Category Archives: Great things going on

From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

At tonight’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation of the results of the district’s research partnership with Stanford. Specifically, the partnership has looked at longitudinal data on English Learner achievement in several pathways — English Plus, Bilingual/biliteracy and Dual Immersion (full descriptions of each of these pathways are here).

I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have an electronic copy, and it’s pretty straightforward to understand. But basically, our concern as a district has been that we didn’t have solid data supporting the big investment we’ve made in dual-language immersion as a strategy to support the achievement of English Learners. (And in addition, until the last two years, we didn’t have accurate data on the English proficiency/background of all the students enrolled in our language pathways).

Dual-language immersion–offered in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean– is wildly popular among English speakers and was designed to support both the English language instructional needs of target language native speakers as well as their content instruction needs.  These programs have exploded throughout the district and have been one of the district’s key strategies over the past decade for integrating schools (look at Bret Harte, Fairmount, Monroe, James Lick, DeAvila . . . the list goes on).

There is some data — not unique to our district — indicating that English Learners who are educated in dual-language classrooms (the ideal ratio is debated but generally held to be 2/3 English Learner/bilingual with 1/3 English native speakers) are slightly more likely to be reclassified English proficient by middle school than English learners educated in other environments.  Still, the sample sizes of the existing studies are small and the data they generated hasn’t been regarded as definitive (though to be fair it is considered “promising”).

But the Stanford longitudinal results are  much more robust and definitive than past studies, and I have to say that I was relieved when I saw that they basically support the earlier studies and our general approach up till now.

Essentially: students in English Plus programs (where they are immersed in content instruction in English much of the day and pulled out for specific English Language Development for a certain number of minutes per day) become English proficient faster and achieve at a higher level  in the earlier grades, but students in Bilingual and Dual-immersion pathways eventually catch up by middle school.  The takeaway is that it doesn’t really matter what pathway you’re in by the time you reach middle school.

The down side is that there is still a significant gap in achievement and overall English proficiency between students whose first language is Spanish and those whose first language is Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin).  And an additional down side is that all students — whether their first language is English, Chinese or Spanish — are not achieving at an acceptable level in math by middle school.  So we have a lot of work to do.

Also from tonight’s board meeting:

  • We reauthorized charters for Gateway High School and Life Learning Academy;
  • We heard public comment from community members at the Claire Lilienthal K-8 Korean Immersion Program, the Filipino pathway at Bessie Carmichael K-8, and Hunter’s View residents advocating for the district to refurbish and reopen the Hunter’s Point Youth Park;
  • We celebrated 33 teachers who achieved the rigorous National Board Certification this year — bringing the number of district teachers who have achieved this professional honor and badge of achievement to 239! Congratulations!

Giving: way more fun than shopping

Today at my office, we are celebrating Giving Tuesday — a movement created last year to encourage people to give amidst the orgy of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday shopping. (Don’t get me started on the rather repulsive trend of stores opening on Thanksgiving to push people to shop instead of celebrating family and other blessings.)

NorthridgeYouthI gave $25 towards the San Francisco Parks Alliance’s Giving Tuesday goal to raise $2,000 for its Action Grant program. The Parks Alliance launched Action Grants last spring, donating a total of $25,000 to promising park projects that needed some “seed money” to get off the ground. My favorite, the Northridge Community Garden, was started by Mishwa Lee, a school district retiree and sometime substitute paraprofessional. Mishwa and her fellow Northridge residents have built an amazing garden and gathering space in their Bayview housing complex — producing food, community and youth development opportunities for all residents.

I also gave $25 to what might be my favorite nonprofit in the City (though there are so many that do amazing work!). The Arc of San Francisco holds a special place in my heart because of their work ensuring that adults with developmental disabilities lead productive, independent lives. I was honored to be interviewed for their annual fundraising video this year, which I think sums up their work perfectly:

The Arc’s holiday giving drive provides $25 gift cards to their clients who might not otherwise get any gift this year.

These are just my suggestions for making a gift — of whatever size — this Giving Tuesday. Give to whatever cause is most meaningful to you today – it feels amazing!

unselfies

A revolution in SFUSD school food

If you live in San Francisco, a revolution is coming to a school cafeteria near you  . . .  Revolution Foods, that is.   Tonight, the Board voted unanimously (6-0, with Commissioner Mendoza absent) to award Oakland-based Revolution Foods with an 18-month contract worth $13.5 million  to provide pre-cooked, pre-plated fresh meals (mostly breakfasts and lunches) to students in SFUSD.

