San Francisco families find mixed results with assignment system 

Last year, the San Francisco Unified School District announced a system to make it easier for schoolchildren to attend a school of their choice — and possibly closer to their home.

But things didn’t turn out that way.

Just 56 percent of families received their first choice, down from 62 percent in 2010.

And although the system was retooled to make it easier for kids to attend neighborhood schools, only 23 percent of 14,347 applicants made one their top choice. Instead, 39 percent of kindergarten families preferred language programs and 20 percent preferred K-8 schools — citywide programs without attendance areas. Heather Nelson Brame’s son was not placed in any of the nine schools she selected. He was, however, accepted to two private schools. That would represent a hefty financial investment that she’s unsure she wants to make.

“I had faith in the public school system,” Nelson Brame said. “I still do. But I don’t want to compromise his education.”

Nelson Brame is not alone. She is one of 19 percent of families who weren’t assigned to any school on their list.

The odds were long for many kindergarten families, because 50 percent applied to just 14 of the district’s 70 elementary schools.

If space was not available — a student’s address was used as a tie-breaker behind weighting for sibling attendance and areas with low test scores — the students were placed in a nearby school with available spots.

For Michelle Horneff Cohen’s son Grove, that school was just seven blocks south of their Portola home. “I didn’t even consider schools that way,” she said of her placement.

Horneff Cohen toured 25 schools and listed her top nine. Like Nelson Brame, she did not receive any of them. Instead, her son was placed in El Dorado, which she’s not upset about.

“I can’t believe I missed it,” Horneff Cohen said. “It’s actually very diverse. So it’s possible. We are very open to where he was assigned.”

Peggy Lee Mirpuri was not pleased, and plans to apply again in May. Her daughter, Emily, was placed in Sheridan, but Mirpuri still hopes that she will get in to her neighborhood school before the fall.

“She’s going to Miraloma,” Mirpuri said. “Even if we have to camp outside the district office until a spot opens.”

She was surprised to not get any of her original nine choices, especially since Miraloma was at the top of her list and she lives in the attendance area.

“Everyone said there wouldn’t be a problem with the neighborhood getting precedence,” she said. “I didn’t really believe it, but I’m really surprised we didn’t get one on our list.”

Lucy McAllister was luckier. Not only were her twin daughters assigned to her neighborhood school, but it was their top choice. “It was a happy ending,” she said.

Nelson Brame, however, is not so sure what she will do with her son, Mansour. Although he was assigned to Bryant, she said its lack of diversity, low test scores and overall feel make it unappealing.

She intends to try again with the public schools. But the family also is considering private school, for which a deposit of several thousand dollars was due last week.

“Now I have to number crunch and balance my checkbook to figure out how to pay for an expensive school,” she said.

District offers second round of placement

Thousands of San Francisco parents will make a final decision about where to send their children over the next few weeks, but for parents unhappy with the schools to which their child has been assigned, there is a chance to try their luck again.

Another placement period is scheduled for May. San Francisco Unified School District officials say applications must be submitted to the district office by April 15. Such applications can include any number of more-preferred schools, school officials say. Final placements for May will be mailed to hopeful families by May 13.

The district’s original offers were mailed out to homes March 18. More than 14,000 families applied for placement in the district’s 120 schools. Of those families, 56 percent received their first choice, while 19 percent were put in schools not on the preference lists they submitted in February.

District officials recommended that families go ahead and enroll in their original placements by April 15 even if they’re not happy with the results. Accepting an initial placement offer does not affect a student’s ability to seek another placement in May, officials said.

If an original placement is not claimed, that seat will be made available to other students. Students gain no weighting advantage by failing to register at any school.

A final placement period will be held in August for families who still have not gotten a school of their preferred choice.

School begins the third week of August.

What they asked for, what they received

How families tracked by The San Francisco Examiner fared in this year’s student assignment. Chart contains the top three schools each family listed. Many families submitted more schools on their applications. A fifth family highlighted declined to share their results.

Nelson Brame

School Choices

1: McKinley (Duboce Triangle), 3.2 miles from home
2: Grattan (Cole Valley), 4 miles
3: Clarendon — Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (Forrest Knoll) 5 miles

Neighborhood School: Flynn, 0.03 miles
Assigned: Bryant, 0.7 miles

Horneff Cohen

School Choices

1: Rooftop (Twin Peaks), 4.9 miles from home
2: McKinley (Duboce Triangle), 5.1 miles
3: Sunnyside (Sunnyside), 2.8 miles

Neighborhood: E.R. Taylor, 0.3 miles
Assigned: El Dorado, 0.6 miles


School Choices

1: Sherman (Cow Hollow), 0.8 miles from home
2: Claire Lilienthal (Marina), 0.6 miles
3: New Traditions (NoPa), 2.9 miles

Neighborhood school: Sherman
Assigned: Sherman, 0.8 miles


School Choices

1: Miraloma (Miraloma), 0.9 miles from home
2: Clarendon — Japanese Bilingual Bicultural program (Forest Knolls), 2.5 miles
3: Rooftop (Twin Peaks), 2.4 miles

Neighborhood school: Miraloma, 0.9 miles Assigned: Sheridan, 2 miles

Fewer happy families

Kindergarten assignments in 2011 compared to 2010:

Families who received first choice
2010: 62%
2011: 56%

Families who received second choice
2010: 8%
2011: 11%

Families who received another choice

2010: 10%
2011: 14%

Families who received none of their choices
2010: 20%
2011: 19%

This article was corrected on Monday, March 28. The original article said Nelson Brame's son, Mansour, was assigned to Sheridan. Mansour was actually assigned to Bryant.

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