Parents of Future Kindergartners, You Need a Drink! Drown Your Anxieties During ‘SFUS-D-Day’ at the Lucky Horseshoe

lottery.jittersAs the ides of March draw near, anyone planning to send their kid to public school in San Francisco is getting a bit nervous right about now. For those not in the know, the school district will soon tell parents which school their child will attend this fall. Might be a school you requested; might not be. You just don’t know.

But know this, parents: You are not alone. So line up those nanas, nannies, or sitters now, because you’re coming (we hope) to the all-too-aptly-named Lucky Horseshoe on Cortland to cele-miserate “SFUS-D-Day” on Thursday, March 14.

I am sure we do not have to remind you that this date is nominally the night before the district computer drops the fate of your future Einstein or Earhart into the mail with all the clatter and clang of a latter-day Linotype machine… and exactly as much empathy.

We’re hoping the good folks at the Horseshoe will offer a custom cocktail lineup featuring such classics-for-one-night as:

  • The First Choice Fizz (champagne, egg white, and Goldschläger)
  • The CTIPsy Gypsy (rose water and smokey scotch)
  • The Dual Immersion Bender (a jigger each of two bottles picked blind from the top shelf)
  • The Attendance Aria (shot of PBR dropped into half-pint of vodka)

…and perhaps some nonalcoholic counterparts as well. But whether it’s for the water or the whine, come on down and look your competition in the eye one last time as equals!

We’ll try to come up with a mechanism for gathering some anecdotal information from attendees, but this is really about forging a moment of defiant collective non-silence in the face of a dehumanizing and exhausting process that, for better and worse, is soon to come to… well, only the first of many notional endings.

WHERE: The Lucky Horseshoe, 453 Cortland Avenue

WHEN: After the kiddies are tucked in bed

WHO: Pre-K parents and those who love them

PHOTO: Aaron Ximm

27 thoughts on “Parents of Future Kindergartners, You Need a Drink! Drown Your Anxieties During ‘SFUS-D-Day’ at the Lucky Horseshoe

  1. The Dual Immersion Bender … scary! hey can us post-K SFUSD ‘rents show up, too? Jebus knows we’re not any more sober than the pre-K’ers. might have to crash this gig to see people toss cookies after drinking a DIMP.

  2. For comparative purposes:

    January 1961- the baby boomer rich Le Conte Elementary School @ Precita Park, now LF, took 30 or so of us fresh faced new low First Graders into the school auditorium where we spent the entire semester with Miss Orr. If memory serves, we went upstairs in September. Stress on the p’rents? No idea. I’d guess they were happy to see us go all day! 🙂

  3. I’m confused about the schools in Bernal Heights. They all have low ratings. Where are all these gentrifiers sending their kids to school? Private or the already established better rated schools in Noe and Glen Park? Or do they move out of the neighborhood when their kids are about to start kindergarden? These questions obviously have blogs devoted to them but really I just want to know about what the deal is with Bernal.

    • All of the above One major factor: The system is actually combined to combat gentrification effects. Priority goes to people who live in low test score areas (read: look East, look North), and those who qualify for subsidized lunch (read: not the gents).

      I believe it is precisely because Bernal is situated near lower-income neighborhoods that the schools here are less likely to be populated by the children of those gentrifying the ‘hood.

      • So what you are saying is that kids that live next door to “X” Elementary School do not automatically get into that “X” school? Even if it’s a low performing school and there isn’t a long wait list?

      • ac: correct, there is no guarantee that any kid will get into any school/program.

        Every kid in SF lives in the ‘attendance area’ (feeder neighborhood) of some school, and they get a (minor) preference for attending there; but they are not guaranteed a spot there. Population density and popularity means there is too much demand for some attendance area schools even from their constituent neighborhood.

        Many desirable spots, in ‘alternative’ schools or language immersion programs, are considered ‘city wide’ and not tied to an attendance area, so no kids get that preference for that particular school regardless of where they live.

