Q&A about San Francisco Public Schools

Questions & Responses:
Moving to SF Area with 1st and 4th grader(1 response)
Archived Responses: 

Website for the SF Unified School District: www.sfusd.edu

Editor Note: most BPN subscribers live in the East Bay area around Berkeley and Oakland, so we receive few reviews of San Francisco schools.

Questions See Also


Summer move from overseas- SFUSD enrollment?

March 2013


We're a Franco-American family planning a move to the Bay Area late in the summer, ideally to SF. I've sifting through online info and unsuccessfully tried reaching the enrollment office by phone. How do we go about enrolling, considering that we currently have no SF address and that any address upon arrival will be temporary. Any tips or hope for a decent school for our 1st grade daughter?? writing from abroad

Welcome to the Bay Area.

Yes, SFUSD is difficult to communicate directly with and there are very specific rules (as other districts have as well) about residency. I don't think you can enter the lottery until you are here. In the meantime, it's hard to know about 1st grade capacity and what choices you might have in terms of space. One thought is the group 'Parents for Public Schools SF' - http://www.ppssf.org/

They are a great organization committed to supporting SF parents and kids choose the public schools. I'm sure they will be more communicative than the district and may be able to help you navigate through it all. I'm also guessing that they might help you consider different scenarios, including what happens if you don't get an assignment that fits with your family (location, etc) and what options you might have (e.g. you don't always have to accept for your assignment if you can afford to wait a bit into the school year even). Good luck and I hope your move goes smoothly. a mom

This is a LONG reply: You have missed the priority filing deadline the upcoming school year, and will likely be assigned a spot from the ''leftovers'' This happened to us, and it worked out just fine. Since our daughter is enrolled in SFUSD as an inter-district transfer child, so we had to enroll after all the SFUSD resident children had been assigned schools. While we were initially assigned to a school that was not on our list, we were able to get our assignment changed to our first choice school within two weeks of the school year start. It is not ususal for there to be some shufling of students within SFUSD during the first two week window of the school year.

Here is a link to the District Web site, where information should be as clear as mud: General Information - this is your first stop : http://www.sfusd.edu/

Calendar for enrollment for Aug 2013: : http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/enroll-for-next-year/overview/overview.html

Another good site to visit is an advocacy group, Parents for Public Schools. Their web site has tons of good information about the distric and about individual schools within the district. They also have ''ambassadors'' to help pprospective families through the maze of questions and options. I urge you to ccontact them.http://www.ppssf.org/

The ''most desirable'' public schools are often overenrolled, and probably overrated, but it seems like people really stress about getting into the handful of schools with a ''great'' reputation. One web site that nurtures these anxieties is a blog called the SF K Files, but there are also some good nuggets of information there as well. Their discussion forum seems to be deactivated, but the archives and active blogging is interesting. SF K files also reviews private schools in SF. http://www.sfkfiles.com/

The ''best'' SF schools include Lillienthal, Clarendon, Rooftop, Lawton, West Portal, Gratten, and Alice Fong Yu Chinese Immersion. The ratings are drawn from standardized test scores, which are given in English, so schools with a smaller proportion of native English speakers will often test lower, but I urge you not to worry too much about test scores or other standardized measurements. Our daughter attends an overlooked gem of a school that is typically under-enrolled in the English Language instruction track. Spring Valley Science School is the oldest public school in California, and is in the Russian Hill neighborhood. It is a very urban and diverse school, most of the children do not speak English as home language, and there are three language-instruction tracks in the school (Cantonese, Spanish, and English). Children who are new to English are assigned to a home-language class if they are Cantonese or Spanish speaking, but to the English class if their home language is anything else. Other languages spoken by the parent community include Arabic, Urdu, Tamil, French, Tagalong, Pashto, Portuguese, and even more. Other really great public schools in SF that are overlooked by or eschewed by ...ahem.... people who look and talk like me (well educated, native English speaker or a paler hue) include Rosa Parks (especially the Japanese bilingual/bicultural program), Jean Parker, Garfield, and Yick Woo. We have friends who have their kids at Sunset (they love it), Sherman, and Harvey Milk Civil Rights. All are happy with the schools, and all experience some frustrations... that goes with the territory.

