Got a great story about your San Francisco public school? Need a place to share an opinion on what works (or doesn't work)? Parent articles and contributions are welcome! Please see our submission guidelines for details on how to write for The Newsroom Parent Corner.

The opinions expressed in PPS-SF Newsroom Parent Corner articles are of the individual author only and not necessarily those of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco or its staff or board of directors. 

Parents Education Network Ignites An Education Revolution

posted Aug 30, 2016, 12:50 PM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Aug 30, 2016, 3:31 PM ]

by Laura Malony, PEN Executive Director
I can tell you from experience that heading back to school after summer break can be an extremely stressful time for families of children with learning and attention differences (LD, also referred to as learning disabilities).

In our family all 4 of us have diagnosed LD's. I had to learn how to effectively communicate with my kids’ school about their challenges and more importantly about their strengths as students. I had to learn to lead a collaborative team that included my children, their teachers and their tutors in finding the best way for my kids to have a voice in the success of their education. I had to empower my kids to be their own self-advocates, I had to listen, a lot, and it hasn't always been easy.

I will say, looking back, it was worth it, I am a better parent because of it.

I had support from Parents Education Network (PEN), where I started out as a volunteer, not only as a way to educate myself but as a way to help educate the community at large regarding the strengths of students with LD.

Since 2003, Parents Education Network (PEN) has been helping parents connect with a unique community of support. PEN can help you gain the tools to initiate positive discussions with teachers and support your child throughout their educational development (and beyond).

What is PEN?

PEN (Parents Education Network) is a parent coalition that collaborates with educators, students and the community to ignite an education revolution that will acknowledge, appreciate and effectively teach and support all students, including those with Learning and Attention Differences (LD’s). We have reached more than 20,000 parents, educators and students with educational programs and workshops and has created a community working together to ensure student success. Learn more about PEN here:

How can PEN support you?
I invite you to start the new school year on a positive note by joining us for a discussion of parent self-care, and learn how you can be part of PEN's community of education and support this year.

Our free parent meeting on:
Thursday, September 15, 9:30 – 11:30am
the Audre Lorde Room
The Women’s Building
3543 18th St #8.

Register here:

See if your child wants to get involved in SAFE (Student Advisors for Education), our student community that educates and mentors participants regarding the challenges and strengths of LDs. SAFE enables students to develop self-advocacy skills, participate in community service and share their experiences. SAFE students range in age from 13 to 19. They are students who share common experiences of having mild to moderate learning and attention differences, such as dyslexia and ADHD. SAFE IS FREE FOR ALL STUDENTS.

The first meeting in San Francisco SAFE Meeting is on:
Saturday, September 24, 10-11:30am
San Francisco Friends School
250 Valencia Street
San Francisco 94103
Sign up here:

Please visit our website for additional PEN events in Silicon Valley and the East Bay.

Reasons Why I Love Going Back to School in San Francisco

posted Aug 8, 2016, 2:24 PM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Aug 8, 2016, 2:32 PM ]

by Robin Dutton-Cookston
Ah! A new school year begins, and we couldn't be happier in my house. Sure, I love the flexibility and freedom of the summer break, but I also look forward to each school year in San Francisco for many reasons. 

A respite from summer childcare stress.
As many San Francisco families with school-age kids are well aware, summer camps and childcare can be stressful to find, and often cost more than the rent of a two-bedroom condo in the Mission. I know many parents who have found that it is easier (and cheaper) to take time off of work rather than fight it out for a coveted spot at a popular day camp.

The weather will finally warm up.
I love Karl the Fog with all my heart, but sometimes a girl needs a break.

New (or cleaned up and cleaned out) backpacks and lunchboxes.
It's nice to have an excuse to finally clean out the crumb-filled book-bags and sticky lunch containers that have sat in the back of the closet since May. Or is that just me? Does everyone else take care of that chore over Memorial Day weekend?

Field trips!
We live in one of the best (in my opinion) cities in the whole world for field trips. Spectacular art exhibits, world-class musicians, jaw-dropping vistas, international cuisine, and more. If you are feeling like a jaded San Franciscan, just tag along as a chaperone on one of your kid's field trips and see the City afresh through the eyes of a child.

