Category Archives: issues

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Important: school transportation survey

Passing along information about this important school transportation survey being conducted by University of San Francisco on behalf of the SF County Transportation Authority and Mayor’s Office. Please share widely and encourage all parents of students in grades K through 5 (public, private, parochial, charter) to participate.

We want to improve your school and afterschool commute! Please take a brief survey.

Getting young kids to school is often difficult.  Please help the San  Francisco County Transportation Authority and  Mayor’s Office find ways to make the school and afterschool commute easier by taking this ten minute survey for parents or caregivers of students in Kindergarten through fifth grade.  Whether the school is public, private, parochial or charter, we want your thoughts about your transportation options.

English: https://usfca.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_a5Jr7WCyPspvuFT

Chinese: https://usfca.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_aawr7URVdBIvK7z

Spanish: https://usfca.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_1KRhcpwgwuXuv89

 

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: Feb. 22, 2016 — CAT, doors and teachers

Key events from last night’s meeting:

  • Renewing the charter for City Arts and Tech (CAT) charter HS; there are some real concerns about the school’s high suspension rate (16% in recent years) but most of us feel the school is doing enough good things for students to renew the charter. The school has pledged to cut the suspension rate in half by next year so we will be watching that closely.
  • Public comment: parents and community members came again to remind us that the situation at Carver Elementary is untenable. The school was designed in the 1960s as an open pod, all the rage at the time, but times have changed. Parents and teachers feel strongly that the noise and open design of the school presents problems both for student learning and student security, and they are demanding the school be remodeled to address these issues. I think every Board member agrees that the school design is not workable, and the Superintendent announced that funds from previous bonds are available to address Carver facility issues — possibly as much as $1 million.
  • The Board passed the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) spending plan, which included new spending of more than $800,000 since the last time we discussed the plan at the Feb. 15 Committee of the Whole. New money is good, and I am in broad agreement with the Superintendent’s plan to divide the additional revenues between the SLAM (Sports, Libraries, Arts and Music) portion and the “third-third” (other general revenues) portion — directed to Peer Resources and the SOAR program that serves and supports students with serious behavioral issues. Still, as the chair of the Budget Committee,  I had to raise the issue that a significant chunk of new money dropped into the budget between the first reading and the Board vote, and I am a little uncomfortable that the Board had no discussion on how to spend those funds before second reading.
  • The Board voted unanimously to support Supervisor Campos’ legislation that would expand tenant protections to prevent teachers and other school employees, as well as families with school-age children, from being evicted during the school year for most reasons other than nonpayment of rent.