Author Archives: rpnorton

Grrr. SF charter school counsels out child with mild-moderate disabilities

I got an email today that is really setting me off. I am redacting identifying details to protect the family, and because I believe this happens all the time: in many ways the specific school doesn’t matter. Read:

I did some research to see what would be the best option for my child. I really liked the idea of [redacted], and I thought it would work for my child with the right support. [redacted} charter school was one of my choices, so I spoke with its resource specialist. [redacted] was very fair and kind, but . . . told me that children with [disability] are typically not a good fit for [charter school]. This school is recommended for children who are independent and are able to learn without much of adults intervention. [emphasis added] I sent [redacted] my child’s last IEP in advance, and [redacted] thinks [redacted] disability is too severe that [school] may not be able to support [child] as it is a charter school with limited resources.

Wow. The parent who wrote me describes the child as having a speech delay and lacking social skills compared to peers. She wrote: the child is  “advanced academically and is able to follow directions. . . I would not call [child]’s’ disability ‘severe.'”

So here’s my question. Would the same charter school tell parents of typical children that it serves children who are able to learn without much adult intervention? I really doubt it, since that wouldn’t be a very good selling point.

This is a hot button for me because the practice of “counseling out” children who are more difficult and time-intensive to educate (read: expensive) is a common complaint about charter schools. Charters are particularly notorious for failing to serve students with disabilities — and parents of students with profound intellectual or physical disabilities often don’t even try to enroll their children at charter schools because it’s so rare that their kids are actually served at these institutions, even though Federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities apply to charter schools in the same way they apply to district-managed public schools.

I want to believe what the leaders of our district’s charter schools tell me — I really do. Every school talks about its commitment to serving all students, particularly those with challenges, how they want to increase opportunity for all students and how they are just struggling, underfunded public schools just like district-managed schools. And then I hear things like this parent’s story.

Tonight I did talk to a parent whose child with autism was served well at this particular charter school, and she urged me to get a fuller account before judging. Indeed, it appears that the professional that the original parent who wrote me talked to might be an SFUSD employee and not an employee of the charter school. So there is more fact-finding to do about this particular situation. On the other hand, in response to a Facebook post this evening I got an email from a different parent who experienced a similar situation a year or two ago:

My child is visually-impaired and when we were applying to SFUSD high schools, I called the head of special ed at each of the schools we were looking into, [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and [charter].  I was really, really interested in [charter].  I’d heard that it was great . . .  When I spoke to the RSP, that was not my impression.  I was told no students with visual impairments had attended [charter], they don’t offer as many special education services as most of the schools in district. They didn’t have any special day classes.  I was told that because they were a charter school, [child’s] IEP didn’t really apply. 

To be fair, the parent also said that a highly-selective district-managed comprehensive high school was similarly discouraging. Her child is now in another district-managed high school and doing great. She isn’t looking to rock the boat, but was interested in sharing a perspective because I raised the topic.

I want all public schools, whether they are privately-managed charter schools or district-managed traditional schools, to be very thoughtful about their obligations to students with disabilities and to remember that their charge is to serve ALL, without barriers. Tonight’s communications have reminded me that we aren’t there yet and need to do much, much better by our students with disabilities.

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My SFUSD roots: History gets personal

My sister and brother-in-law have become interested in geneaology in recent years, finding all sorts of long-lost tidbits about our respective families — tidbits that are all the more interesting because my sister married her childhood sweetheart, who hails from a family I’ve known since I was three years old. Long story.

Anyway, I learned a while ago that my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Arnold A. D’Ancona, served on the San Francisco Board of Education in post-earthquake San Francisco (prior to that, he was dean of UCSF’s medical school). Dr. D’Ancona is pictured above, and below with my late grandmother around 1925 (she’s the little girl wearing roller skates; he’s the gentleman with the white hair):

Dr. D’Ancona served as President of the Board of Education in 1913, and presided over the dedication of Lowell High School when it moved into a new building at Hayes and Masonic that year (the structure now houses the John Adams campus of City College).  Sadly, Dr. D’Ancona presided over a Board that restricted Chinese students to only one school, and had recently stated (in 1896) that its desire was that “Chinese or Japanese not be employed in or about the school buildings.”  I have to hope he was opposed to these and other similarly racist policies but I haven’t done enough research to know.

Next: I’m still trying to verify this, but family lore says that a few years later, in 1921, my great-grandfather on the other side, C.H. Snyder, was a civil engineer who helped build the lovely building at 135 Van Ness Ave –the building we hope will someday soon house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  (Great-grandfather Snyder also served as the civil engineer for our current City Hall, which rose from the ashes of post-earthquake San Francisco in 1915).  It also turns out that Bert W. Levit, who served on the SFUSD Board from 1948 to 1958, is related by marriage to my brother-in-law.  Later, Mr. Levit served as the first Finance Director for the state of California under Gov. Edmund G. Brown, the father of our once and future Governor, Jerry.

All of which is to say that history is always, if you dig deeply enough, personal. The joke about geneaology is that people always seem to find a connection to famous historical figures (who among us isn’t related to Cleopatra by marriage?) Still, it’s surprisingly moving to me that my connection to San Francisco and its schools is deeper than even I thought.

