Recap: Quality middle schools and transportation cuts

Lots of news out of tonight’s Committee of the Whole, specifically:

  • Staff outlined several options for middle school assignment, including an updated map of how MS feeder patterns could look and a recommendation to phase in the feeder patterns gradually. (See these handy-dandy lists–sorted by MS and by ES — which are way easier to read than the maps. I must caution again that these are draft proposals — not set in stone. There is a whole community feedback project happening in February and March, so everyone will have a chance to weigh in. I see some problems myself.)
  • Staff also presented more specifics about transportation cuts already approved by the board, including a list of schools that will lose buses in 2011-12, and additional schools that will lose buses in 2012-13. Together, the two-year reductions will reduce the number of school buses operated by the district by 43 percent. (For more info, read the district’s excellent FAQ on the new transportation policy, here).

So, first up: building high quality middle schools in every neighborhood. This is the frame being used by the project team, and while it sounds kind of obvious, it’s still the overarching goal. It’s also honest, since it’s the district’s acknowledgement that not every middle school is where it should be.  According to the presentation:

Creating quality middle schools requires us to build stronger programs and pathways in a number of areas: Academies/Magnets; GATE/Honors; Language Pathways; Special Education; Visual and Performing Arts.

In order to do this, the district has previously committed to several different projects: an ambitious redesign of special education, and  enhancing and building language pathways K-12 to support English Learners (our legal obligation under the Lau decision) and to provide opportunity for every child to become bilingual and bicultural. There is good work underway to expand academies and magnet programs, but in my personal view, GATE/Honors definitely needs more attention. The Superintendent is also proposing to extend the school day at middle schools to 7 periods in order to accommodate the increased language pathways, estimates this would cost almost $6 million; another option might be a 4 x 4 block schedule that would have students alternating courses on a MWF and TuTh schedule — according to the Superintendent’s statements tonight, the cost of such a block schedule would be similar to adding a 7th period at all middle schools, but provide additional course choices to students.

So how would MS enrollment work? The staff presented three options:

  • Choice – forgoing a middle school feeder pattern at the current time and identifying other ways to accommodate expected growth in demand for middle school seats.
  • Implement K-8 feeder patterns for 2012-13, which would allow the district to quickly realize the benefits of virtual K-8 pathways but could create a sense among families that the patterns unfairly create “winners” and “losers,” undermining the expected benefits of the policy.
  • Phase in K-8 feeder patterns, by using the feeder patterns as a “tiebreaker” in MS enrollment. This would encourage voluntary parent participation in building virtual K-8s, but would mean that benefits would be realized more slowly.

Staff and the board’s clear preference was for the third option, which would make feeder patterns more voluntary. There was some discussion over the proposed order of tiebreakers, since tonight’s proposal prioritized feeder patterns over younger siblings — most Board member’s disagreed and thought younger siblings should still be the top preference, followed by feeder-pattern preference, then CTIP, then attendance area.

Next steps: staff will continue working on the project plan, incorporating feedback gathered by PPS and the PAC, which will be leading the community engagement effort over the next two months. A final proposal will come to the Board sometime in May.

Then, the transportation proposal. As I’ve previously written, the Board last month voted to cut transportation by $1.4 million over two years, going from 44 buses in 2010-11 to 25 by 2012-13.  Tonight’s presentation detailed the staff’s plan for phasing in those cuts.

The staff presentation has lots of detail on which schools will lose what buses when, but by 2012-13 these schools will lose all bus service: Alamo, Argonne, Buena Vista, Cleveland, El Dorado, Glen Park, Hillcrest, Lafayette, McKinley, New Traditions, Ortega, Rosa Parks, Redding, Sheridan, Starr King, Stevenson, E.R. Taylor, Tenderloin, Ulloa, and Visitacion Valley Elementary.

Remaining bus service will be prioritized to allow students living in CTIP1 (low test score) areas access to language programs and K-8 programs. Additionally, schools that are already have robust ridership from CTIP1 (Lakeshore) will be able to keep their buses. Busing to all or most non-SFUSD afterschool programs will be eliminated.

