Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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.

Safe and supportive schools

That’s what we all want, right? Tonight at our Committee of the Whole the Board got our annual report on the implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution we passed in 2014. That resolution followed on the groundbreaking Restorative Practices resolution the Board adopted in 2009, which has completely changed the way the district approaches discipline.

I don’t want to minimize how much of a shift it has been, nor how much more has been demanded of teachers — sometimes without the necessary support and training. Passing resolutions and demanding change is one thing: you also have to back it up with dollars and training and support, and sometimes these resources haven’t been as available as they should have been.

Mainly what the resolution has accomplished is a big drop in suspensions. We have also seen much better tracking of out-of-school time–absences and also out of class referrals. We now have a much better idea of how much time students-especially students of color–are spending out of class, and while the picture is still quite depressing we at least are beginning to be able to trust the data.

No one should point fingers or be happy about this data: as a community we all own it and have a responsibility to improve it. Teachers are doing their best to manage sometimes difficult behaviors from students, parents are doing their best to get kids to school, and kids are doing their best to engage in class. And all of us can do better, if we support each other and figure out how to meet the most pressing needs in our communities.

Anyway, I highly recommend a close read of the latest report. It does a great job of detailing the district’s current approach and investments in safe and supportive schools, and is a good resource for anyone who wants to know more about the implementation of this very important and beneficial policy.

 

Meeting recap: change

richardLast night was Superintendent Carranza’s last Board meeting, and Board members and senior staff wished him well. However you feel about the end of the Carranza era in San Francisco, I think listening to this recording from the meeting is a good way to achieve closure: Board, staff and then the Superintendent himself all spoke about the accomplishments of the past seven years since Richard arrived in San Francisco.

Many of us will miss Richard, and even as I deeply appreciate what he accomplished for our students with disabilities in particular (when was the last time you heard a Superintendent talk about students with disabilities with the same passion Richard did in his remarks in the clip above?) I am looking to the future. Change can bring unease and anxiety, but it also always brings opportunity. So that’s where I am: looking forward to the future.

Two resolutions on last night’s agenda: one to make sure that San Francisco schools are gender-inclusive, asking for single-stall rest rooms to be made available at every school to accommodate transgender students and staff; the other clarifying rules for district employees and their rights for political expression during the school day and in the course of their work with students.

We also heard public comment from parents at several schools who are dissatisfied with the teacher assigned to their children’s classrooms. Without commenting on these specific situations,  I really think these kinds of issues are some of the most difficult issues that we deal with on the Board. Of course no one wants an ineffective or problem teacher in the classroom. And as an employer that is experiencing a severe shortage of individuals trained to be teachers, of course the district wants to support the people we already have and help them improve if they are struggling. The school district also must comply with employee privacy and due process rights when there is a problem. It’s very, very difficult to balance all of these imperatives, and sometimes administrators can’t be as forthcoming about everything that is going on to address an issue with a particular teacher or student. Patience, positive and proactive communication, and persistence are the best strategies to use in such situations.

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!

Here we go: 2016-17

A new year: school starts in two short weeks (August 15) and there is so much to do. Every year, I try to refresh my thinking in the month between the end of the old year and the start of the new — we vote on the budget usually a week or so before the fiscal year ends on June 30, the district shuts down for most of July and then the administrators come back, this year on July 25.

It’s very hard to take a deep breath and reflect in the short space between school years, but this year I  was more successful at it because I took a real vacation in July. I got out of town for a bit, and I read and thought and renewed my commitment to my school board work. (Here’s my ongoing reading list, for anyone who would like to follow along – in the comments, please suggest other readings you think are relevant and important!).

We’ve got big challenges for this coming year — the same old, same old ones like tight budgets and achievement/opportunity gaps; newish ones like the unprecedented teacher shortage in California; and brand new ones like the expected and likely imminent departure of our Superintendent for Houston.

The newest challenge–looking for a new Superintendent–is actually straightforward, though it isn’t at all simple. I’ll start by saying that I’ve always supported Superintendent Carranza, and I think he is a talented urban school leader. However, based on how events transpired, it’s now clear to me that he wanted to go for quite a while before he actually told the Board he was ready to leave. While I personally wish he had been more forthcoming with me and other Board members over this final year about his plans, I wish him well and I also know San Francisco will be fine.

I have been doing this work long enough–as a parent, then an activist and now as a policymaker–to see Superintendents come and go. No one is irreplaceable. We have a lot of strengths as a district, our Board is high-functioning and united, and we are high-profile enough to be an intriguing possibility for an ambitious urban education leader. I think the task of the Board will be to select for ability over ambition — I don’t care a bit for a “big name” and instead I want someone who wants to be here for the long term and continue to do the hard work of pulling together parents, administrators and teachers towards the common goals of excellence and equity.

In every district I’ve ever read about that has really moved the needle on achievement, the common thread has been a leader who stayed well beyond the average 3-5 year tenure of most urban superintendents. I want continuity and consistency of leadership, and yet I acknowledge that continuity and consistency are only meaningful when you find the right leader. This is our challenge.

Here’s what our community should watch for, and demand from the Board as the search gets going: a clear, well-defined process that balances input from employees (administrators, teachers, aides, clerks, and other key central office employees), primary stakeholders (parents and students), and elites (political leaders and funders). Everyone should know what input and involvement each group will have, and that input should be documented and public so that we know, as a community, how the Board is balancing that input and synthesizing it to narrow our search and select finalists. I think we’re up to the challenge and I hope we’ll be held accountable. This is the most important job we do as Board members.

Important news

An important message from the Board of Education, regarding our Superintendent’s likely departure for Houston:

Dear SFUSD Community:

I am writing to you on behalf of all of my colleagues on the SFUSD Board of Education.

Given the news of Superintendent Richard Carranza’s likely departure to serve as Houston’s new superintendent, the Board of Education has moved swiftly to ensure a smooth transition and continued positive momentum for our district.

While we begin the community process of searching for a new superintendent to serve our district, the Board of Education is united in choosing Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh as SFUSD’s interim superintendent.

Mr. Leigh has been with SFUSD since 2000 and has successfully managed day-to-day operations and overseen key district initiatives. Our district has tremendous leadership throughout our schools and central offices, so Mr. Leigh will be working with a great team.

The board takes seriously our responsibility to ensure the most capable and qualified leader for our school district. In the near future there will be a public meeting to discuss a selection process for the next superintendent of schools.

Our national search process will be inclusive, transparent, and thorough.

Without a doubt, our enduring goals of student achievement, access, equity and closing the racial opportunity gap will continue to be our focus — and that includes a leader who can work with you and our entire community to move our district closer to our vision.

Thank you for your dedication to our district. We have a lot to be proud of, and together we will continue our unyielding commitment to the success and well-being of all of our students.

Sincerely,

Matt Haney, President of the SF Board of Education