I remember my fourth grade art class. Every day Mrs. B passed out sheets of plain paper, said, “Draw a house!” and then proceeded to take a nap at her desk. We spent the entire 45 minutes running amuck with crayons or watching, mouths agape, as Mrs. B’s wig slid slowly down her forehead with each snore.
I remember a lot about my elementary school experiences as of late because I am in the midst of touring kindergartens.
Yes, I am touring kindergartens. If you live inside the city limits of San Francisco you can skip this next explanative part because you know, all too well, my pain and heartache.
I am touring PUBLIC kindergartens. Regular old public school kindergartens! This is not some fancy-pants Manhattan-style, private, prep-school process, although that can definitely be found here too. (Some of my friends have even gone through kindergarten counseling sessions with their preschool directors to see which private school will be the best fit for their child’s temperament.)
But let me say it again while you pause to think about what I am telling you. I am touring many, many PUBLIC KINDERGARTENS so that I can decide on my favorite schools before the January deadline.
Isn’t that the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard? In an effort to prove, once again, that San Francisco is the most unusual city on Earth, the public school system here makes families go visit a million kindergartens then apply for their top 7 choices. A lottery system that seems trickier than a Florida election then sorts everyone out and dumps children into elementary schools around town. No neighborhood elementary school down the street will do here in San Francisco. We like to keep things complicated.
I’ll give you a moment to let that weirdness sink in.
On one hand, this is a great system that allows for school choice. We are not stuck with a rinky-dink assigned school with busted playground equipment and snoozing art teachers. On the other hand, there are around 60 public elementary schools in the city and every family only wants to go to 7 of them. So what happens is that several thousand people list those top 7 schools as their 7 choices and the other poor schools get neglected, underappreciated and underfunded, creating a huge gap between the “good” schools and the less endowed schools.
It is incredibly stressful and preoccupying. So much so, that I have considered creating a whole blog about the San Francisco kindergarten application nightmare. However, I am afraid that a secret cabal of principals will catch wind of it and blackball our family from all the decent schools.
I also notice, with each school tour, that even “bad” public schools are so much better than when I was a kid. Most of the schools offer the likes of musical theater, on-site kilns, artists-in-residence, yoga, martial arts, orchestra, and foreign language. When I was a kid we had paste. And if we were lucky, it was edible.
To tell you the truth, I am not actually touring the truly “bad” schools, the ones in the tragic parts of town where young people regularly shoot each other on the streets. And I feel guilty and sad about this. Guilty because, although I am a full-on public school advocate, my child’s safety supersedes any need to make a point about changing a broken system from within. Sad because I know that there are many precious little children in those parts of town near the “bad” schools who will have no choice, who will be systematically assigned to classrooms with windows overlooking violent streets.
Does my daughter have a greater right to a decent school than those kids? Of course not. She is just lucky enough to have parents who are doing their research and learning about all of her supposed school choices. She is part of a great swath of San Francisco children whose parents are involved and concerned, yet lack the extra annual $20k necessary to send a child to one of the lily-white private schools where everything is always clean and lovely and well-funded.
Besides, even if we had the cash for a private education, rumor has it that the admissions process is on the level of getting into Yale. We would be competing with eighth-generation San Francisco families who are descendents of Napoleon or who have been donating rubies to the school since their child was a fetus.
I will say this for sure. You have only heard the beginning of the Kindergarten Kapers. (Apologies for the cutesy title. I usually hate names like “Kozy Kabin” or “Kountry Kitchen” but this time I need a little frivolity to take the edge off a hair-tearing situation.) As this saga continues, I will certainly need to relieve my anxiety with more than a mere glass of red wine.
Keep your eyes peeled for more Kapers.