Always communicate.

I learned that a few years back, when I — a well-intentioned but hardly perfect mother — changed my mind about the middle school I wanted for my daughter. And I did it after the district’s application deadline.

I had done everything right up to that point. I’d done my research thoroughly. I had visited schools, talked to parents at the schools and analyzed test scores. In fact, between my two kids, this was the fourth time I’d been through a school-selection process and I felt like a pro.

So, with my daughter’s input, we made a choice of which school to put first on our list. We applied and we got in. End of story, right? Unfortunately for us, not quite, because in the meantime I had changed my mind about our first-choice school. The reasons weren’t earth shattering, but they were important to me and my family. They had to do with commute time to the school and with suddenly wanting to keep my daughter with a close friend of hers. So, now the middle school we wanted was full and had a waiting list.

“You can’t ask for another school when you got into your first-choice school,” I was told. “It’s too late to change your mind,” said the school secretary. “You can try but it won’t do any good,” was the word from fellow parents.

Not wanting to accept any of this advice, I stubbornly went ahead and initiated an appeal with the district. Thankfully, the process was relatively simple and required just a few hours of my time. All I needed to do was to write a letter — a short, concise letter — in which I explained my reasons for wanting to switch schools.

To my delight and amazement, within one month, the appeal was granted. Was it just a matter of good luck? In part, yes. That particular year almost 90% of families in San Francisco were admitted to their first-choice school, an unusually high level of school assignment contentment for our contentious city. But I don’t think it was only luck. If I had listened to the naysayers, I would never have appealed.

Rules and procedures change from year to year. Ratios of applicants to available seats change from year to year. The one thing that never changes is the power of simple communication, which in my case was an appeal letter.

Marian Wilde is a San Francisco mother of two. She has written numerous articles for including Autism: An Overview and Follow the Money: The Ins and Outs of School Finance.

Additional resources


The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child’s School with Confidence by Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel,Armchair Press, Ross, California, 2004.

Online resources:

The Web site for Parents for Public Schools, an organization that champions public education, offers in-depth information on how to help support our public schools. provides useful guidance to parents seeking to learn more about New York City public schools.