Update for anxious parents

I got this inquiry this morning:

I’m a hopefully soon-to-be San Francisco public schools parent but I am greatly dismayed by the lottery process this year and hope you can offer me some answers.

We are currently unassigned a school and waiting for the latest lottery run, which was apparently supposed to happen on Monday. It is now Wednesday and rumors (sf k files) suggest the most recent lottery will not be run until this morning and calls will go out to lucky parents later today. Could you please tell me what the delay is and if there’s anything parents should be doing, ie calling the EPC, going down to the office? 

We are not alone in feeling greatly disheartened by this lengthy and chaotic process. One good family friend is also unassigned, and another is hoping to be moved to a school one block away from their house. I’m sure there are many, many others out there in a similar situation. This lack of news and information from SFUSD about delays is frustrating.

I know there are lots of anxious parents out there, so I’m taking my correspondent’s suggestion and posting my answer to him here:

I spoke to Darlene Lim about the lottery progress on Monday. The process of identifying and verifying open seats is laborious and is taking longer with the new process because there are more schools in “play” — with the old process, families just listed one school as their wait pool choice but under the new process as you know you can list multiple schools. It’s imperative that they be absolutely sure about their counts before starting the run.
The good news is that they are identifying a lot of openings and do anticipate significant movement when the run is completed. They had hoped to complete it yesterday and begin calling families yesterday afternoon but I gather the work took longer than anticipated. I know there are rumors of technical glitches on the K files but Darlene did not tell me that they were having any technical problems.
Please do not call or go down to EPC today! I know people are worried but EPC is shortstaffed and dealing with public inquiries just slows down the process. And, it won’t help you get a seat you want any quicker. I know it is very frustrating.
Anyway, sorry for the stress you are experiencing but as I said, I expect they will start making calls to families today. Good luck.

One thing I should add is that Monday was the last day to submit an amended list before the run, and according to Darlene there were a lot of families who changed their lists. Things look different after the first week in a school — I have definitely heard from families who are happier than they thought in the schools they “settled” for and so are taking schools off their lists in order to avoid being placed anywhere but their top choice school(s). So anyway, processing those amended lists has taken time as well.


16 responses to “Update for anxious parents

  1. Last round for school placement is today. So far no call for our family. Here’s a brief update of Miraloma Elementary parents waiting for school placement for 6th grade. Seven or so families didn’t receive anything on their list, only one has been placed in round 2, I believe. However, three families who received their 2nd choice have moved up to their 1st choice, including one who received a phone call today. So not only will the district lose our $$ for not finding us an acceptable spot, they will likely lose my 4th grader once she hits middle school. Good thing I wasn’t holding my breath for that phone call.

  2. Here’s what I got back from EPC on managing capacities (and they confirm there are GE spots for Aptos included in this week’s assignment run):
    “Managing capacities is extremely complex. We have stayed consistent with the caps set by the principals and Jeannie [Pon, Asst. Superintendent in charge of SFUSD middle schools] that were set last spring. The problem is that after the students are assigned using the capacity numbers and the students are programmed into the master schedule, the sites find that some courses are impacted with high or low numbers. I.e. the English classes are running extremely high, or the EL classes are low, or the honors classes are full, etc. So a school with a cap of 200 would have 170 students and have to close off enrollment because the English classes are at 35, those kinds of issues. Or a school will only be able to take students who need low level EL, so we can’t assign GE students through the assignment run.”

  3. “Until this happens – and those specific things are addressed (programs, academic expectations, transportation, pedestrian accessibility) SFUSD will lose more kids as they jump ship in 6th grade.”

    It’s sounding like SFUSD hit capacity if there’s only spaces at Vis Valley. Similarly, at the K-level, the lack of churn and frustration of parents in finding places an elementaries that don’t have API rankings in the 1-2 range makes me think there are also increased enrollments this year meaning we’re hitting capacity limits there.

    Just a guess, but I’d bet that SFUSD enrollment this year at the K and 6th grades is up at least 5% from last year.

  4. I was told this week that the administration and EPC “capped” Aptos 6th grade spots at 300 (the school had budgeted and planned for 315 this year). Why then are kids not being placed there? Also, members of the PTA were told that the district plans to cap Aptos’ enrollment in the future at 900 (it has capacity for 1200 and has had over 1000 for the last several years.) While the district tries to “even out” enrollment (which in theory makes sense when you’re in a small room at 555 Franklin), they have yet to take a hard look on the ground to find out why families choose the schools they do, and are not choosing others. Until this happens – and those specific things are addressed (programs, academic expectations, transportation, pedestrian accessibility) SFUSD will lose more kids as they jump ship in 6th grade.

  5. We started at parochial school this week, hoping a phone call would come. No phone call Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. Maybe they are calling Friday, who knows, EPC doesn’t stick to their published schedule. I’m glad I followed PPS’s advice in May to get a “back up” school.
    Rachel, can you confirm that if you are not enrolled in a public school after Sept 9 you are not eligible for the mid-semester lottery. I’ve been told I would need to put my daughter in an available spot (Vis Valley or MLK) to make her eligible for that lottery. Thoughts anyone?

  6. 1st grade parent

    Matt – What school are you at? Also Rachel, just to clarify. The EPC only called if you received a transfer. If you did not receive one of your choices, then no call. I went to EPC yesterday and was told I did not receive a transfer. I needed to know for sure, not worry that I would receive a call at 8pm or find out in the morning that my daughter was at a new school. Thanks for the blog Rachel.

