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Your Guide to Understanding San Diego's School Choice Program for 2021

Hurry, you only have a few weeks 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 3-4 year olds…. Your precious babies will be heading off to TK or Kindergarten next year so you think you’ve got a whole year to worry about it right? Wrong! You actually only have until November 15th, 2021. What?!?! Yup. That is if you want to “Choice” your kids into any other school besides your local neighborhood school. (pssst...You can also choice older students into another school.)

Having gone through this craziness myself, I wanted to let you all in on what I found out. Hopefully this will save you the hours I spent trying to figure this all out on my own. Read below for everything you need to know about the San Diego Unified District CHOICE Program.

(Other school districts may have a similar "choice" program and different deadlines, so check directly with your school district. But most of the general information below will still be helpful.)


How to Take a School Tour (not avail this year!)

SDUSD Choice Application Link: CLICK HERE

(scroll down to where it says "Apply")

📚 What is the San Diego Unified School District Choice Program?

The "Choice" Program gives you the option to enroll your kids into a different school, other than your locally assigned neighborhood school. If you don't want your kids attending your local school for various reasons, you can try to get them into another school, as long as it's within SDUSD.

You should know that enrollment into another school is not guaranteed, since you can only submit your top 3 school choices into the lottery. You may get picked for either your first, second or third choice schools, or none at all.

(In which, case you can still apply for Charter Schools; which you should still do simultaneously. Most Charter School application deadlines are BEFORE you'll hear back from the SDUSD Choice Program lottery. You can be accepted into several schools as a back-up plan and proceed with the enrollment process, until you hear from the school you really want.)'s okay to send your kids to their local school. Here are 6 Reasons to Attend Your Neighborhood School

If you know your kids will attend the neighborhood school, then stop here. Register them next summer and relax.

If you're not sure, do some research on your local school, look into other schools like "Magnet Schools", "Charter Schools", or regular schools with a different focus.


They have an Enrollment Guide that’s very helpful and for some reason it's only mailed to currently enrolled students, so if your child is going into TK or 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).

For Main Phone or Choice Questions, you can call or email here:

Phone: 619-260-2410

For Early Learning (pre K) inquiries you can call or email here:

Phone: 619-260-2450

For InterDistrict Enrollment, email here:

(In-person visits are not allowed this year due to Covid. All staff are working from home and can respond to emails and phone calls only.)

In Person (NOT AVAILABLE THIS YEAR): 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. (*Hours may have changed, call before you.)


📚 Who is the SDUSD Choice Program For?


🔴 San Diego Unified School District residents

(Intra-district transfers allowed if approved by IAP, click here for details)

🟠 Current 2 yr olds apply now to start EARLY LEARNING PRESCHOOL next year.

They must turn 3 by Dec. 1 next year.

🟡 Current 3 yr olds apply now to start Universal Transitional Kindergarten 4 next year.

They must turn 4 by Sept. 1 next year.

This is a NEW PILOT PROGRAM for all 4 year olds, “Universal TK 4” is only avail in 54 schools right now and is very limited (read: hard to get into right now). This should be available in every school in California by 2025.

🟢 Current 4 yr olds apply now to start Transitional Kindergarten next year.

They must turn 5 between 9/2-12/2 next year.

🔵 Current 4 yr olds apply now to start KINDERGARTEN next year.

They must turn 5 by the 1st day of school next year.

🟣 Older kids can Choice into another school for any grade, middle or high school for the grade level they will be in next year.

🟤 THIS CHOICE PROGRAM IS ONLY TO CONSIDER IF you don’t want your child to attend your local school.


📚 When is the SDUSD Choice Window Deadline?

For the 2022 School Year, the Choice Program Application Window is: October 4 - November 15, 2021

The Choice Window opens up every October-November of the year BEFORE your intended grade level. (See above for age cut-offs.)

It does not matter when you apply, as long as it's anytime before the deadline. Submitting it earlier in this window does not give you any advantage.

--> FAQ'S

However, LATE APPLICATIONS will still be accepted up until the Friday before the beginning of the new school year and are processed after the lottery in time/date order of receipt.


If you move into the district during the school year, you can call the school directly that you're interested in to ask them if they have space for your child. If they do, then you can be accepted into that school.

SIBLINGS of an already enrolled child are also not guaranteed, but they do get a priority. In my conversations, it seems a younger sibling has always gotten into their older sibling's Choice school.


If you left a Choiced-in school due to Covid reasons, your child will have PRIORITY to return to their previous Choice school. Applications submitted during the Choice Window will have "move/continue" priority for Covid-related school drops from the previous year. Acceptance will still be based on a space available basis.

Submit your SDUSD Choice Application: CLICK HERE

(scroll down to where it says "Apply")


📚 How to Find Your Local School?

