Category Archives: BOE

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.

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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.

 

An “eat your Wheaties” meeting

Muhammad_AliEvery once in a while, we have an “eat your Wheaties” meeting. Tomorrow night is one of those meetings.

There are three major items in the printed agenda, including a report from the Arts Education Master Plan task force, the renewal of the Teach for America contract, and a sweeping resolution that would reconfigure our P.E. programs and approach to JROTC. We also expect a large showing from UESF members, who are coming to rally for both a wage increase and increased investment in the Safe and Supportive Schools policy.

After tonight’s Personnel and Labor Committee meeting, it’s hard to see where the Teach for America contract will find enough support. Commissioners Fewer and Wynns spoke passionately against the program, and President Haney voiced concerns as well. In the past, Commissioner Walton has voted against the program and stated he doesn’t think the model is right for San Francisco. While I’m loath to tie the staff’s hands when it comes to recruiting badly-needed teachers, even I feel ambivalent after tonight’s presentation. The proposed contract is for 15 teachers — a drop in the bucket towards our recruiting needs this year, even though we’re specifying only hard to staff credential areas like math and special education. Teach for America interns attend a five-week summer boot camp before entering the classroom and most end up in our lowest-performing schools.  Many who come through the program are good teachers. Some aren’t. Most don’t stay in San Francisco, or in teaching at all, over the long term. Last year I passionately defended the Teach for America contract. This year, I’m wondering if it’s worth all of the fighting.  Maybe, if the Board sent a message against business as usual, we might get a different result over the long-term. I’m still undecided about how I’ll vote.

The JROTC resolution is kind of a mess, because authors Wynns and Murase have adamantly refused to split various half-baked P.E. policy revisions from some badly-needed reforms to our JROTC policy. Here’s what I support in the resolution:

  • Recognizing the new JROTC credential, which has been approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as an appropriate credential to teach JROTC;
  • Allowing the JROTC course to meet the state’s P.E. requirement, so long as the course is found to satisfy the state’s required P.E. framework;
  • Continuing to allow students who take JROTC as an elective to enroll in P.E. independent study supervised by instructors holding the new JROTC credential, rather than requiring the instructors to have a P.E. credential;
  • Removing the district’s prohibition on the program receiving central office funding as well as site-based funding (this is probably the most controversial JROTC-provision).

Unfortunately, the resolution also contains some sweeping provisions allowing students at alternative high schools to take P.E. independent study, and provisions allowing students enrolled in high school athletics and marching band to receive P.E. credit. Any or all of these things might be good ideas or they might not be, but the controversy that perennially surrounds JROTC, as well as the complexity of the current resolution, has drowned out any other reasonable policy provisions.

The fact is, three board members will likely not support anything related to JROTC, so I don’t really understand the strategy of trying to hide some needed JROTC policy revisions behind other sweeping P.E. issues. At every committee meeting I have voiced my concerns about the way this resolution is written, but so far the authors have refused to consider splitting the P.E. issues from the JROTC issues. We’ll see what happens tomorrow night — I would hate to see the JROTC instructors and the kids who love the program pay for the Board’s inability to reach a compromise.

Anyway, after we discuss all of the above, we also have closed session. Eat your Wheaties. It’s going to be a LOOONG night.

Recap: QTEA, comfort women, and more

Due to a work commitment I was an hour late to tonight’s meeting so I was not present for the annual report of the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) oversight committee this evening. I’ll have to watch a recording of the meeting to fully absorb their report, but I gather that members have raised questions about the district’s carryover of at least some of the annual revenues from this fund.

For review: the QTEA is the district’s parcel tax, passed by voters in June 2008. In 2016-17, property owners will be assessed $238.68 per parcel, generating about $40 million in revenue to support teacher compensation, professional development, technology and innovation in the school district. The QTEA sunsets June 30, 2028.

On the carryover issue, I have to do more research because I  missed the opportunity to ask some key questions tonight. The contention is that the district should be putting more of the annual revenues into teacher compensation now; the rejoinder is that the carryover has been set aside to pay for negotiated salary increases. Given that the district and UESF have just agreed to accelerate salary increases, both these arguments could be moot. I’ve asked for an additional discussion of the QTEA at the budget committee, either May 4 or June 1 depending on scheduling. And as someone who walked a lot of precincts to pass QTEA (before I was elected to the Board), it’s very important to me that we live up to what we promised.

We also had a report on the Our Children, Our Families (OCOF) initiative established by the reauthorization of the Public Education Enrichment Fund and the Children’s Fund in 2014. Some very good work has been done in establishing a steering committee (the OCOF Council) chaired jointly by the Superintendent and Mayor Lee. The group has established a detailed framework (caution, big PDF download) and is working on their first 5-year plan.

After a recess for closed session, we convened a Special Meeting to consider a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Mendoza urging the state to include curriculum about the “comfort women” in the state’s history curriculum standards. (Last fall, the Board unanimously passed a resolution to incorporate information about the comfort women in SFUSD’s history curriculum.)

The “comfort women” were prostitutes who serviced the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII. Most people agree that the women — Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Indonesian nationals — were forced either by economic or other means into sex slavery, even if the women did at times receive payment. But there the agreement ends. In recent years, activists have sought to compel the Japanese government to issue apologies and reparations to former comfort women. In late 2015, the Japanese government did issue an apology of sorts to Korean comfort women, because the Korean government has been most vocal and forceful in demanding acknowledgement of the Korean women who were enslaved as comfort women. Still, activists argue that other nations deserve the same treatment. For their part, Japan’s supporters (most notably, tonight, Commissioner Murase, who is Japanese-American and has deep ties to Japan) argue that the tone of the comfort women debate is uncomfortably anti-Japanese.

That’s the geopolitics in a nutshell. For myself, the argument that facing historical atrocities is necessary but painful really resonates. Like many innocent Japanese-Americans, Commissioner Murase’s father was interned in a concentration camp in the 1940s, a shameful chapter in United States history. Tonight Commissioner Mendoza recounted her 90-year-old mother’s memory of being hidden in a rice cannister as a young girl in the Philippines during WWII, to make sure she wasn’t kidnapped by Japanese soldiers. My mother remembers being taught to be afraid of “Japs” in 1940s Berkeley, of all places. War makes people do, say and think terrible things. I think our children deserve to know that, and (if we do our jobs well) know better.