Coming off back-to-back meetings this week. Last night (April 28) was the regular meeting of the full Board, with a packed agenda that still felt mostly routine. Of note to Board watchers:
- Francisca Sanchez, the district’s chief academic officer, gave a presentation on the implementation of the district’s Pre-K -3 Literacy Initiative. We have pledged to get every child reading by third grade, since studies show that achieving literacy by this age is key to developing higher-level learning in the later grades. Ms. Sanchez talked at length about the need to teach reading comprehension skills in a more effective way; this is notable because previous reading initiatives have focused more on decoding skills. I would like to see more data on the reasons behind this change in focus; I don’t necessarily disagree with it but believe that many of our students still need significant support with decoding, so I don’t support a one-size-fits-many approach to reading instruction and hope this isn’t where we’re going.
- The Board unanimously approved the renewal of the Life Learning Academy charter. This is a truly inspirational program that is transforming the lives of its students — a population that is either already mired in the criminal justice system or highly at-risk. We need more schools like this because this program is saving lives and futures.
- There were several items introduced for first reading: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Yee calling for a Parent Engagement Policy; the Superintendent’s plan for implementing the new graduation requirements to graduate every student ready for college or career; and the draft Master Plan for Physical Education. These will be heard by various Board committees and return to the full board for adoption at a later date.
- The Citizens Bond Oversight Committee presented the (clean) findings of the latest audit of the district’s various facilities bonds: the fourth in as many years. Serving on this committee is absolutely thankless but it is essential work, because it is the oversight that keeps the trust with the taxpayers. We also approved the appointment of three new members of the committee: Monica Pressley, Brian Liles and Michael Theriault.
- Bright spot of the evening was a performance by two first place winners from the 29th annual Oratorical and Musical Contest: 5th grader Lumunda Diop and 2nd grader Bethany Pracole O’Campo were AMAZING. Don’t take my word for it–watch the broadcast on SFGOV.tv (the students’ performance starts about 13 minutes in).
Tonight was a meeting of the Ad Hoc Personnel and Labor Relations Committee. This committee hasn’t met since I’ve been on the Board, and there were numerous items referred; most of them were informational with one action — considering the resolution to reinstate the JROTC program. Not surprisingly, based on Commissioners’ previously stated positions, this item was referred to the full Board with a negative recommendation (the vote was 2-1). The committee also heard updates on:
- Implementation of a Montessori program at Cobb Elementary School;
- A proposal for a Chinese Teacher Exchange program;
- The search for a new Director of Special Education (17 candidates have replied to our job posting and an interview committee is being convened);
- A grievance that was filed around a music teacher position at Lowell High School.
Curious why the job listing for Special Education Director lists the following physical requirements needed for the job:
“Physical abilities include standing and sitting for extended periods, talking/hearing, near and far visual acuity, pushing/pulling, lifting, reaching, carrying, field of vision, fine manual dexterity.”
Has SFUSD never heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
I applaud Commissioners Fewer and Yee for doing the right thing and the smart thing- wanting a policy for community engagement. Of course just having a policy, even a good one, doesn’t assure that the goal is met. And what is the goal of community engagement? It is the District taking the initiative as the leadership to get the community involved in the school, knowing that the investment in bringing in the resources of the community via parent involvement can pay off multifold in the daily lives of the students.
The most important reform the District can make in this regard is to evaluate their principals on the basis of how much value they add towards achieving this goal, which by the way, is very much in keeping with the same goals of the Balanced Scorecard. (One has to wonder why there has not been a policy before given the Strategic Plan’s emphasis on community involvement.)
I would be remiss not to point out that the challenges at bringing in the community are not the same at all schools. But I believe that all the schools have as yet untapped resources among the local stakeholders that the District should actively encourage.
I have been actively pushing for reform on this very issue for some time. There are a lot of resources out there for schools other than the ever dwindling general and categorical funds. And while we have to keep the pressure up in Sac to not let down our students by balancing the budget on the backs of our children, we also have to work from the inside to use the resources we have to better our schools. Our students are going to need all the educational resources they can get in order to pay back all the borrowed stimulus money over the next generation. Let’s not compound the problem by lower the funding for public schools or by failing to tap the community for the invaluable contribution it promises to provide.
If Districts get the waivers that allow them to spend the money in less structured ways, I believe the Board should consider using a small portion of that money to invest in community engagement.