Recap: Sept 13, 2016

I missed a good chunk of the longest discussion of the evening because I left the meeting for about an hour to attend the Potrero Hill Democratic Club’s endorsement meeting (and thank you, PH Dems, for the endorsement! The list is growing . . . check it out here).

Verizon is offering to donate $3 million in devices (iPads, with free data plans!) and other supports, to students and teachers at Hoover, Denman and Roosevelt Middle Schools. This is great, and the Board is appropriately grateful for the donation, but had a long discussion about whether the additional donation of  iPad cases and tote bags with scaled-back Verizon branding required a waiver for the Board’s Commercial Free Schools Policy (last seen at our August 9 meeting when the Board agreed to allow Golden State Warriors branding on a newly-refurbished basketball court at Willie Brown MS). The iPads need cases–middle-schoolers being the lovably clumsy half-kids half-teens they are–yet purchasing our own cases (which would probably come with some other company’s logo on them) would cost us $68,000.

Principles are pesky things sometimes. On the one hand, I am bombarded by commercial logos every day and I do manage to (most of the time) utilize critical thinking about the companies with whom I choose to do business. If a company is offering an expensive, desirable and useful device free to students, what’s the big deal about a small corporate logo on the case? After all, when I start up my own iPad, it always displays an Apple apple, and there’s an ever-present logo on the back. Won’t the kids be just as influenced by that logo as they would by the Verizon logo?

Probably. And yet. While it’s pretty much impossible to escape commercialization in this country, I applaud the school district and my colleagues on the Board for continuing to try. I appreciate it that we willingly have an hourlong discussion about whether it’s OK to accept a donation that comes with a small string that could have unintended consequences on the minds and opinions of the young people we are entrusted with educating. It’s why this work isn’t for everyone — the people who impatiently say: “oh my goodness, just accept the iPads and move on!” are missing the importance of carefully considering the impact of every decision, however tedious those discussions become sometimes.

Tonight, we finally agreed to accept the devices and agreed to hold an event with students, teachers and parents to celebrate and appropriately thank Verizon for the donation, but directed staff to ask the company whether they would be willing to donate cases without their logo. We agreed that Verizon-branded signage at the event is an acceptable string to attach, but cases that a student may look at every single day for his or her middle school years? Maybe not. Even when such a discussion makes a meeting that should be over at 9 p.m. end at 10:30, I would say it’s worth it. And, you’ve got me to blog it, so you don’t even have to be there — you can just read about it!

myong-first-meetingAnyway. I also need to appreciate Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh, who has stepped into this role like he has always owned it. I know he doesn’t want it forever — he’s made that abundantly clear — and he’s stepped up just the same. His Superintendent’s remarks at tonight’s meeting made clear that he is taking this new role seriously. I am so grateful to him.

We also heard from a lot of parents and (adorable, smart and articulate) students  at Francis Scott Key Elementary school regarding their concerns about a particular classroom. Because I cannot discuss personnel matters I will simply echo Superintendent Leigh in saying that parents have been heard and administrators are actively working to address the situation.  I understand the parents’ concerns and I expect a resolution very soon.

Other actions tonight:

  • Unanimously accepted the nominations for members of the Childcare Planning and Advisory Council (CPAC);
  • Adopted policies (updated to reflect current practice and state law) around our management of charter schools;
  • Unanimously endorsed  YES on Prop. 57 (to increase parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court);
  • Unanimously endorsed YES on Prop 56 (to increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increases on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes);
  • Unanimously endorsed YES on Prop. N (to allow non-citizen voting in local SF school board elections).



6 responses to “Recap: Sept 13, 2016

  1. I am aware this is a separate, exclusive grant.

    That is the problem.

    I am very disappointed in the board’s decision to allow an exclusive grant to three of our
    Middle schools and in doing so, exclude thousands of kids of an opportunity in the process.

    Free stuff is great and I do not care about the logo. All iPads have logos. But at least Benioff did not exclude certain middle schools.

    Rachel – I would like to know the reason why Verizon picked those three schools particularly. I want to know why the board allowed the grant in light of the smaller middle schools increasing growth.

    The only way to make up for this is to reallocate the funds from the Benioff funds to reflect the freebies from Verizon.