This is big news for so many reasons:

  • The contract represents a shift in attitude towards student nutrition. It calls for fresh, not frozen entrees, and specifies that meals must be served to students within 24 hours of being prepared.  If you accept (which I do) that fresh food = higher quality, then this requirement should bring about a huge improvement in the appeal of meals served to students. In many districts, improving the quality of meals has led to modest improvements in participation. What I hope is that this step will begin a “virtuous cycle” of  increasing participation leading to better financial stability for the food program leading to better quality leading to even higher participation.
  •  The contract also represents an increased financial commitment to school meals in San Francisco. District officials told the Board that the school district is paying its current vendor $1.79 per lunch for elementary school students (up from the $1.59 per elementary lunch the district paid in 2011-12). Revolution’s bid for the new contract came to $1.95 per elementary lunch. Revolution was also the lowest bidder. The current vendor, Preferred Meal Systems of Illinois, bid $2.26 per elementary lunch for the same terms. Still,  the bottom line is that the district will now be paying more per meal than it has in the past. In my reasoning (and one of the reasons I supported the new contract), we also will get more for our money.
  • Finally, the contract also represents a huge increase in Revolution’s daily meal production in Northern California — according to co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer Kirsten Tobey, the company is currently producing 33,000 lunches a day in its Oakland kitchens; with the addition of the San Francisco Unified account, it will have to produce at least 22,000 more lunches each day.  Even for one of the nation’s fastest-growing companies, this will be a big lift for Revolution, but Ms. Tobey assured the Board the company can handle it. She said Revolution has already begun increasing refrigeration capacity and is alerting suppliers that their orders will be increasing as well.

Revolution’s foods will start appearing in SFUSD cafeterias on Monday, Jan. 7, the first day of school following the Winter break (and it’s a good thing, too, as sources tell me there was no backup plan if the Board had turned down the contract).  Talk about working without a (hair)net.  Once they’ve had a week or so to settle in, let me know what you think!

SFUSD posts strong academic results for 2011-12

Last Friday, President Norman Yee and I were proud to stand alongside Superintendent Carranza and other district leaders to announce the district’s scores on the 2011-12 California Standards Test (CST or STAR test). The scores added another data point to the trend of gradual improvement for all SFUSD students in English/Language Arts and Math.

English/Language Arts:
Overall, 60.5 percent of all students in grades 2-11 scored proficient or above, up from 50.5 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient (35.5 percent) but compared to just 19.4 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 36.6 percent proficient compared to 18.2 percent proficient just four years ago.

Mathematics
Overall, 67.6 percent of all students in grades 2-7 scored proficient or above, up from 59.4 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient in Math (48.8 percent) but compared to just 25.1 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 50.4 percent proficient compared to 23.5 percent proficient just four years ago.

More data and charts are posted here, and at the Committee of the Whole on Sept. 18 the Board will receive an in-depth presentation on our 2011-12 achievement data. Stay tuned!

District, UESF reach tentative agreement on a contract

Hot off the presses – United Educators of SF and SFUSD have reached a tentative two year agreement (covering 2012-13 and 2013-14) that will restore the number of instructional days to 179.5 and limit the number of forced closure days to 1.5.  This is huge, not only because teachers, paraprofessionals and other UESF members have taken four furlough days in each of the past two years, but also because students will now have the benefit of a full school year (the last day of instruction both years will be designated a half day).

The tentative agreement was reached by the district and UESF bargaining teams last week, and last night was ratified by the UESF Executive Board by a 2-1 margin. Next, the agreement will go to UESF membership with a recommendation to ratify — members will vote in a mail-in election with ballots due by August 20.

“What stands out about this agreement is that, even in the midst of an ongoing economic crisis for public schools in California, we worked together to find a way to make student learning come first by restoring the school year,” said Superintendent [Richard] Carranza. “However, our ability to keep schools open for our children completely hinges on the voters of California passing either or both tax initiatives, Prop. 30 and Prop. 38. Without this, we’ll have to institute as many as 5 additional forced closure days for the upcoming school year and up to 10 additional days for the 2013-14 school year.”

[UESF President] Dennis Kelly pointed out “that the union advocated for the half-day and non-instructional day closures to preserve learning time and to make a statement about the importance of extricating children from the vice of state fiscal failures.”

Major props to the bargaining teams for both sides, who persevered and achieved a good agreement despite some pretty hard feelings earlier in the spring. Assuming UESF membership ratifies the agreement, this is truly a win-win-win for the district, its partners in UESF, and families — who can now look forward to the first day of school without losing precious instructional days and worrying about having to scramble for additional child care to cover scattered forced closure days, or even worse, a prolonged strike.

Read the district’s press release on the agreement here.

Recap: A new Superintendent!

Richard listened as Carlos and members of the Board said lots of nice things about him; his daughter sat at the staff table and recorded every word for posterity.

The big news from tonight’s meeting is that the Board unanimously voted to confirm Richard Carranza as the new Superintendent of SFUSD, beginning in July 2012. He will receive a $245,000 annual salary each year for the term of his three year contract.

Richard has never been a Superintendent before, but he has served as Carlos’ deputy for the last two years and has proved himself more than up to the job of Superintendent of SFUSD. He is smart, hardworking and focused on the job at hand; we like that he has school-age children (two lovely and poised daughters) who are attending (and excelling at) SFUSD schools.  In his remarks this evening, Richard told a story about a time in his life when he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college. His father took him to work at his job cutting sheet metal in 112 degree Arizona heat, and told him: “I don’t want you to work like me. Work with your head, not your hands.” That was the lesson that set him on the road to being an educator, Richard said, as his proud family looked on (one thing I learned tonight — Richard is an identical twin, and you would be hard-pressed to tell him from his brother Ruben –four minutes younger — if they dressed and combed their hair alike).  Carlos was visibly moved as the Board voted, because having Richard succeed him has long been a dream for him.

