This post is going to be unsatisfyingly short as I have to get up very early tomorrow to attend a training for newly-elected school board members down in Palo Alto. Several years ago I made a big deal on the sfschools list about how new Board members should have to take training when they take office and so now I need to practice what I preached. I’m sure it will be interesting but right now I’m tired and don’t feel like spending the next two days in training.
Tonight the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment met for several hours. Staff members Nancy Waymack and Orla O’Keeffe reviewed reams of data on current enrollment with us, and we heard public comment from perhaps 20 members of the public — many were parents of young children who want very much for us to return to a more address-based system of school assignment. Members of the Coalition to Close the Achievement Gap spoke about the need to refer to the findings of the Student Enrollment, Recruitment and Retention (SERR) report; one educator who works with families in transition (homeless or in other very insecure circumstances) reminded us that many of her clients are not invested or engaged enough in the current system for us to regard their childrens’ enrollment as anything close to a “choice.” Another parent reminded us that the current process for children with special needs is also flawed (I agree).
I want to thank all of the members of the public who came to speak tonight. It’s not particularly fun to stand in line waiting for your turn, then face the Board and the public and speak your piece eloquently in just two minutes. Some people I agreed with more than others, but I listened to everyone and I am trying hard to see this problem from all sides.
Right now I think most of us are feeling frustrated with the process because we know it’s time for us to bite the bullet and start making some hard choices. A keen observer of the Board told me recently that she thought we were all holding back from voicing our true opinions about where we need to go next, and she’s right. I think until tonight all of us were hoping that there is a clear answer, somewhere, in all of the reams of data we’ve asked the staff to help us review.
But tonight it was clear that there is not going to be a moment of true clarity that makes the answer magically appear to everyone concerned – the bottom line is, there are compelling but competing objectives here and at some point we’re all going to have to lay down our cards and see where we are.
That moment is coming soon – at the next meeting on Feb. 12 my understanding is that we will be presented with various models of how the schools would look under varying assignment criteria — e.g., attendance area schools only, attendance area schools with a few city-wide options, school clusters within geographic zones, or city-wide choice. From what Ms. Waymack and Ms. O’Keeffe said this evening, it sounds like we will get a fairly detailed picture of how our schools would look under each model, based on current enrollment. It should be interesting!