Category Archives: BOE

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).

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.

The first day of school . . .

My girls are grumpily preparing themselves for a new year, as I imagine many teens are across San Francisco tonight. One went out and spent her own money (summer earnings) on just the right school supplies for the first day. The other went with me to the bookstore and picked out some novels for her upcoming coursework (she said she is tired of electronics!). They’re feeling jittery, and excited too — my oldest daughter will graduate next spring and it’s kind of amazing to realize that when I first ran for the school board they were in 2nd and 3rd grade. And here we are in the last two years of high school.

It goes fast, parents, and yet there is something so fresh and open and new about The First Day of School. The slate is clean, the possibilities are endless, and there is so much to do and learn.

It’s been fun to see Facebook posts from my teacher and administrator friends this past week. I think teachers feel the same sense of anticipation as they set up their classrooms and get ready for students. Administrators have been back for a few weeks, working through their budgets and master schedules, dealing with facility issues and a million other details. There was a massive district-wide professional development to assist administrators and teachers with alternatives to suspension and referrals for behavior challenges– almost 1,000 educators participated.

Let’s also acknowledge that it’s been a real slog to hire teachers for all the vacancies that exist. Many principals I know spent the last few weeks in nonstop interviews, and they did a great job (Sam Bass at Burton HS, I’m looking at you!! 100% filled!). Still, there are some classroom vacancies. As of Friday, the Board was told that there were 39 classroom vacancies, compared to 3 at this time last year. Overall, the district had 928 vacancies to fill for this school year, compared to 894 last year. Of the 39 classroom vacancies that exist district-wide, half are in our hard-to-fill subject areas, including 12 Special Education vacancies, 6 in Science/Math, and 3 Bilingual vacancies. There is a coverage plan, and central office staff (mostly teachers on special assignment) will fill vacancies on the first day and until we can either fill vacant positions with permanent hires or long-term substitutes. Not ideal, not what anyone wants, but this is where we are.

I don’t want to end on a downer, because the positives do outweigh the negatives. Tomorrow we start a new year. What do you want for your kids in this next school year? Teachers, what do you want to accomplish this year? As a Board member, what I want to accomplish this school year comes down to support and implementation of initiatives we already have under way. The Superintendent’s departure for Houston gives us an opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, look at where we are and decide where we need to go. We need to figure out a better teacher recruitment and retention strategy that includes compensation increases, and design a Superintendent search process that is inclusive of many community perspectives (the Board will begin this discussion on Tuesday evening at our Committee of the Whole — you can either attend the meeting or listen to a recording that I’ll post once it’s up). We also need to decide what we want in a new district leader — what qualities should we as a community prioritize?

Anyway, I wish everyone — students, educators, parents — a great first day of school tomorrow. Here we go!

Recap: Warriors logos and student assignment

Two substantive discussions at tonight’s meeting:

First, the Golden State Warriors organization and other donors have offered to resurface the basketball courts at Willie Brown Middle School. The proposal involved putting team logos on the courts, a retaining wall around the courts, and the backboards (see photo below for an illustration of how the logo might look on the finished court):

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The problem, if you want to call it that, is that putting a commercial logo on school property violates a 1999 Board policy entitled “Commercial Free Schools.” So the staff asked us to waive the policy to allow the donation to go forward.

It was an interesting discussion, and we all agreed that what we really need is an update to the policy to guide how we will and won’t recognize donors to the school district. This is especially timely because of the plan to rebuild 135 Van Ness to become the new site of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. That project will require significant private philanthropy, and donors who give millions to projects like this rightly expect to have their contributions acknowledged in some kind of public and permanent way.

In the end, we agreed to the basketball court and retaining wall recognition, but asked for more consideration of the backboard idea. I’m very grateful to the Warriors for the gift and I think the students at Willie Brown will be thrilled with their new court. As the Superintendent said, “students at Willie Brown will know that the Warriors have their back, and that their heroes care about them.” And, allowing corporate logos like this, even for such a good and positive cause, is a bit of a slippery slope that we need to navigate very carefully.

