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.