SFUSD prioritizes equity in setting capacities at our schools
By Dr. Matt Wayne
Even though we’ve just begun the spring semester, here in the San Francisco Unified School District we’re already hard at work planning for the 2023-24 school year.
Part of this planning involves determining how many spaces will be available at each of our schools next year in order to most effectively manage our resources. We have to make these decisions because, unfortunately, we are not immune to the decline in enrollment felt by many school districts across the state, and we want to be sure that all schools have enough resources to operate. This is the second year we have used a central, district-wide process to make these decisions, which is called capacity setting.
When setting school capacity for the 2023-2024 school year, SFUSD is not making any significant changes to the number of seats and classrooms in entry grades because we want to prioritize stability for our schools and our families. Some schools may still experience a reduction in the number of seats available in their school for next year because their enrollment numbers are lower than in previous years.
Today I want to shed some light on this process and share with you why – and how – we are making these decisions.
First, let me explain how our student assignment system currently works. Here in San Francisco, we have a choice-based enrollment system, which means families have the opportunity to choose which public schools they would like their children to attend. The majority of families get one of the schools they list as their top three. But every year, a few of our schools get as many as a thousand applicants who list that school as a first choice. That can equal 50 students applying for every one seat available. So you can see why not every applicant can get one of those seats.
Setting capacities centrally is a way for SFUSD to be more financially efficient. It is also a way for us to operate holistically to serve each and every student. By setting capacities as a system, rather than school-by-school, we can ensure that each school has sufficient resources to function at a high level with enough full-time, certificated teachers to support our learners.
Decisions of how many spaces are available at each school are made with consideration to the district-wide impact on our students and families. Our goal is to limit the impact of declining enrollment, particularly for under-resourced schools in our most historically underserved communities.
The centralized capacity setting process last year was very successful at making capacities and actual enrollment more aligned: in elementary schools, enrolled students are filling 89% of available seats this year, up significantly from 82% in 2021-22. Classrooms being more full means we are, in fact, using our resources much more efficiently. This is particularly important for some schools in our most historically underserved communities: Dr. Charles Drew Elementary School, in the Bayview, saw Kindergarten enrollment rise from 28 students in two classrooms to 40 students in two classrooms. At Rosa Parks Elementary School, in the historic Fillmore district, enrollment rose from 43% of capacity to 91% of capacity in General Education.
Further, in a year where school districts across the country faced teacher shortages, some of the hard decisions to reduce classrooms meant there were fewer classroom vacancies in SFUSD than there otherwise would have been. This meant that more students had a qualified teacher from the start of the year than would otherwise have been the case.
If you would like to learn more about capacity setting, please review this FAQ.
This page was last updated on February 10, 2023