Update: the PDF presentation for this meeting is posted here. You can find descriptions of adjustments made to attendance areas starting on page 8.
As expected, at tonight’s meeting of the Student Assignment committee, the Superintendent formally requested that the Board delay implementation of the middle school portion of the new student assignment system for one year. Committee members accepted the recommendation and fowarded it to the full Board for a vote on Sept. 28.
Specifically, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza explained that after considering feedback about unclear reform initiatives, special education pathways and building capacity in our middle school language immersion programs, the district had concluded that the one year delay was the best way to ensure instructional quality going forward. A number of initiatives, including the redesign of special education, the implementation of the Lau Plan for serving English Learners, and the School Improvement Grants just rceived from the state, are in their infancy at the current time, and the district concluded it was better to roll out all of these improvements more fully before implementing feeder patterns.
Fifth graders seeking a middle school placement for the 2011-12 school year would instead go through a temporary process with no initial assignment; families would submit an application with a list of choices by Feb. 18, 2011. The system would place younger siblings first, then students in CTIP1 areas, and then all other students by general lottery (no diversity index, and no attendance area preferences). Students would be placed in their highest available choice, or offered placement at the closest middle school with space if none of their choices were available.
We heard a fair amount of indignant public comment from families at Ulloa Elementary, who are happy with the district’s previous proposal to feed them into A.P. Giannini middle school and worry that the temporary process will mean that they will be placed in schools far across town. I understand that this temporary process means heading into somewhat uncharted territory, but it really isn’t all that different than what we have now. True, middle school applicants have a slight attendance area preference now, but only if they add diversity to their attendance area school. And even though many applicants apply outside of their attendance area, 87 percent of middle school applicants got one of their choices last year — 73 percent got their first choice. So I’m not convinced that a straight lottery is going to be all that much different than the slight advantage of living in an attendance area. (And anyway, just about 50 percent of Ulloa’s enrollment actually even lives in 94116, the school’s zip code — another 20 percent live in 94112, much closer to Denman Middle School than Giannini.)
Bottom line: even though this temporary process is kind of a downer for me personally — my 5th grade daughter was very excited to attend the school we would have fed into next year and now we aren’t assured that she will actually get in — this plan is better in the short run for all students because we will have more time to assure quality programs wherever elementary schools feed.
I do have to admit to some skepticism that we won’t just land here again next summer, but the staff and Superintendent assured me and other members of the Board tonight that a new middle school feeder proposal will be formulated for input and feedback from the public much earlier next year — no timelines yet but Board members suggested that early spring would be a better time than late August. And let me say this again, in bold, so everyone gets it: the new feeder proposal for 2012-13 enrollment is likely to be a significantly different proposal than the draft we’ve all been reviewing. Stay tuned for more information about this as it is available — the student assignment committee will continue to meet through this year and we will stay on top of this issue. Finally, I think there are real advantages to staying with the idea of “virtual K-8s” which is another way of saying that elementary schools will feed into specific middle schools, and I see no reason to abandon this idea. We just need to implement it more purposefully and thoughtfully than this last proposal.
Next, the Board discussed the proposed transportation framework that would align our transportation policy with the new student assignment policy. Voicing concern that the discussion about attendance areas and middle schools had distracted the Board and members of the public from focusing on issues related to transportation, the Superintendent has proposed delaying the vote on the transportation plan until the November 9 board meeting. This would give the student assignment committee and the public two more months to consider what are, in fact, significant changes that could have some major impact. Bus stops would be reconfigured to support access to elementary newcomer programs; maintain diverse elementary school enrollments in non-diverse neighborhoods, e.g. Lakeshore, Harvey Milk and New Traditions; provide transportation from areas of the city with the lowest average test scores to K-8 schools and language immersion programs; and support elementary to middle school feeder patterns.
This means adding stops in some parts of the City and taking away stops in other places, particularly the west side of the City; redesigned routes would primarily move students from CTIP1 areas of the city to programs and schools elsewhere. Current stops might not be “grandfathered” into the new policy, causing at least a few families to find their schools suddenly inaccessible. The most drastic impact, in my view, could be discontinued transportation to after-school programs operated by nonprofits or district Child Development Centers. Over time, eliminating these after-school routes probably makes sense, but not until we can offer quality on-site after-school programs for every child who needs them. Another possibility discussed was asking families who use transportation to off-site after-school programs to pay for that service — possibly $1.50 per trip.
This is obviously a proposal that needs a lot more sunshine so that everyone can understand the implications, but on the surface it makes sense to be sure that every dollar we’re spending on busing is really getting us closer to our goals. Otherwise, those dollars are wasted.
Finally, the Board reviewed the proposed elementary attendance areas. There were comments from members of the public residing in the Cesar Chavez attendance area (they are concerned that most of the attendance area is CTIP 1 — allowing those residents to freely choose other schools — while their few blocks do not allow these choices; this feels unfair); another family raised questions about the line dividing the Starr King and Daniel Webster attendance areas. Staff went over the specific feedback received from the public, and highlighted a few specific changes that were made as a result of that feedback:
- A few blocks of the Clarendon attendance area was switched to Grattan’s attendance area to prevent families from having to skirt Sutro Forest, a major geographical barrier;
- Flynn and Junipero Serra’s attendance areas were adjusted to give Junipero Serra a larger segment of Bernal Heights;
- Sloat’s boundary was extended several blocks to keep all of Westwood Park together;
- Ortega’s northern boundary was moved to Holloway to better balance enrollment and diversity with Commodore Sloat;
- Glen Park, Hillcrest and Monroe’s attendance areas were adjusted to balance enrollments at Hillcrest and Glen Park.
Maps haven’t been redrawn yet but exact coordinates are described in the presentation given to the Board tonight — I don’t have an electronic copy but will post it as soon as I can.