Here we go: 2016-17

A new year: school starts in two short weeks (August 15) and there is so much to do. Every year, I try to refresh my thinking in the month between the end of the old year and the start of the new — we vote on the budget usually a week or so before the fiscal year ends on June 30, the district shuts down for most of July and then the administrators come back, this year on July 25.

It’s very hard to take a deep breath and reflect in the short space between school years, but this year I  was more successful at it because I took a real vacation in July. I got out of town for a bit, and I read and thought and renewed my commitment to my school board work. (Here’s my ongoing reading list, for anyone who would like to follow along – in the comments, please suggest other readings you think are relevant and important!).

We’ve got big challenges for this coming year — the same old, same old ones like tight budgets and achievement/opportunity gaps; newish ones like the unprecedented teacher shortage in California; and brand new ones like the expected and likely imminent departure of our Superintendent for Houston.

The newest challenge–looking for a new Superintendent–is actually straightforward, though it isn’t at all simple. I’ll start by saying that I’ve always supported Superintendent Carranza, and I think he is a talented urban school leader. However, based on how events transpired, it’s now clear to me that he wanted to go for quite a while before he actually told the Board he was ready to leave. While I personally wish he had been more forthcoming with me and other Board members over this final year about his plans, I wish him well and I also know San Francisco will be fine.

I have been doing this work long enough–as a parent, then an activist and now as a policymaker–to see Superintendents come and go. No one is irreplaceable. We have a lot of strengths as a district, our Board is high-functioning and united, and we are high-profile enough to be an intriguing possibility for an ambitious urban education leader. I think the task of the Board will be to select for ability over ambition — I don’t care a bit for a “big name” and instead I want someone who wants to be here for the long term and continue to do the hard work of pulling together parents, administrators and teachers towards the common goals of excellence and equity.

In every district I’ve ever read about that has really moved the needle on achievement, the common thread has been a leader who stayed well beyond the average 3-5 year tenure of most urban superintendents. I want continuity and consistency of leadership, and yet I acknowledge that continuity and consistency are only meaningful when you find the right leader. This is our challenge.

Here’s what our community should watch for, and demand from the Board as the search gets going: a clear, well-defined process that balances input from employees (administrators, teachers, aides, clerks, and other key central office employees), primary stakeholders (parents and students), and elites (political leaders and funders). Everyone should know what input and involvement each group will have, and that input should be documented and public so that we know, as a community, how the Board is balancing that input and synthesizing it to narrow our search and select finalists. I think we’re up to the challenge and I hope we’ll be held accountable. This is the most important job we do as Board members.


3 responses to “Here we go: 2016-17

  1. I hope this transition will include reflection around the SFUSD Math implementation. Disclaimer: I have no proverbial skin in this game. Both my children are in High School, my daughter will be taking Geometry in 9th grade next week as she completed an on-line accredited Algebra 1 class concurrently with Math 8.

    I am still deeply concerned with how the sequence has been implemented in San Francisco alone. I am very worried we are setting up a have and have not track for our public school students. Those who can afford to pay to play can take an accredited Algebra 1 class. Even with the new policy, these students will be eligible to take the MVT and enter Geometry in 9th grade. Meanwhile those who can’t afford to pay will suffer.

    Oakland Unified, in my opinion, is the model on how to handle this equitably. They keep everyone together until Math 7. In 7th grade they offer support for those struggling. Then in 8th grade they offer three paths. Math 8 and Support, Math 8, Math8/Algebra 1.

    There is a lot of overlap in Math 8 and Algebra 1 and having first hand experience common core Algebra 1 curriculum, I see how it lends it self to compression much more organically than the current solution of compressing Algebra 2 and Pre Calculus.

    I reiterate, I am pro differentiation, I am not advocating for a return to honors. However, delaying Algebra for qualified students puts them behind the proverbial eight ball. It also delays advance science, especially Physics. My son just completed AP Physics 1 in 10th grade (he got a 4 on the AP physics 1 test which had a 60% fail rate), he wouldn’t have been able to do this if he hadn’t been taking Algebra 2 concurrently.

    We are a K-12 SFUSD public school family. I never ever considered private schools and I’ve been thrilled with the quality of their education.

    However? It is all well and good to talk about utilizing city college and offering advance classes in High School. But to do so? One needs the prerequisites. Delaying the opportunity to take Algebra to the 9th grade hurts the socioeconomically disadvantaged.

    Meanwhile, the state is about to vote on a “STEM” seal on high school diplomas. SFUSD students, unlike other CA districts, will have to work harder to get to the point where they can meet these requirements.

  2. Why should “elites” have input? And I imagine that terminating the relationship with Teach for America wasn’t a wise decision in light of the shortage. If long-term subs will be welcoming students on the 15th, then it definitely wasn’t a wise decision. Just a current parental perspective for you.

  3. I thought the old challenge was the achievement gap. I see it is now the achievement/opportunity gap. Focusing on opportunity may make sense since we have failed to close the achievement gap. How is the opportunity gap measured?

    Also the Urban Institute: NAEP Scores by State Adjusted for Demographics show California near the bottom. So we may have much larger challenges than the gap.