Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We did it!

Well, our long educational nightmare is over. Seven months, 20 school tours, 40 lost work hours, a dozen hissy fits and two parking tickets later, we have an elementary school for Benny. We have reached our Shangri-La.

The assignment process at the San Francisco Unified School District, is, of course, horrific. You spend your autumn touring every blinkin' public school in the stupid city and choose seven, which you rank in order of preference. The district's massive computer then processes everyone's requests according to some arcane criteria and spits out each child's assignment. The key is to find elementary schools that are good, yet not so terrifically popular that you have little chance of getting in. They call such schools "hidden gems," and sometimes those gems are hidden under layers of seedy neglect. (How about a little more school funding, Governor Terminator?).

This process is called, fittingly enough, "the lottery," and it does put me in mind of Shirley Jackson's famous short story, except in this case, 0-7 parents surround lucky Rooftop winners and pelt them with chalkboard erasers.

Because you can do all the tours, the applications, the documents, the whole thing, and STILL end up without one of your seven choices. Friday's post on a popular San Francisco blog, which is centered around the school assignment process, asks "Round one letters are out: what did you get?" As of 3 p.m. Sunday, there are over 500 comments from parents, many of whom are spitting mad. Blame and angst are thick in the air as parents who hate their school assignments face months of Round 2 and waitlist stress. According to statistics the district recently released, nearly 1,000 San Francisco families received none of their seven choices this year.

But back to us (cuz this is my blog, after all). The letter from SFUSD arrived Saturday, while Ron, Benny and I were at the St. Patrick's Day parade. I literally ran up the street from the bus stop, keys in hand, eager to see if we got our letter. Then I carried it upstairs like it was a paper time bomb, which in a way, it was. We have been in limbo for three months waiting for this letter, unable to plan anything. Everything depended on the school: Would we have to buy a car? Would we have to move? Would we have to go parochial and pay tuition? Would we have to do all three?

Well, Ron opened it and the news couldn't be better. Benny was assigned the Shangri-La school, our No. 1 choice, in Cole Valley. It's a short bus ride away, in a good neighborhood that actually shortens our commute to work. It's a very popular school (630 families requested it this year) and not too big. We'll probably move to Cole Valley next year to be even closer, but for now, we can stay put. And it's free!

Financially, this is a huge help. This means we can take the princely sum we've paid for Benny's preschool each month and put it towards debt. This means we can take a family vacation this May and visit our family in Michigan this June and put money into savings every month. As soon as the debt is paid off, we can start a college fund for Benny and save up to buy a car. All of this is possible because of Benny's school assignment, and so I feel we just won the lottery in every sense of the word.

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