I don’t feel we have much choice but to cut transportation, and I’d rather spend precious dollars on actual programs than moving students around. At the same time, I understand it’s important to preserve access, and I think the staff plan does a nice job of balancing our budget realities with the Board’s priorities. I am most worried about the transition from one system to another — I know there are going to be lots of families who depend on the buses and will be taken by surprise by these cuts.

Review the detail in the staff presentation, and then offer any feedback you might have on the district’s online survey.  You can also print out this form, fill it out, and return it according to the instructions on the form.

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23 responses to “Recap: Quality middle schools and transportation cuts

  1. “This occurring all the while our all-immersion counterpart, BV, gets a K-8 Spanish immersion program. ”

    What you don’t mention is that Buena Vista gets a K-8 immersion program by essentially taking over Horace Mann. It’s a great idea, but it’s a big risk for BV.

    I see that the shuffling around has reduced the impact on some up-and-coming elementaries which would have seen applications tank if assigned to e.g. Mann or ISA, which was one of my concerns with the feeder idea: it would have meant some families fleeing their struggling neighborhood ES because being a feeder to a weak middle school.

    I think Fairmount, unlike Serra and Flynn’s GE program, is strong enough to withstand having Everett as it’s feeder destination.

    Webster, though, getting ISA as its MS: that’s a real slap in the face to parents who’ve put heart and soul into keeping that school from closure. Maybe if Flynn/Webster shared ISA and Bryant go to Lick, that’d be a better solution. And shift Muir to Marina MS so as to take some of the pressure of Lick.

  2. Ah! Just realized YOUR link is correct – got it! Thanks! (but the district website link I sent earlier seems to not be linking to this.)

  3. Rachel,
    The SFUSD website links to the BOE presentations on middle schools seem to have problems (or at least I get only gobbledygook when I click on this http://sfusd.ggnet.net/resources/feeder-patterns.php.)

    I’m trying to help organize a middle school input session but can’t find what has been proposed outside of the language pathways and feeder plans to bring parents in my school up to speed. Can you help alert them to correct the link or post the presentation made Feb 1st? Thanks!

  4. Thanks for checking!

  5. Hi GlenParkMom,
    The meetings haven’t been scheduled yet, but I think this is the email account they set up to receive feedback:
    qualitymiddleschools@sfusd.edu
    and you could always go to the regular Board of Education meetings, and sign up to speak on “general matters” if the item is not on the agenda.

    Those meetings are held every 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month at 6pm,
    at 555 Franklin Street, 1st Floor.

  6. When we will have a chance to provide comments on this to the district? For my own kids, I am NOT happy with the proposal. For our school, I am not happy with the proposal. Logistically, it’s a pain. An 8:20 start time at MS and an 8:40 start time for ES means that I’m forced to drive to both places). And if the stated goal is reduce the concentrations of Latino and African American students in middle school, then why does Lick have FIVE predominantly Latino and African American schools feeding into it? Lick right now seems nice and small, but it will be much much larger if all 6 schools feed into it.

  7. If the district is serious about building language pathways, will the district consider fluency in the world language as another tiebreaker? For example, at our elementary school (not Clarendon JBBP or Rosa Parks), there are eight kindergarten children who are fluent Japanese native speakers. In fact there are more Japanese native speakers in kindergarten at our elementary school than in the Clarendon JBBP program. This is partially because language fluency is not considered in the assignment process for bicultural schools as opposed to immersion schools. Our kindergarten does not feed into the Presidio, which under the current proposal is to have the Japanese language pathway. Most children who didn’t already come in with knowledge of the Japanese language do not graduate from Clarendon JBBP fluent in the Japanese language, since it is a bicultural program (as opposed to immersion) and the children do not spend very much instructional time in the Japanese language. The middle school Japanese pathway program would benefit greatly by having more Japanese native speakers in order to make the dual language classes successful. In addition, by adding this tiebreaker it would give us a second chance (after the elementary school lottery) to try to get our children in to schools which have our desired language pathway. Without this extra language tiebreaker, we feel we will have lost twice in the lottery. I agree with the poster who characterized students at some immersion/bicultural elementary schools as having won the “golden ticket.” They get both Clarendon JBBP AND Presidio.

