Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Moving van

At around 4:00am one morning last week, our youngest trotted into our room and bounded next to my side of the bed. “Do you need water?” I asked sleepily. Potty emergency? Is someone sick?

“I weady!” he answered happily in a three-year-old’s idea of a whisper. He was clutching his little travel backpack, stuffed with a couple of plush animals and two unmatched socks. “I weady to move to a new house!”

He isn’t alone. Since acceptance letters landed in March, my crew has all been getting ready. We’ve decided to move out of the city and head south down to the Peninsula or Silicon Valley.

For some background on our particular situation, here’s a quick recap:
  • We both work in Silicon Valley, and are each spending 10-15 hours a week commuting. We are very attached to the city, but as for the drive, well, the word “bummer” doesn’t do it justice. We've been doing it for a few years and are burnt out.

  • We toured 15+ public schools in San Francisco. In Round 1, we went 0/10. Here is the list of schools we’d requested.

  • In mid-March, we received happier news on the private school side, and were accepted to two SF independent schools that we very much admire. But the price tag for two kids, plus the continued commuting, made us think twice.

  • Given that we are CTIP2 and didn’t feel that our assignment boundary school (Sutro) was a good fit, I’d seen the “0/X” bus headed our way last fall, and started looking outside the city in October. As part of that process, we applied to several public magnet school programs in San Mateo, where you don’t have to be a resident to apply. Our five-year-old was accepted to one of the San Mateo-Foster City Montessori magnet school programs in late March.

In March, as the deadline for accepting private school spots approached, we asked ourselves a lot of hard questions and weighed what felt like an endless number of factors. We thought about trying to make private school work financially, especially when our younger one is ready for kindergarten in two years. On the public side, we thought about trying for Round II, Round III, or whatever comes in September. But three things argued against that – the fact that we are “CTIP2/Don’t want our school,” which puts us at the bottom of the lottery barrel and keeps us there; the district’s decision to remove the “0/X” tie-breaker from later rounds of the lottery this year; and the lack of transparency over what the process will be like this August and September.

We also considered the input we’ve gotten from others on this blog, in all its forms. Many of you have provided invaluable advice along the way, and one comment in particular stuck in my head:

I'm one of the bigger boosters of SF publics out there, especially in encouraging people to look beyond trophy schools since we are happily in a non-trophy public. However, if we lived in the Richmond and we had to commute to the Peninsula for work for both of us, there is no way in hell that I would stick around the City. Life is too short to spend 500 plus hours a year in a car (that's twelve weeks of vacation time!).

- March 21, 2011 8:39 PM

And so, we’ve decided, we are headed out. With a good bit of sadness, we declined our private school spots. I’m weeks behind in posting this update because we’ve been concentrating on housing issues -- looking for a new place to rent and arranging for someone to rent out our SF home. We may wind up in San Mateo, but are also taking one last look at two school districts closer to our jobs (Menlo Park and Mountain View) to see if anything there makes sense. In San Mateo, we love the magnet school programs, but it’s further from work. In Menlo Park, the schools are excellent, but it’s less diverse and the real estate situation is tougher than most, which is saying something. In Mountain View, the schools vary in quality, and so we’d need to pick neighborhoods carefully.

In posting this update, I’m in no way advocating a mass exodus from the city. If even one of us worked here, we’d stay. But we have many factors (work, family, and friends) that are pulling us south, and for us, it has wound up making sense. If you are thinking of moving, know that wherever you land, you’ll likely find other SF school transplants. We’ve attended meetings and seminars in several other school districts by now, and at every one, we’ve met former SF families who’ve recently moved. One silver lining of the grueling SF process is that it preps you to be an active, involved school parent, no matter where you land. As one school staffer in San Mateo put it to me, “We love our San Francisco families! They always show up well-informed and ready to pitch in.”

We very much appreciate all of you who’ve taken the time to share comments and advice along the way. I’ve also been lucky to be in great blogging company as well. Donna and Helga, all the best at Aptos and Lawton! Emily, two friends of ours send their kids to Zion and love it, and I hope your son will be very happy there. Aissa, all the best in the move back East! Joseph, huge congratulations on Gateway Charter – I was pulling for you and Ben more than anyone. Becca and Marcia Brady, all the best, wherever you land!

