How to Pick the Perfect SFUSD Kindergarten for Your Child


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Spoiler Alert: There isn’t one.

Right now, I am neck deep in the process of selecting a San Francisco public school for my four-year-old daughter to attend kindergarten next year.

I started the process the necessary full year ahead of time by attending a great SFUSD application process overview led by Parents for Public Schools. I read, took to heart and carried with me all the guidance in great posts like Expanding the Definition of Good: Choosing the Right School for Your Child. I made my list of public schools, and I took the tours. I asked all my questions leaving each school with copious notes and a better, more refined plan.

And yet I still feel like I am going to puke every time I think about kindergarten.

When I was a kid, going to kindergarten meant that when summer time ended that year, I left the house with my older sisters and walked to the school down the street. To get ready, about a week before school started, we bought new shoes from the only department store in town. And that was that. I don’t dare minimize the emotional preparation my mom had to endure sending me off into the world for the first time, but I envy the extra year she got that being an urban mom seems to have snatched from me.

In one week alone, I toured five SFUSD kindergartens. I’d stand in the back of the each classroom day after day, my knees about to give, choking back tears as I imagined my daughter’s tiny body walking all alone down the too-big-for-her hallways. And then all I could see was the beautiful teenage version of her leaning up against her locker scrolling through her iPhone, ignoring the texts from her mother, the only person she ever needed or wanted when she was four.

By the fifth school tour I was in such a heartsick fog, I could barely make it to the car before I had a full meltdown. It was mid-December, and with more schools on my list to tour I decided I was done. I filled out my SFUSD application, ranked my choices, and I put kindergarten to bed.  

I am confident I found the right kindergarten for my daughter, Sara, and here’s why.

I did my due diligence.

For weeks, I had coffee every morning with I educated myself on all the SFUSD schools and the application process. I toured ten SFUSD schools in total. I even stuck it out when my gut pointed me to the exit sign.

There is no perfect kindergarten. 

There is no one way to parent and there is no one way to educate.

Whether traditional or project-based, shared tables or individual desks, kindergarten is about teaching professionals educating my child. I (partly) have to trust that they know more than me about how to prepare Sara for her academic future. For instance, I need to get over the fact that she will eventually spend half her time in the classroom on an iPad or laptop. It’s a new world, one I only peripherally understand, one that I need to (partially) clear the way for.

I cannot protect her from everything, nor should I try.

I made a note from one school tour that read ‘really scary teacher.’ She reminded me of the principal in the movie Uncle Buck. A kid in the class we were observing forgot his book. “That’s twice now this week,” she said to the boy, with a tone dripping with disgust and a ridiculously slow blink heavy with disappointment.

Am I sending Sara to that school? Hell no. But it made me think about the reality of all this. Part of education is learning how to recognize and crave constructive criticism, while parsing out criticism that’s just plain mean-spirited. In this life, Sara will always have an audience and it will be full of varied motives and opinions. Her healthy mind has to be able to filter it, as needed, to grow.

I have to get back to Now.

My heart hurts at the thought of letting Sara go to school everyday, all day. I’ve spent the last four years gingerly hovering around this impeccable human being, trying not to mess her up. Now I have to send her into a world of strangers and believe that she will clear the day unscathed.

Right now so much separates her from the ways of the world. She knows only what is good and kind and true. I get that she has a life full of wonderful experiences ahead of her, but there is no better time in life than being four – other than getting to witness her at this age and remember it this time around.

I plan to go back to school when she does.

I will not park outside her school and wait for her the entire day sobbing over my latte or attempt to hide in her locker or surprise her too often for lunch, but I will be involved. I will understand the forces that are guiding Sara’s education and work to influence them, as I, the parent who best knows and loves her, should.

Until then, I am going back to having a four-year-old girl who is sometimes in preschool and mostly right by my side.