        Like any other districting scheme, the theory and practice of SFUSD determines attendance areas is opaque and serves principals different from what area parents would presumably want (e.g. to facilitate walking to school).

        E.g. if you live on south-west-slope Bernal as we do, your attendance area school is neither J Serra (on Holly Park), nor Fairmount (bottom of the hill), but Flynn (on Chavez near Precita Park).

        However: in practice, when there are not more people requesting a given school/program than seats, you’re guaranteed in (barring human or divine error), whether it is your attendance area or not.

        The district publishes [some] statistics on how many people requested given schools on given years (and to some extent will tell you how many people with preference i.e. trump cards asked for them, which is important since they are ahead of Bernal parents…) — but does not publish comprehensive information about how many seats there are for a given year, though that can be deduced e.g. by touring the school etc.

        Regardless of number of open seats, “past performance is not a guarantee of future results” — a school that was relatively easy to get into last year may be much harder this year because word has gotten out, or because there is a wave of younger siblings coming in (who get the highest trump card).

        What’s happening next week is the district HAL9000 has bleeped and blipped through all the requests, applied all the trump cards, and rolled the dice to determine who is offered a slot in which school/program. Notifications are mailed on March 15.

        Fwiw this year, you could request as many schools/programs as you like; you are entered into the lottery/process for each, but no matter how many you find a tentative place in, you are offered only one seat: the one highest on your list among all the options open to you. (The others are released to others.)

        If you don’t get a seat in any of your choices, the district would assign you to the nearest school with a seat open for you, taking into consideration any special needs when applicable.

  4. I live in the Mission, but find this amusing because we’re going through this right now. We’re waiting to find out which public school my daughter will start Kindergartner in. It’s been a little more daunting in our case since we want her to attend a school with a spanish immersion program. There are so many factors involved in this. Luckily for me, my wife has done all of the grunt work.

    • If you live in the Mission, you are almost certainly a Golden Ticket holder and will get one of your top 1-2 or choices.

      That’s the consensus wisdom, it’s what the district stats show, and it’s what the people staffing the Spanish language evaluation sessions (for people applying to immersion programs) confirmed.

      If you have CTIP1 status, you have the luxury of putting down a couple popular and highly desirable schools, and not worrying, because your’re going to get a seat in one.

      As mentioned: if you live in neighboring Bernal, Potrero, or Noe, you’re SOL and might consider browsing real estate or rental listings out of the city…

  5. TL;DR: if you live in Bernal, you’re f*cked–the local schools by most metrics/tastes are lousy, and you can’t get into the “good” schools you naturally want, because the seats are taken by people with magic Golden Tickets based only on what block they live in.

    For those blissfully free from the woes of finding a school for a soon-to-be Kindergartner: the way it works is that every kid in the city has theoretic access to every school — and every kid therefore competes for the pool of desirable school seats.

    The concept of ‘neighborhood school’ is effectively (if not literally) non-existent; even though a proposition to make living near (in the attendance area) of a given school a factor in determining admissions, it had no significant affect on the distribution of requests being made [according to the district’s own analysis].

    The problem with living in Bernal today is that because of where we are, we want our kids to go to the same nearby good school as people living north, east, and southeast of us, who unlike Bernal residents, have something called “CTIP1” status, because kids from their census tracks have tracked in the lowest performing quintile (18% actually) over recent years.

    As a matter of policy instituted only a couple years back, the City/district says kids from that lowest-performing quintile get preferential treatment.

    This preference amounts to a true golden ticket; people from the Mission, Bayview, and Hunters Point (and a few blocks of Potrero Hill) get first dibs (after siblings of current students) on seats wherever they apply.

