Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

 

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

 

SF educators to receive raises sooner

I have heard from many constituents regarding UESF’s grievance with the school district on the implementation schedule of wage increases agreed-upon as part of the three-year contract expiring June 30, 2017.

Good news: the school district and UESF have agreed to accelerate the schedule of raises so that all educators represented by UESF will receive a five percent raise starting with their first regularly-scheduled paycheck after July 1, 2016. Here is the Superintendent’s announcement:

We are all so deeply grateful for the powerful and critically important work our teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, and other UESF members do every day for our students. That is why I wanted to take this opportunity to share some great news with all of you, even though it directly impacts only UESF members.

SFUSD and UESF have reached an agreement today to move the original January 2017 raise to the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year. Given this decision, every UESF member will receive a 5% raise at the start of the school year, effectively moving the planned second salary increment of 2.25% up by six (6) months.  The raises will be implemented in the first paycheck of the school year for all UESF members, both classified and certificated. Originally, the contract called for a 2.75% raise for the pay period starting in July 2016 and a 2.25% raise for the pay period starting in January 2017.

. . .  The agreement effectively settles the existing grievances related to the timing of the second salary increment to the mutual satisfaction of both the Union and the District.

As the school year comes to a close, SFUSD was able to find cost savings and wanted to contribute these savings to as many employees’ salaries as possible.  This agreement will, in effect, result in 6 more months of increased salaries than previously planned.

We know this is a challenging time to afford living in the Bay Area. The staggered pay schedule that has been in effect for more than 20 years resulted in confusion this winter as some UESF employees received their raises in January and some in February. Unfortunately, this placed added stress on those teachers who thought they would see their increase earlier in the calendar year.

In addition to helping our valued current UESF members start next school year with a higher base salary, we hope this pay increase acceleration will also help us address our projected recruitment challenge due to the national teacher shortage. Higher bottom line salaries for UESF members starting in July 2016 will hopefully entice more teacher candidates and others as they explore their options.

Recap: April 12 – voting and not much else

Very short agenda for last night’s meeting, which was good because we were in danger of losing quorum most of the meeting. Commissioners Walton and Murase are out of the country, and Commissioners Wynns, Fewer and I are running for office with heavy demands on our time at the moment.
Somehow we made it work, and I am very proud that “Encouraging Students to Exercise Their Voting Rights,” authored by Commissioner Fewer and I, and co-sponsored by student delegates Teresia Chen and Miguel Tantiado, passed unanimously. I’m very grateful to the Youth Commissioners who came out to testify in favor, and I owe a huge debt to the youth of Vote16SF who have been incredibly passionate and persuasive advocates for lowering the voting age.

In February, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Vote16 initiative, but we felt we could actually go further, right now, before voters actually go to the polls to decide whether to lower the voting age. Last night’s resolution doesn’t require an act of the voters, because it’s already state law that people as young as 16 can pre-register to vote. When I learned that,  I looked up the research on pre-registration. A 2009 study from George Mason University tracked outcomes of pre-registration programs in Florida and Hawaii and found that they were helpful in encouraging regular voting. So, why not promote voting in the American Democracy classes every senior in SFUSD already takes? And why not make voter registration forms available so that every SFUSD student who is eligible to register knows how to do so?

Originally, we wanted to make voter registration a classroom activity, but because a significant percentage of our students  (we don’t know exactly how many and we don’t ask) are undocumented, such a requirement could put an undetermined number of students at risk for filing a false government document. So instead, the school district will partner with the Department of Elections and make voter registration forms available to students, and we will also make sure students know whether or not they are eligible to vote.

Some people think 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote, and as a parent of a 16-year-old, I understand that instinct, because 16-year-0lds can be very exasperating. But they can also be incredibly earnest, idealistic and thoughtful, and adults tend to make a lot of decisions for them without asking. Also, when you think about it, driving is as much a privilege as voting when you factor in personal responsibility. In addition, voting is a habit that takes root over time. If, as I do, you care about people exercising their right to vote as early and as often as legal, Vote16 is not a hard leap to make.

