Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The SF H Files: High Schools

By reader request, a thread to "get insight and start a conversation" on specific high schools. If you would like to discuss private vs public high schools in general, please use the previous thread, Private vs Public: High Schools

Your comments become a resource for parents to read for years to come. Please try to keep comments cordial and on-topic. Email the kfilesblog@gmail.com if you would like to start another topic.


Please choose a name when adding comments; this adds credibility for readers and helps readers follow the longer threads.  The name you choose is not traceable back to your email. Thanks to arabelle, Private_Mom and Eponymous to name a few.

Recently, flame wars, personal attacks, name-calling, and responses with a low content to snark ratio have been deleted as being unhelpful to future readers. Humorous responses tend to stay (yes, I mean you, reader who had to lie down with your smelling salts! I laughed out loud). 

46 comments:

  1. What is the topic? High schools? What about high schools? Could you be more specific?

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  2. I think it's about advising parents on which high school is the best for kids to be most likely to get into a good college and be ready when they get there and have the most academically and economically successful life possible. The intent was to move the debate about which high schools are best for kids' futures and which they should try to go to, etc.

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  3. How to we post our untraceable names? Through the Open ID option?

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    1. OpenID or any of the options. For example, if you choose your google account, you'll be prompted to enter or create your user name for blogger/blogspot. This is the name that will be used. Your gmail address will not be posted.

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  4. What about the Charter high schools - CAT, Gateway, Metro...?

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  5. Recent list ranking CA public high schools from the US News and World Report.

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/california/rankings

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  6. I'm also interested in Gateway High School and KIPP high school. Anyone out there go there or know folks who do? No stake here in pitting charters over regular high school, just curious.

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    1. We toured Gateway HS last year, applied, and got in, but ultimately chose a different high school that offered programs Gateway doesn't. We loved the small size, the focus on college, and the warmth of the students/teachers; they were very welcoming and it was my son's favorite shadow visit. I've heard mixed things about the school, but it's well worth a look.

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  7. Gotta say - whatever you think of Lowell - it's pretty exciting to see it ranked so high in the ratings -- among other things it reflects well on the schooling at SF elementary and middle schools. That's good for all of us, wherever we send our kids.

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  8. I will try to get this thread back on track and share reports from seniors we know who are graduating from high school next month.

    Girl graduating from Gateway Charter HS (came from small, rigorous parochial K-8): Girl says it has been good and did well there. No tutor use reported. Several college admissions she's happy with mostly in the southeastern U.S.; she was not considering UCs too seriously.

    Girl graduating from Lowell (came from SFUSD elementary and middle schools with similar demographics to Lowell): Parents say aspects of it have been great (journalism, cheerleading) but the turbocharged competitive environment has stressed the whole family and they have spent a lot of money on tutors. Disappointing UC admission results considering how much they have been through. Family can't afford the private college (good but not Ivy/Stanford/Middlebury level) that admitted girl but offered no aid. She will go to a UC, but not one she's excited about, unless she gets into a campus she'd prefer off a wait list.

    Our Convent senior year experience is seven years old so I won't say anything about that unless someone expresses interest.

    If I learn anything interesting about other high schools from families we run into at Little League (many players have HS age siblings), I will post about that.

    FWIW: What I've written are anecdotes. The kids are real, but their experiences are individual to them. You may know someone who was happy and only minimally stressed at Lowell and got into every college they hoped for. You may someone who had a horrible experience at Gateway. If you do, please post about it. The more perspectives, the more informative and helpful the discussion will be.

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  9. I had three questions about special ed in high school. Has anyone with a special ed child had a good experience in a larger public high school? I have heard anecdotally that Mission is supposed to have a really gung-ho special ed department, but wanted to hear if anyone has had positive experiences at places like Washington, Lincoln, Galileo, and the like. I had a second question and that's about the "other" high school charter schools -- CAT, Metro and Leadership. I hear lots about Gateway but nothing about those three charters. Anyone have a positive or negative experience in general ed and, if you know, in special ed? Lastly, I was wondering if anyone has had positive experiences at the Academy of Arts and Sciences, which shares the SOTA campus. I met the director, who was saying that they have great special ed resources. But I know no one who has gone to this school. Any info would be really appreciated!