Seeing old friends and making new ones.
This goes for children and adults. I am forever thankful for the intelligent, hardworking, funny group of families I have met through my public school networks. Which brings me to...

Getting a chance to be involved and give back to our public schools.
No one can do everything, and everyone does what they can. But study after study shows that parents who are engaged in their children's school experience have kids who experience greater success. Find something that fits with your time and your skills, and have fun with it. Help stuff folders, shelf books in the library, volunteer to help with the school website, work at the school carnival, or take on a leadership role in the School Site Council or PTA. There are as many ways to get involved as there are families in public schools.

"That's Wrong" - A Letter to Our Elected Officials from a Public School Parent

posted Feb 29, 2016, 10:18 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Feb 29, 2016, 1:45 PM ]

by Pui Ling Tam, Vice-President of the Board of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco

February 24, 2016

To whom it may concern,

This morning I got to let my seven year-old daughter know that the City doesn’t care about its people. She heard that the City gave people encamped under Division Street 72 hours to vacate, but that regardless of its own timeline, the City arrived that same day as the warning and trashed people’s belongings and then arrested the people who were there.

In her words: “That’s wrong.” She struggled with understanding why people would be arrested simply because they have no home. I had to explain that our government does not always take care of us, and that “order” is not defensible. Congratulations, San
Francisco: your actions on Division Street on February 23rd mean a seven year-old child now knows that those in charge are not right and do not care about people.
People are being pushed to the side in San Francisco right now, with 8619 evictions in San Francisco in 2015 alone (Anti-Eviction Mapping Project). A study in San Mateo county found that when people lost their housing, they didn’t leave the county, they tried to find ways to stay—couch-surfing, living in cars, living on the streets. They became homeless in their communities.

In San Francisco, 71% of the current homeless population used to have residences in the City (Homeless Point-In-Time Count & Survey Comprehensive Report, 2015). That’s 7 out of 10 of the people on the street who used to live in a building somewhere in this city.

And the population of our San Francisco public school students who do not have a home has “nearly tripled during the past 10 years: 844 in the 2004-05 school year compared last school year’s (2014) 2,352, according to data from the San Francisco Unified School District” (SF Examiner 9/25/15).

I can only imagine how many children had a home on Division Street that got churned into a garbage truck while they were at school, trying to learn, to grow, and to build their own brighter futures. The Department of Public Health posted the notice to vacate. The Department of Public Health surely knows about the impact of toxic stress on our low-income, largely communities of color. It is, to say the least, extremely hard to be ready to learn when you don’t know where you’ll sleep that night. De-stabilizing shelter for those who have the least in our community—including our children—is not in the interest of the health of any of the people living on these streets.

The problem the City is perpetuating will become endless. We will push people out of homes as they become too expensive, and our society prioritizes profit over people. We will stunt the growth of those in our schools who lack the basic necessity of shelter. And we will blame those children, both now and as they grow into older youth and adults, for problems we pushed onto them while refusing to address the root causes.

We need your leadership for this to stop, now.

Pui Ling Tam

To my friends:
Demand justice.
Demand humanity.

Recognize that as a culture, we do everything we can to maintain the status quo.
Recognize that what has been given was not given freely already, and was the least that could be given.  

And demand more.

It takes collective power, political will, and critical knowledge, analysis, and heart to make the change we need.

It’s not enough to be broken-hearted about what’s happening in our city; it’s not enough to be self-defeating about what can’t change, or offer conformist resistance. I want more. We can organize with our folks. We can talk with our children. We can support their learning about what is happening around them, including what they think is right or wrong.

We can write to our City leaders: civil servants in Departments carrying out orders; politicians who serve us, their constituents who voted them into power; and demand actual moral leadership through governance. And watch that they deliver.

And if they can’t or won’t, find the folks who will.  Take the job yourself.

We can elect new public servants. This is an election year, Districts 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11. We have another slate of folks running for the San Francisco Board of Education—which, because it’s a city-wide election, is often a stepping-stone to higher seats in the political office—and the future of this city is at stake. Hold a house party. Donate to the people who will do right by the community. Walk precincts. Listen. Vote.

Work in the system and change it. Speak truth. Be stubborn, and grounded, in why the work is important, not the job.  

