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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

SFUSD Lottery Strategy for K-5th grade

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

It’s lottery time of year in San Francisco. Folks frequently ask me, how do you play the lottery? What are successful strategies? The basic strategy is to compile a long enough list of schools so that you will get an acceptable assignment in March. While you can continue with round 2 and through the first two weeks of school, this is a stressful situation, and you want something acceptable in the meantime. If you are unfamiliar with the process, read my article on SFUSD Lottery Mechanics or watch this SFUSD video on how the lottery works.


Always list any school where you would be willing to send your child(ren), in order of preference. You have the same chances of “winning” a school regardless of its place in your list. In other words, there is no penalty for listing a school lower down, and so you can list a school that you love but think you won’t have much chance of winning first. 

Do not tour every school in the city! Each tour can easily eat up half your day. The beauty of the public system, you can list a school without touring. If you are unsure of your preference, use a simple metric of factual items that are important to you, like language programs, start time, distance from your home or office, or the number of buses if you are taking transit.  

Include at least one school that your child has a high chance of “winning.” Include your assignment area school, citywide schools, and other less requested assignment area schools. Look up your assignment area school and whether you are CTIP1. Next, you can look at the crowd sourced spreadsheet that evolved from my creation to now include parent reports of whether a school cleared. 

  • List your assignment area school somewhere on your list. Even if you didn’t like the tour, in which case list it last. It’s better to be assigned a nearby school you aren’t wild about, and contemplate round 2, than to be assigned a school across town with an hour or longer commute.

  • List citywide K-8 schools. Without an assignment area, less weight is on your address, with the exception of the CTIP1 tie-breaker.

  • For language programs, Look into alternative sites. At most immersion schools, ⅔ of their spots are held for kids deemed fluent and ⅓ for those who are not, except at Alice Fung Yu, which is the reverse. Japanese programs reserve 10 of the 44 slots at each school for fluent kids, and biliteracy programs are for those who speak the language in their home, regardless of proficiency. Language programs have a program tie breaker, which first places kids in any SFUSD preK with the same language into SFUSD immersion kindergartens. If your child has another year in preK, you can look for SFUSD immersion preK options.

How many schools should you list?

  • If you live in a CTIP1 zone, you have a great chance at most SFUSD schools, but list at least five, just in case. Language programs can be more challenging for placement as they have the program tie-breaker and the separate buckets for kids who are/are not fluent in the language. 

  • If your assignment area school is acceptable to you and typically clears its Assignment Area, list approximately ten schools, just in case it becomes more popular this year. 

  • If your assignment area school does not typically clear its Assignment Area or if your assignment area school is unacceptable to you, consider a list of 20-30 programs, including at least one that clears its wait pool frequently. List some less popular schools whose test scores reflect language or socioeconomic barriers. Test scores reflect the demographics of the student body and not the quality. Stay away from Great Schools, which penalizes schools with diversity because they have enough children in lower performing subgroups to break out those test scores, while schools with under ten children per grade level per category do not disclose subgroups for privacy reasons. 

  • Don’t forget charter schools have separate lotteries with separate applications.

Typically, 60% of children are placed at their first choice, including siblings and CTIP1, and 89% at a school on their list. Because approximately one third of SF residents send their children to private schools, and others move to suburbs over the summer, many spots will open at round two and beyond. 


Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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