District Sees Increase in Kindergarten Enrollment

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday March 11, 2008

Berkeley Unified School District’s kindergarten enrollment is on the rise. 

The district’s Office of Admissions and Attendance mailed out 660 assignments last weekend—100 more than were mailed out last year—according to Francisco Martinez, the district’s manager of admissions and attendance. 

“It’s definitely more than what I have seen during my eight years here,” he said. “I would like to think that our public schools are doing a very good job and that’s why parents want to enroll their children here.” 

He added, “We will see how many students actually start school in September.” 

Some parents suggested that rising tuition costs at private schools was one of the reasons for higher enrollment in the public schools. 

Martinez added that 77 percent of the families who had enrolled in kindergarten this year had received their first school choice and 8.5 percent had received their second choice. 

Parents who received their childrens’ assignments on Friday and Saturday had mixed reactions. 

Karen Sukenic, who had listed Jefferson Elementary School as her first choice, told the Planet that she was a bit disappointed by her son Ari’s assignment. 

“We did not get our first choice,” she said. “In fact, we got a choice we purposely did not put on the form because we didn't want to go to the school we were assigned—Rosa Parks. We're not thrilled with our assignment, as we have two other schools we put as our first and second choices that are in walking distance to our house. We prefer encouraging walking and riding bikes to school to having to drive.” 

Berkeley Unified is divided into three zones for elementary schools—central, northwest and southeast. 

Sukenic resides in the northwest zone, which includes Rosa Parks Elementary School. 

The assignment system lets parents list their first, second and third school choices, and then a computer gives the final placement through a lottery. 

District spokesperson Mark Coplan said that each of the three zones encompassed neighborhoods from the flatlands to the hills in order to integrate the schools effectively. 

“The best way to get one of your three school choices is to put down at least two of your three choices from your zone,” he said. “The chances of getting a school out of your zone is very slim.” 

Martinez said that parents unhappy with their school assignment could request to be put on a waiting list. 

“Sometimes families decide not to enroll, and then we give their spot to people on the waiting list,” he said. 

Heidi Aronson, parent of a Berkeley public school first grader at Emerson Elementary School, advised parents unhappy with their school assignment to have faith in the district’s assignment process. 

“Last spring, our daughter got assigned to the one school in our zone that wasn’t one of our three choices,” said the Elmwood resident. “We also saw many peers in our relatively affluent neighborhood placed into this ‘less desirable’ school that wasn’t anybody’s first second or third choice, and nearly all of them opted to put their child into private school. We hadn’t applied to any private schools though. We freaked out, of course, put our names on the three waiting lists, met with Francisco Martinez to ‘air our concerns,’ and ended up getting placed into our first-choice school in mid-May. Now we're living happily ever after, in love with our school.” 

Aronson said that although the assignment system could be a “bumpy ride,” parents should not take any of it personally. 

“Hang in there and let the process work,” she said. “You will be heard.” 

Molly Greden, another parent, said that she had been pleased to learn that her son Modeo had been assigned Malcolm X Elementary School on Saturday. 

“It was our first choice,” she said. “We chose a school outside of our zone. We live in the Central Zone and we picked Malcolm X because it’s the closest school to us. I was very impressed with the programs, the kids’ enthusiasm and the ‘feel’ of the school ... But I have heard that people don’t always get their first pick and there is a lot of anxiety about it.”