San Francisco parents react to new middle school assignment system 

A draft version of where city elementary school students could be assigned to attend middle school came out this week to the relief of some parents and the consternation of others.

The assignments, which the San Francisco Unified School District calls “elementary-to-middle school pathways,” would replace the current lottery system that determines middle school placement. The Board of Education could vote on the new system as soon as April. If approved, it would be put in place for the 2012-13 school year.

The student assignment redesign is aimed at giving parents more access to neighborhood schools and an earlier sense of which middle school their children will attend. If the proposed system is approved, the district would phase in the program and give parents an opt-out option to enter a lottery for a school of their choice. Students with siblings at a certain school, their pathway assignment or those who come from low-preforming schools would have priority to attend a school of their choice.

“It’s not a done deal,” said Jeannie Pon, the deputy superintendent of middle schools for the SFUSD. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is an idea of how it will work.”

The assignments are based on each elementary school’s proximity to the middle school, along with the middle school’s capacity and readiness to take students from various programs. Also, special-education and second-language placement are factors.

When preliminary groupings were released last fall, some parents of McKinley Elementary School students were upset to be paired with Everett Middle School, which is one of the lowest-performing in the district. The draft released last week, which will be considered by the school board, still feeds McKinley students to Everett.

Aaron Anderson, the president of the McKinley Parent-Teacher Association, said most parents have now had time to adjust to the idea. His oldest child is in the third grade and would go to Everett in the 2012-13 school year if the plan is adopted.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “If you look back at history, McKinley was slated to close five years ago, so there’s been quite a turnaround. Who’s to say something similar can’t happen at Everett?”

Some Starr King Elementary School parents have concerns about the distance to their pathway school, Aptos Middle School, which is located 6 miles away. Starr King Parent-Teacher Association President Pierre Barolette said, speaking as a parent, that although the distance is a concern, he is pleased with the choice.

“You do have to travel further,” he said. “We are happy the entire school will travel together.”

School board President Hydra Mendoza stressed the need for the district to give families clear information about how the new system would work.

“We need to be prepared to really explain the rationale of why certain schools are brought together,” Mendoza said.

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