Tonight I sat in on the Curriculum and Program Committee meeting, which Commissioner Fewer graciously agreed to augment due to interest in the Gateway to College and JROTC Independent Study resolutions on the part of the full board. Before I get to those two discussions, however, a few words about an update on the district’s draft Technology Plan.
SchoolLoop, a new online tool that will help parents, students, teachers and administrators connect with each other and share information about student progress, is almost here! It’s being piloted at 20 sites this year (I know Aptos Middle School is one, but not sure where else), with great reviews. It should be rolled out at every school in the fall, and I can’t wait. However, to fully realize the vision of student, school and home connected-ness (not just SchoolLoop but laptops for all, interactive whiteboards, and work to integrate technology into every corner of our curriculum), it will take an almost obscene amount of money — $36 million at least. At least we are completing the first and very important step by creating a solid plan.
We also heard an update from the Program Placement committee, and I learned that a K-12 Special Education Master Plan has been proposed. (“Master Plan” is the new buzzword in the district these days, because of the success of the Arts Education Master Plan as a way of defining objectives and gathering support from internal and external resources. That’s why we have a new P.E. Master Plan, a draft Technology Master Plan, and now apparently a Special Education Master Plan in its infancy). Anyway, I’ll be interested in seeing what becomes of this idea.
On to Gateway to College. This issue, about opening a new program to re-engage students who have dropped out, has quickly become contentious because some Commissioners feel strongly that the proposed Southeast campus site is not appropriate for this use (citing lack of course offerings and services).
There is a lot of history here that is feeding into the strong feelings — City College’s Southeast site has languished due to lack of investment, and there is still resentment that a similar program we had in place some years ago was allowed to wither away for lack of resources. But there is new leadership in place at City College, and there is almost nothing to lose because there is no other program in place for this group of potential students. I think we should take what is admittedly a leap of faith, because there are an array of community organizations ready to make sure the students at this campus are supported in the objective of getting them a high school diploma and concurrent college credit to get them started on the next step. Not to mention the fact that we are being asked for no funds other than whatever staff help it would take to get waivers from the state to allow “our” students (and the ADA funds that go with them) to go to City College instead of an SFUSD high school.
The committee’s last item was the Yee/Kim resolution that would permit students enrolled in JROTC to complete their P.E. requirement through independent study (I should note that Commissioner Kim announced tonight, to no surprise, that she will not be supporting the resolution which bears her name). P.E. teachers oppose this resolution, because they feel the proposal cheapens their professional qualifications and ability. They are supported by those who continue to be opposed to JROTC because of its military origins. But I continue to feel that this is not about P.E. teachers, let alone the military.
At its height, JROTC enrollment accounted for less than 10 percent of all high school students. This independent study proposal completes the task of reinstating the program we had in place before 2006, and addresses the added complications introduced by changes in the P.E. standards and requirements at the state level since that time. Perhaps it is not “pure” P.E. , but in my opinion it offers the most important components–an appreciation for the benefits of physical fitness and the knowledge of how to attain and maintain that fitness throughout adult life. As a bonus, for the minority of students who need it and seek it out, the program offers mentoring and assistance in developing skills like self-discipline, teamwork and perseverance.
I also strongly reject the idea that somehow this is the tip of the iceberg–that if the Board approves this proposal we will be suddenly inundated with requests for independent study credit. This is a special and strictly defined case, and any further extensions of independent study would have to be individually approved by the Board. Furthermore, this course has a long history within the district as P.E., and our history of providing graduation credit in lieu of P.E. was recently affirmed by the State Board of Education. I am not sure there are any other courses with a potential constituency for independent study that would meet these two conditions, and without them I think the Board would be less than sympathetic to a request for independent study.