Friday, March 25, 2011

What's happening in the forums?

Hi: There are quite a few forum threads where parents are looking for feedback that have gotten buried. Here's a rundown of a few that you might want to check out and comment on. (Note: Comments on this post are disabled. Please go to the forums....)

Sheridan: A parent whose child was assigned to this school
wants the inside scoop

Claire Lilienthal: A thrilled parent got her child into this school and she's ready to connect with other families


McKinley: A family has been assigned to this school and is looking to connect with others


Fairmount: A current parent at Fairmount invites families who have been assigned to the school to reach out to her

R.L. Stevenson: A parent wanting to hear from families at this school

Publics: Part II

This from a reader:
Would you consider starting a "Publics, Part Deux" thread on the front page of SF K Files? There is a thread that was started over on the forum, but it hasn't gotten much action. I'd love to switch my focus from obsessing over not getting into the private schools ("But you were at the top of the waitlist, that has to count for something!" says the PSD), not getting any of our 6 publics ("But you put only the great schools on your list!" say the friends not in the lottery), to WHAT AM I GOING TO DO FOR MY SECOND ROUND.

Does the order matter? Do I have to take the form down to the EPC or can I mail it in? Can we confirm that I do NOT have to accept Cobb (where we were assigned) in order to enter the second round? Can people advise me on what schools to list now that we think we should broaden our list?

Advertise your school's welcome meeting!

Readers have suggested that we start a thread to advertise schools' welcome meetings. Here's a post! Please share dates, times, and web links in the comments.

Below are details on welcome meetings at New Traditions and Sunnyside to start us off!

New Traditions
I was wondering if you are going to post school welcome meetings for new families. We would like to publicize ours to the new families entering New Traditions in August 2011. Here is our information:

New Traditions is holding a welcome meeting for new families on Tuesday, April 5 at 9:45am in the school library with Principal Agudelo. We will be serving coffee and baked goods. We hope our new families can join us!

We also want to invite all our new families to the New Traditions Carnival and Silent Auction on Saturday, May 7 from 11am-4pm. This is a family-friendly event and will take place at the school.

For additional school information, please see at our website:
http://www.newtraditionssf.com/


Sunnyside
Hello,
I am a parent and PTA board member at Sunnyside Elementary. I would like to publicize our welcome reception for incoming families. Would you please post the info below on the SF K Files blog?

Thanks,
Teri
-------------------
Subject: Welcome New Sunnyside Families

Welcome to all families that got a spot at Sunnyside Elementary for 2011-2012. We'd like to let you know about a few key dates coming up in April:

Tours will be offered on April 5 and 12 at 9 am.

A Welcome Reception will be held on Saturday, April 9 at 10 am.

More information about the above can be found on our website at http://www.sunnysidek5.org/sunnyside-pta/welcome-new-families

Also, we've set up a Yahoogroup for incoming families at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SunnysideK2011-2012/. The group will be moderated by PTA board members and other parents so that your questions can be answered.

Come check out Daniel Webster!

This from a reader:
Congratulations to everyone who got what they wanted out of the school lottery this year, and very best of luck to those who are going to be trying again.

Last year our family made the decision to send our daughter to the Daniel Webster Elementary GE program. We listed it first and we got in.

We are one of the 'fortunate few', a highly educated family living in CITP1, but after touring extensively we decided not to use our 'golden ticket' and apply for a high API score school. We decided instead to be part of the community that will turn Daniel Webster into one of those schools.

Daniel Webster was recognized last year for a 13% rise in test scores, so it is already going in the right direction. The PTA is getting stronger and has increased its fund raising ability year after year.

If you have been assigned to Daniel Webster GE and are questioning whether to enroll or not or have an interest in applying to the program in round 2, please do get in touch with me at DanielWebsterGE2011@gmail.com

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guest blog post: The Case for School Equality

Every year a significant number of San Francisco families are denied access to a viable public school option for their kids. In some cases it is the result of sheer misfortune as a result of the lottery system. In other cases it is the “misfortune” of living in an area with an undesirable attendance area school and a preference system that favors you going to that school, not escaping it. In all cases, it is unfair.


Neighborhood School Assignments Will Not Work Unless Disparity Between Schools is Reduced

I disagree that because only 24% of people selected their neighborhood school as their first choice that parents do not want a neighborhood school system.

Just about every parent I know dreams of being able to walk to, or be in close proximity to, their kid's school...assuming of course its a good school. But, under the new assignment system you still have the same set of desirable and undesirable schools in place. You can't expect people to automatically want to go to a struggling school simply because it is now their "neighborhood school." And it is unfair to place the burden of turning that school around solely on the families that live in that attendance area.

Data does not accurately reflect demand

The preliminary data shows that the neighborhood school assignment system did work in neighborhoods where the school is desirable: Clarendon (62 first choice requests from the assignment area), Sherman (51), Miraloma (47) just as examples. Even in desirable neighborhood schools not considered the top 14 most requested schools, the data shows that the number of applicants who requested those schools as a first choice exceeded the capacity of the school: New Traditions, Grattan, Sloat for example. High percentages of offers for these schools went to attendance area applicants, demonstrating that there is demand for quality neighborhood schools, despite the fact that data indicates system wide a low percentage of people listed their attendance area school as a first choice

True demand for neighborhood schools is not accurately quantified in the preliminary data. For example, many parents in the Grattan attendance area who I know listed Rooftop as their first choice. Rooftop is one of the cities top schools and is a K-8 (as opposed to Grattan which is a K-5). Given the close proximity of Rooftop to Cole Valley parents considered it a great “neighborhood school” option (even though it wasn’t their attendance area school and expressed their preference for a K-8. They did so because the new lottery system did not penalize them for the order in which schools were listed. Just because they didn’t list their attendance area school first doesn’t mean they do not desire a quality neighborhood school above all, simply that they shot for the stars and requested a K-8. Thus, one needs to look beyond the first choice listed by applicants in order to assess demand for neighborhood schools.

