Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fall 2011 search by Aissa: My introduction

Let me be totally honest with you upfront. My partner West and I (call me Aissa) have a nightly conversation as to whether we should move out of state to escape the school system here. We're both happy San Francisco transplants who've landed in the west side of the city. We have neither bias towards any school in the SFUSD nor confidence that we have a real say in where our child is placed.I'm a product of east coast public school system while West is a product of the public British school system.

I am trying not to get caught up in the madness and stress of landing our ideal school. I have visions, or should I say fantasies, of being super organized about it all but I know myself so I've decided to blog it. We live in walking distance to a public school that is 'OK', we love the thought of Luke walking to school and getting to know children in the neighborhood. I'll put it on my list but I wonder if it needs to be our #1 choice to make a difference in the new lottery set-up. I have a feeling it won't be our first choice but I also don't want to lose it if we don't get into the schools we prefer over our local one.

We're not too fussed about a rigorous academic program for our son Luke.
What's more important to us is a school that will help us raise a well-balance person who is sure of himself and his place in the world. This means that music, physical education, art, conflict transformation, intercultural understanding, and community service projects are included along with science, social studies, foreign language, math, etc. . Based upon what we've heard about the SFUSD and the current economic condition of CA, we are skeptical the public system can meet our needs and hopes for Luke's education . WAIT! Don't bash us just yet!

We continue to have hopes in finding a good fit for our family in the SFUSD and at the same time we will open our inquiry to a few independent schools. Truth be told, we would send Luke to a private school provided that it is a perfect fit for him and our family but it doesn't sit quite right with us ideologically, not to mention the ridiculousness of paying up to $24k for kindergarten and beyond. Our daughter Lulu will be entering kindergarten in 3 years and we can't image paying for 2 private schools. For that amount of money we should put it into a bigger house outside of the city or state, right?

Alas, we always end our nightly conversation agreeing there is no place like San Francisco and we don't want to leave. Feels a bit like prospecting for that golden nugget of a school where we know our child will thrive. It's gotta be out there, we just have to keep digging. Until West and I figure how, when, where, or if we actually do leave California, let's just get this conga line started. Who's bringing the mojitos?


  1. We figured out that we could do private school *or* extra curriculars.

    Just don't have the cash for both.

    If your child falls in love with a musical instrument and wants lessons, for example, you won't get that in private school without paying extra cash... and you won't get it in public school until 4th grade (though it will be free)...

    Our public school has a food bank. If you want to raise a child with a social conscience, better to do it by having him/her get to know kids from all social classes, not from up high as some sort of "nobless oblige" twice a year.

  2. Common misconception - private schools are by and large elite institutions that do no socialize your child properly.

  3. Hi Aissa,

    Thanks for sharing your journey through the new system with us.

    Re whether you can put another school first on the list but still retain your neighborhood preference for your local school: Rachel Norton answered that question recently on her blog (worth reading all the questions and answers over there at www.rachelnorton.com). She said that the system is designed for you to list schools in the order you want them, and that you retain neighborhood preference even if you don't put it at the top. If you get one of your higher picks, great; if not, you still get a better shot at your local school than anyone except current siblings and CTIP1 kids--and given you are on the west side, the latter is not likely to be a big factor for your local school.

    I think most of us had trepidation going into this process as to whether the schools could offer what our children needed and deserved (in my case, a decade or so ago, when the # of "considered acceptable" schools was much lower!).

    We have been part of three diverse public school communities now and have no regrets--kids are high-scoring, college-bound, well-rounded in terms of interests with athletics, music and theater, and a very diverse set of friends, as well as urban life skills and multiple languages. No regrets. We did supplement with some extracurricular money for lessons and teams but this was affordable given no tuition. This has meant that both children could follow a particular passion once that emerged.

    Which is not to say there are not challenges and lots to fight for, but on balance, these have been good and engaging times.

    The west side schools are generally good--rivalling the better suburban districts in terms of test scores despite somewhat more adverse demographics. There are a few on the east side that would give me pause as they are fairly overwhelmed (hopefully the SIG money will help with this by providing experienced teachers and comprehensive services) but I would not be worried about the ones over where you are.

