How I really feel about the enrollment fair: The shocking truth!

cropped_fairToday was the annual enrollment fair. It’s a kind of amazing, only-in-San Francisco event designed to help parents find a public school for their child. What a scene it is! Every school staffs a table, and most of them have elaborate photo displays, banners and brochures on hand to represent the school’s unique identity. The district’s Educational Placement Center organizes workshops helping parents to understand how our complex enrollment process works; and other agencies and organizations that serve families and children are also on hand.

The first enrollment fair was organized by PPS-SF back in 1999 2000, and it was an astounding success when over 1,000 people attended. Now, the attendance at the annual fair is easily four or five times that 7,000 people or more.  And it’s going to sound mushy (and kind of enrage people who hate our current enrollment process), but I love the fair every year! There is a tremendous positive spirit in the room, filled with people who want our schools to work and who are for the most part volunteering their Saturday to send the message that they are working for many children.

Like the annual Support for Families Information and Resources Conference every spring, this event is a great time for me to catch up with friends at schools across the district, and make some new ones. I had a great conversation with one of our newer principals about the way his staff are using data to identify which instructional strategies are working and which are not.  I met many prospective Kindergarten parents and a number who were looking for high schools and middle schools.

Now, I know that the complexity and uncertainty of our assignment process is the underlying reason why we have an Enrollment Fair in the first place. And that the expense and effort of organizing and hosting the fair every year wouldn’t be necessary if our system were less complex and more certain.  I also know that the current assignment process needs to change, because it is not accomplishing our district-wide goals of closing the achievement gap, and providing access and equity for every child.

All of that said, I still think it is such a positive experience to see so many hundreds of parents, teachers and principals ready to spend an entire Saturday talking about all the good things that are happening in our schools. I wish very good luck to all of the parents who attended today’s fair, and want to assure you that in the end, you WILL find a good public school for your child in San Francisco.

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10 responses to “How I really feel about the enrollment fair: The shocking truth!

  1. Margaret Friel

    This is a really late response, way after the fact but I just have to say though I never went to the enrollment fair, as a parent of a child with autism, I had the same experience as Katy on school tours. It was astonishing to me that NO school EVER mentioned what SPED programs they had, even inclusion schools where all children are in classes with special needs kids. It was one of the most alienating experiences I’ve ever had. When I did ask about inclusion or SPED during a tour, the administrator would inevitably look uncomfortable and refer to someone I could talk to after the tour was over. Once, at a school in the Marina (can’t recall the name) the principal responded to my question by assuring the crowd that those inclusion kids’ STAR scores wouldn’t affect the school’s rating. She gave me the distinct impression that the inclusion program was a vile, if necessary evil. I guess her strategy worked as I wouldn’t have dreamed of sending my child there. I agree with Katy that all schools should be required to provide SPED information to ALL parents during tours and at the enrollment fair. Would this be a waste of time for the parents of kids without disabilities? Hardly. The number of kids identified with disabilities AFTER starting kindergarten is pretty high. I also believe that understanding and embracing different neurological diversity should be an explicit goal of the district. All that said, we no longer live in SF and I see the same issues in our current district.

  2. Parents who don’t have a child with a disability, or some other specific reason to be involved with SPED, really aren’t likely to be familiar with it. It’s kind of like we’re not even privy to the details.

    Some years ago, I was parent volunteer tour coordinator at Lakeshore, and I made up a FAQ sheet to give out to parents. It did address special education based on info I researched, which meant that the volunteer tour guides didn’t have to individually acquire the information (or sensitivity/awareness, either). I actually did the FAQ sheet after I heard parents giving out sometimes wild misinformation about the school meal program, the enrollment process, and also in answer to the question “what does it mean that Lakeshore is an alternative school?” — so special ed definitely isn’t the only area people are unwittingly uninformed about. It’s a more sensitive and vital area, of course. Anyway, I thought the FAQ worked pretty well.