The bottom line is that Richard is the right man for the district at this moment. We have made a lot of progress since Carlos arrived, and Richard has proved himself to be a person with the vision, skill and the drive to carry the district to the next level even as he has a deep and first-hand knowledge of where we have been. In addition, I will always be personally grateful to Richard for the way he has championed the special education overhaul.

Other items of note from tonight’s agenda:

  • Board members unanimously passed a resolution authored by several student delegates, articulating a broad bathroom access policy for students. Though each school will be able to craft their own specific rules about bathroom access, the new policy makes clear that bathroom access is a right, and students should not have to explain their bodily functions or restrain them at the order of an adult. Bathrooms should remain unlocked during the school day, and students should be allowed to access them as needed as long as that right to access is not abused.
  • We also passed updates to the Board’s comprehensive health education policy, and heard a presentation of data about some of the health challenges that still affect our students. The updated policy makes clear that health education is a priority for SFUSD students and requests that the district redouble its effort to be sure all students are receiving the recommended number of lessons each year.
  • Large groups from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and Buena Vista Horace Mann each came to discuss their principal leadership (the Harvey Milk group spoke in favor of their current principal while the Buena Vista Horace Mann group spoke in favor of a past administrator taking the soon-to-be vacant principal’s job). We heard from teachers who are affected by the Board’s authorization of layoffs back in February, and were urged to rescind those layoffs as soon as possible. A group of non-English-speaking parents came to advocate for more Transitional Kindergarten sites.

Welcome back!

I’ve taken a break from blogging and most school board duties over the past six weeks or so, and it’s been a much needed break. But now a new school year is about to begin, and all over our school district teachers, administrators and other staff are gearing up. So I think it’s fitting to post something a bit inspirational.
Last weekend, teachers from all over the country marched on Washington D.C. to “Save our Schools” — an event designed to articulate teachers’ real concern about the direction of education policy in this country. There were some great speeches, but this one seems to have captured the imagination more than most — the actor Matt Damon, who flew all night to address the rally and honor his mom, a teacher herself.

Scenes from Young at Art 2011

I was glad to have a chance to see the 2011 Young At Art installation at the DeYoung today — it was the last day of this annual art festival celebrating the work of student artists at schools all over San Francisco (primarily public schools but some private schools enter as well). Here’s a look at some of the great artwork created by students:

SFUSD students showcase their cha-cha, salsa and swing

School Board Vice President Norman Yee has been busy this spring, helping several SFUSD elementary schools  (Hillcrest, Bryant, Leonard Flynn, Guadalupe,  Longfellow and Marshall) organize ballroom dancing lessons for students in their afterschool programs.

On May 7, students held a showcase to present what they had learned — which, judging from the video, was quite a lot!

Norman is a salsa dance enthusiast and he had a great time organizing this program for the students. He encourages students to learn dance because, like other athletic activities, it reinforces self-discipline and it provides students access to a new, joyful endeavor that requires focus to do well.

Thanks to Norman and to the dance coaches who helped students learn something new and have a great time in the process.

A bright spot

Sometimes, things happen to reinforce my faith that good things are happening in this school district, despite all the angry e-mails I get. Today, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the unveiling of a mural at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, created by two students from the Community Access Transition (CAT) class at the school. (Students in CAT classes are over the age of 18 but, due to their individual needs, still eligible for special education until the age of 22).  The CAT teacher at SOTA, Heidi Hubrich, noticed that two of her students had particular drawing abilities, and arranged for them to work with artists at an amazing local program, Creativity Explored.

Every Wednesday for almost a year, Steven Liu and Joel Kong worked with artist Larry Morace on drawing. Mr. Morace quickly noticed that Steven was especially talented at landscapes; Joel was especially talented at portraits. Both young men are extremely loyal to their hometown of San Francisco, and blossomed as artists when they began to visit locations around the city to find subjects to draw. Out of Steven and Joel’s work with Mr. Morace, a mural honoring San Francisco subjects was born.

The mural is  a lovely and inspiring artistic achievement in and of itself, but in the true spirit of SOTA (and its patron, Ruth Asawa), other student artists noticed the work and responded in kind. Two juniors in the Media Arts program created a five-minute documentary (which I am seeking to show at the March 22 Board meeting) about Steven and Joel and their mural. A student in the Creative Writing program wrote a poem about it. And today, artists and supporters from Creativity Explored, SOTA students and faculty, Steven, Joel and Heidi’s family members and many others gathered at SOTA to view the completed mural for the first time, celebrate the universal appeal and accessibility of the arts, and honor artists of all abilities.  Today’s event felt like a peek into a future we know can be in all of our schools – where students are respected, accepted and celebrated for what they CAN do rather than sorted based on what they CAN’T. It was lovely.

The next time you are visiting SOTA, check out the mural right next to the door to room 208, Ms. Hubrich’s CAT class,  and pause for a moment to think about whether the “dis-abilities” of the artists really matters.