I’ll be honest. I have been putting off writing this recap, because the last week has been difficult and I would rather not re-inflame controversy unnecessarily. If you are a reader of the SF Chronicle, or you watch ABC-7 news, you know what I’m talking about: the resolution Matt Haney and I sponsored: In Support of Access, Equity and Diversity in the Arts at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Throughout SFUSD has generated a lot of heat.
Things the resolution does not do: If you have not read the resolution, stop right now. Download it and read it. It does not end auditions at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. It does not “kick out” any student currently attending the school. It does not institute racial quotas, and it will not (despite the histrionics at the Board meeting and on my Facebook page) “destroy the school.” I did not write the resolution for personal reasons or out of emotion. If you think you know something about my family — check yourself. You don’t.
The resolution does two things: the most immediate impact is that it ends out of district enrollment for students entering the school in 2016-17 and beyond. A Board policy dating to 2001 limits out of district enrollment to 10 percent, but as far as I know the school has never complied with that limit. In 2014-15, almost 14 percent of the school’s enrollment–84 students–came from out of district. 26 of those students call the Jefferson Union High School District home — the rest come from Oakland USD, San Mateo Union HSD, Redwood City, South San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, San Jose and other places in the Bay Area. (According to district records there is indeed one student from North Humboldt HSD, as ABC-7 News reported, but I think there must be more to that story, since that would be an awfully long commute.)
Why does the school admit out of district students? The school was originally conceived as a “regional” arts school, which, according to our resident historian Commissioner Jill Wynns (the longest serving BOE member ever) meant that the district hoped neighboring counties would help support the school’s operations. Though students enrolling from other school districts do bring ADA (average daily attendance) funds with them, those funds only cover a portion of the operational expenses of running RA SOTA.
Because the financial rationale never really materialized, the ongoing rationale for out of district enrollment became more about “breadth and depth” of the arts programs — the idea was that casting a broader net for applicants would make it more likely that hard-to-find talents like bassoon players or harpists or male dancers would apply and broaden the program.
In practice, however, out of district enrollments can edge out SF students, especially in departments where filling out an ensemble is less relevant (creative writing, theater tech, visual arts are examples). In addition, “casting a broader net” can cause applicants to be filtered to a more narrow ideal that may or may not disadvantage those with less traditional arts training.
The school’s web site says students “who have the focus, vision, and ability to work hard to achieve their artistic goals and who are interested in an alternative and highly creative high school experience are encouraged to apply.” Digging deeper though, it’s obvious that applicants who can read music or have other specific training are going to do better in the audition process. That’s a concern if out of district students with private training are going to be admitted over SF students — those whom the school Board is entrusted by the voters and the City charter to serve.
The main concern in favor of keeping the practice seems to be: if we confine enrollment to SF students only (as we do at Lowell HS, our other competitive entry HS) then we will have a smaller pool of prepared students to choose from. That’s where the second action in the resolution comes in. It calls for two additional steps: a summer arts program for middle schoolers aimed at helping them prepare for the rigorous audition process at RA SOTA, and a task force — made up of stakeholders including students, parents and staff from RA SOTA — to look at the existing pipelines for students and making sure we receive more applicants from across the City (right now 90% of the RA SOTA applicants come from five middle schools — Presidio, Giannini, Aptos, Hoover and Lick).
My personal opinion is that we need to define and standardize some best practices around auditions and admissions at RA SOTA. Equity, diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive but it takes self-reflection and vigilance to make sure all three ideals are realized.
Anyway, the resolution is as much about acknowledging the district’s responsibility for offering robust and comprehensive arts education to prepare students for RA SOTA and building the pipeline of qualified applicants as it is about making sure this amazing resource is preserved for San Franciscans. Watch the Board’s discussion and the unanimous 7-0 vote in favor for more insights — the hearing starts at 2:30 and runs for about 90 minutes, including public comment. If you care about this issue, I encourage you to watch the whole thing and listen carefully to get a fuller understanding of the issue. I also ripped an audio-only version of the RA SOTA portion of the meeting:
Or download audio as an mp3
Other actions by the Board:
- Arabic/Vietnamese Language Pathways: the Board voted unanimously to initiate the program placement process to determine the viability of opening Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways in SFUSD — read the resolution; read the district news release.
- African American Achievement: the Board voted unanimously to expand services to African-American students and commit to raising the achievement of these students. Read the resolution; read the district’s news release.
- CPR Training: Students will now receive training in CPR thanks to a resoluion authored by Commissioner Fewer and our amazing student delegates, Gavin Chan and Hanan Sinada. The 26th was their final meeting, as both graduated from SFUSD last week and are moving on to bright futures. I have enjoyed serving with them both and wish them all success in college and beyond! We will welcome new student delegates in August.
Coming up: I’ll write more about this in a few days but Commissioner Fewer and I have requested that our CTIP resolution “On Equity in Student Assignment” return to the Board for a final vote on June 9. Stay tuned.
Also – the district budget. We got a preliminary presentation at this evening’s Committee of the Whole and it is good. This is the first of the seven budgets I’ve been asked to consider as a BOE member that actually has meaningful new investments and money. More to come on that.
Fair warning: I am not approving comments that accuse me of doing things I did not do. (See above.) I’m also not that fond of nastiness, vitriol, name-calling, SHOUTING and other bad behavior.