Furthermore, the data doesn't reflect true demand in areas such as the Southeastern part of the city which has attendance area schools considered less than desirable by many applicant families. If polled I’m sure many of these families too desire to send their children to quality public schools in close proximity to their house though their attendance area schools do not meet that criteria for them...yet, at least. Demand for neighborhood schools is of course not reflected in their application choices.


The problem of Demand, Disparity and Disenfranchisement

As long as great disparity between the schools in the city remains, the neighborhood school concept will remain controversial and inequitable. Demand for desirable schools will exceed supply. And, as long as demand exceeds supply, we will continue to have families forced out of the system because they are not given a viable public school choice. Thus, it is a large percentage of people most hurt by the system that leave the system and are therefore no longer visible to remind us of the problems with the assignment system and to be involved in the process of changing the system. This disenfranchisement of families most hurt by the system only perpetuates the system.

There is hope in that there have been changes to the student assignment system AND the SF School Board seems receptive to making changes and fine tuning that process to meet the demands of families. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how a neighborhood schools movement can occur in San Francisco when: 1) there is such a disparity between schools in San Francisco that many people do not want to send their children to their attendance area school and 2) those who have desirable attendance area schools can’t even get them because demand exceeds supply.

Disparity

If neighborhood schools are going to work something must be done to equalize schools. It seems that families, much more than the district, have been the driving force in turning around troubled schools. So, perhaps it is up to families to lead the push in turning around the poor performing schools. That is, schools that your child doesn't even attend. If the district has done their part to put the staffing resources in place at these schools then (in overly simplified terms) the true disparity in most cases is the lack of PTA involvement and additional funding for programs which are generated through PTA efforts. Many of the desirable schools raise close to 200K a year. They fund art, music, garden, PE and other programs that seem fundamental but are lacking in public schools these days. They organize parents to help in classrooms and around the school. Until parents are willing to share the wealth and volunteer resources of their own PTAs with other struggling schools, the disparity will exist. It is a problem that no one wants their own kid to wind up in a low performing school but, when they escape it through sheer luck, they don't look back.

What if top performing schools were partnered with low performing school through a sister schools program? For example, active PTAs from desirable schools such as Clarendon, Grattan and New Traditions, could be paired up with low performing schools like Muir to strategize about fund-raising, increasing volunteers hours and organizing parents at those schools. Thus, everyone in the system is part of the process of turning around schools, especially families who had the good fortune of getting assigned a choice school.

Demand Exceeds Supply for Desirable Neighborhood Schools

The preliminary data released by the SFUSD indicates that even if you live in an attendance area with a desirable school, it still takes a stroke of good luck in some cases to get in that school. Take the microcosm of Cole Valley as an example of this problem. According to the data, Grattan received first choice applications at 135 % of capacity. This means, given the 66 spots available, 87 people listed Grattan as their first choice school. Thus, there is an entire Kindergarten class - about 21 kids - who want this school and did not receive it. If they are attendance area residents (we can't tell that from the data at this point but anecdotal evidence on listserves suggests a number of attendance area applicants did not receive their first choice of Grattan) they are also shut out of all schools in the immediate surrounding neighborhoods because those too are desirable neighborhood schools who were also likely unable to accommodate their attendance area applicants - West Portal, Clarendon, New Traditions, Miraloma, etc. They may get a citywide, but those are a longshot given that 66% of applicants received the "high density" tiebreaker.

This year it appears, most of the families shut out of Grattan received Muir as their assignment. Based on history it seems some number of families will automatically go private or leave the city and others will stick around and roll the dice with other rounds in the application process. Not a crucial majority will go for the school they were assigned and attempt to turn it around. (Side note: we have to stop expecting that simply because of the luck of the lottery families should be expected do this. Noone, including those in the attendance area, should have to send their kids to poor performing schools in the district.)

But what can be done immediately (before schools are equalized) to solve the problem of demand? I read somewhere that the goal of the new assignment system is to allow families to attend their neighborhood school, if they want to. But clearly in many attendance areas that simply will not work and parents are left with the same dreaded feeling of uncertainty that they had under the old system. The district and the schools are going to have to be flexible enough to meet the needs of fluctuating demand from attendance area families if they plan to legitimately accommodate them. I realize I'm completely naive about schools, unions, etc, but what if in our Grattan example above, an extra K class was added this year only to meet the first choice needs of the 21 families shut out? One more K teacher, one additional pod on the blacktop, a significant number of families served by the district. Is it possible? I'm not talking about requiring people to attend their neighborhood school, simply being able to meet the fluctuating demand of attendance area families for neighborhood schools.


Create a true Preference System to Close the Gap -- The CTIP Preference Advantages Families with Resources in CTIP Areas Above All

So, while simultaneously improving the disparity between schools, and meeting the demand among attendance area applicants for desirable schools, we need to devise a true preference system that targets the populations of students most impacted by the test score disparity gap. The current CTIP preference makes it all too easy for families with resources to game the system - shutting out attendance area applicants from neighborhood schools.

The data indicates that, contrary to predictions, a number of CTIP families flocked to desirable, hard to access (far from CTIP areas) neighborhood schools like Clarendon (30 CTIP), and Sherman (17 CTIP). One could argue, at Clarendon anyway which had the vast majority of offers made to white students, that diversity factors were actually thrown off by this preference. Certainly it worked to shut out neighborhood attendance area families from being able to attend that school (36% of offers went to CTIP families leaving only 10% for neighborhood families).

As long as families can move temporarily to a low test score performing area and be practically guaranteed a spot in one of the top performing schools in the district, they will do so. Think about it, a temporary move - to save a quarter of a million dollars in private school tuition (20K a year for the next six years times two kids) or a move from this beloved city, is totally worth it! Some families did that this year, dozens more are kicking themselves for not having done it and increasing numbers will undoubtedly do it in future years. These are families with advocate parents, resources and the ability to move. These are not families that the CTIP preference system was designated for. Continued use of this system will only encourage gaming of the application process and encourage families with resources to flee CTIP areas - thereby making it even harder to turn those neighborhood schools around.

