Recap: Final meeting of 2015

We had a very packed agenda last night, with many substantive items and some good discussions. First up is a summary of actions:

  • We recognized winners of the 2015 QTEA Innovation Awards — these are schools that successfully applied for innovation funds provided through the 2008 Quality Teacher and Education Act (the school parcel tax that also provides key support for teacher salaries and professional development);
  • I was proud to sponsor a resolution commending the California Academy of Sciences‘ Guest Services Department for their amazing support of students with disabilities by providing job support and training for students from AccessSFUSD:The Arc. It was kind of an accident that we ended up issuing the commendation during Inclusive Schools Week but utterly appropriate. I am so grateful to the Academy and also to Heidi Seretan and Jennifer Kabbabe of AccessSFUSD:TheArc. I also love seeing their students (I care about them all but there is a special place in my heart for DeMian and Chris — love you guys!).
  • The Board voted 6-1 (Wynns voting no) to issue a charter to Mission Prep, previously a state-authorized charter school in SFUSD . I’ll add more about that below.
  • We unanimously passed Commissioner Fewer’s resolution recognizing the historical contributions of Chinese Americans in San Francisco public schools. It was an honor to hear from retired principal Lonnie Chin and family members of Gordon J. Lau (San Francisco’s first Chinese American Supervisor), and chilling to be reminded of the horrors of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on Chinese Americans in San Francisco and all over the country. There are some similar xenophobic strains reverberating through the country right now, so it is more important than ever that we learn from our history.
  • The Board approved the 2016-17 instructional calendar, which has school starting on Monday, August 15, 2016 and ending on Monday, May 26, 2017. The full calendar is printed on page 59 of the agenda. (big PDF document; don’t download on your phone).
  • We also accepted the Balanced Scorecards/Single Plans for Achievement for every school. If you would like to see your school’s Balanced Scorecard, please visit this link, then click on the link for the school you would like to view.
  • Finally, we heard an informational presentation on the progress towards fully-realizing the Afterschool for All initiative. The vision is that there will be ample, sliding-income-scale capacity for any student who needs or wants afterschool enrichment programming at every school. We aren’t there yet, but great progress has been made, and the goal is to make sure the vision is fully-realized during the 2016-17 school year. I commend the staff for the great work that has been done on this initiative so far.

In depth: The Mission Prep charter was a tough decision for many members of the school board. This is a charter that five years ago was not at all ready for prime time when it was first submitted. It was unanimously denied, but subsequently granted by the State Board of Education. In my opinion, the State Board approves many sub-par charter petitions that were appropriately denied by school districts and county offices, more out of ideology rather than some deep understanding of educational value. However, because of the actions of the State Board, Mission Prep was established and began enrolling students in 2012-13.

They have, contrary to my expectations in 2010, done a good job. We have had three hearings on the renewal petition — in the Budget and Curriculum committees, and again last night at the Board. It’s been clear at each of those hearings that the Mission Prep families are passionate about their school, and that they believe strongly that the school is serving their children well. The school’s outcomes are so far very good. And the staff analysis of the petition and the program found no deficiencies and a strong financial position. Here are the remarks I prepared for last night’s meeting about the Mission Prep application. I didn’t deliver them verbatim, but they’re close enough:

I intend to support the petition, for two reasons.

First, the petition is a very strong petition. I have no doubt that should we deny this petition this evening it will be granted by the State Board of Education, which has granted much weaker petitions than this and imposed schools we didn’t ask for and didn’t want on this school district. Given that reality, it makes sense for us to have a relationship with Mission Prep as the authorizer of its charter.

The second reason is the families. I have heard in testimony tonight and at the Budget and Curriculum committees that this school is a positive place where your children are learning and growing. That counts for a lot. I cannot look each of you in the eye and say you can’t have a school that is working for your children.

I do, however, want you to understand the impact your request for a building is going to have on other students and families in the school district. Prop 39 requests displace existing school communities or they result in co-locations, which rarely work. There are many in-district schools that are working for their families and their students as well — your request for space may result in this board having to disrupt some other student’s education. I don’t think it’s fair and I think the law is a bad law.

I hope that should this petition be successful this evening, you will be mindful of your impact on the entire district and on other students.

The ongoing and most difficult issue with the charters, as I see it, are facilities. (Note that I said most difficult, as facilities are not the only issue). Prop 39 requires school districts to offer appropriate space to charter schools (meaning, that if a school is a high school it should have, for example, science labs and athletic facilities, so that it can meet the requirements of the education code ). We must comply with the law even if we denied a charter and the state is the authorizer.  This drives me crazy because it is so unfair and so contrary to the principle of local governance. We have school communities that may well be displaced or forced to co-locate with charter schools because the State Board thought that a charter was a good idea for our district even when the locally-elected board unanimously denied it.

Anyway, in the case of Mission Prep, I think we’re trying a somewhat new tack. We could easily have denied the petition, because in the end it would have made no difference, as I said above — indeed, in her remarks last night Commissioner Wynns said we could regard the hearing on the Mission Prep petition as a “procedural requirement,” or a box to simply be checked before proceeding to virtually guaranteed reauthorization by the State Board. In that scenario, it would have been the state’s job to oversee it and SFUSD still would have had to provide an adequate facility. (Note also that “adequate” is a key word — charters do not get to choose the facility they are offered, though often these offers are subject to intense negotiations. So long as the district’s Prop. 39 offer meets the adequacy standard, the district has met its legal burden under Prop. 39.)

