Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall 2011: Will history repeat itself?

In my family’s story, San Francisco’s public schools always take a leading role. My grandparents attended city schools in Bernal Heights and Ingleside. My mom graduated from Galileo High, and later taught at James Lick for six proud years. I went to public kindergarten near Noe Valley, loved my teacher, and hiked along on field trips to places like the neighborhood Safeway, where they gave us each a big red apple.

Then the change hit – one of the district’s many upheavals in the long struggle to juggle the demands of integration and education. The next year, our school was told, most of us would be sent elsewhere. All around the neighborhood, families packed into moving vans. My parents spent many long, late nights talking in intense, hushed tones. They made their decision. My mom quit her job at Lick, and cried. We moved to the suburbs. So did at least half of my kindergarten class.

My parents never looked back. But after college, I returned to San Francisco, and now have kids of my own. And, just like when I was little, all anyone can talk about is school.

My oldest could have started kindergarten this year, but with her late fall birthday, we decided to wait for 2011. Being on the borderline, though, means we have plenty of friends who spent the last year in kindergarten purgatory. A few got into public or private schools of their choice easily. Most spent an ulcer-filled spring and summer before landing something they wanted. A few didn’t get a school they could live with until this past week. Two families, with nerves so shot that they are almost past caring, are still waiting.

So now, my husband and I are the ones to spend long, late nights talking in hushed tones. Will history repeat itself? Will we move out of the city? If we stay, will we be one of the lucky ones, or one of the families who is left waiting?

We live in the northwestern part of town, and as such, I’ll introduce myself as Seattle. My husband Portland and I both work in Silicon Valley, piling the drudgery of commuting on top of the school question. Our daughter Tacoma and son Williamette are both in preschool.

Under the new system, we have an assigned school that seems OK, but not much more. We’ll tour some public general education programs on the west side of town. We’re curious about immersion programs, and will check out some of those as well. Yes, guilty as charged, we’ll tour some private schools. And just to make sure we won’t get bored, we’ll also visit a couple of public schools on the Peninsula, to see what we might get elsewhere.

I know that by making the tough decision to leave the city, my parents gave my siblings and me the chance to get a first-rate public school education. They also lost most of the close-knit community they had here, and the rich daily fabric of San Francisco life. What will our path be? This is the year, it seems, to start finding out.


  1. In a town of transplants, it's good to know we're not alone! I was born here too, and my family left because of school. We're trying to break the cycle and stay. what about parochial?

  2. Do not even apologize for looking at private, parochial, or peninsula schools. You have to do what's best for your kid in the end, and the more options you have, the better.

  3. As one of these "transplant" people, this story kind of really takes me by surprise! How long as the school district been a mess? Has this lottery system been running for decades and there's STILL no solution?!? People, rise up or geez, run now!

  4. Interesting story. I must admit it would be even more interesting if you could tell us which suburb you grew up in and which school your kids will likely be assigned to. It just helps fill in the details.

  5. I agree,it would be interesting to hear the details of which 'burb, which school and what year your family moved to the suburbs. I think the story of moving to the suburbs today is different than it was 25 years ago, mostly because of the severe underfunding of all schools in CA. Yes, you can move to a suburb where you are surrounded by others able to afford to love there and are able to dig into their pockets to supplement their kids educations. But today? All schools, urban and suburban are suffering from such severe underfunding that moving to the suburbs for better schools doesn't seem as rosey as it used to seem.

  6. Yes, a lot of families left SFUSD, starting in the seventies. A lot stayed, too, and a great many of their kids got a great public education. Some of them even stayed around long enough to get teaching jobs with SFUSD - I met several last night at Back to School Night. And I was impressed both with their dedication and their smarts!

  7. I think the situation now is very different from the 70s. In the 70s, there was a concerted effort by the district to use busing to integrate the schools. Now, to save transportation costs, the district will return to mostly neighborhood schools, which will undoubtedly increase segregation. (CTIP1 preference without busing to higher performing neighborhood schools--not just citi-wide K8s and immersion programs--will not provide a heck of a lot of opportunity to the kids who traditionally score low on standardized tests). There will be no need to move to the suburbs (or privates) to be around other white or Asian middle-class families: you can just stay West of Twin Peaks, and attend your high-performing neighborhood school.