Perhaps a preference system based on qualification for school lunch programs or other factors could be considered? (Side note: It seems futile to consider a preference program for this population if they have no way to even access schools in other parts of the city. Thus, back to the point above, all families should be willing to give time and money from their own PTA coffers to ensure that programs that serve low performing schools are equalized.)

Okay, that’s my rant. Call me na├»ve, misguided, whatever -- I admittedly am. I have an incoming SFUSD kindergartener and I realize I am new to these issues which have been debated by parents and the school board for years. I’m just writing my thoughts down because this entire process has been so upsetting to participate in. And guess what, we got our first choice school! But, our many many of our good friends and neighbors did not. I'm curious to hear from other parents -- what do you think about these or other ideas are out there for addressing problems of the current assignment system?

Thanks,

Idealistic Mama

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sorting Hat

The Data

On Placement Day Friday, I devoured the March placement report. I had a pit in my stomach when I saw many of my choices listed on the Top 14 list. In nervous anticipation of the SFUSD assignment letter, I stayed up late crunching numbers from Appendix E and toggling between SF K Files' and Rachel Norton’s blogs.

I was a bit frustrated that not all relevant data was published in the report. What were the Total Requests for all of the schools (not just Top 14)? How many attendance area folks requested their attendance area school in any of their top choices? What impact did PreK in attendance area have on the availability of slots? What impact did densely populated tie breaker have on availability of slots? Why wasn't city-wide language programs separately identified from GE in Appendix E?

Based on Appendix E converted to #'s (% of spots offered), the chart below shows % of spots available after siblings, CTIP1, etc. [L] reflects the spots that were offered to Other (e.g., applicants other than siblings, CTIP1 and attendance area.)





Bright and early Saturday morning, I was back reading the comments on both blogs. I was so stressed and exhausted I fell asleep while Hugo and Gideon napped. When I awoke late Saturday afternoon, we had received our San Francisco public school assignment...

The News

We were shocked that we got our #1 choice, Lawton Alternative School! I re-read the assignment letter and double checked Hugo’s name!

Our other options (Creative Arts Charter School and Alta Vista School Junior Kindergarten) also came through. We declined the CACS placement offer since Lawton is stronger in math and science. The decision between Lawton and AVS was harder. Although AVS is the better fit for Hugo with its small class sizes and project-based/science focus, the tuition-free Lawton is the better fit for our family. We registered at Lawton yesterday and told AVS our decision today.

My K search support group also fared relatively well. They got into and will register at Jefferson (Aissa, you will be in good company there), McKinley and Clarendon. Another got into Argonne and is happy with it, but may try for higher spots on her list in Round II. Rowena Ravenclaw (who toured some of the schools with me) went 0/8, but got into her #1 private school choice.

Sending Good Thoughts

I feel so badly for the many, many unhappy families in San Francisco -- including my fellow Fall 2011 K bloggers who went 0/10 (Emily, Seattle). Becca Brown and Marcia Brady, how are you all doing? (For the Middle School bloggers: Donna’s child No. 1 got Aptos (1st choice); Joseph, how are you, your partner and Ben doing?)

SF K File bloggers have been here before:

Debbie got her 1st choice in Round I
June got off the wait pool in Round II
Kate was 0/7 in Round I, got in her #1 private school choice, got a Round II assignment and then chooses.
(Claire, Meredith and Wendy – where did you end up going?)

Ideas for Improvement

I wish that we had an egalitarian Sorting Hat that places all kids in great public schools. Since that isn't possible, we should continue to work with SFUSD and Parents for Public Schools San Francisco to figure out the assignment process for K (as well as Middle Schools). I do not know if this assignment process is better or worse than the old one. I do know that it can stand some improvement. Here are some suggestions gleaned from the comments on this blog and Rachel's:

* The algorithm should be published
* SFUSD should be vigilant on address fraud especially since CTIP1 significantly alters an applicant's chances... Any changes of address between Nov/Dec (application deadline less 45 days) and start of school should be reviewed.
* CTIP1 areas should be continually reviewed and revised to reflect the most recent census data and test scores
* Attendance boundaries should be continually reviewed and revised since they were initially drawn based on historical data
* "Pre-registration" of siblings should be done prior to Fall school tours so parents have a better sense of remaining available slots (For those of you who are bizarrely angry over the sibling tiebreaker, it happens in preschools/daycares all of the time. Who wants to break up families?)
* If twins/multiples are split up, they should get a hardship appeal which is better than a sibling priority in Round II.
* The transportation policy needs to be communicated to CTIP1 families so they are prepared for busing cut backs to non-city-wide schools/programs
* The GE schools/programs consistently in the top demand (e.g., Clarendon, Miraloma) with less than 5% (or 10%) for attendance area families should get an override over densely populated area as a tie breaker in city-wides.
* Argonne (extended year) and Spring Valley Science Magnet school should be considered for city-wide status

SF K Files Community - any other recommendations or thoughts? I know you have them. : )

Helga

Monday, March 21, 2011

Make your case for public schools

Over the weekend, many families received disappointing news from SFUSD and didn't receive one of their top choices. This is frustrating and its tempting to give up all hope when this happens. We'd love for parents who have their kids in SFUSD school to share their positive experiences with public schools in the comments. Also, please share your success stories with going through the trying process. If you believe in public schools, this thread is for you! Make your case! And please, keep this thread focused on the positive aspects of public schools. Let's not make this a private vs. public debate, which turns many people off all together. Thank you!

