San Francisco Schools – Navigating the Enrollment Maze


San Francisco Schools – Navigating the Enrollment Maze

It may not be a four letter word but it may as well be – Enrollment! Every couple in every tax bracket in San Francisco from the day of conception (possibly before) stresses about schools. Every parent just wants their child to be in an environment where they can flourish and be happy.

Your pregnant? Congratulations,  “Have you started touring pre-schools”? “Do you know where you want your child to go”? Really? I am still getting use to the fact that there is a person in my stomach!

Relax, turns out there is a pre-school for every child and while it is a nerve racking experience we all figure it out. Now that your child is happily learning how to paint, interact with other kids and poop in the potty the second phase of fear kicks in – Kindergarten!

Public or Private? Immersion program or alternative? K-5 or K-8? Research, tours, financial aid, and the application process. You may find yourself wondering, is this kindergarten or college? The process is very similar except your child doesn’t have to write an essay. The reality is that the public school system in San Francisco is challenging and in my opinion broken. Many families that can swing it opt for private school and avoid the enrollment process. The rest of us do the tours and fill out the applications and hope for the best and if we don’t get the best, fight for those coveted spots in the “good schools”

The process

  • Research public and private school options
  • Tour the campuses of schools you are considering Fall one year prior
  • Talk with current parents and teachers
  • Complete public school application and submit to SFUSD

It’s at this point that many families throw up their hands and decide the San Francisco School system is not for them so they pack up and relocate to a magical place where neighborhood schools still exist and have basic services like libraries, art programs and physical education.

If you stay you may have to add another step to the process – Middle School.

SFUSD is planning to implement a new system and in turn another level of frustration at the middle school level. The system does not work but this will make it worse and take away the little hope of getting your child into a good public middle school or at least trying. Check out the article in the Examiner that describes the new system for middle school assignments. I truly didn’t think the process could get any worse but now they are considering school assignments instead of the current lottery/diversity index system.

For those of us that endure and are lucky enough to either afford private school or get accepted into a desirable public school we are faced with the third phase of fear – High School!

The rumors are that applying to High School in San Francisco is similar to applying to college. Turns out, it’s true. Private schools require an application, some an essay and most placement tests typically not required until applying to college. Lowell is the only public H.S. that bases entrance off of the Star Test scores and grades. They accept only the top academic students, typically with 4.0 GPA. Lowell is an excellent college prep school but not the school for every child.

There are some high quality public schools but if you live in the Marina or Cow Hollow do you really want your child going to school in the Outer Sunset? Mission District? It’s a shlep.

We as parents in San Francisco made a choice to live in this Culturally diverse city but why shouldn’t we have the same school options as the surrounding counties like Marin? Do we stay or do we go? The city government and the SFUSD should be focusing on keeping families in SF not chasing them away?

San Francisco is a magical place to live and turns out, a great place to raise kids. Now if the SFUSD could pull it together and create a school system that equals our wonderful city we may all just stick around.