If you dig into your family’s historical roots, what connections to your current life will you find?

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High time for an update

Hello everyone. It’s been quite a week. Though I am stunned, sad and fearful in the wake of the national election results, I am choosing to focus on gratitude.

In thinking back on all of the incredible support I received over this election season, I am so humbled and so grateful. I care deeply about San Francisco public schools and our students, and doing this work is a labor of love. To my supporters, thank you for recognizing this commitment, and for the gifts of time and money and encouragement that you gave during this campaign. I am beyond grateful, and honored to have been re-elected for a third term.

Thank you to those who have done so much, and will be moving on.
Sandra Fewer was apparently elected District 1 Supervisor and will be leaving the Board in January. Since we joined the Board together in 2008, Sandra has made the ongoing gap in achievement between African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students and their White and Asian counterparts a central focus to our work. I am grateful to Sandra for all her hard work and partnership over the years.

Jill Wynns, the longest-serving Board member in SFUSD history, was not re-elected. I am sad to see Jill’s long and productive career as an SFUSD Board member (six terms, or 24 years) end this way. I am grateful to her for her long service and dedication to the students of SFUSD; she taught me a great deal as we served together over the past eight years.

The future can be bright, if we remember our values. I am so proud of the thousands of high school students who peacefully demonstrated to the world that we in San Francisco stand for more than fear and hatred. I would also like to congratulate new and returning colleagues Matt Haney, Mark Sanchez and Stevon Cook, and offer each of them my support and friendship. Recently, Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh posted a graphic of our SFUSD core values and shared that he draws strength from them. I was so inspired and grateful for the reminder, and I think our values will resonate with a larger audience.

core-values_470

I am committed to these values and I choose to move forward during a difficult and challenging time. I invite you to join me.

Meeting recap
At tonight’s Board meeting we heard an overview of the district’s accountability metrics, including achievement, social-emotional learning, and school climate. There are some things to celebrate–suspensions are down and some schools have created conditions where all students are thriving. There are also the bleak, bleak realities that we continue to have a persistent racial achievement gap and it is bigger and deeper in San Francisco than in other CORE districts (the consortium of school districts that received a waiver from No Child Left Behind a few years ago). Tonight I asked staff to tell us what are the most impactful investments we are making to finally close this gap, because it seems so hard to move the needle for the district as a whole. Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero answered that ending teacher instability in high-poverty schools serving students of color, and ensuring that robust “wrap-around services” (social workers, nurses, intervention teachers and coaches) are available in these schools were among the most important investments we can make.

Nov. 1: Important meeting preview!

Tomorrow night the Board will meet as a Committee of the Whole (where we meet and discuss issues on the agenda but don’t take action). The agenda includes an update on the district’s controversial math policy, including what I am told will be a discussion of possible other options to allow students to take Calculus by senior year (currently the only officially recommended route is taking a challenging Precalculus/Algebra II compression course in the 11th grade; to avoid the course, some parents are paying for a costly online CCSS Algebra course before 9th grade, or having their students “double up” in CCSS Algebra and CCSS Geometry in 9th grade).

The Board will also discuss the timeline and process for hiring a new Superintendent with our new search firm, Leadership Associates.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. It will not be telecast or broadcast online, but recordings should be available within 48 hours of the meeting.

 

Recap; Lowell admissions update

There’s just not enough time tonight to fully recap tonight’s meeting, though I do want to spend some time writing about the reports from the African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) and also the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI), as well as the City College MOU we adopted tonight. I’ll try to find some time this weekend — these are really important initiatives that I want people to know about and understand.

In the meantime, the district has issued an  update on testing for Lowell admissions that I’ve reproduced below. Parents who were concerned about the idea of using SBAC should be relieved (this statement will also be widely disseminated at this weekend’s enrollment fair and through other outlets):

Notice to Lowell High School Applicants Regarding Admissions’ Tests

As all public school districts in the State of California, including SFUSD, transitioned from STAR testing to the Smarter Balanced Assessments Consortium’s (SBAC) standardized assessments, all 9th grade applicants to Lowell were temporarily required to take the Lowell Admissions Test in the interim years 2015-16 and 2016-17.

As results from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s (SBAC) standardized tests SFUSD became available, SFUSD planned to use scores from the 7th grade SBAC for SFUSD Lowell applicants for the 2017-18 school year.

However, the District has received feedback from parents that there was not sufficient notice regarding the use of SBAC tests for Lowell admissions.  Therefore, the District has determined that all applicants for Lowell for the 2017-18 school year will again be required to take the Lowell Admissions Test in January.  For SFUSD students who have 7th grade SBAC scores, the District will use the highest score from either SBAC or the Lowell Admissions Test in English Language Arts and Math for its admissions’ calculations.

In 2017, the test will be administered on January 4, 5, 6 and 9 and students will be assigned by last name.  More details are included on the Lowell application.

This will be the final year current SFUSD students applying to Lowell will be required to take the Lowell Admissions Test.  For the 2018-19 and all subsequent years, SFUSD will use 7th grade SBAC scores for SFUSD student applicants to Lowell.