    Good luck!

  4. Our work is in the Bay Area, so we chose to live in San Francisco. Our Kindergartener goes to a mediocre neighborhood school. For us, it was about socialization, being local, no longer having to drive (I did it for preschool and it was such a pain even if the school was worth it) and the ability to do local extra curricular activities to supplement his education. When I say the school is mediocre, I am basing it purely on test scores, and even then, I should say it's a poor school. But, the facilities were good and PTA involvement was also good.

    We have our Kinder in music and will also be taking art - even if he's not the artistic type. He walks about 3/4 a mile a day, and I figure that's enough for now.

    All the wiser people I have spoken to, when I've expressed my anxieties about my kinder being left unchallenged, they have all said that he will benefit from the socialization that school provides. It provides real world experience. I can't argue with that.
    These kids go to school with the attitude that it's just part of their day. They shrug it off. It's not stressful for most of them. It's much more stressful for us. I'm trying to have that same attitude. I'm trying get get myself socialized because something went wrong when I moved to san francisco.

  5. Some advice: don't kill yourself touring. You should tour your local school, of course. And then I'd tour Lilienthal or Rooftop, to get an idea of what the "trophy schools" are like. Then, if you're interested in immersion or another local school, tour that. 4 school tours max. Then, if you get something else, tour that school in March to see if you like it. If you want, I'd recommend driving by a bunch of the schools near you, to get an idea of what the schools look like, but keep the workday-halfday tours to a minimum. They really can be a huge waste of time, if you're not careful.

  6. 10:12 sound advice.

    10:00 sound advice as well, but it does change as your child moves into upper elementary. poor test scores are one thing, but low expectations and poorly taught curriculum are another with far reaching impact on even the most supported kids.

    I would advise you to look at the upper grades, and not blindly think things will change when your child gets up there.

  7. I'll be watching your posts with interest, as we are going through the process this year and I share many of your sentiments. In particular, lately we keep asking ourselves, why don't we just move out of this state? CA is kind of a mess and we don't see it getting better anytime soon. Unfortunately, we love SF and our careers are here.

    So, unless and until we actually bite the bullet and move, we are focusing our search on the privates (toured the publics last year as our child has a fall birthday ....it was a sad state of affairs, we went 0/15, and our "neighborhood" school is unacceptable so I'm putting our chances of getting a public school we would feel comfortable with at about 5%). So you are not going to get any anti-private school bashing from me!

  8. Does anybody remember where the bloggers from last year ended up? One (Debbie?) got Sloat first round. One got Lafayette in round 2. One (Marcia?) is going this year. Wasn't there another? Where did that family end up?

  9. Since you live in the westside, you have good choices in public schools, both the ok neighborhood school, and the citywide schools, such as Lilienthal, Lawton, and Rooftop.

    If moving out of state is a possibility in a few years, the money you will have saved on private school tuition will pay for quite a bit of housing in many parts of the country or even other parts of this state. I don't think you will be disappointed with what SFUSD had to offer while you were here.

  10. Which state/city would you consider moving to? I am curious becuase we are considering the same thing but do not know which cities we would like as much that have good schools.

  11. I think you don't have to figure out everything about your child's lifelong educational path this second. There's so much room for new and unexpected opportunities in and out of school during the elementary school years. Learning ends up happening in all sorts of place -- yes at school, but also at camp (so many options!); lessons of one sort or another (again lots of great options, and even high quality ones within the very affordable Rec and Park); from friends and other families you meet along the way; on field trips, and an array of other places.

    Even if you end up somewhere you feel is not absolutely ideal, you find so many opportunities for supplementation, particularly from families within the school community. At my kids school, for example, one family has their two boys in the SF Boys chorus, and invited other school families to audition too -- this in addition to the usual things like soccer and baseball and karate and language instruction. It's kind of thrilling to go to a school that doesn't actually have the whole path for your child pre-scripted. Holes can present opportunities.