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  10. I must put it a good word for Mission High School.

    Our daughter has attended Mission for four years and has accepted a place at UCLA in the fall (she was also accepted at many private schools, including Oberlin College).

    Mission has some rough edges, to be sure, but it has a fabulous counseling unit (academic, special needs, peer-relations) capable of guiding ambitious students in any direction they desire. It also has a summer program that fully funds student participation in camps all over America.

    I know many of you will be hesitant about even taking a look, but I suggest that you look at the school with eyes wide open. Mission is poised to be the next rising star at SFUSD.

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    1. I've been hearing good things about Mission (especially the science program) and Raoul Wallenberg. I'm glad it was such a positive experience for your daughter, and wish her success @ UCLA.

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    2. To the Mission High parent: Thanks so much. Can I ask whether you think a special ed kid would fair as well as your kid -- that is, a kid in the general ed program, not the honors? Also, to the person who mentioned Wallenberg, I was thinking that might be good too, but there's a nasty comment on Great Schools about Wallenberg and specifically related to special ed. It is from a Special Ed parent who says that the high school's special ed department is in disarray and that somehow the department is not assisting special ed students in completing all requirements for graduation. Anyone know anything about this?

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  11. beentheredoneitMay 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM

    Thank you for your comment about Mission High School. I wish all comments were this informative and free of grinding axes. It sounds like it has been a great fit for your daughter and she has the good character to take advantage of its strengths. Would you recommend Mission for social-butterfly follow-the-crowd kids?

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  12. And Mission Science Workshop in the school's basement is also great. Every second Saturday workshops are fantastic for hands on science and as a means for parents with younger kids to get an early glance at the school.

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  13. Re: Mission High School

    MHS received over 5 million in School Improvement Grant money over the last three years. That money is now gone so many of the opportunities afforded by the grant are gone as of the end of the month. In addition, it was one of only two SIG schools that failed to increase its API last year, despite that major windfall of cash - a very poor showing given the advantages of the funding.

    That said, I have no actual experience of the school and there could be many good things to commend it. Just saying...

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  14. Don has a point. I do think there is something ridiculous in Mission having 800 kids and getting 29 into Cal and Lowell having 2640 and getting about 80 in now a year.

    Obviously someone is intentionally misleading people and Lowell counsellors aren't working hard to develop a relationship with Cal. I mean, those 29 kids couldn't get into Lowell and are not as ready to do well.

    I'll bet anyone six two and even if you take the Lowell kids who get into Cal and the Mission kids who get into Cal, you're looking at a 1.00 GPA Difference at least, which means Cal is playing games and not accurately measuring who's the best student overall. Affirmative action is illegal by 209, but something smells rotten in Denmark. There's something fishy about this.

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  15. "All achievements, both academic and non-academic, are considered in the context of the opportunities an applicant has had, and the reader’s assessment is based on how fully the applicant has taken advantage of those opportunities. " (http://admissions.berkeley.edu/selects students.)

    Having worked in college admissions before, I know that Cal has a holistic admissions process. They take into consideration what school your child attends and the perceived or articulated opportunities and obstacles that they have at the school or at home. They look at parental income, whether or not your child will be first to go to college, how many AP classes are offered at your school, etc. And they choose students who do best with what they have been given.

    I think this is great, because it gives students at all high schools an opportunity to attend a top university. It also challenges what is generally assumed to be the "best student." Is it really just grades and test scores? The holistic admissions process also gives students who have overcome economic and social disadvantages a chance of admissions and it ensures that there is some diversity at this top university. Think about the student from a working class, single parent household who is working a job to support their family and still maintains nearly all As and takes all AP classes offered at their school. If you look at their numbers compared to other applicants, maybe they aren't on top, but they too could be deserving of admission. They have resilience and resourcefulness that other students may not.