FINALLY: If you are a Franco American family, you may want to check out the FRENCH-AMERICAN SCHOOL. It is a private school organized to conform to the French National education system, classes are taught in French, and there the cost is subsidized and/or absorbed by the French Government for French nationals. It is a pre-K through IB school. It has an excellent reputation, but was beyond our means to pay.http://www.internationalsf.org/podium/default.aspx?t=138601 sarad


Live in Oakland, Work in SF, want to transfer to SFUSD

May 2010


Hi - We live in Oakland, work FT in SF, and our daughter has been in daycare/preschool in SF since she was 5 mo. We are now at the cusp of K, and pursuing a transfer to SFUSD. First, have other people on this list done a transfer, adn what was is your experience with school in one city, living in another? Also, I'm wondering if people have information about SF schools, in particular: Spring Valley Elementary; Sherman Elementary; Cobb Montessori; Rosa Parks JBBC. anon

I've been doing the opposite SF to Berkeley commute for 5 years with my two kids. The oldest starts at an SF public school in August.

Check out SFUSD's Educational Placement website for schools with openings that will become available on June 1st (open enrollment). Also check out the blog ''SF K Files'' for info on specific schools. Also, Parents for Public Schools is a great organization with a website and listserve. We've already gone through two rounds of placement lottery (listed 7 top schools each time) and in addition waitlisted our top choice school. After the second lottery round we were placed at our waitlist Spanish immersion school. Quite a process! Next year SFUSD is primarily switching to a neighborhood based assignment system. Future SFUSD Family


Parent discussions about SF public schools

April 2007


I have a child who will be entering kindergarten in the Fall of 2008. We are considering moving to San Francisco before then, and I have many questions about the SF public school system. Can anyone recommend good resources to learn about SF public schools? I've found nothing online like BPN, and I have no way of knowing how to evaluate the schools besides test scores and basic data. I'm looking for parent reviews of schools, some kind of ''inside scoop'' that will help me determine how likely it is that I can get my child in a school that feels right, and which schools or neighborhoods we should consider. Without more infomration the process is totally daunting and overwhelming, and school assignments seem to be completely random. Is there more hope than that? Are there good schools in SF, and where are they?
Thanks for your insight and info!!

We live in SF and have a 2.5 y.o., so I can tell you a little about the elementary public schools here.

I'll post in two parts -- the info and the informed rant! First, you should check out Parents for Public Schools -- www.ppssf.org/ -- they are an active and and well-informed organization that can help dispel some of the misinformation about schools here, namely the idea that there are a only handful of schools worth considering and the rest are disastrous. You should also do a search at sfgate.com for articles on the SFUSD. There are some encouraging stories about Mandarin bilingual education there, for example. I would also take a look at individual school info on greatschools.net.

I don't know much about the middle schools and high schools, except that the selective (?) high school Lowell is highly competitive, whatever that means in terms of the HS application process.

I can also tell you that we have decided to leave SF once our first son is school age primarily because there are essentially no neighborhood schools here. So there's little point your considering where in SF to move based on which schools are nearby. Kids are assigned to schools based on a number of categories that are weighed to ensure racial, linguistic and socio-economic balance among the student body. Parents can nominate up to seven schools they would like their child to attend. All families then wait for the March assignment results to find out where they get in. Around 85% of kids get into ONE of the schools on the list parents submit (i.e., it could be No. 7 on the list). Fewer get into their top pick.

The problem is, while there are more than a few ''good'' elementary schools, there ARE still vast differences in the test scores between schools, which means that some schools receive WAY more applicants than others, which are considered only by families who live nearby and consider a school close to home the most important factor in their decision.

There is also a sense among some parents that ONLY X or Y school is good enough for their child, which further increases the fierce competition for a just few schools among those parents who have the time and resources to research their options. Not to mention the lying and cheating on applications by parents desparate to get their child into the ''perfect'' school (which, sure, I know occurs elsewhere, too).

Call me a cynic, but even if you go in with an open mind, no matter how much research you might do, uncovering so-called ''hidden gems'' that you think will be great matches for your kid, there is (1) no guarantee you'll get into any of the schools of your choice and (2) even if you do, you might find your child having to travel across the city from where you live. We are among the 70% of SFans who rent and had originally thought we would shoot for a school we were happy with and then move -- rent or, god forbid, buy -- close by. But we decided this was too stressful for all of us and are instead going to move to the East Bay, where we know neighborhood schools are the norm. Also, while the bitter rancor between the school board and the former school supe has eased, and the new interim supe is great, there is still some tension between the two. And the school board, voted in by this vastly childless city, can sometimes get bogged down in issues that are more ideological than practical, which doesn't help. Anon

Check out Parents for Public Schools San Francisco. There's a web site and their spokesperson is quoted frequently in the newspaper. I know they sponsor events for families to learn about the Public Schools.

