What a night! Highs and lows — a recap

Many supporters dressed in red to honor Mrs. Leola Havard (left) -- it's her favorite color.

Tonight’s meeting opened with what can only be described as a community celebration — a celebration of the achievements and contributions of Mrs. Leola M. Havard, the school district’s first African-American administrator; a celebration that culminated in the renaming of the  Burnett Child Development Center to the Leola M. Havard Early Education Center. There’s a good story behind this — one that was well-told by Rev. Amos Brown at tonight’s meeting if you care to watch the replay.  (Summary: it turns out “Burnett” is Peter Burnett, the first Governor of California and a supporter of policies to exclude African-Americans and Chinese-Americans from the state of California).

Anyway, your basic ceremony honoring a worthy individual was kicked up a notch because of the person we were honoring: Ms. Havard had great impact on her colleagues and her students in her many years as a teacher and administrator in the district (she started in 1949 and recently celebrated her 91st birthday) and retired as the much-loved principal of John Muir Elementary. Many of her former colleagues, friends and supporters were on hand to share their recollections of Ms. Havard’s career.

What was also personally lovely for me was the fact that Ms. Carol Ogilvy, my 7th grade typing teacher from Martin Luther King Junior High School in Berkeley (more years ago than either of us care to remember), was on hand to honor Ms. Havard and I was pleased to greet her and share my own memory of my teacher (I still type 50 mostly error-free wpm thanks to her!).  It was also an opportunity for everyone in the room to celebrate the impact that a great educator can have on generations of students.

All good things must come to an end, however, and then came public comment — maybe 90 minutes of it. A number of parents are very unhappy with their school assignments and came to talk to the Board about their frustration that their children did not receive a school of choice; a large contingent of parents from Lakeshore and from various language immersion programs came to urge the Board to back off the plan for middle-school feeders and instead revert to a choice-based system; a contingent from the SF Public Montessori School came to protest the district’s decision to begin recruiting administrators and teachers with American Montessori Society (AMS) training to staff the school (previously the school had only hired teachers and administrators with American Montessori Internationale–AMI–training).  For those outside of Montessori circles this doesn’t seem like a big thing, but AMI considers itself a purer representation of Maria Montessori’s original philosophy than AMS, and the training takes far longer (it should also be noted that all of the public school Montessori programs the staff has researched do *not* require an AMI-only program because of its higher cost and requirements) .   I remain a supporter of public school Montessori but I am very weary of the continuing drama around this school. This year (2010-11), SF Public Montessori cost us $230,000 more than a traditional elementary school of its size; of course, having a portfolio of elementary school options means that different programs cost different amounts. But I don’t like spending so much extra on a program that is falling apart because people cannot work together to build a great program within Ed Code requirements and funding constraints. Did the district screw up by not anticipating these issues ahead of time? Of course! The people who started the program swore at the time that AMI was the only way to go;  it’s only now that we’re hearing from other school districts that we should steer clear of the pure-AMI approach.

Another contingent of people came to protest the district’s decision to move the Principal’s Center Collaborative school – a county program for juvenile offenders on probation – from dilapidated trailers in the outer Sunset to the newly-retrofitted and currently empty facility on 7th Ave.  The Inner Sunset neighbors are upset because they believe the district should use the facility for an elementary school, and because they are worried about the behavior of the students who will attend the facility.

I am skeptical of the claim that the Inner Sunset needs an elementary school — it’s true that Jefferson and Alice Fong Yu are highly-requested schools in the area, but they are requested by people all over the City, not just the Inner Sunset. I plan to ask staff the question for the most recent assignment round — how many K applications did we receive from the assignment areas bordering the 7th Ave. site that listed their local schools? We’ll see. But I do resent the suggestion that the Principal’s Center students will be a disruptive influence in the neighborhood. They are students who have made mistakes and are trying to get their lives back together – they deserve the benefit of the doubt. (In the time I’ve been on the Board I have not heard of or received a complaint from neighbors of the current site -tomorrow I’ll check with staff for a deeper history.) And Principal’s Center is not a “drug treatment program” as one speaker claimed — it is a highly-regarded program for at-risk youth that is administered by the Probation Department in partnership with SFUSD.  We have an obligation to provide them with a facility and the one they are currently in is not acceptable for their needs. 7th Avenue is available, and suits their needs.  Of course, we also have an obligation to be a good neighbor and I believe our staff is trying to work with the neighbors on legitimate concerns.*

In other news:

  • We received a very uplifting report on the Bay Area Urban Debate League, which is bringing debate back to SF high schools (Balboa, June Jordan and Downtown were all on hand to showcase their programs).  I’m a huge fan of Debate, even though I was miserable at it in high school – it promotes public speaking, critical thinking, vocabulary and content knowledge of philosophy, law, history, politics and current events.  Being able to win people over through a logical argument is absolutely a 21st century skill — or should be!
  • The Board approved a resolution supporting a partnership between the schools and the public libraries — a program that puts library cards in the hands of thousands of SF public school students each year;  it also approved a resolution in support of legislation by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) that would lower the threshold for approval of a local parcel tax for schools to 55 percent (from 66-2/3 percent).