The SF K Files team

Private school thread

Some readers have written in to request a separate private school thread. Please keep the discussion focused on private schools. Any off-topic comments will be deleted--or moved to a separate thread.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

All a-buzz

I feel in a nebulous state of mind. We applied to two private schools and were wait listed for both. Our SFUSD list was as follows:
  1. New Traditions
  2. Jefferson
  3. Sunset
  4. Fairmount
  5. Rooftop
  6. Feinstein
  7. Sunnyside
  8. Argonne
  9. West Portal
  10. Clarendon
I toured only 3 off this list and put the others down based on reputation and talks with my friends and neighbors. I listed them pretty randomly except for the top 3. I was hoping that history would repeat itself and every family who put New Traditions as #1 got in, but it wasn't the case this year. We did get our neighborhood school and #2 slot - Jefferson.

I'm not sold on Jefferson as I did the self-tour and did not have a chance to speak with the principal or hear anything regarding her priorities for the school. I do know that she has a great reputation from Fairmount and I hope she can continue her streak of building community and success at Jefferson. During my self-guided tour I do remember speaking briefly with a parent volunteer and a 1st grade teacher who both loves the school. The fourth grade teacher I spoke with seemed a bit disgruntled and had little to say positively and diplomatically kept her mouth shut. But that speaks volumes to me.

I peeked in one of the K classes and the teacher was working hard with the number of students she had. It made me think of the children that would 'fall through the cracks' when the teacher and student ratio is so high. It also made me realize how important helpful parent volunteers are and if I can be one of those parents given my schedule. I wonder if the racial make-up of the incoming class would change much from past grades.

This week calls will be made for those on private school wait lists and more shuffling will take place. We are also toying with the idea of a home school co-op whereby we hire an experienced teacher to do the curriculum and some teaching for us. At this point we are not holding our breath for a spot with financial aid at the independent schools for Luke. We'll keep our spot at Jefferson rather than go through Round 2.

Best of luck everyone!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The 34% Club

Like Emily one post down, we also opened our SFUSD letter today to discover that we had gone 0 for 10. We were assigned McCoppin, a school we didn't request and don't plan to attend. We'd toured it, and while it's a great school for some children, we don't feel like it's a fit for us. (I was actually surprised to get McCoppin -- I thought we'd follow neighbors in years past and get Cobb.)

With this news, we join The 34% Club, or the percentage of SFUSD K non-sibling applicants who got none of their choices. (This number comes from the helpful comments on Friday's "School Assignments..." post)

On Friday, we got happier news. We were accepted to an excellent private school. But there's just one hitch -- no financial aid. This weekend, we are going over our budget, again, to see what, if any, rabbits we can pull out of which hats. I'll say which school we got into once we know what we're doing with the spot. Amid all this, moving remains very much on the table.

For our household, I'm mostly feeling numb when it comes to SFUSD. I expected to go 0/10. Our list was mostly neighborhood schools with a couple of trophies/city-wides (you can see it http://thesfkfiles.blogspot.com/2011/03/mojo.html">here), but we had no tie-breakers of any kind in our pocket. We'd likely have been hosed under the old system, and as I expected, we don't fare well under the new one either.

Huge congratulations to everyone who got something they wanted, public, parochial, or private! Huge condolences to those who did not. I feel especially bad for families such as Emily's, who live in attendance areas for schools such as Grattan, Miraloma, or Clarendon and didn't get in. They had a prize dangled before them, only to have it pulled away. I'm also crossing fingers for friends who got into none of the private schools they applied to, and are now playing the waitlist game.

For all those still facing uncertainty, hang in there. In my house, some big decisions will be made in the next week.

Uncertainty is my BFF

So before I start, here are the facts:

-We applied and were accepted to Zion Lutheran

-We applied to SFUSD and got none of our 10 listed schools

-We put pretty much all very popular schools (though I had no idea how popular Feinstein would be and thought that was a decent “safety school.” I was wrong.)

-Our “neighborhood” school is Miraloma. We listed it first. We did not get it.

-We were assigned Glen Park Elementary.

Okay, so now we’re all on the same page, I’ll begin.

I did not win the lottery today. I’m not particularly surprised. Despite reassurances from many people, I didn’t really hold high hopes of my son getting into Miraloma. I wanted him to get in, just didn’t think he would. I figured what would happen is what exactly did happen: lots of siblings, a few CTIP applicants and tons of neighborhood kids dying to go to the nice school down the street, equals few spots to go around. So where does that leave me? Eh, a little bit bitter.

I’m not bitter in any one general direction. I’m not bitter at SFUSD. I get it, it’s a big urban district, and it’s not going to be all roses and butterflies. I’m not bitter at myself, I did choose highly sought after schools, but I wasn’t about to go into this process not trying to get the best programs for my kid (and argue with me if you will, but in general, the schools that can raise $100k+ from PTA events are going to have better programs than the schools that struggle to make $5k), I’m not even bitter at my bank account for not being able to comfortably afford any type of private school.

I’m bitter because I want what I can’t have. It’s a tough lesson to learn, one I’m trying to teach my 1-year-old, but really need to learn myself. We live in a house we like, in a neighborhood we like with a great, free, school down the street and my kid can’t go there. And really, I have no reason why he should be able to go there over some other kid, it’s just that I want him to. And he can’t. I’m also bitter because this just means more uncertainty for us. I do not like uncertainty, I’m a planner. And, no, it is not at all lost on me that this whole process is some type of life lesson for me, but it doesn’t change the fact that’s it making me bitter.

But, bitter or not, it’s time to start making some contingency plans. I’m very lucky in that we applied and were accepted to Zion, but without financial aid (those applications aren’t due yet so we won’t know for awhile if we get it), we would have to significantly reduce our current cost of living to afford it. And that means we would need to move. Which, considering Zion is a decent commute across town for us, moving would make sense anyway. But I don’t want to move. I really, really like Zion, and if some education funding fairy came out of the woodwork to pay for it, we’d accept our spot there and call it a day. But so far I’ve seen none of that type of creature. So we need to plan beyond that.

