My family is about to embark on middle school tours, and we invite you to come along for the ride. Historically, many families get their first choice in the middle school lottery, the majority gets one of their choices, and some will get an assignment that does not work for their family. What’s in store for us in 2011? Is middle school enrollment going to be a breeze?
About us? My dear husband (DH) and I (Donna) have been married for 15 years. We both went to public schools from K through graduate school, ending with advanced degrees in Arts and Letters. We have 2 children, ages 9 and 10. We live on the West side of town. When we purchased our home 15 years ago, sans children, we were not thinking about test scores or school lotteries—we simply bought a cheap, mildewy home in the fog (of course now, 15 years and 2 kids later, our location has more appeal).
What do we want in a middle school? Our middle school selection strategy will follow our elementary school strategy: we want to find a place to put down roots, to contribute to the school community (financially and otherwise), to fulfill the vastly different educational needs of our children in a supportive, caring environment, to make new friends, and to go to some good cocktail parties (this is San Francisco after all). Start time, distance from home, and reasonable public transportation are important considerations. We didn’t consider test scores when we chose our 600+ API school for kindergarten, and test scores will not weigh heavily in our middle school decision. Truthfully, though, API scores have a smaller spread at the middle school level; therefore, scores add less distinction to a school. Also, the middle schools near our home are mostly in the 800+ range, again adding very little distinction. [As I mentioned earlier, where we live is by quite by accident—I do not want to start an Eastside-Westside debate or to get flamed for something beyond our control.]
Where will our children thrive? Our soon-to-be sixth grader (“No. 1”) is gregarious, advanced in academics, ambitious, and involved in many extracurricular activities. Our fourth grader (“No. 2”) has an IEP for inclusion with daily requirements for support and accommodations. No. 2 is equally gregarious, charming, and bright, but scores at the basic level in standardized testing. Next year, if it becomes obvious that No. 2 will benefit from a different middle school, then we will pursue at such time. In the meantime, we’d like to find a reasonably good fit for both children and to get sibling priority in 2012, so that we don’t have to up-end our lives all over again with lottery drama. That being said, SFUSD is expected to announce new Special Ed initiatives shortly, which might change everything for us, but, then again, maybe not. We should have the Special Ed. information before the Feb. 2011 enrollment deadline. Hoping for the brass ring, but that has yet to be seen!
What are our plans for touring? The greatest difference between the K lottery and the middle school lottery is the absence of input from our children in the former and the over abundance of input from our children in the latter. The decision is no longer ours to make alone: if we err in our choice, then we err as a family. Our fifth grader is excited about the prospects of going to a big middle school and wants (perhaps “expects” is a better term) to go on tours. Schedule permitting, we will welcome the company. To add to the excitement, No. 1 has been reading a book in the school library about SF middle schools and already fell in love with a school. When I asked why this particular school, No. 1 replied, “Because it has lockers, a beanery, and a court yard for eating lunch.” Maybe I am setting my standards too high. In any event, I am preparing myself for some very interesting post-tour discussions. Quelle surpise! They all have lockers! Also, I know that once the tours begin, the list of “must haves” and “want to haves” will change constantly, right up until the moment that we put pen to paper on the enrollment form. Flexibility is the key.
What schools will we tour? Luckily, the list of 65 elementary schools is now narrowed down to 14 public middle schools (not including seven K-8s). The middle schools on the West side of town will be considered first (in alphabetical order): Aptos, Giannini, Hoover, Lick, Presidio, and Roosevelt. Some of these schools are close or have good public transportation options; some have the prerequisite electives or clubs; some have highly regarded Special Ed programs; and at least one has “lockers, a beanery, and a court yard.” We realize that our list might be overly ambitious and that we might not be able to tour all of these schools. We certainly don’t want No. 1 to become a truant with repeated absences for school tours. We do not have plans to tour Catholic or charter schools. We may tour a K-8 and an independent (mostly for comparative purposes).
What do we think about the format of the middle school lottery this year? I capital L-O-V-E it! I guess that I never fully bought into the idea of feeder schools, given the diversity of middle school programs and electives across the district. Also, I hadn’t heard many complaints about the previous lottery, so I cannot grasp the concept of “fixing” it. Our friends who went through the middle school lottery in the past few years seem satisfied with their placement. They chose middle schools for very personal reasons, rarely “because everyone from our elementary school was going there” or “because it was our neighborhood school.” Now, it often turns out to be the case that a large proportion of the children from one elementary school end up going to the same middle school, because driving distance and MUNI routes often come into play, especially if you still have an elementary school drop off for a younger sibling as part of the morning driving circuit. While these factors generally lead to a natural migration to a relatively close middle school, which looks like a “feeder” pattern, I still prefer a 100% choice-driven lottery with the whole City in one big bucket. Furthermore, I am extremely happy to be participating in a lottery in which the priorities are so crystal clear: 1. siblings, 2. CTIP1 census tract, and 3. all others (this is our cohort). The phony-baloney has been stripped out of the computer algorithm. Now, it feels like a real honest-to-goodness lottery, with the exception of possible address fraud for CTIP1 priority, which I assume will be small and which I hope will be caught. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must report that DH loves the concept of middle school feeder patterns (not the plan that was proposed in August 2010, but the “concept”). So there you have, a house divided!
Why am I blogging? As we started to prepare for the upcoming middle school tours, we came across an old manila folder from our K search, with our copious tour notes and yellowed newspaper articles from 2003 and 2004. The articles extolled the virtues of hidden gems. Holy cow! I had saved several articles by someone who is well known on this blog--Caroline Grannan. In retrospect, her articles gave us the insights and courage to look beyond test scores (much to the chagrin of our playground friends). Thank you Caroline! I decided to contact Kate last week with my interest in sharing our middle school touring experience. I hope that this sharing proves helpful for someone in the K Files community.