Author Archives: rpnorton

Recap: August 25, 2015

A relatively light agenda with just one major item — a status report on the Safe and Supportive Schools implementation, now in its second year.  The policy seeks to end disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect the education of students of color, and instead offer training and support to school staff to help de-escalate conflicts and minimize disruptive and negative behavior.

We’ve definitely made progress — suspensions have decreased dramatically from 1921 in the 2012-13 school year to 1269 in 2013-14. Out-of-class referrals have increased as well. Students report that school climate is improved, and this summer alone, almost 1,400 school site staff received training in various aspects of the policy (Restorative Practices, Response to Intervention, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, etc.). Our educator union, United Educators of San Francisco, partnered with us and secured a grant from the national American Federation of Teachers to train teachers in promoting pro-social behaviors.

In other news, Governor Brown will sign a bill hastily passed by the Legislature to fix the CAHSEE mess that left almost 150 students in San Francisco (and countless others up and down the state) in limbo, unable to graduate from high school and unable to take the test because it will no longer be offered by the state. Friday, August 14 was a day I won’t soon forget — we cut the ribbon on the gleaming new Willie Brown MS in the morning and in the late afternoon broke state law to stand up for students, issuing them diplomas in an impromptu ceremony (Commissioner Haney played “Pomp and Circumstance” through his computer speakers) to get them out of limbo. Glad to see the state backed us up and we are no longer a rogue district.

diplomas

Here’s a slideshow of shots from the new Willie Brown Middle School:

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I hate this: State bungles CAHSEE policy, hurting students

UPDATE: Here’s the California Department of Education’s response: “Our hope is that the few students who find themselves in this situation will only have to defer their dreams of attending the college of their choice for one semester,” said Keric Ashley, deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education. “In the meantime, there are other options available to these students, including our California Community Colleges. I received excellent preparation at my local community college before attending university.”

Last night, several students from International High School, along with their principal and several teachers, came to talk to us about a really confounding and desperate problem. Details are in tomorrow’s San Francisco Chronicle, but essentially, here’s the story:

Last spring the state Legislature eliminated the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a graduation requirement. It wasn’t aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Anyway, the CAHSEE was never good education policy, unless you believe that one standardized test is a better gauge of high school academic achievement than four years of requirements and alignment with the UC/CSU’s required A-G course sequence for admission. Most members of the class of 2015 had already passed the CAHSEE, so for them the elimination of the test as a requirement was a moot, if somewhat annoying, development. But for newcomer students — those who came to the United States after being educated (or not) in other countries for most of their lives, the English Language portion of the CAHSEE represents a major barrier.

In San Francisco Unified, there are about 45 members of the would-be class of 2015 who had not passed the English language portion of the CAHSEE by graduation day. Per regulations from the State Board of Education, SFUSD (or any other district in California) is not allowed to issue a diploma without evidence that a student had passed the CAHSEE, even though the state legislature voted in June to dump the CAHSEE altogether.

There was supposed to be a July administration of the test, which our 45 students were counting on as their last chance to pass the CAHSEE and receive a diploma. But because the state isn’t recognizing the test, the July administration was canceled. And, because it went on vacation or otherwise decided to stop paying attention, the State Board neglected to update its direction to school districts to allow us to use our discretion — and rigorous graduation requirements–to issue diplomas to this group of students.

Watch the heart-rending testimony of our students here:

They’ve passed their classes. They’ve applied to college and been admitted. Their teachers, and their principal, agree they are ready to succeed. And yet the state, through either a bureaucratic bungle or a lack of concern, is saying that the San Francisco Unified School District may not issue a diploma.

I think we should defy the state and issue a diploma. What do you think?

You can help sway officials on this situation by contacting Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. His telephone number is 916-319-0800; or you can reach him on Twitter at @TomTorlakson . His email address is: superintendent “at” cde.ca.gov, or you can post a message for Superintendent Torlakson on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/torlakson . Finally,  you can write him a letter here:

The Honorable Tom Torlakson
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
1430 N Street, Suite 5602
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901

Recap: First meeting of the 2015-16 school year!

Students aren’t actually in school yet but as far as the district is concerned, the year is under way. Administrators returned to work in late July, teachers report back this week, and the Board resumed its normal meeting schedule tonight after the annual July hiatus.

