Camping Out for Kindergarten

District's booming enrollment making it hard to get into neighborhood schools

By Kris Sanchez
|  Monday, Mar 1, 2010  |  Updated 10:55 AM PDT
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Camping Out for Kindergarten

NBC Bay Area

Parents eager to get their kids into kindergarten slept in the cold on the Peninsula this weekend.

At noon on Saturday, Don Gurskis of Belmont pulled out his sleeping bag and tent and got ready to camp for the weekend. His campsite? Central Elementary School, the school where he wants his 4-and-a-half year old son, Aidan, to be in kindergarten next year. There are only about 30 spots open to kids who don't have a sibling already a student there.

"You think people do this for special schools, private schools, but this is the market, " Gurskis told NBC Bay Area this morning, "It's the number of spaces for the number of kids that want to come in. You don't want to take the risk."

The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District is the reason Gurskis and his wife moved to the area. Gurskis says it would be a shame to pay the higher price for a home in Belmont and higher taxes and not benefit when it's time to go to school. When he arrived at the school on Saturday afternoon, he wasn't the first parent in line.

"I was assuming there would be a line but not three days before to get into school," said mother Lyudmila Khrolova. She arrived to wait in line Sunday night at 9 p.m. "It's too bad we have to do all of this to get kids into school, so it's kind of sad."

The problem is that the Belmont-Redwood Shores District has 2,900 students now and is expected to grow by about 500 more students in the next few years. Though the district is considering asking voters to pass a bond measure to pay for more school construction, the earliest that could happen would be in November.

One parent not waiting in line was Clarissa Naftziger. Her son Alex, who will be a kindergartener next year, was guaranteed a spot because his older brother, James, is already a student at Central.

What these parents are doing today, Naftziger did last year. She says it's unfortunate that people camp out, but that it's worth it. "All the schools in the district are fantastic, but there's something to be said about a neighborhood school. We walk to school every day, " she said, "This is a fantastic, fantastic community."

Central Elementary School principal Cori McKenzie discourages parents from camping out, but she can not forbid it. If the district goes to a lottery system, it would put an end to the campus campouts. The upside though, is seeing how committed these parents are to their children and their neighborhood schools. "They're a huge reason why this is a great school. You can see their investment in their kids," McKenzie said.

When the principal opened the door at 7 a.m. Monday to start processing the hopeful parents after 40 hours in the cold, Gurskis was called sixth. As long as his paperwork is in order, Aidan will be a kindergartener at Central in the fall. And the bonus? Now his 1-1/2 year old twin brothers, Orion and Aeron, are virtually guaranteed the same thing when the time comes for them to go to school.

"Of all the things you're going to do for your kids, this is education, " Gurskis said, "What's more important that?"

NBC Bay Area's Kris Sanchez is impressed with the commitment to education, but a little queasy about the prospect of getting her kids into the right school in a year.

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