*One neighbor quoted an email I had sent to her a few weeks ago about the project, as if it proved that the students at Principal’s Center would be better served in traditional high schools. The passage, which I absolutely wrote, went like this:  “When we looked at the data on Newcomer, we realized that newcomer students who went directly into traditional high schools were doing much better academically than their peers who spent a year at NHS. That’s why we closed the school.”

What she missed was that the Newcomer population was/is very different than the PCC population. What works for the Newcomer students — being immersed in a traditional high school with supports — could be disastrous for the PCC students.  So I’m not sure the quote proved her point.

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16 responses to “What a night! Highs and lows — a recap

  1. CIS parent here, regarding the 7th Ave site. When we had a review at our school from SFUSD to find out if our site is suited to be transformed from its current K-5 status into a K-8 school we were turned down, because the building is simply too small and wouldn’t work for this purpose. The 7th Ave building came up at the parent meeting, but we were told that it had been promised to a charter school (which then never materialized). An all Chinese immersion school (not just the school’s Cantonese programs but also the two Mandarin programs in the city, plus a separate but related strand for GE elementary school families who want to start Chinese instruction from scratch in MS and simply did not luck out in the ES lottery) would be my dream and that of a lot of other Chinese immersion parents, I’m sure (it might be interesting to poll the parents and see if they really prefer a half-hearted, under-financed attempt at bringing Chinese MS instructions to several sites all over the city, while locking out GE parents who would love to start Chinese instructions for their kids, as opposed to creating one truly focused and committed location. The currently suggested feeder pattern into Roosevelt is workable and so much better than what the previous draft suggested. So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be adopted. Roosevelt is only a 10 min foot walk from where we live, so in regards to location it can’t get any better than that for our family. And yet, we would happily endure a daily extra commute for an all-immersion middle school. When we look at the application and enrollment numbers of Alice Fong Yu and CIS, it seems to me that the AFY’s K-8 structure is part of its major draw. Apparently people favor secure predictability over feeling dependent on the uncertainty and social experimentation of the political process. I have a hunch that this is one reason why the city’s K-8 programs are so wildly popular.

    We were told at the meeting that the plan was to have Chinese immersion on the MS level in all different parts of the city. Why, if most immersion parents would probably be willing to drive across town for a truly dedicated and well-designed all Cantonese and Mandarin MS? Spreading our qualified teachers and teaching resources out all across the city, especially at dire financial times, seems like a waste of funds. Would it not make great financial and organizational sense to instead pool these resources?

    Before we applied, we attended an EPC/SFUSD-organized meeting about immersion. We were promised continuity until HS and beyond and a Mandarin program for Cantonese elementary immersion students (since all Chinese-focused college pathways and the related testing focus on Mandarin) at that time, and suddenly all of that is in question. Even without that, we would probably have applied, because we treasure that our (biracial) daughter is able to celebrate and treasure this part of her roots. But to be told one thing and then see it crumble over budget and other concerns tends to erode trust and has us worried.

    I keep seeing more and more derogatory and hostile online posts against Chinese immersion parents by GE folks. As a result of the limited resources that we experience, there seems to be an slowly rising undercurrent of hate and fear amongst some people, and I’m sure the Amy Chuas (of Tiger-mommy fame) of this world and their arrogant posturing doesn’t make liking us any easier. I worry about my child facing bullies in middle school, who simply live out in a more crude way what their frustrated and exasperated parents have been teaching them through their own attitudes.

    I understand that this city is striving for achieving ethic diversity in its schools, but is it our children’s fault that very few African-American and Hispanic parents seem to have a strong interest in Chinese immersion? There are other kinds of diversity than just ethnic. It might not look that way upon a quick glance, but our school’s families come in a great variety, from a lot of different (granted, mostly Asian) countries and different socioeconomic backgrounds. Alice Fong Yu is also heavily slanted towards families of different Asian heritages, multi-cultural families, and white-middle class folks with a strong interest in language. To offer more of this on a middle-school level, in addition to other (hopefully strong and vibrant) middle school models across the city, would be a kind of diversity, too, wouldn’t it, especially given the demographic composition and needs of SF families?

