Need some tips for School Choice in San Diego? Here are 8 tips for School Choice enrollment in San Diego from a parent who has been through it before! Thanks to Nation School Choice Week for sponsoring this post. #schoolchoice
Three years ago I felt like a deer in headlights researching school choice options in San Diego. I was surprised to find very little information out there from other parents who had been through the process before. Craig had bought our home back when he was bachelor and naturally it was ONE house away from one of the most coveted school clusters in San Diego. Naturally.
After being taken aside by Kayla’s preschool director and told I should find her a school where she would be challenged or consider private school I started to feel a bit panicked. Okay, very panicked. 13 years of private school before college didn’t exactly fit into our grand financial plan. Not even a little bit. At the same time how could I as a mother ignore my daughter’s educational needs?
I’m telling you all this because our story has a happy ending in which Kayla ended up in a pretty awesome language immersion school. She is happy, she is challenged, she is surrounded by the most amazing and diverse mix of kids I’ve ever seen. To this day, many of our friends and family members can’t believe that the education she is receiving is a public education. So if you’re feeling stuck, breathe. You have choices!
In honor of National School Choice Week which is January 22-28, I want to share some tips for navigating school choice enrollment in San Diego so you too can have a happy ending and find the school you feel best suits your child. There are magnet schools, language immersion schools, schools for performing arts and music, STEAM focused schools and the list goes on. And for those of you not in San Diego, most of these tips still apply, you’ll just need to check against the procedures for your school district.
Tip #1 – Start Early & Work Backwards
My first suggestion is to start early. If you are researching for kindergarten then around age 3 you’ll want to become aware of dates.
- Check your child’s birthday against the cutoff dates for kindergarten or transitional kindergarten to determine the year they will enter.
In the past few years, San Diego Unified started offering TK or transitional kindergarten for children who have birthdays late in the year. The way I see it, TK is like getting a free year of preschool and perhaps an extra chance to land your child in the school you desire. (more on that below)
- Find the dates during which you can submit a school choice enrollment application for the year they will start school. This is usually during fall of the year prior. For the 2017-2018 school year the enrollment period was October 3 – November 14th, 2016. This is a shorter window than in years past to allow for earlier notification of acceptance and for parents and schools to plan.
Tip #2 -Decide How Far You’re Willing To Go
Literally. Chances are that you have heard of some schools that might be a fit through preschool friends, playground chatter or friends with older kids. San Diego Unified also provides this helpful brochure that gives a brief summary of schools you may want to consider.
If you don’t already have a specific school or two in mind then a good place to start is figuring out how far you’re willing to travel. If you decide to send your child to a school other than your neighborhood school, you are responsible for getting them there (probably during morning rush hour) and back each day with very few exceptions.
We’re lucky to live very close to the school that Kayla attends but we’ve watched several families we adore leave the school in the past couple of years because the commute was too hard. Multiple children or two working parents and scarce carpool partners can make a long commute pretty stressful 5 days a week.
Tip #3 – SARCs Are Your Friend
Here is a great resource that is rarely discussed on the playground. You can check out the SARC report for any school in San Diego Unified. SARC stands for School Accountability Report Card.
I like SARC reports because they break down a lot of things and provide you with simple charts to reference. Class sizes, academic achievement, teacher credentials, condition of the facilities, diversity of the student body, etc.
Of course reports like these don’t tell you everything. They certainly can’t measure how happy the parents, students and teachers are or give you a sense of what the school feels like as a community. Don’t worry, you can still find that out for yourself in tip #6
Tip #4 – Look At The OTHER Numbers
Sure, class size and academic achievement are important. Before you get your heart set on a school it makes sense to have an idea of your odds of being accepted, right?
School choice in San Diego is done by a lottery system. Your child may be reading, writing and doing math before kindergarten but that won’t give them any edge in terms of enrollment.
San Diego Unified releases a report each year showing what percentage of students who applied to a school as their first choice were accepted. These numbers change from year to year but should give you a better idea of how realistic it may be to gain acceptance to a particular school. You can see the 2015-2016 report here and the 2016-2017 report here.
Tip #5 – Take The Tour
Most schools offer a schedule of tours starting in the fall and going through spring both before and after the school choice application period. If you want to be ahead of the game you can visit during spring the school year before your application is due. You can always visit again shortly before you turn in your application as there may be changes in administration or you just want another chance to imagine your family there.
Our top choice offered tours every week which were often led by the principal. This was a great opportunity to see the school in action and get to know the principal and what they stood for. On our tour I discovered our principal had great energy, knew most of the kids by name, was very dedicated to growing a strong PTA and focused on fundraising to support aides in the classroom, small class sizes and cultural enrichment.
Tip # 6 -Attend A School Event
Want to get a feel for the students and parents at a school? Find a school event that is open to the public and attend. Sure, you might feel a bit weird going in but it’s a great way to learn more about a school. How involved are the parents? How happy the families are with the school? Can see yourself and your child being part of the community?
Did you know that during National School Choice Week there are plenty of events you can attend at local schools? Yes! This is a great time to take a look at schools and just learn more about School Choice. You can check the event map to locate a School Choice event near you.
After researching schools and finding a frontrunner our family attended a school celebration that was open to the community. While Kayla met other kids, got her face painted and played games Craig and I asked parents about their experiences. We were even able to spend a few minutes seeing the principal again and seeing what projects the different grades were working on.
Tip #7 – Understand How Applications Are Prioritized
It’s good to understand how applications are prioritized and considered to understand how you should rank your choices. We were able to rank up to three schools but only decided to rank one. I’ll explain.
Here in San Diego this is how school choice enrollment applications are prioritized with 1 being and highest priority and 7 being the lowest. If you’re reading this in relation to kindergarten enrollment then you’ll see that most of these do not apply to your age group. Generally speaking you’re a 2, 5, or 6. We were a 6 with Kayla and still managed to get our first choice.
- Magnet continuity. This generally applies to older children going into middle school or high school.
- Sibling pre-enrolled in the school of choice. If your child is lucky enough to already have an older sibling attending your school of choice in the year that they are due to begin school then they get high priority.
- Parent is a district employee in the school cluster. Fair.
- Neighborhood school does not offer GATE GATE is the gifted and talented program and this really applies to older kids.
- Students currently enrolled in an Open Enrollment Act school. This applies to students who live in a district where their neighborhood school is “low achieving.” In order to help these students they are offered a slightly higher priority to give them a chance to attend a higher achieving school.
- General application. This is where most families fall the first time around with a young child and where we were when applying with Kayla.
- Non-district residents.
Tip #8 – Rank Carefully
The school choice enrollment application is surprisingly easy and straightforward! You weren’t expecting that were you? You’ll fill out some basic information about your child and your address. After that you’ll be asked to rank your choices of schools you’d like your child to attend.
Remember how as part of your research I said you should look at the report of the percent of students receiving their first choice schools? Here is where that research is handy.
When you rank a school as your first choice, you are put into the pool of everyone else who ranked it as their first choice as well. Next, applicants are chosen (by a computer I’m told) based on the priority listed above in tip #7. Many schools will run out of available spots while making their way through the applicants who elected them as their first choice.
If you find two schools you love equally and one has a significantly higher first choice acceptance rate, then the math says it probably makes sense to list the one with a higher acceptance rate as your first choice.
That’s it! I hope you found these tips helpful for School Choice in San Diego. If you don’t like in San Diego, then of course most of these tips still apply. You can find resources on school choice in your area here.