schools.jpgTonight the SFUSD Board is expected to vote on proposed changes to how schools are assigned to kids in the city. We asked regular Appeal commenter blooms, who’s been very vocal regarding his concerns about raising his school age kids in SF, for his thoughts on the proposal — EB

There’s a great public school at the end of my block. But my children will never attend it, thanks to San Francisco’s school admission “lottery”.

The SFUSD Board today will vote on modifications to its controversial enrollment lottery, which has been in place (in one form or another) for over 20 years. The current lottery is a source of frustration to many parents in San Francisco, in part because a child’s home address has not been a determinative factor in school assignment. The simple act of sending your child to the neighborhood school has not been so simple.

The current lottery provokes rancor on both sides, to the point where supporters of neighborhood preference were called “re-segregationists” in local media. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare Supervisor Eric Mar (who favors neighborhood preference) to George Wallace, but it shows how touchy the subject gets. You want to polarize a room? Go to a five-year-old’s birthday party and ask the parents “where are you sending your kids to school?”

In most communities, school assignments are based on a child’s residence. I grew up in a small town, where school choice was a simple question of geography. Kind of like Andy Griffith’s fictional Mayberry, my school was a five-minute walk out the front door. We walked alone and, yes, we did it in the snow (but not barefoot; my mom wasn’t rich but she wasn’t an idiot either). We went to the neighborhood school because that’s what made sense.

In San Francisco, children have been assigned to public schools based on a number of criteria, none of which involve the obvious question: where does the child live? Even if you live on the doorstep of a school, there is a good chance that your child will be assigned outside of your neighborhood. And for your trouble, SFUSD does not provide transportation across town. You’ll have to solve that problem on your own (but that shouldn’t be hard, given that Muni is so kid-friendly, and always on time…).

So that great school around the block? Parents have had to kiss it goodbye; chances are slim that their kids will get in. The under-populated school in a neighborhood you can’t find on a map? Welcome! Long Muni commute? Extra time for homework!.

A friend–a time-strapped single parent–was told by a District admissions counselor that “he had virtually no chance” of his child gaining enrollment into any of his preferred schools. He was sent to a school 30 minutes away, even though he lived within walking distance of two public schools.

After years of complaints from parents, the Board’s latest proposal is an encouraging step. Parents who prefer their neighborhood school can select that option, and the assignment system isn’t triggered until the school is full. This restores a sense of balance to the system, and more importantly, it gives parents a measure of control over their child’s education. Stakeholders should welcome the added transparency.

The goal of the lottery was to reverse decades of economic and racial segregation, but parents in my district (the Outer Sunset) aim slightly lower: good schools, close to our homes. A public school should be the center of a neighborhood, a place of learning and a haven of light. Under the lottery system, schools are disconnected from the communities they are meant to serve. Neighborhood preference helps to restore the school to its rightful place at the center of a neighborhood.

Tonight’s school board meeting, which is open to the public, begins at 6:00 PM in the Irving G. Breyer Board Meeting Room on the first floor of 555 Franklin Street. It’ll also be webcast here and broadcast on cable channel 26.

Photo: Julie Michelle, aka “tangobaby”

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  • cedichou

    Well, first schools take into account geography. Each school has a district, and you get priority all other things being equal if you belong to the school area. (except if you live like I do in the “former Edison” area, which means that my area becomes that of the school I pick first).

    Some schools are exempt of having a local area. Meaning you get no priority for where you live. And guess what? Those are the most popular! Let’s recap: you have two types of school, basic neighborhood schools and some schools with no geographic preference attached to them, and people vote for the latter. Overwhelmingly. They want to go there.

    The term of ‘re-segragation’ is actually quite true. The current system is imperfect, but exists for one reason: schools *were* segregated and something had to be done. So yeah, it’d be nice if all Noe Valley kids could go to the Noe Valley school, but that also means that all the Visitacion Valley kids are stuck in Visitacion Valley.

  • cedichou

    Well, first schools take into account geography. Each school has a district, and you get priority all other things being equal if you belong to the school area. (except if you live like I do in the “former Edison” area, which means that my area becomes that of the school I pick first).