    If you had a kid not at say, Hoover, because they could not get into the high in demand school, how would you feel about this?

  2. @ Bernal Mom. This donation is not part of the Salesforce/Benioff grant. Completely different. The Verizon grant is focused on only three middle schools. Salesforce has generously donated to all our middle school (free standing 6-8 and as of the last two years the K-8 middle schools) in the form of a Principal’s Innovation Grant. Each school site determines what they need (working with the SSC and Technology Team). Some middle schools have invested in carts with iPads or Chromebooks or laptops. Some have created Green Screen labs for use with video equipment, some brought in more overhead projectors and others added to professional development. I am pretty sure each principal is required o report back to the district/Salesforce about their experience. Overall I can say our middle school feels blessed to have had this generous donation and we have been very, very thoughtful about how we spend the money and we set high expectations about how they should be used. The difference in only three years is truly amazing. We are not close to be 1:1, but our teachers have access to various devices and our students are experiencing many different platforms. Hand a student an iPad or Chromebook and they feel equally comfortable (can’t say that about most adults). Teachers have had to learn about tools, apps, products and platforms so they can use technology to support learning not just as a “nice to have.” Probably the biggest challenge is thoughtful integration and we now seeing so more peer to peer support and this is really changing the game.

  3. How great for those kids at those three middle schools with all those wonderful well established enrichment programs – and how terribly unfair for the kids at the other schools where they struggle to have technology, and let alone music programs.
    That is the only reason why you should be against those iPads. It’s time to focus on those schools with less equity.

    Does Benioff say “only these three schools get this donation?”

    By the way, when will we see a report or something that shows how the district is spending these large donations ? It’s been years now… Time for the community to pressure the board to show how this cash is being spent?

  4. I’ll be eager to hear about the execution of this effort. Will kids arrive every day with the iPads fully charged? If not, are there enough locations to charge in a class? (Do they keep their power cords at home? Bring them with?) My understanding is that Verizon is also providing home internet access (maybe I heard this wrong). Curious how this works and what it will look like a year or two out when the kids leave middle school?

    The obvious, what do we do about theft or cracked screens? I heard the answer…same as what we do with text books, charge the families…but these seem more prone to issues (not sure who is going to threaten to steal a four year old Social Studies text book…and torn pages can be repaired with tape). We have also found that our Salesforce purchased iPads from four years ago do not hold their battery charge as well as they did when they were new (and you can’t replace batteries). What is the plan to recycle the iPads when they are no longer useful? (Five years or eight years out? Do we just give them to the families and let them deal with it?) That’s a lot of landfill trash eventually.

    Lastly, I would love to have us understand the safety factor. I heard about the ” safety training” the kids will be provided…but when they start pulling them out on the bus or at Starbucks are they at risk? When they play on a team and leave their backpacks (with ipads) on the side of a sports field, are they responsible? When they forget to bring home a backpack and leave it…at the library or afterschool room or in the school locker room…what issues are dealing with. What about theft on a vacation (when the kids have required homework and they need to bring devices with them).

    And, lastly (ok, this is really lastly) we have found that Chromebooks are meeting many of our needs in a way that iPads can’t. It would be great to see what programs the students use and what programs they are unable to use.

    Love the program…would love to hear what we learn about it so we can be thoughtful moving forward. I think 1:1 is the way to go…just how we get there and what it means to have them take the device off campus…lots to learn.


  5. Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for all the great summaries!

    If you have principles for the sake of principles, you don’t have principles.
    A “principle.” like no logos or being commercial free is not about being PC or being on the right side of the issue. It ought to be about what’s best for our students. Verizon giving away a bunch of expensive stuff with their logos is not about generosity, nor is it about what’s best for our kids (though they’ll certainly try to spin it that way).

    It’s about getting a tax write off for the give away and free advertising and, most of all, it’s about cultivating brand loyalty, much the way tobacco companies give away free shwag to underage potential consumers and potentially getting kids (and SFUSD) locked into their software, apps and services because we’re locked into their “free” hardware.

  6. Even if the cases have a logo on them, you could allow the kids to customize them (e.g., with stickers or art).