    Come middle school or high school you can do something else, if school x or y or z isn't working. Or you might move for some other reason. Life is fluid!

  12. The other was June, or did June get Lafayette? Wasn't there a Claire, or did I make that up?

    Yup, we're going for real this Fall. I'll spare you my blogging, but keep your fingers crossed for us. While I was pleasantly surprised by the public schools last fall, the funding cuts, the new assignment system, and the feeder-to-middle school thing sent me to the bottle all summer.

  13. I have to agree that extra curriculars are a great way to complement the SFUSD experience, and with many schools having an early start, there's plenty of time for homework between 2 pm and 4 pm when many of the outside activities begin so that bedtime can occur at a reasonable hour.

    Also, check out the SF Boys Chorus, and the SF Girls Chorus, which both have age-appropriate programs for kids as young as 5 years old; these organizations provide an excellent comprehensive music education at a great price, and as they move up some of the kids have opportunities to perform with the SF Opera, SF Symphony, and more. The SF Boys Chorus has auditions this Saturday, September 11th - check their website for details.

  14. We're in parochial and supplementing as well. Have had awesome experiences with YMCA tennis (convenient to NW schools in the Presidio) and La Petite Baleen for swimming. We're starting dance at ODC in the Mission next week.

  15. If both parents work full time, how do you get your kids to all these curriculars? I may be wrong in my assessment but it seems that private school offers a number of curriculars on site and if I send my kid to public school (unless I am lucky enough to get one with the JCC program) that I will be paying a nanny $18-20 an hour for 20 hours a week plus the cost of the extra curriculars. At that rate, I might as well go private.

  16. 12:36

    It depends on the school, its location, its afterschool program, and when your extracurricular activities are happening. I'm a single working mom, so yes, this is an issue! I arranged a lot of shared carpooling over the years, and in the case of one kid got lucky that the main activity was a weekend one. Now they are older and take MUNI and BART themselves. The years go by fast!

    One thing--even if you don't do carpooling, it would still be cheaper to pay someone once or twice a week to drive than it would be to pay for private school. Yes, even with paying $1000/year for lessons in whatever, like dance, music, etc.--hard to imagine paying much more than that at the elementary level.

    I think the logistics seem so daunting when you start out in elementary--that's what I remember--but you figure out a way. In my social circle, the single moms banded together a lot to figure things out. Sometimes that meant I got someone's kid for dinner 1x/week, but then my kid would be over there for a weekend sleepover. Another year we did communal meals after practice, rotating from house to house. One mom would cook the main meal and the others would bring the sides and extras. We combined that with a carpool and it meant that some weeks I could work a little later and others I would leave a little earlier (yes, I'm lucky to have a boss who gets this and is flex).

    Also, middle and high school arts/music and sports still exist at our public schools on site--for my kids, daily band and seasonal sports with practice on site after school. So it gets easier at that level, plus, as mentioned above, the kids are often more mobile (and wanting their independence too).

    My advice is to flow with it...something is always changing just when you have it figured out.

  17. Some schools have lots of extracurricular activities happening after-school right on site. Our school, New Traditions, offers the following activities after-school for a small fee:

    Spanish (K-2)
    Spanish (3-5)
    maybe French

    Kids can also attend the Kids Outdoor Club (general and soccer). Transportation is provided and included.

    Also, I've been pleasantly surprised that New Traditions also offers P.E., drama, art, and music classes as part of the school day.

  18. 6:17 p.m., thanks for the info. It really highlights the disparity in schools. Our assigned school has no on site after school curriculars. Its very sad.

  19. 6:17pm here to 9:46am:

    Yes, I think you're right. There are great disparities between schools in the district. It's not fair and all the schools should offer the same opportunities to all children. I think the reason NT has music, art, drama, etc. during the day is that the PTA funds them. The after-school classes are available because a group of parents organized them.

  20. I was able to work out leaving early 3 days a week to take my kid to offsite extracurricular activities in exchange for working a weekend day each week. I know not all employers are that flexible though.