SFUSD Kindergarten Lottery Strategy 3

It’s lottery time of year in San Francisco. If you’re still touring schools, here are some ideas on what factors to consider: How Do I Find an Elementary School? My Kid Is Heading to Kindergarten. Once you’ve toured and have an opinion of the schools that you want, how do you play the kindergarten lottery? What are successful strategies?

The basic strategy is to compile two lists: your real list, in truthful order of your preference, followed by the twenty most popular schools, in order of priority, for swap value.

First, your list of schools where you would send your child(ren), in order of preference. This list should include at least one school that your child has a reasonable chance of “winning” in the random lottery.

  • Elementary SchoolIf you live in a CTIP1 zone, as of this writing, you have a great chance at most SFUSD schools, but I’d still list at least five, just in case.
  • If your assignment area school is acceptable to you and has a reasonable number of slots after siblings and CTIP1, according to this list http://rachelnorton.com/2014/10/02/fascinating-ctip-data/, you can live with a relatively short list, say five to ten schools. Be realistic on your chances of assignment.
  • If your assignment area school is a long shot (Clarendon and perhaps Grattan, longer term other schools might trend this way) or, if your assignment area school is both unpopular and unacceptable to you, it’s a good time to consider a longer list. Tour some less popular schools that are on the upswing, or whose test scores reflect language barriers. One of my friends recently moved to San Francisco, and by the time her utility bill came, only unpopular schools remained. She chose a school with a Stanford educated principal, amazing teacher and only sixteen kids per class, John Muir. Her daughter loved the school so much that she withdrew her waitlist application.
  • Don’t forget that charter schools have separate lotteries with separate applications, as detailed here: Charter Schools FAQ.


Next, consider the “swap” that the computer calculates at the end of the lottery. Pretend you live in Peabody’s assignment area and listed New Traditions first and Peabody third. A friend just over the border in New Traditions’ assignment area listed Peabody first and New Traditions third. If the computer assigned you each to your assignment area school, it would swap you to make both of you happier. Now imagine one-hundred-way swaps because a computer manages them. Therefore, I recommend listing the top twenty most popular schools after your real list so that, should you win a city-wide school’s lottery, you are swapped up. If your assignment area school is not acceptable to you, list it here anyway as it might provide “swap value.” Remember that your reject could be someone else’s dream school.


To see a list of the city-wide programs, click on the “CW” box on this page http://sfpublicschools.org/php/schools.php, and look up demand on this wait pool from last summer. The wait pool is the only document that breaks out language pool demand by language speakers, as more of the spots are typically reserved for native speakers. For instance, “CN” would mean Chinese speakers who pass the proficiency test (and may or may not speak English), while “CE” would mean those who do not.


Last thoughts. Get your application in early to avoid lines, and remember all the paperwork as listed here http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/what-you-need-to-apply.html. They are extremely particular on the paperwork!

Don’t lose heart if you don’t win an acceptable choice in the first round. Over one fourth of SF residents send their children to private schools, and virtually every applicant also applies to public school. Many of those will not register after the first round, which opens spots up in the second round. Every year, hundreds of children do not show up the first day of school, so some of my friends have waited it out until schools started. This year, Argonne cleared their kindergarten waitlist early because it starts earlier than other schools, and typically Sherman has several kindergarten spots after the counts are taken. If your child is under six, you can wait until the dust settles to start school, as mandatory schooling starts at six (not five), or you might try your assigned school to see if, like my friend at Muir, you change your mind.



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