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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