School Boundary Changes – It Can Happen

LAUSD RSI Map Shopping for a new home? Want to make sure you land in the right school footprint?

This is the time of year where there is a lot of real estate movement as families relocate in advance of the coming school year.

But before you commit to a new lease or escrow, make sure you double check the address by plugging it into the LAUSD Resident School Identifier to verify which specific elementary, middle, and high school it is assigned to. Realtors are not always accurate. You don’t want to buy on the wrong side of the street. And it’s true, from time to time, school boundaries do change. Just because you can “see” that lovely school down the road, doesn’t necessarily mean you automatically get to “attend” it.

First, let’s get the lingo right. Every local neighborhood school has a designated zone around it which admits area residents who reside within that boundary. Sometimes this “zone” is also called an “attendance area,” “footprint” or “encatchment.” To confuse parents even further, some folks also refer to this school boundary as a “district” or “local district” which in my opinion is an unfortunate choice of wording that only tends to confound parents even more in an already confounding arena of uncertainty and cloudiness.

The use of the word “District,” in my opinion, should be reserved for allocating which “school district” as in which city we are talking about, such as Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), or Santa Monica-Malibu United School District (SMMUSD) or Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) or Las Virgenes Unified School District (LVUSD)…you get my drift. These are actual municipalities with their own collective of schools, governed and overseen by their own Local Education Agency (LEA), aka School District.

Because LAUSD is so large (2nd largest school district in the country under New York City), it is also organized by it’s own internal collection of “local districts” also known as Educational Service Centers divided geographically (ESC West, ESC North – which will be splitting into ESC NE and NW next year, ESC South and ESC East), so you see where the language, specifically the term “district” or “local district” can certainly get confusing.

(Magnets and charters and other types of school options do not typically come with attendance areas, so you will never be zoned to a magnet school or an indie charter. Caveat: there are exceptions to that last statement. But let’s press on. We’re talking about our local NEIGHBORHOOD schools. And their attendance areas. And more importantly, Boundary Changes.)

You should also know that occasionally local attendance areas can (and do) change.

Why? When the District determines they need to better balance enrollment in a specific area, they may move certain boundary lines to alleviate overcrowding in one school and fill available space in another nearby school.

Boundary changes, while infrequent in stable neighborhoods, can happen in response to shifts in demographics, population growth, urban development – think new high-rise multiple unit condo developments, the opening (or shuttering) of schools, and frankly what we’re seeing the most of – families that are either cramming into certain “hot” neighborhoods in order to attend the local “halo” school, opting out of certain “undesirable” neighborhood schools, or just generally being priced out of certain areas thereby prohibiting new families with young school-aged children from moving into the area. All of these neighborhood fluctuations – whether growing or declining – impact local school enrollments. Changing neighborhoods, changes in school performance and reputation, shifts in affordable real estate, not to mention the growing menu of school options that are NOT neighborhood schools (magnets, charters, language immersions, specialized academies), all directly impact neighborhood school enrollment.

Ivanhoe changesRecent population explosions in areas such as Carpenter and Colfax Elementary in Studio City, Ivanhoe Elementary on the Eastside, and the current debate raging at Westwood Charter Elementary in WLA (here and here) have angered residents who thought they had paid a premium just to live within a school’s footprint, only to find out that boundaries had or will likely change to accommodate the incoming swell of students. Conversely, while Santa Monica High School is at capacity, many of the Santa Monica elementary schools are actually under-enrolled due to the prohibitively high cost of buying even a condo, let alone a single-family starter home in that coveted Westside area.

Is there a way to avoid a local boundary change? Generally, this is out of parents’ domain and is determined by the Facilities Division of the local school district. If you are looking into real estate in order to attend a specific local school, my advice would be to land well within the center of the area, not on the periphery or outskirts of the attendance area. (Hard to predict, I know.)