Babysit for your friend so she can speak and offer testimony at a late-night Board meeting. Take the other out for a meal, because they need fuel for the fight. Be there when we’re exhausted. Stand up for the ones who are being slandered, sideways or straight on.

Hold our community up. Insist on humanity. Justice, not charity.

Your First Choice vs. Your Best Choice: Elementary School Advice from a High School Parent

posted Feb 16, 2016, 11:08 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Feb 16, 2016, 2:00 PM ]

by Georgia McNamara

My son started at school at SFUSD in first grade. We switched from private/independent school. 

(Switching was an experience because most people acted like we were the worst parents in the world, and a few wondered if they'd ever be as brave.) 
This was in 2006, and we filled out our form with the one school we KNEW we had to have at the top, English *and* Spanish, because we knew that was THE SCHOOL. 

We filled in the rest with other wildly-popular schools and schools on the closure list, like McKinley Elementary at #5. 

When we got our letter from SFUSD we couldn't even remember where McKinley was! On Monday morning our phone rang and it was Principal Bonnie Coffey-Smith, asking when we were coming in for a tour. When we hesitated, she said, "See you tomorrow morning at 9!" 

That night we filled out the round 2 application to wait pool for our #1 choice. We went to McKinley the next day (parking a ridiculous number of blocks away because we still weren't sure where the school was and it was before Google maps). We were awed by Bonnie and charmed by McKinley. 

We did more research and decided to enroll our son at McKinley and it's been the best decision for our family. It's a great school and an even better community. There are so many great schools within SFUSD that your first choice might not end up being your best choice.

Recent Schoola Success Stories from SFUSD

posted Feb 2, 2016, 9:19 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Feb 4, 2016, 9:40 AM ]

by Megan Walsh
Schoola works with over 22,000 schools nation-wide to turn donated preloved clothing into character-building experiences for kids. 53 of those success stories are right here in San Francisco, and Yick Wo Elementary from SFUSD tops our fundraising leaderboard. Read on to hear how their students filled gaps in their school budget by turning existing household items into academic and extracurricular opportunities.

From $0 to $16,000 for the Arts
When we began our partnership with Yick Wo Elementary in the Fall of 2013, their art budget was $1. They now run quarterly clothing drives with Schoola and earn an average of $4,000 every 3 months to make masterpieces.

From Lost to Found to Funded
Jefferson Elementary has raised over $900 simply by donating unclaimed lost & found items to Schoola. One of our Schoola staffers is an alumnae of Jefferson and was able to hand over an oversized check to her alma mater during our holiday trolley tour of schools.

From Microfleece to Microscopes
Jean Parker Elementary has raised over $2,700 to fund their twice-yearly science fair. Their primarily ESL community may have difficulty participating in traditional fundraisers where language might be a barrier to participation, but cleaning out closets for the benefit of the school was a very inclusive initiative that had a real impact on their school.

Will This Program Work For Your School? 
There are 2 easy ways to start raising money for your school using Schoola - request a postage paid donation bag to donate from home by mail, or start a school-wide drive. We can get you started in as little as 2 weeks.

About Schoola
Schoola’s unique solution that has been praised as an “amazing mash-up of community building, upcycling and commerce.” Together with thousands of community members & customers, we bring new instruments to the orchestra, books to libraries and Chromebooks to classrooms. Quality clothes get a second life. Parents help parents. Schools help schools. And students get the tools they need to realize their full potential at school.

What I Learn at SFUSD Board of Education Meetings

posted Jan 12, 2016, 11:52 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Jan 12, 2016, 11:54 AM ]

by Robin Dutton-Cookston

I’ll be honest with you. I’m a johnny-come-lately at the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education meetings.

A long time self-avowed (sometimes annoying) PTA mom, public school activist, a sometimes-focused-on-education blogger, I thought I knew all about schools in San Francisco.

Turns out, like most people who think they know everything, I was mistaken.

Even with all my sassy blogging and standing on street corners with signs and working the school car washes until I felt personally responsible for the California drought, I never actually attended a Board of Education meeting until I began my job at Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

Now I go to Board of Ed (as we in the business call them) meetings all the time. I tag along with our brilliant director of policy, and try to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Because with every meeting I attend I realize how much I still have to learn about our public schools.