There were a couple of very interesting items on tonight’s agenda:

  • Willie Brown Middle School preview – 6 out of the 7 Board members have never opened a new school before (the last brand new school the district opened was Dianne Feinstein Elementary in 2005) , so the unveiling of the sparkling new Willie Brown Middle School this week is really exciting for us. The numbers are good: 215 students enrolled in the inaugural 6th grade class, with 33 on the waiting list. Our goal was to open Willie Brown as a fully-enrolled, diverse school, and it looks as if we’ll achieve that goal — the incoming class is 45% African American, 23% Latino and 32% all other races (Chinese, Caucasian, Filipino, Pacific Islander, etc), coming from 38 different SFUSD elementary schools and 15 different zip codes. Every student will receive their own personal Chromebook on the first day, and have an advisor who will work with them on their individualized learning plan throughout the school year. Principal Demetrius Hobson has hired a new staff that has been working together for several weeks now to build the new program. After the humiliation and defeat that was the old Willie Brown MS (someday I’ll write up what it was like to visit that school in the last few months before it closed), I’m feeling confident we have set up the new school for success.
  • Schools in The Shipyard – You know The Shipyard, right? That’s the Hunters Point Shipyard to you old timers. Lennar Corp. and the City of San Francisco are hard at work in the area creating a “revitalized waterfront neighborhood . . . offering a mix of residences, retail, entertainment, a research and development campus, community space, and a business incubator.” Early on, the school district was offered space for a school within the development, which is good because the plan calls for almost 5,800 new residences. Tonight, we heard that the early vision (much more planning and analysis will be needed) is for two schools in The Shipyard: an “elementary professional learning school,” which would be a collaboration between SF State and SFUSD to provide training and professional development for emerging and experienced teachers and focus students at an early age on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and a STEM “excelerator” that would be “a state-of-the-art research and technology facility where high school and college students design and complete projects in collaboration with partners in the local business community.” The big question mark, aside from how much all of this would cost and where the money would come from (more about that in a minute), is the demographic analysis. San Francisco is changing rapidly, and will look very different 10 years from now than it does today. So are these school visions what we will truly need?  One thing that has always bothered me, and many others, is that a few years ago  our demographers said we didn’t need to rush to build a school in Mission Bay because so few of the market rate homes being built there would yield public school students. That prediction has held true, as Commissioner Wynns observed tonight, but I would argue that we didn’t build it, so they didn’t come.  To risk a long Mission Bay digression, we have two schools that are near(ish) to the Mission Bay area (reportedly swarming with young kids)–Bessie Carmichael K-8 and Daniel Webster K-5. Both are almost a mile away from the core of the neighborhood, straight up a steep set of hills and/or on the other side of a freeway. Not walkable.)  Anyway, I strongly made the point tonight that we need to dig deeper on our demographic analysis, and not simply decide that middle- and upper-middle class kids will never come our way, so we shouldn’t build for them. Demographic analysis to inform The Shipyard school discussion, as well as our larger ongoing discusssion on student assignment policy,  should be available sometime next month.  Finally, as far as funding the vision for The Shipyard schools, we’re beginning to plan for a bond issue in November 2016. Considering Willie Brown cost $54 million, this might be a big one. Stay tuned for more on that.

I’ve made a new school year resolution to blog more regularly — reading back over old posts from a few years ago makes me realize how little I’ve posted in recent months. Hold me accountable! In the meantime, wishing everyone a very happy and productive start to the school year. I’ll post Willie Brown pix after Friday’s opening ceremonies.

May 26 Board recap (a week late)

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.

Recap: April 28 – TFA, TFA, TFA

Packed agenda but most of the airtime in tonight’s meeting was consumed by additional discussion and a vote on the district’s proposed contract with Teach for America. (Jill Tucker from the SF Chronicle wrote about the controversy this morning, and posted a followup story on tonight’s vote).

There is a national teacher shortage because there aren’t as many people going into teaching (which is hard work, and not paid as well as it should be) as there are teachers reaching the end of their careers and retiring. The district is projecting 300-500 openings next year, and my first priority is making sure that every classroom is covered with a permanent teacher on the first day of school. As I wrote someone earlier today in an email:

In SF TFA is not our only or even our biggest strategy for filling teaching jobs. Would I rather have every one of the 400 teacher openings we expect for next year filled with teachers with more than a few months experience, who expect to stay in the profession long term? Yes. That isn’t going to happen, and we need to have permanent teachers in every classroom starting on the first day of school in August. Teachers will not magically appear from elsewhere if we cancel the TFA contract. We’re talking about 24 teachers that are guaranteed — given that we have to screen four resumes for every teacher we hire, that’s 96 resumes we don’t have to evaluate and interviews we don’t have to conduct because TFA guarantees us those hires.