    Last but not least, even if neighbors’ fears of “loitering, drugged-out truants” at the 7th avenue site ultimately turn out to be unfounded, those fears are likely to have an effect on their properties’ values. Since schools are partially financed by property taxes, would that truly be a wise move? I understand that this school must go somewhere, so I figure it must be frustrating for you to come up with a plan and run into passionate NIMBYs wherever you go with this. I hope I am not coming across as elitist and mean-spirited here, and if I do I sincerely apologize. But I’m trying to look at the big picture, too, from my own corner and limited perspective. Again, I am very happy with the schools that are slanted to feed into Roosevelt and hope that the high percentage of bilingual and immersion pathway students will prevent my child from becoming a target. I know we can make the current proposal work, if it should end up being adopted. But one can still dream, can’t one…? Sorry for the long post, but I had to get this off my chest…

    Thank you for being open to hearing comments and suggestion and for giving us at least a little bit of the transparency, for which we are all yearning so desperately.

  2. Rachel

    If you are going to ask for stats for the Inner Sunset to determine the need for another school addressing local needs you need to consider the following

    1. # of applicants applying to Alice Fong Yu, Clarendon, Jefferson, Gratton, Lawton and Miraloma that reside within district 4 and 5 vs. # of kids outside the area applying.

    2. Number of applicants from district 5 and 6 that applied to the above schools but do not end up going to any school in SFUSD ( chose an alternative form of school either religious or private)
    3. Number of school age kids currently living in district 4 and 5 not attending SFUSD (going to religious or private school)
    4. Number of Private school age kids as a % of total eligible students in district 4 and 5

    Speculative but I believe true
    Above schools are over subscribed as parents with the option for private school say, ” why not try it, I have nothing to loose and I have a plan B.
    A good % of kids not getting into the above schools don’t end up in SFUSD period-can your staff provide the stat for this figure for 2010 school enrollment?
    Real demand for district 4 and 5 first choice schools, from within district 4 and 5 is actually under reported because the chances of getting in through the ranking system is harder for district 4 and 5 kids due to the lottery ranking system favoring other factors such as low performing neighborhoods and SFSUD pre K programs. The SFUSD school enrollment mantra is don’t bother applying, there are other diamonds in the rough and given you only have 10 choices, are looking at neighborhood as the 4th tie breaker factor, I would imagine those of us who cannot afford private as an option, choose lower ranking schools outside district 4 and 5 to ensure a decent shot at an ok school.

    I think you will get a clearer picture of real demand fo a school on 7th and a new school on the empty land on 7th, when you factor the above in.

  3. Cynthia Smith

    You site “administered by the Probation Department” yet you write “they are students who have made mistakes and are trying to get their lives back together.” Did you read the site? Note: ” The Principal Center provides behavioral health treatment and educational enhancement services to youth involved in the juvenile justice system. ” What do you think the students need this for? Also the “regular court appearances, mental health and substance abuse counseling, drug testing” might tell you something about these students. Did you not hear the speaker who had an altercation with some of the students?
    These Students are “trying to get their lives together” because they have the choice of going to this “school” or going to Log cabin in La Honda.

  4. Michael – It’s not the dealing with parent concerns that constitutes the low; it was the nature of some of the comments — particularly those that came from the neighbors of the 7th Ave. site. Being on the Board requires a systemwide perspective that often conflicts with one particular group’s view of how things should be.

    -the concerns coming from the 7th ave. neighbors in the room came from
    An SFUSD educator, A De Anza College Instructor, A Social Worker,
    The husband of a public defender, a paramedic and SFUSD parents. We understand the bigger picture, It’s the process, the logic and choice of location next to the biggest open air drug spot in GG Park that has us rubbing our heads in disbelief.

  5. Inner Sunset Resident

    Rachel,
    As an Inner Sunset resident, the issue many of us has is the complete lack of transparency the district as had with the community about the 7th avenue school. Planning a meeting at the last minute and during spring break when many local parents are not available (including the principal of the new school who was also absent do to spring break), and then not being prepared to answer questions is irresponsible.
    The community has worked very hard and cohesively to build a neighborhood that we all live and want to see thrive. I urge you to rethink your stategy.

  6. Rachel
    People are angry because the board sits behind a wall of silence, checking their text messages, when parents are expressing the deep personal reality brought by your decisions. It was heartbreaking listening to a 14 year old kid explaining a 2 hrs MUNI ride to a school across town or the parent beyond words that his daughter is now looking at attending an at risk school.
    In regards to the 7th ave., site your own data is overwhelming that the Inner Sunset( 50% requesting a local school vs. 21% City wide,) could support another school for the overwhelming majority of Inner sunset kids who cannot go to a local school because of the 79% City wide choice to attend another school other than their neighborhood. (i.e. requesting slots within the Inner Sunset and neighboring schools where 5 of the 9 most requested schools are boarded.)

    I would also like to know if the 43rd ave., school site is a dump and unusable, why was $1M allocated for spending on the site recently?

  7. I visited the 7th Ave school site many times in the 80’s when it was an annex for the UCSF campus, housing Human Resources and other administrative functions. At that time, it was a very tired building with a small paved parking lot providing the only “open space” for the building. I toured many middle schools this past fall with my fifth grader, and based on what I learned about the campuses and buildings, I would be surprised if this 7th Ave school site could compete or be considered “acceptable” by most families relative to the other middle schools in the vicinity like Roosevelt, Hoover, and Aptos.

  8. @Gigi, thanks. I appreciate that. On the photo of my teacher, Ms. Ogilvy wrote me an email the next day that she was “grinning from ear to ear” after I gave her my props in the Board room. I think it really made her day and I know it made mine!

  9. I love the photo of you and your 7th grade typing teacher, it’s sweet! Don’t let the cynics get you down; I know you place a lot of importance on listening to the public, and that you take your position very seriously. Most people don’t realize that the “job” you have is basically a volunteer position that only pays 500 bucks a month.
    Thanks for all you do, Rachel!

  10. It would be helpful if there were some transparency in the districts decision making process. What is the logic in placing a program that on the face of it can be placed any where in the middle of one of the most in demand regions for elementary school spots in the city? And how can we as the public provide input into these decisions? From your reply Rachel, it seems that the board can pass or reject a proposal from the district. But you aren’t in any position to shape the proposal. So how can the stakeholders become involved? Can we request transcripts of meetings where proposals are discussed and formulated, so that we can better understand the logic informing the final plans that come before the board? It really seems like there is a lack of transparency on the part of the district. It leads to great frustration among the families who are invested in SFUSD.

  11. I just want to be clear that to my knowledge, there is no staff proposal for turning the 7th Ave site into anything other than the new location of PCC. The neighbors have brought up some legitimate concerns, which staff is listening to and trying to address.

  12. Regarding the 7th Ave school site. It seems like there is a lot of demand for an elementary school in that area, at least according to the March 18 update. Grattan was over subscribed at 135% and New Traditions was over subscribed at 134%. It is even an attractive site for the attendance area parents at Clarendon, who didn’t stand much of a chance at getting in there this year (over subscribed at 38%). And if it were a Chinese Immersion school it would also be easily filled – nearby Alice Fong Yu at 457% of applicants for available seats. It seems counter intuitive to place a program that could possibly be moved any where right in the middle of one of the most in demand regions in the city.

    The site could also be opened as a Chinese Immersion Middle school, taking in CIS and West Portal. Given the projected numbers for 2018, the middle school system will be running above 100% capacity. Based on the presentation to the Board of Education on Jan 18 enrollment capacity is 14,070 (and that is based on inflated capacity figures for several middle schools), with Horace Mann on the list. The projected enrollment is 14,611 – nearly 600 above the actual spots available. It is difficult to imagine how the system can function at full capacity, much less with 600 + 420 (net loss of seats at Horace Mann due to Buena Vista moving there as a K-8 school) more students expected than there are seats available for. This is about 1 large middle school worth of kids. Turning the 7th Ave site into a middle school could alleviate some of these capacity issues.

  13. I live in the general vicinity of the current site of the Principal’s Center and I haven’t noticed that it’s a big problem for the neighborhood. I can’t imagine it will be so terrible on 7th Ave, either.

  14. Hi Michael – It’s not the dealing with parent concerns that constitutes the low; it was the nature of some of the comments — particularly those that came from the neighbors of the 7th Ave. site. Being on the Board requires a systemwide perspective that often conflicts with one particular group’s view of how things should be. I find that frustrating, if only because it is very hard to communicate that systemwide perspective in a crowded boardroom full of angry people.
    The celebration of Ms. Havard was not as phony as your characterization suggests — it was really much more meaningful than that.

  15. The AMI vs AMS issue may have been what ultimately undid the school. I have to believe the teachers got tired of trying to defend their methods to either an unsympathetic or uneducated administrator that kept trying to change their classroom methods.

  16. Hi Rachel,

    I am kind of concerned about your comments regarding the meeting last night. You clearly indicate that the high of the meeting was celebrating an individual’s achievements, classic photo opportunity, and the low was dealing with parents’ concerns during open forum.

    To be clear, you were not elected to participate in photo opportunities; but, instead to deal with parents’ concerns. That is your job. They are who you serve. You are accountable to them. The celebration is a perk of the job.

    Recently, the New York City Schools Chancellor lost her job because she could not deal with the public. Did not like the public forum sessions; but she did like the celebrations (perks of the job).

    Michael.