    …and — this is the killer of Bernal residents — because of where they live, they tend to overwhelmingly apply for seats at the good schools in the Mission that many of us Bernal parents also want their kids to go to, i.e. Fairmont, Buena Vista, and Alvarado dual-immersion programs — or the ‘glamor’ schools like Clarendon, Rooftop, and Miraloma (which have a self-perpetuating popularity and receive overwhelming number of requests).

    Potrero and Noe Valley residents face the same grim prospect.

    The only answers as a parent in these areas are to move at least 6 months before applying for schools into a CTIP area, commit fraud, win a lottery (odds about 1 in 20 by my estimates), pay for parochial or private school, or leave San Francisco.

    CTIP: a nice sounding idea with devastating consequences for the other 82%.

  6. I live in Bernal and my son got Clarendon as our first choice. The greasy and grumpy wheel that is used to getting their way in the world is always the loudest. Most people I know…almost all of them ended up happy with where their kids got into actually. We were the families living here when the economy fell out at the same time we were starting to think about school (2010)…and most of us would have maybe left for cheaper and greener pastures, but my homeowner friends couldn’t sell and had to suck it up and deal with it. I’m here to tell you it all works out. It really does. My son has a little pack of neighborhood friends he is tight with to this day, although none of them are in the same school. It’s nice he has two communities. I’m glad I’ve dug my heels in here in Bernal, even though It’s nearly priced us out four times in the last 5 years.

    If you have kids, and your house is happy and present, then school is really the side note.

    Good luck.

    • It sure works out if you get into your first choice…(!)

      As someone who toured a few dozen schools, I would not settle for many of them.

      PPSSF and the District try to put a nice face on it, but the brutal fact is that there are going to be winners and (many) losers in the lottery; and if you live in Bernal, your chances of being a loser are much higher than if you (say) live in the Mission.

      Kids are remarkably adaptable and many will profess happiness across a spectrum of experiences… but I only over this process really realized that while my daughter will be *happy enough* plenty of places, I expect more from and for her.

      There are deep and profound differences between schools, and it shows in what the kids are like in the classroom and what they are putting on the walls of those rooms… which is a direct reflection of what they are going to internalize as metrics of self-value.

      Already in preschool, there’s a clear sense that because she’s a ‘good kid’ capable of following direction and not being a drag on the teachers’ attentions and time, she has internalized that being a ‘good worker bee’ and following directions quietly is a prime virtue.

      Which are necessary skills at her age, of course. Well enough…

      Yet I expect more from a school. I want her *also* to be praised also for, for example, her voracious curiosity, and quirky way of looking at things, and elaborate imaginative life. And I want her to be challenged at her level.

      The one thing that stood out as the starkest distinction between ‘good’ and ‘not good’ schools (my labels) was where the energy in the classroom went, and what that meant for the kids in the room (my labels) — whether they were going to end up ever having the change to shine, and be praised for it.

      In some schools, so much energy and effort was clearly devoted to keeping a lid on things, to discipline, that the balance of kids were clearly being left with the short end of the stick.

      In San Francisco, if you don’t engage this process with real attention and energy, you will get the short end of the stick too (unless you have a Golden Ticket, of course, which no one in Bernal does).

      If I’m making a lot of this, it’s because it is disheartening to learn that even if you do engage, you *still* have a limited chance of getting something that will add to, rather than possibly detract from, the values and skills you can inculcate in your kids yourself. (Especially if you didn’t win the other Golden Ticket of cashing out on the right options, and hence probably work full time…)

      I don’t think it’s a particularly ‘entitled’ perspective to expect good schools of San Francisco; or to refuse to settle for a bad one.

      My kids at least deserve a good one.

      So do everyone’s!

      After living in, and building a life in, San Francisco for 20 years, I now face an uncomfortable roll of the die: either I win the lottery, and get to stay, knowing that others are getting the short end of the stick… or I lose, and either settle, or home school, or leave.


      • Aaron, it is indeed a ridiculous process. But one major element of the ridiculousness is that SFUSD has no way for a family to un-enroll in the period between the initial claiming of the seat and the start of school (can’t some tech person fix this?). This means that there is a TON of movement over the summer and especially two weeks into the school year. Our kid went to Spanish immersion preschool (maybe the same one as yours) and most of his friends applied to immersion programs. Last year, in the first round, the only people who got their top one or two choices were siblings, CTIP1, and people who chose a school that was not considered super-desirable to the masses (but was desirable to them). But then between round two and the start of kindergarten, almost everyone got one of their top picks. Fairmount in particular had lots of spots open up. Buena Vista had something like 5-10 kindergarten places open after school started. Starr King, for different reasons, had quite a few spots once school started (in that case, it’s because they reserve spots for fluent Mandarin speakers who never enroll). I didn’t hear of that kind of movement at, say, Clarendon, but if you don’t have your heart set on one school, you can eventually get one of your top immersion choices.

        So, to summarize, it’s beyond ridiculous that you have to wait in limbo for so long, and it’s true that the stats from this year will not be exactly the same as last year, but this pattern does seem to repeat itself. Also, for anyone thinking of getting a Mission address, it’s not ALL of the Mission that is CTIP1. If you can see the lines at Tartine from your apartment, that would be an indication that you are not in CTIP1.

  7. I agree with everything you said here, but If you can afford a life where the district gives a Harvey Milk or HIllcrest placement then dig your hills in and be part of the ‘change’ you talk about. The fear and panicked tone mostly comes from that entitled and self congratulatory bunch of folks used to getting their way are upset they couldn’t figure out a way to make it work. Seriously, every family I know from 2010 and every year since eventually gets into a school they’re really happy with.

    We got our first choice because we live off of a budget that probably equals most Bernalites dry cleaning and hair budget for a year. For us, the system really worked, but I don’t go screaming it from the hill like the folks rolling out their fear. I say, take it easy and relax and get involved. Be part of the change. You don’t have to move.

    • Concern (if not fear) is justified… I’m not panicked, I’m at the mercy of a system that is currently rigged against those of us living in Bernal, and in which there is almost no recourse if you don’t win the lottery.

      As SER says, failure to get in somewhere acceptable in the first round does not mean game over; but it does (also as SER points out) mean months of uncertainty followed by, potentially, game over.

      I’m glad to hear that most people you know K ended up happy. For my part, I’ve heard a very mixed range of experiences. Many good to good enough — and just as significant a number, not good at all, ranging down to abysmal.

      The Manhattanization of SF is a topic in its own right… but the system puts Bernal residents at a disadvantage regardless of their income.

      On the plus side, the great thing about SFUSD is that there are GREAT schools to attend regardless of income — if you can get in.

      Otherwise income only matters IMO in one way, which is that if you lose out in the SFUSD process, you either do or do not have the money to spend on parochial or private alternatives (assuming you’re down for the different mix of pros and cons they provide).

      I’m all in favor of keeping a positive attitude, and like most of us, intend to pour as much as humanly possibly into whatever school my daughters go to…

      …but ya know, there’s a hard reality here. No amount of grit, or good attitude, can overcome some of the institutional challenges and problems we saw on many tours.

      I have talked at length with SF parents of kids who are well into the elementary years about, for one, the impact that school administration and principal in particular has on setting the tone in a school, which translates directly to whether it’s any good objectively, or good for your kid, subjectively.

      I will not name names, but I know of two cases from first-hand accounts where extremely active and motivated PTA/parent communities have essentially reached the limits of what change and benefit they are able to bring to a school, in the face of opposition, or (more common I’d guess) simple ineffectual or inappropriate administrations. The consequence is schools that should based on involvement and effort be off the charts, offering a very mixed bag. (The upside of course is that we saw places where exceptional administration had clearly worked hand in hand with involved community to make something wondrous and unique.)

