Category Archives: Not so great things going on

URGENT: SFUSD schools will be closed TOMORROW Dec 11

Due to forecasts for a very strong winter storm tomorrow, Thursday Dec. 11, the Superintendent has decided to close the schools for the day. Please visit sfusd.edu for further updates.

Gateway HS’ velvet rope

Another update: I am shutting down comments on this post as they are getting out of hand on all sides. Suffice it to say that some people are very angry at Gateway and some people are very angry with me for calling out Gateway in the way I did. I had a very good, frank discussion with Sharon Olken this morning and apologized to her for questioning her integrity and motives. She graciously accepted my apology and explained what Gateway is trying to accomplish. I credit the school for having the best of intentions but I still strongly disagree with the policy — I don’t think it will accomplish what they want it to. We agreed to disagree on this issue for now, and I am coming to visit the HS for the first time in a while in a few weeks. I will write a longer post later when I have more time.

Update: I just spoke to Jill Tucker of the Chronicle, who is writing about this issue for tonight. She confirms that Gateway will hold two lotteries: one after Oct. 4 and one (assuming there are any seats unfilled) after the regular January deadline. Gateway HS has not yet responded to my emails so that’s all I know — I’ll be waiting to read Jill’s reporting. 

In the past I’ve been an admirer of Gateway Public Schools, a charter school operator that runs Gateway HS and Gateway MS here in SFUSD. Gateway MS’ charter barely squeaked through in 2010 on a 4-3 vote — I was in the majority.

Tonight, I’m sorry I voted for them. I learned today that Gateway HS has set up an “early application deadline” of October 4, 2013 for the 2014-15 school year. Yeah, this Oct. 4– as in 25 days from today.  The only reason that makes sense is because when we approved the middle school’s charter three years ago, the Board made very clear that Gateway MS students would not have priority enrollment into Gateway HS. Now, the first class of Gateway middle-schoolers is ready to enter high school, so the schools have quietly set up a two-tier enrollment system with an insanely early deadline that was only publicized to current Gateway MS students.

Gateway HS is very small, and incredibly popular. Someone (I can’t remember who) told me last year that they had crunched the numbers and based on the ratio of applications to seats, that Gateway is more selective than Harvard. So giving the MS students a leg up is no laughing matter — it’s a serious advantage over the rest of students across San Francisco who are interested in attending Gateway HS. What’s worse, we know that the earlier you set an application deadline, the more you disadvantage families who are not connected to the Internet or parent networks and/or who don’t speak English. So setting an earlier deadline isn’t just advantaging current MS students — it’s advantaging families who are savvy enough to check the Gateway web site in September.

How Gateway has gone about it is seriously sneaky. I never would have approved their charter if I’d thought this was the way they would honor their commitments. I’m ashamed of them and hope they will change this misguided admissions policy.

Scarier than Halloween . . .

Tonight the Superintendent sent a memo to the Board listing the effects if Prop. 30 and/or Prop. 38 don’t pass. It’s not good, and includes $10 million in additional forced closure (furlough) days this school year — school would end with a half day on Thursday, May 23 instead of a half-day on Friday, May 27–as well as $6.5 million in additional mid-year cuts. And then there’s 2013-14.

Though many school advocates feel Prop. 38 is better for schools in the long run (here is a more detailed comparison of the two measures as well as a fact sheet), the measure has never polled above 50 percent. Prop. 30 had polled above 50 percent until recently, but because of negative advertising the measure is now supported by less than a majority according to polls.  Though I have long advocated a “yes/yes” position on the two measures, with the reasoning that asking voters to choose between the two dooms both to failure, I think now during the stretch it is imperative that education advocates impress on voters who care about our schools that Prop. 30 must pass.   In other words, do whatever you want with Prop. 38 (I’m voting yes) but please, whatever you do, vote YES on 30. 

Student assignment and unintended consequences

Did you know that the district has acknowledged making a mistake in the way it has handled 6th and 9th grade assignments for 2012-13? To catch it, you would have had to be listening very closely last Tuesday evening (June 26) as the Superintendent read his Thoughts for the Evening. Here is an excerpt from Carlos’ prepared remarks on the issue: Continue reading

NOW it’s summer!

Most people — my children among them — think SFUSD let out for the 2011-12 school year on last Friday, May 25.  Nope! Today was actually the last day of the school year, but all the schools and district offices were shut due to budget cuts.  If you emailed the Superintendent or other member of the central office staff, chances are you got some version of the following autoresponder:

Thank you for contacting me.  I will be out of the office until Wednesday May 30th. All SFUSD schools and central services departments are closed for the Memorial Day holiday on May 28th and for a forced closure day on May 29th, caused by inadequate state funding for public education.

It’s important not to let forced closure days go unnoticed — there have been eight of them in the past two years, representing thousands of dollars in pay cuts to teachers and other staff, and close to two weeks in lost education for students.

