News » Education

Many San Francisco parents endure third round for school placement

by

5 comments
Clear across town: Lani Matsen and her son Michael live in the Lower Haight, but Michael was assigned to Visitacion Valley Middle School — a 45-minute drive each way. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner) - CLEAR ACROSS TOWN: LANI MATSEN AND HER SON MICHAEL LIVE IN THE LOWER HAIGHT, BUT MICHAEL WAS ASSIGNED TO VISITACION VALLEY MIDDLE SCHOOL — A 45-MINUTE DRIVE EACH WAY. (MIKE KOOZMIN/THE EXAMINER)
  • Clear across town: Lani Matsen and her son Michael live in the Lower Haight, but Michael was assigned to Visitacion Valley Middle School — a 45-minute drive each way. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner)
  • Clear across town: Lani Matsen and her son Michael live in the Lower Haight, but Michael was assigned to Visitacion Valley Middle School — a 45-minute drive each way. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner)

For most of The City’s children, Aug. 15 was the first day of school. But not for Michael Matsen, 11, who was supposed to start sixth grade.

“I desperately want to get Michael into school, but I can’t,” said his mother, Lani, who has been bringing her son with her to work while the family waits for a school assignment from the San Francisco Unified School District.

Matsen lives in the Lower Haight, but her son was assigned to Visitacion Valley Middle School. Though the statistically underperforming school is not generally desired by parents, for Matsen the 45-minute drive each way was the real hurdle.

“I cannot get there,” she said. “Absolutely cannot.”

Chatty Cotter, whose son was also assigned to Visitacion Valley, said the commute from the family’s Sunset home would mean an hour and 10 minutes on Muni.

“And that’s if he makes the connection,” she said.

Many parents say this year’s new student-assignment system, intended to be an improvement over previous years’ controversial socio-economic- based lottery and make it easier to get into neighborhood schools, has not gone as district officials promised.

On Wednesday, children assigned last spring to schools their parents found unsatisfactory participated in a third round of placements. Though district officials said 600 families received new placements and would be notified of the results by that evening, many parents reported Thursday that they had not received a call.

“I sat by the phone like I was waiting for a prom date,” said Herbert Yee, the father of twins who were supposed to have started kindergarten this month. “We didn’t get anything.”

Yee’s son started school last week at Lawton Elementary, four miles from the family’s Miraloma home. But despite the district’s promise to try to place siblings in the same school, the boy’s sister was assigned to Junipero Serra, about 2½ miles in the other direction.

“If I drop one child off and go to the other end [of The City], it’s 35 minutes through city traffic,” Yee said.

His daughter has yet to start school.

In an email, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said that while every child received a school placement, some parents chose not to enroll their children in the school they were assigned.

The district did not have the number of unenrolled students available, but school board member Rachel Norton said she had heard from many frustrated parents.

While every year some parents are unhappy with their school assignments, Norton said, this year it seems to be more a little difficult for parents to get their preferred middle school. Norton said that might be due in part to the closure of Willie Brown Jr. College Preparatory Academy and the merger of Horace Mann into Buena Vista Elementary.

“That’s now, let’s say, 80 seats that have to be absorbed,” she said.

Families will continue to be notified until Sept. 9 if places open up in their preferred schools, but after that they will have to wait until a spring transfer period.

Juggling priorities

Under the new student-assignment policy this year, students are given priority in the following order:

Elementary Schools
1. Siblings
2. Students who live in and attend preschool in the school’s attendance area
3. Students from areas with low test scores
4. Students who live nearby

Middle and High Schools
1. Siblings
2. Students from areas with low test scores

Source: SFUSD application form

acrawford@sfexaminer.com