    Some schools are exempt of having a local area. Meaning you get no priority for where you live. And guess what? Those are the most popular! Let’s recap: you have two types of school, basic neighborhood schools and some schools with no geographic preference attached to them, and people vote for the latter. Overwhelmingly. They want to go there.

    The term of ‘re-segragation’ is actually quite true. The current system is imperfect, but exists for one reason: schools *were* segregated and something had to be done. So yeah, it’d be nice if all Noe Valley kids could go to the Noe Valley school, but that also means that all the Visitacion Valley kids are stuck in Visitacion Valley.

  • bloomsm

    First, the word “segregation” is inflammatory and unproductive. It is associated with the pervasive, institutionalized racism of the deep south. It has no place in the vocabulary of a school district discussion in 2010.

    Second, the premise of your comment is that a child is “stuck” in Visitacion Valley. Your comment assumes that parents in Visitacion Valley also want to schelp kids all over town. The underlying premise is that people in a neighborhood that is racially concentrated are somehow doomed to underperforming schools. Instead of shuttling kids all around town, why can’t we pour our resources into schools that need extra help?

    Third, if the district has been moving kids around since the early 80s’, with limited improvement in reducing “racial isolation” in certain schools (SFUSD buzz word), perhaps the current system isn’t working. Just saying….

  • bloomsm

    First, the word “segregation” is inflammatory and unproductive. It is associated with the pervasive, institutionalized racism of the deep south. It has no place in the vocabulary of a school district discussion in 2010.

    Second, the premise of your comment is that a child is “stuck” in Visitacion Valley. Your comment assumes that parents in Visitacion Valley also want to schelp kids all over town. The underlying premise is that people in a neighborhood that is racially concentrated are somehow doomed to underperforming schools. Instead of shuttling kids all around town, why can’t we pour our resources into schools that need extra help?

    Third, if the district has been moving kids around since the early 80s’, with limited improvement in reducing “racial isolation” in certain schools (SFUSD buzz word), perhaps the current system isn’t working. Just saying….

  • james

    i think the lottery lasted so long since folks that live in fringe or bad neighborhoods don’t want a local preference for the school down the street. i’ve often heard parents say this directly about potrero hill. they don’t want to be forced to send their kids to a wonderful school down the street since it would be with most of the kids from the local projects. shameful!

  • james

    i think the lottery lasted so long since folks that live in fringe or bad neighborhoods don’t want a local preference for the school down the street. i’ve often heard parents say this directly about potrero hill. they don’t want to be forced to send their kids to a wonderful school down the street since it would be with most of the kids from the local projects. shameful!

  • cedichou

    Well, if the school as a rating in the 600, yes, ‘stuck’ is the right word. You could pool resource and improve the school, but that would take time and the problem with kids is that if you wait, they have grown up.

    Segregation, webster: “the separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means.” If your schools in Bayview are over 90% African-American, your school in the Sunset is over 90% Chinese-American and your school in Noe in over 90% white, then you have segregation. It’s shifting the debate to pretend you cannot describe what was happening by its name. Also, an easy way to solve the problem. Schools can’t be segregated, since calling it that way is inflammatory!

  • cedichou

    Well, if the school as a rating in the 600, yes, ‘stuck’ is the right word. You could pool resource and improve the school, but that would take time and the problem with kids is that if you wait, they have grown up.

    Segregation, webster: “the separation or isolation of a race, class, or ethnic group by enforced or voluntary residence in a restricted area, by barriers to social intercourse, by separate educational facilities, or by other discriminatory means.” If your schools in Bayview are over 90% African-American, your school in the Sunset is over 90% Chinese-American and your school in Noe in over 90% white, then you have segregation. It’s shifting the debate to pretend you cannot describe what was happening by its name. Also, an easy way to solve the problem. Schools can’t be segregated, since calling it that way is inflammatory!

  • cedichou

    Adding that ‘Improving the schools’ is a worthy endeavor, but is doomed to fail if there is no diversity in the socio-economic background of the pool of student. If all the kids in the neighborhood from the school come from the local project, then you can toss all kind of moneys (as if anyone would throw money that way) and the school would not improve.

    Also, regarding to “stuck,” consider the point of view of someone who would like to go to that pretty nice school a block away from your house, but can’t afford to live near it because it’s too expensive.

    Blooms, have you been on a school tour to schools in Potrero, Western Addition, or Visitacion Valley. Have you asked how much money the PTA raised? There is a very simple comparison: Rosa Parks has two tracks, one general, one Japanese cultural. In one track, it’s the kids from the neighborhood; in the other track, it’s people, many outside of the hood, who want to expose their kids to cultural diversity. Only one track has a functioning PTA, which one?

    Now you will say: but you just have to improve the communities surrounding the schools, educate and involve the parents, etc, etc.

    The current system is not perfect, but at least it offers equal opportunities to those willing to take them.

  • cedichou

    Adding that ‘Improving the schools’ is a worthy endeavor, but is doomed to fail if there is no diversity in the socio-economic background of the pool of student. If all the kids in the neighborhood from the school come from the local project, then you can toss all kind of moneys (as if anyone would throw money that way) and the school would not improve.

    Also, regarding to “stuck,” consider the point of view of someone who would like to go to that pretty nice school a block away from your house, but can’t afford to live near it because it’s too expensive.

    Blooms, have you been on a school tour to schools in Potrero, Western Addition, or Visitacion Valley. Have you asked how much money the PTA raised? There is a very simple comparison: Rosa Parks has two tracks, one general, one Japanese cultural. In one track, it’s the kids from the neighborhood; in the other track, it’s people, many outside of the hood, who want to expose their kids to cultural diversity. Only one track has a functioning PTA, which one?

    Now you will say: but you just have to improve the communities surrounding the schools, educate and involve the parents, etc, etc.

    The current system is not perfect, but at least it offers equal opportunities to those willing to take them.

  • bloomsm

    I think your penultimate paragraph made my points for me. The views expressed in my op-ed are shared by many parents, and the SFUSD has finally acknowledged those concerns. The fact is that SF’s school assignment system is a joke, and has been for quite some time. It attempts to redress socio-economic issues while disregarding the legitimate interests of parents who want their children to attend school close to home and focus on education rather than diversity goals.

    http://sfappeal.com/alley/2010/03/sf-schools-agree-to-change-in-school-assignment-policy.php

  • bloomsm

    I think your penultimate paragraph made my points for me. The views expressed in my op-ed are shared by many parents, and the SFUSD has finally acknowledged those concerns. The fact is that SF’s school assignment system is a joke, and has been for quite some time. It attempts to redress socio-economic issues while disregarding the legitimate interests of parents who want their children to attend school close to home and focus on education rather than diversity goals.

    http://sfappeal.com/alley/2010/03/sf-schools-agree-to-change-in-school-assignment-policy.php

  • cedichou

    The point is that all kids can’t go to the same school. Some schools are over-subscribed 10 times. The next system will be simpler, but the result, I can guarantee you, will be pretty much the same. Because if you assign kids to their neighborhood school with no concern for socio-economic issues, then you got a giant lawsuit pending on grounds of segregation. Which is exactly how the lottery system came about. Look up “NAACP vs SFUSD” and “Ho vs SFUSD.”

    Many parents share your concerns, of course, because many like you live near the nice school. And those are the vocal ones, not the disenfranchised ones.

    So SFUSD will use census information instead of asking if you receive govt assistance and what is your language and what is the highest degree of the mother. But the school board still wants to comply with their desegregation mission, and the only way is by putting kids from a different ‘hood into your nice school. And that will take a spot away from someone like you.

  • cedichou

    The point is that all kids can’t go to the same school. Some schools are over-subscribed 10 times. The next system will be simpler, but the result, I can guarantee you, will be pretty much the same. Because if you assign kids to their neighborhood school with no concern for socio-economic issues, then you got a giant lawsuit pending on grounds of segregation. Which is exactly how the lottery system came about. Look up “NAACP vs SFUSD” and “Ho vs SFUSD.”

    Many parents share your concerns, of course, because many like you live near the nice school. And those are the vocal ones, not the disenfranchised ones.

    So SFUSD will use census information instead of asking if you receive govt assistance and what is your language and what is the highest degree of the mother. But the school board still wants to comply with their desegregation mission, and the only way is by putting kids from a different ‘hood into your nice school. And that will take a spot away from someone like you.