School district’s assignment policy leaves Marina students behind

On March 9, 2010, the school board unanimously approved a new policy for assigning students to schools, which will take effect in fall 2011. The San Francisco Unified School District’s website claims that the new system “will continue to give families the option to choose from all SFUSD schools.” Marina families beware! “Choose” all you want. Your student likely will NOT attend Claire Lilienthal Elementary.

Thousands of parents communicated to the school board that they want neighborhood schools. They challenged the district to bring up the quality of ALL schools. Ignoring these pleas, the school board has made it clear that its preferred policy is to identify students from challenging socioeconomic circumstances and give them first preference for the most coveted schools, of which Claire Lilienthal is one. The district refused to categorize Claire Lilienthal as a neighborhood school, designating it a “citywide” school. Following the district’s logic, the way is paved for the coveted schools to bring up the quality of the students’ progress. Is that really a formula for success?

Under the new student assignment policy, students will be assigned to citywide schools using the following order of preferences:

1. Siblings
– younger siblings of currently enrolled students.

2. SFUSD Pre-K
students who attended an SFUSD Pre-K program at the school.

3. CTIP1
– students who reside in CTIP1 census tracts.

4. Densely populated attendance areas
– students who live in attendance areas that do not have sufficient capacity to accommodate all the students living in the attendance area.

5. All other students

The District claims that these five preferences are race neutral. This parent begs to differ. Other than sibling preference, each of these preferences is racially slanted. For example, children attending the district’s Pre-K programs (preference 2) are predominantly from the poorer neighborhoods in San Francisco and are children of color. Students that live in CTIP-1 areas (preference 3) are from San Francisco’s poorest neighborhoods (Bayview-Hunter’s Point, Mission, Excelsior), have the lowest standardized test scores in the City, and are predominantly children of color. CTIP stands for Census Tract Integration Preference. Students living in densely populated attendance areas (preference 4) are in the City’s more underserved communities and are predominantly children of color. “All other students” are predominantly white or Chinese (preference 5).

If one considers that the district is giving preference to students with the lowest standardized test scores in the City, living in underprivileged communities, who also happen to be predominantly African-American or Hispanic, how is that race neutral? If the district is giving preference to “underserved students,” – i.e., those performing below basic or far below basic on the California Standards Test – and those children are predominantly African-American or Hispanic, how is that race neutral? If one or two races don’t really get any choices, how is that race neutral?

A truly race neutral approach would be to allow students to attend schools in their own neighborhood, and to address imbalances in resources and teacher talent with common-sense solutions. For example, if there is a school in a CTIP-1 area that is underperforming, transfer the brightest teachers to that area for a year or two, loan resources from other schools, and watch the parents get excited about their school and give their own time, treasure and talent to make the school better. The school becomes a community within its community, supported by the people who know it best – its neighbors.

Alas, such a common-sense approach will not be. Children living in the Marina can look forward to assignments to underperforming schools such as Rosa Parks located at 1501 O’Farrell Street, or William Cobb located at 2725 California Street.

To let your concerns about this be known, please write to Jane Kim, president of the Board of Education, 555 Franklin Street, Room 106, San Francisco, CA 94102, or e-mail her at

Kat Anderson is on the board of directors of the Marina Community Association.
You are eligible to join MCA if you are over 18 and a resident or owner of a dwelling within the Marina. Visit for more information.