Gateway HS’ velvet rope

Another update: I am shutting down comments on this post as they are getting out of hand on all sides. Suffice it to say that some people are very angry at Gateway and some people are very angry with me for calling out Gateway in the way I did. I had a very good, frank discussion with Sharon Olken this morning and apologized to her for questioning her integrity and motives. She graciously accepted my apology and explained what Gateway is trying to accomplish. I credit the school for having the best of intentions but I still strongly disagree with the policy — I don’t think it will accomplish what they want it to. We agreed to disagree on this issue for now, and I am coming to visit the HS for the first time in a while in a few weeks. I will write a longer post later when I have more time.

Update: I just spoke to Jill Tucker of the Chronicle, who is writing about this issue for tonight. She confirms that Gateway will hold two lotteries: one after Oct. 4 and one (assuming there are any seats unfilled) after the regular January deadline. Gateway HS has not yet responded to my emails so that’s all I know — I’ll be waiting to read Jill’s reporting. 

In the past I’ve been an admirer of Gateway Public Schools, a charter school operator that runs Gateway HS and Gateway MS here in SFUSD. Gateway MS’ charter barely squeaked through in 2010 on a 4-3 vote — I was in the majority.

Tonight, I’m sorry I voted for them. I learned today that Gateway HS has set up an “early application deadline” of October 4, 2013 for the 2014-15 school year. Yeah, this Oct. 4– as in 25 days from today.  The only reason that makes sense is because when we approved the middle school’s charter three years ago, the Board made very clear that Gateway MS students would not have priority enrollment into Gateway HS. Now, the first class of Gateway middle-schoolers is ready to enter high school, so the schools have quietly set up a two-tier enrollment system with an insanely early deadline that was only publicized to current Gateway MS students.

Gateway HS is very small, and incredibly popular. Someone (I can’t remember who) told me last year that they had crunched the numbers and based on the ratio of applications to seats, that Gateway is more selective than Harvard. So giving the MS students a leg up is no laughing matter — it’s a serious advantage over the rest of students across San Francisco who are interested in attending Gateway HS. What’s worse, we know that the earlier you set an application deadline, the more you disadvantage families who are not connected to the Internet or parent networks and/or who don’t speak English. So setting an earlier deadline isn’t just advantaging current MS students — it’s advantaging families who are savvy enough to check the Gateway web site in September.

How Gateway has gone about it is seriously sneaky. I never would have approved their charter if I’d thought this was the way they would honor their commitments. I’m ashamed of them and hope they will change this misguided admissions policy.


46 responses to “Gateway HS’ velvet rope

  1. While I agree that Gateway should not have snuck in an early lottery, the outcry about “two-tier” systems is fairly hypocritical … the same could be said about SFUSD’s Mondrian assignment system (which is “three -tiered”, isn’t it? — round 1, round 2, and round 3) and SFUSD’s early deadlines and first rounds and CTIP tie-breakers … only “those in the know” take advantage of them, and there are still plenty of parents who are not “in-the know” about SFUSD’s deadlines and application tricks, and they get left with the dregs. There are attempts at outreach, to teach those who may not know what the enrollment deadlines are, but SFUSD’s system still favors those “in-the-know”.

  2. I would suspect that the reason is data. If you make it harder for those with less resources to get in, your academic ranking will improve. Moving up a deadline is inclusive for those with access and deters those without. They are attempting to create a student body that scores better on tests. Period.

  3. Excellent summary by SFUSD senior: “the amount of work required to apply is there to deter those students who don’t really strive to go to gateway (in the same way that SOTA requires multiple auditions and Lowell requires good grades), ensuring that the students accepted to gateway truly want to be there, thus fostering the high school environment so many parents on this thread want their children to enjoy.
    As they say in economics, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but those who put the necessary effort will get fed.”

    At Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, multiple auditions are for those who aren’t accepted on the first round. SOTA’s and Lowell’s admissions policies are open and transparent.

    Gateway has recently significantly shortened its enrollment application. Until a year or two ago, it was 13 pages of questions requiring essay-length answers — 16 pages for students with IEPs and their families. The current student population was admitted via the longer applications.

  4. To @Cathy W regarding “It’s an abuse of your power to second guess Gateway and its leadership” …

    Actually that’s EXACTLY what we elected Rachel Norton to do. It’s her job and duty to make sure that our public education resources and policies – as well as the charter schools under the jurisdiction of SFUSD – are implemented and allocated fairly to provide equal access to all SF students.