And I learn SO MUCH.

You should go, too. You might learn a few things about San Francisco public schools.

Recently I learned...

  • To renew my appreciation for San Francisco history and civil rights. In our day-to-day grind as parents in the City, it’s easy to forget some of the fascinating legacies we inherit in our school system. For example, I learned that Spring Valley Elementary School is the oldest still-running public school in California. I also learned that Gordon Lau Elementary School was founded because Chinese students were forced to segregate away from the, then-all-white, Spring Valley. Originally called the “Oriental School,” Gordon Lau was renamed in the 90s in honor of the first Chinese American to serve on the SF City Council.
  • To marvel at the hearts and minds of community partners who enable public school students to be their best selves. Did you know that the California Academy of Sciences is a community leader in hiring special needs students from SFUSD high schools? And did you know that the Academy recently brought a group of their student workers to speak at a Board of Ed meeting about their gratitude for all they have learned? It was heartwarming to say the least.
  • To understand that SFUSD has a firm commitment to making sure parents are aware of their rights. Our SFUSD Board of Education has made it explicit that if families are displaced due to legal eviction, they do not have to leave their public schools. As a parent whose family was displaced due to a legal eviction several years ago, I can personally say that I would wish that stress on no one, and I am thankful that families do not have to add school placement to their urgent list of worries in such a frightful situation.

I learn something new at every Board of Ed meeting. And I eagerly look forward to taking my turn to help push out notes by live Tweeting the meetings via our PPS-SF #BoardWatch program.

My participation at Board of Education meetings helps me to perform better in my role as director of communications at PPS-SF. I network with other involved parents and community members, and I try to understand the complexity underlying high-level decisions that impact thousands of students.

On a personal note, my attendance at Board of Ed meetings help me to make informed decisions as a public school parent. Because when it comes down to it, isn’t that we all want to do? To make the best choices for our families?

I hope to see you soon at an upcoming SFUSD Board of Education meeting. And I hope that you will let me know what you learn.

Segregation and the Best San Francisco Schools You've Never Heard Of

posted Jan 5, 2016, 12:35 PM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Jan 7, 2016, 10:06 AM ]

by Julie Roberts-Phung
I had tears in my eyes while touring a public school in my neighborhood recently. I was standing in the corner of a gym, trying not to distract the kids from their work. They couldn’t have really cared less about me though, they were focused on their teacher with every fiber of their being, bodies buzzing with energy and hovering in place in a surprising show of control for 5 year olds. The teacher was talking with them in a powerful voice, soothing, curious, calling out instructions that had the learning so embedded in them that kids may or may not have even known they were learning through the play. “Hmmm, Janie,* Jaquan, what is the pattern? Who will I call on next?” Kids looked around the room, found a friend with another ‘J’ name, and pointed excitedly. “Yes, José! José, it’s your turn.” José ran around his friends, making looping figure 8s as fast as he could, without touching anyone. The teacher encouraged him, “I like how Jose is moving carefully, and how he is focused, and he is not touching his friends.” They moved on to doing a math dance where they shook their hands and feet to numbers, as the family liaison whispered to me that the older kids integrated dance with other subjects like social studies. I teared up as I left the room, knowing that my 5 year old, energetic, and know-it-all son would love to come to school.
I saw a lot that I loved at this school. The classes were smaller than normal: 14-17 instead of the usual 22. Small class sizes are a key factor that research shows leads to improved learning, and a mom I met at the enrollment fair said it was one of her favorite things about the school. “It’s easy to work with the teacher, to know how your children are doing & ask the them to give more challenging work if needed” she said.

When I met the Principal, he told me about an Opera partnership – 4th and 5th graders are writing and will perform their own arias! I saw a beautiful large library and computer room. I flipped through the notes of the School Site Council posted outside the office and saw a photo of a lovely active group of parent leaders who are working on a world language pilot. If approved, it would bring in 30 minutes of Mandarin a day to the school. One class was a mix of two grades, where it’s easy for children to get more challenging work when they are ready. The school community is great too – some family leaders are grandparents who went to the school themselves, saw their children through, and are now watching their grandchildren thrive there.

