Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Are You Submitting a Kindergarten Application to SFUSD? General Thoughts on Building a List

SFUSD applications for the 2016-2017 school year are due January 15, 2016.
This may be late as many folks might have already turned in their SFUSD application, but we received a few questions from a reader who wanted to understand the lottery better. Parents for Public Schools has great resources to help parents understand the enrollment process--and they respond to questions very quickly! But here's a bit of background info and some suggestions on building a list. Please add your suggestions in the comments.

How Does the Lottery Work? 
Parents for Public Schools does a great job of explaining this. Basically, as we understand it, the computer does a little lottery for every school, with whatever tiebreakers apply (tiebreakers include sibling, CTIP, attendance area, etc). So, for citywide schools (i.e. Alice Fong Yu, Rooftop, etc.), there is no attendance area lottery. Spots fill up first with siblings and CTIP, the pre-K kids if applicable, and then all others. Race does not factor into the current system. Language proficiency would factor in with the language immersion programs. It all gets pretty complicated

For attendance area schools, spots will fill up with first with siblings, CTIP and attendance area students (each by a little lottery among those people), and then by lottery among all other comers. Some schools have a fair number of spots left over for folks that don't fit into one of those categories (Rosa Parks GE is one, I believe). Some schools fill up entirely with siblings, CTIP and attendance area folks (Clarendon and Grattan are good examples). 

Now, you might find a stray student who doesn't fit into one of these categories at a school like Clarendon or Grattan as well. Why is that? Does that mean there weren't enough attendance area folks who wanted spots at the school? No. There's a funny part of the lottery algorithm called the swap, also known as trading cycles. At the end of the first round, as the computer is assigning families, it will make sure there are no cases where students would be actually happier with each other's choices. For instance, if a family has Miraloma as their tentative assignment but it was their 5th choice and they would prefer Claire Lilienthal Korean Immersion and there's another family that listed the Korean immersion program 11th on their list but would prefer Miraloma, that's a case where each family would be happier. If the second family won a spot in Korean immersion, the computer would swap them. Even if the second family is not in the Miraloma attendance area, they would find themselves with a Miraloma assignment in Round 1--even though there are Miraloma attendance area families who might not have gotten a spot.  

Should I List the Schools In the Order I Want Them?
YES. As we described above, the lottery is actually a whole bunch of lotteries--one for each school or program. So it's possible you could "win" a spot at multiple schools; in that case, the computer will assign you to whichever you have listed first. That's why it's important to list the schools in the order you want them. We have heard people say, "I knew we would never get Clarendon so I didn't put it as my first choice." That doesn't really make sense (at least as far as we can figure out--if anyone knows different, please comment). If it's your first choice, put it first. One thing to know is you have to list your attendance area school somewhere if you want it (you will NOT be assigned there as a default).

Should I Make a Long List? 
YES. It seems like the biggest tip most parents share after they have gone through the lottery is to make a long list in Round 1 (at least 30-40). Why? A couple of reasons. Once you stop listing, you are saying to SFUSD that all of the other schools are equal to you. 
If you know your attendance area school is not popular and you'd be fine with it, this is probably less of an issue. But it also can't hurt to make a long list. We've heard people say, "But if I put down Rosa Parks, then I might get it". Yes (and Rosa Parks is a lovely school), but if you only put 7 or 10 schools, you might not get any school you've heard of, and the one assigned to you might be super far away. The second reason to make a long list is because you might find a school you haven't toured is a good fit. You never know. 

Should I List Schools I Don't Want? 
MAYBE. There is an advantage to putting popular citywide schools on your list even if you don't want them, because as described above the algorithm will "swap" families who would prefer each other's first tentative assignment (this is the school the computer assigns first, not what you get in your first letter from SFUSD). But you should probably only list schools you don't really want if you are making a long list. Otherwise you might end up with a school you don't want. 

I'm sure readers will have more suggestions below!

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