May 26 Board recap (a week late)

I’ll be honest. I have been putting off writing this recap, because the last week has been difficult and I would rather not re-inflame controversy unnecessarily. If you are a reader of the SF Chronicle, or you watch ABC-7 news, you know what I’m talking about: the resolution Matt Haney and I sponsored: In Support of Access, Equity and Diversity in the Arts at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Throughout SFUSD has generated a lot of heat.

Things the resolution does not do: If you have not read the resolution, stop right now. Download it and read it. It does not end auditions at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. It does not “kick out” any student currently attending the school. It does not institute racial quotas, and it will not (despite the histrionics at the Board meeting and on my Facebook page) “destroy the school.”  I did not write the resolution for personal reasons or out of emotion. If you think you know something about my family — check yourself. You don’t.

The resolution does two things: the most immediate impact is that it ends out of district enrollment for students entering the school in 2016-17 and beyond. A Board policy dating to 2001 limits out of district enrollment to 10 percent, but as far as I know the school has never complied with that limit. In 2014-15, almost 14 percent of the school’s enrollment–84 students–came from out of district. 26 of those students call the Jefferson Union High School District home — the rest come from Oakland USD, San Mateo Union HSD, Redwood City, South San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, San Jose and other places in the Bay Area. (According to district records there is indeed one student from North Humboldt HSD, as ABC-7 News reported, but I think there must be more to that story, since that would be an awfully long commute.)

Why does the school admit out of district students? The school was originally conceived as a “regional” arts school, which, according to our resident historian Commissioner Jill Wynns (the longest serving BOE member ever) meant that the district hoped neighboring counties would help support the school’s operations. Though students enrolling from other school districts do bring ADA (average daily attendance) funds with them, those funds only cover a portion of the operational expenses of running RA SOTA.

Because the financial rationale never really materialized, the ongoing rationale for out of district enrollment became more about “breadth and depth” of the arts programs — the idea was that casting a broader net for applicants would make it more likely that hard-to-find talents like bassoon players or harpists or male dancers would apply and broaden the program.

In practice, however, out of district enrollments can edge out SF students, especially in departments where filling out an ensemble is less relevant (creative writing, theater tech, visual arts are examples). In addition, “casting a broader net” can cause applicants to be filtered to a more narrow ideal that may or may not disadvantage those with less traditional arts training.

The school’s web site says students “who have the focus, vision, and ability to work hard to achieve their artistic goals and who are interested in an alternative and highly creative high school experience are encouraged to apply.” Digging deeper though, it’s obvious that applicants who can read music or have other specific training are going to do better in the audition process. That’s a concern if out of district students with private training are going to be admitted over SF students — those whom the school Board is entrusted by the voters and the City charter to serve.

The main concern in favor of keeping the practice seems to be: if we confine enrollment to SF students only (as we do at Lowell HS, our other competitive entry HS) then we will have a smaller pool of prepared students to choose from.  That’s where the second action in the resolution comes in. It calls for two additional steps: a summer arts program for middle schoolers aimed at helping them prepare for the rigorous audition process at RA SOTA, and a task force — made up of stakeholders including students, parents and staff from RA SOTA — to look at the existing pipelines for students and making sure we receive more applicants from across the City (right now 90% of the RA SOTA applicants come from five middle schools — Presidio, Giannini, Aptos, Hoover and Lick).

My personal opinion is that we need to define and standardize some best practices around auditions and admissions at RA SOTA. Equity, diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive but it takes self-reflection and vigilance to make sure all three ideals are realized.

Anyway, the resolution is as much about acknowledging the district’s responsibility for offering robust and comprehensive arts education to prepare students for RA SOTA and building the pipeline of qualified applicants as it is about making sure this amazing resource is preserved for San Franciscans. Watch the Board’s discussion and the unanimous 7-0 vote in favor for more insights — the hearing starts at 2:30 and runs for about 90 minutes, including public comment. If you care about this issue, I encourage you to watch the whole thing and listen carefully to get a fuller understanding of the issue. I also ripped an audio-only version of the RA SOTA portion of the meeting:

Or download audio as an mp3

Other actions by the Board:

  • Arabic/Vietnamese Language Pathways: the Board voted unanimously to initiate the program placement process to determine the viability of opening Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways in SFUSD — read the resolution; read the district news release.
  • African American Achievement: the Board voted unanimously to expand services to African-American students and commit to raising the achievement of these students. Read the resolution; read the district’s news release.
  • CPR Training: Students will now receive training in CPR thanks to a resoluion authored by Commissioner Fewer and our amazing student delegates, Gavin Chan and Hanan Sinada. The 26th was their final meeting, as both graduated from SFUSD last week and are moving on to bright futures. I have enjoyed serving with them both and wish them all success in college and beyond! We will welcome new student delegates in August.

