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Neighborhood Schools Ballot Measure

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This November voters will be deciding a policy statement that would encourage neighborhood choice in San Francisco school assignments. School assignment in San Francisco has an embattled history, moving from segregated schools, to de-segregation and back again with a lawsuit forcing San Francisco to remove race from school selection. San Francisco schools quickly segregated again, despite multiple attempts to mitigate that. Parents have been asked to pick seven schools and the District lotterizes the results, with most parents getting one of their top seven choices.
Now, the school district is cutting transportation, prioritizing low performing areas for school choice and then allowing for neighborhood priority. The district is also moving to rid choice from middle school assignments, and having a feeder school model where a set number of schools get sent to a specific middle school, as an attempt to diversify those schools. This ballot measure is popping up in the midst of all this controversy, but sort of after all the decisions have been made. Meanwhile, among the most privileged of San Francisco parents, school assignments are still the number one topic of conversation.
One of my least fond memories of San Francisco was being at my son’s gymnastics class during the school assignment period. The parents, many first timers, were going through the process of getting their children into public schools. They were affluent parents, certainly by global, if not by most other standards, and mostly white. They were well beyond stressed, and freaked out to the point of being truly terrified. The class continued through the period where all of us parents received the school assignments. When the letters arrived the day before one class, all hell broke loose.
One parent stated that she only put one public school down on the list of seven. She would accept no other school. By chance it was the school in her affluent neighborhood and also the most difficult to get into.
She didn’t look at any other school.
She didn’t get in.
She said, with a particularly crazed expression that she “felt like blowing up the entire city.”
Another parent got assigned to Redding Elementary. I asked her about it, since I have a few friends with children there, and they are very happy with the school. It is supposed to have an amazing teaching staff and a solid principal. I asked her if she went for a visit there before deciding.
She said, “Absolutely not. I looked it up on the computer, checked out the demographics, and decided I would definitely not be sending my child there”.
There were many other less shocking statements made, and most of the parents got into one of the schools they had chosen, but the conversations stuck in my head. Parents would say “I should just be able to go to my neighborhood school.”
That may sound right. There are lots of reasons why neighborhood schools are great–you don’t have to travel, they tend to be the center of the community, and perhaps more affluent families would keep their kids enrolled in public schools. All of these things are stated in the policy statement going to the voters. However, there are some serious problems with this line of thinking.
San Francisco is a segregated town. We have very few truly diverse neighborhoods. The town was built on immigrant labor that tended to settle with their own kind. Those neigborhoods have changed over time, sure – the Mission is no longer Irish and is now Latino, Richmond is more Asian than Irish, and so forth. We have some diversity in poor communities, true, but not economic diversity in neighborhoods rich or poor. Our public schools are some of the greatest in the state, but in terms of diversity, they are even worse than the neighborhoods in which they reside. Over half of our students in public education are living in poverty. Many schools are made up almost entirely of people of the same ethnicity, the same socioeconomic status, the same backgrounds.
Public education is supposed to be the transformative experience that transcends race and class. I see it as a place where we can overcome some of our worst social ills–be that racism, homophobia, sexism or disableism. Diversity in public education is how we can truly learn from each other, learn about our different perspectives, and open our minds to learning about so much more.
Segregated schools also segregate resources. If a PTA at a school is raising $200,000 for its students, they are able to offer those students’ art, drama, and physical education, robust after school programs, music, foreign language classes and so much more. A low-income school will be lucky if all the students relying on free lunches have access to a salad bar.
If a school is properly resourced, the impact of poverty can be addressed inside the classroom and out on the schoolyard.
Our city is small, only 7 miles x 7 miles. School choice in San Francisco has mostly fallen along race and class lines—with those in affluent neighborhoods preferring their local schools. Interestingly enough, many in poor communities enroll in local schools sometimes for convenience, sometimes for lack of access to other schools, but sometimes for loyalty as they went there as children. However, there is some level of diversity in SF schools, and several schools have achieved the dream of true diversity. The initiative would recommend neighborhood-based placement with only an exception for those immersion or other specialty schools.
Neighborhood schools would likely further segregate our schools, In my son’s case, a school I sought out because of its true diversity, it would certainly mean an end to the beautiful melting pot it is today.

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Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.

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