We also made a significant change to the student assignment policy — one that will not in my opinion affect most people adversely, but is nevertheless significant. Watchers of our student assignment policy will recall that starting this year, the middle school feeder system was supposed to go to “initial assignments” for 5th grade students currently enrolled in an SFUSD elementary school and moving up to the 6th grade in the following year. So, for example, if the initial or automatic assignment policy were to go into effect,  a 5th grader at Lafayette Elementary school would receive a letter this October saying they are being assigned to Presidio Middle School for 2017-18, without the family having to file an application, because Lafayette feeds into Presidio.

However, in last week’s Student Assignment Committee (listen to the recording here), the staff and committee discussed a pending proposal that was supposed to offer students in language programs, and those at four Bayview elementary schools, more equitable options after the shift to initial assignments. But the options presented were very problematic:

  • Problem #1: Willie Brown Feeder Pattern. Currently, families at Carver, Drew, Bret Harte and Malcolm X have two feeder options: Giannini or Willie Brown for Drew, Aptos or Willie Brown for Carver, Martin Luther King or Willie Brown for Malcolm X, and James Lick or Willie Brown for Bret Harte. This is problematic if all other 6th grade students in the district are receiving an automatic assignment to their feeder schools, since we wouldn’t know what middle school families at these four elementary schools would prefer. We discussed a number of options at committee. I suggested asking 5th grade families at the four schools — there aren’t that many of them, maybe 100 total — which feeder they prefer for their children and letting the families choose. Others suggested assigning 5th graders at these schools to the highest performing feeder choice. The staff suggested feeding all four schools into Willie Brown, but the Board rejected that option due to the obvious segregated pathway this option would create.
  • Problem #2: Not enough Language Pathways. We have so many language pathways in elementary schools that it is not possible to feed students into a language pathway in middle school unless you create separate feeder patterns for language programs. For example, Cleveland and Guadalupe Elementary have Spanish bilingual pathways, but Visitacion Valley MS, where both schools feed, does not have the corresponding language pathway. We have already come up against staffing challenges for language programs that make it impractical to keep opening up new dual language pathways in middle schools, and yet providing equitable access and automatic assignments to dual language pathways in middle school would require just such a move. So the staff proposed instead proposed adding an additional tiebreaker — a language pathway tiebreaker — to the middle school enrollment process. All students would receive an initial assignment to the General Education pathway at their feeder middle school. Students in language pathways who want to continue in a language pathway in middle school would then apply to language pathways using the existing Round 1/March placement process. Students would receive a tiebreaker for the appropriate language pathway at any middle school, plus a tiebreaker for their feeder middle school if that school also offers the appropriate language pathway. Are you confused yet? I certainly was, and all of us on the committee felt this was a very drastic, confusing and unworkable change just so that we could continue the commitment to move to initial assignments as promised in the existing policy.

So here’s where we are: after a long discussion at the Student Assignment Committee, board members asked the staff to come back to us with a substitute motion that would instead delay initial/automatic assignments for at least one year, so that we would have more time to look at our options and engage families. I recognize that this decision kicks the can down the road, but it’s also probably the least disruptive change we could make at this late date because essentially, families will experience status quo in middle school assignment: the system will work exactly as it has in each of the last five years.

So tonight we agreed to remove the language requiring initial/automatic assignments from our Student Assignment Policy, and for this year waive the requirement that we make no changes to the policy within three months of beginning to accept applications.  (Aside: we seem to run up against that requirement a lot, which is probably an indication that was wise to include in the original policy language, since it discourages tinkering except when it’s unavoidable. In this case tinkering was unavoidable because complying with the policy — going to automatic assignments — was going to wreak more havoc than delaying the implementation of that last piece.)

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Get ready: marathon meeting June 14

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Yep, that’s the reading material for tomorrow night’s meeting: first reading for the district’s 2016-17 budget and Local Control Accountability Plan, plus the proposed $744 million facilities bond for the November ballot. Up for second reading is the updated Math Placement Policy, P.E policy, and policy for JROTC teacher credentialing and funding.

Tomorrow night’s meeting will be so long I will not likely be able to blog the results of all of the discussion but I wanted to dig in a little to one area: Math Placement Policy, because I’ve received some emails about that.

