Noe Valley Voice February 2011

Your Neighborhood School Might Be in Another Neighborhood

Noe Valley Shared by Three ‘Attendance Areas’

By Heather World 

On a cool January morning, Principal Robert Broecker greets students as they arrive at Alvarado Elementary—a school that’s high on the lists of local families.     Photo by Pamela Gerard

Noe will be a valley divided under the San Francisco Unified School District’s new neighborhood-based assignment system, with some students directed to Harvey Milk Academy in the Castro, others sent to Glen Park Elementary, and the biggest group given priority at Alvara do Elementary School on Douglass Street.

Parents have long called for the district to give more weight to school proximity when making assignments. So after studying demographics, demand, and other factors, the district last fall drew boundaries around each school in the city, establishing special “attendance areas” for the 2011–12 school year.

Most elementary school students living in Noe Valley will find themselves in the Alvarado attendance area, bordered roughly by Grand View, 22nd/23rd, Guerrero, and 29th streets. Students whose families live north of the lines have been placed in the Harvey Milk attendance area; those living south will be assigned to Glen Park’s.

The goal of the new system is academic—not racial or ethnic—diversity, said Darlene Lim, executive director of the district’s Educational Placement Center.

“We want to reverse the concentration of underserved students in certain schools,” she said.

Accordingly, children living in sections of the city with historically low state test scores or who have attended a district-run preschool in their attendance area will have priority over neighborhood kids. As before, siblings of students already in the school get the first seats. After these placements, residents in a school’s attendance area trump all others.

Eyes on Alvarado

In Noe Valley, the lines have left some locals scratching their heads and others unsure of what difference the changes will make.

Come Feb. 18, Jennifer Caulfield will submit an application for her daughter Breckin, joining about 4,700 others wanting a kindergarten spot. Families then wait in limbo for one month until assignment letters are mailed.

Living on Diamond just south of 24th Street puts Caulfield in Alvarado’s attendance zone. Though she is happy about that—the school is her top choice—she said she doesn’t think it will do much to better her chances of getting a seat.

“We’ll believe it when we see it,” she said.

Playground acquaintances are more optimistic, she said. Other local parents seem to feel confident they will get a seat at Alvarado, one of the most sought-after schools in the city.

“This is what everyone talks about now,” she said.

Location is important to Caulfield and her partner, Stephanie Scott. They deliberately chose a nearby preschool for their three children because it makes life much easier.

“It would be great if they were all in the five-block radius,” she said.

But attending school with children from all walks of life is also important to the couple.

“We’re a lesbian family, so we’re a diverse family who wants diversity—ethnicity, sexual orientation,” she said. They have found a handful of schools they like, though none as convenient as Alvarado School, located at 625 Douglass Street.

Glen Noe?

The neighborhood school for children living on 29th Street and south is Glen Park Elementary, over the hill near Diamond and Bosworth streets.

Nicole Dogwill, a Day Street resident with twin 2-year-olds, said the boundaries caught her by surprise.

“They basically covered Noe Valley except for one street,” she said. “It feels like it’s dividing the neighborhood arbitrarily.”

Schools like Glen Park may see rising test scores and PTA budgets under the new system, but she wants to send her children to Alvarado because Noe Valley is her neighborhood, not Glen Park.

She shops on 24th Street, the family eats out at restaurants along Church Street, and her primary stomping ground with the 2-year-olds is the Upper Noe Recreation Center, she said.

“Our lives with our kids are in Noe Valley,” she said. “We didn’t buy in Glen Park; we bought our house in Noe Valley.”

When the time comes, Dogwill will shoot for Alvarado, but she will look at other schools, too. She and her family do not want to follow the path of so many other families and leave for the better schools of the suburbs.

“We really want to try to make it work,” she said. “We’re not deterred, but we’re disappointed.”

A Perfect Circle It’s Not

In the north part of the neighborhood, families across 22nd Street from Alvarado—whose driveways are regularly blocked by parents dropping off children—are assigned to Harvey Milk, at Diamond and 19th streets.

Lim said district officials looked at several factors when drawing the lines: demographics, projected enrollment, school sizes, topography, even traffic patterns.

“It can’t be a perfect circle with the school right in the middle,” she said, acknowledging that Alvarado sits in the northwestern corner of its attendance area.

“We drove around physically and looked at that area when we were doing this,” she said.

The district heard from the public at six town halls, and some boundary changes were made based on that feedback, Lim said.

It will repeat that process this spring, once staff has seen how assignments under the new plan shake out.

“We will set up a way to take recommendations on changes,” she said. Those changes would take effect the following year.

Deborah Zimmerman lives on Clipper Street with her family, including 5-year-old Tania, who will start kindergarten next year with a younger sister to follow. Zimmerman said she is happy to be in the Alvarado attendance area but isn’t sure what it means.

“I don’t know if my chances [of getting in] went up to 6 percent or 90 percent,” she said.

Covering all her bases, she has looked at other schools across the city and found a few she likes, with more to tour. The uncertainty is unnerving, but she accepts that her daughter is, essentially, a guinea pig.

“Well, you have to test it out on someone,” she said.


To find out more about the public school enrollment process, go to 


In the new assignment map, most Noe Valley streets are included in the Alvarado attendance area. However, several blocks on the southern and northern edges of the neighborhood, including some near Alvarado School, have been grouped with the Milk and Glen Park zones.   Map courtesy San Francisco Unified School District