• Fam Diego

Your Guide to Understanding San Diego's School Choice Program

Hurry, you only have a few weeks left to decide your 4 year old's future education plans! No pressure or anything....

Choice, Charters & Magnets….OH MY!!! This one is for parents of 4-5 year olds…. Your precious babies will be heading off to kindergarten next year so you think you’ve got a whole year to worry about it right? Wrong! You actually only have until November 16th, 2020. What?!?! Yup. That is if you want to “Choice” your kids into any other school besides your local neighborhood school. Basically you have 3 options:


If your child will attend your local assigned school, then read no further. You can register them over the summer and relax. There are many benefits of having your child attend your local neighborhood school. Click HERE to find out what your local assigned school is.

6 Reasons to Attend Your Neighborhood School


If you're not sure, do a little research to find out more about your local assigned school to determine if that's the best fit for your family. Consider school grades and ranking scores (links below), school start/end times compared to your work schedule, school year calendars traditional vs. year round schedule!, extracurricular programs, availability of before & after school programs, feeder schools into middle & high schools, and many more things to consider can be found by clicking below:

10 Things to Consider When Choosing a School For Your Kids

Here are some of the more popular School Ranking websites to help you assess schools. The testing scores for the previous year are released around the end of Sept each year by the California Department of Education; which may change some of the school rankings.

GreatSchools.org: click here SchoolGrades.org: click here SchoolDigger.com: click here


If you know you don’t want your child to attend your local assigned school, do some research on the other schools in the district to find one (or three!) that fits your family better. School Tours happen during the Open Enrollment Dates (usually Oct. 1 thru mid-November) and most don’t offer tours after the Choice application deadline closes. You should contact each school directly to find out when their tours are (keep reading to find out more about School Tours).

I’ll focus the information below for those who want to Choice their kids into another school besides their local assigned school.


Do you know what the difference is between Magnet Schools and Charter Schools? How do you even check the school’s ratings? Having gone through this craziness recently, I wanted to let you all in on what I found out. Hopefully this will save you the hours that I spent trying to figure this all out on my own.

I’ve got EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW about Choice, Charters & Magnets. You’ll need to find out what schools you want to “Choice” into NOW because they only offer tours during this time period and they fill up quickly! But don’t panic, I’ve got you covered. I’ll walk you through all of it. But seriously…do this NOW.

What I’m offering below is a brief overview of this process, but if you’d like more details you can start by calling SDUSD or refer to their website here.

Submit your Choice Form here (deadline is November 16th, 2020!!)



There are many different school enrollment Choices where you can enroll your kids in another San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) school, besides sending them to your local assigned school. Select your top THREE schools, write them down on your online Choice form BEFORE the deadline in mid-November! And then you wait....

In late February, they'll run the random lotteries to see which schools the Choice applicants will be matched with. You may NOT get chosen for any of the three schools you selected, in which case your kids can either attend your local assigned school OR a charter school if they were chosen (more on Charter Schools below). If your child is selected for one of your top three schools, you will receive an email directly from that school sometime in March or April, or even as late as the day before school starts if some spaces opened up over the summer.

They have an Enrollment Guidebook that’s very helpful and for some reason it's only mailed to those of currently enrolled students, so if your child is going into Kindergarten next year then you won’t get one in the mail. Ask them for a copy, go pick one up in their office or you can download it here (click the English or Spanish guide).

Phone: 619-260-2410

They try to return calls in 24 hours, but may take longer during busy periods.

Email: eoptions@sandi.net

In Person: 4100 Normal St., Annex 12, San Diego, 92103

They’re located in the Family Welcome and Enrollment Center at the Eugene Brucker Education Center. It’s situated on the West side of the complex, facing Campus Ave.

Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-4pm. Closed during traditional school year schedules Winter & Spring Breaks and major holidays. They’re open during the traditional Summer Break.



Magnet Schools are publicly funded schools that are free and open to anyone either residing in their local assigned area or to those who were selected by random lottery from your Choice Form. Each Magnet School “offers students a unique opportunity for in-depth studies in a specific area of interest.” To find a list of which schools are Magnet Schools, see the links below.

They are managed by the SDUSD and are operated just like other schools. If you want your child to attend a magnet school, you will need to include it as part of your Choice Form before the deadline. Their application and enrollment deadlines are the same as other non-magnet schools in the SDUSD.

Magnet School theme options for SDUSD are:

  • Communications & Community Leadership

  • Creative, Visual & Performing Arts

  • Global Citizenship/ PAIDEIA School

  • International Studies & International

  • Language Enrichment & Language Continuity

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) & STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics)

For more info, contact the Office of School Innovations.

Phone: 619-725-7158

In Person: 4100 Normal St., Rm 2011, San Diego, 92103

For more info on Magnet Schools click here.

For a list of which schools are Magnet Schools, click here.

List of SDUSD Magnet Schools by theme and continuity, click here.