I also hope the very best for all of you fellow “0/X”ers out there who are still in limbo. If nothing else, I very much want to see SFUSD publish a clear explanation of how this year’s process will work in August and September. How many rounds of the “August placement” lottery will there be? Waitlists or no waitlists? Why say the process will end in early September when there will still likely be churn on the private school side and spots opening up for another couple of weeks past that?

Even though we didn’t apply for Round II, we still received a Round II letter of sorts. It informed us that since we hadn’t registered at our school of assignment from Round I, and hadn’t applied in Round II, we now had no school in the SFUSD system. We were encouraged to apply for Round III. But unless the district heard from us, the letter said, our file is now closed.

To that I say: Yes, it is.

With love and respect to my home town, which will always be my home town, no matter where I’m living,

- Seattle and my crew, Portland, Tacoma (5), and Williamette (3)


  1. My first reaction after reading this was that this is a weird year for SFK Files. I've been reading for a few years now, and it's all been stories of how the writers each wound up happily going to SF public school. This year, we've got two people moving (and this one sounds like she might have private if she'd stayed), one going parochial, one going charter, and only two in SFUSD proper.

    But then I thought about it, and realized that while it's not a typical year for the blog, this year's writers ARE typical for SF. Some people move. Some go charter, some go parochial, some go private. Some very happily wind up in SFUSD.

    So I'll set aside my thoughts about this year's results being weird, and just send good wishes to all of you, wherever you are going!

  2. Wow. This was maybe the saddest post I've read in a long time. I can only imagine what a difficult decision this was and I wish you well in your journey as you forge ahead.

    As a family who went 0/10 and 0/10 again with no public school placement as yet, leaving San Francisco is something we've only just begun to think about. "Moving van" day is not yet something I can wrap my head around but which also feels like one of the few viable options left.

    Good luck.

  3. I can definitely see how the crazy sfusd assignment system was the "straw that broke the camel's back" but I'm guessing that the combo of being in the Richmond and both working in Silicon Valley just wouldn't work longterm. Even if you had gotten a "trophy" public, my guess is that within a couple of years you would be moving out anyway. It still doesn't excuse this mess of an assignment system.

  4. Looks to me like your reasons for moving would still apply even if you had gotten your first or second choice picks for schools.

  5. This is a story of a family which shouldn't stay in SF, tried hard to stay, but couldn't.

    I am a big advocate of live where you work. Your quality of life will be so much better. When both parents work in SV, it really doesn't make sense to live in the city.

    Moving is a good decision regardless of the lottery result. Best wishes!

  6. Very best of luck, Seattle. It sounds like you all have made the best decision you could for your family as a whole.

    If I'm not mistaken, all PPS ever said they wanted was that people give SFUSD a chance -- not reject public school outright. All the bloggers did so. For some, SFUSD failed them. For others, family matters prevailed. But I don't think anyone can accuse the bloggers of not having invested in the idea of public school.

  7. Why give SFUSD a chance when they don't give us a chance?

  8. i agree with 6:07. why on earth would you have been living in sf when you both work in sj? you've got kids. the lottery shouldn't have had anything to do with this. you made a harder life for yourself with that commuting nonsense for no reason. sj has wonderful places to live. i'm baffled why this is so long in coming.

  9. Even though you tried to make it work, it just makes sense for you to move out of San Francisco since you work down in SV. Believe it or not, I'm downright jealous of you situation.

    We both work in the city which is why we wanted our neighborhood school so badly (Grattan) and unfortunately, didn't get it.

    I can't believe I'm saying this but having gone through the 0/X process, I would love to have the option to move out of the city. But a commute doesn't make sense plus moving out of our SF house doesn't work financially.

  10. 6:07
    I agree with you regarding living where you work, which is why we are moving BACK to SF. We live in burbs (+2 hrs) but work in SF. We are doing the opposite of Seattle: renting the house in the burbs and moving to SF. Ironically, we left SF for the burbs - and now we're back with kids in tow.

    Thanks to this blog, we learned how to navigate SFUSD.

  11. Seattle never said what her assignment area ES was or what school was offered to her by the district as the closest school that had space. Without this basic essential information, it is impossible to even begin to assess how the new SAS worked for Seattle, despite the buckets of comments and concerns she may have poured out. Just the facts, ma'am. No facts from Seattle.