My SFUSD plan is to go through round two. I’m not sure what schools I’ll put down, as it really doesn’t seem to me that there were many schools just overflowing with extra spots at this point. I have a few friends that made much more reasonable lists than I did and STILL didn’t get a spot (well, John Muir was assigned to them) so I don’t have much faith in round two. I do plan on touring Glen Park and checking it out. But it concerns me that the Great Schools score is so low and it concerns me that the API scores are low and it concerns me that the PTA is very small. The trifecta of those three things leaves me worried. I would be happy to hear from CURRENT Glen Park parents though. If you have any input on your school, please, please, please do chime in with a comment.

Our final contingency plan is a move to the East Bay earlier than planned. We will eventually move to the East Bay because of my husband’s career, but hadn’t planned on doing so for at least a few more years. And quite frankly, I’m not ready to leave San Francisco, I feel like I just got here. But I’m not willing to go all summer not having a place for my kid to go to school in the Fall, so if we have to do it, we will.

And there you have it. I know I’ve given lots of you opportunity to “bash” my decisions and plans here, and that’s okay. Private school and moves and turning down public offers other people might want are hot topics around here. I feel no ill will towards those of you who would have done things differently than I have, but I would change nothing about what I’ve done so far. I’m simply trying to find a great place to educate my son, and I take that job seriously.

So congratulations to those of you who have received exciting placements the last few days and good luck to those of you who, like me, are now making contingency plans. Uncertainty is still our BFF.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Share your news! Letters are in the mailbox!

Many families have already received private school letters and will be receiving those from public schools tomorrow, Saturday. Please share your news. We have temporarily turned off registration requirements so people can easily comment and share. If things get out of hand, we'll turn the requirement back on. Thanks!

SF Families Receiving School Assignments

Press release from SFUSD:

Most Applicants’ First Choice for Schools were Located Outside of their Neighborhood

March 18, 2011 (San Francisco) - A month ago, 14,347 families submitted applications for public schools in San Francisco and, starting today, they will be receiving their assignment offers in the mail.

This year SFUSD saw 229 more kindergarten applicants than last year, a five percent increase.

The district analyzed the requests from applicants and found one result particularly surprising - less than 25 percent of kindergarten applicants requested schools closest to home as their first choice.

“Over our years of gathering community feedback, we heard from the majority of parents that they wanted to be able to choose the schools they felt would be best for their child,” said Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, who oversees the district’s Educational Placement Center. “This year, as with previous years, parents overwhelmingly chose schools based on multiple factors, with proximity appearing to be less important than other school offerings.”

For kindergarten applicants, there was high demand for K-8 schools and schools with language programs. More than one third listed a language program as a first choice.

Student assignment has been a widely discussed topic in San Francisco and in urban districts across the nation. After years of reviewing data, hearing from the community and national experts on the topic, the San Francisco Board of Education adopted a new student placement policy in March, 2009.

“Today is a milestone – it marks the first cohort of families to have their choices run using this new assignment system,” said Board President Hydra Mendoza. “We’re happy to see that demand is up - there is more interest in our schools overall. “

One of the district’s concerns about maintaining a student assignment system driven by parent choice was that choice creates a disadvantage for families who don’t apply on time. Historically, fewer African American and Latino families were applying on time and therefore most high-demand schools were fully enrolled before families applied. The district and partnering community organizations put concerted effort into outreach to encourage families to apply on time. This year, the African American on-time applicant pool grew 20 percent (from 293 applicants to 352 applicants) and the Latino applicant pool grew 17 percent (from 961 applicants to 1,122 applicants).

Four out of five applicants received one of their choices.

Darlene Lim, Executive Director of the Educational Placement Center, reviewed the most highly demanded schools and illustrated how demand exceeded capacity at many of the most highly requested schools - 14 schools were listed as a first choice for 50 percent of kindergarten applicants.

“The system is designed to accommodate as many people in their first choice as possible,” said Darlene Lim. “We’re seeing the similar percentages of families getting their top choices as we did in previous years.”

The next step for families is to enroll at their assigned school by April 15. Additionally, they can submit an amended application by the same date.

More information on www.sfusd.edu

SFUSD March 18, 2011 Enrollment Highlights

· More interest overall in SFUSD

o 4,930 kindergarten applicants, which is 229 more than last year (5% growth).

o This year’s kindergarten pool has 900 more applicants than 2005 (22% growth).

o 3,131 6th grade applicants, which is 211 more applicants than last year (7% growth).

o We predict middle school enrollment will grow 31% by 2018.

· More African American and Latino on-time kindergarten applicants

o African American applicant pool grew 20% (from 293 applicants to 352 applicants).

o Latino applicant pool grew 17% (from 961 applicants to 1,122 applicants).

· Low demand based on closest school or attendance area school

o 23% of kindergarten applicants listed their attendance area school as a 1st choice; 24% listed a city-wide school, and 53% listed another attendance area school as their 1st choice.

· The % ranged across attendance areas from 2% to 59%.

· The majority of attendance areas (42 out of 58) had fewer than 30% of students list their attendance area school as a first choice.

o 24% of kindergarten applicants, 28% of 6th grade applicants, and 26% of 9th grade applicants listed the school closest to where they live as a 1st choice.

· High demand for K8 schools

o 20% of kindergartners listed a K8 school as a 1st choice.

· High demand for language pathways

o 39% of kindergarten applicants listed a language pathway as a 1st choice.

· Demand outpaces capacity

o First choice requests for:

· Chinese immersion are 219% of capacity;

· Japanese foreign language in elementary school are 174% of capacity;

· Spanish immersion are 147% of capacity; and

· K8 schools are 206% of capacity.

o 14 schools were listed as a first choice for 50% of kindergarten applicants.

o There were 11 requests for every opening at these 14 schools.

o 74% of 6th grade applicants listed six out of 13 middle school options as a first choice: Giannini, Presidio, Aptos, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Lick.

o 80% of 9th grade applicants listed five out of 15 high school options as a first choice: Lowell, Lincoln, Washington, Balboa, and Galileo.

