Author Archives: rpnorton

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.

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).

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History and school names

Last week President Haney posted an idea on his Facebook page (now private, due to threats and other bad behavior from people who should know better), suggesting that maybe certain school communities should have conversations about re-naming their schools if those schools are currently named after slaveowners.

In SFUSD, we have four schools named after historical figures who owned slaves: George Washington High School, Jefferson Elementary School, Monroe Elementary School, and Francis Scott Key Elementary School.

I want to be clear about two things: first, I have not seen any proposal to rename schools and I would be very leery about doing so unless such a proposal had broad support in the community and came from the students, faculty and alumni of a particular school. I believe President Haney feels the same way — he just suggested a conversation and I support that suggestion. In particular, I think George Washington, as the first President of the United States, still deserves to have a San Francisco school named after him.

I think we should have a deeper conversation about school names and when/how/why we decide to rename a school. We have many schools named after people or events or places, some of which are now largely forgotten (or at least less-remembered than they used to be). Below are some examples — without using Google, do you know for whom these schools are currently named and why? (Confession: without Google, I know the reasons for some names but not all).

  • Argonne Elementary School
  • Leola Havard Early Education Center
  • Everett Middle School
  • Claire Lilienthal K-8
  • Rooftop K-8
  • James Lick Middle School
  • Commodore Sloat Elementary School
  • Dr. William Cobb Elementary School
  • James Denman Middle School
  • Guadalupe Elementary School

My point is not that some of these names are becoming obscure, but rather that many/most of them had enough meaning at some point that an earlier school board/community decided to honor them with a school name. Sometimes ideas and values change (one of the schools above was renamed three or four years ago with broad community support after the NAACP reminded the Board that the previous name for that school honored someone who, a century ago, harbored and promoted racist ideas).

Today is the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and I thought about this question while watching the movie “United 93” — a drama about the passengers on the fourth hijacked plane who fought back and probably prevented more loss of life and destruction in the nation’s capital that terrible day. I would be happy to consider naming a school after Mark Bingham, the gay PR executive, UC Berkeley graduate and rugby player who is believed to have played a major role in the passenger rebellion (in fact, the gymnasium at Eureka Valley Recreation Center is named after Mr. Bingham). I could also see naming a school after Betty Ann Ong, a George Washington HS graduate and American Airlines flight attendant who perished in the attacks after providing key early information about the hijackers to authorities (a Chinatown recreation center is named after Ms. Ong).

I would also be thrilled to name a school after Maya Angelou (as President Haney suggested), another George Washington HS graduate and the first female African-American Muni conductor, among many other achievements. More people probably recognize Ms. Angelou’s name than Mr. Bingham’s or Ms. Ong’s, and yet most of us would be willing to recognize any of their contributions as historically important and significant. And 100 years from now, will anyone remember any of these people? I hope so, and I also wonder.

Whose responsibility is it to keep a historical honor like the reason for an institutional name alive? I would argue that this responsibility rests with the school district for names of schools. If we have a school named after someone that we no longer want to honor, we as a district should be brave enough to argue that point, and we should have a strong enough argument to convince the broader community that such a change is deserved and necessary. If not, we should be proud of that school name and be willing to promote broad and ongoing understanding for why we have a school named after a person, place or event.