Click here for the SDUSD website School Finder

Enter your address to find out what your assigned neighborhood school is.


📚 What About Out of District Enrollment?

Students that reside out of the SDUSD boundaries, may still apply to a SDUSD school through the Choice program. If they get accepted into a Choice school, they'll need to have an IAP (Interdistrict Attendance Permit) approved and on file. You'll need to submit all documents and inquiries to this email address:


📚 What Is Considered TK, UTK 4, Kinder or Early Learning (pre K)



This is for kids who turn 3 on or before Dec. 1, but kids who turn 3 after Dec. 1 can apply after they've reached their 3rd birthday. 4 year olds can participate too.


Since this is a limited program, you should call the school of your choice to ask if they have space as soon as possible. They will tell you when to apply.


This is an early learning program for those who qualify under the following conditions:

Eligibility is determined by age, income, CPS/At Risk (caseworker documents required), Homeless (referral agency letter required), and Children with an IEP

Part Day and Extended Day options are based on different school sites, See list HERE

See MAP of Early Learning schools HERE

--> TK Transitional Kindergarten (age 4-5)


Kids must turn 5 between Sept. 2 - Dec. 2 of the same school year they intend to start


So you will apply through the Choice program the year PRIOR when the Choice Application Window opens up every Oct-Nov of the year before your child will enter TK.


This is an optional early readiness program for kids who just miss the Kindergarten age cut-off. They will learn basic school and classroom etiquette and procedures, along with age-level curriculum to prepare them for Kindergarten next year. This program is still current in most schools.


You can apply TK students through the Choice Program, but not all schools have TK. Some schools offer part-time TK, while others have full-day TK. You should take note of which schools have a separate TK classroom, while some schools combine TK with Kindergarten.

See list of TK elementary schools HERE

Some K-8 schools offer TK HERE

--> TK 4 Universal Transitional Kindergarten (age 4)


Kids must turn 4 by Sept. 1 of the same school year they intend to start


Since this is a limited pilot program, you must call the school of your choice to ask if they have space as soon as possible. They will tell you when to apply.


In 2021, the State of California approved "Universal Transitional Kindergarten" for ALL 4 year olds who turn 4 by Sept. 1st. This will be rolled out to all schools by 2025, but San Diego Unified is offering a pilot program in 54 of their schools. This program combines a TK and a Preschool teacher for both play-based learning, while teaching the basics of school behavior. (Read this Union-Tribune article for more details.)


For now, not ALL 4 year olds will get in because these spots fill up quickly! There are space capacities of this early Pilot Program, but as more 4 year olds apply, they may consider opening up more classrooms under this Pilot Program.

You should first call the school(s) you're interested in to ask if they offer the program and if they have space available to apply. Not all schools offer this right now and those that do offer it might be full already due to the high interest.

See the current Pilot Program full list of TK 4 schools HERE

See MAP of TK 4 schools HERE


📚 How to Decide Which School is Best?

There are several factors to consider when trying to figure out which school is "best" for your kids. You can start with the School Ratings, take a School Tour, consider the school's features, what are your own family dynamics & values and just ask around from your neighbors to your friends to the chatty grocery store clerk.

I'll provide some helpful considerations below to start your list. You may want to start a small spreadsheet to keep track, or is that just me?! lol

TIP: You'll want to do this same process for Charter Schools too, but since most of their deadlines are generally Dec-Jan, you should just first focus your time and energy right now on SDUSD schools before the deadline.


--> List of all Elementary Schools (K-5)

--> List of K-8 Schools

--> List of Middle Schools

--> List of High Schools

--> List of Charter Schools

(you can apply directly to non-San Diego Charter Schools, but that are licensed to serve students in California and most have local school sties in San Diego - this list is broken down by in-person charters and independent study/homeschool charters)

--> Where to Find SCHOOL RATINGS:

Here are some of the more popular School Rating 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 ratings.

Great Schools: click here

School Grades: click here

School Digger: click here

Voice of San Diego: Parent's Guide To Schools

--> What are some of the SCHOOL'S FEATURES:

These are just some things to consider, but definitely add-in other factors to your own list that are important to you and write in the answers to compare your top schools.

  • Each school has different start/end times so compare it to your work schedule for pick-up ad drop-off. If you get accepted into a Choiced school you'll have to provide your own transportation.

  • Find a school that's close by in case they call you to come pick up your child; and obviously for pick-up and drop-off since you'll be driving to/from there twice a day. Sometimes three if they forget their class project. ;) Or is it close to a grandparents or sitter's house so it's not too far away for them to drive? Should it be near frequent medical appointments or grocery stores or shops for other errands?

  • School year calendars should all be the same since they retired the year-round schedule before 2021.

  • Each school has different extracurricular programs that are offered, either before, during or after school. (Ask about these on your tours.)

