I’m a middle school parent now, a transition that is harder on me than it is for the newest middle-schooler in our family. She’s adjusting fine, loves her new school and is even thrilled about the new school lunch choices in the Beanery. Between her MealPayPlus account (she just gives her PIN to the cafeteria supervisor and the cost of her lunch is automatically debited; I can go online and check to make sure she actually bought lunch instead of fizzy Izze juice and a cookie) and her youth Clipper card, she’s feeling quite grown up. It’s fun to watch but still a bit sad to see my baby grow up. (I should also plug School Loop, which has been more fully implemented at the district’s middle and high schools than elementary schools — it’s great to be able to log on, see her assignments and other information from the school. )
Anyway, the first day of school was a whirlwind. I escorted my friend and Mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera on a tour of George Washington, Roosevelt MS and KIPP Bayview , and also attended a district press conference on our CST scores. Proficiency rates in English/Language Arts and Math are up for the 6th straight year for all students, including our African American, Latino and Samoan subgroups. However, large numbers of students with IEPs now take the California Modified Assessment [CMA], which is based on “modified achievement standards” according to the state. My concern is that the steep rise in students with disabilities taking the CMA may well have lifted subgroup CST results by eliminating the lowest scorers. We will take this issue up at a later Curriculum Committee meeting to examine whether too many students are taking the CMA and what those results actually measure about their progress vis a vis our graduation requirements.
Assignments continue to be a challenge. Many parents lined the sidewalk outside of district headquarters on Monday, unhappy with the seats their children had been offered and waiting to speak with a counselor about their options. I don’t have any information to indicate that the number of unhappy parents was bigger this year than in previous years, but staff was reduced in the Educational Placement Center over the summer and those reductions definitely made the lines longer. In addition, there is a problem with middle school capacity. We’ve been forecasting an increase in middle school students, but I think most people in Educational Placement didn’t realize the increase would hit us this soon. The closure of Willie Brown and the merger of Horace Mann Academic MS with Buena Vista also reduced middle school capacity — my own back of the envelope estimate is that 80 -100 seats may have been eliminated. The result? Many parents seeking a 6th grade placement for their children are finding the pickings very tight. As of last week, counselors at Educational Placement were telling parents that only Visitacion Valley Middle School had spaces; over the weekend there was some movement and prospective students did gain admittance to other middle schools. Still, it’s clear that capacity for 6th grade is much tighter than it has been in previous years, and that is making parents very anxious. In addition, the district’s new policy about wait pools needs to be re-worked. It appears that someone made a decision to prevent children who are placed in one of their choices in the August run from participating in assignment runs after the three-day count. There’s some logic in this: the district is trying to give parents a disincentive towards holding out until the bitter end for their first choices, and instead hopes to encourage people to accept A choice. In the end, though, it doesn’t work to force people to accept what they don’t really want. All this tactic accomplishes is forcing parents who have fewer resources and options into schools they don’t want, while parents who have the financial resources to hold out or hold on to private/parochial school seats are the ones who benefit.
I do agree with the new policy establishing a spring “transfer period” for students who enroll in an SFUSD school for the fall semester. Previously, parents who were able to hold their children out of school for at least a few weeks could wait out the district’s “transfer deadline,” which prohibits students changing schools after the first month unless there is a compelling safety reason. So, any open seats that arose after the first month were up for grabs. Under the new policy, however, schools that had a waiting list on the first day of school are not open to students new to the district until they are released for the transfer round later in the fall.
Wednesday marked the end of the three day count, and schools have now forwarded their updated totals of enrollment and open seats to the placement center. Hopefully this means there will be additional options for families who are still waiting for a seat they’ll accept for their children.
In other news, I finally listened to a recording of the student assignment committee meeting I missed when I was on vacation last week. There was a particularly interesting discussion on the district’s planning for transitional kindergarten, but Commissioners were left with more questions than answers. As many people know, last year the state passed a law requiring the Kindergarten eligibility date to be moved back to September 1 from the current December 2. For 2012-13, only children who will be age 5 by November 1, 2012 will be allowed to enroll in Kindergarten. Children who will turn 5 between November 2 and December 1, 2012 will be offered the opportunity to enroll in new Transitional Kindergarten programs, which districts are now required to offer.
At the meeting, Educational Placement Center head Darlene Lim told commissioners that district staff believe about 300 children citywide will be eligible for the new Transitional K program next year, though not all of them may seek enrollment. They envision a two-year program, where eligible applicants would be offered Transitional K seats for 2012-13 and expected to stay on for full Kindergarten during 2013-14. Commissioners asked a lot of questions about what curriculum and differentiated instruction the district was planning, but Ms. Lim was not able to answer much because planning is still preliminary. We plan to bring this item to a Curriculum Committee meeting next month for more discussion and explanation.
The committee also heard a presentation from Orla O’Keeffe on the district’s annual review of attendance areas. Several attendance areas were flagged by community members as needing adjustment:
- Adjusting the Alvarado attendance area to expand one block south (from 29th to 30th street) and north to 22nd street.
- Moving Grattan‘s attendance boundary to the east to include the Upper Haight;
- Moving Commodore Sloat‘s attendance area north to include St. Francis Wood;
- Moving Sunnyside‘s eastern boundary to include Sunnyside Playground and Sunnyside Conservatory;
- Moving Rosa Parks‘ northern boundary to the area north of Geary Boulevard.
While many of these changes make sense from the perspective of a neighborhood continuity, Ms. O’Keeffe said there is not enough information yet available for staff to recommend making these changes. The Board’s first full monitoring report on the new assignment system will not be ready until October, too close to the deadline for printing materials for the 2012-13 assignment round. For this reason, staff is recommending making no changes in attendance areas before next year.
To illustrate the issues with shifting attendance areas, Ms. O’Keeffe shared startling preliminary 2011-12 Alvarado enrollment data indicating that the school’s attendance area may already be too large. Alvarado has 88 Kindergarten seats — 44 of those seats, or 50% are citywide seats because they comprise the popular Spanish immersion language program at the school. Applicants from the attendance area have preference, along with siblings, for the other 44 seats. In March alone, there were 81 applicants for Alvarado who resided in the school’s attendance area. Additionally, there were 42 younger siblings applying for a seat at Alvarado (in either the spanish immersion or general education program) — 37 of those applicants did not live in the attendance area (the remaining 5 are a subset of the 81 attendance area applicants referred to above). In other words, changing the Alvarado attendance area to make it align with accepted neighborhood boundaries would likely reduce the chances for attendance area applicants. The Board needs to make a policy decision about whether it is more important for attendance area boundaries to align with neighborhoods, or to maximize certainty by aligning the likely number of applicants in a particular area to school capacity. I don’t want to be forced to make that decision without having access to full information and analysis about this first year of the process. And as I said above, that information will simply not be available until October. The staff presentation is here for those who want to dig deeper.
I also want to update readers on the presentation Board members heard earlier in the week about the Early Education Department’s fiscal review, but this post is already too long. So, I’ll try to get to that information over the weekend. I hope everyone who had a student begin school this week had a great first week!