Tag Archives: feeder patterns

Board unanimously approves revised feeder plan

Tonight the Board unanimously approved the feeder plan recommended by the Superintendent.  Up until a day ago I was expecting a dissenting vote or two, but I think in the end the staff’s decision to modify the proposal to be a “tiebreaker” system until 2016-17 was the change that convinced Commissioner Wynns (notably the strongest doubter in her public comments previous to tonight’s vote) to support the plan.

I know that in the end it was the decision to refrain from an initial assignment and instead use a tiebreaker process that helped to convince  me. I heard a lot of the doubts about equity and access from parents who would receive preference into less-chosen schools; the PAC and PPS’s original recommendation to dump the feeder plan altogether was very compelling.  But in considering all of the factors, the unknowns and the overarching policy objectives, I finally came down on the side of the feeders.  Specifically:

  • The new elementary-to-MS feeder patterns will allow us to plan more rationally for MS improvements. That’s why the MS principals unanimously supported the plan, because they knew they would have more stable and robust enrollments at their schools AND because they knew the plan would help them build academic and social support bridges between their schools and the elementary schools that would provide their target enrollments.
  • Choice in school assignment isn’t, by itself, a school improvement strategy.  Our experience with a full choice-based assignment system has had some unintended consequences: schools that aren’t chosen have fewer resources and fewer ways to attract those resources, creating a vicious cycle; and choice creates a strong backlash among those who feel entitled to a nearby school but do not get it because it is competitive citywide.  And even though our previous choice system did allow some families to “discover” previously overlooked schools, it’s clear that over time it also supported starker segregation patterns and disadvantaged vulnerable school communities.  In other words, choice is great if you get one of your choices; not so much if you don’t. And since we are forecasting a coming bulge in middle school enrollment, finding a way to offer everyone a more equitable experience — and still allow people at least some ability to choose where their child will attend school–is becoming more urgent.
  • The “tiebreaker” phasing-in of the feeder plan allows some time for families to kick the tires of proposed schools before they are involuntarily “fed” into them through an initial assignment offer.  I believe schools like Denman, Martin Luther King and Visitacion Valley MS will benefit from families who are willing to take a second or third look if their first choices don’t pan out. One of the benefits we’ve seen with choice over the years is the incredible effect of critical mass — once parents see that families they regard as peers are happy at a particular school, they are much more willing to consider it as an option for their own children.

There was some discussion at last night’s Student Assignment committee and again at tonight’s meeting about whether to change the order of tiebreakers for middle school assignment while they are in effect (2012-13 through 2015-16). The PAC and PPS recommended that the Board move CTIP or some other “equity mechanism” above the feeder patterns as a tiebreaker, which in the end only Commissioner Wynns supported. I can’t speak for other Board members, but the reason I opposed giving CTIP higher priority in MS assignments is that I am not convinced yet that it does what we think it does;  I have concerns that it is simply advantaging a subset of families who happen to live in those zones but don’t otherwise fit the racial and socioeconomic profiles we are hoping to advantage.  I would like to see the effect of the strong CTIP preference on K applicant pools and school composition before I agree to “double-down” for MS enrollment. 

I do recognize that some people will be deeply upset and angered by the Board’s decision tonight. I don’t think the Superintendent and staff have done a good job explaining HOW they are going to improve some of our middle schools;  nor have they acknowledged the areas where we should be doing a better job. They actually haven’t even defined very well what a “quality” middle school is. I plan to continue bringing these and related topics to the Board’s Curriculum Committee to help guide the staff in developing an improvement plan for each of our MS.

Tonight the Board also heard about a little thing called the 2011-12 budget, which was introduced for first reading.  It was almost 10:30 p.m. by the time the budget item came up  (another item ate up more than an hour of the Board’s time before that) so there wasn’t really any discussion. The Board will hold an augmented Budget and Business Services Committee meeting on June 21 where the budget will be discussed in greater detail. 

A curve ball on middle school assignment

Update: Last night’s Powerpoint is posted.

At tonight’s Committee of the Whole meeting, Board members were thrown a little bit of a curve ball as part of a progress report on the work to rethink and redesign elementary to middle school feeder patterns.

Regular readers of the blog might recall a major kerfuffle last fall when parents of children enrolled in dual-language immersion programs and parents in southeastern neighborhoods reacted strongly to the district’s first pass at elementary t0 middle school feeder patterns. As so often happens when redesigning complex systems, what initially seemed a straightforward change took on many unanticipated and unintended consequences. So staff, with the Board’s agreement, decided to go back to the drawing board and re-think the implementation of the middle school portion of the new student assignment policy. A working group made up of middle school principals and key central office staff, with input from PPS and the Parent Advisory Council, has been delving into the problems identified last spring, and tonight was the first public peek at where they are going.

Some of the new directions are surprising, and the budget and program implications are complex. The presentation shown to the Board tonight began with a striking overview of capacity and demand data — specifically, that we are expecting a 39 percent increase in middle school enrollment in the next three to five years based on current elementary school enrollment trends; also that almost 50 percent of SFUSD middle school students are enrolled in just four of our 15 middle schools: Aptos, Presidio, Giannini, and Hoover.  Finally, five schools are operating at less than 50 percent of capacity (Willie Brown, Everett, ISA, Horace Mann, and Visitacion Valley). Continue reading

Oh, so many questions!