  12. Yes, she did say what her schools were. Assignment boundary school was Sutro. In March, she said her Round 1 assignment was McCoppin.

  13. 9:38 - have you considered renting your SF flat out and renting in Piedmont? that's what we are going to do. Rents are high in Piedmont but at least the schools are good all the way through HS. We also currently live in Cole Valley and it takes us about 35 min to get downtown most days due to N issues. Piedmont express bus takes 30 minutes and has wi-fi. If you work downtown, might be worth a look.

  14. Sutro and McCoppin are close to each other. McCoppin is not a bad school. A lot of families would be thrilled to get McCoppin.

    It doesn't matter - with two parents working in SJ, they should move even no matter what school they get.

  15. The upshot is that Seattle did not get a trophy. Join the club.

  16. Seattle lived in the Inner Richmond, north of Geary, and she was assigned to the Inner Richmond, south of Geary. The new SAS gave Seattle a very reasonable assignment.

  17. "Reasonable" on paper only.

    I'm a parent in the McCoppin assignment area. Didn't request the school, got it anyway, but won't be attending. I wasn't alone. If you look at the Round One data, almost no one who lives in the McCoppin area requested it.

    The school's GE program (one class only per year) has a long way to go before it'll be of interest to the neighborhood.

  18. Backers of the new system seem to think that geography/proximity somehow equal reasonable.

    Given how few people requested their neighborhood school as their first choice in Round 1, the rest of us seem to use other criteria beyond "What's up the block?"

    Between Round 1 and 2, we are now 0/16. Anyone got a phone number for one of those moving vans?

  19. 2:34, What's wrong with McCoppin?

    It has an API score of 841, greatschools.net rating of 7, and community rating of 4. It seems the most complaint is lack of parental involvement?

    It may not be "great" comparing to other schools in the area like Peabody, but I don't see why it will be considered "unreasonable".

  20. 2:37.

    Few people list their neighborhood school as #1 choice. That doesn't mean they didn't list the neighborhood school at all.

    Actually, if you dig into how the system works, I would expect most people listing the trophy schools (K-8 and immersion) as #1 pick.

  21. It makes sense to live where you work. Enjoy the weather! And if you get a chance, let us know how schools in the Valley look compared to those in the City. I'd be curious to get your insights.
    Good luck on moving day!

  22. Seattle, best of luck! If you ever decide to buy property in San Jose, Los Gatos, or Palo Alto, at least you can be sure that your investment will reap a near 100% return(i.e. your children will go to a very good school) based on the APIs of the neighborhood schools. One caveat: house prices are high in some areas in San Jose but the schools are not high- performing (The Rose Garden area being one of them.)

    This educational system in San Francisco is driving me completely insane. I wish we could move too! We moved here from San Jose for my job; bought a house in SF during the peak-- before the crash; now stuck with high mortgage, high property tax, and low performing schools.

  23. McCoppin is good enough for an Inner Richmond resident, because it is not a cross-town commute and it is not the bottom of the barrel of the low performing schools. That is my definition of what is or is not good enough.

    McCoppin is not a John Muir, which the State pegged as in trouble. Nor is McCoppin a Cobb, which is so underenrolled it almost had to be shut down. Nor is McCoppin all the way in the Bayview, which would have been an unreasonable commute. The new SAS gave Seattle a very fair assignment.

  24. Dear 8:39,

    How kind of you to decide what is "good enough" for those other than yourself!

    Sounds just like the Enrollment counselor I saw today at Open Enrollment, who told me that Cobb as "good enough" and I should take it.

    Luv you too,

    0/14 here in the Western Addition

  25. Seems to me, the point of the post is that you work in the South Bay, and the commute is just awful.

    I love my san francisco public school and wouldn't dream of commuting. But if I did commute, I would arrange to move nearer work asap. So good for you, for making that decision.

    I do hope that one day, you can work in the City again, and move back. You'll be fine.

  26. We also both work on the Penninsula and will probably join Seattle there this summer, even though our child was actually assigned to our top choice school last fall. Commuting takes a big toll.

  27. 8:39, I take your point that you get to decide for yourself that a school is "good enough" or not for your own child and family, but the point was that, objectively, McCoppin was not a bad assignment.

