Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Over the weekend, I’m in line to pay at the TJ’s on Masonic, telling Tacoma for the 15th time that, no, really, we can’t fill the rest of the cart with the chocolate stacked up near the checkout. In front of me, a mom with a boy who appears to about seven years old hands over her reusable shopping bags to the clerk.

The clerk – 20something, uber-tatooed -- asks if she’d like to enter the weekly bag raffle. Yes, the mom laughs, “although I never win anything…the only time I’ve ever won a lottery was for school.”

I realize that involuntarily, my head has snapped up from my cart and I’m looking right at her. So is a woman the next aisle over with a pair of preschool-age twins in tow. The lottery-winning mom must feel our gaze, because she looks over and smiles. “Clarendon,” she says. “First round of the lottery, even. If you are applying, best of luck!”

She finishes paying and pushes her cart out of the store. The checkout clerk looks puzzled. “What’s this deal about a lottery for school?” she asks me. “And what’s a ‘Clarratan’?”

When school talk even comes up in line at TJ’s, you know anticipation is in the air.

We’re waiting to hear on our list of 10 schools, which we turned in last month. Although we toured one Spanish immersion school (Fairmount) and one Mandarin immersion school (Jose Ortega), both seemed too far away from where we live to work logistically. So we wound up sticking closer to home, and including schools a little further west than we anticipated:

  • Argonne
  • Alamo
  • Clarendon JBBP
  • Clarendon SC
  • Jefferson
  • New Traditions
  • Lafayette
  • Peabody
  • Rosa Parks JBBP
  • Grattan
None of the above is our neighborhood school, and we have no other tie-breakers. So I won’t be surprised if we go 0/10. We’ve also got private school applications in play. And given that we are both working in Silicon Valley, moving remains an option.

In our research south of the city, rather late in tour season, we came across the San Mateo-Foster City Unified School District’s magnet school program. In addition to the large number of neighborhood-based schools in this district, SM-FC also offers 10 thematic magnet schools, centered around approaches such as project-based learning, the arts, science and technology, Montessori, and language immersion. You can see a slide presentation from last November on the magnet school program by going to the magnet program overview page and looking for the "General Session" PDF on the right-hand side of the page.

The magnet program seems to have been created to shore up some of the SM-FC district’s weaker schools. On paper, many of the magnet schools still have relatively low scores for what is a strong school district overall. But touring the magnet schools reveals a turnaround vibe that San Franciscans would recognize – dynamic principals, newly-recruited teachers, money for new programs and facilities, and large groups of committed, energetic parents in the lower grades. Although in-district families get first priority at these schools, you don’t have to live in the district to apply to the magnet program. So we also threw our hat into that ring just before the application deadline in early February.

Whatever you are looking for – public, private, parochial, K, middle school, or even a school out of town – may that “Clarratan” mom’s mojo be with you as the days to receiving school letters wind down!

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