· Percent who get choice similar to prior years

o Four out of five applicants received one of their choices.

o 75% received their 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice.

o Kindergarten: 74% received 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice (81% received one of their choices).

o 6th Grade: 85% received 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice (86% received one of their choices).

o 9th Grade: 84% received 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice (86% received one of their choices).

Incoming: Private school letters

The weekend of stalking the mailbox begins today for those waiting to hear from private schools. Best of luck to all! Please feel free to share news (or just vent) along the way.

P.S. You can also join the posse planning to trail USPS mail carriers -- see the Community forum thread for where to bring your walkie-talkie ;)

P.P.S. Sorry -- the OpenId comment process is more restrictive than I realized. But if it's hard to leave news/comments here, head on over the aforementioned Community thread, where people are starting to post their news.

SFUSD March Placement Highlights

SFUSD March Placement Highlights is posted on SFUSD's updated enrollment website.

Good luck everyone!

P.S. Also note the media advisory notice for 11:30am-12:15pm today re: 14,347 placement offers being sent out.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We don't like our child's school assignment! Now what?

When the impeccably dressed government worker delivers your child’s school assignment letter (hopefully on March 19), sit yourself down before you open the letter and STAY seated. This will insure that you avoid injury when you (a) jump for joy, or (b) scream hysterically and smash your head on every wall in the house in disgust. Washing down your morning dose of Prozac with a good stiff drink before opening the letter might help too.


If answer is “a,” run, don’t walk, to the school and enroll your child by the deadline.


If answer is “b,” now what?


Families have tried various strategies for survival after the dreaded letter arrives, including enrolling as a group in a lesser known school when they liked the principal and location, enrolling at said dreaded school and trying your luck in the next couple of rounds of the lottery, forgoing enrollment in SFUSD completely until an acceptable opening becomes available (Did you know that you can transfer into a public school at any time from outside the District; whereas, internal transfers within the District are blocked after a certain date?), mortgaging the house for parochial/private down payment, home schooling, waiting it out for another year in a transitional K program, or moving out of the District completely. And I have probably missed a few options.


Feel free to share your experiences and recommendations for survival after the dreaded letter arrives. What advice can you offer for eventually getting into a SFUSD public school that you like.


Anyone from J. Serra ready to share their story?


- Donna

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Letters go out March 18

Letter's go out March 18. How are people feeling? Also, some families have already received acceptances to some parochial and private schools. Feel free to share your news in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Can we build K-8 language pathways while maintaining a choice system for general Ed students?

Today after school drop off, I joined my friends at Ritual Coffee in the Mission. No matter what we talk about when we arrive, once we sit down, we always end up discussing the middle school K-8 feeder proposal.

Everyone with a fourth grader is in the same boat. Curious, confused, angry, helpless, and hopeless are a few of the words that we use to describe our feelings.

Then we started compiling our thoughts on a paper napkin.

There are 58 elementary schools feeding into 14 middle schools. Currently, SFUSD is projecting that 35% of all middle school seats will needed for language pathways by 2016. That leaves 65% for general Ed students. Why does a language accommodation for the minority of students (35%) need to impact the general education choices of the majority of students (65%)?

So we asked ourselves, “Can we build K-8 language pathways while leaving a choice system in place for general Ed students?” This would be a hybrid of the proposal that has been floated by SFUSD. It would involve creating magnet schools for languages at centrally located middle schools that already have language pathways or have excess capacity (ie, under enrolled), the so-called "pull" model of enrollment (as opposed to the "push" model of K-8 pathways that is currently on the table).

Myth busters!

Myth 1. All K students who are currently enrolled in language programs will stick with their language programs through 8th grade and will occupy 35% of middle school seats by 2016. We suspect that this is probably an inflated number based on an assumption of 100% participation (ie, 0% attrition) for 9 straight years. Of course, we (moms) have no statistics on attrition from immersion programs in K-5, but we all had immersion students transfer into our elementary schools (students who were not a "fit" at their immersion school), and there are other students that we don't see, who leave for a number of "other" reasons, such moving out of District, going private, etc. Also, we do not have statistics on possible attrition of language students between ES and MS, but we should expect that some students will leave the language pathways after 5th grade to pursue things that they are more passionate about in middle school or for some of the "other" reasons.

Myth 2. General Ed students need the same K-8 pathways as their immersion counterparts. General Ed and immersion instruction are separate strands in the K-5 schools that have dual pathways. The students do not intermingle in classrooms, and parents rarely socialize together, except on large projects, such as the annual auction. Why does one assume that these students have identical aspirations, interests, and goals that can only be met at the same MS? When we reviewed the schools that fifth-grade families at our respective ES chose in the past three years, we did not find any consistent patterns. Families certainly didn't feel compelled to "follow the herd." In fact, we couldn't find a herd! Families chose schools for personal reasons, according to their personal priority list. For some, proximity was essential; for others, a flourishing theater program was essential, and so on. Families, for the most part, got their first choice (80% according to SFUSD statistics), and most families got one of their choices (90%). The system is working! The currently proposed K-8 feeder patterns protect the families who have language pathways as their top priority for middle school choice, but the feeder pattern does not provide such protections to those families who want geographic proximity or theater arts or a particular orchestra leader, etc., as their top choice.

During our conversation this morning, we developed a hybrid proposal: Full-choice lottery SAS for general ed students and K-8 feeder patterns for language students.

It would work something like this.