Here’s the kicker – this school is walking distance from my house, and I’d be guaranteed to get a seat. Did I just find the best San Francisco school lottery hack that no one tells you about? I’ll let you in on the secret of which school this is in a minute, but first, we need to scale back and look at some of the system dynamics that shape our decisions.

Here’s the amazing thing. No one I know has toured this school. Thanks to segregation in pre-school, many of our kid friends in the neighborhood are White and Asian, like my family. About 48% of the kids at the school I toured are Black, another 14% are Latino and 75% of the kids who go to the school are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Only 6 & 9% are White and Asian, respectively.

Parents are busy, so we use shortcuts to help us make sense of the 110+ school choices we have in our city.Unfortunately, the most common shortcuts we use feed into patterns of segregation and make us miss really great schools that might be the best option for our kids.

Diverse schools are one of the best strategies for closing the achievement gap, but they also provide benefits to White students. This article points out that White students in diverse schools become better at critical thinking, problem solving and working with diverse teams. They don’t have lower test scores. If you want your child to learn how to be creative and innovative & ready to lead in a global economy, you might be better off enrolling them in a public school where they are in the numeric minority than signing up for the latest ‘innovative-maker-charter-school’ fad. The recent “This American Life (TAL) podcast, ‘The Problem We All Live With’” highlighted the benefits of integrated schools, and the high level of segregation in American schools right now. It’s a must listen.

The metrics we are using to sort schools are also the wrong ones to measure actual learning.
Read more here:

Reflections Near the End of a Journey

posted Dec 14, 2015, 11:23 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Feb 9, 2016, 3:02 PM by Miranda Martin ]

by Maya Keshavan

Last month we submitted our last SFUSD lottery application for my 8th grade daughter and it felt like a milestone moment. 

I vividly remember the Kindergarten search for my son, who is now a sophomore in high school.

Back then we were allowed to list a handful of schools. There was the usual playground chatter that if one didn’t get in to certain schools perhaps one should leave the city or consider private.

I strongly disagreed then as I do now.  We didn’t tour many schools because we found what we were looking for early on. 

A friend at my son’s preschool was sending her child to a “hidden gem” called Grattan. Where is that I asked? Cole Valley. It fit within the radius we were willing to commute. 

I visited and immediately knew it was the place. Why? I loved the nurturing principal and staff.  It was clear all involved had so much respect for the diverse population they were serving.  We listed it first and the rest, as they say, is history. I feel it was the single best child related decision we’ve ever made. 

My son was the last cohort before the middle school feeder system was implemented. We were torn between James Lick and Roosevelt. We ended up at Roosevelt. I warned my daughter she wouldn’t feed with her cohort. She is very close to her brother so it didn’t bother her. She’s thrived there just as my son did before her.

My son is currently at Lowell and is very happy. I won’t know until March where my daughter will be but I’m confident she’ll thrive no matter where she goes.

My daughter has been caught up in some of the changes in district philosophy and curriculum.

I am pro common core. I am also pro differentiation.

The principal at Grattan at the time, Jean Robertson, was a huge proponent of differentiation. I learned so much about it through her and the teachers. 

Both my kids were in honors in middle school. Last year my daughter was in CCSS (common core state standards) Math 7 and honors everything else. This year there is no honors. She has, however, been assigned many projects which allow students to work to their ability.  

But wait!  Aren’t I that person who posts *a lot* about CCSS Algebra 1 in the 8th grade on various forums? Yes. Yes I am. I find myself agreeing with a lot of what the district is trying to do with the exception of how the math sequence has been implemented.

The common core standards themselves recommend that all middle schools offer qualified 8th graders the opportunity to take common core Algebra 1 and suggest different pathways to get there. 

My daughter’s strength is math. She wants to be an engineer like my husband and I are. I think by delaying CCSS Algebra 2 to the 11th grade it reduces the opportunity for those interested in pursuing a STEM career to take advanced science classes earlier in high school. For example my son is currently taking an Algebra based Physics class in 10th grade which my daughter wouldn’t be able to take until 11th grade because it requires Algebra 2 (prior knowledge or taken concurrently).

This is one of the reasons that while I understand and support the reasoning behind common core math, I strongly disagree with not allowing all qualified 8th graders a pathway to CCSS Algebra 1 as surrounding districts do. 