A number of public speakers came out to denounce a proposed resolution (pulled by the authors, Commissioners Mendoza and Fewer) that urged information about “comfort women” be included in the state’s history standards. The history of comfort women has been a hot topic of late, because activists have been pushing for this very dark chapter of WWII history to become better-known and acknowledged. Other activists say that the “sexual slavery” narrative of the comfort women is overblown.

Important news

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 8.05.16 PM.pngBack in January, I shared that I will seek re-election to the Board of Education this November. Since that time, I’ve also decided to seek election to the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) this June. The DCCC is the governing board of the local Democratic Party, charged with registering voters, raising money, setting policy and voting on Party endorsements. There is no conflict in serving on both the Board of Education and the DCCC.

I decided to run for DCCC because, in this heavily Democratic city, it is the body that sets our political priorities. My two priorities are open space and schools — open space because of my work with the San Francisco Parks Alliance, and schools because of my work on the Board of Education. I think both of those priorities should rank higher in our politics. To learn more about my DCCC candidacy, and how you can help, visit my DCCC campaign web site.

Only registered Democrats can vote for DCCC, and you can only vote for candidates in your  Assembly District. I live in Assembly District 19 (Phil Ting’s district), so if you are a Democrat who lives in David Chiu’s district, you won’t see me on your ballot. Check your registration status here! You can re-register to vote online at the Secretary of State’s web site — the last day to register to vote for the June election is May 23.

Recap 1/26/16: Audit, Title VII and smoking prevention

Several business items of note in tonight’s meeting:

  • First, the school district’s auditors presented the annual financial report for the year ending June 30 2015 — another clean audit with one finding regarding the unduplicated count of students in our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  The LCAP rules say you can only count a student once — so a student who is in foster care and eligible for free or reduced lunch cannot be counted in both categories. This is a new level of precision that was not required before the implementation of the LCAP, and district data systems did not adequately account for the fact that some students fall into more than one category. Therefore, the auditors found that our unduplicated count was overstated and resulted in the district qualifying for more supplemental or concentration grants than it should have received under the state’s new Local Control Funding Formula — $2.5 million more. The auditors testified that many school districts are encountering this finding due to the increased demands, and fiscal impacts, of the reporting required in the LCAPs. In other words, procedures that were appropriate prior to the implementation of the LCAP now need to be updated because the rules have changed, the auditors said, and added that they believe the district’s corrective measures (including reporting the error to the state) will address the problem in future years. We’ll discuss in budget committee next week how this error might affect our budget going forward.
  • Supervisor WienerCommissioners Walton, Haney and Mendoza-McDonnell authored a resolution in support of legislation being sponsored by Supervisors Wiener, Cohen, Mar and Farrell that would ban the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes to people under the age of 21. Supervisor Scott Wiener was on hand to urge the Board’s support, which was unanimous. As a former smoker — I had my first cigarette at age 13 and smoked a pack a day until I was 30. It took me three tries to quit for good, and I’m happy to say I haven’t had a puff in over 10 years. Never again. National data shows that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking, as I did, before the age of 21. Needless to say, I am strongly supportive of this idea.
  • The Board unanimously reauthorized three separate but related charters held by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for Five Keys Charter schools. These institutions serve adults and juveniles who are either incarcerated or on probation, helping them to get back on track and complete a high school education. These are truly innovative programs first begun by former sheriff Mike Hennessey and continued by his successors Ross Mirkarimi and Vicki Hennessey (no relation to Mike).

We also had an informational report from the Title VII Indian Education Program and Parent Advisory Council. Under the Indian Education Act, a Federal law passed in 1972, school districts must create programs to serve the unique educational needs of American Indian/Alaskan Native students. Since that time, the school district was required to have a Title VII program serving the needs of this population, but in the early 2000s the program fell into decline. In 2008-09 the program was re-established, but did not have a permanent home. In 2014 the Parent Advisory Council for the program came to the Board and district leadership advocating for a permanent space so that they could better serve their students and families, and eventually moved into a bungalow at Sanchez Elementary. There, they now host monthly Family nights, community events and Cultural Nights, offer academic workshops and after-school tutoring, and hold Parent Advisory Council meetings.

