How to Enroll Your Kid in Public School in San Francisco




Introduction: How to Enroll Your Kid in Public School in San Francisco

Enrolling your kid in a public school in San Francisco can be as easy as the ABCs.

Of course some parts take serious time and thought-- much like spelling beyond ABC. So think of this Instructable as your handy, pocket dictionary.

And remember, you can't spell School Success with Parental Involvement. At least not in the language of education.

To do this Instructable, you will need:

-a kid of school age
-to live in San Francisco
-pen and paper

This is an item on the Neighbors Project Checklist.

See more stuff by me, Casey, at my website:


In San Francisco, kids don't automatically go to their neighborhood school. The education system is set up to try to create diverse and equally excellent schools.

The Student Assignment System is a ranked lottery system that allows you to PICK YOUR TOP SEVEN SCHOOLS. According to statistics collected by the San Francisco Unified School District (which you can access yourself at 82% of children are assigned to one of the schools of their choosing, and 63% of those are assigned to their first choice.

It used to be that placements were partially determined by race in order to fill quotas for each school, but now it's only parents' choice and school capacity that are considered. (As well as Sibling Priority, and Medical and Family Hardship Appeals, which will be addressed in a later step.) Some activists within the city have called for the reinstatement of race-related policies in order to stop rapidly increasing self-segregation, which, among other things, may increase the presence of structural violence and neglect to certain communities. But for now, race is out of the Assignment picture.

With all that said, your new freedom to choose could feel overwhelming at first. Don't fret! Here are a few easy ways to go about narrowing down your choices:

1. LOOK AROUND YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD. As San Francisco parent Peter Cohen says, "Neighborhood schools are no longer really part of the neighborhood." Let's change that! Start with you local schools. Aside from being perhaps the most easily accessible to you (don't underestimate the importance of this!), sending your children to your community's school will further invest you in your neighborhood. Now imagine if everyone did that. It's a great place to start.

2. TALK TO YOUR NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS. Where do they send their kids to school? Are they satisfied with their choice? These people will have a lot to tell you about specific schools as well as the process of Assignment in general. It's also worth considering where your neighbors and friends send their kids if you're looking to share transportation responsibilities or start your child with a built-in network of friends.

3. GET IN TOUCH WITH THE DISTRICT. Start with the District's Official website and move along from there. Their Enrollment Guide is packed with official information. The website also lists addresses and contact info for every single school and you can search by grade level or by special program (like Alternative Grade Span, Charter, and County). Each school then lists a downloadable PDF that packs a lot of info about current enrollment and curriculum, a general Profile, the Academic Plan, as well as Historical Data so you can see how each school has changed. Some of it is rather dense and table-heavy, but you can't complain about the District not making their statistics public. These listings may be most helpful once you've narrowed down your choices to a handful or so.

The District's Education Placement Center can provide counseling and can, as they say, "help you with the entire enrollment process whether your child is new to SFUSD or already attending an SFUSD school". They're at 555 Franklin Street, Room 100.

The District also has an annual Enrollment Fair once a year where you can talk to someone from every single San Francisco public school all in one place if you really want to.

4. CHECK OUT SOME WEBSITES. Parents for Public Schools has an extremely informative site and offers all kinds of support from their own list of tips, to counseling, to information sessions, to translations (in Spanish and Chinese) of important literature. Their Parent Ambassadors can also offer their thoughts on specific schools as current parents.

Here's a list of a few more to get you started:

5. TALK TO YOUR CHILD. Maybe your three year old won't have that much to say about their preference for hands-on experiences that best suit their tactile learning personality, but listening to them talk about what they like and dislike will give you a good idea about what to keep in mind when choosing for them. Do they like to draw a lot? Look for a school with a strong art program. Do they want to read a hundred books every night? Look for a school with a strong reading program. Don't forget that it's THEY who will be going to this school five days a week for the next handful of years, not you.


Now that you've narrowed down your choices to, let's say, under ten schools, it's time to do some serious comparison shopping.