If my local school boundary changes, is there a choice? It depends. In most cases, certain blocks along a perimeter will be re-assigned. Sometimes they will offer a phase-in reassignment for only the incoming new Kinders, then K-1 the following year, etc, until the phase-in is complete. Sometimes there will be a hard cut-off in the next year and all incoming new students of all grades will be impacted by the new boundaries. Younger siblings of existing students may also be impacted but will try to be accommodated on a space-available basis.

How do I know if my school boundary has changed? Check this LIST. If you’re not on the list, you are fine. If your school is on the list, click the link for more details.

The list is good for the upcoming school year. The new calendar year begins July 1st.

LAUSD Resident School Finder
The List of 2015-16 Boundary Changes

Further reading:
Enrolling My Child In School – What I Need To Know

For HELP with school placement:
That’s what I’m here for.
PhoneIn-Home Consults 

Scores, Schmores, What’s Your School’s API Score?


One of the first things parents do when checking out a school is to look up its score – that almighty 3-digit API score, which stands for Academic Performance Index, as well as the 1 through 10 Similar Schools Ranking.

As if a school with it’s ever-changing community of personalities, programs and special projects can be reduced down to a simple number.

A number so almighty though, that in terms of real estate and parent frenzy, folks have gone to extreme lengths to get into the right public school. It’s not uncommon for a crazy number of offers (24! 31!) to be thrown at a tear-down house in one of those buzz-driven  “halo” (read: high-performing) neighborhood school footprints.

We’ve had realtors knocking on doors on a weekly basis asking, “are you thinking of selling?,” “are you looking to relocate?” due to low inventory in high-performing areas.

I’ve heard of families willing to rent out an 800 square foot 1 BR  just to get into a specific school’s attendance area. And let us not forget the 120+ address scammers who fudged their way into the high scoring (and highly regarded) Carpenter Elementary school, who were recently booted off the campus so that actual residents could send their kids to their own neighborhood school.

Parents come up to me and say, “Tanya, I looked up our home school and it’s a 6, it’s a 7 (makes long face) and we only want to send our kid to a 10, maybe a 9 school (making hopeful face).”

So, do scores matter?

I sat down with realtor and Beyond The Crib blogger Sara Reichling to share some insight into what all those scores mean. Check out her post, What’s Your API Score?


In addition to Sara’s post, here are a few points to consider:

Our Governor has suspended testing (and thus its results) for 2 years while we transition to the nationally standardized Common Core testing, so the scores you are looking at are now old.

They are the results of the multiple choice “bubble in the scantron” California Standardized Testing, which for elementary school only tests English and Math, with a little bit of 5th grade Science.

In elementary school, only 2nd through 5th graders take the tests. So those students whose results you are looking at have mostly graduated off by now. Same for middle schools.

Scores tell you absolutely nothing about the style and approach to teaching and learning, let alone what else (besides English and Math) the students are doing, and how they are doing it. Nor does it tell you what types of supports and/or additional challenge it offers for those who might fall above or below the middle.

With so much national pressure being put on scores, it is no wonder that curriculum has narrowed, redundant test prep is paramount, and cheating scandals have, sadly, become rampant.

An API score of 800 or above means the school has met its target and the majority of students are testing at or above grade level standards.

A 900+ school is not necessarily better than an 800+ school.

The 1 through 10 ranking is also based on test scores, then compared to schools with similar racial/socio-economic and other demographics. A 7 school is not necessarily worse than a 9 school. (And I personally have known families who have left a 10 school if it wasn’t the right environment.)

I hope that ALL students who attend school will learn how to read, write and calculate math, but my hope is that our schools will provide so much more than those basics.

And it bears repeating, a school is only as good as its collective of inhabitants – which is constantly shifting. So, please don’t accept or reject a school solely on its score. Please look deeper than that.

For more on API scores, check out one of my archived articles HERE.
To browse school scores in detail, see the CDE website HERE.
If you need help finding the right school for your family, I can help with that. HERE.