URGENT: SFUSD schools will be closed TOMORROW Dec 11

Due to forecasts for a very strong winter storm tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 11, the Superintendent has decided to close the schools for the day. Please visit sfusd.edu for further updates.

Recap: A big crowd for Ethnic Studies

We had a large and upbeat crowd of students, teachers and other supporters of the proposal to expand the Ethnic Studies course pilot (currently at five high schools) to all 19 SFUSD high schools starting in August 2015. Students were articulate and passionate in their support of the program, telling us it was revelatory to learn about the history of groups that are sometimes left out of mainstream social studies or history textbooks. “Asian-American history is like a page and a half in some textbooks,” said one senior. “My history is so much more than a page and a half!” Student after student told us how much they love the course — and preliminary academic outcomes presented by Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero seem to bear out that 9th grade students who are members of at-risk groups and who enroll in Ethnic Studies do better in their other academic courses and have fewer unexcused absences. I was impressed by the passion and the engagement from students, and I do believe we have to think more broadly about whose history, and which history, we teach. I also read this essay recently, by a progressive education blogger I respect, and found it compelling. An excerpt:

Ethnic Studies is a path to self-understanding for students otherwise denied the histories of those who speak and look like them, but it’s also how all people can empathize across lines of race, culture, religion, ethnicity, and language and feel in our bones the deep commonalities of shared hopes, struggles, and dreams of our individual lives. Yes, empathy can be taught. Anti-racism can be learned and racism and bigotry unlearned. But first we have to set aside blinkered monocultural lenses.

It was also moving to hear the Superintendent describe his experiences as a young social studies teacher in Tucson, seeking to give his Chicano (Mexican American) students a deeper understanding of their own history and culture. “What if we taught people their own history?” he asked the Board and the public in his remarks just before the Board’s unanimous vote. Ethnic Studies will be expanded to every high school starting in 2015-16 after the Board’s vote, and this spring the Curriculum department will work to flesh out the existing curriculum and align it with the Common Core. New teachers will need to be hired and given professional development to effectively teach the course. There’s a lot of work to be done but I think this is a positive step for our district.  Here’s a panoramic picture of tonight’s crowd (thanks to Mark Murphy):    10476337_10152469609891776_7245363341865845698_o

And . . . The Board wished departing Commissioner Kim-Shree Maufas well — tonight was her last regular Board meeting. Commissioner Maufas did not run for re-election in this last cycle. Commissioner-elect Shammann Walton will be sworn in with returning Commissioners Mendoza-McDonnell and Murase at a celebration on January 6. We also approved the 2015-16 instructional calendar  and the annual report auditing the developer fees we collect to mitigate the financial impact of real estate development on the district. Finally: Stay tuned . . . I do intend to blog the meeting of the Student Assignment committee on Monday, but that will have to wait for a moment when I have more time.

Coming up: December 9 Board meeting

A few items to note on the agenda for our upcoming Dec. 9 meeting:

Ethnic Studies: In 2010, the Board voted to pilot a new Ethnic Studies course at several high schools. The course has since been offered at five high schools and has been popular with students. On Dec. 9, we will vote on a proposal authored by Commissioner Fewer that would expand our Ethic Studies offerings to all 19 high schools. Ms. Fewer originally proposed making Ethnic Studies a graduation requirement, but has since amended her proposal to say that the district should “explore ways to institutionalize its commitment to Ethnic Studies by including Ethnic Studies coursework as a requirement of graduation” within five years of the passage of her resolution. Los Angeles Unified recently approved Ethnic Studies as a graduation requirement for its students.

At the Budget Committee last week, we spent a fair amount of time analyzing the cost of the proposal, which comes to about $480,000 in the first year. The bulk of the costs will result from hiring more teachers and bringing the current content specialist up to full-time in order to develop and oversee the course. The findings from the Curriculum Committee made it clear that there is work to be done in aligning the Ethnic Studies curriculum with Common Core, and it would be beneficial to get the course qualified as meeting the A (History) requirement under the UC/CSU A-G framework. Otherwise, adding Ethnic Studies or any other new graduation requirement is very costly; it also takes up time in schedules where students are now taking electives.

Ultimately, the Budget Committee and the Curriculum Committee recommended that the Board approve the Ethnic Studies proposal.

