Advocacy K-12 Enrollment

An Open Letter to Private School Parents

An Open Letter to Private School Parents: Stop Trashing Public Schools

Now that my girls are 10 (!) I look back and am so grateful and happy for the wonderful education they’ve received. I’ve been thinking about how important it is to share positive stories about my experience to counter the inaccurate and crazy-making rhetoric about how difficult it is to enroll in a “good” public school.

With this in mind, I recently posted some resources on NextDoor about the kindergarten enrollment process. I wanted to reassure parents who are just embarking on the kindergarten enrollment process that everything will work out great. I also shared tips for any family (public or private) on how to ease the transition into kindergarten. In addition, I offered to be a resource to answer questions about local schools.

Initially, I got a few positive responses from local parents, chiming in on their great public school experiences. Unfortunately, as I have learned, you can’t get away posting anything on NextDoor without getting snarky comments from folks eagerly awaiting the chance to rain on your parade.

Here is what the parent (whom I’ll call, “Snarky North Beach Mom”) wrote:

“Or don’t go through the pain of the SFUSD process and consider [name of a private school], a wonderful local school in the heart of North Beach. Lovely community of parents and teachers and great school with small class sizes.”

Her response might have made sense if I had asked, “What are people’s thoughts about the SFUSD enrollment process?” Or, “Does anyone know a good private school in the neighborhood?”

This is NOT the first time I’ve received a decidedly negative response to championing public schools. Even though I kick myself after the fact, I rarely respond, because I am either too angry (and cursing is NOT considered an effective communication strategy for shifting awareness), or I am so flabbergasted I don’t even know where to start.

This time, after composing my thoughts, I responded. I have decided to share the response here as an open letter in hopes that other public school parents might have language to push back on similar negative comments heard on playgrounds, during preschool pickups and in parent email groups.

Stop Trashing Public Schools

An Open Letter to Private School Parents: Stop Trashing Public Schools!

Dear “Snarky North Beach Mom”,

I have applied to both Elementary and Middle School and have never experienced any “pain” in applying to an SFUSD school. These type of comments typify the misinformation that perpetuates a lot of the fear and bias I hear from parents of school-aged children in our city.

It’s tiring to constantly hear negative comments from non-public school parents that public schools are “bad” or a “pain”. If you are a family having a great experience at a private school, good for you. We all need to pick a school that’s just right for our family. But please don’t reinforce negative stereotypes about public schools or disparage the experience of me and many other families who LOVE our schools!

Without being asked, you injected yourself in the conversation and implied private schools are BETTER than public schools. You listed several reasons to back up your opinion: “community of parents and teachers”, “great school”, “small class sizes”.  These ideas fit into a biased narrative that public schools are not “great” (read: they suck), are overcrowded, and are full of lazy, uninvolved parents and kids.

I am sick and tired of parents who have NO experience with public schools, stereotyping our hard-working, caring and knowledgeable teachers, our active and engaged parents, and our bright and creative students… STOP TRASHING OUR SCHOOLS!

For your information, my kids are getting an outstanding education at a FREE, culturally and socioeconomically diverse, neighborhood public school. Despite what you may have heard, here are the facts:

  • My girls are NOT in an overcrowded classroom. They have been in a class of 18 for most of their schooling and have loved every single teacher they’ve had.
  • Teachers are NOT teaching to the lowest common denominator. Our district regularly assesses reading of each and every student so teachers can help them find “just right books.” As a result, my daughters’ elementary school allows all kids to read at their own level; at 5th grade my girls were reading well beyond the 8th grade!
  • Staff at our school are NOT disinterested or disengaged. If I’ve had a question or concern, the principal and teachers have been caring and responsive. In contrast, I had a friend who attended your school who reached out to the school counselor when her family was in crisis. She was told, “We don’t like to get into family matters.” (!?!) Our full-time school social worker regularly hosts a parent group and is always available to support families and students in crisis. She even set up a weekly Farmer’s Market at our school for families of any income to get free, fresh produce directly from our school.
  • Public schools are NOT large, chaotic, uncaring institutions where kids get lost. My girls’ school is so small that I know all the teachers, even though my girls haven’t been in all their classes. When our family was severely ill one year, I was in direct contact with my daughters’ teacher, the principal and the school social worker who regularly checked in with my girls to make sure they were OK as we weathered a very tough year.
  • Public schools are NOT full of mean, slow, or lazy kids. My girls have stayed with roughly the same group of kids since they were in kindergarten. This has allowed them to form lasting friendships with their classmates, and I with their parents. (Which is why they are so excited to go to their feeder middle school together–another neighborhood school families rave about.) The cultural majority at our school is Chinese-speaking. Nonetheless, the fact that my girls are in the demographic minority has never been an issue. Over the past six years, they have developed into normal, happy, well-adjusted, social tweenagers.

