January 8, 2013: Meeting recap

gavel“And now it is my pleasure to announce that I have been elected President of the Board of Education.”

It’s kind of strange to chair the annual Board elections and be a candidate at the same time, but with today’s swearing in of new District 7 Supervisor (and outgoing Board President) Norman Yee, I was the only outgoing officer available to chair tonight’s meeting.  I’m honored and humbled to have been unanimously elected President of the Board this evening — thanks to all of my colleagues for their vote of confidence and especially to new Commissioner Matt Haney, who did me the honor of nominating me as a candidate.  Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer was unanimously elected Vice President of the Board.

Board elections and other procedural business disposed of, we then moved to recognitions and commendations.  Alice Fong Yu Alternative School and its principal Liana Szeto were recognized for receiving two major honors — a National Blue Ribbon School award and the Terrell H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. It was wonderful to see the joy and pride of the AFY community in celebrating these honors — though the school was asked to bring just three representatives to speak at the meeting, they couldn’t resist bringing at least 13, including parents, teachers, and many students. I will never, ever get tired of hearing what I’m told is perfect Mandarin coming from the mouths of African-American, Irish-American, or Filipino-American students at AFY — it’s one of the jewels in our district and the community is rightly proud.  Washington High School teacher Michelle Kyung was also honored by the Board for winning the Carlston Family Foundation award for outstanding teaching.

Also of particular note on tonight’s agenda was the adoption of the district’s annual financial audit. For the first time anyone can remember, there were no findings  requiring attention or remedies from the Board and district leadership. And the absence of findings isn’t unusual just for SFUSD — it’s unusual for school districts across the country. We have had the same auditor for many years, so it’s also not as if Vavrinek, Trine & Day (our audit firm) are just going easy on us — even in my four years on the Board I have seen them ding us for one thing or another.  Bottom line — it is an indication of fiscal transparency and good stewardship of public funds that we were able tonight to adopt a 100% clean audit.  Or, as our auditor Leonard Dana told the Board tonight: “I’ve never been applauded on presenting an audit before. Auditors never get applauded.”

rev foods sampleCommissioners also had an opportunity to sample meals prepared by our new meal provider, Revolution Foods. On tomorrow’s menu: Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and 100% beef meatballs; fresh fruit, butternut squash, and baked whole wheat ranch-flavored chips. I would have to say — not bad at all. I am mostly hearing good things about the first two days of meals with our new provider, though there have been a few glitches. I would like to hear from more parents and kids — what’s your experience with the new Revolution Foods meals? Leave a comment or email me at comments “at” rachelnorton.com.

We heard from many members of the Creative Arts Charter School community, who are alarmed at a proposal to co-locate Gateway Middle School at the Annex building on the Golden Gate Elementary School building they have occupied for several years. Creative Arts is a K-8 school that will have about 400 students next year. Gateway Middle is a 6-8 school that will have about 300 students next year, and is managed by the same group that manages Gateway High School, located for many years at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School site on Scott and Geary (about two blocks from the Golden Gate ES site).  Gateway MS has, since the Board first granted its charter in 2010, expressed a strong desire to be near Gateway HS, and serve the Western Addition.

Co-locations are often contentious and I understand that they are not ideal. No one wants to have to compromise about the program they offer their students so that a completely different program with completely different students can share their space.  District officials tell me that they have agreed to a suggestion that the Gateway, CACS and district decision-makers meet to try to come to a resolution that works for all parties. But somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

I want to close with my sense of humility and gratitude to my colleagues that I’ve been granted this leadership opportunity (and responsibility) this year.  The quote I contributed to the district’s press release reads, in part: “Every Commissioner is utterly committed to increasing student achievement and making sure every student in San Francisco has access to educational opportunity. Our challenge will be to stay focused and make sure that our time and energy is spent crafting policies that best support these priorities.”

Here we go!


18 responses to “January 8, 2013: Meeting recap

  1. Rachel:

    I was extremely happy about the SFUSD’s choice to use Revolution Foods, and very much wanted my child to start eating school lunches until I found out (after checking on my own with the district and Revolution Foods) that the baked goods Revolution Foods is using contain food allergens that may put my child and others with nut allergies at risk.

    After asking the district via email, my husband received this response:

    “Revolution Foods does not use peanut or tree‐nut ingredients in any of our recipes and we do not handle peanuts or tree nuts in our facility. However, we do bring in products and fresh baked goods that are produced in facilities that may handle and process nuts, so we cannot guarantee that meals are completely free of traces of nut, or nut residue.”