    Gateway HS enrollment is clearly trying to game a “go around” to a policy that they requested but were denied as part of the approval of their continued charter – that is, to make Gateway MS a preferred feeder to the HS.

  5. A Current SFUSD Senior

    To be honest, a lot of people seem to want to go to gateway, and so, just like the collegeadmins process, if the school is highly desirable then those students wishing to go to the high school should be checking up on the website or calling in to the school, or the students should go to talk to their middle school counselor to ask about the school. Most everyone, especially teenagers with smart phones (which the mJority of teen cell phone owners have) have access to the Internet and if not school pand public libraries have Internet access. If gateway is as desirable a school as all the ADULTS on this thread make it out to be (this sentiment is not as strongly correlated within the middle school population, take a poll if you doubt me), those who take Proactive steps to stay informed about the admissions process (as these applying middle schoolers will have to do in four short years when college I’d on the line) should be rewarded for their effort.
    As to the length of the application, the amount of work required to apply is there to deter those students who don’t really strive to go to gateway (in the same way that SOTA requires multiple auditions and Lowell requires good grades), ensuring that the students accepted to gateway truly want to be there, thus fostering the high school environment so many parents on this thread want their children to enjoy.
    As they say in economics, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but those who put the necessary effort will get fed.

  6. @Rachel, of course I would be absolutely thermo-nuclear pissed off if the deadline passed without me knowing about it — nobody expects it to be in October, when it used to be in January. It’s a month before the enrollment fair! Huh? But knowing the results of the lottery more quickly? Priceless:)

  7. As a Gateway Alum parent I know that it was discussed to try to get kids who have learned the Gateway system to apply to the high school. It was stated a few years ago that it was not an automatic entrance into the HS. I have been away for 2 years. It is bs for teachers who have ( or maybe had) to give references. The teachers spent a lot of time (and quite a few students apply) and then they aren’t read bc they didn’t get into the lottery. The teachers have other things they could be doing.

  8. as a San Francisco resident and public school parent, tonight, I’m sorry voted for you for school board. What a short sided view. I hear you criticizing a school that performs so that everything can be equal and we can all be dragged down to the lowest common denominator. It’s an abuse of your power to second guess Gateway and its leadership.

  9. NOT ONE school in this city has a deadline in October. This is crazy.

    Seriously, if they go through with this their charter should be revoked the next time it comes up – hands down. Gateway CAN fix this – just have one lottery the same as every other school in town (public and private all have the same deadlines – with the single exception of Lowell in December, but you can still change your SFUSD ranked choices for Lowell after the holidays.)

    I’ve been one who has historically been quite supportive of charters and, when implemented fairly and with the best intentions, accomplish marvelous things. This is “skimming the cream” in the worst possible way – a valid criticism that charters have been getting nationally. Gateway needs to come clean on this and change their deadlines and two-tiered process to ensure equal access to all.

  10. But Katy – imagine how you’d feel if you looked at the Gateway web site Oct 5 to schedule a tour, and found out you’d missed the boat? Don’t you think you’d be furious? Oct. 4 is nice for those in the know — I don’t dispute that at all. But you know better than most how hard it is for parents to be in the know in this town.

  11. And I don’t know about other people, but I look upon knowing by October 14th if my kid got in or not as a HUGELY positive thing; it would take a big worry off my shoulders, so that is great … if my kid gets in … (otherwise it’s all about applying again and waiting. )

  12. I did hear from the Chronicle reporter that they had made changes to the application. That was feedback I had given Gateway in the past (that the application was too long and cumbersome for a process that occurred via lottery). BTW the Enrollment Deadlines page on Gateway’s web site has been updated to make clear that there will be two lotteries. . I commend Gateway for that but would like to know if they’ll publish the results of the October lottery so that families who miss it will know their odds for January.

  13. @Lorraine: The application is very short. A few pages of contact information and a few questions for the student. What I don’t understand is why they need to see a kids’ IEP BEFORE the lottery … once the kid is accepted, they can be given all that data.

  14. Maybe I’m missing something, but as far as I can tell there are no long essays or recommendations required in the application; it appears to be a short, straightforward application. There is a student statement page that asks 4 questions, and each gives space for a one paragraph (at most) answer.

