Why I Chose to Send My Kid to a San Francisco Public School


navigating the kindergarten admissions process in san francisco

Two years ago, I wrote a post about how overwhelming it was to start the kindergarten admissions process.  Would we get into a public school on our list? Are we better off trying to go to a private school? Where do I even begin? 

Now, all of that stress is a distant memory. Shortly after writing that article, my husband and I decided only to apply to public schools. That streamlined the entire process. We had fewer schools to tour, no additional networking or mingling commitments, and since we never toured a private school, we don’t know what we’re missing.

When it came to the school lottery, we got our first choice in the first round—I still can’t believe our good luck.

Why we decided on public school

Principally, I believe in the value of public education. My parents are retired public school teachers and my husband and I are the products of public schools. We all turned out just fine, so, in a sense, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our priority was never to get our kids onto some sort of ivy league “track” through elite private schools or to provide them with religious education, so public schools fit the bill. 

I also had to consider which school would be a good fit for my younger son because I want my kids to attend the same school. He has a speech delay that might impact his reading later. Hopefully, it won’t; he’s been in speech therapy for several years already, but we just can’t know for sure. Public schools support children with learning differences. They have reading specialists and speech therapists on staff.

On the other hand, the private schools that our preschool director believed would be a good fit for both of my kids didn’t offer any of these services. Plus, they don’t even have to admit my son if he doesn’t fit their desired profile. The public vs. private debate suddenly felt much more personal for me, and I decided that I wanted to be a part of a community whose mission is to educate all kids.

Practically speaking, public school is free! Saving money on tuition gives our entire family opportunities for travel and to do activities that educate in non-academic ways. When we attended last year’s fundraising auction for my daughter’s school, the auctioneer good naturedly reminded us that, since we’re not paying private school tuition, we could pony up a few more dollars towards the school’s PTA. He got a laugh from the whole room and lots of bidding paddles were raised. 

Academically, the public schools near our house have good reputations. I wasn’t concerend about their safety, educational quality, or community involvement, which made it easier to put our faith in public schools. 

How we figured out which schools we liked

I went onto the San Francisco Unified School District website to do initial research on the schools near my house. From there, I selected the ones I wanted to tour (pretty much all of them within a 3-mile radius) and followed the instructions on each school’s website to schedule tours. This. is. time. consuming. But, if you’re serious about exploring your public school options, there’s no way around it. The public school enrollment fair can be helpful, but, in my opinion, you’ll get a much better feel for a school by taking a tour and seeing it in action. 

I did not consult greatschools.org, except to do a search by location to make sure I hadn’t missed a school I should be touring.  I don’t believe test scores tell the whole story of a school, and the comments parents leave are often very skewed one way or another. I felt that touring schools, meeting the principals, looking in the classrooms, and talking to parents of current students would give me a better idea of the school. But if you can’t devote this kind of time to the school research process, then, by all means, use every tool at your disposal. The Facebook group, SFUSD Lottery Support Group, is a helpful resource.

I jotted down notes after each tour and talked over everything with my husband. I also looked at the start and end times of the schools, details of their after school programs, and their locations to figure out, logistically, which ones would work better for us. I also considered whether they were citywide schools serving grades K–8 or K–5 attendance area schools that give preference to families living in the school’s attendance zone. 

After a few months of tours, analyzing school facts, and checking in on my gut feels, we made our list and submitted it to SFUSD. It had five schools on it. These were the schools with which we’d be happy if my daughter got in. I’ve heard differing guidance on how many schools to list. Some people are told to list at least 10 to 15 schools, but I didn’t see the point in listing a school that I wouldn’t want her to go to. The application asked for my list of preferred schools so that’s exactly what we submitted. 

And then we waited. 

Don’t hate me because it was easy

I FaceTimed my husband at work the day the school assignment letter came. I was more nervous holding that envelope in my hands than I was when I was trying to get into college. I scanned the page trying to figure out where the school name was listed. Then I screamed, “We got in!” and with that, a giant wave of relief washed over me. Having no control over where your kid goes to school is stressful, and it was finally over. I know several other people who had similar experiences. They either got their first or second choice right off the bat.

I’ve also met plenty of people who didn’t. Round after round, they waited to see if they’d get a new assignment. From what I can tell, those who were willing to stick it out until the last minute and even start their child at one school and switch them later ultimately landed somewhere they wanted to be.

It also helps to visit the Educational Placement Center later in the summer to check if any of the schools you’re waiting for have openings. Based on some parents’ experiences, just by showing up, they were able to get their kid switched to a school on their list. 

Public school may not be right for you

While I wholeheartedly support public schools, I’m not defending San Francisco’s assignment process. It’s unnecessarily complicated and stressful. I’m also not judging you for choosing private schools. There are lots of reasons to do it. For example, one of my good friends chose to send her daughter, who tends to be very anxious, to a private school because of the smaller class sizes (SFUSD kindergarten classes have 22 students). She hoped it would give her daughter more individualized attention and would be less overwhelming for her. Private schools also offer financial aid, so tuition doesn’t necessarily have to be a deciding factor in where you send your child.

A note about the ‘burbs

If you’re thinking, “Forget it, I’ll just move to the suburbs,” that’s fair. But before you move, please confirm with the school district which school your child will attend. I have one friend who discovered she was zoned for a school in Tiburon, 20 minutes away, even though there was an elementary school at the end of her street in Corte Madera. Someone else in a different town learned that her kids had to go to a farther away school because the school for which they were zoned was too crowded. 

However it works out for you, rest assured that it will work out somehow, someway, eventually.



  1. Great personal story and lots of good info. I would not discount those who said list 10-15 schools. I listed 20 and didn’t get ANY on the list in 1st or 2nd round. The benefit of listing more, is at least you have some say in which you are placed in if you don’t get your top choices. A school you rank at 20 is a better option then being randomly placed in another school farther away from you that you would not be able to attend logistically. In hindsight I would have listed 30. It’s also lottery, so it’s the luck of the draw. You might end up on the short stick. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your best shot. Also, if you are 100 percent committed to SF public you should be willing to go through 3rd lottery round, to make a switch to a preferred choice after the start of the school when their is more movement with the school rosters. Great blog topic. It can be stressful, but if you do keep faith in your chances and keep things simple you should end up with something that works for your family in the end!


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