Continue the full-choice middle school SAS lottery as implemented in 2011 for all general Ed students (“Don’t try to fix somethin’ that ain’t broke”). In addition, do not establish K-8 language pathways in middle schools that are currently fully enrolled with General Ed students. Preserve the general Ed faculty (stability for staff) and the programs at these schools (the “pull” model). SFUSD will not need additional 7th period at these schools, which will help to contain expenses.

Implement language pathways at middle schools that are central to the student populations and that already have language pathways (to preserve/expand the language faculty, providing career opportunities for staff) or have excess capacity. The District can assign language students to these schools by one of two ways: using mandatory K-8 feeder patterns (the “push” model) or a separate lottery solely for language students based on full-choice SAS (the “pull” model). General Ed students DO NOT MIGRATE with the language students in these K-8 language pathways; they use the full-choice general Ed SAS lottery (as above), which avoids concentrating underserved, underperforming General Ed students at any one school. SFUSD can consider establishing a 7th period at this limited list of schools.

Magnet schools for General Education: Aptos, Denman (93%), Giannini, ISA, Marina, Presidio, Roosevelt (60%), Vis Valley MS

Magnet schools for Spanish Language Pathways (based loosely on 2/1/11 draft):

Everett – Chavez, Lau, Marshall, Muir, Sanchez, Spring Valley

King – Bryant, Cleveland, Guadalupe, Hillcrest, Taylor , Vis Valley ES, Webster,

Lick – Alvarado, Fairmont, Flynn, Glenn Park, Harte, MEC, Monroe, Moscone, Serra

Magnet schools for Cantonese/Mandarin Language Pathways (based loosely on 2/1/11 draft):

Francisco – CEC, Chin, CIS/DeAvila, McCoppin, Garfied, Parker, Sutro

Hoover (Only Cantonese/Mandarin; eliminate Spanish) – CEC II, Hillcrest, King, Moscone, Ortega, Taylor, Ulloa, Vis Valley ES, West Portal

Magnet schools for Other Language Pathways (based loosely on 2/1/11 draft):

Denman – 7% Filipino (Longfellow) and 93% General Ed

Roosevelt - 40% Russian & Japanese (Argonne, Clarendon, Parks) and 60% General Ed

Well, I hope that I copied our notes and jotted down the school names correctly. By the third cuppa’ Joe, our handwriting left much to be desired.


- Donna

Do K-8 pathways create quality middle schools?

A very interesting letter was posted early this morning on another thread. I don't want this letter to be missed, so I am reprinting it here. The letter discusses the data from EdSource, an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to clarify complex education issues and to promote thoughtful policy decisions about public school improvement in California. Unlike SFUSD, EdSource does not have a personal stake in the proposed K-8 feeder patterns in San Francisco, which makes the results of their research just that much more compelling.

Click here for a free pdf of the EdSource presentation “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better (A Large-Scale Study of Middle Grades Practices and Student Outcomes). The highlights of the study’s findings can be found on slide 8. Of the 10 domains that they studied, one dominated in importance (ie, focus on outcomes); another six had strong impact (in order of decreasing importance: coherent instruction, superintendent leadership, teacher competence, principal leadership, extensive use of data, and academic interventions); and the final three were always at the bottom in terms of impact (ie, time and instruction, school environment, and the very, very LAST was student transitions).

SFUSD should address the EdSource findings in the upcoming MS community forums, because if SFUSD wants quality middle schools, then they should be spending time and money on items with the biggest impact: focus on outcomes, coherent instruction, superintendent leadership, teacher competence, principal leadership, extensive use of data, and academic interventions. SFUSD should justify why they are wasting time and money (and upsetting many parents to boot) at the bottom of the list, where independent research has proven there will be marginal gains.

WoodruffLong rightly concludes, “Why aren't we using this study as the guide for exploration?

Here is the letter:

WoodruffLong said...

I'm frustrated why it's a "done deal" when they are only getting out to the middle schools to gain feedback now?



There is a lot of discussion from SFUSD admin about all the "research" that shows how pathways really make a difference in middle school. I wish they'd show it - I'm not finding it. 



After Denman's session, I spent several hours trying to find studies that show what SFUSD keeps saying is out there. All I could find is one Rand study from 2005 that touts K-8 programs - but that was along with about 9 other things that affected middle school quality.



Most recently, the EdSource report in Feb 2010: "Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better" looked specifically at California middle schools. I took a vacation day and brought my middle school Assist. Principal with me to their presentation. 



They explored 10 elements, 7 of which they see as the most impactful in attaining the best academic outcomes.



At the bottom of the list that they said had no impact? Regarding K-8, 6-8, or 7-8 structures, they said: "There might be other reasons to do these, but in gaining better academic outcomes, there was no effect."



So it's the bottom of the list, not the top 7, that is what SFUSD is starting with to explore middle school quality. 



Why aren't we using this study as the guide for exploration? As a middle school parent of two, it certainly makes sense to me. Check it out. Click here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

MIDDLE SCHOOL FORUM TONIGHT AT APTOS - 6:30 PM!

Come one, come all to a Community Forum to discuss quality middle schools and K-8 feeder patterns. Everyone welcome.

When: Tonight! Tuesday, March 8, 6:30 PM

Where: Aptos Middle School, 105 Aptos Avenue, San Francisco

- Donna

Monday, March 7, 2011

Update and Q&A from First Middle School Forum at Denman

(From Parents for Public Schools)

At the Denman middle school forum on March 1, – we promised parents two things:
1. We would post the transcript from the Q&A (see below).
2. We would link to the district's presentation of the feeder proposal to the Board of Education on February 1, particularly the proposed feeder option on page 13 of the presentation. (see http://www.ppssf.org/Issues/San_Francisco.html and go to the bottom of the page for the full presentation).

