Principles for SFUSD School Assignment, Part II

I’m writing as a happy parent in SFUSD who has counseled numerous families over the years during the assignment process. For a moment, as school settles in, posting some lessons learned as a parent advocate. While roughly 80% of families receive a choice on their list, the remaining 20% quickly enter a painful process of multiple rounds. Through my volunteer work, I’ve learned the ups and downs of the assignment rounds.


Part I of my piece posted in April, after round 1 of the assignment process, which posted late due to challenges in the Educational Placement Center (EPC). Since this post, I’ve supported families through the wait pool rounds. Some important notes need public discussion:


  • Data must be transparent, especially in wait pool rounds. For many years, the EPC has not disclosed a breakdown of requests by student tiebreaker. For instance, on August 8, 2017, Sunset Elementary had 33 kids in the wait pool. Parents in the Assignment Area (AA) were left to guess whether those kids were also in the AA and therefore whether they had any chance of entry into their local school. As a result, at least one parent selected a completely different and further away school because she worried that the waitpool was too large. She was never assigned in Round 5. In the past, EPC counselors would share for the family’s AA school how the waitpool broke down among siblings, CTIP, AA, etc, but this past year, the data was withheld.


  • Students, when possible, should be assigned before school starts. This should be self evident, that kindergarteners adjust better when beginning the first day of school and not transferring a week or two into their first elementary school experience. Yet, we counted 21 students (vs a cap of 22) in each class roster posted at my children’s school the weekend before school started, as did parents at a few different high demand citywide schools that had double digit wait pools. Meaning, these slots could have been filled before the first day of school, allowing extra kids the ideal first day experience and simplifying the teachers’ jobs as well.


  • Round 5 should allow time to fill all open slots at schools with wait pools. Families reported notification on Tuesday, August 29th of assignment to the open slots. However, some families assigned those slots did not show up. In the past, there was enough time left for the EPC to call a next wave of families. However, at many schools, including my children’s and several popular citywide programs, kindergarten classes remain at 21 vs the cap of 22 students. Why does it matter? Our schools will receive less funding from both the state and district, parents will need to wait for a spring transfer, and kindergarteners will split their year between two schools.


  • The “swap” should continue to optimize placement preference. This spring, the EPC requested that for 2018-19, the assignment process drop the “swap” or transfer process. In the past, after the lottery was run, the computer tried to swap up children to increase the number of families receiving their first choice. Our family was likely one of them. Our very popular AA starts at 7:50am and is not walkable by a 5 year old due to the hills. Our first choice, where we were assigned, starts at 9:30am and is virtually a flat walk, same distance but manageable by a child on foot, bicycle or scooter. Nobody was hurt by our swap; by the rules of the system, at least one other family was happier as well. In addition, the swap process encourages families to add more schools to their lists. While the EPC sees this as “gaming,” I see this as an opportunity to open minds beyond the five or ten most requested schools. Families first tour an extra school because of the swap, but often come to appreciate the school for its own merits.


  • Lowell admissions should preference low performing public schools. Band 3 in Lowell admissions prioritizes underrepresented schools; however, I believe this is a typo and should read underrepresented public schools. Per the district website, removing the word “public” prioritizes children from such high performing private schools as Hamlin, Lycee and SF Day and Stuart Hall over public school children, meaning that a wealthy family at one of these private schools would have preference over a family on food stamps at Roosevelt or Hoover.

–Vicky Keston, parent of kindergarten and 4th graders in a nearby SFUSD school. Vicky is also the co-founder of Renegade Kids 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.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *