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.