  8. I'm one of those that is supposed to disappear at this point - a parent who just spent at least 200-300 hours on kindergarten last year. It was a living hell, the worst thing I've ever gone through save a death of a loved one (and I've had cancer, natural childbirth, and run a company).

    What did we learn?

    1. If you're rich and diverse, SF is great because you can get into and pay for private school (though only about half are good).
    2. If you're not in section 8 housing you'll be in lottery hell and then end up waiting all summer with ulcers to get into a "good" public school that is about 30% as good as private schools full of self righteous stay at homish moms (who may be writers or web designers) who delude themselves into thinking that a crappy garden makes up for the 7 hours of worksheets your kid will do a day.
    3. The new system is a mask for the usual bullshit and will leave more heartbroken this year (who got their hopes up thinking things might be better). Do all those people in Noe really think they'll get Alvarado now? Do the math. 88 spots= 44 siblings + 22 native speakers + 22 NEW... and in new, neighborhood is like 4th priority. And don't forget - there are probably 500 K kids in that attendance area. Alternative schools? They'll be more swamped than ever with those from junk areas as Grattan, Peabody, etc will only be for neighborhooders.
    4. Save yourself the heartache and move. By the end of this year you will hate San Francisco, and the city you once loved will become a place where it's hard to look past the Land Rovers (rich), single speed bikes (hipster singles), or bumper sticker plastered subaru (delusional quasi unemployed self righteous urban mom) to find a regular old middle class family.

  9. What a bunch of elitist racists, with your oh-so-special pampered princesses and princes. Do take yourself off to the suburbs, where everyone is just as special as your precious snowflakes.

  10. 10:31 So what private school did your kid get into?

  11. Dang 10:30, consider yourself entitled much?

  12. 10:31-I'm really struggling to figure out what you want for your children's future?

    1. You seem to hate rich people. That is what you will find at an elite private school.

    2. You really hate stay at home moms who send their kids to public school.

    3. Spending 200-300 hours on a kindergarten search seems very extreme to me.

    4. What qualifies you as an education expert to assess both public and private?

    5. I agree you need to move from San Francisco and I'm not exactly sure whether you'll find your educational utopia or not.

    Honestly? With your conflicting standards you're the one who is deluded.

  13. I think 10:31 has some basis in reality for items 1-3, can't really comment on #4. I am tired of those trying to sugar coat things. The poster appears honest in their assessment. For those of you in disagreement, instead of picking apart the poster. What was your experience this past year? Did you get the school of your dreams or even a top 7 choice? Has it lived up to your expectations so far?

  14. Friends who live on the Peninsula (Moss Beach/Pacifica) used to go to our SF private but went public this fall for economic reasons. They used to be critical of the academics at the SF private (which is not competitive admission or considered elite BTW) but they say the Peninsula public school is abysmal in comparison. No science AT ALL in the public, and the 2nd grade math curriculum is back to what the older kid was doing in kindergarten at the private. If they could afford $40K per year for 2 kids (the younger is now in K), they'd be back to the private in a heartbeat. Just one anecdote from suburbia, your mileage may vary.

  15. 10:31 - Thanks for being honest.

    I could care less about the way the school building looks or the color of the students that attend my child's school. I could care less about music and art. What I do care about is the teachers. I want my child to have an engaged, enthusiastic and effective teacher. Unfortunately, there are A LOT of sub-par and average teachers in SFUSD. The standard for teaching is SO LOW. There are some great teachers but there are so many more that just ho-hum. There is little ability to remove these teachers since they are not physically abusing anyone. However, they are sub-par, they are using worksheets, they have limited ability to control the class and limited ability to engage their students. And there is nothing anyone can do about it.

    If you want kids to develop a "love of learning", forget the art, forget the capoeira. Get some great teachers. They will find a way to connect and inspire.

    THAT is the biggest problem with SFUSD. Private schools and charter schools can remove the teachers and build a rocking program. SFUSD can not.

  16. 10:31 - Did you get a transfer this year?