Movies and TV in the classroom: Over two years ago I wrote a post asking parents if they thought students were being shown too many movies or television shows in the classroom. The responses, an unscientific sampling, seemed to point to yes, so I’ve been paying attention to this topic. I get complaints about this from parents on a regular basis, and have always been told that the district discourages movies being shown in the classroom and that any movie shown must relate to the standards being taught. I have not, however, been able to find any written policy on this topic. When I learned recently that my teenagers have been shown full-length Disney movies in science classes, I decided it was time to make sure we have something in writing.

I’ve submitted a proposal that will be heard for first reading on Tuesday; it will come up for a final vote of the Board sometime in late January or early February. I want to be clear that I think most teachers try to use movies and television to bring standards to life in an engaging way, and I really have no problem with excerpted material being shown to illustrate a particular concept or point. But when this content consumes an entire class period, is not age-appropriate and/or isn’t academically rigorous, I have a problem. So I thought it would be appropriate to ask the Board to clarify our beliefs on this topic, in order to help the Superintendent convey clear standards to site administrators and teachers.

Instructional calendar for 2015-16: The Board will adopt the calendar for the 2015-16 school year on Tuesday. School will start August 17, 2015 and the last day will be May 27, 2016. Old timers will remember that sometimes in the past the calendar didn’t get approved/set until spring — causing a big problem for families that were trying to make summer plans. We’ve gotten much better about this in recent years.

Updates, updates

Lots of updates, in no particular order:

Student assignment: At its December 8 meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be working on the proposal to change the order of preferences in our student assignment system. We will hear an update on the district’s analysis on the effect of the proposal, and also discuss options for adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference. The agenda, including meeting time and location (6pm in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street) is here.  As I promised last summer, the Committee is taking some time to analyze the proposal and consider alternatives before voting. At the current time, I would like to bring the proposal back for a vote of the Board in early spring, subject to any changes that might happen in the committee.

Charter schools: There have been a flurry of new applications for charter schools lately, and now we are in the midst of the annual process by which charters request space from school districts. State law says we must annually offer charter schools space appropriate to their program (e.g., a high school should have science lab and gym space; elementary schools must have adequate ground floor classrooms to accommodate K-2 students).

This week the Board got an update on the status of each of our 10 charter schools’ space requests for 2015-16. There is some good news: most of our existing charters will stay put for 2015-16 and our current and prospective students at Denman MS will be happy to hear that Leadership HS is vacating the space they currently occupy at that site and moving to a new site at 300 Seneca Ave. This has been a sore point for the Denman community, as parents were concerned about interactions between MS and HS students at the site, and Denman needed space to expand based on our increased middle school demand. It’s great news for the Leadership community, too — they will have a brand new site that is just steps from their current location.

The not-so-good news is that Mission Prep, whose charter was authorized by the State Board of Education in 2011 after the Board unanimously turned them down, has asked for space. Again, because of state law, even though the local district declined the charter, we must offer Mission Prep space that is appropriate to an elementary school program (assuming we can verify that 80 students enrolled at the school are San Francisco residents).  Similarly, One Purpose School, which we denied earlier this fall, has also indicated it will request a building if its charter is approved by the State Board in January. These requests may mean, regrettably, that one or more elementary schools will have to co-locate with a charter next year. Co-locations are challenging for everyone, and they can really adversely affect students, staff and families (note that I characterized the end of the Denman-Leadership co-location as good news). I have spent hours in Board meetings listening to emotional public comment about why a particular co-location shouldn’t happen. I’m not looking forward to hearing more this spring, and I wish that our state legislators would find the will to amend a law that forces local communities to accommodate charter schools that failed to win the support of their locally-elected school board.

Finally, I’ve been asked about the Board’s unanimous decision to deny New School of San Francisco a charter in late October. My remarks from the Board meeting are here.

Teacher salaries: On November 25, the district and UESF announced a tentative agreement on the contract negotiations we’ve been working on since last spring. If ratified, the agreement would provide a 12 percent raise over three years, as well as additional prep time for elementary school teachers and other increases. If you are a UESF member, please look for communications from your union on the opportunity to weigh in on whether to accept the agreement. Ballots are due in the UESF offices by December 11.