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Amy is a technologist by trade and a writer by nature. Wife to a dashing web designer, mother to a beautiful, thoughtful daughter, adorable, slightly less civilized son, and a Yorkshire Terrier who came first and is still waiting for the non- furry babies to leave. As a work-from-home mom, she believes work/life balance is not a concept but a daily (sometimes exhausting) goal. She is always in search of a community that fosters her belief that sameness is boring, money is only a means to see the world and there are no rules we should impose on one another in this life other than Be Kind. She loves her family, lives to travel, and firmly believes that a homemade meal, a handmade cocktail and an episode of the Bachelor (a day late because she doesn’t own a tv) can cure almost anything.


  1. (I commented on Facebook but thought I’d paste it here too)

    Great post! I’m on the flip side of this. We’re a K-12 SFUSD family. My son graduates from High School in June.

    I remember the first day leaving him at his table. He reminded me to pick him up. As if I could forget. Now? I’m asking him to consider choosing a college close by. He laughs. I am not joking.

    When we were searching it was pre feeder and we were limited to listing 7 elementary schools on the form (up from 5 the previous year). Parents for Public Schools is such a fantastic resource and really helped me navigate in those early years.

    There were 7 schools everyone wanted to go to. And then there were the ones you were assigned to.

    It is hard to believe now, but Grattan Elementary was one of the ones people were assigned to. I toured it on the recommendation of a friend in pre school. There were a handful of us on that tour. I loved it. I loved the community. I loved the nurturing atmosphere fostered by the Principal and carried out by teachers and staff.

    We ended up putting it first and back then it was considered a “hidden gem” so we got in easily. It was one of the best child related decisions I’ve ever made. There are a lot of schools which fly under the radar that are fantastic. Test scores do not tell the story, especially in elementary schools. I was more concerned that they develop a love for learning.

    My son’s cohort didn’t have a feeder. He got in to Roosevelt Middle School and my daughter (who is two years younger) who did have a feeder, went to Roosevelt as a sibling. At first she was upset she wasn’t feeding with her cohort. But soon she ended up being very happy with where she was.

    Currently they are at Lowell (siblings are not a factor. each child gets in on their merits). But that wasn’t our goal and there are so many excellent High Schools in the city.

    A lot is said around neighborhood schools. And I do understand the argument and felt the same way at the time. However, in retrospect? There is something to be said about going to school with kids all over the city. At this point? They have one degree of separation from almost every teenager who went to the SFUSD. I can’t tell you how often we’re out and they know all these different people. Be it from elementary, middle, or high school. And if they don’t know them, somebody they know knows them.

    I am forever thankful we stayed in the city and sent our kids to public schools. I don’t agree with everything the district does. However, I think they’ve received a strong foundation not just in academics but global citizenry, compassion and respect for others.

    Best of luck this March. I hope you get the school you’re hoping for and your family has a wonderful year.

    • see, your mistake was telling your son about college. i plan to take my kids to a small remote island after kindergarten where i will teach them that home is where the heart is (forever) and i can groom them to take care of me in my old age. 😉

      UGH why is this so hard? thank you for your thoughtful and honest reply. your hindsight is both helpful and comforting. And best of luck to you too.

  2. Hello! I’m from Sydney Australia and we may move to SF. I have 4 children 2, 3, 5 and 6. At what age do children generally begin kindergarten? We range from 4-6 depending on a range of factors! Also, what would happen in SF if children arrive mid way through the school year? Would it still be a lottery? So many questions! Any info and advice would be amazing! Thanks Amelia

    • Hi Amelia! Kids are typically 5 when they begin kindergarten. For public schools, they must have turned 5 by Sept. 1 to be eligible for kindergarten that year. Some parents choose to delay beginning school until their kids are 6. The reasons for this vary, but it usually has to do with their particular child’s readiness – social/ emotional and/or academic.

      If you come here mid-year, you would not do the lottery. You visit the school district’s main office, and they find a space for you. You could choose to enter the lottery for the following year if you’re not happy with the school you were assigned.

      This post may be helpful to you!

  3. It’s no surprise that finding a good kindergarten is a prime concern; for many families, it’s a safe, affordable option that allows kids to socialize and learn in a loving environment structured around their needs. This website may be helpful to you.

    Cherubs Early Learning and Kindergarten provide a fun & stimulating environment for children from 6 weeks of age through to kindergarten.


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