Coming up: I’ll write more about this in a few days but Commissioner Fewer and I have requested that our CTIP resolution “On Equity in Student Assignment” return to the Board for a final vote on June 9. Stay tuned.

Also – the district budget. We got a preliminary presentation at this evening’s Committee of the Whole and it is good. This is the first of the seven budgets I’ve been asked to consider as a BOE member that actually has meaningful new investments and money. More to come on that.

Fair warning: I am not approving comments that accuse me of doing things I did not do. (See above.) I’m also not that fond of nastiness, vitriol, name-calling, SHOUTING and other bad behavior.


9 responses to “May 26 Board recap (a week late)

  1. Hi Rachel. SOTA was on my mind when I was considering whether or not to apply as one of my daughter’s high school choices. I decided against it because of her medical condition that makes it hard for her if she attended a school that is more than 15 min away from home. So I chose Lincoln and Washington instead because they have fantastic music programs and closest to home. Luck would have it that my daughter was placed at a high school at the opposite end of the city, one that was not list on her application form and one without a music program. I appealed and stated my daughter wanted to continue music and that she’s been taking music since elementary school and my appeal was denied. It even got denied based on her medical appeal. The sad thing is she’s so upset and cries about it. She loves music and even made it to All City in 7th and 8th grade. I even invested in buying her a nice violin and now she can’t go to a school that offers music. As a parent of 3 kids going to SFUSD, I’m just so frustrated and disgusted by all of this because I thought the goal of the Master Plan was providing arts and music access to all students. My 4th grader had just completed her first violin class and I worry about her being placed at a middle and high school without music programs as well. I just went in to the placement center yesterday and the counselor was empathetic about my situation and spoke to the director. She made copies of my daughter’s middle school Emergency Plan on how to administer medicines and what to do when she gets she gets sick. I was told the director will review my appeal. I’m praying for the best 🙏🙏🙏.

  2. The idea of a regional art school is appealing but I doubt SF taxpayers want to foot the bill; especially if SF residents are denied enrollment.

    The more significant action by the Board was to pass the African American Achievement resolution developing a data-driven approach to identify best practices of effective strategies.

    There was a Chronicle Editorial saying that desegregation improved outcomes of minority children without threatening those for white children – a true win-win. That may or may not be true.

    In K-5 schools there is a positive correlation between African American percent language and math proficiency and percent white enrollment. The highest African American proficiency levels (language and math combined) are achieved at majority white schools. African Americans also score above average at diverse schools where whites are the largest group.

    On the other hand there is a negative correlation between white percent proficiency and African American percent enrollment. White children perform far below average at diverse schools where African Americans are the largest group. There are not enough white children in majority, near majority or isolated African American schools to calculate white proficiency to make comparisons.

    In any case, it would seem that if African American children displace white children at the popular white K-5 schools it could be a true win-lose.

    However, these data are not evidence that white schools cause high African American performance or that African American schools cause low white academic performance. Not all African American children are equal.

    This is where the Board’s resolution can provide some useful information. The resolution is to measure the percent of African American students in public housing, percent receiving a free lunch, and percent in GATE. Having that data by school could help to identify promising policies and procedures. I would add to that measuring African American parent education level since that seems to be the strongest factor in determining student academic performance.

    Looking at the current information available may suggest best practices. The average African American math proficiently is 38% for all K-5 schools combined. At Carver, a majority African American school, the African American math proficiency is 65%. That is higher than the 51% African American math proficiency at majority white schools. Something positive may be occurring at Carver.

  3. Rebecka Hernandez

    @Rachel: Commissioner Fewer said in her comments that “it simply isn’t true” that there are quality art programs at other SFUSD high schools. Minute 51:50 or so. Perhaps she misspoke?

  4. @Rebecka – I didn’t hear Board members denying the existence of excellent arts programs at other high schools . . . can you reference a specific statement?

  5. Rebecka Hernandez

    I support the section of the resolution “acknowledging the district’s responsibility for offering robust and comprehensive arts education” and hope to see sufficient funds follow this acknowledgement.

