Recap: Whose side are you on? And when is the meeting?

Tonight’s regularly-scheduled Board meeting was a particularly contentious one, thanks to the current state of our contract negotiations and the ongoing uncertainty at schools the state has now designated as persistently underperforming. We must have had at least 70 speakers for public comment, even after President Kim limited the amount of time each group had to speak.

First up: a group of parents and community members who wanted to express their bewilderment and outrage at the state’s decision to name their schools–George Washington Carver Elementary and Willie Brown Elementary–to the  persistently underperforming list and subjecting these schools to sanctions. The families are worried that the district will opt to close these schools, and distrustful of assurances that there is no plan to close them (even though the state and the Federal government say that closure is one of the options we must consider). Superintendent Garcia tonight reiterated those assurances, but did suggest that there is a future possibility that we might temporarily close Willie Brown in order to build a better facility.

In general, though, the state has put us in a terrible position. First of all, it is absurd that California’s highest-scoring urban district, whose enrollment represents about 1 percent of the state’s public school students, has 10 schools on the persistently underperforming list.  It turns out that having 10 schools on the “bad list”  is really significant for your district’s reform plans, because it means you are limited to using any one strategy on 50 percent or fewer of your schools. In a district like ours, where we have real problems with most of the prescribed strategies (none of which are supported by research!), it means that we will have to impose more radical changes than we would like on more schools than we would choose.

Second, and most important to the Carver and Willie Brown communities, the state has been less than forthcoming with information about what options districts have available to them — which means that the school district has not been very forthcoming either, for fear of misleading school staff and families and then having to change directions. Hopefully we will be able to address the lack of information at a community meeting scheduled for April 22, when district staff will meet with community members at Carver (I don’t have further information about the meeting but will post it as soon as I do).

And then: After 10 or so angry speakers from Carver and Willie Brown, we went on to 30 or more angry speakers from UESF, which held a rally before the meeting as a reaction to the Superintendent’s decision to declare impasse in our labor negotiations (the title of this post comes from questions posed by UESF members during public comment).  What happens now is dependent on a number of factors, but most likely the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) will clear the way for a neutral mediator to be appointed. That mediator has the power to compel both parties back to the negotiating table until such a time as he or she determines further talks are pointless. Then, if necessary, the district and UESF will move to fact-finding, where another neutral party determines which facts are material to determining a resolution of the dispute. Once the fact-finder’s report is complete, the district will either impose a “last, best offer,” or the union will strike, or both. Fasten your seat belts, folks — it is anyone’s guess as to how this will come out.

Before I move on from the UESF public comment, however, I must give a shout out to Eric Hendy, a teacher at SF Community. Mr. Hendy asked, in all seriousness, “When is the meeting?” When are we going to get political leaders, educational leaders, families and other powerful people together to put together a plan for a better education system in California?  I don’t know, Mr. Hendy — but as soon as I find out when and where, I’ll let you all know. This–the process we are now going through–is just insane.

Finally, we moved on to the central item of business for the evening: the charter petition for Gateway Charter Middle School. This was one of the more difficult votes I have been asked to take on the Board, because this charter petition couldn’t have hit at a worse time. Gateway High School has a tremendous track record, and my recent visit to the high school confirmed for me that the vision described in their middle school petition represents something we don’t currently offer in this district. And yet, the approval of another middle school will almost certainly hurt enrollment in our traditional middle schools — how much remains to be seen. In the words of Commissioner Fewer, “our middle schools are weak.” I agree. I also agree with Commissioner Fewer that we are working on this segment of our program, but I disagree with her that our rising elementary school students have the time to wait. At least some of them will really benefit from the option the Gateway middle school petition offers, and Gateway has a proven track record. After a planning year in 2010-11, they will no doubt be ready to go in Fall 2011 — something I wish I had the confidence to say about our own middle school reforms. And so, with some regret, I voted to approve the charter (the final vote was 4-3, with Commissioners Maufas, Mendoza and Kim joining me to approve the charter; Commissioners Fewer, Yee and Wynns voted against).

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12 responses to “Recap: Whose side are you on? And when is the meeting?

  1. “Hi Bernal Dad – You get the money for closing the school, too, because closure is one of the four school turnaround options.”

    Really? *Mind boggles*

    OK, we close the ten schools, and then reopen the next year as the Xalcolm M Academy and Raul Pevere Elementary, etc.

  2. Westcoastgal

    I used to be a charter school skeptic, then I saw how Kevin Truitt eviscerated the Montessori program. They should have gone charter.

    Middle schools have been a weak link in general in SFSUD and other large urban districts for many years. Middle schools have a mix of credentialed teachers; some K-8 multiple subject and others that are content specific. This diversity of teaching content and style could be an asset in smaller schools.
    But for Fewer and Wynns to tell charter parents to wait and put up with more of the same in SFUSD is not only illegal it is immoral.
    Good thing “restorative justice” was mentioned so that Maufas could vote “yes”.

