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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

SFUSD Kindergarten Lottery Revamp

Updated: Oct 7, 2023



SFUSD Board again postponed implementation of the new system to kids starting school fall of 2026. SFUSD currently plans to share drafts of the zones in Spring and Fall 2026.

The SFUSD Board of Education approved the assignment redesign on December 8, 2020. Commissioner Sanchez said that the staff will create the zones, and that the Board will not vote on their approval.

What: SFUSD is changing its lottery for elementary school, most commonly for kids entering kindergarten or TK, but also for elementary school transfers. They will also update middle school feeders. Detailed information, including presentations, can be found on a dedicated SFUSD Assignment Committee Page.

When: For children applying to start or transfer elementary school in Fall 2025 (postponed twice from Fall 2023).

How: SFUSD is planning to change from a citywide system with neighborhood preference to a zone system that limits parents to schools inside their zone.

What is a Zone System?

The city will be divided into a number of zones. Based on where you live, you will be eligible to apply for a limited number of schools in a non-contiguous zone. Your options will include all general education programs inside that zone, as well as one program for each language type (see more below). The district has not yet mapped the zones, but has decided upon non-contiguous areas to increase diversity. 

You will be eligible to select schools from your zones, which will be based on your home address:

  • General education zones will each have 3-12 schools (number has no yet been finalized), and will be non-contiguous areas based on your home address.

  • Language zones will each have one school, i.e. each Spanish Immersion school will be designated for one geographic area in the city. Language programs will be divided into nine Spanish immersion zones, three Cantonese, two Mandarin, one Korean, two Japanese FLES zones, and two Tagalog.

  • Special education zones with one of each Special Education program, i.e. schools wih special day classes. (Children in inclusion programs who attend general education programs will be placed with the zones for general education, and not the Special Education zones).

  • Younger siblings may select their older sibling’s school, if the older sibling will not be graduating from that program.

Tiebreakers within your zone will include siblings, children who attend preK at the same site, and factors to prioritize children living in homelessness, public housing, and foster youth. 

Guardrails will protect against self segregation and thereby keep schools more diverse within each zone. For instance, the number of children allowed to attend school A could be limited to a certain percentage from high income blocks, and a certain percentage of children from low income blocks. In other words, your assignment will be further limited by the number of kids within your subset of the zone who listed the schools, even if you are not in the same race or zone as others on your block. Other options for guardrails, the school district could assign your block a diversity score, based on average parental education, race, and income, and then limit the percent of each school from each diversity score, all within the zone. This aspect is the most complex of the new system and will decrease the predictability of the system. Based on the numbers on page 34 of this presentation, guardrails decrease the number of parents who will receive their first choice school. Guardrails will not include specific information about your child.

Will My Chances Change to Enroll in a Language Immersion Program?

For the 31% of SFUSD students in language pathways, this is a significant change because parents will only be allowed to apply to one immersion program for each language, rather than all immersion programs citywide. It is hard to predict whether your chances will decline as it will depend on how many students in your language zone also want the same language, but almost certainly, risk increases of not matching to a language. Under the current system, you may list every language immersion program, and, if you speak Spanish or Cantonese at home, also every biliteracy program for your home language. Under the zone system, you will only be allowed to list one immersion program and, if you speak Spanish or Cantonese at home, one biliteracy program. If more families request that one immersion program than there are spots, a lottery will select the children. Assuming SFUSD selects the language zones based on historical demand so that each zone has equal historical demand, the question remains, what happens if your year, more families in your zone request this school? Likely, your chances decline. Further, will they select the zones to spread out the kids who pass the fluency test, or all kids who list immersion? How often will they adjust zones? As a whole, the predictability of obtaining a language slot if you prefer one specific language will decline because you only have that one opportunity, vs the pooling effect of applying for multiple programs, which can smooth out demand surges. Based on the numbers on page 34 of the latest presentation, one might further wonder if the language zones are the reason the percent of Asian and Hispanic parents receiving first choice are predicted to decline.

What Has Been Approved, and What Details Remain TBD?

The plan was approved by the school board on December 8, 2020. According to then President Sanchez, the Board will not vote on the specific zone borders, because this will be too political, and will delegate this task to staff. The staff plans additional community input, especially from families marginalized by the current system.

Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco in an environment of non-judgment. Her own children have attended both public and private schools, and she believes that each has unique benefits. Email to learn more about her services.

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