    That doesn't mean that Seattle had to take it (or their assignment area school Sutro either). But based on the objectives measures of commute distance/time and test score results, it was a reasonable offer. That's all. Based on that, the system "worked." Doesn't mean it worked for Seattle, but it worked as well as a student assignment system can work given disparities in schools and parent desires.

    Also, I think we all do understand why Cobb wouldn't be a great offer for you, btw, but again, McCoppin is not, objectively, in the same category as Cobb, so it's a different matter.

  28. I live in the McCoppin assignment area and toured it (open to giving it a chance) last year. The principal seemed energetic and the students were engaged in their classes. But we decided it won't be for us until they change:
    1. Start time. It's not even an option for working families since it doesn't have before care and starts so incredibly late.
    2. Diversity. They need to mix things up. Period.
    3. School grounds. Too much concrete.

    Utimately, we got our first choice, an undersubscribed school that is working out really well for us.

    Seattle didn't clarify whether she rents or owns in the City. With her job in SJ and if she rents, there's no reason for her to stay/invest in SF. It's logical. But that's the problem. Some people make the investment in SF by working and living in SF (and I understand the economy is a big factor) and others don't. If people don't invest themselves completely in SF, then it's way easier for them to throw in the towel. As a person who works in SF and owns in SF (and can’t sell because we invested so much of our savings at the height of the market), we’re in. We *have* to make it work for our family. Whereas when things don’t go so well for others who don’t own and live in SF, they just pack up and leave when things don’t quite go their way.

    In the end, it's unfortunate to see another family go. It was nice starting to see an upswing of little ones in the City.

  29. Seattle and McCoppin is an example of why taking away parental choice (as the K neighborhood and middle feeder assignment system do) will not lead to bad schools improving. Unlike choice where parents make a conscious choice to go to a bad school and make it better, these assignment systems operate on coercion. Under SFUSD's theory, a group of neighborhood parents get McCoppin and voilĂ  the school turns around. But that's not happening here, as you can see from the posts. And that's true even though some of the structural things the posters note really can be easily fixed. It's all about human psychology -- and SFUSD has jettisoned the one thing that used human psychology successfully.

  30. 6:58,

    It is better if you do some research first.

    1. McCoppin is a reasonable school. Some would even say it "good". It doesn't need to be turned around.

    It doesn't work for some parents. Maybe due to the start time. Maybe due to the small size. But it is not a bad school.

    2. As many people have pointed out, Seattle's issue is really the long commute. She should move even if she gets Clarendon or Rooftop.

    3. ES system is Choice. Wouldn't we say the Choice system didn't work for Seattle, if you have to make it a debate about assignment system?

  31. Oh come on, let's just get it out. White people don't want their kids to go to McCoppin b/c it's almost all Chinese. No diversity. It's got nothing to do with test scores.

  32. Where is Marcia Brady? Where is her kid going next year?

  33. 7:18

    Now I got it. ;)

  34. 7:18 I toured McCoppin and didn't have a problem with the lack of diversity until the principal said he chose an Asian dragon for it's mascot because McCoppin is an Asian School. It may have been a gaffe on his part given his hyper nature and fast talking. However between that and at the time of tour there were signs around the school with pictures of hypodermic needles that said if you find this find an adult was enough for me to say no way.

  35. 7:12 am -- I have done my research thank you. Early start time can be easily remedied with a before-school program. Lakeshore, Harvey Milk and Lawton all start at 9:30 and all have before-school programs. I'm sure diversity is an issue, but the smallness of the school makes it easy to create diversity. If the issue is that the school is too heavily Asian, 10 non-Asian families all go to a school with a K grade size of 20 (one poster said there's only one GE class), and you've got a school that is 50% white. And don't tell me that this system is choice like the old one. This system (unless you are in a heavily subscribed school area) ties you to your neighborhood school. It is most definitely NOT choice. And the feeder school system is going to remove choice as well for middle schoolers.

  36. 9:30 AM

    7:12 here. I am with you. I think McCoppin is a fine school.

    Start time, diversity etc are valid reasons. With those, I can see why some people not "prefer" it, but I don't see how they can label it "unreasonable".

  37. On McCoppin, we're a Latino family in the Outer Richmond. We got McCoppin, tried it for two months, and then wound up going to a parochial school where we've been very happy.