    Unfortunately (and fortunately), Lowell students who have so many more opportunities then other public high school students in the City, but must find a way to distinguish themselves from their classmates. And, they need to take advantage of the hardest classes and leadership opportunities at the school. Those counseling Lowell students through the college admissions process need to help students articulate what distinguishes them in their essays because I believe many Lowell students also have much to overcome. There is no quota used, but the admissions process is just more complicated then a numbers game.

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  16. Lowell could fix this problem by having their counsellors focus more on traveling to these Universities and developing a personal relationship with admissions staff. The PTSA should also play a role. Other schools need to understand how a 3.00 at Lowell is really better than a 4.00 at most schools. They don't give proper weight to school difficulty/quality. For graduate school, they do, it's way better to get a 3.4 from Cal than a 3.9 from San Francisco State as they understand it means more. Lowell needs to do a better job of representing itself to Universities.

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  17. Can we get back on the topic? This topic is not about admissions to college; it is about admissions to high school. I had earlier asked questions about special ed at larger public high schools. Since there doesn't seem to be anyone to respond with respect to special ed, does anyone have even anecdotal stories of general ed success (or failure) at schools like Wallenburg, Academy of Arts and Sciences, Lincoln, Metro Arts, and City Arts charters? Anything would be helpful. I'm trying to figure out which of these might work for my kid and they are on my shortlist.

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    1. I can say a word or two about Balboa's special education program. There are some great special day class teachers who have developed rigorous curriculum that also meets the needs of the students.

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  18. Future Financial Aid Question: We currently have a college account for my daughter which is not an official 529 College Savings account. We chose this b/c it gives us greater flexibility, and I'm advised, the potential for higher growth.

    She is now in first grade. When it comes time for high school, if she/we want to consider private hs, will this account severely harm her ability to get financial aid? Truthfully, we want this account so that some could go for tuition prior to college... but we certainly want money for college too.

    Anyone have experience or advice about this?

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  19. You don't want to send her to private school if you want financial aid for college.

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  20. Please, please can we keep this on topic -- a discussion of the pros and cons of SPECIFIC high schools? Maybe if I explain "why" I need this information, it will help to get the message across. When I looked at K I had tons of information, from this website, from other parents and everyone. When I looked at 6th grade, the same. By contrast, and maybe this is my fault because I haven't looked hard enough, there is scant information about high schools, particularly public ones, and particularly public ones that are NOT SOTA and Lowell. If you look at the comments on Grest Schools, for example, schools like City Arts, Metro, Wallenburg, and Lincoln have reviews that are years old -- and very few of them to boot. I'm not sure why this is, and that's why I would like to have more information about these schools. Can we PLEASE stick to topic!

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  21. 4:37: I agree. Lets get back on topic. I have a 6th grader for whom Lowell may not be a good fit though his older brother goes there and loves it. He is thriving and I am by no means a tiger mom. I've stressed that he must have a well rounded education and shouldn't load up on AP courses. When I toured high schools two years ago, I really loved Lincoln and Balboa. I was impressed by the principals and the teachers, having observed several classes. This year I have friends who toured Wallenberg and Mission and Burton and though didn't love them, they were surprised by how much they liked them. Guess they bought into the buzz. When I look at schools again, I will be adding them to my list. I hear good things about Gateway from a friend with a child there and another whose son graduated two years ago. For special education, it might actually be a good fit since they cater to kids with a range of learning issues. The only downside is Gateway middle school kids will now get first preference, so it may be harder to get into in future years.

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    1. Preference into Gateway High School from Gateway Middle School is not the case at the moment. The school administration is hoping to do this and is looking at the applicable regulations that would allow it. I am speaking as a parent of a middle schooler in the inaugural class at Gateway. My source is from a newsletter that recently was received from the principal.