    This seems to be at odds with SFUSD’s own policy which disallows nut residue in its school meal program:

    “10. No products containing peanuts or peanut residue may be sold or offered in the school meal program. Vending machines stocked with peanut products will carry a warning label on the machine or on the wall immediately adjacent to the machine.”

    Our family and many others would like to participate in the school lunch program, but it does not seem that the district considered that the baked goods offered by Revolution Foods might be harmful or even lethal to some students. I am disappointed that the district is not requiring Revolution Foods to abide by policies designed to keep my child and others safe. Can you explain why such an important policy is being disregarded by the district?

  2. I want to assure all the Gateway parents that maintaining positive relations with Gateway is something we take very seriously at Creative Arts. In fact teachers have been going out of their way to explain to the kids that our concerns are with the proposal to co-locate such a large school onto such a small campus, not with the parents or kids at Gateway MS who we have had a very good relationship with since Gateway was established a few years back. I should also point out that protesting and going public was not something we at all wanted to do. In fact we kept the District’s proposal from our parent body for months hoping that we could work quietly and amicably to devise a solution which took both schools’ needs into account. But staff made it pretty clear this was the one and only proposal on the table. So we felt that we really had no choice but to go public.

    “Factual info.” is correct in stating that under the District’s proposal Gateway would get all of the classrooms in the Annex. But they fail to mention that Creative Arts had already requested 7 of the 12 classrooms in the Annex, rooms we need to support our program. And by saying that what happens the following year is of no relevance to this year’s discussion, you are simply highlighting the lack of thoughtful, future-oriented planning that helped create this controversy in the first place.

  3. Katie Russell

    Thank you Concerned Parent. My daughter (a Gateway Middle School student) has brought up the issue at home about Creative Arts not “wanting “ Gateway students at their school. Evidently, she heard about it from another Gateway student who knows kids at CAC.

  4. Concerned parent

    I am a Gateway parent and am glad to hear from Ross Hammond that Creative Arts did not intend their protest to be “anti-Gateway.” But I have to suggest to the Creative community that having their student population protest another student population at the Board was not using good judgment. I certainly understand that teachers and parents are concerned and are free to express their views. But I don’t think it does any student good to have one group of students pitted against another. Let’s leave the kids out of this, please!

  5. Brent Daniel ” – Your post implies that no classroom space in the Annex would be used for CACS”.
    Gateway Middle School will get all the rooms in the annex. The cafeteria space will be shared. What Creative Arts Charter School plans to do the year after next year has nothing to do with next years’ facilities request.

  6. Congratulations, Rachel! Just think, 4 years ago you were an activist Mom on the Community Advisory Committee, and now you are President of the Board of Education! I speak for all CAC members to say we are proud of you and so glad you are on the BOE. There’s lots more work to do, but you’ve made a big difference, and it’s greatly appreciated.

  7. Congratulations again Rachel on being elected Chair! We in the Creative Arts community are looking forward to working with you and your colleagues on the Board to come up with a workable, long-term solution to the facility needs of schools in the Western Addition/Alamo Square area so that we can all have some predictability and so that the Board does not have to keep coming back to this issue year after year :).

    We hope that everyone understands that this has nothing to do with our school being “anti-Gateway” and are dismayed that the media and some SFUSD staff are portraying the dispute in this way (as you heard at the meeting we do a lot of great cooperative work with them already — school dances, sports, etc.). We’re also not at all opposed to being co-located with a smaller program, administrative offices, etc. and hope we have made that clear in our communications with the District.

    What we are opposed to is the current proposal to co-locate these two specific schools which we believe is unworkable, unfair and possibly illegal given the space at the Golden Gate site. Unfortunately this seems to be the only option that District staff want to talk about. They don’t seem to have explored other options seriously and have yet to dispute the many substantive problems that we have raised with their proposal. Even if they think this might work for next year it ignores the fact that in 2014-2015 we will be at 410 students (before hitting our final enrollment number of 432 in 2016-2017), meaning that one of the two schools will have to move in 2014/2015 unless they seriously thinks that 710+ students can safely fit on that campus. Staff have know about our expansion plan (which is necessary for our financial stability) since the Fall of 2011 so we cannot really understand why this is not being factored in.