Here's a list of things to consider when looking at potential schools. It's essential to identify which of these qualities are most important to you and your child, and to then evaluate each school using those categories. Eventually, you will have a small collection of evaluations that are easy to compare. A detailed job will entail touring all of your potential schools and talking to someone in the administration there, ideally some teachers too. But you can also get a good feel for certain aspects of a school via word of mouth. Perhaps if you have friends going through the same process and you have overlapping schools you can divvy up the visits between you. You can contact each school separately for tour times, or check out Parents For Public Schools compilation of times.

Keep in mind THIS LIST IS NOT IN ORDER OF IMPORTANCE, as that order is different for each parent. And remember: the most POPULAR schools may NOT be the BEST schools for your child. Don't succumb to peer pressure! Stick to what you have identified as important to your family.

-LOCATION. Do you want the school to be close to your home? On the way to work? On a certain transit line? In a specific neighborhood?

-ADMINISTRATION. Principals can really make or break a school. Meet them! Do you get along? Do you like their vision for the school?

-TEACHERS. Meet some teachers. Especially the ones of the grade your child will be entering. Are these people you want your kid hanging out with every day? Also take a look at what the teacher retention rates are. If teachers are sticking around for a long time, that's probably a good sign.

-STUDENT BODY. Who are the students? What neighborhoods are they from? What ethnicities? What socioeconomic levels? Think about how important diversity is to you and if these schools have your desired mix.

-CLASS SIZE. Are there 75 kids or 10 kids in that kindergarten class? What is your preferred size range?

-MUSIC, ART, SCIENCE ETC. It's a sad, sad thing that classes in the arts and sciences are often treated as extracurricular activities, but in this age of No Child Left Behind, these subjects are often, well, left behind. Regardless of how they're labeled, are they offered? Are they particularly strong at certain schools?

-FACILITIES. Check out the general feel of the buildings. Is there a gym or a playground? A library? A computer lab? How are the classrooms set up?

-PTA. Is there a strong, active one? Is there even one at all? PTAs can really do a lot to supplement what the district provides. They can do everything from sponsor a sports team that might otherwise not exist, to organize parent-teacher conferences or lobby for any kind of classroom change.

-MULTILINGUAL PROGRAMS. Do you speak Spanish at home and want your child to learn in both their maternal language and English? Do you wish you were bilingual and want your kid to have the advantage of being exposed to more than just English from a young age? There are lots Spanish and Chinese programs that vary from nearly total immersion to a weekly class.

-BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL CARE. Does it exist? In what form?

-SEATS PER APPLICATIONS. Some schools are harder to get into than others. Be realistic about your chances of getting into a place. And consider the exact order in which you list your schools; if your fifth choice is one of the top schools of San Francisco, imagine how many people put that school as their first choice. Guess what? They're getting in it before you do. It's best to put schools you will be satisfied with that offer a realistic chance of getting in as your top choices. Otherwise you might wind up as one of those families placed in a school that's not even on their list. Keep in mind that although it's not a guarantee, living in the same neighborhood as your desired school is positively factored in your assignment. Same goes for siblings, since priority is given to kids who have an older sibling already in that school.

Step 3: APPLY

First and foremost, APPLY ON TIME! It's stunning how many people turn in their applications late and are surprised and saddened when they aren't placed in their top schools. Don't let that be you. Keep this general time line in mind: (And check out the District's website or Parents for Public Schools website for exact dates every year.)

Early January: Round One Applications due
Late April: Placement Assignments announced
Late May: Round Two Amended Applications and all Appeals due. Waiting Lists created.

Here is all the necessary paperwork.


The moment of truth: you've received your placement. Here are your options:

1. CELEBRATE LIKE CRAZY! Hooray! You got into your number one choice! Sit back and relax, the process is done.

2. CELEBRATE! Hooray! You got into one of your top seven schools are so pleased! Sit back and relax, the process is done.

