Tag Archives: elections

January 8, 2013: Meeting recap

gavel“And now it is my pleasure to announce that I have been elected President of the Board of Education.”

It’s kind of strange to chair the annual Board elections and be a candidate at the same time, but with today’s swearing in of new District 7 Supervisor (and outgoing Board President) Norman Yee, I was the only outgoing officer available to chair tonight’s meeting.  I’m honored and humbled to have been unanimously elected President of the Board this evening — thanks to all of my colleagues for their vote of confidence and especially to new Commissioner Matt Haney, who did me the honor of nominating me as a candidate.  Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer was unanimously elected Vice President of the Board.

Board elections and other procedural business disposed of, we then moved to recognitions and commendations.  Alice Fong Yu Alternative School and its principal Liana Szeto were recognized for receiving two major honors — a National Blue Ribbon School award and the Terrell H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. It was wonderful to see the joy and pride of the AFY community in celebrating these honors — though the school was asked to bring just three representatives to speak at the meeting, they couldn’t resist bringing at least 13, including parents, teachers, and many students. I will never, ever get tired of hearing what I’m told is perfect Mandarin coming from the mouths of African-American, Irish-American, or Filipino-American students at AFY — it’s one of the jewels in our district and the community is rightly proud.  Washington High School teacher Michelle Kyung was also honored by the Board for winning the Carlston Family Foundation award for outstanding teaching.

Also of particular note on tonight’s agenda was the adoption of the district’s annual financial audit. For the first time anyone can remember, there were no findings  requiring attention or remedies from the Board and district leadership. And the absence of findings isn’t unusual just for SFUSD — it’s unusual for school districts across the country. We have had the same auditor for many years, so it’s also not as if Vavrinek, Trine & Day (our audit firm) are just going easy on us — even in my four years on the Board I have seen them ding us for one thing or another.  Bottom line — it is an indication of fiscal transparency and good stewardship of public funds that we were able tonight to adopt a 100% clean audit.  Or, as our auditor Leonard Dana told the Board tonight: “I’ve never been applauded on presenting an audit before. Auditors never get applauded.”

rev foods sampleCommissioners also had an opportunity to sample meals prepared by our new meal provider, Revolution Foods. On tomorrow’s menu: Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and 100% beef meatballs; fresh fruit, butternut squash, and baked whole wheat ranch-flavored chips. I would have to say — not bad at all. I am mostly hearing good things about the first two days of meals with our new provider, though there have been a few glitches. I would like to hear from more parents and kids — what’s your experience with the new Revolution Foods meals? Leave a comment or email me at comments “at” rachelnorton.com.

We heard from many members of the Creative Arts Charter School community, who are alarmed at a proposal to co-locate Gateway Middle School at the Annex building on the Golden Gate Elementary School building they have occupied for several years. Creative Arts is a K-8 school that will have about 400 students next year. Gateway Middle is a 6-8 school that will have about 300 students next year, and is managed by the same group that manages Gateway High School, located for many years at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School site on Scott and Geary (about two blocks from the Golden Gate ES site).  Gateway MS has, since the Board first granted its charter in 2010, expressed a strong desire to be near Gateway HS, and serve the Western Addition.

Co-locations are often contentious and I understand that they are not ideal. No one wants to have to compromise about the program they offer their students so that a completely different program with completely different students can share their space.  District officials tell me that they have agreed to a suggestion that the Gateway, CACS and district decision-makers meet to try to come to a resolution that works for all parties. But somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

I want to close with my sense of humility and gratitude to my colleagues that I’ve been granted this leadership opportunity (and responsibility) this year.  The quote I contributed to the district’s press release reads, in part: “Every Commissioner is utterly committed to increasing student achievement and making sure every student in San Francisco has access to educational opportunity. Our challenge will be to stay focused and make sure that our time and energy is spent crafting policies that best support these priorities.”

Here we go!

Meeting recap: January 10, 2012

Notes from last night’s Board meeting: The Board elected new officers
tonight — Commissioner Yee will be President and I am Vice President. Board members also expressed sincere thanks to Commissioner Mendoza for her two years of service as a member of Board leadership.

Parents from Alice Fong Yu Alternative School (accompanied by former Board of Education member Dan Kelly, whose child attended the school) came to express their alarm with a plan to change the school’s immersion model. Originally, the school was “one-way” immersion (where every child comes in English-proficient and everyone is immersed in Cantonese and eventually Mandarin). A few years ago, the school began admitting English Learners as one-third of every Kindergarten class (to be admitted as an English proficient student at AFY, children have always had to pass an English skills test). Now, the district is proposing to turn the school into a true dual-immersion model, which would shift the incoming class composition to one-third English-proficient and two-thirds English Learner.

