How to Play the San Francisco School District's Enrollment Lottery - Lessons Learned
When we moved back to the United States and started looking for housing in San Francisco, I had done a little research on the school district assignment process and I'd heard of the terms attendance areas, CTIP, and tie breakers but I didn't fully understand most of it. We bid on two other properties in the city neither of which were in a CTIP area and were outbid on both properties. When we did bid and finally buy our home I told you in my first post that I had begun inputting the address of prospective properties before we bid on them to know their status and this property had a CTIP address. At that time I thought, well, that's a plus. I didn't realize how much of an advantage that an address was going to give me in this lottery. I knew it would help. I didn't think it was game changing. It was only after living here for a few days (I kid you not), my neighbors (with kids) began saying, well you are going to be glad you bought here and relating their own SFUSD lottery stories. These are my thoughts on the lottery and some tips and guidelines I'd give to those coming after me. Some of these insights are as recent as yesterday, like this first thing...when my husband and I were rereading for probably the 20th time the Frequently Asked Questions on the SFUSD webpage and saw and fully understood the phrase: hierarchical order. I will be using my own words as much as I can because I myself find the terminology used to describe this process very confusing and misleading. I'm not saying that it is meant to intentionally be confusing and misleading I'm just saying that it was for me.
First read the rules for school assignment
Each applicant for a school will be stack ranked into pools based on SFUSD's published criteria (siblings, CTIP, preK plus attendance area, attendance area et cetera).
Applicants are placed into pools in a hierarchical order.
Each school will draw from each ranked pool sequentially until all available spaces are filled at that school.
Depending on the number of requests a school receives and your ranking, no one from your pool may be drawn.
For example, if a school has 40 spaces available and 10 siblings and 30 CTIP ranked kids apply to that school you cannot win a lottery ticket for that school if you are in a pool of lower rank than CTIP (as I understand it). This does not mean you cannot get a placement at that school eventually, but this will be from a swap or from further rounds in the lottery or some mysterious space time continuum Quantum Leap hiccup.
Second, determine your ranking and understand your odds in each school lottery you enter and manage your expectations
Each applicant's odds for receiving their highest ranked request are not the same because each applicant is stack ranked. This means one pool gets in first - siblings. Another pool will go second, another gets in third, if your pool is ranked fourth or fifth chances increase that available openings will be filled before your pool even gets a chance. Some pools (like Attendance area only applicants) effectively never even get a shot for certain schools (like Rooftop and Clarendon).
Again, certain schools have an extremely high number of requests for their open spots and unless you are in a highly ranked applicant pool you have little to no chance of getting an open seat at that school. Know your hand and play your hand.
Third, decide if you want to improve your ranking lawfully if you can before your turn at the lottery
If you are interested in your attendance area school for an incoming Kindergartener and that school has a pre-K within your attendance area... send your kid there. That boosts you into a higher ranked pool and improves your chances for an assignment at that school.
If you would truly consider moving OUT of the city altogether if you can't get into a public school you can live with... Consider moving out of your non-CTIP address in an attendance area with a highly requested school and move to a CTIP area or an attendance area for a less requested school with the intention of living there. If you don't like it or your lottery playing experience proves unsuccessful you can move out of the city and play the school selection game of another city's school district by moving into a certain neighborhood in that city (if that's how they determine their school assignments).
Fourth, this is outside the San Francisco Lottery but relevant because it falls into hedging your bets
Apply to charter schools. If you can afford them or could afford them with some financial aid, apply to private schools and parochial schools.
Fifth, due diligence
You will want to tour schools. Create a strategy for doing so. If you tour in the same year you apply you have to tour them within a 5 month window (Sept-Jan), if that's not acceptable (or is just plain insane to you) do what works. Start forming an opinion of what sort of criteria you have for ranking your school choices (Man, that would've been helpful earlier rather than later).
The swap and limbo-land--two good reasons to list all the schools possible for you (whether it is 7 or 22)
Swaps happen once assignments are made for all applicants and the computer registers that a mutually beneficial trade between applicants is possible. Swaps can more a lower ranked applicant into a highly requested school. It happens. I'm not sure what the odds are but it happens.
Finally, submit your application and fast and pray (I'm only half-kidding)
When March comes and your letter arrives before you open it, pray or perform your preferred superstitious action, spit over your shoulder, wear a lucky hat... then tell yourself this is a really difficult public policy and I agree with it (or I disagree with it) and my family will be ok because I will not accept a result that will not be ok for my family. Then read it. Don't forget to breathe. If you are happy with your assignment, great, if not I'd say decide in advance what your walk away point is. Fight a good fight. Play the hand your dealt. If you find yourself at your walk away point. Fold with no regrets.
Now whether I think this public policy is good public policy is a subject for another blog post. The School Assignment Process of San Francisco -- Is it what the Framers Intended?
Also, I wanted to apologize for basically not posting at all compared to the other bloggers. I knew that it would be a stretch for me to find the time to blog with four kids under four and I was correct. I could have tried harder and prioritized this blog more than I did. I didn't for a lot of good excuses, I promise.
To be continued...