Federal funding is available to support the Title VII Indian Education programs, but school districts can only claim this funding for students whose families have filled out a special Federal form — Form 506. As of October 2015 only 145 students in SFUSD had a Form 506 on file, but community members testified tonight that the eligible population is significantly higher, perhaps more than 400 students. More outreach to parents and training for staff is needed to document the true number of indigenous students eligible for Title VII funding, the group said. They also stressed the need for much greater cultural competency and sensitivity from school staff–this is a population with a lot of needs but also a proud and distinct culture that is not always respected or honored in our schools.

Public comment: United Educators President Lita Blanc testified on behalf of staff at Charles Drew Elementary, who have raised concerns about their facility. Drew is an open plan school, with classrooms that can be reconfigured by opening or closing temporary sliding walls. Perhaps this seemed innovative when the school was built (in the 1970s) but now “pods” have gone out of fashion and for good reason: students and teachers find it almost impossible to focus in them. Cabrillo Elementary on 25th Avenue had such a design when I looked at it as an option for my children a decade ago –I liked a lot of things about the school at the time but the facility design made the classrooms feel like they had been set up temporarily in someone’s living room. Now, Cabrillo has been converted to district office space, and Drew and George Washington Carver might be the last true “pod” artifacts in the district. Commissioners asked for the facilities department to give us a report on what can be done to mitigate the impacts of the facility on teaching and learning.

Increasing access to Mandarin

Tomorrow night Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer and I will introduce “Expanding Access to Mandarin and Other World Languages,” a resolution asking the Superintendent to begin the Program Placement process to pilot Mandarin world language programs at elementary schools that feed into middle schools with a Mandarin language program.

The idea is to build a more robust pipeline of students who continue their study of Mandarin into middle school. Currently there are just two elementary schools offering Mandarin Immersion and a three offering Cantonese pathways with some study of Mandarin; Alice Fong Yu offers K-8 dual-language immersion in Cantonese with Mandarin starting in middle school. We’d like to expand language pathway options to more students — it has never seemed quite fair that if you don’t win a seat at a language pathway in Kindergarten, you’re likely not to be able to access second language instruction until high school (some middle schools offer world language as an elective but most don’t).

The Program Placement process consists of a rigorous review of the budget, facility and community impact of new program proposals, so it’s not clear what the outcome of the process will be if the resolution passes (it will have to undergo review in the Budget and Curriculum committees before returning to the Board for a final vote probably sometime in late February). However, given real challenges in recruiting teachers with both Mandarin language skills and content knowledge–essential for dual-language immersion programs– and the ongoing popularity of language pathways in general, it seems like the right time to look at new ways to expand second language access for more of our students.

So let’s talk about GATE . . .

GATE is the acronym that stands for Gifted and Talented Education. It’s established by the state of California, which has posted what looks to be a pretty comprehensive history of educational programs and requirements for students who are academically gifted.  I’m not going to go into all that, and instead mostly confine this discussion to San Francisco Unified and where we find ourselves today.

Here is what the research, as I understand it, says: fewer than five percent (most say two to three percent) of the population is truly gifted–meaning they are Einsteins or Mozarts or similarly brilliant artists, thinkers or theorists. That two to five percent absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs, just as the 10 percent of students identified as having a disability absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs to derive a benefit from their education. For the academically gifted, those supports could include: individualized learning plans, more challenging material, a faster pace, and less structure.

Now let’s talk about San Francisco Unified, and many other districts that, like us, relied on test scores and academic performance to identify gifted students. In SFUSD, 32 percent of students are currently GATE-identified. One of my favorite segments from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion show on NPR  is News from Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Sorry. Though I think highly of our SF students, including my GATE-identified daughter, there’s no way that 32 percent are Mozart- or Einstein-level gifted. We aren’t Lake Wobegon. So how did we get here?