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  22. Gateway MS students get no preference for Gateway HS. So don't sweat it.

    Regarding the statement by the person who goes by the pseudonym of Lucille Fong, "Kids who get into Mission are by definition not as good as even the bottom kids at Lowell", you don't seem to be aware that high school is a lottery and many fine students may draw the Mission HS card. Not every good student wants to go to Lowell and many average students go to Lowell under Bands II and III. Many friends of my child at Presidio MS choose NOT to attend Lowell and many are 4.0 or near.

    I know you wrote a lot of those race comments. Can you please stop spreading nonsense and calling every white person a racist? What the hell is wrong with you?

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    1. The Gateway info comes from a current parent there whose second child applied there this year.

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  23. Back to topic: how do I get more information on the "bands" that Lowell uses?

    I'm a couple of years away from high school but starting to do preliminary research now. I'm not sure my one kid is cut out for Lowell. I know my other one is right for Lowell.

    5:53, I like all of your suggestions for checking out high schools. Another criteria for me for high school will be its location. Yes, I know my kid will be old enough to ride Muni, but that doesn't mean I want him riding cross town to get to school. I like the locations of Wallenburg and Washington. I'm "ok" with Lowell's location. Anyway, info on the "banding" of Lowell would be appreciated. Thanks.

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  24. It's very wise to know the system as there is a lot of confusion about how Lowell admits.

    For Lowell, 70% are admitted based on grades and test scores alone, pure merit, though there is some luck in which teacher you get. 7th grade, each semester take the 4 academic classes (science, math, English, social studies) and give 4 points for an A, 3 for a B and 2 for a C. If you get all As first semester and all As and a B second semester, you'll be at 31/32.

    Then for the first half of 8th grade, double it. One B, you lose 2 points, 8 for an A, 6 for a B, 4 for a C, so any Cs in 8th and you're gone. Say you get all As and a B in one, that's 30/32.

    Then they base 25 points on the test scores, based on percentile. If you're in the top 3% of state test takers in English, you get 12.5 points, for the 97th-100th percentile, if you're 93-96th percentile, 12.0, 89-92, 11.5. Then do the same for Math. This is how it is possible for a kid to get all As and not get in, if they do bad on the STAR Test for the 7th grade. They use the 7th grade one. I'd advise buying books and hiring tutors and practicing for this test.

    The 2 other bands are essentially as follows. Band 2 gives credit to underrepresented middle schools. This is about 98 kids a year. So they get a point or two under, but go to James Lick, they get a boost. All of the underperforming middle schools are on the list every year, MLK, Visitation Valley, Denman, Everett, James Lick, Mann, Gateway, Francisco, Marina, but one year Presidio was on the list even though they had the highest test scores because they had 3 notoriously hard graders in 7th grade. An odd quirk of this is they merely look at the percent who go to Lowell, so a band used to aid the disadvantaged actually makes it easier to get in from private schools where most kids are simply on the private track and don't want to go to Lowell, perhaps for the reasons discussed above, too Asian, too big class size, whatever. Only 9-10 kids go in this band, but it's one of the most ridiculous things you ever saw, look up the list. Visitation Valley and MLK are next to St. Cecilia's and, yes, Hamlin. You are considered disadvantaged for Lowell purposes if you go to Hamlin just because only a couple kids from Hamlin per year choose to go to Lowell, so it's easier to go Hamlin to Lowell than Presidio or Hoover or Giannini-Lowll. Over half the list are private middle schools but only 9-10 kids per year actually attend Lowell from this. This is kind of like Legacy in the Ivy Leagues, affirmative action for rich white people, some suspect they keep this in because of the PTA donations. One Lowell student wrote an aricle in 'The Lowell' advocating it be changed.

