Parents give San Francisco school assignment plan a failing grade 

A plan to assign students to middle schools rather than have them chosen by lottery for the start of the 2016-17 school year faces strong parent opposition.

San Francisco Unified School District officials have been working for the past year to create a system that tells parents where their children will attend middle school right from the start. Currently, fifth-graders participate in a lottery system for middle school much like the one for enrolling kindergarten and ninth-grade students.

However, rather than a system that provides predictability, parents want a chance to choose the school they think is best, according to a report presented by parents’ groups at a Board of Education meeting Monday. Parents simply don’t perceive all the district schools as quality schools, said representatives from the Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools.

"Retain the choice system," a presentation by the groups stated, "while strengthening the quality of all middle schools."

There are 72 elementary schools and 11 middle schools in the district.

The district approved a new student-assignment system in March 2010. For the 2011-12 school year, students were placed in elementary schools without predictable pathways to middle schools. Those placements were sent to parents in March.

Now through the 2015-16 school year, fifth-grade students will be able to apply to any middle school in the district, in a recommendation presented to the Board of Education. If parents choose the middle school that is fed into by the elementary school they already attend, they will receive preference. The list of elementary schools that will feed to middle schools was released by the district in February.

By the 2016-17 school year, however, fifth-grade students will automatically be placed in a middle school, without the need to apply, under a plan being recommended by district staff.

Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas said she supports moving forward with providing predictability for families because it’s a request she has heard from parents for at least a decade. Commissioner Jill Wynns, however, said she was disinclined to support the staff’s recommendations to create elementary-to-middle school pathways because it would fail to create diversity in schools.

The school board is expected to discuss the issue in more detail later this month. A final decision on whether to give parents an assigned middle school is scheduled for June.

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