3. AMEND YOUR CHOICES. Didn't get into one of your top choices? Thought more about it and realized there's another school you really like that has openings? Your new "Amended Choice" application will be given priority in Round Two.

4. APPLY TO BE ON A WAITING LIST. Didn't get one of your top choices but are determined to? You can apply to be on a waiting list. This of course, involves a lot of waiting and uncertainty. Much like the first round of applications, keep in mind your chances of getting in somewhere. Is it really worth being #167 on a waiting list for a class of 35 children? Your child can be on only ONE waiting list at a time.

5. APPEAL. You can turn in a Family Hardship or Medical Appeal if in fact your family is experiencing "hardship" or a medical situation that requires a specific placement. Go to the Enrollment Placement Center for more info on all that.


As SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia said at a recent meeting of Parents for Public Schools, "Schools are only as good as the parents that get involved with them." This is, of course, true no matter where you live in this country.

So now that your child attends a school, get involved with it! This doesn't mean you have to sign away your life to an endless barrage of bake-sales and PTA meetings. As one parent put it, "School involvement has different levels, and the most basic level is just being around a bit more. If you can take five minutes to linger when picking up your kid after school, do it." Get to know other parents, your child's teacher, what's going on in the school in other grades.

If you want a more structured way to get involved, check out Through them you can volunteer to do everything from tutoring an individual kid to helping out in the library regularly, or signing up for specific events. The only requirements are TB shot and some enthusiasm.

So overall, keep in mind that you won't be getting what you paid for, since in fact you paid nothing (taxes aside). But if you give a little, or maybe a lot-- in time, energy or other forms of help-- you'll get back what you gave and more.



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    25 Discussions

    I find this description totally inaccurate. If you want to check the real state of things at SF public schools, read the reviews at Yelp for SFUSD. There is no space, your child is likely to be assigned to a school on the other end of the city, if you are lucky, and don't get a school in a drug-infested, high crime rate area. Until you have read the Yelp reviews, you will have no idea how bad the situation is.

    I disagree withmonkey666, saludabear and 8bit. having studied in both public and private schools in two different countries ( including SF) I have to say that studying in a public school is a awesome opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and personal history. Besides, from a personal experience, it’s a good chance to understand how the world works, and how to adapt live peacefully with other people (quite tricky I must say). San Francisco is such a diverse city that it is just a shame not to enjoy the different type of people that live there. Overall I just think homeschooling makes you miss a lot of interesting situations.

    12 replies

    "Interesting situations" and "how the world works". Hmmmm........ The world is mostly governed by tyrants, thugs and various socialist governments. Most unfriendly to freedom. We home school and we don't get interesting situations with, lice, theft, bullys, athiest teachers, crazy textbooks, tattoos on rearends, saggy pants, dope, attitude, global warming fanatics, noserings, gender-benders, need i go on? I work for a phone co. and walk through public schools time to time. All taxpayers need to go and actually look or sit through your kids classes. It makes me ill. it takes very little time homeschooling to do a full days public school work. They seem to waste a lot of time and money.

    Remember folks, "atheist teachers" and "crazy textbooks" is fundie speak for anyone who teaches uncomfortable facts like evolution, that the earth is billions of years old, that there was no global flood, and that the USA wasn't founded by Christians as a Christian nation. Homeschooling children CAN be an alternative to public schools but only if the parents are certified teachers who teach LEGITIMATE scientific and historical curriculum, and not setup as the Christian version of the Muslim madras, existing only to brainwash and indoctrinate children into a skewed and faulty version of reality.

    LOL A long way to go? I'm pretty sure I've been there and back again, sparky. Truth hurts, I know.

    sorry, didn't want to offend any athiest, solcialist/communist, global warming, blame america first, scientology, progressive, leftist types. if you fall into any of these, please unread everything i said.

