Having been in conversation with the community for more than a year and actively researching ways to meet concerns and opportunities for the better part of 2023, I am able now to report on CAIS’s strategy for addressing student transportation to 19th Avenue beginning in September 2024. If this is an issue that may impact you, I recommend that you read through this entire communication carefully, as the issues are large and complex. Knowing that this a substantial amount of material, please see the table of contents for this message to link to the sections that most interest you. If you have questions after reading this material, please use the link below to share with us.
- Goals, Assumptions, and Parameters
- Hopes and Expectations of the Community
- Three-Pronged Strategy
- Next Steps
Honoring Our Obligation to Current Families
With the exception of families that joined CAIS in August of this year, all other CAIS families enrolled with the assumption that school would be in Hayes Valley. You figured out your children’s transportation issues according to that assumption. Now, with the move to our new, 5.4-acre campus that is 5-plus miles to the southwest, some families must contend with a more challenging transportation situation for their children. In the grand scheme of things, the Board of Trustees’ bold move to acquire and renovate the 19th Avenue campus is without a doubt the most important and positive development in the 42-year history of our school. And for some of you, the transportation challenges make it somewhat bittersweet, at least in the short run. We are committed at CAIS to do what we are reasonably able to do in order to mitigate some of the inconveniences that the move will cause for families who signed up for school in Hayes Valley.
Review of Work over the Past Half Year
When we announced the acquisition of the new campus in early April 2021, the questions I received most frequently were about transportation. Accordingly, last spring we held a series of well-attended town hall-style Zoom meetings with CAIS families. At those meetings I listened to specific concerns and suggestions and talked about some of the potential solutions that we had been exploring with the school. This was followed by a survey that provided us with actionable data on families’ needs, preferences, locations, ages of children, etc. The analysis of the data has provided focus as we consider potential transportation solutions that are realistic. Additionally, I have had countless conversations with individual families about their particular situations.
Goals, Parameters, and Assumptions
Our primary goals in addressing the student transportation issues posed by the new campus location are:
- Enable CAIS families to remain in our community
- Present basic commitments early enough in Fall 2023 so that families can commit to making CAIS work in September 2024.
Our potential transportation solutions have been developed within the following parameters:
- Student transportation will be provided on a fee-for-service basis with allowances for families paying adjusted tuition.
- We recognize that parents need to come from and travel to many different places in order to get their kids to and from school safely and on time. However, CAIS is only able to account systematically for the time and distance students travel to and from school.
- Families are currently able to get their children to and from school safely in Hayes Valley; our focus is on assisting those families for whom the new location will make transportation significantly more difficult.
- We will learn, make changes, and improve as time goes on; serving the community in a realistic and appropriate way will require time and patience.
Finally, in developing potential transportation solutions, we are operating under the following assumptions:
- Any transportation solutions that the school supports will serve largely to retain and not attract families. In the future, most families will factor location and transportation into their school application choices.
- Some CAIS families may choose to find other schools owing to transportation challenges.
Hopes and Expectations for Our Community
In my 13-plus years at CAIS, our parent community has always been quick to help out each other and to support the school. This spirit is on display on a daily basis at drop off and pick up as groups of kids from multiple families hop in and out of cars together on Waller, Hickory, Fell, and Turk Streets as well as the gymnasium at 19th Avenue. The drivers are parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and professional caregivers, many helping out other families to transport their children around the city. I recall a group of families who, prior to the pandemic, organized their middle schoolers to meet at 30th & Church Streets and ride the J Muni together to school. It is my hope that in addition to the school’s best efforts to assist families with transportation, that CAIS parents will remain as creative, resourceful, and community-minded as they have always been and contribute to the solution by helping to transport each other’s kids to and from school.
CAIS is committed to providing assistance to current families according to the three part strategy outlined below:
For the 2024-25 school year, CAIS is committed to piloting a morning, afternoon, and late bus route. It will run east-west through Russian Hill/Nob Hill and Pacific Heights, to the south side of Presidio, and then head north-south through Golden Gate Park and down to the CAIS 19th Avenue campus. The specific route still needs to be worked out with the bus vendor with whom we would work, and we will learn and make corrections as we go. However, families who are able to deliver and pick up their children at a location in Russian Hill/Nob Hill or The Presidio will have a bus option. Busing will be provided on a fee-for-service basis, with accommodations for adjusted tuition.