  8. Aptos has an extracurricular Italian club funded by a small grant from the Italian Consulate.

  9. Why is Italian FLES being totally ignored? It seems that all of the other FLES programs have options for students to continue to study the target language in MS. Clarendon students have Italian instruction from K-5, but they have no options in MS. Has there been any thought given to at least providing some Italian language instruction in MS?

  10. Hi E. Rat. I will raise this concern – I was worried when I saw your school on the list of those that would lose service altogether.

  11. I have a question about the proposed bus changes for 2012. I assume the plans are based on current data (I filled in a survey on the routes at my school). Projections of student assignment patterns given the new elementary enrollment system were included too, right?

    If those projections end up not coming to pass, will the bus route planning be reconsidered? Overall, I really like the plan. I think it could do a lot to increase access to citywide schools and (at least for my neighborhood) encourage more walking to school. And that’s without the nice impact on budgeting!

    However, we have a full bus every day from the bottom of the hill in a CTIP-1 neighborhood. Our school is not the assignment area school for where the bus originates and it’s definitely not the closest school; however, that bus is full of cousins, kids with younger siblings, etc. It’s definitely possible that the new system will have a big impact on how many children would take that bus. But in the case that there remains a big group of kids who would ride it every morning, or a similar situation at another school, will there be consideration of that when 2012 comes?

  12. In the new assignment system the Child Development programs have bigger roll in determining who gets what school. Now we are going to beef up the CDC’s to provide on site, before and after, school care to reduce bussing. What is the plan to reform the CDC pre-k enrollment process (proof of address) and is there a strategy for the new growth that builds this program (specialist in sports , arts, and literacy)? Who governs the Child Development program? Do they have regular meetings that the public can attend?

    I love this program. I work as a sub-para for 6 years. The program is uneven at best. It’s also is a great opportunity.

  13. I completely agree with John – I like the idea of a “pick 3″ feeder plan. It gives some certainty and provides options. If it’s really implementable or not, I guess we’d have to see.

    I agree, too, that while choosing a middle school for both kids, I wanted some options. For our GE kids who didn’t have the golden ticket for language, I opted instead to look for a school with rich music options and an easy way for my kids to get to school by walking. That school was Aptos for us. But many friends chose Lick GE, for the proximity to their homes, smaller class sizes and the additional 7th period. Others wanted a more exclusive GATE program – Hoover was the choice for some of them. Still others wanted a school that worked better for their work commute – several chose Roosevelt for this reason. I have yet to talk to a student or parent who feels that their choice wasn’t the perfect one for their child. All of us were “early adopters” of Miraloma and clearly, there was no one size fits all.

  14. I agree with John’s point above – about offering language to all students. Truly it doesn’t seem fair for GE kids to be excluded from language classes offered in middle school. do hope that the board can address this matter. Rachel – thanks again for keeping us informed about what is going on.

  15. @John the availability of second-language instruction that is not immersion is a good question. There are FLES programs in several elementary schools (JBBP at Clarendon and Rosa Parks, for example, as well as Russian @ Argonne) that will continue to middle school. But the question was raised last night about MS students (like my rising 5th grader) who missed out on FLES in elementary school and might be interested in language instruction in MS (I myself started taking language in 7th grade in the golden age pre-Prop 13). Right now we don’t have much to offer those students — a Lick GE parent said to me just today that Lick could/should be offering Spanish instruction as an option to the GE kids during Lick’s 7th period, instead of what are apparently sort of lame enrichment offerings currently.

  16. Rachel – one more question (not a comment!) – are there going to be options for language acquisition for non-immersion kids in MS? I understand the need to have an ongoing “path” for immersion students, but as one who lost the “immersion” lottery, I am disappointed that there will then be no opportunities for language instruction until high school. Is there any talk about reinstating language instruction for beginners in MS? Or do families need to rely on the “golden ticket” of K-5 immersion in order to see lanuage before HS? Thanks.

  17. Just a follow up – clearly the “local choice” advocates live in nice neighborhoods and are close to good schools. Those of us who can’t afford that option (or choose not to) should have the same options for educating our kids, and not be relegated to mediocrity by geography alone. Yes, in a perfect world all schools would be great, but we’re not there yet, and until we are, there should be some element of choice.

