Thursday, October 10, 2013

DadintheFog: Let the Games Begin!

I’m a planner by nature and by profession.  I spend my days reviewing data and determining the best course of action.  When my hubby and I first decided to adopt, I immediately began trying to determine the best course of action for planning for our son’s education.  Since around 2008, I’ve been a follower of SF K Files – reading the school profiles, following other parent’s journeys to find the right school, dodging bullets over proposition discussions, and trying to determine a strategy to win the lottery.

In prep for this year, I’ve pulled analytical info on every school, creating a master worksheet with every stat I’ve been able to find.  I’ve sorted, filtered, and pivoted on every variable.  I’ve shared it with friends only to hear that I’m insane.  And I think they were right.  The analytics only provided a foundation for our search rather than calling forth the clear winner for our son.

In fact, the more I’ve read and reviewed, the more schools that have been added to my watch list.  Overall, our schools are very strong and good at what they do.

So with that being said, I’ve called out our key areas of review:

Fit with our Kid:
Since our son was able to communicate, all he has wanted was to go to clown school.   Unfortunately, SFUSD does not offer this option (listen up Rachel Norton!).  He's curious, active, smart but easily bored and will start joking around if he doesn't feel engaged.  We need a school that will engage him and help him focus without crushing his innate humor and spirit.  He's very athletic and tactile with a vibrant imagination.  I fear a school with too much structure, but also know that he need enough to keep him in line.  Preschool has definitely been a balancing act between freedom and structure.

Preference for a Public School:
I’m a huge believer in public education.  I grew up poor by just about every economic standard and was enrolled in one of the early Head Start programs (yes, I’m that old!).  While my schools were always rated on the lower side of the scale, I managed to find inspiring teachers that knew how to instill the love of education in me.  For me, I’m not driven to find the perfect school for the kidlet, but rather a school that will make him love education, teach him how to learn, and will give him the opportunities he needs to thrive.  I’m confident that SFUSD will be able to meet this goal.  But I will build in mitigating options just in case: we will be looking at a few private options as well.  (My gut tells me however that I may be more willing to leave the city to find a public school that fits than pay for a private education.  But I’ll cross that bridge in March.)

Truth be told, we’ve also spent a fortune on preschool already.  Currently, our son attends an expensive preschool downtown near our offices.  We love the school, the teachers, and the convenience that it has provided our family, but are not necessarily convinced that the educational component was worth the extra cost.  There are many smaller, less expensive options that could have been as good if not better.  Money does not always buy a better education.

Diverse Student Body:
We live in San Francisco specifically for the diversity it offers.  As a gay couple we know how important diversity is to one’s quality of life.  For us, diversity means having enough of a mix that there is a chance that others may be like you or at least accepting of you. While I’m white, my hubby is Middle Eastern from a Latin American country.  (Spanish and Arabic are his first languages.  More on the importance of languages later!)  Ideally, we would like a mix of ethnicities, cultures, class and language. 

Spanish Immersion
Spanish was our son’s first language.  Unfortunately, when he went to preschool, we stopped speaking with him in Spanish to help him communicate better in his English-only class.  My in-laws are almost exclusively Spanish/Arabic speakers and we obviously see the value in learning a second language early.  However I do get concerned on how our son would do in an immersion school.  While he shows interest in speaking Spanish, and understands quite a bit, he also can be very resistant to learning another language. The school fit is more important to us than the immersion, but finding the two together would be the Holy Grail.

We live in the Sunset.  We’re open to schools that are not near us and/or on our current commute. For the right school, we are willing to accept some inconvenience.

Test Score:
I was amazed to see how well SF schools score overall.  There were very few schools we cut based on scores alone.  We looked at overall API score as well as the individual racial breakouts for each school.  With an average API score of 828 and a median API of 844 across the district, we’re pretty sure he’ll do well wherever he lands.

Our Short List:
We have 28 schools our on current “short list”, with 14 being our true top contenders.  Happily, our neighborhood school, Dianne Feinstein, is currently near the top of our list.  Other schools in our top include:  Alvarado (general ed and immersion), Buena Vista/Horace Mann (immersion), Clarendon (general ed), Grattan, Jefferson, Miraloma, Rooftop, Stevenson, Sunset, and West Portal. Two charters are also on our review list – Creative Arts Charter and Thomas Edison Charter Academy. 

There are also two private schools under consideration Marin Preparatory and Live Oak.  Alt School also sounds interesting, but the newness is a little concerning.

The hubby and I are dividing and conquering the tours, with a plan to visit around 10 schools.  We’ll also be relying heavily on the San Francisco School Fair for our info.

I look forward to sharing our journey as best I can.  And I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas.  Overall, we get too much information about the school and too few chances for actual interactions with the teachers, staff and other parents.  For us, we really want to find a school that fits our son (and will continue to fit for the 6+ years we are there). 

It’s crazy to think how little input we get into this decision via the lottery system, but at the same time, sometimes we all need to take a leap of faith.



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