Charter Schools are publicly funded schools that serve grades K-12. They are free and open to anyone in their district who is selected to attend, usually by random lottery. Each charter school has different goals and areas they want to focus on, as they were each created by a group of parents, teachers, or other community members with specific interests in mind.

Charter School tours and applications are generally from Nov-Jan each year, but they vary with each school so check directly with the school for details. The SDUSD is not the contact point for Charter Schools. You will need to contact each Charter School separately as they each have their own polices and application dates.

For more info, contact the Office of Charter Schools.

Phone: 619-725-7107

In Person: 4100 Normal St., Annex 15, San Diego, 92103

For more info on Charter Schools click here.

For a list of SDUSD Charter Schools, click here.



So what does all of this mean for you? First, decide if you want your child to attend your local school. If that’s the case, then you don’t need to do anything. Except register them sometime before school starts next year. Keep in mind that some schools may not “assign” your child a classroom until they’ve got all the paperwork…enrollment form, birth certificate, physician form, immunization records, etc.

If you want your child to attend a school other than your assigned school, then read on and take action NOW. Or at least before the deadline, usually mid-November!!



If you’ve decided that another school would be a better match for your child:

If you want your child to attend either a Choice School ran by SDUSD, you'll have to submit a Choice Form; AND/OR if you want them to attend a Charter School, you'll have to submit an Application separately to EACH Charter School you want to apply for.

1. Make a list of all the schools you’re interested in

Some things to consider:

start/end times


traditional vs. year-round schedule

minimum days

availability of before/after school programs

school themes

mission statements

parent organizations

required parent involvement (especially for Charter Schools)

among others....

10 Things to Consider When Choosing a School For Your Kids

2. Call each school directly to find out when/if they offer school tours

Most SDUSD schools, including Magnet Schools, do NOT offer tours AFTER the Choice Form deadline of mid-November. Some will, but not many.

If you’re looking at Charter Schools, they don’t usually start their application process and tours until another month or so. You might be able to put these on the back burner for now so you can focus on the other schools' looming Choice deadline, but you should still call them now to find out.

3. Tour all the schools on your list, if possible

Some school tours will allow kids/siblings, but some don’t (ironically). I found it best to do the tours without my kids around so I could focus on what they’re saying. Or have both parents attend so at least one of you can hear what they’re saying while the other one keeps the kids from getting into stuff. 😉

When I had to do them on my own with both kids, I put my 2yo in a baby carrier to keep him contained, to prevent both kids from instigating each other, and also to avoid squeezing through classroom doors with a stroller while you tour the school.

4. Narrow the choices down to your TOP THREE

5. Submit your Choice Form here by mid-November!

And then wait anxiously until next year!



They don’t start reviewing and processing applications until late February, and that means you likely won’t find out until March or April if your child’s name was drawn. If your child’s name was matched for one of your Choiced schools, then you’ll hear directly from that school by email. As you can imagine, this is a long anxiety-filled waiting process. Don’t bother the nice receptionists by calling them every week. Just be patient. Ok, maybe call them once in a while if you’re feeling overly anxious. 😉

If you still don’t hear back, your child’s name might not have been picked. But that doesn’t mean they still won’t get into one of your Choiced schools. Sometimes other kids who were picked for your Choiced schools are accepted into a Charter School the following month and they decline their SDUSD Choice offer; thus freeing up a space for your child. That’s when they move down onto their waiting list. Sometimes families end up moving or any other number of situations that would otherwise free up more spaces. I’ve been told that some families got the phone call 1 week before school started…one parent told me they got accepted 1 week after school started. So be patient because it could happen even if your child’s name wasn't picked initially in the lottery.



Act Quickly! They will only give you a VERY SHORT timeframe to accept their offer. I want to say it’s 2 days or maybe a week. But you know how time gets away from us, so act quickly or else they’ll think you’re not interested and will give your spot away!

ACCEPTING their offer is not the same thing as REGISTERING. Once you accept their offer, don’t kick back and wait for the first day of school to arrive. You’ll have to get on that registration form and turn in the paperwork ASAP to get them registered! I wasn’t informed of our Choice School’s REGISTRATION DEADLINE, but it’s a good thing I happened to call randomly on a Tuesday and they told me I had until Friday to turn everything in...or they would give up our spot!



You should be getting some information or emails from your school around the end of July or early August. Some schools have a “back to school” play date or parent’s information meeting. It’s usually the week or two before school starts. So if you’re going to be on vacation, ask any friends who attend or call the school to get the scoop on things like drop off and pick up procedures, school start and end times, minimum days, etc.


I hope this was helpful information to figure out how to start this process and work your way through it. If you have more specific questions, they might be answered in the FAQ’s here.

Or you can review their website here. I'm certainly not an expert, just a well informed mama who stressed about this recently, LOL. I'm always happy to help answer any questions if I can so feel free to reach out and drop me a line.

Good luck trying to decide which school is best for your children’s future…no pressure or anything! No seriously, it's not the end of world if you don't get into your preferred schools. Just do what you can to supplement at home or with after school programs that emphasize the subjects or traits of the schools that you wanted. Everything will still be okay. ;)