• Home
  • Blog
  • Elementary School Applications: Where Do I Start?

Elementary School Applications: Where Do I Start?

11/19/2022 1:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

It feels like just yesterday my 2018 baby was born and kindergarten was many years in the future - how is it possible that he will be starting elementary school next fall?! But here I am, starting the process of researching schools in hopes of making the right decision for my son and my family. When it comes to public schools in Petaluma, the consensus I hear from parents is that all the schools are great. But the decision-making process can feel overwhelming for many of us. So this is my attempt at summarizing and simplifying that process for you, based on what I’ve learned from parents and school staff here in town. Please note: this post will focus on public elementary schools in Petaluma and the immediate surrounding areas.

Before I get into the details related to researching, applying, and making a decision about schools, I want to point out that there is definitely a case to be made for sending your child to their assigned neighborhood school. If all the schools are generally considered “great,” why not keep the process simple and go to a school that is conveniently located, allowing for neighborhood friends and a local feeling of community? If that works for you and your family, it will save you a lot of time and energy! The school or district website will have information on info nights, tours, and application processes/deadlines. 

But for many parents, there may be a number of reasons why you decide to “shop around.” Petaluma allows for school choice, so depending on the available spots at a school, anyone can enroll. Some schools fill up with their neighborhood students and don’t have room for “intradistrict” (same district but transferring to a different neighborhood school) or “interdistrict” (outside of your assigned district) transfers. But many schools accept students from other districts, and even students living outside of Petaluma.


There are 21 public elementary schools in Petaluma (including surrounding feeder districts). Some of these schools are in a school district that contains multiple schools, while many are single-school school districts, especially in the rural parts of Petaluma. There are also many charter schools which may use the same application as the rest of the district, or they may have their own application/lottery system. You need to fill out one application for each district to which you are applying (with the exceptions of Live Oak and River, which each have their own applications/lottery deadlines). Please check with each school/district to verify the application process. Here is a list of school districts and schools in and around Petaluma:

TK/Kindergarten Eligibility

For the 2022-23 school year, kids turning five before September 2nd were eligible to start kindergarten in the “fall” (aka July/August) of 2022. Those who turned five after that deadline may have qualified for transitional kindergarten (TK) depending on their birthday and the number of openings at a particular school. The bill SB 130 passed in California last summer, stating that by the 2025-26 school year, all 4-year-olds in the state will be eligible for universal TK. This program is slowly being rolled out, which is why every public school in Petaluma now offers a TK program, and the age cutoff dates are gradually getting later (i.e. kids are getting accepted at a younger age). For the 2022-23 school year we saw TK age cutoff dates ranging from turning five by early December all the way up to June of 2023 (most cutoffs fell in early February-April). If your child misses the TK cutoff but you have your heart set on them attending TK, I recommend contacting the school to see if they have a waitlist for younger kids that may be accepted based on availability (many did for 2022-23). 

Be sure to check with each individual school/school district for exact TK eligibility cutoff dates. Using last year as a guide, a child would likely qualify for starting kindergarten in fall 2023 if they were born before September 2, 2018. If they were born after that, they may qualify to enroll in TK in fall 2023 (and then kindergarten in fall 2024) if they were born some time between September 2, 2018 and spring of 2019, depending on the school. If your child does qualify for TK, you may still determine that preschool or a different childcare option is the right fit for them - again, it depends on the needs of your child and family!

Factors to Consider When Choosing a School

Choosing a school is an incredibly personal decision and will vary greatly based on the needs of your child and family. Regardless of where you live in Petaluma, you do not have to go to your neighborhood school if you would prefer to attend a different one. Here are some common considerations I have heard from local parents:

  • Location: do you want your child to walk or bike to school? Is it important to meet neighborhood friends and develop community in your neighborhood? Or do you have more flexibility and time to drive across town? If you choose a school further away, you may want to map out your route and drive it during peak pickup and dropoff hours to get a feel for traffic. Consider investigating the length of car dropoff lines and/or parking limitations.

  • Aftercare: if you will be relying on before-care and/or aftercare, you may want to factor this into your decision-making process as well. Most schools will list the aftercare hours and costs on their website. Costs of aftercare vary widely. Some schools have grants that dramatically reduce the cost of aftercare (McDowell, McKinley, Miwok, and La Tercera all have reduced rates). Some aftercare programs are very impacted and have waitlists for new students. Ask the school and reach out to current parents to learn more about aftercare and have a backup plan if they tend to fill up. It's also good practice to always fill out whatever forms the school gives you at the time of enrollment, as you may be eligible for programs and not know it! Some of the school districts also offer extended care and programming over school holiday breaks or extra care days for an added fee.

