Study highlights S.F.'s student enrollment process 

After interviewing hundreds of parents during the last six months, the San Francisco school district’s quest to overhaul its controversial student enrollment process hasn’t gotten any easier.

A study released Tuesday showed that parents want the option of sending their children to both quality neighborhood schools and alternative schools throughout The City.

"That’s the core issue for us," board member Jill Wynns said at a meeting earlier this month, where she was briefed on the report’s findings. "We can’t give open choice to everybody if we give them access to the neighborhood school."

As for wanting quality schools, Wynns added, "That’s like saying you want air."

At issue is the San Francisco Unified School District’s method of placing children at schools — a process parents have said is stressful and unclear.

Each school year, parents can apply to seven schools they want their children to attend. When a school receives too many applicants for the number of seats, the district’s Diversity Index Lottery kicks in, which then assigns students based on their home language, academic scores and other socioeconomic factors. Race and ethnicity have not been factored in since 2001.

Many parents whose children have landed seats in one of their seven choices are convinced they simply "got lucky," the study states.

Because the system has been widely unpopular since its inception six years ago, the district’s Board of Education is looking into revamping it by the 2008-09 school year.

During the last six months, district officials held nearly90 meetings with 185 students and more than 700 parents. The groups discussed a wide range of issues, including teacher quality, school safety and closing the achievement gap. The results will help shape the district’s long-range plan, to be presented in June.

Throughout the interviews, many parents said the district should focus on creating quality schools in every neighborhood.

"There’s no universal agreement on which [assignment] system would work, and that’s why there’s acrimony," said Stan Goldberg, who attended a community meeting and whose daughter is a district kindergartner. "You have to build all the schools to be good schools. Then you won’t have somebody wanting to go across town."

At Tuesday night’s meeting, where the study was discussed, Wynn said: "That’s what we do. It’s a continuous never-ending process to improve every school."

The study does not outline other placement designs, but it does include a few suggestions from parents wanting to make the process better.

Some parents, for example, called for a Web-based system and the option to e-mail district staff with questions.

Others said applications and support staff should be available at satellite offices throughout The City during application time.

Parents also called for earlier notification of students’ school assignments, sent out in mid-March, so they can decide whether to send their children to private schools instead.

arocha@examiner.com

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