    My kid was socially isolated, teased, and felt very alone. One of the staff shrugged it off with "It's an Asian school." and "He doesn't really fit in." We got out fast.

    Parental involvement, a sense of community, and PTA fund raising are very low.

    This school works great for kids in the Cantonese biliteracy track. But it's not ready to be a neighborhood school. Should have been made all Cantonese biliteracy and city-wide.

  38. Seattle, my son's half-brother goes to Frank L. Huff Elementary in Mountain View and it is a great public school. If I worked in that area, I would move to send my son there (even though he thankfully got into a good public school here).

  39. McCoppin reflects the kid population of its neighborhood. We got to a parochial in that neighborhood and it's also mostly Asian. The parochial parents are mostly US born English speakers, however, and I think that makes a big difference. If McCoppin's population mostly speaks Cantonese at home, and culturally they view school as only school and not as a springboard for broader social relationships, it's not going to be a great situation for your child if you are not from that culture.

  40. I must be missing something.

    McCopping has one Cantonese bilingual class and one GE class, right?

    GreatSchools.net shows that Asian population is 66% at McCoppin. That number is just average for that area (even if it is all GE).

    So, since the bilingual class is all Asian, that means the Asian is only 32% of the GE class. To me, that is the lowest % of Asian on the west side.

    Something wrong with my math?

  41. So McCoppin was too Asian? Seattle lived in the Richmond. What do you expect? The demograhics of McCoppin was not out of character for a resident of the Richmond. It was not like Seattle was assigned to the Mission. The new SAS has nothing to apologize for in sending a resident of the Sutro area to McCoppin.

    The Latino family talked about how hard it is to be in the minority. All the more reason to mix up the student body a little for the sake of the educational experience of a mixed student body. The issue here is not to increase anyone's test scores. The issue here is that we are a pluralistic society. A classroom of all one race or ethnic background is a disservice to all.

  42. The SAS IS at fault for her situation. Under last year's assignment system -- which was much more a full choice one -- she could have stood a good chance of getting into any of the better schools along her commute route -- I can't remember her 10 schools, but she included schools like Sunset, Sloat, Jefferson, etc, etc. These were all schools that one could reasonably get into before the neighborhood SAS came into play. Now those schools are taken by neighborhood kids, and, because her area does not have a popular school, she doesn't get the extra preference from that. So that's why Seattle was basically screwed by this system.

    And I here the comments above about how the Inner Richmond does have a large Chinese population. But, having been at a school that was 70+% Chinese and now transferred to a school that is 50% Chinese, I can tell you that there is a HUGE difference between those two numbers. Many (but not all) new Chinese immigrant families keep their children from socializing with non-Chinese kids. Once the number of Chinese kids reaches numbers above 70%, it leaves non-Asian kids totally socially isolated. To give you an example, my son once handed out cards with his phone number on it to the few Chinese friends he'd made during the year at the old school at the end of a school year, and one kid ripped it up in front of him, saying his parents would never permit him to socialize with my son!

  43. If you lived in the Westen Addition and got assignmed John Muir or Cobb, that would not be an unreasonable assignment because the commute distance was short. For an unreasonable assignment, the SAS has to both send you far away and send you to one of the lowest scoring schools. That is my objective standard.

    If you live near Cobb or John Muir, it is very forseeable that you might get assigned there even if the school district does not have a clean neighborhood school policy. The idea of proximity is part of reasonableness.

    Unless we close that school, someone has to be assigned there. And we will draft people to go there. And thus make it in their interest to fix that school. So even Cobb and John Muir will be a reasonable assignment for many (un)willing parents. It is a gamble.

  44. I think these are people in the suburbs who benefit from all the white flight, or in the privates who benefit from the tuition if people feel they can't turn schools around and think schools are worse than they are. Truth is it is sad for us who work hard to see this. Whites are 29% of kindergarteners and 13% of high school seniors, so most movement is whites not feeling comfortable with too many minorities, and the people moving are richer than average, not driven out by economics. It is hard on the kids here to lose friendships and causes more segregation, both class and race. I realize this isn't always the case, but 29 to 13shows that this is usually the case and it is sad. Why not be part of the solution or if you are going to hurt our integration goals by moving, be quiet about it, why try to make others sad and convince others to do the same. I suspect the people who post these are really marketing people for private schools or real estate people in Marin who make money from racial segregation in our schools and lose money from groups like Parents for Public Schools.

