2 and use it to compare some of your other schools. It may be far but its close to 280.

    I also recommending
    A lot of my neighbors are at Sunnyside (Miraloma is our neighborhood school) and I hear great things are happening and its getting better every year.

  5. oops someone popped into my office and I hit post.

    I meant to recommend finding out what schools your neighbors were assigned to this year and tour those schools. They may not be as bad as you think and it will help the anxiety of the unknown.. and help with the decision to put down that deposit on private!

    I don't know the exact neighborhood you're in, but I think it may be Sheridan or Jose Ortega.

  6. We've been very pleased with Zion Lutheran so far. We're not religious but we're not opposed to it and will let our kid decide for himself. Of all the schools I've seen (and I've looked at probably 24 schools in the last 3 years), it's got the most enthusiastic, engaged kids I've seen in the classrooms at any school, public or private, at any price. If old reviews on Great Schools are accurate, apparently they had some problems several years back, but the current principal, Donna Laughlin, seems to have a real knack for picking inspiring, capable young teachers.

  7. Well, we can eliminate Miraloma as a neighborhood school, because demand for it will make it a citywide school.

    Sloat is great (for us) -- each family really has to evaluate what's best for them. One family that got Miraloma bailed after a week when they realized the 7:40 start time was just too much for them to handle. Don't be a lemming and apply to all the "trophy" schools just because other people do -- you might end up doing yourself a disservice.

    If you are sure you CAN NOT go through the summer not knowing what's going to happen, you've just figured out something that's very important. If you can't, then you need to include privates in your search. If you can, you have more latitude to hold out for your choice.

    Good luck!

  8. I think 2:23 is incorrect about one thing. Under the new system, demand alone will not make a school city-wide. Schools that are K-8 or have language programs will be city-wide. Everything else will have an attendance area. If you live in the Miraloma attendance area, you have preference over everyone except siblings and CTIP 1 kids (though you will still be competing with other kids in the attendance area and you may not get the luck of the draw). But if you don't live in the Miraloma attendance area or in a CTIP 1 area, probably wise to not to pin your hopes on it due to its popularity.

    I need certainty, a start time no earlier than 8:30, and a school where I can either walk or drive, park, and catch a bus to work, so it's been parochial for me.

  9. Sounds like you're in the same area as we are. Miraloma is our official neighborhood school, Sunnyside is the closest physically, and we pass West Portal Lutheran & Sloat to get to Lakeshore each morning nowadays. :-)

  10. Call me confused but isn't the neighborhood assignment system supposed to stop all the lottery and touring madness we all had to endure? Now we have 4 new bloggers for this coming year sounding just as obsessive as I was last year. So nothing has changed?

  11. 8:32, I think people are waiting to see how the new system plays out. I think the neighborhood thing will be a huge factor in the far west, where very few CTIP1 families will venture. CTIP1 may be more of a factor in neighborhood schools that are closer to CTIP1 areas--although I personally think this is a bit overblown, as I believe most competition for (public transport inaccessible) schools such as Miraloma actually came from families currently residing in CTIP2 areas such as Bernal, Sunnyside, West of Twin Peaks, Inner Sunset, Noe, etc. Now neighborhood will trump those folks. And I think that if CTIP1 folks choose to leave the neighborhood that they will mostly apply to citywide schools due to likely transportation patterns.

    But the point is, we will have to see how it unfolds.

    Some of the anxiety and ideas playing out here are simply holdovers too. People are used to the idea that they have more choices. When in reality CTIP2 families will not really have a shot at most high-test score neighborhood schools that are not their own. But they have to go through it to understand that, given all the emphasis in the past on touring and trying for School A over School B.

    But again--we'll see!

  12. 12:29, thanks, it's 8:32 here. Well said. I wonder if the new bloggers understand that their choice might be quite limited? Their initial intros certainly don't have that vibe.

