(Advance warning: this post is long – it starts out as a recap of tonight’s board meeting but ends up covering a lot of ground: the current Prop A ballot measure, Transitional Kindergarten, summer school, SOTA admissions and the budget. Also upcoming plans for a Curriculum Committee discussion on Honors/GATE in middle school. )
The absolute high point of tonight’s meeting was a before-and-after slideshow of schools that have been transformed by the 2003 and 2006 bond work: Aptos MS has a gorgeous new auditorium; Glen Park ES has a more inviting playground; William Cobb ES, Martin Luther King MS and Wallenberg HS have new classrooms, new outdoor areas, and new entry facades; Civic Center Secondary and Principal’s Center Collaborative have been stripped down, ready for the makeover to bring the buildings into the 21st century (while preserving their historic facades). Most schools got repainted with vibrant colors (compare Cobb’s previous anemic green with its new dark red and white color scheme).
In 2003 and 2006, the voters of San Francisco passed facilities bonds for $295 million and $450 million, respectively. The 2003 measure paid for upgrades to 30 sites, and was completed on budget and ahead of the deadline of June 30, 2010. The 2006 measure allowed upgrades and improvements to 59 more sites and is currently on time and under budget. Tonight’s presentation showed the results of the programs, clearly as a way to give voters the facts about past efforts –the third and final bond of this cycle is on the November ballot, for $531 million, and will allow the district to complete the work of making the remaining 50 aging buildings accessible to people with disabilities, seismically-safe, and upgraded for 21st-century learning. It’s illegal to use a public meeting or public resources to say it, but since this blog is neither paid for with public resources nor hosted on publicly-owned equipment, I can: The district’s track record with the 2003 and 2006 bonds (and the gorgeous buildings that have resulted) should assuage voters’ fears about supporting the remainder of the cycle. Proposition A has no meaningful opposition (even the Republican party is neutral) and deserves a Yes vote. Here are resources for more information:
- Repair SF Schools.org – campaign web site;
- Text of ballot measure;
- District’s fact sheet on Prop A and the bond program.
The district also held its annual hearing, as part of the Williams settlement, on the availability of books and supplies for students at every school. Last year was a debacle, for a number of reasons, so it was a pleasure to hear that most students (not all) started school with adequate access to books and supplies. High school science labs and health classrooms at a few schools were not adequately supplied, but most of these issues have since been resolved. In all, this year’s report was a huge improvement over last year’s, thanks to the work of Daisy Santos, the administrator in charge of the district’s supply of textbooks and supplies.
In other news:
- 96 percent of SFUSD 7th – 12th graders have now received the TDAP vaccine — one of the highest percentages of any school district in California, according to the Superintendent’s report tonight.
- The Board also passed a resolution commending George Washington High School on 75 years of excellence, on the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee celebration coming up next month.
I’ve been meaning to give reports from the Curriculum, Rules and Budget Committees, which I attended last week.
Curriculum: We heard reports on various summer school programs that were implemented across the district, with some data on outcomes. Thanks to Mayor Lee and the efforts of members of Coleman Advocates and other advocacy organizations, the City contributed $250,000 towards academic summer programs for credit recovery after large numbers of 9th graders failed core courses required under the district’s new A-G graduation requirements. Here are highlights from the report given by Assistant Superintendent Janet Schulze to the Committee:
- Approximately 25 percent of SFUSD 9th graders took part in a credit-earning summer program;
- 90 percent of students taking English 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
- 94 percent of students taking Biology 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
- 88 percent of students taking Algebra 1 or 2 received credit, with 70 percent receiving an A, B or C grade.
Lincoln High School combined its city funding with site funds, and offered programs for all entering 9th graders, as well as older students who needed to gain credits to stay on a graduation track. Principal Barnaby Payne was on hand to talk about the program and pronounced it such a success that the school intends to fund the program again next year.