Prior to 2014-15, the California Standards Test (CST) served as the primary identification mechanism for GATE students. This led to the state of affairs we have in SFUSD, as in other districts, where we tend to lump high-achieving students together with those who are truly gifted and talented. But using the CST favored students who are good test takers and those who know English well, creating a selection bias. The CST was suspended two years ago to align new assessments to the Common Core.

In the two years since the CST was suspended, the district’s Office of Equity and Access suspended new GATE identifications and has been reconsidering how students should be identified as gifted  in SFUSD. Current research, as summarized for the Board by district curriculum experts, suggests that we should be wary of several issues in GATE identification: that the use of traditional academic tests will place undue value on test-taking skills; that no single measure should be the sole bar for identifying giftedness; and that giftedness exists in equal proportion across language, racial and class groupings.

But identification is only part of the issue. The much more important part, of course, is curriculum. To provide an experience that is meaningful for gifted and talented youth, it’s important that the district respond to and meet their individual differences and tailor learning to their needs. It’s important that gifted and talented students be afforded opportunities to work with other GATE students in addition to their non-GATE identified peers. We also need to be mindful of the needs of high-achieving students who aren’t necessarily GATE, but still need challenging classes to realize their academic potential.

The Curriculum & Instruction Department is working to craft all of the above into a future proposal for the Board. The important thing for parents to understand is that GATE is not going away, but it is likely to change to provide a richer experience to a smaller, more rigorously identified group of students.

WordPress, which hosts my blog, allows you to add a poll to your posts. I’m experimenting with it — curious to know what you think and if this is a helpful feature for blog readers to share their views (I do moderate comments, so sometimes it takes a while for me to post comments).

Recap for Oct 27 2015 — Focus on African American students

Short meeting tonight with two major items on the agenda – a report from our African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) and then an update on our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI).

  • AAPAC was established in 2013 as part of a district-led process to interrupt inequitable outcomes for African American students in SFUSD. This group of parents and community members has been meeting regularly since then, working together with district staff to organize itself into an effective advisory body that listens to and reflects the concerns of African American students in San Francisco Unified, educates families on district initiatives  and resources, and advocates on behalf of African American students and families. Tonight, the group reported on its accomplishments so far this year (including adoption of and distribution of a letter supporting the district’s math sequence) and made a few recommendations, including expanding its opportunity to speak to the Board on a regular basis, encouraging more site-level AAPACs, and extending the focus of the AAALI initiatives (below) beyond high schools). The committee meets monthly (next meeting is November 19). More information here.
  • AAALI is headed by Landon Dickey, a Special Assistant to the Superintendent who joined the district last year. While Landon is responsible for coordinating the many strands of work around the district to improve academic outcomes for African American students in SFUSD, the Superintendent took pains tonight to emphasize that every educator in the district owns this work — not just Landon. The AAALI was established last spring through a resolution authored by Commissioners Haney, Murase and Walton, and is supported by a partnership with the San Francisco Foundation and the City of San Francisco.  There are a number of academic initiatives in place for 2015-16 — too many for a complete list but notably some programs to support African American students in applying to, enrolling in and persisting in college.  Of 253 African American students in the class of 2015, only 113 actually sent a transcript to a 2- or 4-year university. So we have our work cut out for us.

In other news, you might have read that the Obama Administration has reversed itself, somewhat, on testing. The President and his Secretary of Education now say they don’t think students should spend so much time taking tests.  The reason for the change of heart? Perhaps a new report, kind of jaw-dropping, from the Council of the Great City Schools, showing that the average American student will take 112 mandatory standardized tests between Pre-K and high school graduation, consuming 20 to 25 hours of class time per school year. (The press release summarizing the study is here).

San Francisco students do take standardized tests that are required under state and Federal law, and they also take some district-sponsored assessments that are designed to inform instruction and help teachers see where students need more or less support. To learn more about testing in San Francisco schools, you can read the Superintendent’s column about the study from today’s Examiner newspaper.