To learn more about how schools are [un]funded in California, and some possible short- or  long-term solutions to the problem, here are some great reports to read:

Unscientific survey: TV and movies in the classroom?

I received a heartfelt email recently from a parent who has decided, with regret, to  leave SFUSD for private high school next year. There are a lot of reasons for the decision, but one particular thing really rankles:

Both of my children have watched dozens and dozens and dozens of hours of film and video that is often totally content free, and as a rule, unrelated to curriculum.

The parent went on to offer one concrete suggestion — keep track of and limit the amount of television and videos that are being shown in classrooms.

I’m not opposed to using TV and movie content in the classroom if it can be directly related to the standards and the curriculum being taught, and that is also the official district policy, as I understand it (I don’t know if there are specific limits on how much TV is too much).  Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Henry V is a case in point — if this doesn’t bring Shakespeare alive, I don’t know what does!

News clips from CNN, “The Daily Show,” documentaries or other content can really enliven a lecture and engage kids in discussion.  Personally, I think the “Daily Show” report on the Ethnic Studies debate in Tucson is the sharpest social commentary I’ve seen in quite a while and would spark a great discussion in any high school or middle school classroom.

When my kids were in elementary school, teachers occasionally showed movies in class — usually on the last day before a vacation or at the end of the day after a class party when everyone (kids and teacher) was fried. I didn’t/don’t love the practice but I never felt it was so widespread or common that I had to protest.  I’m not aware that my daughters’ middle school teachers are using much, if any TV or movies in the classroom, and officially it is district policy for such content to be directly related to what is taught.

When I was in middle school, my beloved biology teacher Ms. Pensky used to have Friday movie day and show us reels of educational science films (some of them admittedly pretty hokey but still with legitimate scientific content).  But showing “House” and calling it science? (I’ve been told this recently happened in a high-performing high school but haven’t personally verified the claim).   Last year I was visiting a very low-performing school with an assistant superintendent and we came upon a math class watching the movie “The Blind Side.” (The teacher was aware enough to be embarrassed when we walked in).

So, here’s my unscientific survey for current SFUSD parents: what are your kids’ experiences with TV and video in the classroom? Do not name schools or teachers in the comments — this is not a “gotcha” exercise but instead I’m trying to get a sense of how widespread these practices are and whether a clarification of district policy is needed. I’d also love to hear from teachers about how you use TV and video in your classrooms — as I said above, I think there are some very legitimate uses.

You can answer in the comments or send me an email if you would rather comment privately: comments “at” rachelnorton.com

Meeting recap: March 13, 2012

Update: I was so tired last night I completely forgot to mention another bright spot from the meeting — an update from Peer Resources on the programs they provide in 13 schools ( high schools and middle schools). This is a fabulous program that teaches teens conflict resolution and leadership skills, and it has changed a lot of lives! It’s a program of the San Francisco Education Fund that needs to be in every high school and middle school. Thanks to Peer Resources for an uplifting report. 

Anger over the Board’s Feb. 28 vote on layoffs continues. We had a large group of UESF members and other labor supporters address the board to oppose the layoffs, and the Board’s 5-1 decision to skip teachers at 14 lower-performing schools.

Some of the arguments were economic: do we really need to do layoffs? What about the district’s reserves? My answer to those questions is that the reserves aren’t enough for the worst case scenario if the tax proposals currently headed to the ballot fail, if the state’s revenues continue to falter and negotiations on the new contract do not produce any savings over projected costs for 2012-13.

Some of the arguments were political: We should be arguing with Sacramento, not amongst ourselves; The district’s layoff strategy is divisive and represents union-busting; Other schools are just as needy as those the district chose to skip. I agree that we should place the blame with Sacramento, but I don’t agree that skipping the SZ schools is union-busting. In voting for the skip my intent was not to weaken the union, but instead to support — in a limited way– schools that have under-performed for generations.  My friends at UESF strongly disagree. Are there more underperforming schools that could benefit by keeping their teachers? YES. But skipping the 25 hard-to-staff schools would have presented an even greater challenge to UESF and I believe for that reason, the Superintendent chose not to go there.  Still, several of us quietly agreed with the El Dorado staff when they told us we had not gone far enough to do anything for their school.  (And I must give an annual shoutout to the El Dorado staff for the way they stand up for their school and for each other. They don’t think much of the Board or district leadership, but anyway I do appreciate their efforts and their advocacy. People are listening, even if maybe you think they aren’t.)

Several members of the Martin Luther King Jr. High community came to talk to us about discipline, leadership and personnel issues at their school; we also heard from several parents of children who are eligible for Transitional Kindergarten and remain unhappy with the district’s decision to go ahead with opening two TK programs — one in Visitacion Valley and one in the Bayview.

Board members unanimously passed a resolution in support of the SF Botanical Garden Society’s plans to upgrade its educational programs through the construction of a “Center for Sustainable Gardening.” These programs benefit thousands of SF public school students each year and I was glad to author a resolution that brings  the Society’s dream of a true education center at the Botanical Garden a bit closer to reality.