  45. Hi there...

    Thanks for your thoughts, comments, and good wishes.

    A few clarifications:

    * Whatever other's sentiments may be about McCoppin, the "too Asian" issue is NOT coming from me. Our issue with McCoppin and Sutro is that they are both, for us, too small. We decided, after lots of touring, that we didn't want a small school. Our two kids are quite different, and we'd like a larger school with a larger mix of teachers and classes. Since both McCoppin and Sutro only have one GE class per year, both schools felt too small. Between two kids, we are going to be at our school for eight years, and we want the right fit (or as close as we can get).

    * Even with the long commute, it took us (well, me) a long time to decide to move because of roots. I'm a fourth-generation San Franciscan. My mother went to Sherman, Marina, and Galileo, and taught in the SFUSD system for many years. Touring Sherman with her this year (which I blogged about earlier) was a highlight of this process and a day with my mom that I will always treasure. I wanted to see if we could make it work here. But the logistics of commuting, living close to one's school, the cost of private tuition, and the realities of the SFUSD assignment system ultimately intervened. We're now ready to move, and at peace with it, and happy to have the resources on hand that we do to make the move relatively easy.

    * I'm all for heated discussion, but I really hope that further comments on this thread will steer clear of wild generalizations, racial or otherwise. As one of the site moderators pointed out recently in the forum, there has been way too much of that this year on SF K Files, and lots of us are, frankly, super sick of it.

    * I will say this about the new assignment system -- at least you have a better sense of what you are getting into up-front. After realizing that we didn't want a small school, I knew we'd have a tough time getting something other than Sutro since we are CTIP2. I started adding private and Peninsula schools to our tour list early. Under the old system, I think, everyone could live with the illusion that while things were hard, you might just get lucky. Now, if you are "CTIP2/Don't want your school" or if your school is very popular and of interest to CTIP1 families (aka Clarendon), you can know up-front that being lucky will be much harder.

    * Even with that realization, though, I am not bitter and have no regrets. I learned a lot from this process, and we'll start elementary school much smarter because of it. I'm also very grateful to many of you for sharing your help and insights with us new K families. Thank you!

  46. Nice tinfoil hat, 2:47! Hmmm...you sound an awful lot like that guy who was banned from the forums.

  47. 2:35.

    Have the data before you speak. All the Sunset schools were hard to get in. (SFUSD publishes data on # requests).

    We went through it last year. We live in Inner Sunset. We got 0/7 and assigned to John Muir. It is not uncommon for people to be in 0/7, last year, or this year.

    At least she was assigned to MacCoppin, not John Muir.

  48. I can't tell if there are one or two crazies on here. There's "Asians are superior/blacks and Latinos are lazy/studying harder will save the schools" guy and "if you go private or parochial you are a racist conservative" guy. The latter guy was banned from the forums but seems to have reappeared. The first guy ruined them, then moved over here. Or they are the same guy, though those views don't seem very compatible. Whichever, he is/they are maddeningly repetitive and insulting to others.

  49. The count so far from my side of town (mid-Mission/lower Noe Valley), from the 12 families we know with incoming K kids:

    * 3 to SFUSD
    * 3 to private/independent
    * 2 to parochial
    * 4 are moving

    How different is that from past years, I don't know. But it doesn't feel like a great endorsement of the new system to me.

  50. Best of luck, Seattle!

    We moved from Sunnyvale to San Francisco because we had similar commute issues. It definitely makes a difference in quality of life (both in terms of time saved and stress reduction) to reduce your commutes.

  51. Of the 10 kids we know, eight are going to SFUSD, three are going private and none are leaving San Francisco.

  52. let's see, Jim ... 8+3 = ?????

  53. We live in SF precisely because our jobs are here. No way we want to incur the cost of transport, cost of additional daycare for kids, plus time away from our kids. Yours is a decision, more Silicon Valley workers should make. We do plan to leave SF in a few years when the oldest is in middle school but it is not because of the schools. Our kid goes to a decididly non-trophy school. We can't afford bells and whistles for afterschool. But we think she is getting a great education by living in SF.
    We just want more space, more nature, and more predictable weather.