However, I also see this as a minor disagreement in the larger scheme of things. There are other options for us. She can take two math classes (CCSS Algebra 1 and Geometry) next year or, as we’ve decided, take an approved on-line CCSS Algebra 1 class prior to entering 9th grade.

Not once did we consider private at any stage of their elementary or secondary education. The aforementioned changes haven’t changed my mind. I’ve been so impressed with the quality of their education. This includes their teachers, school leadership and support staff. 

I’m now taking the lessons learned over the years and applying it to my son’s college search. He wants to be a physicist. I’ve told him that there are many great colleges out there and not to limit himself to the “name brands." He loves science. He loves to learn. He will thrive no matter where he is because, in the end, that old adage of doing what you love holds true.

If I were to offer any advice to those beginning this journey? It would be not to fear the unknown. There will be times you’ll disagree with the district. However, there are people within who are willing to work with families to address concerns.  

I personally believe San Francisco public schools are our city’s strength. There are many committed professionals working to ensure that all our kids get the best education possible.

I’m very happy we remained in San Francisco and that my children attend public school. 

Healthy Lifestyles Don't Have to Be "The Fun Killer"

posted Dec 3, 2015, 11:07 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Dec 15, 2015, 11:01 AM ]

by Liz Isaacs
A few years ago, I was part of a small group of parents who set out to create a healthy lifestyles initiative at our elementary school. At the time, I was in my second year as PTA President and this effort was viewed as “Liz’s Thing.” I was even called “The Fun Killer." (I didn’t take it too personally…)

Many people in our community saw this movement as confrontational; they were not happy about fruit vs. cookies or water vs. juice at potlucks and school-wide celebrations. When we eliminated bake sales that year, it was the final straw. This change was too much, too fast. Healthier lifestyles at our school was going to be more of an uphill challenge than I could have ever imagined. And, we didn’t get very far.

With my tenure as president long over, our group reconvened. We talked to more parents, the principal, teachers and professionals. We created a school-wide Wellness Committee and were upfront about our failed attempts to create a healthy lifestyles initiative. We applied for the PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant, which we received! We were convinced that the framework provided by the grant could improve the message to our community

As it turns out, it still was not easy and I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream. 

“Remember to start slow,” I said to myself. So, we set out to tackle the “doable” parts of our grant. We created an incentive, Fitbucks, to increase participation in any Wellness Committee-related activity including:

• Participation in our monthly Walk & Roll to School days 
• Attendance at an adults-only lecture by a nutrition expert 
• Participation in our Walk-a-thon fundraiser 
• Participation in our first ever Yoga Recess
• Participation in an all-school Dance Party and Wellness Recess

We created monthly Fitbucks drawings and gave away jump ropes, shoelaces, schwings (wings for shoes), an hour on a smoothie bike to the winner’s classroom, a school-logo apron and book for those who attended nutrition events, and two yoga mats! There was an end-of-the-year Fitbucks drawing for grand prizes. The students LOVED the monthly drawings. I felt like we were on the road to “branding” the Fitbucks idea, while also generating interest and even excitement in the Wellness activities. Most importantly, our students became a formidable resource to reach their families about Wellness Committee offerings.

I know that change is not easy. And, I know that our committee did not accomplish everything we set out to do in the grant. But, we were more nimble and flexible and learned to “read the tea leaves” better. In my ninth and final year at our school, I became excited about the direction of “Wellness Awareness,” as new families were energized and willing to continue the healthy lifestyles message. And, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, spreading the message will be a little easier for them.

Liz Isaacs has three children in San Francisco public schools. She served as the Wellness Committee Chair at her children’s elementary school, and has served on PTA Executive Boards for eight years, as President and in community building, advocacy and program chair roles.

The opinions expressed in PPS-SF Newsroom Parent Corner articles are of the individual author only and not necessarily those of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco or its staff or board of directors. 

Don’t Freak Out! Your Kindergartner Will Get into a GREAT Public School!

posted Nov 6, 2015, 10:42 AM by Robin Dutton-Cookston   [ updated Dec 3, 2015, 11:08 AM ]

by Ali Collins
SFUSD Enrollment season is upon us! Families are busy touring potential schools and filling out the enrollment application. Now that my girls are in the 5th grade, it is easy to forget the anxiety and worry that many parents are currently feeling. They say, “Hindsight is 20-20.” With that in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to provide some perspective for parents who may be nervous right now.