However, as I also said, simply kicking the can down the road to the State Board probably wouldn’t have been fair to Mission Prep either — the school is clearly doing a good job for their students and there is an argument to be made that we, as the SFUSD governing board, have an obligation to make sure that continues to happen.

Anyway, when it comes to charters there aren’t any easy answers. It would help if state law created more of a level playing field, but the current education code basically says charter schools have more rights and fewer responsibilities than traditional schools. I fail to see how that kind of skewed policy-making helps all students in California. It certainly helps a few, but very likely at the expense of the many.

All of that said, I congratulate Mission Prep for successfully navigating the renewal process, and most importantly for their demonstrated commitment to their students. Now that the district has reauthorized their charter, I hope we can forge a newly collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship going forward.


6 responses to “Recap: Final meeting of 2015

  1. Rachel, when BOE issues or renews a charter, can BOE require Charter school enrollment to operate as a TRUE lottery with the exact same submission and acceptance dates as SFUSD? Also, are Charter school lotteries monitored by the District to insure they are TRUE lotteries without influence on student selection by school administrators (who are reading applications)? Also, can BOE prohibit Charter schools from requiring written applications until AFTER a child is accepted? Written applications for a lottery are wasteful and discourage disadvantaged families. Applications also allow administrators to cherry pick students like a private school. Gateway for instance requires an extensive application (like a private school)–this is not an appropriate requirement for a “lottery,” which only needs minimal identifying information to send acceptance or waitlist letters. On their website they write: “we use the information submitted during the application process to ensure that each student receives proper course placements, support, and enrichment opportunities.” As we all know, they can collect information for that purpose in March when a student accepts their placement at Gateway. Their acceptance letter could read: “Welcome to Gateway. Please submit your online application before April 8, 2016 to complete the enrollment process and to reserve your spot. The application is important because it ensures that each student receives proper course placements, support, and enrichment opportunities when school begins in August 2016. If you do not submit the application by April 8, 2016, then you will forfeit your spot, and it will be given to another student on the waitlist.” Gateway doesn’t need to collect hundreds of applications in January from families who will “lose” the lottery. This practice should be prohibited.

  2. The common core data website has the charter school numbers by ethnic group, economically disadvantaged, and English learners etc., of those taking the tests. There are also websites where you can find the ethnic composition for charter schools. But it would be nice to be able to make comparisons from the SFUSD website. Some charter schools have more economically disadvantaged and some have less. Charter school performance on the common core standards is not particularly spectacular. Charter high schools don’t perform as well overall as Lowell, Asawa, Galileo, Balboa, Washington, Lincoln and Wallenberg.

  3. Rachel – thanks, as always, for your useful summary of the board meeting information. I was wondering if Charter schools have to provide SARC reports to the board (or the state) as all other public schools in CA do. I think that would be helpful information for the public to help watch over charters that spring up in our neighborhoods. I agree some in SF are doing well with kids who generally don’t do well in regular public schools. It would be nice to have a summary of what some of the “rights and responsibilities” are for charters vs. regular public schools. I know some charters have moved their application date earlier than SFUSD schools – and this seems to be an unfair way to game the system. I also believe that most charter schools have a lower percentage of special ed kids. What other difference do you see as critical?
    Some people believe that all charter schools are non-union, but I am under the impression that this is not the case in approved SF charters.
    Can you provide some sites that might have information to address these charter vs.non-charter rules?

  4. We made the decision back in 2010 to align our calendar with City College. to maximize concurrent enrollment possibilities. There are huge opportunities in being better aligned with CCSS – foe everything from increasing rigor for high achievers to allowing HS students more flexible (read later start times!) schedules. I think it’s a very good thing on the whole but agree there are trade offs.

  5. I’m curious the reason school starts and ends a week earlier than it used to?

    This seems so out of line with what most of the rest of the country does. We used to start reliably the third week in August. This really cuts into opportunities for coordinating family time and vacations across multiple family members. Additionally, so many teen opportunities – school, internships and more – in the summer don’t start until June and last after this point.

    What’s driving this?

  6. “…current education code basically says charter schools have more rights and fewer responsibilities than traditional schools. I fail to see how that kind of skewed policy-making helps all students in California. It certainly helps a few, but very likely at the expense of the many.”
    Can we dig deeper into this? How can we take what is good and working with the charter schools – some of them ARE making progress toward equity and achievement – and use it to HELP all students. What can we learn from how some charters operate? How can we ask for what we need to make that a reality for all children? I know this is a big topic but I believe it is foundational to our educational system. We have to look at what works, how it works, why it works. We have to stop reinventing the wheel, paying non-educational experts to tell us what to do, and spending time, money, and energy in non-supportive (to the teacher and student) endeavors.

    On another topic, you state, “the school is clearly doing a good job for their students and there is an argument to be made that we, as the SFUSD governing board, have an obligation to make sure that continues to happen.” I wonder if this is true? Taking on this obligation may come at the expense of many. If the obligation were on the state, as it has been up to this point, would the school operate differently? And, if so, at what expense to the many? If that is to be the measuring stick, the benefit of the many at some cost to the few, might denying the charter have been a better course? What is the cost/benefit analysis (and I’m not talking about $$.) Just playing devil’s advocate here.