In regards to your comments on the enrollment system… I’ve followed many families throughout the years and found that the “lottery” is only a problem for parents who will only accept enrollment at a small selection of “most requested” schools. There are 70 elementary schools in SFUSD, and Northside families are lucky to have some of the best in our city! If you felt the enrollment process was a “pain” I can safely bet you did not put 5 out of 8 of our neighborhood schools on your list or participate in the wait pool process. If you had listed my school for example, you would have gotten in. No problem.

My daughters’ school, like many of our neighborhood schools, often flies under the radar thus, is VERY EASY TO GET INTO. For example, I hear lots of praise from families in our neighborhood who attend: Jean Parker, Spring Valley, Yick Wo, Gordon Lau, Garfield, Sherman, John Yehall Chin and Redding. I also hear great things about Ortega, John Muir, Cobb, and Rosa Parks.


Ali Collins

It’s Time to Speak Up!

It’s important to push back on these biased narratives of “good” and “bad” schools. In fact, I’ve heard these statements so many times, it becomes glaringly obvious that these inaccurate notions are directly correlated with the socioeconomic and racial makeup of the school. The more White and (affluent) Asian the school is, the higher the rating by these types of neighborhood parents. Conversely, the more Black, Brown and new-immigrant families at the school, the lower the rating.

And it’s not just some White families that hold biases. I was shocked to hear a Chinese-American mom tell me she would never send her kid to my school because there were “too many Cantonese-speaking kids” there. (!) To my surprise, I learned that she was Mandarin speaking and held biases toward Cantonese (e.g. “Chinatown” or new-immigrant) families.

Hang ups about racial differences are people’s personal issues, but that should have nothing to do with whether a school is considered good or bad.  So let’s not allow outsiders make us feel like our kids are getting a compromised education, instead let’s own the great things about our public schools.

Don’t Let Biased Thinking Prevent You from Choosing a Great Public School!

With so many untrue stereotypes about urban public schools, prospective kindergarten parents  may feel like finding a good school for their child must involve struggle. My suggestion: Don’t swallow the narrative! Take a look for yourself. Don’t let anxiety prevent you from exploring all the amazing public public options out there. Just as we must push back on narratives that say Black parents are aggressive, or Latino families are lazy, we also have to push back on narratives that characterize predominantly Black and Latino schools as “bad”.

There are PLENTY of amazing schools to choose from! Talk with families at schools in your neighborhood. Talk with families that don’t look like you. If you need assistance or have any questions, connect with me directly. In the meantime, please share the resources below with any pre-K parents you know.

Resources for Kindergarten Readiness:

Public school parents… How do you handle uninvited comments challenging your choice to send your child to a public school? How do you share positive experiences about your child’s GREAT pubic school! Please chime in on this thread!

Related reads:

4 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Private School Parents

  1. “Private school applications are easy and private school admission decisions are fair and transparent,” said no one ever.

  2. Hi Ali – Love this. We love our public elementary school which is just up the hill from your public elementary school. The process to get in was not straightforward, as we are a special transfer into the district, but our small public school was our first choice and has served us very well. We are excited to be starting MS in out home public school district across the Bay, and expect wonderful things there. Although we had our daughter apply for a couple of private MS (as a backup-hahaha) we are tremendously happy and committed to public education and glad to be public school parents.The private school applications were complex and difficult to complete, in English only, and needed to be completed on-line. This puts poor and ESL families at a practical and social disadvantage vis-a-vis the private school application process. In contract, the Public process across the Bay was pretty straightforward, available in multiple languages, and can be done face to face at the district office with someone who speaks the family’s home language. BTW, our public school was the ONLY school we were assigned to – and we did play the field as far as MS applications to privates and charters goes. – Sara

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It is quite interesting what a negative wrap our public application process gets when private school applications require testing, online applications and interviews… and you might STILL not get in! SFUSD will be sorry to loose you, but good luck across the Bay and please keep us posted on your experiences and questions as a public school parent!

      1. While we really like our assigned school in Oakland, it will present a real logistical challengein terms of our commute. Both parents work full time in San Francisco. SO…. we may try for another interdistrict transfer to San Francisco. Or not. But I want to be clear that all of our dealings with SFUSD as an inter-district transfer family have been good; SFUSD staff have always been professional, helpful, and gracious. And, once we were enrolled in the system, easy (we have to renew each year). – sara

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