The San Diego County Office of Education is in charge of education and schools in San Diego County, providing services to 42 school districts. These districts provide educational programmes for more than 750 public elementary, middle and high schools. There's also a wide selection of private schools in San Diego. Public schools are free to attend but private and international schools usually charge hefty fees.
Public schools in San Diego
Schooling in San Diego operates according to catchment areas. While children are automatically eligible to attend the school within their zoned area, it's also possible to apply at a school outside of this area through the School Choice Program.
Generally speaking, the top schools in San Diego are in the most affluent areas. Even these vary in quality and the best way to be sure is to see the school and its staff in person.
Non-English-speaking expats have the option of sending their child to one of the city's dual-language immersion public schools. Most are Spanish, but there are also schools offering German, Mandarin and French.
Magnet schools are government-funded schools that offer a specialised focus on one or several subjects, which is a good option for expats with children who show promise in a specific area of their education. There is a wide range of options from schools with a strong emphasis on maths and science, to those specialising in the performance arts. Some magnet schools require an audition but placement is largely via lottery.
Charter schools operate on a performance-based contract with the government. In most cases, this means that charter schools can generally be counted on to offer a good standard of education. They have a greater degree of freedom in teaching styles and curricula than regular public schools. Some charter schools offer specialised curricula or subscribe to alternative teaching philosophies. Again, attendance is determined by a lottery.
Private schools in San Diego
Parents have access to a wealth of private schools in San Diego, with different approaches to education. While most are co-educational, some are single-sex schools. Many of San Diego's private schools offer education through a religious lens, most commonly Christian. Others favour alternative educational approaches such as Montessori.
Each school has its own admission requirements which may include application fees, tests and personal interviews. While there are no geographical restrictions on attending a private school, this also means that waiting lists are often long and there is strong competition for places at the best schools.
The academic freedom and facilities provided by these institutions do come at a price and private schools are more costly than their public and charter counterparts.
International schools in San Diego
There are very few private schools in San Diego that are specifically aimed at the expat community. Despite the rarity of San Diego international schools in the traditional sense of teaching a foreign country's curriculum, there are a number of public schools that offer the globally recognised International Baccalaureate.
For the most part, parents looking for schooling with an international element are best off opting for an International Baccalaureate or dual-immersion public school.
Homeschooling in San Diego
Homeschooling is legal in the state of California and is regarded by the government as a form of private schooling. Parents will therefore need to complete and submit the Private School Affidavit (PSA). Legally, children must receive some form of education between the ages of six and 18. The state doesn't offer specific guidance and advises parents to seek advice from non-governmental resources such as local homeschooling organisations.
Special-needs education in San Diego
The San Diego Unified School District aims to identify, locate and assess all students from birth to 21 years old that may have disabilities. Support is then provided based on an Individual Education Program (IEP), which is put together by a panel consisting of education professionals as well as the child's parents.
Depending on each child's individual needs, there are a few possibilities. A child with relatively mild special needs may be sent to a regular public school but receive additional special education services and support. There are also special day classes for moderate cases and special schools for cases where a higher level of support is required.
There are also a number of specialised private schools in San Diego that are well equipped to cater for special-needs students.
Tutors in San Diego
Tutors are a widely used resource in San Diego, especially for students approaching final exams and college applications. There are a number of reputable companies and individuals offering a range of services for various subjects and grade levels.
Expat children who are struggling to adjust to a new curriculum or who aren't studying in their home language can benefit from tutoring. Tutors can assist bilingual children in brushing up on new language skills while also maintaining mother-tongue language skills.
►For tips on the best family-friendly neighbourhoods, see Areas and Suburbs in San Diego
"The public school was walking distance from us and parents seemed mostly happy with it, though there are some who have mixed feelings about the system. Our girls weren’t in primary years yet, but the pre-primary they were in was small (and expensive!) and they loved it."
Read more about the experiences of Quinne, a South African expat who lived in San Diego for many years.
Are you an expat living in San Diego?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Diego. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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