Many of our TFA teachers are wonderful teachers, and some are not. Many of our teachers from traditional credentialing programs are wonderful, and some are not.

My expectation for the Superintendent is that he opens school for the year with fully-staffed classrooms, and I will hold him accountable for that. I will not tell him how to do his job nor will I limit the tools he thinks he needs to meet that goal.

The Superintendent did reach a compromise to ensure the contract would be renewed. He decreased the number of teachers we’ll hire from TFA next year to 15 — the same number we’ve hired each of the past three or four years — down from the 24 teachers he originally requested. In the end, four Commissioners voted to approve the contract with three voting no.

It was a very negative debate, and felt very personal and unfair on all sides. I think the Board and staff will bear some bruises on this one for a while. From the outside, it’s one of those crazy debates we engage in from time to time — hours and hours of air time spent on what ended up to be a $37,000 contract to hire 15 teachers (3 to 4 percent of what we’ll need come August). But the real issue–one that the Board is united on–is that we need to improve our support for beginning teachers because so many of them leave the profession after a few years; we also need to build stronger pipelines and partnerships so that we have a reliable supply of new teachers to fill openings left by retirements. I think to move forward, we need to focus on these two areas where we all agree we need to pay attention and put resources. So in the end maybe some real, long-term good will come out of all this negativity and discord.

We also renewed Gateway Middle School’s charter by a vote of 6-1, and unanimously adopted an ambitious rewrite of the Wellness Policy. We had another lengthy discussion, late, after most spectators had left, about a proposed agreement with The New Teacher Project to recruit and support administrators. Things got a little hot between the Superintendent and Commissioner Wynns when she accused him of acquiescing to the anti-democratic privatization agenda she believes The New Teacher Project represents. In the end, the proposal passed 6-1.

* * *

In other news, our 2014 cohort graduation rate has been released by the state and there is both good news and really bad news. The good news is that SFUSD is graduating more kids ready for UC/CSU than ever before, and the rate is higher than the state’s as a whole — 56.9 percent of students in SFUSD’s class of 2014 completed the A-G course sequence with a C or better in every class, compared to just 41.9 percent for the state as a whole.

The bad news is that our overall graduation rate fell slightly behind the state’s — 79.9 % of the Class of 2014 graduated in four years from SFUSD, compared to 80.8% for the state as a whole.

And the really bad news continues to be the performance of some of our subgroups (Class of 2014 four year graduation rates — SFUSD/State):

  • English Learners – 66%/65.3%
  • Latino/Hispanic – 61.2%/76.4%
  • African American – 57.3%/68.1%
  • Special Education – 55.7 %/62.2%
  • White – 84.0%/87.4%
  • Asian 89.4 %/92.3%

The dropout rate also went up — from 11.3 percent last year to 11.9 percent this year. The state’s dropout rate for the Class of 2014 is 11.6%.

While I think it’s fair to own these numbers and admit that we need to do a lot better, I also think one explanation behind the slight dip we see this year is that the Class of 2014 was the first class who had to satisfy the much more rigorous A-G requirements — requirements that were instituted when the members of this class were in the 7th grade.

Pause for amendments

Well, there will be no Equity in Student Assignment vote tomorrow. At the Student Assignment Committee on April 13, Commissioners asked for amendments that would underscore our commitment to improving conditions in schools that have concentrations of underserved students and are located in CTIP census tracts.

We circulated a draft amendment but it needs more work. Commissioner Walton in particular is watching this keenly and I welcome the opportunity to work with him on wording an amendment that gets this support across.

(Thanks to Parents for Public Schools-San Francisco‘s Miranda Martin for the Board Watch notes linked above).

4th annual student assignment report is out!

The 4th annual report on student assignment outcomes is out and the “Equity in Student Assignment” resolution I authored with  Commissioner Fewer is a major focus of the analysis. Our resolution will also be the main topic of Monday evening’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment, 6 pm on 4/13 in the Board Room at 555 Franklin St.

I’m looking forward to a great discussion. In the meantime, you’ll find me poring over the many pages of data in the latest report.