Happy first week of school!

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!

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6 responses to “Happy first week of school!

  1. In response to Maggie’s question, staff and board members making decisions about boundaries and feeder patters would indeed benefit from getting out of the office and seeing on the ground what reality looks like.

    Feeder patters for the southern part of the city for middle schools in no way take into account bus routes, freeways, known dangerous pedestrian pathways, etc. Just looking at my Google app, for example, shows that it takes over an HOUR to walk from Lakeshore to Denman – and the halfway point is Aptos. Miraloma families living in Diamond Heights have a similarly long walk – and will be equally has hard pressed to find a reliable MUNI route to get to school on time. Sunnyside kids have to walk through City College, over a freeway, through Balboa Park, cross the tracks of the Balboa BART station and cross San Jose (featured recently as one of the more dangerous streets for pedestrians.) One or two of these may not be all that bad, but all of them?

    I’ve found that parents that brought these facts up in the feeder patter discussed are pegged as having ulterior motives. When I mentioned the above, it is assumed that anyone who brought it up must be dissing Denman (my kids are in or past middle school, so I have no skin in the game, but do have personal experience with my kids getting themselves to and from school and around town.)

    Denman is a nice school. Historically, many families that attended Miraloma (who attended San Miguel CDC and took a bus that took them to elementary school) went to Denman for MS – because they wanted to be close to home and walk to school. In both cases, these families had safe transportation or routes to and from school from K-8.

    As a city that prides itself on encouraging safe routes to school and discourages parents driving, I find puzzling that reality on the ground wasn’t taken into account.

  2. “But rougher than in the past? I think it’s always pretty rough to wait out the system.”

    I think it’s going to probably be the case that we saw less churn in those already placed, probably (paradoxically) because the new SAS is doing a better job of matching families to (local) schools.

    So less spots were freed up between Round 1 and the start of the school year. So less movement (and more frustration) for those waiting the system out. I’m just suggesting waitpools may give a stronger sense of predictability, and may be easier to process (given what you’re saying in a later post that parents are finding their given assignments are not too bad and are changing their lists to only have their top choice listed).

    “The protests and pain seem to be about the same this year as they always are — 20 percent didn’t get a K choice last year, and 20 percent didn’t get one this year. Bottom line — too many people want seats in too few schools.”

    Or to put it another way, parents don’t want to send their kids to the bottom 20% of elementaries. So can we expand capacity in the schools with high demand and merge (like was done with Horace Mann) or close the schools that are struggling?

  3. @Bernal Dad Really? I think it’s just different, and it’s the first year so there is more uncertainty than previous years where there were lots of “experts” who already knew the ins and outs. Not to say there aren’t some kinks — I hate the idea that families who commit early to a school they don’t want could have an advantage later compared to families who don’t take a school they don’t want. So we have to work that out.

    But rougher than in the past? I think it’s always pretty rough to wait out the system. The protests and pain seem to be about the same this year as they always are — 20 percent didn’t get a K choice last year, and 20 percent didn’t get one this year. Bottom line — too many people want seats in too few schools.

  4. The post-Round 1 process in the new SAS has seemed…..rough for families compared to other years. I don’t know whether this is because of the change in SAS meaning less churn, or less slack capacity at the K level, or the lack of information to parents from the abolition of waitpools.

    Also, the “high density” preference in the SAS isn’t addressing the issue of siblings from out of the AA displacing kids out of the AA. This is a big factor in some of the former trophy schools that went from being citywide alternative schools to attendance area schools (e.g. Clarendon), and it’ll take a few years to work out of the system. But siblings need to be included in the “high density” calculation, as does an adjustment for the fact that 20% of the capacity in SFUSD elementaries is citywide (and so the high density preference shouldn’t kick in unless the number of applications from an Attendance Area exceeds 125% of the GE slots in that AA).

    Round 1 went well, being a bit better than I’d have expected, but needs tweaking, and perhaps revisiting reinstating waitpools post-Round 1 to add more predictability. Also, whether CTIP1 preference should continue into Rounds after Round 1 should be considered.

  5. Regarding Alvarado attendance area, under no circumstances should it move one block south (to 30th) without first moving it north to include 21st street from Grandview to Castro which is very much a piece with the neighborhood of Alvarado. Despite my input through all of the channels, that option isn’t on the table. Why? Because I didn’t put out a petition? The Alvarado school building sits right at the curb of 22nd street yet the boundary is 22nd street. My son and I have walked past that school every day since he was born, attended events there, and now I have to swallow bitterness everytime because, despite living a block away, we are not in that AA. The only thing that keeps me from being angry at the AA is the fact that with siblings and CTIP, there was almost no chance of getting into Alvarado, even with AA. So much frustration to go around. Any change that occurs will be too late for us in any case, but the district and BOE members should actually go walk the boundaries they have put in place–the fact that there are a few AAs that don’t even extend a block from the school building is absurd, regardless of demographics.

  6. Hi Rachel,
    I’m a proponent of moving the Alvarado Attendance Area one block south to 30th Street to reflect the traditional divide between Noe Valley and Glen Park. The 29th Street divide is extremely arbitrary and given that the Student Assignment System is still a choice system, most residents would prefer to have the SFUSD boundary map reflect all other neighborhood maps.

    At this point, the SFUSD map is an anomaly and excludes a few blocks of what is historically considered Noe Valley. There seems to be no purpose to this as demographics of the neighborhood, applicant interest, and school policies change over time. As half of the seats are city, there will always be extreme competition for the remaining 44 seats in the GE program. Given that CTIP1 applicants have priority over AA applicants, there is even more competition for the remaining seats. The attendance area map for Alvarado would have to be greatly reduced for it to accommodate the families who have interest in the school. Instead of acting as if the current attendance area boundaries reflect a realistic placement of applicants, it should reflect the traditional neighborhood boundaries and be in harmony with all other neighborhood maps.

    The data SFUSD presented is not conclusive to me and I have many questions.
    1. From the limited data I’ve seen, only 30 AA applicants listed Alvarado as their first choice. Can you confirm if this is true? In terms of the 81 neighborhood requests, how does it break down in terms of choice position? How many first choice, second choice, third choice, etc.?
    2. Many kindergarten spots were filled by siblings who do not live in the attendance area and whose older siblings were assigned to Alvarado via the old system. This is true for all schools at this point. Can the board look at projections of when these siblings might work their way through the school leaving more spots open for AA applicants?
    3. Many kindergarten spots were filled by CTIP1 applicants. Do you have any data on how many CTIP1 applicants listed Alvarado as their first choice and how this impacted AA applicants? Are the CTIP1 applicants mainly applying for the citywide Spanish immersion or for the GE program? If more CTIP1 applicants are placed in the GE program at school than neighborhood students, would the board ever consider giving equal weight to AA applicants and CTIP1 applicants so there is more parity between the two?
    Thank you for your work on this issue.