K: What a Process!

The 'kindergarten process' in San Francisco is pretty intense and while I won't go into all the details, basically the public school your child is assigned is done through a lottery. This does have some perks for sure, if you don't like the school that's in your neighborhood, you don't necessarily have to go there. And just because you live in a nice neighborhood, doesn't mean that the elementary school near you is highly rated. So basically you have the option to tour as many of the 75+ public schools in the city in the fall before your child would attend. I only toured a couple because we were also seriously considering private school. We're very lucky and have a highly rated school as our neighborhood school. There is preference given in the lottery to: siblings (automatically get in if there's a spot), ctip (addresses where test scores have historically been low) and if it's your neighborhood school. Though it's a lottery, you can list out the schools that you are considering in preference in order. I also included 'popular'/well-performing schools that I knew a lot of people would be requesting for 'swap value' -- the system will swap my choice for someone else's if each of us has the other's higher on their list and both of us are pulled for the lottery of that school. The problem with the lottery is that it can work well for some people, and not at all for others. Case in point... I did the exact same list for William and George. I put our neighborhood school, which is a great school, in slot #1. I did not link the two of them, meaning they could get different school assignments (but if you link them, you risk them each getting a lower school on the list since it's the first school that they're BOTH pulled for. Meaning one could get school #1 and the other could get #10 and it's not until they're both pulled for the same school on their list, maybe #11, maybe #33, that they would get assigned that school). William got #1 on his list, the neighborhood school, and George got NOTHING on our list... so he was assigned a poor performing school in a bad part of SOMA. The good news is that there are additional rounds of the lottery, in May, then 2 in summer and even right when school starts. So for those who can be patient, they could very well get into a better school as spots open up. For us, if we entered round 2 for George, he would get sibling priority at the school William was assigned so they would both be able to go there. So many people choose private school, or to go back into the lottery again (our school may be #1 on our list, but #4 on someone else's for various reasons -- school start time, location, etc) so spots do open up.

Because of all the unknowns in the school lottery, many people consider private school as well in the city. Some hoping that they'll end up with a great public school so won't need to accept at a private school, but others like us considering all our options and trying to find the best place for their child.

We looked at a handful of independent schools in the city, mostly in our part of town, but a few just across Market Street. One of the main things we were looking at is that they had 2 kindergartens per grade so that the boys would be separate. For each of these schools, there's a morning tour during school hours (usually 2-2.5 hours long) and an evening open house, another 2 hours or so. There are additional optional events at some of these schools as well. It's important that both parents attend, obviously you want to be able to discuss the school and have the input of both parents, but also because it's important that you appear united and very interested in the school. So you multiple all these events by 4 schools that we applied to (and I toured another 4 schools that we ended up not applying to). Then you have a parent interview at each school - some are casual chit chat about your family or child, others are more structured. Applications are due in December or early January and some are simple with just basic info about your child, others have long essay questions. Regardless, we brainstormed on these and then Dave took the lead in writing them, but it's certainly time consuming. Then in January or early February, the kids go in for a 'playdate' and assessment. They're basically looking for overall kindergarten readiness -- not that they can read, but that they can do the basics like write their name, draw a picture, separate from their parents, follow directions, etc. Even when these are over, we have a good month to wait to hear the decisions (which are all emailed at noon on a designated day).

We are lucky that we have a very involved preschool director who has great relationships with the admissions directors at all these schools so she can share some basic feedback with us and provide feedback to them, though she can't 'get us in'. The preschool does sent an evaluation before the playdates and assessments and basically they're making sure that things generally match us between what the school is sharing and what they're seeing. Beyond that, I met with many moms starting last summer --  moms who recently went through this process, had advice on the process itself or could share about their school experience if it was a school we were considering. Everyone is happy to help as they know how much work goes into it and I ended up meeting some really great moms. All those connections do help, and we did have several friends write us a letter of recommendation at a school where their child attends. We don't really 'know people' though, and don't have many friends with older kids, so it was necessary to try to make some more connections, even if just to have a better understanding of the school which we wouldn't see on a school tour.

For us, a big challenge is the fact that we need two spots. The schools we were looking at have 2 classes of 22 kids. We applied to 2 co-ed schools, so automatically half those spots go to girls, so that leaves 22 spots. Any given year, half the spots go to incoming siblings, so now we're looking at taking 2 spots out of like 11. The odds were against us. Luckily we felt an all boys education was going to be best for them, we loved the ways they're able to change the classroom, incorporate more activity and other tools that research has shown helps boys learn better. So even with 44 spots, you're still getting about half of those going to siblings, and in our case, one of the schools we were applying to already had 4 siblings going from our preschool alone. All these schools are trying to become more diverse -- whether socio-economically, ethnically, or even from which preschools the kids are coming from. These are all things we needed to consider in the process. We've heard the number 300 as far as how many applications they're getting for 44 spots, however that number doesn't give the whole picture. Most people apply to at least 2, maybe as many as 7 schools so Dave and I talked about how we'd be curious to hear the totally number kids applying for private school in SF vs. the total number of private school spots. I think any way you slice it, it's very competitive.

Anyway, after an incredibly stressful week (most parents agree it's far more stressful than it was getting themselves into college or business school), things did end up working out and we're thrilled the boys will be going to Town School for Boys. I'm confident it's going to be a great fit for both of them. We like that it's an all-boys environment but the building, while new and impressive, doesn't feel 'fancy' or over the top. The teachers seem great, and my brother is actually friends with one of them who seems so passionate about what he does and agrees the others are the same. The boys won't wear uniforms, which I would've been fine with, but do have a dress code that includes collared shirts -- which I really like. The school is a block from Calvary and we drive by it every day so I think the boys already thought they were going there. There are so many opportunities for sports, music, theater, robotics, stem, community service and much more so it's really exciting to think about how they'll be shaped there over the next 9 years.

It was actually a really great experience for Dave and I to figure out what we wanted in education and where we felt the boys would do best and we're just so grateful it worked out as we hoped. No one else from our preschool is headed there next year, which isn't usually the case, so we will start fresh when it comes to making friends, but we did hear that there are 2 other sets of twins who will be attending so that should be fun.

What a crazy process, but in the end, we feel it's worth it. Both Dave and I love living in the city and I'm glad we have the option to raise our kids here. After all the stress of waiting to see if they'd get spots, when we finally got the call that they were in, we had to celebrate with champagne for Dave and I, and sparkling cider and huge chocolate chip cookies for everyone else.

The boys now ask daily when they're going to kindergarten. Luckily they'll do a little kindergarten camp at the school in June for a few weeks and then school will start at the end of August. We're so excited for the next chapter!

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