My sister has 2 children in SF Public Schools (elementary and middle school) and they have been happy there. When her oldest was assigned to elementary school, it was not one of the ''favored few,'' but it was (and is) a lovely school. Since they have gotten involved in the school, it has become quite popular. From what I hear, there are many, many wonderful SFUSD schools. Check out your options, get involved, and help make your public school assignment the school you want it to be. My sister and I were raised in a suburban district with ''supposedly great schools'' in the '70s & '80s and we often compare notes about our own education vs. the education our children are receiving in SF and Berkeley today. We feel the curriculum is better, the teachers are, for the most part, much better, and we value being part of diverse communities. Tricia

June 2004

My husband and I are currently considering leaving the area due to the astronomical cost of living and apparent negative consensus regarding the Oakland public schools -- at least at the middle and high school levels, anyway (and we don't want to move to either Berkeley or Albany). Before we leave our beloved Bay Area, however, we were wondering about the SF public school system. Would it be worth it to move across the Bay, sacrifice home owernship, fight for parking, put up with the fog, etc.? Are there many quality schools at all levels or are there just a couple of desirable schools? How does the system work in terms of getting the school you want? Is that a realistic expectation or is it a huge hassle? Of course, all I can really recall having seen on TV are interviews with disgruntled parents(-: Totally ignorant of such things, we now have a 2 year old and realize that we need to start figuring this out ASAP...they really *do* grow up fast!! Thanks in advance for your help.

We left SF because of the high cost of housing and poor school choice. Get the information about how school choice works. Here's a link to the school assignment process: http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=policy.placement.process

I don't think there is a consensus that the Oakland schools are bad. I know you mention middle and high school but that really is a long way off. Are you really willing to give up home ownership for something that's 10+ years off w/ no guarantees? You can't predict the state of either school district over that length of time. There are quite a few good elementary schools here. There may be some great choices in the SF schools for bilingual programs etc. but there is no guarantee that you'll get your choice. We didn't. And if you think Oakland is expensive...

Hi, everything you would want to know about the SFUSD Student Assignment process can be found here:


There are some very good schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels. However, your child is not guaranteed a seat at your neighborhood school, even if you live across the street from one of these schools. You must participate in the enrollment process where you ''choose'' several schools and wait to be assigned to one of them. However, you may not be assigned to any of them because many parents are choosing the same schools and the most popular schools cannot handle the demand. Instead, you will be assigned to a school which could be across town. At that point, you get yourself on a waiting list and/or enroll in a private school. I believe I've read that 50% of white (read: middle class) families in SF send their kids to private schools (which is just above 40% of similar families in Berkeley where you will find a similar enrollment system). Good luck!

I've never heard of anyone moving to SF for the public schools...people leave SF in droves as their children approach kindergarten age! Others ''try out the lottery'' to see if their kid gets a good spot. Personally, I don't know anyone whose kids have gotten into the ''best'' schools, but people do get their second or third choices, sometimes. Often they don't get assigned to any of their choices! Lot's of people end up putting their kids in private school...or leaving SF. You should know that school assignments are not tied to neighborhood AT ALL, so your little child could be assigned to a school on the other side of the City. The other important thing to know is that SF uses a socioeconomic diversity index to assign students. I don't want to describe it in this forum because it is complicated and controversial, but you should research it before you make any decisions. I would be very surprised if anyone thinks moving to SF for the schools is a good idea. this mom just moved to berkeley and loves it

After living in beautiful S.F. for over 10 years, we moved out of the city last summer. The main reason for leaving the city was the San Francisco Unified School District and its enrollment process.

In short, this school district uses a lottery system to determine where every student will attend school. As of this year, a family ''selects'' 7 schools on the application. Using a complex formula, which is based on multiple criteria (such as address, family income, mother's education level, etc.), a computer program basically decides where your child will go to school.

I have heard countless horror stories from friends who have unsuccessfully gone through this process. For example, our friend's daughter (who will be entering kindergarten in the Fall) did not get placed in ANY of their 7 selections. A different school, which they did not select, is the school their daughter is required to attend. Another friend's child was told he would need to attend an elementary school that would require a 30-minute commute across town, which, again, was not at a school they had selected.

My advice is that you should thoroughly research this school district's enrollment process and policies by getting info from the district, looking up newpaper articles about the subject, and talking to families who have children enrolled in the district, before you start packing your bags. Good luck!

We have lived in SF for 3 years, moving from Berkeley. Our son will be entering 3rd grade, and our daughter Kindergarten - in a SF public school. We LOVE our school, but it's because it works perfectly for us, and is a gem of a school in this crazy system. It's basically lottery and the top schools are difficult to get into (just like anywhere else), and you will find at least 50% of SF parents send their children to private schools. If you'd like to talk more, email me, and I'll share with you some of the experiences we've had. We aren't planning on staying longer than another year though - as city living with children is not that fun. SF is very urban, much more so than Berkeley...and the fog, etc are things to consider. Missy