    “The world is mostly governed by tyrants, thugs (...)” yes, can’t argue with that. “We home school and we don't get interesting situations with, lice, theft, bullies, atheist teachers(...)” ah, but you see, this kind of people make up part of the world population. These are some of the types of people with which we must live with everyday, we must learn how to live with them even if we don’t like them… (Besides, most of them aren’t just exercising their right to freedom of speech?) I just think that when you homeschool a child your raising him/her inside a protective bubble that doesn’t reflect the reality outside of it.

    How understanding and compassionate. There is no right or wrong, just different points of view. Everything is a gray area. They have a right to drag their buttocks across the carpet to express their freedom of speech. good thing Texas doesn't border "Kalifornia"

    wow i know, dont u just love angry teachers and being stressed out. that sure does make me ready for the world!

    Oh dear, those scary "socialist governments." So much more frightening than the thieving capitalist government that we have here in the US that wants us to give another 700 BILLION dollars to their good buddies. And "atheist teachers" -- gasp! You mean they don't have a religious meter at the door to check that? Would agnostic teachers be okay with you? Jewish teachers? If they are not teaching religion, then who cares what their religious beliefs are? And if the subject is NOT religion, then they should not be prostheletizing to kids. Talking about your religious beliefs is fine, in context, but only if the children are allowed to have different views.

    Yeah.. and... and... and.... legless chihuahuas should also have a shot at life! Hooray for diversity!!! Long live them entertainingly walking chihuahuas!

    and if your home schooled your missing out on that good old peer pressure and anti-creativity!

    I found it pretty interesting, and I don't live anywhere near San Francisco. The idea of 'choosing' a public school is a new thing for me. I live in a small town; and we have one public elementary school. If you didn't go there then you paid to go to a private school. As for the 'thugs, tattooed people, saggy pants, ect." If you don't ever teach your child how to deal with people that are slightly different then they are what will they do for the rest of their life? Those same people you didn't like at school are not going to disappear suddenly because you graduated.

    Wow, there's obviously a lot of hate against public schools. I went to a public high school in a upper-middle class suburban setting. I know I'm one of the lucky ones, as there was plenty of funding to give my school lots of resources and amazing teachers. There may be better education out there (with a hefty price tag) but I wouldn't trade my experience for anything. Was I "crushed by the public school system"? Hardly. This fall I'll be attending Dartmouth. The reason there are a lot of crappy public schools out there is because we Americans are too myopic to see the benefits of education and pay for it in taxes. I may sound socialist, but more distribution of resources in this country (when it comes to education, at least) would do us good. Public school taught me to deal with adversity, it taught me patience, and most importantly tolerance. The education I've received has restored some of my faith in America, and I hope someday that my work will return the favor. Sorry for the political tirade, Casey. Great job, I honestly think this type of Instructable is the most valuable out there.

    1 reply

    I agree with you, and I had almost the opposite type of public school experience. I went to the historically black high school in Kansas City, surrounded by the projects, and still over 95% black. And I learned much more about life and the inequities in our society than most white folks ever learn. I even learned that being white actually is a color, not just that we are just people and everyone else is hyphenated. I think homeschooling and unschooling are great! But not if what you are trying to do is shield your children from the world, and especially not if you are trying to shield your children from "heresy" or other diverse opinions. I'm a librarian and had a homeschooling parent come in looking for a book on dinosaurs that didn't talk about evolution! So what happens then when the child discovers all that you have hidden from them? It seems far better to me to explain differing points of view and then explain to your children that "in our family we believe this, and this is why." And yeah, I graduated cum laude from a highly regarded liberal arts college and went on to get a Master's.

    well i hope you feel like a good parent when your kid is being crushed by the pressure of the public education system. do you just want to shove your child into the public shools and take the easy way out?

    1 reply

    >IF< your child is crushed by the pressure of the public education system, then I totally agree that homeschooling (or perhaps just a different school) would be better. But NOT all kids are even remotely crushed. And suggesting that all children in public schools are "shoved" there by parents who "take the easy way out" is unfair and unkind. Many children thrive in school. Many parents work. Almost no parents "shove" their kids.