Most people get their school of choice.
Based on a report put out by SFUSD’s Educational Placement Center (EPC) based on 2015-2016 enrollment data, overall in Kindergarten through twelfth grade, 85% of applicants (12,371) received one of their choices, and 61% of applicants (8,903) received their first choice school. This is even higher at the kindergarten level with 87% of applicants receiving one of their choices.

Even if you don’t at first receive a school of your choice, you will have more opportunities to apply.
Parents can participate in a 2nd and 3rd round to try to get into a school of choice. If you need more information on this process, contact the SFUSD EPC office. Also, Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco is a great resource. (See below for information about important dates, events, and links.)

There are lots of GREAT elementary schools that you haven’t heard of!
Did you know: there are 72 elementary schools in SFUSD? Many parents have heard the names: Claire Lillienthal, Clarendon, Rooftop… But did you know about Yick Wo? or Spring Valley or John Yehall Chin? (My girls go to Jean Parker and I think it’s the BEST SCHOOL IN THE CITY!) There are AMAZING schools in every neighborhood that no one knows about. Nonetheless, I know many of the parents at them couldn’t be happier. 

Here’s something else to think about: of the 4,782 kindergarten applications SFUSD received last year, there were 1575 requests for Clarendon. That’s almost 1/3 of all applications! It is my belief that most parents have only heard of a few schools. They limit their choices for fear they’ll pick a “bad one.” Just because a school doesn’t have a lot of name recognition doesn’t mean it’s not a perfect fit your kid.

There is a lot of movement on the first 10 days of school.
During the first week of school, the district does what it calls a “three day count” in which schools take note of students who are absent. If a student doesn’t show up to school in one of the first three days, they are dropped from enrollment. During this time period, there are lots of shifts in enrollment: when families move or choose private schools, spaces open up at higher choice schools and students transfer. During the first few months of Kindergarten, children are in transition. Thus, it is no big deal if you child starts school at one site and moves over in a week or so. Though it is stressful, many families do it and are happy with the result. I know several families that have transferred between schools even after several years, and everyone is happy!

Important dates to keep in mind.
This helpful information comes from Parents for Public Schools (PPS-SF) and the SFUSD Enrollment site.
  • Friday, January 15, 2016 - Deadline to turn in your SFUSD application.
  • Friday, March 11, 2016Round 1 offer letters go out. Many will be received on a Saturday or Monday. If do not receive your offer letter by then, wait until Wednesday, March 19, and then go to the Educational Placement Center, 555 Franklin Street, to get a duplicate copy of your offer letter. (Do not go before Wednesday.)
  • During the month of March (after Round 1 letter go out) look for a Parents For Public Schools Workshops on Navigating Round 2 and Beyond. PPS-SF members will share information on the 2nd round enrollment process and provide advice from parents who have gone through it before.
  • March 14-25, & April 4-8, 2016Register at your offered school or you could lose your seat! This is very important as I had a friend who decided to accept his 2nd choice school but forgot to register. He almost found himself with NO choice! This is from the SFUSD website: “After the initial placement offer, we recommend that you register to secure enrollment at the school site. Even if you accept a placement offer, you can still choose to seek a higher choice school during any placement or waiting pool period. In order to secure enrollment, you must go to the school and register by bringing your placement letter and proofs of birth and residency by the deadline date stated on the letter. You can read more here.”
  • Friday May 13, 2016Round 2 offer letters go out. If a new assignment is received, it will replace the current school assignment. There will be no option to keep your previous assignment.
For more key dates click here.
For further reading…
Ali Collins is an educator, parent organizer, and public school advocate living in the Bay Area. She writes about race, parenting and education on her blog SF Public School Mom. To read her musing on being a public school parent and educator, and to download resources to spur change at your child’s school, go to or connect with her via
Twitter, LinkedIn, AboutMe or Facebook.

The opinions expressed in PPS-SF Newsroom Parent Corner articles are of the individual author only and not necessarily those of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco or its staff or board of directors. 

1-10 of 12