Playground at McKinley Elementary School, San Francisco
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Playground at McKinley Elementary School, San Francisco
By GreatSchools Staff
Parents in San Francisco have been complaining for years about the complicated and sometimes torturous assignment process for placing their children in the city's public schools. After more than a decade of debate, San Francisco's Unified School District (SFUSD) recently adopted a new, simplified assignment policy for the upcoming 2011-2012 school year.
"The assignment system was desperately in need of an overhaul," explains Ellie Rossiter, Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF) and parent of two children in local public schools." The new system is designed to be transparent, flexible, and the same for everyone. It's a hybrid of parental choice and student diversity, where the old assignment process looked for school diversity above all else. This is a better system than we had, but we need to wait and see how things work out."
Find the best school for your child
You have many resources for finding the schools that best serve your child’s needs. Click here to compare public schools by selecting start times, after school programs, or location. View GreatSchools' school-specific ratings and parent reviews, as well as the district’s report card (SARC) for individual schools. Parents for Public Schools (PPS) San Francisco will connect you with parent ambassadors at local schools who serve as liaisons between prospective parents and the schools.
Applications are due on January 27, and placement offers are mailed mid-March. You can find all the required forms here. The application is simple, and asks for your address, home language, special needs, and a rank listing of up to seven schools you want your child to attend. For the 2009-2010 school year, 80 percent of kindergarten applicants received one of their chosen schools, and 64 percent received their first choice.
Applicants must be five years of age on or before November 1 of the school year to be legally eligible for kindergarten, and six years old on or before November 1 to be legally eligible for first grade. SFUSD requires children whose first language is not English to be tested for English proficiency before applying. If your child is new to the district, you must submit the application to the Educational Placement Center. Be sure to also bring a parent/guardian photo ID, the applicant's proof of birth, and two proofs of home address.
Neighborhood elementary schools
For the first time in 20 years, elementary schools have new "attendance areas" that will factor in to a child's placement. If your neighborhood school is your top choice, and the number of applicants does not exceed the number of kindergarten spots, your child will be assigned to your local school, although you must still request it. The problem is when your top-choice school has more applicants than spots. In this situation it's possible for your child not to get into the neighborhood school. The new policy for assigning the vacant spots ranks applicants based on the following tiebreakers, in the listed order:
The younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (highest preference).
2. SFUSD PreK
Applicants who live in the attendance area of the school and are also attending an SFUSD PreK program in the same attendance area. No doubt some parents will apply for SFUSD preschool programs to ensure their child a better chance at their neighborhood school.
3. Test score areas
Applicants who live in areas of the city with the lowest average test scores. Ostensibly, this will help equity issues by offering children whose neighborhood test scores are in the lowest quintile (bottom 20 percent), special priority at any school. However all families in the zip code, regardless of race, income, or individual test scores, receive this higher ranking.
4. Attendance area
Applicants who live in the attendance area of the school. Check here to view attendance-area maps for schools.
5. Dense-population areas
Applicants who live in attendance areas that do not have enough space to accommodate all the students living in the attendance area.
6. Other applicants (lowest preference, decided by lottery).
Whether this policy will prove more popular than the previous system is yet to be seen. For parents adamant about going to their neighborhood school it won't be a panacea, but it may cut down on the cross-town bussing and carpooling so common in the current system.
Middle and High schools
The new policy originally envisioned each elementary school feeding into a designated middle school, but the feeder patterns are still under review. For the 2011-2012 school year, middle school assignments will be based on choice, with three tiebreakers:
The younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance.
2. Test score areas
Applicants who live in areas of the city with the lowest average test scores.
3. All other applicants (chosen by lottery)
High schools have no preferential attendance areas, and applicants are assigned according to their ranked choices, with over-subscribed schools allocating spots by lottery. The two exceptions are top-ranked Lowell High School(GS rating 10), which bases admission on GPA and test results, and the School of the Arts (SOTA), which bases admission on talent as demonstrated in an audition or portfolio review. Both of these schools have separate applications in addition to the general SFUSD form.
Under the new assignment policy, all K-8, language immersion, newcomer (English immersion), the SF Public Montessori, and all middle and high schools are designated city-wide schools, meaning they have no attendance areas. Kindergarten applicants are assigned to these schools using the same tiebreakers as at neighborhood schools, but without the assignment area preference. There are fourteen schools in this category, including:
Explore the alternatives
Public charter schools are another option for parents. Although these schools are part of SFUSD, you must apply to them directly, and they do not count as one of your seven public school choices. Some were started by families looking for a particular curriculum, such as the K-8 Creative Arts Charter School. Others are part of larger organizations, such as the two KIPP schools in SF in Bay View and Western Addition. The K-8 Edison Charter Academy is now independent and no longer run by the for-profit Edison company. The majority of other charter schools in San Francisco are high schools: including the Flex Academy, a new online hybrid school, and Gateway, which specializes in differentiated learning.
Private and parochial schools
For parents able and willing to pay, San Francisco offers 90 private and parochial schools within the city limits. To see a listing of the schools, look here. Be sure to also check out GreatSchools' ratings and parent reviews, which cover public, private, parochial, and charter schools.
Will the new school choice system solve all parents' gripes with San Francisco public schools? Not likely. But as SFUSD parent Lisa Schiff wrote in her August 26, 2010 School Beat column at BeyondChron.org, "Great things are happening in our schools, even with all of the grave financial and political struggles that challenge us every day. The new policy is the latest effort to support those great things and to make them more equally available to all families."