The updated Math Placement Policy is the district’s response to SB 359, the Math Placement Act of 2015. The Act requires that prior to the 2016-17 school year, districts serving 9th grade students must adopt a fair, objective and transparent math placement policy for pupils entering grade 9. The law is silent on math placement prior to 9th grade. The law was adopted to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to complete the math course sequence necessary for college admissions, and to ensure that students are not disproportionately held back to repeat math courses based on race or ethnicity.

The policy clarifies that all students entering grade 9 will have the option to take CCSS Algebra I — students who fail CCSS Math 8 or receive a D or F in the course will be offered additional support and tutoring. Additionally, students who take coursework covering CCSS Math 8 and CCSS Algebra I before 9th grade with C or better will be allowed to take a math placement test (Math Validation Test, or MVT, in the policy). Passing the MVT will allow these students to take CCSS Geometry in 9th grade.

In addition, within the first month of 9th grade, students placed in CCSS Algebra I (including those who did not pass a previous administration of the MVT) can challenge their placement in the course. If these students have received a C or better in a CCSS Algebra I course and can pass a fall administration of the MVT, these students will be placed in a CCSS Geometry course within a week of passing the MVT.

It’s true that last year, a few students were able to a)pass the MVT and effectively skip CCSS Algebra I to be placed into CCSS Geometry in 9th grade, or, b)take a UC-approved CCSS Algebra I course and place into CCSS Geometry in 9th grade. Under this new policy, students entering 9th grade in 2016-17 will have to do both: take a UC-approved CCSS Algebra I course, either online, or in private school, AND pass the MVT.

I don’t really have a problem with that, because what I really want is for all students to take and pass a Common-Core aligned Algebra I course — I don’t really care whether they do it in private school, online, or in public school, so long as they take it and can pass the course, demonstrating that they’ve learned the material. If public school students choose to take a CCSS Algebra I course prior to 9th grade, that’s fine, but we need to be able to verify, via the MVT, that they learned the material and can demonstrate mastery. I also like that the district is offering an additional opportunity for students to accelerate in 9th grade, through the fall administration of the MVT.

More tomorrow!

 

 

 

Recap: Congratulations graduates!

Actually there was a lot more than congratulating our Class of 2016 at last night’s meeting, but that was the high point. It was the last meeting for our two student delegates for 2015-16, Miguel Tantiado and Teresia Chen, and we’ll miss them.

SAC

College Bound! From left: SAC chair Liam Thirtyacre, SAC liaison Sal Lopez-Barreras, Teresia Chen, Chief of Student Support Services Kevin Truitt, Miguel Tantiado

I so appreciate serving with student delegates. Each year, one is elected at large by students at all the high schools, and the other is elected by the Student Advisory Council. In this way, we generally get representation from the big comprehensive high schools and also from smaller schools. It seems to work well. And every year, I am so appreciative of the thoughtfulness and commitment of the students, and how seriously they take their role of participating in our debates and casting advisory votes. They come to every meeting, they stay almost until the end (we generally excuse them at 10 pm but they can stay as long as they like), they ask questions and offer perspectives, and often author legislation (our rules specify that an elected Commissioner must sponsor legislation authored by students). They have brought us less restrictive bathroom policies, support programs for students whose parents are incarcerated, and advisory measures supporting the ability of 16-year olds to vote, among many others.

Local Control Accountability Plan

We heard from the Parent Advisory Council and also the District English Learner Advisory Council (DELAC) on our draft Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). For the most part, each parent advisory group indicated positive feelings about the LCAP and the process the district used to develop it, but had good feedback on how to make it better. Themes we heard:

  • Schools need to be more inclusive and structured to welcome students and families.
  • We need to get better at building relationships and communicating with families.
  • The district should better support families and students during key transition points: transition to MS and HS, transitions for foster youth and also newcomer students.
  • EL students need more support throughout the day — including better curriculum materials for ELD/ELA (the DELAC specifically praised the district’s teacher-developed math curriculum and recommended we develop an English Language Acquisition curriculum along the same lines).  DELAC leaders  said we need to do a much better job in providing support for families who speak a language other than English to understand how their students are doing and where they need to improve).
  • Afterschool programming for ELs should link with what students are learning throughout the day so that students can experience a more enriched and fun environment.

Next steps for the LCAP: the Board will formally adopt it in June, after the above feedback has been incorporated.