      Fwiw I’m happy to say that the VAST majority of teachers I saw (momentarily…) in the schools we visited appeared to be doing an excellent job. I’ve heard anecdotes about isolated problems, but they’ve been happily rare. But in lots of cases that’s just not enough.

      Not panicked today.

      But ask again after we find out what the HAL9000 has assigned us to…!

      • Income is also indicated on the application by whether the child’s family is on a type of public assistance. Sure, Aaron, …goes without saying that concern comes noted on the parental price tag of providing an education. I see full and naked unadulterated fear, however, all around me every single year around this time. I see how it bends a certain quality of the reality. AND I really do agree that the there are issues and systemic problems, but listen….the things you may fear about this process are someone’s real solution to a much more dire problem then you yourself face.

      • I do appreciate the sentiment, but remain steadfastly of the opposite mind. I think you surface as the two most important questions:

        (a) whose problems merit being described as “dire” enough to create a disproportionate burdens on so many people?

        To put some points on it: as you yourself have said, and anyone in our blessedly diverse Bernal knows, the CTIP1 implementation today has only a partial overlap with disenfranchisement, dire need, or any other metric of merit.

        If this was not a zero-sum game, where someone must lose for others to win, it wouldn’t matter; but in this case it is the rest of the people living in the SE quarter of the city who lose.

        (b) I have not seen any indication that this is a “real solution,” nor is it easy to imagine there being any way to conclude that on any time frame less than a generation.

        In other words, this is someone’s well-meaning gesture, an experiment based on premises I myself reject.

        Most importantly, I suggest that it is self-evident that the systemic and societal problems that lead to geographic concentrations of poor performance are only affected in a token way by giving people golden tickets for school choice.

        You have said something along the lines of, “a bad school is not going to kill you, stop worrying about it.”

        The obvious corollary is, “a good school is not going to save you.”

        To me that is the same thing as saying: this is not a *real* solution.

        Better schools, in the abstract, are a part of a solution, but only a part.

        In the meantime, while that part is IMHO ineffectual in the absence of other coordinated reform, we — parents in Bernal and other areas surrounding CTIP zones — are paying a heavy price. :/

      • jeez Aaron. have the last word much? I’m trying to say…’relax’ You’re absolutely wrong in your assumptions here about my reply. I was trying to give you food for thought from the other side of the fence….. things like your daughter’s hummus and pita lunch and yogurt snack at Flynn would make a significant impact at the lunch table. That is a fact; and it’s just a gesture I’m making here. I’m not trying to argue point by point with you on a blog. I really am sick of the whole fear flinging school culture every year. You’re my neighbor for crying out loud. Can’t we continue this at the playground in more friendly and less public face kind of way?

      • Also, I’m not trying to quantify anyones experience here as “real” or more “important”. That would be lame and stupid. It’s pretty much what you’re pegging me as…..It almost seems to be a quick and heavy response to someone calling you a gentrifier or a yuppy…or whatever. I would never think of you and your family in those terms. Just for the record.

  8. Good luck to everyone today and tomorrow. I still recall the anxiety dreams I had leading up to the letters. Report back here if you’re willing to share the results!

    • Anecdotal and none-scientific results of a poll taken from last night’s ~20 attendees, almost all of whom are Bernal residents, as to ‘first choice’ listed for SFUSD:

      Mildly most popular:
      Buena Vista Spanish Immersion
      Alvarado Spanish Immersion

      Neck and neck:
      Fairmount Spanish Immersion

      And the pack:
      Daniel Webster Spanish Immersion

      Personally I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of first choices! No shocks but there was only a little overlap. Cause for cautious bump in optimism? Perhaps…?

      Interesting to hear anecdotes of philosophy, method, and madness over tasty champagne and in such good company.

      HUGE THANKS AND BIG PROPS to the lovely Lucky Horseshoe for following through with some SFUSD-Day drink specials! Not to mention ‘free snacks and tissues.’

      Tissues happily not yet resorted to.

      Stay tuned…!

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