  15. Yes, Gateway serves a high percentage of kids with learning issues, much higher than the district average. I know 25% of the MS has IEPs; I assume it’s similar at the HS.

  16. If Gateway is justifying this new early application date because their small staff is overwhelmed by the long applications, recommendations and transcriptions they require, I have an idea. Conduct a true lottery. Every interested 8th grader can submit a short one-page application on paper or online (like CAT.) Then ask only those kids whose names are drawn to write essays, get teacher recommendations, send transcripts, etc. so that you can serve them better when they arrive in the fall.

    My daughter spent hours on her Gateway application, and put a lot of thought into her essays. Because she wasn’t one of the lucky ones whose name was drawn, her application was tossed in the trash without even the courtesy of being read. The process Gateway uses seems like a disrespectful waste of everyone’s time.

    It’s too bad, because there was really a lot to like about Gateway. They could really improve their image by making their application process more fair to students and families.

  17. As of a few years ago (I haven’t checked a while) the Gateway application was online (many many pages and with references required) and English only. It was pretty similar to the private school application. Is this still the case? At the time I was outraged that they made it extremely difficult for a large portion of the population they purported to want to teach.

    While I was the ED at PPS our Latino Outreach Coordinator was a happy parent of Gateway and did a great deal on her own to promote the school among the Spanish speaking community – with no Spanish language materials from Gateway. I’m hoping this has changed – does anyone know?

    Two years ago we applied for my son, didn’t get in the first round and were placed on the waiting list for Gateway. It is a highly desirable school and I liked their approach to different learning styles.

    That they seem to now be playing “tick tock, the game is locked” by trying to game their applications with two different lotteries is extremely disappointing.

    Several years ago, a friend was told by a Gateway board member that she could make sure that my friend’s child got in Gateway’s “accepted” pile if she wanted. My friend opted out and chose another school. I believe this person has since left the board. But it makes me question historically how transparent and fair the application system has been.

    Who makes sure charters manage their lotteries transparently (recognizing that in this situation, technically anyway, Gateway is not violating the SFUSD agreement)? In “Waiting for Superman” they featured a lottery where everyone watched the process in public in an auditorium. I’m not advocating for that as it seemed rather awful for the kids, but — does anyone make sure that applications aren’t inadvertently being put in the “accepted” pile that didn’t come from the straight lottery? Seems this October 4th or 24th deadline out of nowhere is one way to game it. Very, very disappointing. I hope they change their minds.

  18. I’m very sorry to hear about this admissions procedure and don’t endorse It. When Gateway began there was a strong commitment to provide students with learning disabilities the necessary support to be successful with a college prep curriculum. The school was conceived and organized by some motivated mothers who didn’t see any viable HS options for their kids.

    Does Gateway still have this philosophy? If so, I can understand why parents of children with learning disabilities would really want to get that acceptance letter. Maybe when enough resources are provided other high schools can offer similar support, the pressure on Gateway will ease. I’ve been hoping for this for years, but our Special Ed. teachers are still completely overloaded.

    Also, I highly recommend that Gateway send applications, instructions and timeline, brochures and shadowing information to principals/counselors and Family Liaisons AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. And do it in multiple languages, too. A nice poster for parent/guardian bulletin boards would also be good.

  19. Middleschoolmom

    @ken, maybe you should stop attacking Rachel for being right and trying to protect the thousands of 8th graders out there and start a conversation at the school you are so proud of about the ethics of being misleading and deceptive. As you pointed out yourself (great catch, ken) the website is completely misleading by stating the ” lottery” instead of noting there is 2 lotteries, one for early applicants (aka gateway middle school applicants).

    People are mad because they really want a chance to go to gateway. The school should welcome inclusiveness with utter transparency rather than shoot themselves in the pr foot by being shady. I’m not sure I’d want Gateway teaching my kid ethics. They seem to want to sneakily find loopholes in the rules rather than follow the spirit of the rules. SAD, when you cajol “educators” to do the right thing. Enron executives looking for loopholes is understandable, “educators, not so much..

  20. Ken, for those of us who want to apply, I am glad that someone is trying to keep the process honest because lots of us don’t think it is an honest process. Maybe all the details of the enrollment process Gateway High School uses could be clearly outlined on your school’s website? Transparent and open?