    It seems like the next step is for staff to go back to the drawing board and seriously explore all of the various combinations of schools and facilities in the area in order to come up with a long-term solution that treats students at all of the affected schools in an equitable fashion. We look forward to playing a constructive role in that process so that we can all be satisfied with the end result. Thanks for hearing us out!

  8. Congatulations Rachel!

  9. Factual Info: When you say “There will be little, if any “co-mingling” of the students”, you miss the following:

    – The cafeteria and some other functions of CACS would be in the Annex building, hence co-mingling would occur there
    – The shared yard also serves as circulation into the main building, so co-mingling would occur there before, after, and at times during school.
    – The shared yard is directly adjacent to classroom windows, so noise from a yard that would be perpetually in use would, in some sense, co-mingle.
    – The shared yard would, at times, need to accommodate students from one school at recess and another school at PE, so there would be some co-mingling there.
    – Your post implies that no classroom space in the Annex would be used for CACS, but CACS has an approved plan to grow to 432 students, so there is no guarantee that classrooms in the Annex would not be used by CACS.

    It is a misunderstanding to suggest that the “completely separate building” would mean that CACS elementary school students would not be exposed to 300 new middle school students. Go observe the school at 8:25 in the morning and just see how kids are running to get to class on time, and tell me that adding 300 more students wouldn’t see some small kids trampled by bigger kids.

  10. Charter is as charter does

    Is creative arts charter school not also a charter school?

  11. Come visit us! Come to CACS!

  12. Ms.Norton
    I thank you for your time and attention. I am CACS parent and hope we can achieve a superior plan to serve the children of San Francisco. CACS, as a charter school has been in existence longer in San Francisco and in situ than Gateway and truly no charter school serves its local community directly due to the lottery process. To claim that Gateway is in someway different in that capacity is inherently flawed. Gateway would serve as we do and have done under the district definitions of any charter. That is its nature.
    We want Gateway to succeed as much as we wish to succeed, and so we want to find a way, together to find the solution that benefits everyone and buoys our children to a higher level of education and happiness. We can achieve anything if we work together. Please let us find a compromise as a community.
    There are no enemies here, no rivals, no anger, just compassion and reason and a will to succeed. Gateway is too big for this location. We have had adversity after adversity to contend with for years and need to focus on our students and not more change.
    We can find a better way.
    I look forward to working with you.
    Ed Cramer

  13. Gateway Middle School would be located in an entirely separate building on the Golden Gate Campus. There are two school buildings. The cafeteria and yard space would be shared, but the schools would not be using the shared space at the same time. There will be little, if any “co-mingling” of the students, yet the speakers from CACS last night tried to imply that Kindergartners from CACS would be trampled by large Gateway Middle-Schoolers in the hallways. That is absolutely not true. Gateway Middle School needs a place to be, and that is the only available space large enough to house them. There are not enough students at CACS to get the whole Golden Gate Campus. If you want examples of over-crowding, go look at regular SFUSD middle schools with class sizes of 38 or more, before complaining so loudly about it.

  14. Paul, that is no way to get Commissioners on our school’s side. Your sniping does more harm than good.

  15. I am glad to hear that you are listening to CACS and taking this seriously, it is your responsibility to really examine this situation and monitor. It concerns me when you state “District officials tell me that they have agreed to a suggestion that the Gateway, CACS and district decision-makers meet to try to come to a resolution that works for all parties.” Please don’t leave this to “district officials” solely, take ownership of the Board of Education and the children of SF that you serve.

    As a parent of K and 3rd grade I can tell you that it is not acceptable to put 300 middle school children with them in such a small space. The middle school kids at CACS are integrated with the younger students in a very thoughtful way, where they learn to be mentors and that gives them a leg up and maturity that is necessary to have them in the same school.

    Please think of the long term, not just shoving a charter school where it is convenient and then make those children suffer through more change.

    -Sarah Serata
    CACS parent

  16. Are you listening? While I am sure it was a great honor for you, remember that you serve the people, and the people came to you on Tuesday 1/8/12 with a very loud message, “NO OVERCROWDING AT CACS”! We would be honored by you if you listened to how emphatic the parents, teachers and students were in comunicating our grave concerns to you. Paul Harkin, parent of 1st Grader.

  17. AFY kids learn Mandarin starting in I think 6th grade.

  18. Isn’t AFT Cantonese, not Mandarin?

    Sent from my iPhone