Applicants for Lowell must submit both a Lowell application and an enrollment application by Friday, December 16, 2016 to either their present SFUSD middle school or to the Educational Placement Center, which is temporarily located at 655 DeHaro Street.

 

Superintendent search update

Tonight the Board conducted interviews with two firms vying to represent us in our upcoming search for a new Superintendent. It was interesting to hear their perspectives and there was definitely more overlap than difference in their recommendations for how we proceed. For example:

  • Both firms recommended a confidential process (meaning only the Board interviews potential candidates) because they both said we will get more high-quality candidates that way. They said many good potential candidates might be willing to interview only if their current districts don’t know they are looking, out of concern for losing effectiveness or legitimacy if they are publicly a candidate and not selected (anyone who has looked for another job while having a job can kind of relate to that). On the other hand, I’ve committed to a real and substantive role for stakeholders in vetting our choice of a superintendent. Whichever firm we choose, I think we’ll have to design a process that includes important voices and input from outside the board (e.g., parents, students and teachers) while making sure that the process invites applications from as many qualified applicants as possible.
  • Both firms also recommended an extensive community engagement process prior to screening and interviewing candidates. Their proposed timelines included time with the Board as a whole and individually to identify key priorities and qualities for the next Superintendent, then spending time talking to stakeholders doing the same thing. My concern is that, having participated in the Superintendent Search CAC in 2007, before the Board selected Carlos Garcia, that the engagement the Board conducted at that time was pretty lacking. We had two meetings with the search consultant and the end result of our efforts was what Commissioner Wynns called a “walk on water” profile of the perfect, unattainable Superintendent. I liked Carlos a lot and I think he did a good job for us while he was here, but he would be the first to say he didn’t walk on water. And he probably embodied 70 percent of what our perfect profile laid out. So “extensive community engagement” had better look very different than nine years ago. Also, the Board is going to have to participate — fanning out to escort the consultants to meet with our various advisory committees, with PTAs and with advocacy groups, ensuring all meetings are conducted in English, Spanish and Cantonese, and really making sure we get out there and talk to as many people and stakeholders as possible to get their input and ideas. We cannot phone this one in or expect the staff and search consultant to carry it. An idea I had tonight was to hold additional community meetings in every Supervisor district with public school parents and teachers, hosted by the Supervisor and structured as a town hall so the consultants, the district Supervisor and the Board can hear input. Anyway, the process has got to be real, it’s got to be inclusive, and it’s got to be substantive if we are to have hope of building good will and trust for a new administration.
  • The timeline is likely to be four or five months at least. The Board will vote on a search firm selection Tuesday evening (name TBD, based on the outcome of negotiations) and then we will need to sit down and start calendaring the whole process: when consultants will meet with Board members, when they’ll be in the district talking to staff, parents and students, and how long they’ll spend advertising the position and inviting resumes. Then we get to pre-screening, background checks and interviews. There will be at least one new Board member, if not more, starting on the Board in January, so I also think we need to be sensitive to not making too many decisions until we know the makeup of the Board after the November election. It might not be the worst thing in the world if our new Superintendent is hired effective July 1 — just as planning for a new year begins. I am sure Interim Superintendent Leigh has some thoughts about that (he is in the sooner rather than later camp), but that timeline would ensure that we have the broadest and best choice possible. From recent experience I would not necessarily want a Superintendent who is willing to leave their district mid-year with little notice.

Finding a new Superintendent is a challenge for us as a Board and a community, but it’s also such an opportunity to come together and agree on some key goals and strategic direction. I feel optimistic after talking to the firms and I think this process will help us continue to move in a positive direction.

Recap (belated): Sept 27 Board meeting

Just a few items of note on the agenda for last Tuesday’s Board meeting (sorry it’s taken me so long to find time to write a recap):

  • The Community Advisory Committee for Special Education presented its annual report. As a member of this committee for several years prior to running for the Board of Education, it’s always important to me to make sure the Board hears from this committee regularly and acts on its recommendations. I am very grateful to this group of parent volunteers for the work and the advocacy that they do for students with disabilities in our schools. The group reminded us of its guiding principles, including the fact that 75 percent of our students with disabilities are served exclusively in general education, that parents are an integral part of each and every Individual Education Plan (IEP) team, and that the “I” in IEP stands for Individual. This year, the CAC will focus on monitoring staffing levels and vacancies at all school sites; broadening implicit bias considerations to include students with IEPs; improving evidence-based interventions for improving reading and writing, among other priorities. On October 27, the CAC will host a candidate information night to interview candidates on their views on improving special education (more information at www.cacspedsf.org).
  • The Board adopted a series of revisions to our conflict of interest code, to clarify our rules regarding soliciting of campaign donations and required financial disclosures, and align them more closely to the City’s rules.
  • Affirming our current Board Policy banning all but law-enforcement officers from carrying firearms on district-property.
  • We heard public comment from parents of students in a particular classroom at Sunnyside Elementary whose teacher has not been present at work since the beginning of school. This is a very difficult personnel issue and I regret that I or district officials cannot be more forthcoming with parents. Rest assured that I am monitoring the situation closely and pushing for a resolution.