  • If you need before & after school care programs, are they offered when you need them (some just have before or after, some have both), who runs them, are they free or for a fee?

  • I know you're barely figuring out kindergarten, but you may want to find out what "feeder schools" your chosen elementary school will feed into for middle & high schools.

  • Look up the school motto (yes this matters!). You'll be surprised how much it will tell you about the school. Is that what you want your child to value too?

  • Does the school have a general focus like for Magnet Schools, Charter Schools, STEAM/STEM, "Project Lead the Way", foreign language, community service or others. (Ask about this on your tours.)

  • Your child may not yet be showing signs of genius or interest level at age 4, but if there are certain school programs that are important to you, then consider the different "Magnet Schools" and "Charter Schools" (click each for more info about them).

--> How to Take a SCHOOL TOUR:


Only some schools offer tours during this "Choice Window" period; once the Choice dates are over so are the tours. They're usually scheduled and very few are by appointment only. I missed some tour dates for one school and they set up a private tour by appointment with me so it doesn't hurt to ask.

  1. Narrow down your top 10 schools that you're interested in

  2. Call each of the schools to find out when they offer tours

  3. Attend the tours, ask questions and write things down so you don't get them mixed up

NOTE: Some schools allow kids & siblings to attend these tours, but get this...some don't allow kids at all! I get it, so you can focus on the tour. But there were some schools I had to cross off my list just because I didn't have a sitter during that time.

TIP: Put any younger kids in a baby carrier or preferably strapped into a stroller with some distractions so you can focus on what the tour is saying. (Some tours would be difficult with a double-wide stroller because aisles, hallways and doorways can be narrow at schools.)


📚 How To Apply

Once you have your top 1-3 schools, enter them on the Choice Application.

Submit your SDUSD Choice Application: CLICK HERE

(scroll down to where it says "Apply")


📚 When Will I Find Out?

The waiting really IS the hardest part right now. The Choice lottery will be conducted in mid-February when 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 selected).

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. Check. Your. Email. Everyday. (Even your Spam emails too!!) You do not want to miss this important email. You'll only have a few days to accept, before they move onto to someone else...eek!

If you don't get an email from the school, stay patient. You can call the school once or twice if it'll help calm your nerves, but they'll tell you the same thing...keep waiting.


📚 We Got In! Now What?!

Act Quickly! They will only give you a VERY SHORT timeframe to accept their offer. Oh, and CONGRATULATIONS! But you can't relax just yet. Typically you'll only have maybe 1-3 days to CONFIRM ACCEPTANCE. Do not forget to confirm acceptance.

After you confirm, you'll usually have another deadline to get your REGISTRATION DOCUMENTS in. These are things like proof of residence with a utility bill, mortgage or lease agreement; immunization records; physician statement, etc.

I never got an email asking for these and I just happened to call on the last day they were due! So, call and ask when this due date is. If you don't register your child, you'll lose your 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 (usually Wednesdays, sometimes Thursdays), etc.


📚 We Didn't Get In...Now What?!

Don't fret! There may still be a chance. 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, military families get last minute orders 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.

In the meantime, you should've applied to several Charter Schools and should hear back from them around this same time. If you get accepted into a Charter School before you hear anything about your SDUSD Choice lottery application, you can still accept your Charter School selection. Move forward with registering and if you get into another Charter School you like better or if you get into a Choiced school, you can always cancel out your acceptance and move forward with the other school.

If you didn't get in to any SDUSD Choice school or Charter School, then you'll need to register your child at your local assigned school. You can do this anytime, even a week before school starts if you want to keep waiting and holding out. Just know that your local school can't assign teachers until they have your registration information completed. And school staff is usually on Summer Break from a few days after school ends until mid-August.



This can be a stressful time, but everything always works out how it's supposed to in the end. And if you don't like how things turned out, even if you don't like your Choiced school or the Charter can withdraw from that accepted school and enroll your child in your local assigned school anytime. And you can even try again next year and choice your child in as a 1st grader or even as as 4th grader.

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 previously, LOL. I'm always happy to help answer any questions if I can so feel free to reach out and drop me a line.



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

  • Global Citizenship/PAIDEIA School

  • International Baccalaureate Studies

  • Language Enrichment & Language Continuity

  • MicroSociety

  • Paideia & Language Immersion

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

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics)

  • VAPA (Visual & Performing Arts)

Some TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS that are not "Magnets", can have their own area of focus. For example, Athletics, Arts & Culture, Service Learning, etc. For the full list of all "Theme" schools CLICK HERE

For more info, contact the Office of School Innovations

Phone: 619-725-7158

In Person (NOT AVAILABLE THIS YEAR): 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 their own individual random lottery (separate application than the SDUSD Choice 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


originally published 10/20/2019

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