  21. so if the charter schools liaison is correct (that they expect 75 of the 100 middle school students to apply) there will be roughly 65 seats open to ALL other applicants? Is that allowed? It seems more than unfair!

  22. Yes, Ken. I’m a policymaker. I asked a question and got an answer, which you don’t like. Anything else?

  23. @Rachel. Well, I assume that as a journalist (which you clearly are not), Jill will get a response from Gateway before she publishes her story. I look forward to reading it.

  24. I respectfully ask the BOE to conduct an audit of their “lotteries”, to see if everyone who applied is actually entered into the lotteries and that the lotteries are conducted fairly.

  25. @Ken, Jill Tucker of the SF Chronicle is writing a piece about this for tonight. She just called me for comment and confirmed that Gateway will hold two lotteries – one after Oct. 4 and another (“if there are any seats left”) after January 21. There are two lotteries, and unfortunately, what I suspected has now been confirmed as fact.

  26. I believe in community but I know MANY parents who weren’t lucky enough to get a seat at Gateway MS have looked forward to getting a FAIR CHANCE at a seat at Gateway HS. As the parent of an 8th grader who is thinking about applying for Gateway HS, limiting the amount of spaces to a number even smaller than it was originally is completely unfair. If they are holding a lottery so there is no preferential treatment or prioritizing of applicants, than it is very sneaky that they are finding a way around that.

  27. On Gateway’s website, they refer to “the lottery” not “lotteries”, so I assume they are not planning to have more than one. Second, the only priority they list is sibling preference, so any other priority for Gateway MS kids would contradict this. So, at this point, I think we can wait for their response with the reasons for two application deadlines and withhold judgement until then.

  28. middleschoolparent

    Ken, two issues: One, how difficult can it be process applications for a lottery? Unless you are evaluating other criteria and then it’s not a lottery. Two, the lottery RESULTS are released March 14, there is no mention when the lottery or lotteries will be held. Any insight?

    When I toured the middle school, people asked about priority admission to the high school and the answer was that they were working on making that happen. An early unpublished, gateway ms-only application deadline must be how they are “making that happen”.

  29. @heidi, read my response to Samantha for my answer on that.

  30. I guess I’m not understanding the outrage about Gateway trying to keep its community intact from 6-12, assuming that’s what they’re doing. How is this any different than a K-8 keeping its community intact from elementary through middle school? Assuming the lottery is applied fairly (sounds like there’s no reason to think otherwise) admission would still be open to the entire SF school age community, but with a different entry point.

    From what I can tell, Gateway has a very diverse community; it’s hardly an enclave of the privileged. The Harvard analogy is kind of silly (and inaccurate. When my daughter applied to the HS 3 years ago, the odds were given at about 3 or 4 to 1. She got in, but enrolled elsewhere.)

  31. I’m not accusing them of having a secret lottery, I’m accusing them of having two lotteries — which I should point out again, is not illegal, nor does it violate their memorandum of understanding with SFUSD. It’s just sneaky and underhanded.

  32. What I “infer” is that the number of applications has increased to a level that processing all of those applications between the January 21st deadline and March 14th lottery was difficult given limited staff resources. From Gateway’s website:
    Enrollment Deadlines
    Application Process:
    Early Application Deadline for the 2014-2015 9th Grade Lottery: October 4, 2013
    Regular Application Deadline for the 2014-2015 9th Grade Lottery: January 21, 2014
    Lottery Results: March 14, 2014
    Enrollment Decision Deadline: March 21, 2014

    If you are accusing them of having a secret lottery on a date other than March 14, that is a serious charge and, so far, it lacks substantiation.

  33. yes, if she gives me permission to. But in the meantime, tell me Ken, what’s your explanation for this, as a proud Gateway parent?

  34. Great. And you will post her response on your blog when you hear back from her?

  35. I have contacted Sharon and a Gateway Board member. The Board member was unaware of this decision and Sharon hasn’t responded to me.

  36. Rachel, Have you contacted Sharon or Michael to ask them what this means rather than just “inferring”? As you can probably tell, I am a proud Gateway parent and I don’t like it when our school is accused of things without seeking comment from the other side.

  37. No, I’m inferring that there will be two lotteries. Because it doesn’t make any sense that you would take a bunch of applications in Oct. 4, sit on them, then take in a bunch more on Jan. 21 and then conduct a drawing. What I don’t know is to what extent they will fill up the school based on the early lottery.

