Students’ school assignments are in the mail 

Noe Valley parent Rebecka Wright Hernandez said she learned a hard lesson when she went through the San Francisco Unified School District student assignment process for her daughter six years ago and received none of the five schools she requested.

Now that her daughter is ready to move to middle school, Hernandez this year had to go through the whole process of touring schools, comparing programs and making choices all over again.

"I was overly confident in kindergarten. That’s why middle school is a little more stressful," she said.

For Wright Hernandez as well as the other 11,355 pre-K, fifth- and eighth-grade parents who have been held in suspense since applying in January, the wait is almost over: On Friday, the district mailed out school assignment letters.

Some parents will feel cheated by the district’s controversial system of assigning students — which attempts to balance parent choice with a goal of creating diverse schools — when their child doesn’t get into a preferred school. Many parents also apply to private schools as a backup plan, or apply only to private schools, not willing to take a chance on the public school lottery system.

School officials have been quick to point out, however, that each year a higher percentage of families receives one of the schools — they’re encouraged to choose up to seven — listed on their application.

Nonetheless, some families — at least 1,000 this year — will get letters assigning them to a school to which they didn’t apply.

District official Annette Lim, who oversees the enrollment office, said many families that receive none of their choices applied only for the most popular schools, where competition for seats is tough, or listed fewer than seven selections.

Because the San Francisco Unified School District allows parents to apply to any of The City’s public schools, the result is that the schools with the best reputations have many more applicants than open slots. This year’s most-requested school for incoming kindergartners, Rooftop Elementary, for example, had 854 applicants for 33 seats.

Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan said that this year the district was pleased to see parents apply to other schools, perhaps less well known, but with good test scores. "This year, several schools have seen double or triple increases in demand," she said.

Schools that are seeing strong increases in applicants include Grattan Elementary, Aptos Middle School and Balboa High School.

Parents who do not receive an assignment at any of the schools to which they applied can choose to appeal the draw of the district’s lottery system if they have a serious medical appeal or family hardship, or ask to be put on a waiting list for their preferred choice. Last year, 2,031 parents asked to be put on a waiting list, and another 488 filed an appeal.

Wright Hernandez encourages parents to put themselves on the waiting list for their top choice if they’re not happy with their assignment — something she did when her own daughter was going into kindergarten. The family ended up getting informed during the first week of school that a spot was open at its top choice, Alvarado Elementary.

"Between March and August was not the best time, but it turned out fine," she said.

SFUSD 2007-08 application results

» 11,355 applicants for kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades (11,812 applicants for 2006-07 school year)

» 3,972 kindergarten applicants (3,869 for 2006-07 school year)

» 3,145 sixth-grade applicants (3,282 for 2006-07 school year)

» 4,238 ninth-grade applicants (4,661 for 2006-07 school year)

» 87 percent of K-12 applicants got one of their school choices, compared with 84 percent last year and 81 percent for 2005-06

» 67 percent of K-12 applicants got their first choice, compared with 62 percent last year and 63 percent for 2005-06

-Source: San Francisco Unified School District

beslinger@examiner.com

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