The agenda at all forums is as follows:
1. Presentation of the proposed K-8 quality middle school and feeder plan by SFUSD
2. Welcome and presentation by the school's principal
3. Breakout into small group discussions about the proposed plan, facilitated by PAC and PPS. (findings and recommendations from the community discussions will be shared with the Board of Education in May in order to inform their decision)
4. Reconvene to get answers to each group's priority question (the transcript of this Q&A portion is shared below)

It is our hope that by publishing each forum's Q&A, we will stay current with what the community and the district are saying about this proposal. – Ellie, PPS Executive Director

------------------------------
QUESTIONS FROM DENMAN MIDDLE SCHOOL COMMUNITY FORUM ON THE SFUSD PLAN FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Asked by parents and answered by SFUSD staff

MARCH 1, 2011

Group #1 Question/Comment addressed in Large Group:
=============================================
Question: Concern about rationale and proximity and the environment. How do you justify having a neighborhood school for elementary and then ask families to criss-cross town for middle school? This group was in favor of choice.

Answer: Proximity was neck-in-neck with language pathways. Population is not distributed evenly around where middle schools are located. There are a limited numbers of middle schools. Some places have small school population with excess building capacity, and other places have more population than capacity. Some schools that would have fed into Willie Brown have to be reassigned to schools in other parts of town. We also need to reduce racial isolation, consider proximity, and prioritize language pathways. It doesn't always come out pure proximity.

Question: How did the map change from first iteration to the second iteration?
Answer: There were problems identified with first iteration. The rationale for changing each school was individually identified. They will answer afterwards if people have questions about individual schools. Willie Brown & Bayview neighborhood children need to go somewhere. There is also an academic piece. Changes in terms of dual-immersion from Aptos to Vis. Valley. Team of 12 people from multiple disciplines working this out.

Group #2 Question/Comment addressed in Large Group:
=============================================
Question: Why are we going to a feeder pattern model? According to EDSource community pathways is only one method and not a very significant one to achieve academic outcomes. What data are you using to show that what is being proposed will actually improve academic outcomes. It doesn't feel like this will address making middle schools high quality. How will the feeder plan build quality middle schools?
Answer: When you look at this demographic bubble, performance sometimes takes a dip in middle school. Transition from elementary to middle and middle to high schools transition is where this dip happens. The transition needs to be more articulated. As the population bubble grows in the coming years, many kids will not get the middle school of their choice. We can either plan for this and make every middle school a high-quality middle school, or just let it happen. That was the thinking behind creating seamless pathways.

Question: What is the plan for making quality middle school?
Answer: There are Six categories identified in handout (with little school house) – academic and through the eyes of parent. They are 1) Academic Performance, 2) Staff Composition, 3) Program Quality and Range of Programs, 4) Student Support Services, 5) Family Engagement and Supports 6) Safety and School Climate, 7) Physical Environment. The district is now analyzing quality and programs in middle schools. If you're going to reduce choice, this is the investment we need to make to make every quality. Academic performance is improving district wide. What will it really take? Parents need to commit to making middle schools great together.

Question: Will data supporting feeder patterns be made public?
Answer: Yes, the data will be presented to the BOE, with PPS/PAC feedback and a feasibility study. District staff will make a recommendation to the board with as much information about the feasibility of the idea as possible. We can't have a feeder pattern without considering concerns of parents. The district is now making that connection.

Group #3 Question/Comment addressed in Large Group:
=============================================
In this group there were really mixed feelings about feeder patterns. The common theme was concern about feeders that don't make sense for location and transportation. There must be an opt-out mechanism because students have different needs. Not all of the schools are exactly the same. – ie Honors/Gate, electives, teaching quality, etc. What would be the means to meet needs of individual students, and what are plans for an opt-out mechanism?
Recommend phasing in feeder program, and only use feeder as tie-breaker. Opt out, and students can request. Given capacity issues, will there will be less flexibility to opt out as time goes by?

Answer: The recommended option right now is for parents to be able to choose. The feeder school is one of the tie-breakers. (See the presentation to the Board of Education from February 1, page 13 http://www.ppssf.org/Issues/San_Francisco.html)


Group #4 Question/Comment addressed in Large Group:
=============================================
Language for all would be great if we could fund a 7th period. Dual language is two languages in the target language. If we can afford 7th period, we should offer language to general ed students. It appears that there are many resources going to expand language pathways. Is the 7th period realistic financially? What will this mean for GE kids? What language options exist for GE kids?


Additional questions:
================

Q. One thing we never hear district talk about is the possibility of parents opting out of SFUSD altogether. Can you really improve school by manipulating assignment system? That can't work alone. We need to have some feeling that schools meet your child's needs.
A. District is not saying that feeder patterns will improve middle school quality by itself. We are aware that parents have choice with private and charter schools. There are multiple ways to improve schools. A collaborative process shifts thinking and we are hearing from parents. We're asking you to trust the process.

Q. Why remove neighborhood priority and why is that not a viable option moving forward?
A. It may be. There may be multiple tie-breakers – siblings, CTIP, neighborhood. Tie breakers may be changed. We are in draft and discussion.

Q. We are hearing a lot about 7th period, what possibility is there with school budgets being the way they are. On a scale of 1 to 10, what is the possibility?
A. If 7th period, board has to make some trade-offs. Partial fundraising from private or foundation sources? If funding is limited, this is a serious issue and will have to look at different options.

Slanted Door Chef Charles Phan at Hillcrest Elementary on 3/9/11

Slanted Door chef Charles Phan will be whipping up a batch of something special with students at Hillcrest Elementary. Phan, who fled with his family from Cambodia in the 70’s, graduated from SFUSD’s Mission High and is now known for his cutting-edge Vietnamese cuisine and thriving restaurant business in San Francisco. His visit is part of SFUSD’s Chef in the Classroom program, a nutrition education project that works to increase the likelihood that low-income children and families will make healthy food choices. Visiting chefs are chosen for their practical experience, flair for presentation, and ability to model the best practices of their profession.


When: Wednesday, March 9, 10:00 – 11:00 a.m.


Where: Hillcrest ES, 810 Silver Avenue


- Donna