    Another 15% get in on band 3, same number. These kids can get letters from their principal and are given points for free lunch, public housing, overcoming hardship, and also for special abilities such as sports, dance, volunteering and other activities. The points are set up so it's hard to get in on this if you're not disadvantaged, so you don't have a lot of well off kids volunteering and getting in this way, if you don't have any points for poverty, hardship, homelessness, family tragedy, food stamps, welfare or public housing, it's nearly impossible to qualify under this band. This band raises Lowell's diversity and also contributes to it getting a higher percentage of students on free and reduced lunch which raises it's Newsweek/US News rankings because Lowell gets credit for being outstanding in test scores despite having a far higher percentage of poor students than schools like Palo Alto, Gunn, Saratoga/Los Gatos, Piedmont, Cupertino or Mission Fremont. This helps Lowell be more diverse, but most of the kids let in on this band are Asian.

    They used to give points for being AA or L or NA, but that was disallowed by 209 so this is a substitute which isn't entirely accurate as legally, it can't be.

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  25. Oh, for Band 1 the cut off has ranged from 85.0 to 86.0 for the past 10 years. If you can get 86 points, you're guaranteed. It only hit 86 once, is usually 85.5, and was 85 once.

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  26. What if you are not poor but are outstanding in many areas and have a 3.25 or 3.50? What if you volunteer all summer to clean up beaches or are an outstanding actor or musician or athlete, not just good but the MVP of a good soccer team or basketball team that will likely help Lowell win sports championships? My son is easily the best player for Hoover's soccer team and pretty good at baseball. Is this a consideration?

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    1. My guess is that it wouldn't be enough. There are plenty of kids who do extra curricular activities and it's up to your middle school to determine how many additional points to award to your child for those. Remember that Lowell doesn't make that call, your school does. Also, being the best basketball player/soccer player, etc. in middle school doesn't necessarily determine whether you play high school sports. Lowell has 3000 kids. A bunch try out for sports but the majority don't make it unless it's football, where they always seem to be scrambling for players.

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  27. 12:40, this is 12:04. Thanks for such a detailed breakdown on Lowell.

    We would get zilch for band 2 (middle school in the Richmond District). As for band 3, if they look at sports, then it might help. Otherwise, zilch for band 3 too.

    Both my kids test advanced on STAR testing for both subjects. The kicker is getting one of my kids to get the grades (very capable of doing this, but not always motivated). The other one consistently gets amazing grades.

    I have a better sense of the "road map" for Lowell. Not sure I'll be shooting for that for kid #1, but I will definitely try for kid #2. Once my search is in earnest, I'll post here (assuming we're all still here).

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  28. Lowell is worth staying for, there isn't a better high school in the northern half of the state with more class diversity and great tests scores and tradition (1856, first West of the Mississippi).

    For Band 1, some of the kids who make it are from the underrepresented middle schools, it's just that they add to that total by Band 2 for those schools and don't for the others.

    In some ways this is unfair, I mean a 3.50 at Presidio or Gianninni probably means as much as a 4.00 at MLK or Everett or VV. You have to figure that it's easier to get an A at a school with an API of 650 than 820, it's just human nature and the curve is used.

    I would advise parents, don't be militant about your kid being in gifted. If teachers are known to grade tough and even unfairly, your kid may be smart enough to get in and be as hard working and smart as another kid but not get in. I now some elected San Francisco officials have used this strategy and are using it now to get into Lowell, put their kid in the regular track to make sure they get the straight As. In some schools there are fairer graders, in some teachers are arbitrary and won't give you advice on what you have to do to get straight A s, will just tell you to tell your kid to do their homework and see what they get, and if you ask if they should work on something extra to qualify for Lowell they'll start badmouthing Lowell because their kids didn't go or for another reason.

    Go to ratemyteacher.com and ask parents whose kids are in 7th and 8th grade when your kid is in 6th to find out. It's worth it for your child to arrange one weekend day around extra studying, get tutors for them, and have them push and put in that extra yard to make sure they get that A. It's a game of inches and, as Al Pacino once said, "the inches around us are everywhere."

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  29. "The inches we need are everywhere around us."