AFY is an award-winning school, one of the school district’s highest-scoring and most highly-requested, but its instructional model (requiring a large number of students who are already proficient in English) ensures that fewer students with challenges will enroll in the first place. AFY parents argue that changing the instruction model will cause the school to become less ethnically diverse; they argue that their school is successful and that changing the instructional model will endanger that success.

I don’t know that I think changing the model will make the school less successful, but I haven’t heard the district’s arguments for why this must happen now. As I understand it, research on one-way vs. dual- immersion programs is inconclusive; just as the research on whether English Learners do better in immersion as opposed to bilingual education is also inconclusive. But judging from the green shirt-clad crowd who came to support AFY, this issue is very important and not going away. I will be bringing the topic to the Curriculum & Program committee on January 18 at 5 p.m. for further discussion.

A group from Paul Revere PK-8th school came to speak in support of their principal (blog readers might remember that another group of parents has come to speak to the Board several times to express their unhappiness with the same administrator).

Other items of note:

  • Superintendent Garcia told the Board and public that he has reviewed the Governor’s proposed budget (inadvertently released last week), and that it contains very bad news for SFUSD. Our deficit could grow to $40 million in 2012-13 after we had been planning for a worst-case scenario of $20 million. The news coincided with the release of initial contract proposals for bargaining with United Educators of San Francisco and United Administrators of San Francisco. Leaders of both unions were on hand to remind us that their members have already given — a lot. With the “sunshining” of proposals, bargaining can now begin, but I would expect it to take a while as there are no good agreements to be made.
  • The Board honored members of the District English Learners Advisory Committee (DELAC); workers on the district’s building at 1601 Turk St. who went above and beyond to warn residents of a large, destructive fire on December 22, 2011; and writer Katherine Otoshi, who together with the Japanese American Citizens League, arranged for copies of her two wonderful anti-bullying books (“Zero” and “One“) to be donated to SFUSD elementary school libraries.
  • Finally, the Board passed President Yee’s resolution affirming district support for an upcoming summit he has organized and will chair (possibly with Mayor Edwin Lee). The purpose of the “Pre-K – 3rd: Looking Back, Moving Forward”  summit is to create and to support a vision of a PreK to 3rd Grade which would allow many different entities and organizations working on early literacy to better work together and align their efforts. The summit will include a national speaker, Ralph Smith, Senior Vice President ofthe Annie E. Casey Foundation,  who is leading a national initiative to have all children read at grade level. It is scheduled for February 25, 2012, location and time TBA.

Why Tuesday?

My friend Alex Tourk has recently enlisted me in a new project he is working on for November — an effort to increase voter turnout by allowing people to vote on a day other than Tuesday.  Alex says:

Over the past 10 elections we have averaged 47% voter turnout of eligible voters. That’s abysmal for a city that considers itself to be politically savvy.  Less than half of our population is participating in the democratic process; electing our leaders, and making important decisions for the future of our City. 
There’s no silver bullet that will magically ensure 100% voter participation, but the decision to hold our elections on Tuesdays is one that was made 150 years ago in a different era.  It was a Judeo-Christian society where individuals would have their days of worship on the weekends, pack up their horse and buggy on Monday, and travel into town squares to conduct their business, which included voting. 
We decided 150 years ago to host elections when it was convenient for people to vote, but today, how is hosting an election mid-week in any way convenient?  Are we encouraging people to participate in the democratic process by hosting elections on a day when families have numerous obligations?
Changing elections to a day where people have fewer obligations is a step we can take towards making voting and participation in our democratic process more accessible, and I hope it’s a step you’ll take with me. 

Alex is not one to do things in a half-hearted or small way, so he’s launching a full-on campaign to convince San Franciscans that weekend voting is an idea whose time has come. On Saturday April 3, Why Tuesday SF will formally launch a signature drive to put the Saturday Voting Act on the November 2010 ballot (10,000 signatures from San Francisco registered voters will be needed by July 7). The Saturday Voting Act will:

  • Extend opportunities to vote by opening all polling places on the Saturday before a Tuesday election.
  • Maintain traditional Tuesday voting, as well as all other means of voting, including absentee and early voting.
  • Not cost taxpayers one dime, since all costs associated with the Saturday Voting Act will be donated by organizations and individuals.
  • Engage our youth to participate in the electoral process and become more active participants in our neighborhoods, our schools, and our future.

Why Tuesday, indeed?  To get involved or learn more about the Saturday Voting Act, visit whytuesdaysf.org or come on by the kickoff event this Saturday, April 3 at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center (1050 McAllister St. @ Webster) at 11 a.m.  San Francisco registered voters can get a petition and start collecting signatures now!