Chaperoned Public Transportation
CAIS has utilized public transportation in the past for field trips with staff and family chaperones to supervise groups of students. We are committed to a chaperoned public transportation solution for student transportation to and from school. Both the M and K light rail lines run directly to the front and back of the 19th Avenue campus respectively, and the walk to school from stations at the Eucalyptus Right-of-Way (M) and Junipero Serra & Ocean (K) stations is less than two minutes. Present thinking is that paid staff would meet groups of students above ground at Embarcadero and Church & Market Muni stations and accompany them on rides to the 19th Avenue campus. After school the same process would be followed in reverse. This solution is economical; staffing costs are manageable, and students ride Muni for free. The average trip time during drop off and dismissal times is 15 minutes between Church Street and campus and 25 minutes between Embarcadero and campus, which is shorter than the drive time between those locations. This mode of transportation is sustainable, environmentally sound, and can accommodate varying numbers of students without major cost impacts to the school. It will also develop a sense of independence, self-confidence and civic mindedness among students. The school would of course take measures to ensure safety and accountability for all students.
Of the parents who responded to our survey about public transportation, fully 70% indicated a willingness to consider a public transportation option. Of the 30% who were reluctant to consider public transportation the main factors were:
- No good public transportation options near their homes (i.e., far away from the M and K lines)
- The age of their children (i.e., too young)
- A general discomfort with public transportation
Also of those 30% who were reluctant to consider public transportation
- One-third live closer to the 19th Avenue campus than our current Hayes Valley campuses (i.e., the new commute will be shorter)
- More than one-quarter live somewhere without a viable Muni option
As a parent myself, I understand the reluctance to have children riding Muni. As a career educator, I also see the benefits of allowing kids a level of independence and responsibility that used to be more common than it is today. For those families who are interested in examining this tension, I recommend an opinion piece in the New York Times entitled “This Simple Fix Could Help Anxious Kids”.
For those families who are able to deliver and pick up their children at assigned Muni Stations, this is the transportation solution that CAIS is most confident in and supportive of. We hope that parents will seriously consider it.
CAIS parents already do a great deal on their own with organizing carpools. I have spoken with many CAIS parents whose children’s carpool arrangements are organized in spreadsheets. I hope and suspect that this level of collaboration and problem solving will continue, and the school can support this by providing information to parents such as searchable databases, opt-in email groups organized by geography, and third party apps. Ultimately I believe these efforts will develop organically according to need, and the school is committed to supporting this in any way we can.
Determining Participation for Busing
In order for CAIS to secure a bus with seat belts and a driver, we will need to have relatively firm commitments from families within the next several weeks. A survey gauging commitment will be coming shortly, accompanied by as much detail as we are realistically able to determine. There are variables over which we have no control, such as the amount of time required to travel from Russian Hill/Nob Hill to the 19th Avenue campus, and the length of time that families are willing to have their children sitting on a school bus each day. For those families who might consider this bus route, I would suggest you track commute times via Google Maps and reflect on what it would entail for your child(ren) and family. Be ready to provide your answers about your likeness to take advantage of bus transportation in 2024-25.
Recommended for All Families
If you are relatively close to the Market & Church or Embarcadero Muni stations, but you are not sure you feel comfortable with the idea of having your child ride Muni, I would suggest you take your child for a ride on the M or K light rail line. Muni has recently added many new train cars; I ride the Muni light rail all the time, and the experience is pleasant. Also, consider reading the New York Times piece suggested above. As I mentioned, I am very positive and optimistic about our school taking advantage of public transportation as an economical, environmentally sound, and civic-minded solution to student transportation.
If your family is likely to drive to school at 19th Avenue, I suggest you track commuting time in the morning and afternoon from your home to either 3250 19th Avenue or 440 Junipero Serra Boulevard. I have done extensive traffic mapping over the last several months, and I’ve found that drive times are often shorter than the times parents have quoted to me. Equip yourself with real data as you think through your children’s transportation next year.