Public comment

We heard public comment from Jose Ortega parents who are concerned because a number of younger siblings of current students were not offered admission to the Mandarin Immersion program. They are asking for the district to add a Mandarin Immersion classroom to that program. I have asked for a response from staff on this issue.

We also heard public comment from members of our SEIU unit (we are currently negotiating their contract for the coming year). Because of a quirk in the City charter, employees represented by SEIU — like custodians, school secretaries and workers in business units like payroll and information technology — participate in the City’s Civil Service System and so their job descriptions fall under common job classifications with the City. However, city and school district units are funded through different sources and bargain separately, so there are pay differences between the City and the school district. School districts are (inadequately) funded by the state, so many job classifications at the district pay less than they do at the City (some jobs are year-round but others are school-year so it’s sometimes difficult to compare accurately).

Other business

The Board unanimously adopted the Good Food Purchasing Policy sponsored by Commissioners Fewer, Walton and Haney. This policy mandates that the school district work with our vendors to make sure that we are purchasing food that has been grown, farmed and processed in an ethical and responsible way.

We also unanimously approved a ban on district-sponsored travel to North Carolina, in response to that state’s passage of HB2, a law that curtails the rights (and dignity) of transgender people.

Legislation introduced for discussion and future vote

Transparency alert!
I am told, that after years of my wheedling, recordings of SFUSD committee meetings are now available online (I know people have been really chomping at the bit to spend additional hours listening to these recordings, previously available only on cassette tapes from the Board office🙂. I have not yet attempted to download a recording, but they are said to be available from the following sources:

People can also directly download the audio files from the Board of Ed meeting agendas page: http://www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/board-of-education/meeting-documents.html
My deep appreciation to Ms. Esther Casco, Ms. Gentle Blythe, and Ms. Joyce Tsai for making this happen.

And home before midnight . . .

Must’ve been the Wheaties because tonight’s meeting wasn’t as arduous as I was expecting. We had a very substantive presentation from the Arts Education Master Plan Advisory Committee on the plan’s successes over the past decade and also ongoing challenges. In a nutshell, the plan has done a lot of good in our schools and it’s time for a major refresh — taking into account the vision for the SFUSD Arts Center that would house district-wide arts professional development and educational programs as well as a brand new Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

One thing I think most people agree on is the need for a sequential arts curriculum (here’s a great example from New York City public schools) across schools that would assist us in reaching the simple and yet powerful vision of the Arts Education Master Plan: Every student, every school, every day. While we’ve made a lot of progress towards that vision, we haven’t realized it yet.

The Superintendent ended up pulling the Teach for America contract. After my post last night, I emailed him to tell him I was reconsidering my support for the program; it was pretty clear that other Commissioners weren’t prepared to support it either. As I wrote last night, even though I’m loath to limit the staff’s ability to recruit new teachers, it has begun to seem pointless to go through a very divisive debate every year for 15 intern teachers. It’s clear that the teachers’ union is very opposed to this program and their representatives made some good points about repurposing our modest investment in TFA teachers to invest in other programs (San Francisco Teacher Residency is one example) that have better retention rates. In the end, the larger problem is that we have a crisis in our schools that serve some of our neediest populations, and we need to think bigger and more radically than we have in the past to deal with the teacher shortage issue and stabilize staffing in those schools.

Then JROTC. The resolution under consideration by the Board was an attempt to fix a number of unreasonable restrictions imposed on the program by past resolutions, but it was problematic in that it also proposed sweeping changes to our P.E. policy. I had a number of issues with the P.E. portion of the policy, but wanted to support most if not all of the changes proposed to JROTC. The problem going into tonight’s meeting is that the authors (Wynns and Murase) insisted they did not want to split the policy into two resolutions — one making the needed changes to JROTC and the other proposing a lot of changes to our P.E. policy. After a long, and at times heated discussion, the authors agreed to split the resolution into two separate proposals and bring them back at a future meeting.

UESF members were also out in force, holding a rally asking for wage increases that would help teachers and paras afford San Francisco, as well as requesting additional investment in the Safe and Supportive Schools policy that has transformed our approach to discipline. Teachers stressed that they support the policy, but need training and resources to make sure that we are realizing positive approaches to behavior and discipline for all students.