  3. thalia, remember that construction is generally funded through bond money, while teachers are paid with general fund money. Two totally different pots. It’s very possible that in one of our upcoming bond measures (I believe we are going to need another facilities bond on the ballot sometime in the next few years) we can add on funds for constructing a state of the art school to replace the decrepit Willie Brown facility. But all the bond money in the world could not pay for one teacher.

  4. When Carlos Garcia joined SFUSD I was part of several conversations where he noted that we had a lot of work to do in middle school. As I recall, he was quite emphatic that there would be a great deal of focus on improving this area.

    I’ve been a middle school parent for two years now and both my kids will be in middle school next year, yet I’ve seen no public discussion or emphasis on middle school during this time.

    My own experience with my oldest at a SFUSD middle school to date is mixed. There are fantastic things and some areas of very serious need and improvement. I guess I come out somewhere between the sentiments of Sandra Fewer and Caroline on this.

    But most importantly, where is the leadership in making middle school a focus?

    I wish I saw the initiative from the district and district-wide to evaluate and implement what was shared in this study (I attended the conference with the Assist. Principal from our middle school);
    http://www.edsource.org/middle-grades-study.html

  5. Ummm,when Carlos Garcia came up with this idea of building a new facility for one of the underperforming schools…the cost of construction of something like would go a long way in solving our budget problem. If that money exists we should be putting MORE teachers in the classrooms to fix these schools,not firing them and replacing them with a building. As it is,if the pink slips aren’t rescinded we will see more failing schools in the future.

  6. Special Ed Parent

    Rachel, I think you made the right decision on Gateway. You are spot on about the lack of K through 8 options and, particularly, the lack of small school options for kids with learning issues. Gateway will fill this whole. I know this is a tough year to do this, but you have given me and other special ed parents an alternative for middle school.

  7. Hi Bernal Dad – You get the money for closing the school, too, because closure is one of the four school turnaround options. Re: how the votes broke down last night – glad the Board can still keep people guessing sometimes :-). In all seriousness, I thought the breakdown was interesting too. I think it reflects how hard this decision was for every board member, because there are compelling reasons on both sides.

  8. Caroline, “skeptic” is putting it mildly! 🙂 Anyway, though Sandy’s statement about middle schools was perhaps too sweeping, what really bothers me is that we don’t have any small middle school options in-district other than our K-8s. What Gateway provides — and I saw it again for myself when I went on a visit last month — is a very individualized environment for the students who attend. The application issues you cite are less prevalent than they were five or six years ago, but I have asked Sharon Oleken (the principal) to continue to be vigilant around the widespread perception that Gateway picks and chooses. When you go there, the school is very diverse racially and somewhat less diverse socioeconomically than the district as a whole.
    The reason I approved the Gateway Middle School charter is that we nave NO in-district small middle school option other than our K-8s, which are oversubscribed and not able to offer as much comprehensive middle school programming. We don’t have a middle school that (in my opinion) offers the same high quality individualized program that Gateway Middle will offer. As I said in my post, I think we will get there eventually, but I don’t think it’s fair to tell students to wait until we get our act together on middle schools when Gateway has such a strong track record and put in such a strong charter application.

  9. “And so, with some regret, I voted to approve the charter (the final vote was 4-3, with Commissioners Maufas, Mendoza and Kim joining me to approve the charter; Commissioners Fewer, Yee and Wynns voted against).”

    That’s a vote with some unexpected yeas and nays.

  10. “. The families are worried that the district will opt to close these schools, and distrustful of assurances that there is no plan to close them (even though the state and the Federal government say that closure is one of the options we must consider).”

    But with some of the other options than closure (like restructuring), the Feds kick in $$, right?

    So why would the district close them if it can get extra funding for those schools by restructuring?

  11. Disclaimer that I’m a charter school skeptic/critic in any case — but that aside, I disagree with the sweeping statement that our middle schools are weak. My kids had a great experience at Aptos over a total span from 2002-2008, and that’ s considering that when my older child started there, Aptos was considered a “dirty,” “dangerous” “ghetto” school, as opposed to the “good” middle schools. I think you’ll disagree too when you become a middle school parent too, Rachel! And Gateway’s track record is based on an application process that clearly self-selects for highly motivated students from motivated and supportive families — it requires an application process akin to a private school, except that after requiring essays, recommendations, transcripts and signed commitments, it THEN claims to use a lottery. And even so, it ranks No. 8 out of SFUSD’s high schools in API, so it’s OK, but nothing stupendous.

  12. Thanks for the recap, Rachel! There were a small group of us that chose to get together to try and answer Mr.Hardy’s question about solving California’s education crisis last night! We met at James Lick Middle School – about 30-40 of us from around the Bay Area to talk about a grassroots effort to demand change at the state level and a statewide campaign to force this reform. We brainstormed, debating, and discussed how to get this accomplished and we are very excited by all of the energy! People want change – they are tired of the band-aids and tired of kids suffering from these awful budget negotiations, happening at ALL levels of budgeting.
    Stay tuned!!! And if you want to get involved – please e-mail us at contact@fundingourfuturesf.com!