Updated 10:30 p.m. August 20  — I really do need to get a good night’s sleep tonight, but I’m trying to answer all the questions I’m getting and sort out for myself what issues really need addressing by the staff and which are just issues that are bound to arise because some people feel they “won” while others feel they “lost” when they saw the attendance area maps and feeder patterns.  Here’s my working list of questions I am filing away to ask the staff at my next opportunity:

  • Language programs and pathways – lots of questions here about why some pathways are separated and others are merged — why wouldn’t it make sense, for example, to have both of the Japanese language/culture pathways (one at Clarendon and one at Rosa Parks) go together to the same middle school? Why did we feed the two very small Mandarin pathways (Starr King and Jose Ortega) into two separate middle schools rather than bringing them together?
  • Child development programs – the explanatory materials for parents need more explanation of our Child Development Programs, how to apply and a map of where they are located.
  • Middle school capacities vs. likely enrollment year one: the McKinley parents have complained that it looks like too few schools are feeding into Everett Middle School, but that seems to be the case for most of the middle schools. See this comment thread for more info.
  • Should we tweak the west side feeder patterns? I love that Cobb is feeding into Presidio and the 1-California and 38-Geary bus lines are a straight shot from Lower Pac Hts to the outer Richmond. But I wonder if perhaps Peabody or McCoppin should also feed into Roosevelt to boost the school’s neighborhood draw and keep the school socioeconomically diverse. Both schools are much closer to Roosevelt than they are to Presidio.
  • “Placeholder” pathways for Flynn and John Muir into ISA — IB programs are sequential and are not fully built at the elementary schools. Until they are, students feeding into ISA will not be getting IB in any form — why make them travel so far until the program options are in place?
  • (Added Aug. 20) GATE – some middle schools have honors programs; others take a differentiated approach with high-achieving students. This is an enormous hot-button issue, as some people think the answer is to eliminate the remedial track altogether and instead educate everyone to a higher (i.e., college-ready) standard. Others think that the equity issue is that there aren’t honors tracks at all schools.   Historically, the “honors” track was really the “college-prep” track, but now everyone is supposed to be on the college-ready track. Most people will probably agree that there isn’t much place for a remedial track at middle and high schools, but some will insist that a high-achieving track should still exist. My question is — how many students are truly gifted and how many are happily yet appropriately on-track for college? This distinction has gotten blurry over the decades and there are big fireworks to come on this issue.  

Attendance areas and feeder patterns

As promised, tonight district staff unveiled the draft maps of attendance areas and middle school feeder patterns. I don’t have electronic copies of the maps, but they should be posted at the following site by tomorrow: www.sfusd.edu/Enroll
Tonight’s meeting was televised, and while you won’t be able to make out the teensy tiny maps on from the telecast, there was some interesting discussion and public comment.

Generally, I didn’t feel there were many huge surprises, or attendance areas that felt terribly “gerrymandered.” Parents from McKinley Elementary were on hand to protest the proposal that their school would feed into Everett Middle School; another group of parents pushing for a neighborhood-only school assignment scheme also came to speak for public comment.

The McKinley comments were difficult for me, because it’s a community I feel very connected to. My own daughter attended a pre-K class at McKinley for two years; more recently I have been honored to be a judge at McKinley’s last two DogFest fundraisers (a lovely and fun annual event). I also try to never miss the school’s annual Junior Olympics celebration, which manages to be adorable, fun and uplifting all at the same time.  I understand that parents at McKinley have worked tremendously hard to boost enrollment at their school (a few years after my daughter went on to Kindergarten, McKinley ended up on the district’s dreaded closure list and had to “prove” it could attract more students in order to get off the list — thank goodness we don’t have a closure list anymore!).  I also understand that Everett Middle School is on the state’s own dreaded list of persistently underperforming schools, so for many parents enrolling at Everett represents a leap of faith — trust that the school district can and will turn the school around.  On the other hand, the whole reason we wrote middle school feeder patterns into the new assignment plan was to give families the reassurance that their child’s peer group would remain stable during the transition to middle school. As Commissioner Wynns said tonight, “Everett will be McKinley,” if students follow the feeder patterns. (Note to the neighborhood schools people: Everett is McKinley’s neighborhood school, less than three-quarters of a mile away according to Google Maps).

I didn’t like hearing McKinley parents classify Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy (another elementary school designated to feed into Everett) as “low-performing” — its API has steadily risen in recent years and is now at 783, up from 768 last year.  (McKinley is at 810 this year — up from 786 last year. Does that mean that last year McKinley parents thought their school was low-performing? I doubt it).

I also didn’t like hearing some McKinley parents advocating for other high-performing schools to be sent to Everett — either instead of or alongside their own children.

Finally, Everett has an enormous opportunity in the next few years that is represented by SFUSD’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) funding request poised for approval by the State Board of Education next week. SFUSD’s SIG grant originally asked for $48 million in funding for SFUSD’s 10 persistently underperforming schools; we are likely to be granted $45 million, with well over $3 million of it going towards our turnaround plan for Everett in the next three years.  I understand that people are worried and distrustful that SFUSD can turn around an underperforming school — but more expertise, focus and MONEY is going into Everett this year, and I do believe it will make a difference.

Anyway, it’s late and I’m tired, and there will be many more opportunities to respond to the draft attendance areas/feeder patterns — several community meetings are planned and there is also an online survey (staff asked for people who fill out the survey to be very specific in their feedback, naming schools and street names if at all possible, so that the feedback can be more easily compiled). Once the enrollment web site is live, let me know your thoughts in the comments.