  • Traditional vs Year-Round Calendar: while most of the schools in Petaluma follow a Traditional calendar, three operate Year-Round (shorter summer break, more frequent/longer breaks at other times of the year). The following schools have Year-Round school calendars: 

    • MCCV

    • Penngrove

    • River Montessori

  • Curriculum/Focus/Teaching Philosophy: several of the elementary schools in Petaluma have a specific curriculum focus or teaching philosophy that sets them apart from other schools. Some examples are listed below (please note: this information was obtained from the school websites; this is not an exhaustive list): 

    • MCCV: project-based learning, multi-age classes, performing arts

    • Cinnabar: STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics)

    • La Tercera: STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)

    • Live Oak Charter: Waldorf-inspired

    • Loma Vista Immersion Academy: Spanish language immersion

    • McDowell: Spanish dual language immersion (the 2023-24 school year will be K-3, with plans to continue to grow the program through grade 12 within the District).

    • McKinley: project-based learning, Spanish language, STEAM focus, accelerated learning (grades 4-6)

    • Old Adobe Elementary: arts & ecology focus, school-wide edible garden

    • Penngrove: STEM

    • River Montessori: Montessori philosophy, multi-age classes

    • Sonoma Mountain Elementary: fine arts focus (visual/performing arts)

    • Valley Vista: International Baccalaureate Candidate Program, Spanish language

  • TK-6 vs TK-8: some of the elementary schools include a middle school or junior high on campus, while others max out at sixth grade. There are pros and cons to having a middle school on campus. On the one hand, it allows kids to have fewer school/campus transitions, they are in a smaller school environment, and it might make drop-offs easier for families with multiple kids. On the other hand, the larger junior high schools in Petaluma (Petaluma and Kenilworth Junior High) may offer more extracurricular activities, a more diverse student body, and a smoother social transition to high school. It’s also an option to attend one of the TK-8 schools for elementary school, but transfer to one of the larger junior highs in 7th grade. Petaluma Accelerated Charter School (PACS) is a small junior high located on the McKinley Elementary school campus; attendance of McKinley for elementary grants some priority for acceptance to PACS (though not guaranteed). Elementary schools with a junior high on campus are:

    • MCCV

    • Cinnabar

    • Live Oak

    • *McKinley is TK-6, but students have priority enrollment at PACS

  • Resources for Children with Disabilities: if your child has a disability or needs an Individualized Education Program (IEP), reach out to schools directly to determine whether a particular school can meet the needs of your child in a manner that works best for your family. Talk to other parents if possible, as these discussions can be personal and private and may be shared less in public forums like Facebook groups. Remember that you do have the option of posting anonymously in your PMC Playgroup Facebook group to ask personal questions like this.

  • Parent Involvement/Community: parent involvement can make a big difference in your child's school experience. A school/district's parent teacher organization (PTO) helps to enrich and support what the school can offer as far as education and extracurricular activities. It's also a great way to meet and connect with other parents. Or perhaps you're not looking to take on an official role, but you'd like to make new parent friends and find community through your child's school. Talking to parents of current students is likely the best way to get a feel for parent involvement and the overall "vibe" of the parent community at a particular school.

Info Nights & Tours

Some of the elementary schools hold TK/K info nights for prospective parents (typically scheduled in December). In recent years these have been offered virtually, but it appears most have returned to in-person this year. Most schools offer school tours, either scheduled or by request. Check out the individual schools’ websites and Facebook pages for more info. 


Here is a general timeline for the fall/winter prior to the start of the school year:

  • October/November: make a list of the schools you want to tour/learn more about. Check out the PMC Elementary School Guide, talk to other parents, post questions in your PMC playgroup or other local Facebook groups (Petaluma Hive Sourcing on Schools is a good one). Think about what’s important to you: location/commute, school focus/philosophy, teaching style, school calendar (Traditional vs. Year-Round), ages/grades offered (TK-6 vs TK-8), the school’s ability to address students with disabilities or an IEP, aftercare program/cost, etc.

  • December-February: book school tours and/or information nights. **On December 19, 2022 from 7:30-8:30pm, PMC has partnered with Petaluma City Schools to host a special virtual information night on the TK/K enrollment process. Event info, Zoom link, and ability to add to your calendar can be found here: Petaluma City Schools TK/K Virtual Information Night.

  • January-March: apply to schools (check school websites for application deadlines - typically late February/early March).

  • Late March: this is usually when people start getting notified which school(s) their child has been accepted to for the “fall” school year start (which starts in July or August). **Once you make a decision regarding which school your child will attend and notify that school, it is recommended that you promptly tell any other schools to which your child was accepted that they will not be attending, as a courtesy to other parents eagerly waiting for a spot to open up for their child.

Lastly, I think it's important to remember that one can't truly know whether a school is the right fit for one's child until they attend. You may discover things about the school that don't work for you or your family, or maybe a new need arises for your child that can't be met by the school you chose. It's okay to transfer to a new school in the future if you find that there may be a better fit somewhere else. 

Happy school researching!

Laura Disharoon,

PMC Board President, 2022-2023

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software