    Gateway HS has 140 9th grade seats. I’m told by our charter schools liaison that they expect 75 of the 100 middle school students to apply. I’m presuming, but there’s no point in instituting — for the first time, I can confirm — two application deadlines unless you want to quietly give your MS students first pick and then put the rest of the seats into the second lottery. Part of my objective in posting about this now is to make sure that 8th graders across the City are aware of the early deadline so they have a chance to participate in a lottery that was designed to have very good odds.

  38. Rachel, Do you have any evidence to show that the early applications will have any priority when the lottery picks happen in the Spring? It still seems like there is only one lottery, so unless you have evidence that the early applications will receive more than one lottery ticket, I don’t see where the advantage is.

  39. Oh, and the District should make sure that the admission rate into the high school from gateway middle school are statistically equal to the admissions from outside applicants.

  40. I completely agree that Gateway admissions ARE SNEAKY and I have no doubt they are doing this for the reason you suspect. Ridiculous! Rachel, I think you should use your position to instigate an investigation into ALL their admission practices and revoke their charter if malfeasance is found. Every other charter school is straightforward and hold public lotteries, publish lottery results, wait lists etc. What are the specifics of the lottery required by law? Last year, not one person out of 20+ I knew applied got into the middle school. Statistically possible, of course, but the lack of disclosure makes it seem even odder. And this sneaky deadline makes them seem even less ethical. SFUSD has oversight, please use it!

  41. In my opinion, middle schools and high schools are very different institutions. I voted to approve the Gateway MS charter not because I thought future Gateway HS students needed a different middle school experience, but because I thought SFUSD 5th graders needed more options for middle schools (we have K-8s and we have comprehensives — no deliberately small middle school options besides Gateway MS). Similarly, Gateway HS has served as another option to all SFUSD students — a small, college-prep focused high school that is more successful than the small high school by design that the district created.

    I was very clear with Sharon from day one that I saw Gateway MS and Gateway HS as separate schools that needed to be open to a broad audience of public school students, not become a self-contained enclave. She told me she understood, as I’ve said, and never gave me any indication that they would try to pull something sneaky like this to link the two schools enrollment wise.

    Also, this process (as it appears anyway) is anything BUT open to anyone. You have to know about a very early deadline that wasn’t widely publicized other than being stuck several levels down on a web site (though I suspect Gateway MS parents have known all about it for quite a while); or you have to read this blog.

  42. well, I’d like to know that too. But I guess we just have to wait for Gateway to clarify, either here or on their web site. Just to be transparent, the school district has nothing to do with charter school enrollment. They receive the applications, they conduct the lottery. The school district has an observer present during the lottery, but that’s the extent of what we know about the process. As far as I know, no charter school has tried to have a two-tier system before.

  43. I have no connection to Gateway and only have a kindergarterner, but out of curiousity what is the harm in giving families who are already in the middle school and committed to it a preference in getting into the high school? As long as the middle school admissions process is fair and open to everyone, what’s the harm in fostering and rewarding community? Again, I don’t know any particulars, just genuinely curious.

  44. Is the early application deadline October 4 or October 24?

    The Gateway website says October 4th, 2013 on this page:

    The website also says October 24th, 2013 on this page:
    Both are buried fairly deep in the website (i.e. not on the front page of the

  45. They are harsh, Louise, because I can’t think of a reason such an early deadline would be defensible other than making sure one group gets priority admission. There’s no point in having two deadlines if you are only going to have one round of admissions, so it’s just logical that there are two. I’m glad your son found a high school he’s happy with and while in general I agree with getting the facts before judging, in this case there’s just no good answer. I’ve written to Sharon Olken and a member of the Board (who is also a Gateway MS parent) –the Board member couldn’t offer an explanation and Sharon hasn’t responded. We’ll see . . .

  46. Your comments seem excessively harsh regarding Gateway, especially since no information from Gateway was given as to why their admissions deadline has been pushed up. There must be some reason. Also, contrary to what you’ve said about Gateway being tougher to get into than Harvard, my son was admitted to the school seemingly easily this past year, although ultimately he decided go to another SF high school. Hyperbole and vehemence need to be kept in check until the facts are known and Gateway has a chance to defend itself. We need more top quality schools in San Francisco like Gateway.