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  30. This has to be some kind of joke, retitling the whole post in honor of the person who knocked this conversation off the rails -- the very same person who destroyed the previous version of this blog with rants about MLK's dream, the superiority of Asian parents, etc. Moderators, PLEASE. Just delete off-topic comments (feel free to include this one in the batch), or maybe ban that particular poster, who is a nightmare. Retitling the whole thing is an insult to people who are having a sane conversation.

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    1. Yes, it was re-titled tongue-in-cheek. Feel free to continue to discuss specific high schools on the previous post on high schools.

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  31. "Lowell is worth staying for, there isn't a better high school in the northern half of the state"

    On what basis do you make this claim? My oldest child attends a private high school with 12 in a class. The teachers are superlative. They stay after school to tutor their students and the call me on the phone with updates. She attended public grade school and middle school and she is in 7th heaven in private, worth every penny. I don't want to put Lowell down and it surely has its benefits. But how can you compare a public school with its pathetic funding and union shop to a private school, devoted to the very core of its being to each individual student?

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  32. I'll tell you what, I thought seeing how we could try to create a world of equal opportunity and discussing how to get into schools was more interesting than what was on here, but I guess I'm wrong.

    I'll stay off for a week and check and see if there is a fascinating conversation or everyone takes a right turn straight into snoozeville. My prediction is the latter. I left this site for months and came back and barely saw anything interesting for months, then get attacked. I think you don't agree with my point, don't actually think it's boring, you just want a world in which no one can call for equal opportunity because you like a world of unequal opportunity while feigning progress. Your way makes you feel good, but I predict it won't have any results. I saw one study that under current progress it will take 500 years to have equal income between white and black Americans and 1000 to have equal opportunity based on income. You may think that's acceptable; I think we should try to find ways to speed that up a bit.

    Bye.

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  33. For the record I said there's not a better one "with more class diversity", there are a few elite privates with better stats, but Lowell beats the big privates, SI, SH, Mercy, Riordan, even a lot of the others. It's #1 among public schools. You're right, if you're rich a boarding school or elite private may be better, but many on this board and most in society don't have the means to consider that option. It's simply not equally available to all kids.

    How? Went there, kid there, reunions, stats, friends, teachers, I know a lot about the school from many facets.

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    1. That week went by fast.

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  34. 12:40 (the person who explained the Lowell admission criteria)

    If you're going to give people on the blog an account of the admission criteria at least give correct information. Band 3 is the underrepresented school band. It has the exact same criteria for admission as Band 2, however the opportunity to be considered under this band is different. Anyone can be given the opportunity to gain admission under Band 2. But Band 3 is only available to underrepresented schools. So it is true that a Hamlin could be an underrepresented school under Band 3, but given the admission requirements, it isn't very likely that the average Hamlin student would be accepted under Band 3.

    Don't rely on information you get here which is not to say that some of the information is not correct. It's just that too much rides on being properly informed to get your information from anonymous posters. Go to SFUSD's website and look at the actual document that describes Lowell's admission system.

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  35. I wrote back on May 2 of my child's good experience at Mission High School. I hope I wasn't the one who incited this discussion about racism.

    To the question about special-ed learning at Mission, I can't really say. I do know that your child will get a lot of attention there if he/she is understood to be academically ambitious.

    My child was offered college/university admission at several private schools in addition to UCLA, as I noted. I think many colleges are now weary of kids who spend their high school years cramming for tests and doing involuntary-voluntary work projects to pad their resumes, and then have tutors/parents who write college essays for them.

    I think colleges increasingly see through all of that. They want to see kids with some eccentricities, some creativity and original spark.

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  36. Is there a consulting group out there that helps families through the high school selection process, specifically for Catholic/independent high schools? It's quite overwhelming for families with rising 8th graders, so a helping hand would seem to be valuable in cutting through all the noise. There are some that specialize in placing students with special needs, but what about completely mainstream kids coming out of Catholic or public schools?

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