The Curriculum committee also heard a presentation on the district’s planning for Transitional Kindergarten, the state’s new program to both raise the eligibility age for Kindergarten, while offering students with Fall birthdays a transitional program that blends pre-K and K to allow those younger students to progress at a different pace than older students. The district is proposing to either a)place transitional K students in regular K classrooms but allow those students to stay for two years, with additional Professional Development and programming specifically for them; or b)set up standalone Transitional K classrooms that would house students for two years and then allow them to “graduate” to first grade at other schools.
Staff is recommending the first approach, but both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, cost impacts and unintended consequences for student assignment. The Committee was disturbed enough by the trade-offs in each proposal to recommend a hearing by the full board, as soon as possible. The current plan is to hear a presentation and gather Board input at the Oct. 11 Board meeting.
Rules: The topic of most general interest was an inquiry on the current policy and data on out-of-district students attending Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. Very few people know that Ruth Asawa (SOTA) is allowed to accept 10 percent of its enrollment from out-of-district applicants, since it was originally conceived as a regional arts high school. In many ways, this works out well for everyone — the school is able to draw from a larger pool of talent (useful when you need, for example, a tuba player for Orchestra, or male dancers to partner their female counterparts); students in other districts are able to access an incredibly rigorous and professional arts-focused high school (see this Chronicle article about dancer Darius Drooh for an illustration of how SOTA’s out of district policy enhances both the school and individual lives). No one would argue (especially not me) that the arts achievements of SOTA students aren’t exceptional — they are, and the school is a credit to the school district.
Still, I would by lying if I said that the out-of-district enrollment is OK with me. I’m glad we attempt to make the school’s offerings available to a broader swath of students through the Academy program, which is co-located with SOTA and does not require students to audition or demonstrate artistic ability (it also does not accept out-of-district students unless there are fewer SF applicants than seats). Still, SOTA’s out-of-district enrollment policy makes me uncomfortable, especially after the Board received data that currently SOTA is currently enrolling somewhere closer to 15 percent out-of-district students (we do receive funding for these students from their home districts so this policy is not so much a money issue — it’s an access/equity issue). I had a long conversation with SOTA’s principal, Carmelo Sgarlato, about this state of affairs, and after that conversation I understood better that the implementation of enrollment policies are more complex than they appear. Many SF students initially accepted to SOTA end up choosing other comprehensive high schools where they can play sports and have access to a broader array of classes (my nephew is one of them – he’s a talented trumpet player but ended up attending Lowell so that he could run track and play soccer). In addition, SOTA departments have different capacities — Dance is always looking for boys but Creative Writing is usually fully-subscribed. Lots of students play trumpet, violin and clarinet, but fewer play the tuba.
Still, 15 percent is not acceptable, and I let Mr. Sgarlato know I feel that way. At the Rules committee, Board members in general expressed alarm and asked whether we need to “tighten up” on the policy. Right now, I hear clearly that SOTA faculty wants to remain in control of the school’s audition-related admissions, but the Board’s reality is that the percentage of out-of-district students must come back in line or (I’m guessing) the school risks losing this flexibility altogether.
Budget: Remember how I said we would be closely watching the state’s monthly announcement of tax receipts to see how likely it is that the “budget trigger” will be pulled, yanking the rug out from under schools? Yeah. August wasn’t very good — a bit better than July but on target for revenues to come in almost $600 million under what had been “speculatively” anticipated. If that shortfall gets to $2 billion, schools are in big trouble. We have three more months to make up the difference.
Coming up: On October 3 at 5:30, the Curriculum Committee will start the discussion on GATE and Honors in middle school. I don’t believe we will receive full data on outcomes or research, but it is an opportunity for members of the public to come and ask questions/share views on the district’s honors/GATE policy and offerings. This is a long, complex and sometimes emotional topic that will not be resolved in one meeting– it may ultimately require a full Board policy but we are not there yet. Anyway, I’m sharing this specifically because I know from the input I receive from constituents that there is a lot of interest/strong feelings on this topic, and I’m trying to begin the discussion.