  3. Ok Matt,

    one down,

    150 schools (or so) to go.

    It takes a school’s leadership to make this happen. Tell your principal it is much appreciated.

  4. Katy,

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience. This year our principal made a special effort to address this issue by inviting one of our special education teachers to the fair. It was nice to have the expert on hand to answer prospective parents’ questions, and to eavesdrop on the conversations in order to learn something myself.

  5. Thanks for the corrections, Lorraine! I’ve updated the post.

  6. Rereading Crystal’s comment made me remember – we were seriously looking at moving from the City when we went to the first PPS enrollment fair. Like Crystal, it really changed my perception of public schools. The information and experience I had at the first enrollment fair helped us decide to stay in SF – we have been very happy we did.

    I came away from that first PPS enrollment fair changed in my attitude having seen first hand who was working in and attending the public schools and learning what was actually happening in them. I was especially impressed with the principals and teachers I met (one, Marcia Parrott, became the principal that was our inspiration for going to Miraloma eight years ago!) And of course I was also impressed by the public school parents I met that day and hearing their personal experiences.

    I met quite a few parents that very day nine years ago that continue to be friends from around SF to this day!

  7. As a parent ambassador rep for Aptos Middle School, I, too, came away energized by the fair, as I do every year. My daughter loved being a student rep for Miraloma and says she wants to tell people about her school at the Fair from now on (will there BE a fair under the new system?)

    I always find that telling others about my kids’ school (whether as a PPS Parent Ambassador on the phone, being a parent tour guide, the enrollment fair or just providing our experience at the grocery story) always makes me feel more invested and part of the school.

    Just a slight correction: the Fair started in 2000 by PPS. In recent years it has attracted 7,000+ attendees (I seem to recall someone saying 10,000 came to one of the more recent fairs.)

    It’s come a long way — and in a good way!

  8. I really love the Enrollment Fair too! I drove there (bad girl) and drove by about 8:45, 15 minutes before it opened, and saw a big crowd of eager young parents waiting to burst in when the doors opened.

    As a longtime volunteer missionary for public education, I’m inspired every year by the fair — I want to shout, “THESE SCHOOLS ARE WORKING!” Of course, they’re far from perfect and they need lots of help. But overall, despite myriad challenges, they really are doing well, and better all the time.

  9. I find the fairs to be very alienating. Non-inclusive. The first time I went to one, I was looking for a school for my son, who has autism. Nobody at any of the school tables knew anything about their special education programs. NOTHING.
    I didn’t expect the parents to be experts in the programs, but many didn’t even know what kind of special ed classrooms they had on campus, and none knew the name of the special education teacher at their school.
    I wish schools would make the effort to describe the special education programs at their schools … it doesn’t have to be a long description, but even a slight MENTION of the programs, for parents who are seeking such placements, would be considerate.
    When will kids and families in special education programs start to be considered part of school communities? Maybe when the schools acknowledge our presence?
    I didn’t go to the fair this year because last year, out of the 100 school brochures/fliers I picked up, only TWO mentioned special education. It’s sad. A whole segment of the student population is just totally unrepresented. I feel badly for parents who are looking for information about special education program at schools, there’s so little to be found anywhere, even (and ESPECIALLY) on the school tours.

  10. Crystal Brown

    I also was quite impressed with the number of attendees this year at the fair! At first glance, it is a bit overwhelming to look into a hall of that size and start to make sense of it all…but after a few genuine conversations with nervous parents, I did feel like I was doing my part to help them in their search. One of my fellow Sherman parents told me that she was happy that she hadn’t attended the fair when she was going through the process because the sheer size of the event would have turned her off….but I told her that it had a much different effect on me. When I attended the fair 4-5 years ago…and saw how many wonderful schools existed in the district and how many dedicated great parents were willing to give up their Saturdays to help prospective parents…it legitimized the district for me. It made me see through the statistics and the rumors and give me a real and tangible perspective about SFUSD.