Inclusive schools week: The district really stepped it up this year, with huge props to the CAC for Special Education for making this effort happen. I was honored to attend the kickoff press conference at City Hall on Monday and a great inclusive schools assembly at June Jordan HS for Equity on Wednesday. Today I’ll be at one of our elementary schools at a very special event with the Mayor. I am hugely grateful to district leaders and parent advocates for making this awareness week an amazing opportunity to celebrate how far we have come. More importantly, the week is evolving into an important opportunity for all students to learn about inclusion and acceptance. I’m very proud of the work that we are finally doing.

Budget committee: On December 3 the Board’s Budget committee got a great update on the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), which is the extra layer of supports that go to schools based on a cluster analysis of their needs — everything from demographics to achievement to climate.

The question we asked was — how does the district decide how to allocate those extra resources?  The resources we saw–including a chart showing the cluster analysis and the site-based budget resource allocation guide –would go a long way to helping the public understand how the district budgets, and how schools get resources based on the needs of their students (I wish I had soft copies — I’ve requested them and will post them when I have them).

MTSS resources are different from the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), the funds that School Site Councils decide how to spend, based on the enrollment of students at the site.  MTSS funds are centrally allocated. We were told that sites get input in the allocations, but the final decision rests with the central office.

MTSS resources are provided on top of the WSF funding. In the published 2014-15 budget approved by the Board in June 2014, the district expected to put about $255 million into the WSF.  In the same budget document, the district expected to centrally allocate 401 full-time-equivalent positions through MTSS. At an average salary of $85,000, that would make the additional MTSS investment somewhere around $3.5 million.*

*Big asterisk here as the actual amount could be more because MTSS positions in 2014-15 include 18 assistant principals, who earn more than the average $85,000 in salary and benefits earned by teachers. Also be aware that if UESF’s tentative agreement with the district is ratified by its membership, average teacher salaries for this current fiscal year and the next two will also increase.

Let’s celebrate inclusive schools week!

Every year, the first week of December is Inclusive Schools Week. More than anything else, Inclusive Schools Week is about inspiring all of us to think bigger about who we are, which students our schools serve, and how we can serve every student better.

So, to help get you in the mood, here are some stories I find incredibly inspirational:

Including Samuel is a documentary made by a photojournalist whose second son, Samuel, was born with a disability. Samuel’s family believes strongly he should be included in mainstream classrooms, but they also understand the trade-offs that full inclusion can require.

Here is Samuel’s father, Dan Habib, giving a TED talk:

Harper’s Playground came to be after  Harper’s parents learned they would be parents of a child with a disability. They immediately wondered: how would they help Harper play with other children and find friends? From that, a movement toward more inclusive play spaces for children was born.

Recap: November 18 2014

Not much on the agenda tonight, but a long meeting nevertheless — followed by closed session!

Most of the Board’s time this evening was spent listening to public comment:

  • A group of parents from Mission Education Center came to tell us not to relocate students from Daniel Webster ES to their site when construction begins on that school next year. The construction will make Webster unusable for the 2015-16 school year, so the district staff is evaluating several options (none of them very popular) for housing Webster staff and students during the construction. Mission Education Center (a newcomer school that is serving large numbers of unaccompanied minors coming to S.F.) and Starr King have been two options under consideration. Last month, we heard from Starr King families that their site cannot accommodate all or part of the Webster enrollment.  Discussions continue on finding the least disruptive way to get the construction under way while continuing to provide Webster staff and students with a place to teach and learn in reasonable comfort.
  • A group of parents from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy brought us a petition signed by about 100 parents asking for something to be done to help their school move forward. There have been several years of problems, from distrust between staff and parents to faltering parent involvement, and culminating with prolonged absences in several classroom due to teacher leaves and other issues. Parents who testified to the Board tonight were invited to meet with Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and Assistant Superintendent Richard Curci (who supervises the school) , and after the meeting the administration reported that the meeting was very productive. I hope so. Leaders in the school’s Castro district neighborhood feel very strongly about supporting the school that bears Harvey Milk’s name. The neighborhood is affluent, and the student body is already very diverse. There’s no reason why this school shouldn’t be cherished by its parents, and I don’t blame the frustration of families whose children have endured weeks of classrooms with substitutes or sometimes no teacher at all. At the enrollment fair, President Fewer and I spoke with an HMCRA family who was very frustrated that their 5th grader’s classroom had been hit hard by the substitute shortage. The little girl was there and looked almost humiliated when her mother described to me that she had been placed for several days in a Kindergarten class because the class had missed a teacher. Anyway, HMCRA isn’t the only school hit by the sub shortage, but the extended leave of one teacher has meant that parents have really noticed the problem.
  • Several parents and teachers came to talk about our ongoing contract negotiations with United Educators of SF, the union that represents our teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, nurses and other certificated (non administration) staff. The negotiations have been tough and we’ve been working on them a long time. I remain very optimistic that we will come to a deal and that it will provide as much support to our valued staff as fiscally prudent.