  13. West Portal Lutheran has a rep as Dickensian -- cold and rigid. There used to be a Bay Area-wide private school listserve that was shut down after (perhaps not because of, but the timing was notable) a series of complaints about West Portal Lutheran. This was some years ago.

  14. Re: Rosa Parks JBBP and test scores

    The JBBP program lost a lot of students in the move to Rosa Parks four years ago. Well over half of the existing parents left the program because they didn't like the new location and felt that the JBBP program itself was threatened. E.g. last year when we toured there were so few upper-grade students that there was just one 4th/5th grade split class in JBBP. And this was with their class size reduction grant that keeps all upper grade classes capped at fifteen students.

    That said, test scores at Rosa Parks jumped over 50 points in the last few years, even without much influence from JBBP students. If you check out the demographic breakdown (as we did after we toured), you can see those scores reflect students whose parents are split between "didn't finish high school" and "high school graduate" which doesn't really reflect the JBBP parent population. I'd expect to see their influence on test scores when this year's 1st graders move up--last year's kindergarten JBBP class was, I think, the first year that was fully enrolled since the move.

    Greatschools lets you look at the scores for students in different demographic categories. We were surprised that scores at Rosa Parks for kids whose parents were college graduates were better than scores for comparable students at some much more popular schools. However I don't think that overall scores at Rosa Parks will ever reach the soaring heights that many parents demand because there's a large special education population, a lot of ELLs in the general education program, and the school serves a very poor section of the Western Addition.

  15. Do CTIP2 families really have no choice?

    They'll be assigned a school, hopefully one close to their home and can apply for and waitlist any city-wide, immersion or neighborhood school they'd like. And once on the waitlist, you'll probably have just as good a shot as all the other 0/however many the new system lets you have. So you _could_ get into a gem.

  16. CTIP2 families will have some choice other than their neighborhood assignment but it won't be much unless they want low-demand schools. They can apply to city-wide programs. But if they don't want Spanish, Chinese or Korean immersion or JBBP, their choices will be limited to the non-immersion K-8s, which are Willie Brown, Lawton, Lilienthal GE, Rooftop, Revere GE, SF Community, and Bessie Carmichael. That's not a huge number of programs. Realistically, Willie Brown, Revere GE and Bessie Carmichael are not likely candidates for most CTIP2 residents.

    That leaves these K slots: Lawton 66, Lilienthal GE 66, Rooftop 66, SF Community 30. So about 230 slots total (maybe 300 if year-round Argonne is deemed city-wide), minus the spaces taken up by siblings, special needs (e.g. CL's hearing-impaired program), CDC participants, and CTIP 1 requests. CTIP2 people who are crowded out of their own acceptable designated schools by their neighbors, siblings, CDC attendees and the CTIP1 requests will have few options indeed.

    If CTIP2 people want immersion or JBBP, their options double or triple depending on whether they speak English or the immersion target language at home, as there are around 700 immersion and JBBP slots in kindergarten.

    To all this add transportation and before- and after-care issues, with a number of schools that might otherwise be OK offering no readily accessible child-care to middle-class families.

    I suppose the assumption, and it's not at all unfounded, is that CTIP2 people can afford private or parochial or move if they have to.

    Whether you have a pure choice system or a residents-favored system, you'll continue to have the problem that there are too few spots available at schools that meet the academic and child-care bottom lines for the middle class.

  17. "Whether you have a pure choice system or a residents-favored system, you'll continue to have the problem that there are too few spots available at schools that meet the academic and child-care bottom lines for the middle class."

    Good point. All a new system does for this group is to move around the rules for how the over-desired spots are distributed. It's a game of musical chairs. The rules just changed a bit, benefiting a new group and disadvantaging another, but the overall number of chairs hasn't changed from last year to this. (One could argue however that the number has changed over the last decade, with magnet programs such as immersion, new afterschool programs, and pioneering parents at places like Miraloma and Sunnyside).