  18. Antun – you’re assumption that middle class families “want to be guaranteed a spot at a good school near where they live.” isn’t a sound basis for setting up a system. There are many middle class parents in all parts of the city, and as one who lives in the Outer Mission I DON’T want the middle school close to my house (Denman). I want the choice to pick from a list of middle schools that offer my kids the opportunities and curricula that I think fit best with their abilities/aspirations. I actually like the idea of “Pick 3″ feeder program, as it then offers some choice and the opportunity for differentiation among schools, but retains some aspects of “virtual K-8″. It doesn’t seem that hard for the district to do a map that allows all parts of the city to choose from 3 MS’s relatively near by that have different offerings (e.g. language, arts, magnets, gen ed, etc.). Then it could focus on building up those offerings in parts of the city where they currently aren’t offered.

  19. Is Buena Vista going to be considered a City Wide school? Why would they cut transport from this school if it is considered city wide and immersion? I do not understand. I see serious problems with this – good for BV, bad for other K-8.

  20. While I appreciate that there are stated objectives by the Board, the actual changes that have been put into place seem to me to be more responsive to the reactionary responses received by the initial proposed feeder patterns. Parents from the all Spanish immersion school Buena Vista raised their voices the loudest, and now they are getting a great facility (Horace Mann) and a K-8 program. I also learned today (although just by word of mouth) that the board intends to change my daughters’ feeder school of Fairmount to Everett. In the initial plan, we were to feed into Lick, which made perfect sense because it is the closest to Fairmount; its population is already comprised of a similar region of parents (based on the powerpoint maps); and most importantly, it already has a Spanish immersion thread. Now, it feels as though our quiet voices approving the feeder plan (most Fairmount parents were satisfied with Lick) have been overwhelmed by the loud voices of parents dissatisfied with their feeder schools. It would be a shame to feed our still upwardly-improving yet still struggling, STAR status, all Spanish immersion school into a school with dropping test scores and no immersion program. This occurring all the while our all-immersion counterpart, BV, gets a K-8 Spanish immersion program. I’m not sure how this great disparity meets the stated needs described in the presentation of providing language pathways for immersion programs, but it certainly quells the outrage from last year’s proposal. Needless to say, this mom is very disappointed with the rumored proposed feeder school changes. It’s feels as thought the District is playing Whack-a-mole, and Fairmount just got whacked.

  21. For our family, it is most important that the middle school we are assigned to has a strong GATE programs (not differentiated learning).

    What is going on with the GATE programs (honors classes). Which schools will have them and when? This is a dealbreaker for me and many other families.

  22. Antun Karlovac

    I like the goal of developing good middle schools in every neighborhood.

    Might I put forward a modest proposal for middle school assignment?

    So far, SFUSD has followed a policy of school choice, while giving preference to children who are likely to do poorly at school. At one time, this was based on the student’s race, then on answers to some roundabout questions (mother’s level of education, etc.), and now based on the student’s address (CTIP1).

    So far, this hasn’t produced the required results with poor children, while frustrating middle-class parents, who want to be guaranteed a spot at a good school near where they live.

    Why don’t you turn the policy on its head? Instead of giving the parents of at-risk students a preference (that they might not know about and use), why not automatically assign those children to schools that perform at or above a specific level (e.g. 750+ API score). However no more than a certain percentage of each school could have the at-risk students. This means that the children who are likely to do poorly would be surrounded (and motivated) by the children who are likely to do well. It’s a well-known fact that if you hang out with the hard-working kids in class, you’ll also do well. This would produce the desired result of improving the performance of at-risk children. The remaining children (that are statistically likely to do well) could have spots assigned at their local schools. That would keep the middle-class parents happy and – crucially – stop them moving to the suburbs, or sending their kids (and money!) to private schools.

  23. It doesn’t seem all to much has changed with the middle school feeder pattern other than more thought on the language pathways and the time delay. Somebody suggested on another site before the original proposal was delayed the idea of 3 MS feeder choices for each ES rather than the current proposed 1 MS per ES. That way, parents at least feel like they have some choice in the process. What do you think about that idea, Rachel?