A bittersweet part of the evening was the testimony and reading of Commissioner Haney’s “In Support of the Prevention of Gun Violence” resolution. Crafted with lots of input from students at Buena Vista Horace Mann, the resolution seeks to articulate the problem of gun violence in many of our communities, and detail the impact that violence has on young people. It asks the district to take numerous steps to help prevent gun violence, including education for parents and supports and curriculum for students. This resolution was particularly meaningful for the Buena Vista Horace Mann students, because their former classmate Rashawn Williams was tragically killed earlier this fall after a dispute with another student. The process of helping craft this resolution clearly had a healing and galvanizing effect for the teens, and it was very moving to hear their testimony and see their engagement in trying to make something good come out of a terrible tragedy. The resolution passed unanimously.

The Board also accepted the Williams Settlement annual report. Every year, the district must survey building conditions and classroom equipment at its lowest-performing schools. If deficiencies are found, the district must correct those deficiencies and then, using an independent auditor, issue a report to the Board on the problems found and how they were corrected. The requirement dates back to a class action suit filed in 2000 by students in SFUSD against the state of California (Eliezer Williams, et. al. v. California). The suit was settled in 2004 and as part of the settlement the state had to establish uniform complaint procedures and survey/reporting requirements.  This year, 94 percent of classrooms surveyed were adequately staffed and equipped at the beginning of school. Where deficiencies were found — primarily some wiring problems and textbook shortages at a few high schools–the independent auditors reviewed the problems and reported they had been corrected.

* * *

In other news, congratulations to Emily Murase and Hydra Mendoza on being re-elected to the Board earlier this month, and a big congratulations and welcome to Shamann Walton for his successful run. Commissioners (new and returning) will be sworn in in early January.

2014 Voting Guide

Keep thinking of things I left out! Updating to add guidance on Supervisor races, Oakland Mayor (for the possible Oaklanders reading this or those who have friends/family/roots in that city), and a few more local propositions.
Folks — here are my endorsements.  Whether or not you agree, please vote. Turnout in San Francisco is expected to be very low — about 40 percent is what I’m hearing. As of late this week, only 58,000 absentee ballots had been returned.  (Historical voter turnout figures are here).  If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain!

Closest to my heart, and I suspect to the hearts of readers of this blog, are the three seats up for the Board of Education. There is a very strong field of candidates this year, but these candidates rise to the top:

Norton and Murphy Mark Murphy: Mark is a dear friend of mine, but that’s not why I’m promoting his candidacy. I first met Mark in 2006, when as an elementary school parent I was struggling with some issues at our school. Mark is not a parent, but he is married to a 5th grade teacher who taught my children. Since he is a communications expert at his day job Mark attended a parent meeting and helped a group of us work through a difficult situation. He’s thoughtful, a great listener, and very interested and engaged in the issues that face our district. I was thrilled when he agreed to let me appoint him to the Public Education Enrichment Fund (Prop H) Advisory Committee, and was not at all surprised when he was elected co-Chair of the committee last year.  I also deeply respect and support Mark’s commitment to the particular issues of LGBT youth — back in 2010 he worked closely with Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer to pass and implement legislation increasing mental health and other supports for this particular group after we saw shocking data about the increased risks faced by this population in our schools. He will be an amazing, collegial and smart addition to the Board of Education and I support him unconditionally.

Norton and waltonShamann Walton:  I am so excited at the prospect of serving on the Board with Shamann. I got to know him during the 2012 campaign, when he ran for school board the first time. Though he was not ultimately successful, I was very impressed with his low-key, easygoing style and deep engagement in making sure the schools are doing their best with all kids, particularly around job readiness and vocational skills. He’s got long experience working in government and the social service sector in San Francisco, and he is another candidate who will absolutely hit the ground running come January, when the new term begins.

I’m also endorsing my colleague Emily Murase for re-election. Emily has been a hard-worker and a solid vote on the Board. Last year we elected her into leadership as Vice President, and she’s done a good job in the often thankless role of making sure the work of the Board moves forward. As a Board member, she’s made particular effort to address bullying in schools, and is a strong advocate for more world language programs.

