Things You Need to Know About Enrolling in Public School in San Francisco

By Robin Dutton-Cookston

Nothing makes a San Francisco preschool parent’s heart race faster than the words “kindergarten enrollment” whispered in a conspiratorial tone near the swings of the local playground.

At Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco, we understand that racing heart. But we also understand the system. Our insider knowledge helps families navigate SFUSD enrollment and make informed choices. We know that the process may be complicated, but the schools are outstanding and the teachers are rock stars. And fear not if you are a complete newbie. Here are the basics that everyone should know.

SFUSD is a choice district.

That’s right. You can choose. Sort of.

Children do not automatically attend their neighborhood schools. Although a preference (called a tie-breaker) is given to families who live within an attendance area school, families can list any schools in the district on their application forms.

Families must fill out an enrollment application. On paper.

SFUSD requires an application. Parents or guardians turn in applications in person at the Educational Placement Center (or EPC). Bring an ID, your child’s birth certificate, and two proofs of your address. Applications are available from SFUSD after October 29, 2016.

Meet the deadline.

The most important thing that you can do to help your child enroll in the public school of your choice is turn in your SFUSD application on or before the deadline. This year it is January 13, 2017. Families who miss the deadline are automatically placed in the second round of enrollment applications.

List a lot of schools on your application.

Everyone is different. Some families cast the net wide, listing as many as fifty schools. Others prefer to keep it tight, with a smaller list. The important thing is to consider your own I’m-Out-Of-Here point. What will you do if you only put 8 schools on your list and you don’t get placed at any of them? (Maybe you should consider 9. Or 10. Or more…) And keep an open mind about schools that are under the preschool chatter radar. There are many quiet little schools without name brand recognition that are full of happy, thriving children and wonderful teachers.

Put the schools in the order that you like best.

San Francisco is famous for urban-legend playground gossip about best strategies to work the SFUSD enrollment system.

Ignore all of that. We know how it works. And your best bet is to put the schools on your list in the order that you truly prefer. Put your top choice in the number one spot and work your way down from there. There is a lot more that we can say here about how the sausage is made, but it is way too long for even a Medium article. For the full inside story on how the enrollment system works, please sign up for a PPS-SF enrollment event.


Hallelujah! You got one of your top choices! Once you get your letter of school assignment from SFUSD, to be mailed in March, you must go, in person, and register at the school or you will lose that spot. We recommend registering for your offered school even if is not your top choice. It could be useful as leverage if you choose to try again in Round Two.

There is a Round Two.

Yes, you can try again. If at first you don’t get offered one of your favorite schools, you can keep trying. But don’t worry about that just yet. And remember that Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco is just a phone call or email away…

Let us help.

Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco is the only organization that helps parents navigate San Francisco public school enrollment. Since 1999 we’ve worked with over 275,000 families, offering enrollment advice and encouraging parents to take on leadership roles within their schools so that each child in every family has access to an excellent public education.

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