    Although my youngest child graduated from Ruth Asawa SOTA, her arts education at SFUSD schools started much earlier. She was lucky enough to have been instructed by Ms. Asawa’s children and many other talented arts teachers while at Alvarado ES. Very little of the funding for those programs came from SFUSD during the long stretch of tight budgets, but was provided to every child through the efforts of the PTA and coordinated through the SSC. The arts were also emphasized at Aptos MS by many excellent, full-time teachers. Some were dedicated arts instructors in music, band, theater, and visual arts, and others were wonderful science, language, or social studies teachers. I am aware of how fortunate she was to have such experiences and I would love to see every student in SFUSD get the same kind of arts exposure that my youngest daughter did. The kind Ruth Asawa worked tirelessly to establish.

    That said, there are tremendous art programs at several SFUSD high schools, including Lowell’s architecture and dance programs, Balboa’s graphics and animation programs, and Mission’s media program, along with many other offerings around the city. It was dismaying to hear board members deny the existence of these important programs during the discussion last week. They know better. I believe it’s important that even students who aren’t dedicated to a specific artistic discipline — which is a requirement to attend Ruth Asawa SOTA — have plenty of opportunities to make art part of their instructional day through to graduation.

    I am a resident of this city, and know that my fellow taxpayers and voters are very generous in their support of local education. I am also aware that a significant portion of the Ruth Asawa SOTA budget — particularly the artists-in-residence budget — is provided by private donations, just as it was in my child’s elementary school. SFUSD does not provide the funds necessary to maintain the quality of this very specialized school. The statement that the school costs the district more than others carries some weight with me, but I haven’t seen the actual numbers. Just how much more per student is the district providing at this school? My guesstimate is $33 in PEEF monies. What does an out-of-district student cost the SFUSD in actual dollars? I listened carefully to the board meeting discussion live, and didn’t hear anything specific, just “more”.

    Regardless, the residency requirement doesn’t appear to have any bearing on the resolution to provide arts education district-wide, which is the important, non-controversial part. If anything, the residency requirement seems to be putting the cart before the horse. It takes time to implement a comprehensive, district-wide art program. I wouldn’t argue the point if the limit was phased in over the 10 years it’s going to take to get the next crop of kindergartners ready. Will there be 20+ additional SF artists ready to audition next January? I’m guessing the summer audition training isn’t happening this summer, and by next summer, it will be far past the audition deadlines. If those artists don’t materialize, enrollment will be down and budgets will be cut further. It may not destroy the school, but it will destabilize it, and personnel will be lost. (I’m still mourning the loss of Mr. Travisano to Oakland School of the Arts during the 2011 round of cuts.)

    But fundamentally, to me it seems small-hearted to restrict access to the incredible resource of Ruth Asawa SOTA to dedicated young artists with a particular address. Partly this is for the same reasons I dislike other “close the border” rhetoric, and partly it’s seeing the commitment and sacrifice that out-of-district students and their families often bring. Many of these kids are not likely to find a school in another district that is as safe and welcoming of their eccentricities. Isn’t that the San Francisco way? I dread the day that some would-be RA SOTA kid over the line in Daly City is bullied and harmed.

    I don’t think Ms. Asawa’s interest in and support for talented young people ended at the city limits. Her compassion and her efforts were large and contained multitudes. I wish the board could be as generous.

  6. I’m a SOTA parent. Agree with limiting to SF residents. However, I do not see how the district is going to meaningfully improve the arts experience across the elementary and middle schools when so much focus is on testing and academic curriculum. My admittedly small sampling of the other kids at SOTA is that they come from arts or design parents, and that’s where their true inculcation and ability to get in comes from. Sad, but the district has really dropped the ball in this area. Would love to see it change for the better.

  7. Sandra Halladey

    thank you for the explanation and for encouraging folks to get informed.

  8. I’m an SF Native and I have 3 kids in the pipeline (pre-k-3rd). I am in support of SOTA keeping all of its seats for SF residents. Two of my nieces went to SOTA and my sister and another niece didn’t make it past auditions. It has always been competitive and I think preparing SF students for auditions is a great idea. If there were ever too few applicants (which I don’t think would happen) then considering out of district applicants would make sense. Another issue at play is that it is exceedingly more difficult for low-income families to stay in SF. How many of the applicants are families that were once in the SFUSD and could no longer afford to stay?

  9. My daughter attends SOTA, and my family fully supports your resolution to limit enrollment to SF residents. We have known many talented SF kids who got turned away because the space was given to a non-resident. Some Dept heads are not focused on educating kids and helping their talent blossom–they are more focused on winning competitions and awards. I applaud the BOE for restoring the focus on our community.