  17. 10:31 - You totally cracked me up. Love this "self righteous stay at homish moms (who may be writers or web designers)" and this "single speed bikes (hipster singles)." You are not supposed to dissappear. You get to complain all you want. If I were you, I'd be pissed too. We got our 7th choice in round 1, then put our name on the waitlist for our 1st choice and got it (even though we were in the 1/7 cohort). It all worked out for us. But if it hadn't, I'd be just as pissed as you are.

  18. 12:04

    Don't compare private vs public until you know what curriculum they use.

    The public schools use Everyday Math, which iterated the same concepts many times. Depending on the day of the year, they may be way ahead of private schools (two-digit multiplications at grade 1) or behind (single-digit addition at grade 2, for example).

    Regarding suburbs:
    I was surprised to learn that some districts have very short daily instructional time for K - the school ends at 12:30 or 1PM. Does anyone know if the schedule changes for 1-5?

  19. Have heard Burlingame has half-day public kindergarten. I know from relatives with a current K student that Davis has half-day public kindergarten.

  20. 11:58 I would share my opinion about my experience but unfortunately I suppose I fall into the the deluded self righteous unemployed art loving urban mom category (no subaru though) so I doubt it would carry much weight with 10: 31 or you.

  21. Hi 12:07,

    Fine points, but I'd like to add that it is possible to get great, fantastic communicators as teachers in SFUSD. It may not always be this way, but I'm absolutely delighted with both the teachers my twins got this year in their non-trophy SFUSD school.

  22. I can confirm that Davis does have a half day kindergarten. We have been very happy with our experience here, though we're not immune to the state budget cutbacks. I grew up in SF and occasionally check this blog to keep up with what is going on there. Fascinating stuff!

  23. I can say that history does repeat itself -- and also changes.

    I too was born here, and when I was in elementary school, was abruptly told I'd be bused to a low-performing school near the Daly City border. There was almost no way to appeal or make changes. My parents sold our house, and we moved to the East Bay.

    As an adult, I moved back to SF. I had a son. A few years ago, it was time for kindergarten. I was a good soldier, did the tours, put my seven choices in the lottery. Then the letter came. We were zero for seven -- and had instead been assigned the very same school that I was to be sent to way back when! There was a lot of laughing (and some crying) that day.

    But this time, there was an appeals process. We did the whole round 2 thing and got into a school that we love later in the spring, and have been really happy. It can work out!

  24. Piedmont and some Menlo Park classes are half-day kindergartens.

    Honestly, I think the budget crisis is so gnarly that moving to the suburbs in CA isn't a panacea. The only place that I am somewhat envious of is Piedmont - but we had such a great year at our not-a-trophy school that I can't see moving out of the City unless my children's experience completely disintegrates in a few years (i.e. my kid getting physically hurt).

    Wealthy burbs in places like Connecticut and Massachusetts would be the place to go instead (they easily spend triple per student what CA does). My cousin was complaining that they were cutting the school district budget in their town - so classes sizes were rising to 18 from 15 (and that's with a teacher's aide in every classroom). It was one of those world's smallest violin moments.

    But long term, despite our chronic underfunding, San Francisco and California offer some amazing opportunities. If the state ever gets its sh*t together, it might be the golden state again.

  25. "They also lost most of the close-knit community they had here, and the rich daily fabric of San Francisco life. What will our path be? This is the year, it seems, to start finding out."

    Seattle, close-knit communities, are hard to find in SF due in large part to the lack of neighborhood participation in local schools.

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  27. Hi all...Seattle here, writing in appreciation of the lively discussion. Never a dull moment when it comes to SF schools and the SFK Files!

    A few things, in no particular order:

    * Great to hear from others with a multi-generational perspective on SF schools! I think there are far more of us out there than we realize.

    * In regards to the details on my family's background and location, those are being held back during the school touring phase, at the strong suggestion of others who've written for this blog before.

    * The class warfare thing (Elitist! Hippie!) is a song we've all heard before. But it's part of the vibe when it comes to SF schools, so it'll be what it is. On my end, I try not to make too many assumptions about people based on the microscopic amount of information I know about them from what they post anonymously online.

    * In my experience, there are indeed close-knit communities in SF. Our tight neighborhood is part of the reason we are trying very hard to stay. But I also agree that in some cases, a greater emphasis on neighborhood schools might foster that more. Given the new system, time will tell. And for others, "community" is defined in different ways.