The weeks leading up to school assignments are challenging for many, especially those of us in San Francisco, where our public school assignments go through a lottery of sorts. Given recent events, including delayed communication of school assignments to both parents and schools and changes to the process for twins (and perhaps other changes), I’d like to communicate some values that our community expects from the lottery.
My children have had fabulous experiences in San Francisco Public Schools, and our family has received our first choice each time we entered the process. In order to give back, I have counseled many families seeking public school assignments. It is through this volunteer work, rather than personal setbacks, that I’ve encountered feedback.
- Open and honest communication. We trust the school district with our children, and we expect you to trust us with frank and respectful communication. Give us the benefit of the doubt and assume positive intent. If we are to work together to educate our children, then we must build a positive relationship. We all want the best for our children; this is the unifying factor among us. The tone in emails to twin parents was not one that will build a successful relationship.
- A transparent process. Once the Board of Education sets the assignment process, we expect notification of any changes. For instance, as of the date of this blog article, the district website, as well as all Round 1 and Round 2 enrollment forms offer a choice as to whether to link siblings. Yet, the Education Placement Center emailed twin parents that the EPC decided to link them regardless of parental decision. Whether the linkage is fair is not the issue for this school year; rather, it is part of the board approved process communicated to parents. The email also implied that the “swap” at the end of the algorithm was removed. Changing the assignment process behind closed doors does not build trust in the district.
- An equitable process that is not straight neighborhood schools. Because our neighborhoods are not racially nor financially diverse, we agree that modification to the neighborhood scheme is necessary. In particular, almost every parent agrees that families with financial or other hardships should come first. For instance, families experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, extreme financial hardship or foster kids, must be placed where they will most likely succeed. Many do not feel that the current CTIP1 tie breaker accomplishes this. Families undergoing terrible hardship who live a block outside the CTIP1 boundary receive no consideration, while families owning deluxe lofts inside the CTIP1 zone pay a premium for the “golden ticket” in the school lotteries. When middle class (or above) families in CTIP1 displace middle class families in cole valley, NOPA and midtown terrace, resentment builds. Meanwhile, unintended consequences include speeding up gentrification and owner move-in evictions in neighborhoods such as the Mission. As of this writing, families who have passed SFUSD means testing for subsidized preschool are not allowed to stay at their schools for kindergarten because they don’t live in the Assignment Area. My personal advocacy is for a means tested program that relies upon a partnership with the city of San Francisco for honoring city benefits as a high tie-breaker, while also automatically placing any subsidized preschool child at the same school for kindergarten, regardless of this child’s SF address, without requirement of entering the lottery. One glance into the preK classrooms at Grattan shows a tremendous racial diversity, which one would not see in their kindergarten classrooms.
- Transportation can encourage diversification. Rather than require children to attend a particular school, the district can offer school buses that encourage diversity, for instance from Hunters Point and the Mission to schools that are over 50% white or Asian. Last year, Cobb was on the list for a bus from Hunters Point, and so the district was busing children from a predominantly black neighborhood to a predominantly black school across town instead of to a school like McKinley, Argonne, Lafayette or Grattan, all of which are over 50% white or Asian and low percentage free or reduced lunch.
- School Proximity is a Public Good. Ask any district principal about the relationship between the school and its neighbors; double parking and traffic complaints will immediately rise to the top. At both my children’s schools, district resources are funnelled into drop off lines to improve neighbor relationships, and yet morning traffic continues to cause problems as drop off lines block driveways (including my own). While some schools are natural magnets from across the city, most notably language immersion programs, we ask for more weight on school proximity. The city’s traffic in the morning becomes cause for personal despair, and the district contributes to this problem, as well as to greenhouse gases. For instance, many children in the Webster AA this first round were assigned to schools in Hunters Point with no direct muni service between the neighborhoods and no school bus. Perhaps the solution for this AA is the long proposed school in Mission Bay, but such school has not received board approval. As someone who has sat through a meeting with a top staffer who threatened to assign my two children to opposite ends of the city, it became clear that they do not understand the many reasons that parents cannot commute to specific schools, such as work obligations, siblings in opposite directions, preschool availability for younger siblings, and financial limitations in hiring help.
- School Diversity Requires a Broad Spectrum of Children. As written many times by Elizabeth Weise, former public school parent and blogger, this city is losing many children and has one of the highest rates of private school attendance, especially among white parents. Communications between district staff and families has combined to drive many parents out of the SFUSD system. Why should the district care? The district presents many rationals about the benefits of a diverse school, and how it helps all children, especially those of lower means. Without white families with financial means in the system, it becomes impossible to spread families out, and instead becomes a system of haves (in private school) and have nots (in public school). A school with only a token white, middle class child is not diverse nor inclusive.
–Vicky Keston, parent of TK and 3rd graders in SFUSD schools. Vicky is also the co-founder of Renegade Girls and RG Boys Tinkering Club, lover of math and her adopted city of San Francisco. Vicky’s favorite educational experience was her middle and high school math program called Unified Math, which led her to a BS in engineering from Carnegie Mellon and an MBA from Stanford. Vicky believes that math, science and engineering should be accessible to all.