Propositions: I won’t bore you with all of my positions on local propositions, but I feel particularly strongly and well-informed about these three:

YES on Props A and B , which would work on improving transit in different ways. Prop A is a bond championed by the Mayor, Prop B was placed on the ballot by a majority of Supervisors to tie Muni’s operational funding to population growth. A has broad support, B is opposed by some as a ‘money grab’ by Muni. To me, tying Muni’s funding to growing population is a good thing. SF is pretty crowded these days and only getting more so. Investing in Muni to increase service seems crucial, and we haven’t seen much commitment to that coming out of City Hall.

YES on Prop C, the “Children and Families First” initiative. Prop. C is a charter amendment that changes the way the City administers the Children’s Fund and the Public Education Enrichment Fund. Both of these funds represent crucial support to kids, families and schools in San Francisco. Prop C will modestly increase revenues to these funds, and improve the administration of them. There is almost no opposition to this charter amendment.

YES on Prop E, the soda tax.  Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows clearly how strongly I feel about this one. It’s controversial, but a critical public health initiative. There is no longer any doubt about the fact that a tax on sugary beverages will reduce consumption, and that’s why Coca Cola and Pepsi have spent almost $10 million (that we know of — the full tally won’t be available until after the election) to defeat this initiative and a similar one in Berkeley.  Do you really think they care about supporting your right to choose to drink diabetes in a bottle without paying a tax to do so? This is not a philosophical argument, friends — it’s about soda company profits vs. the health of our communities. The SF Chronicle editorial supporting Prop. E is the clearest, most cogent and factual argument I’ve seen. If you’re on the fence about Prop. E, read it.

YES on Prop F is a no-brainer. The plan for redeveloping Pier 70 is great, and has been constructed painstakingly with lots of community input. When this plan is completed, we will have a stunning new development on the waterfront with parks, space for local artists and makers, and housing.
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YES on Prop I, the Beach Chalet Soccer Complex. As Recreation and Parks General Manager Phil Ginsburg likes to say, this is the most vetted soccer field in America. For years, the Recreation and Parks Department has been trying to upgrade the soccer fields at the Beach Chalet, out near Ocean Beach. Many months out of the year those fields must be closed due to poor drainage, and players cite ruts and gopher holes as constant hazards. The recent dustup at Mission Playground highlighted the overarching fact that there is huge and growing demand for soccer playfields in San Francisco, and we need more fields to meet the demand. The Beach Chalet project will address this. Let SF kids play and vote YES on Prop I. Correspondingly also vote NO on Prop H, which landed on the ballot as a last-ditch signature gathering effort to stop the project in its tracks. (Let me just be up front and say I am not going to post comments that contain screeds on artificial turf. I acknowledge there is controversy over whether artificial turf poses hazards to players but I have found the debate to be remarkably short on facts. This analysis of the existing scientific data is the most even-handed, up-to-date and factual article I have found on this issue, written by Andrew Maynard, the Director of the University of Michigan’s Center on Risk Science — someone with no dog in this fight.)

Assembly District 17: David Chiu is the clear choice. His collaborative style is what we need in Sacramento. David is a good listener and someone who has demonstrated his ability to reach across ideological differences and find consensus.

City College: Dr. Amy Bacharach for the two year seat. Rodrigo Santos for the four year seat.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction: No recommendation. I realize that doesn’t provide much guidance, but the fact is, I’m disappointed in both candidates. Tom Torlakson is well-meaning, and I supported him in 2010, but he has been completely ineffective in this role. I’m embarrassed for him that he is touting the Local Control Funding Formula as one of his achievements– the LCFF was entirely Governor Brown’s baby.  Similarly, Marshall Tuck is appealing in some ways but he has been bankrolled and pushed hard by the charter school lobby. I am so tired of having my hands tied when it comes to charter schools — on everything from granting petitions to facilities. Not all charter schools are bad — I’ve voted for several new petitions since coming on to the Board, including Gateway MS and KIPP High School–but the Education Code with respect to charter schools really needs an overhaul.

So, it is galling to me that the my choices for this office amount to a tired political hack or a candidate whose chief experience in education comes from his time as a charter school executive. I’ve voted, but I’m purposefully not sharing who I voted for because I really have no idea if I made the right choice.