  7. Monday was the last day for families to drop amended requests — so let’s say you are currently at School C but had submitted a request for School A or School B; unless you dropped your request for Schools A or B you would be automatically transferred to one of those schools if a seat becomes available. The reason for the automatic transfer is time – it takes time to reach parents, ask them if they want the seat, and wait for a response. All the while other families are impatiently waiting for THEIR transfers. My understanding is that EPC did call everyone who participated in yesterday’s run — 600 families based on what I was told today.

  8. If families get a placement in round 2 or later but in the interim have discovered that they are very happy at their assigned school and wish to stay, what’s the process for that? I’ve found at my school site that students just disappear from class roles and attendance lists without the families realizing that they have been re-assigned. How about a call from EPC letting them know that there is a spot open for them and would they like to accept it?

  9. I do know a family who took a spot at vis. valley (over one offered at MLK) but it is a huge logistical nightmare as the parents work downtown.

    Vis. Valley MS is not in a commute friendly location for most of the city. From Bernal, it’s 39 minutes (according to google maps) not too bad, but there’s a hefty walk at either end (and we’re doing a similar commute to Hoover, but not everyone is willing to sign there 11 year old up for such a long commute.) From other parts of the city, it’s worse — Fulton and Stanyan, 1 hour 5minutes. Irving and 7th 58 minutes. West Portal Station 47 minutes, 19th and Junipero Serra 45 minutes, Oak and Divisadero 1 hour 2 minutes.

    So, it’s not just that parents are limiting themselves to schools they perceive as “trophy,” it’s that logistically, getting an 11 year old clear across town in the morning isn’t necessarily ideal. We are fortunate to have a middle schooler we’re comfortable sending on 2 buses, but they’re also relatively safe routes, filled with other kids going to school (the 24 and the 48, for whoever is interested…)

    Not sure of the solution, but the system needs help.

  10. I think the only school with openings before school started was Visitacion Valley, with 20 spaces, which indicates there is not a lot of slack in the system. Given that school’s remote location, and inaccessibility by safe public transit, it’s just not going to work for most SF families. I don’t think that there was room at Vis Valley shows that there was a lot of room out there.

    Unless middle school capacity is expanded next year I would imagine a lot of families will be applying for a private school back-up. This would be a big change from previous years, where I have seen very few families go private for middle school (at least from our elementary school.)

  11. @Anne, middle school spots are tighter this year, but not so tight that there aren’t spaces available. There are spots at Visitacion Valley MS, for example, but that is a school that many parents say they don’t want. So I think it’s important to draw a distinction between the total seats available and the availability of seats parents want.

  12. Three 6th grade families I know started at parochial schools today — none of whom had even considered applying before late spring when it became clear that they were not likely to get any of their choices in a public school. I have not seen this happen before in the 6 years I’ve been paying attention. There just don’t seem to be enough middle school spots.

    I would agree with Lorraine that these families should have been given priority over other families who at least got something on their list. I know 3 families whose kids were bumped up to their first choice school from their second. All 6 families had similar or identical lists so it’s not like some families went for broke by listing one popular middle school, and the others went for more “realistic” options. But no matter what the assignment system is, there will be problems if there are not enough spaces.

    Losing these three families is a real loss for our district, and likely a permanent one, since in my experience people who go private for middle school rarely choose public for high school.

  13. Rachael,

    Thanks for this update. In future, it would increase the sense of trust and accountability if EPC can come up with a better method of communicating their status and timing. There have been no notifications on their website regarding changes to the lottery schedule. I understand there was one robo call on Friday, but we did not get that call. Their voice mail box has been full for weeks, and most parents don’t have the time to go wait in a 2 hour line. Saying they are understaffed is just a cop out. It would take someone 5 minutes to update the status on a webpage. They need to move into the 21st century. Thanks so much.


  14. The Parents for Public Schools Newsletter (8/19) went out with information about next steps in the current enrollment cycle process. http://p0.vresp.com/yu63Al.

  15. Thanks for the update Rachel. Nice to know Michelle & I are not the only disappointed and anxious ones.

  16. I hope that SFUSD and EPC will reconsider one area that changed this year: no longer giving any priority on Round 2+ runs to families that listed multiple choices but did not get assigned to any of them. I know of one middle school family that was assigned their second choice MS (a highly requested one) in the first round but put in for their first choice school (another highly requested school) in a subsequent round. This family got their first choice in the summer and enrolled – even though other families got none of their choices again in subsequent rounds. The result? The two unlucky families I know are now enrolling in parochial school for 6th grade and SFUSD has lost funding for those students. If families that didn’t get any of their choices were given some priority, SFUSD would likely have all three kids in SFUSD, instead of what they now have, which is only one. In the past, this helped to keep more families in SFUSD.

    Sadly, the families that left are active volunteer parents who have contributed a great deal of time and effort at their elementary schools (and who have other kids still in SFUSD schools.) But once their kids are out the SFUSD door and into another school community, it’s hard to get them back.

    I don’t understand why this changed occurred – except maybe it made it easier for SFUSD to manage administratively (don’t have to keep as many lists and they just have put everyone in the same lottery after Round 1.)

    Seems unfair to families that are diligently trying to stay in SFUSD (and which benefits SFUSD if they do!) It also seems like another example of a policy that makes sense in a room at 555 Franklin but not on the ground for families and students.