Friday, May 13, 2011

The lottery

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), in an attempt to make school placement equitable, runs a lottery each year. Every San Francisco family has a chance to send their child to any public school, and preference is given to families who live in low test score and dense population areas (having a sibling already enrolled in a school gets you an even better chance to have your second get in there as well).

We prepared for this year's lottery. I researched the prospective kindergartens online, then we narrowed down the options by proximity and eliminated the schools that would require nearly an hour of driving (one way). SFUSD announced that starting with the 2011-2012 school year all schools would offer inclusion spots, but we would only consider a space in a school with an already-existing inclusion program. During tours, I spoke with some parents who had been told point-blank by school staff that they did not want inclusion. And those were the ones who admitted it! I'm sure there are others who also are not keen on inclusion, but kept their mouths shut. We really wanted to meet the inclusion staff and see how they would work with Jack. Some schools did not emphasize their inclusion programs and were less than enthusiastic; those schools also did not make our cut.

Here is the list of schools we put on our lottery list:
1) Clarendon. A lovely school with great student diversity and a staff who obviously love their jobs. It's generally regarded as one of the best elementary schools in the city and I fell in love with it.
2) Miraloma. An up-and-coming school with a young principal who seems to truly embrace inclusion. It was the only school we toured where the staff set up a meeting for parents interested in the inclusion program, at which we got to meet the inclusion staff and the principal. Miraloma also has a gym and an auditorium (most SF schools have a combined space), and the gym has a climbing wall, which we loved. They also have a cute garden and chickens, which was a surprisingly strong point for me.
3) Lakeshore. Nice location, good grounds, impressed with inclusion staff.
4) Argonne. The resource specialist sold me on the school. She is experienced and a huge asset to a school with very strong test scores. Not a great location for us, but we thought the drive would be worth it.
5) Dianne Feinstein. Our safety-net school.

I rustled up our paperwork and documents, waited in line at the SFUSD downtown headquarters, and then we waited.

The envelope from SFUSD arrived, and Hans opened it.

Have you read Shirley Jackson's book "the Lottery"? It's a grim tale of an annual village superstition where one person is stoned to death to ensure an adequate harvest. The victim is chosen by lottery. The look on Hans' face as he read the placement letter was not as grim as it would be for one about to be stoned; it was more an expression of disgust and disbelief. We got none of our choices, and were offered a school without an existing inclusion program. We'd "won" the SFUSD lottery.

For me the biggest frustration is all that wasted research time, with zero payoff for the hard work. And I know we're not alone, for quite a few other families in our area got none of the schools on their lists either. Some are now waiting for round 2 results. Others may home school.

In the end, we hit the jackpot in a different sort of lottery, one we were happy to win -- Jack was accepted to a small private school that welcomes kids with minor to moderate learning difficulties. Thanks to grandparent funding, he'll start there in the fall.

So goodbye to SFUSD, with its broken promise of a good education for all.

No comments: