Gateway HS: Part Deux

So this morning I had a frank, productive and cordial talk with Gateway Public Schools Director Sharon Olken. I was again reminded how much I like Ms. Olken — I have in the past seen her as a “straight shooter” who tries every day to run a network of schools that are great for kids. I need to say first off that I apologized to her for casting aspersions against her character or questioning her integrity. I should not have done that and I was wrong to do that. I have been told in the past that sometimes I let my temper get in my own way and certainly being “livid” yesterday was part of that tendency.

Ms. Olken explained that the Gateway administration is saddened each year by families who *know* the school is right for their child, but are devastated when their child is not admitted. In addition, while application rates for the HS have remained steady, she has noted a gradually decreasing rate of matriculation — meaning that more students are being admitted off the wait list later in the spring when larger numbers of students who are admitted in the main lottery decide not to enroll.

She also reminded me — and I don’t dispute this — that while she has always understood my strong feelings that Gateway MS and Gateway HS are separate schools for the purposes of enrollment, she has always maintained that she would welcome the chance to work with kids from 6-12 grades. In the end, she said the decision to create a second early lottery was motivated by the school’s desire to work with students who are truly committed to Gateway and spare them the anxiety of going through a highly competitive lottery. As proof, she mentioned the school’s decision (despite some flak) not to participate in last weekend’s independent school fair — largely seen as a starting point for parents looking for options outside the regular SFUSD lottery.

I heard her out and I have no reason to believe–after talking to her– that Gateway made its decision with anything but the best of intentions, even if I continue to think they are seriously misguided.  I told her — half joking but with a big grain of truth too — that if there is one thing we know at SFUSD, it’s all the ways an assignment system can lead to unintended consequences.  “Learn from us,” I pleaded. What Gateway wants to accomplish–as stated by Ms. Olken–is laudable but it will not happen with their current policy. (Or really, any policy. In an environment where seats are in such high demand, it’s impossible to devise a way of allocating those seats that makes everyone happy if the only tool you have is a lottery or multiple lotteries).

I have two chief objections: first, setting an early deadline will just make in-the-know families apply earlier. What’s to stop them, since it’s obvious that odds will be better in the early round? I commended Gateway for making its application simpler — another long overdue improvement — but now it’s easier than ever to apply to Gateway, hold on to a spot, and wait to see how one does in the SFUSD and independent school lotteries. I’m glad Gateway isn’t touting itself to the independent school audience so far, but I am also certain it won’t take long for anyone who is interested and motivated to find out and utilize the early deadline if they have even the slightest inkling that Gateway might be a good fit for their child (and by inkling, I mean even something as flimsy as overhearing other parents say that Gateway is a good HS).

My second objection is the delicate subject of the MS students. It’s just not credible that Gateway MS won’t have all the information they need about applying to Gateway HS for the early round. Of course they will — Gateway MS would be derelict to its own students if it didn’t make sure they know that IF Gateway HS seems to be a good option, they should apply in the early round.  Gateway has employed a full-time outreach coordinator, and Ms. Olken assured me today that they are being very thoughtful and purposeful in recruiting students in underserved schools. (We both laughed when I told her that the new Gateway deadline had gone out on at least one middle school’s SchoolLoop site yesterday–some of my colleagues at SFUSD do not want any charter school recruiting at district schools.) But reaching parents who are not connected to the Internet or to parent networks, and/or who don’t speak English is not an easy thing to do. Most organizations that are doing this work successfully have coordinators who speak multiple languages and maintain extensive community partnerships — and even then, the outreach work is very hard.

Finally, this decision sets a precedent, as I told Jill Tucker of the Chronicle yesterday. There is nothing, now that Gateway has thought of it and actually implemented it, for other charter schools to simply set multiple lotteries and publicize them to different preferred constituencies. The genie is out of the bottle, whether Gateway intended to set a precedent or not.

In the end, we agreed to disagree, and Ms. Olken said she would consider making changes either this year or in subsequent years. She also agreed to share with me the outcomes from this year’s lottery — whatever they are.

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11 responses to “Gateway HS: Part Deux

  1. Matt said: “Rachel, I have always appreciated your commitment to equity in the public school district.” What exactly is equity in the public school district?

  2. To clarify, I don’t see why one wouldn’t be eligible because it’s a separate lottery, and even though the school falls under the SFUSD umbrella, it’s a charter. Still, isn’t this the first time a charter will enroll students before the SFUSD lottery even begins? It feels like uncharted territory and my OCD is such that it’d be nice to have official confirmation of what I believe is the case.

  3. Very late to the game here, but do you know for sure if one gets in to Gateway and then accepts the spot that they’re still eligible for the SFUSD lottery (be it Lowell, Mission High or anything else)?

  4. I also should have mentioned that your first and second posts confused me. I felt like I came in in the middle of an argument, especially the first. What is it that you think Ms. Olsen wants to accomplish that she won’t accomplish with the new policy? If you are right and she manages to hinder enrollment such that Gateway middleschoolers get a leg up, she will indeed have attained the goal. I don’t see how you can interpret her intentions as wanting to make more people happy. The number of available seats remains the same and the number of lucky lottery winners also remains the same only more would be Gateway middle school applicants to the high school and consequently more would gain entry. Did I miss something?

    When you said -learn from us (SFUSD) – regarding unintended consequences, what exactly were you referring to?

    Thanks for your reply in advance.

  5. I agree and also disagree with Ms. Norton. Yes, it is kinda sleazy to try and slip the GMS students in before the other potential applicants get word of the date change. On the other hand, it is understandable that they would want provide the continuity for their students, but not in that way.

    One person on this board suggested you deny the charter renewal. That makes no sense to me. The law requires a reason for a rejection. They haven’t broken any laws in changing the date so what would be the basis for rejecting the renewal of a very popular high school?

    Hopefully, Gateway will reconsider what appears to be one bad decision out of many good ones.

  6. @am it is very important to understand that charter school lotteries are completely separate from the SFUSD enrollment process. I don’t believe that a student would be automatically barred from participating in the SFUSD process if they were already holding a seat at Gateway.

  7. RacheI, you seem to be saying that winners of the early Gateway lottery who accept the admission within a week, are still eligible for the SFUSD lottery. This cant be true, aren’t their names submitted as enrolled and removed from the lottery. Early admission would seem to be part of the rationale for selecting from students who have Gateway as their strong first choice (i.e. others such as Lincoln or Lowell are eliminated as possibilities).

    “— but now it’s easier than ever to apply to Gateway, hold on to a spot, and wait to see how one does in the SFUSD and independent school lotteries”

    Thank you

  8. middleschoolparent

    Rachel, Thank you for illunminting this! You have benefited many 8th grade Gateway hopefuls who can now make the earlier deadline. It does seem, however, that Sharon is eager to find any way to give the current Gateway middle school students an advantage in the lottery/lotteries. Now that you have outed the plan, can the charter-granting entity (SFUSD) supervise and audit the process to ensure that it is fair under the California Ed. Code? It seems like Gateway will justify any means (change the date, mislead on the process, hide the date, don’t attend enrollment fairs, don’t provide outreach information about the earlier deadline to other schools) to get to the outcome they want.

    I’m glad you are looking out for all 8th graders!

  9. Rachel, I have always appreciated your commitment to equity in the public school district. It is natural and – to a large degree – appropriate for parents to put the welfare of their own child ahead of everyone else’s; likewise it is necessary for those administering a public school district to never promote the welfare of any child or group of children when it comes at the expense of other children. A form of this dynamic applies at the school-site level as well, where teachers and administrators rightly focus on the well-being of the students they are directly serving with less attention given to the district (or state, nation, world) at large. It is possible for this apparent tension to actually work to the benefit of all children, when parents advocate for their child’s welfare and work together with school and district officials to find ways to implement changes that benefit the community as a whole.
    The impetus behind the choices that Gateway made clearly come from an appropriate desire to serve those particular students that they have come to know and care for as best as they can, but your opposition to the way they chose to do so is also entirely appropriate. Charter schools are not private schools: they receive public funds and therefore must not craft policies that benefit one group of students at the expense of other children. Your analysis of the makeup of those groups is dead-on: children who already face hurdles and barriers to opportunities will be further marginalized if the Gateway model of creating inequity of access is allowed to take root and spread to other publicly-funded educational resources in our district.
    Thank you for taking a stand for all children, Rachel.

  10. Thank you, Rachel, for posting this detailed description of your conversation with Sharon Olken and for the background information about Gateway’s new application policy. It is very much appreciated.

  11. If I were you and Gateway did not return to the same date for applying as the School District I would vote not to renew their Charter.