Category Archives: View from the ground

My SFUSD roots: History gets personal

My sister and brother-in-law have become interested in geneaology in recent years, finding all sorts of long-lost tidbits about our respective families — tidbits that are all the more interesting because my sister married her childhood sweetheart, who hails from a family I’ve known since I was three years old. Long story.

Anyway, I learned a while ago that my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Arnold A. D’Ancona, served on the San Francisco Board of Education in post-earthquake San Francisco (prior to that, he was dean of UCSF’s medical school). Dr. D’Ancona is pictured above, and below with my late grandmother around 1925 (she’s the little girl wearing roller skates; he’s the gentleman with the white hair):

Dr. D’Ancona served as President of the Board of Education in 1913, and presided over the dedication of Lowell High School when it moved into a new building at Hayes and Masonic that year (the structure now houses the John Adams campus of City College).  Sadly, Dr. D’Ancona presided over a Board that restricted Chinese students to only one school, and had recently stated (in 1896) that its desire was that “Chinese or Japanese not be employed in or about the school buildings.”  I have to hope he was opposed to these and other similarly racist policies but I haven’t done enough research to know.

Next: I’m still trying to verify this, but family lore says that a few years later, in 1921, my great-grandfather on the other side, C.H. Snyder, was a civil engineer who helped build the lovely building at 135 Van Ness Ave –the building we hope will someday soon house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  (Great-grandfather Snyder also served as the civil engineer for our current City Hall, which rose from the ashes of post-earthquake San Francisco in 1915).  It also turns out that Bert W. Levit, who served on the SFUSD Board from 1948 to 1958, is related by marriage to my brother-in-law.  Later, Mr. Levit served as the first Finance Director for the state of California under Gov. Edmund G. Brown, the father of our once and future Governor, Jerry.

All of which is to say that history is always, if you dig deeply enough, personal. The joke about geneaology is that people always seem to find a connection to famous historical figures (who among us isn’t related to Cleopatra by marriage?) Still, it’s surprisingly moving to me that my connection to San Francisco and its schools is deeper than even I thought.

If you dig into your family’s historical roots, what connections to your current life will you find?



What’s happening – January 2014

Apparently feeling guilty about not posting does not actually result in an actual blog post. So now I am trying another tactic: actually sitting down to post. Here we go:

  • First – January Board meeting recaps. Our first meeting of the new year occurred on January 14. The Board elected new officers, voting Sandra Lee Fewer as President and Emily Murase as Vice President. I enjoyed being President — it is a very interesting and information-packed position — but it is also very time-consuming, so I was also not sorry to hand over the mantle of responsibility to others. The Board voted unanimously to support the Superintendent’s proposal to create a district-wide and world-class arts education hub at 135 Van Ness Ave (which would also involve moving the Ruth Asaway High School of the Arts to the Civic Center arts hub). Finally, the Board also voted to endorse, 5-2 (Mendoza-McDonnell and Maufas voting no), the sugary beverage tax that Supervisors Wiener, Mar, Avalos and Cohen will introduce at the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 4.*  On January 28 (full disclosure: I did not attend the meeting due to a bad cold), the Board voted to accept the Superintendent’s spending plan for $50 million in Public Education Enrichment (Prop. H) Funds for 2014-15 — not much else of note was on the agenda and the meeting was over within 90 minutes (nice going President Fewer!).
  • Surplus property presentation at Board of Supervisors Select Committee, Jan 30: Conventional wisdom says that SFUSD has lots of property that it is “hoarding” to the detriment of the City and kids everywhere. No offense, but WRONG. This presentation, delivered by SFUSD Facilities Director David Goldin at the request of Supervisor Jane Kim and members of the City-School District Select Committee, shows that most of the properties previously-declared surplus by the school district are very much in use today. A few, like the lots at 7th Ave. and Lawton St., 200 Middlepoint Road in Bayview-Hunters Point, or the Principal’s Center on 42nd Ave., have development potential. Most, however, are either serving an educational use or generating revenue — $7 million anticipated for the 2014 calendar year.
  • Stanford Longitudinal Study on efficacy of SFUSD programs for English Learners:  I haven’t heard the commentary on this data so I am simply posting the summaries I’ve been given by staff; the Board will receive a briefing sometime soon on this study and after that I will have more observations. My initial sense, in reviewing these summaries, is one of relief. I have been quite worried that we have invested too much in programs with  limited efficacy for English Learners. This data — at least as summarized here — indicates that those concerns might be misplaced. I want to see more and hear from the researchers before I can say for sure. Until then, you know what I know:

That’s about it for now. An outstanding issue concerns the district’s plans for spending funds allocated by the Governor’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), and our work to implement our Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP).  Districts are required to hold public meetings as part of the LCAP implementation, and I’ll update the blog as soon as I know what those plans are.
In the meantime, the Budget & Business Services Committee meets the first Wednesday of every month (next meeting scheduled — not confirmed — for Feb. 5).  Attending the monthly committee meetings is the best way to keep up with what is happening with the LCAP and the school district’s budget planning.



SFUSD response to Newtown tragedy

I’ve received a few emails inquiring about SFUSD security procedures in the wake of the awful events at a Newtown, CT elementary school late last week.  Hours after the tragedy, Superintendent Carranza held a joint news conference with Mayor Lee to reassure the public that the city and the school district place strong importance on students’ safety. Today, Superintendent Carranza followed up with this letter to all district personnel:

Dear Colleagues:

I know you join me in expressing our collective heartbreak over the tragic loss of precious life at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday.

Over the last few difficult days we have been processing the events in Newton, Connecticut with our colleagues, families and students. I have seen so many examples of caring and support across the city.

In addition to grieving, many of us are asking what more we can do to secure our schools. I want to assure you that I am taking this opportunity centrally to review our procedures and plans and I am asking every school site to do the same. From everything we’ve heard, Sandy Hook Elementary appears to be a model school in terms of security — yet still an intruder intent to do harm found a way in. I make this point because research I’ve read, coupled with my own experiences as a site teacher and administrator, have led me to believe that ultimately it’s the decisions we make when faced with a crisis that makes the biggest difference – our decisions can literally save lives.

I believe we are all committed to doing better. We want to keep our children and loved ones safe and we want to make sure nothing like what happened in Connecticut ever happens again. Year round we must familiarize ourselves with and practice the important protocols and procedures to follow during an emergency. All schools have a safety plan that is updated annually and staff should be trained to implement these plans. On a day-to-day basis, we must enforce sign-in procedures and single points of entry at our schools to mitigate harm.

And the most important thing we can do is to stay alert. Though some things cannot be prevented, many of us know first-hand the crises we’ve averted because alert people intervened in time. We must also be willing to use and refer appropriately to health and wellness services those individuals who we feel may be dealing with issues that require additional support.

Thank you for all that you do every day to keep our schools safe and to keep our children engaged in joyful learning. I wish you all peaceful and restful holidays in the company of your loved ones, and a well-deserved break.

With gratitude and respect,

Richard A. Carranza

A day in the life of an S.F. family, through the eyes of a toddler

I found this remarkable video diary thanks to a link on the Thoughts on Public Education blog.  In a week where we received depressing statistics on rising poverty levels for families, this is a matter-of-fact look at what it is like to be a young family living in poverty in San Francisco.

The video is narrated by mom Valerie Klinker, who speaks in the voice of her 17-month-old son Terreace, imagining his world as he experiences it.

Get out your calendars!

Upcoming events to mark:

Thursday, April 28: Budget committee meeting;  Special Budget meeting on Edison Charter renewal.

Monday, May 2, 5 p.m.:  Curriculum Committee to discuss inclusive practices and AVID program

Tuesday, May 3, 6 p.m.:  Committee of the Whole on Special Education Redesign; Special Meeting to vote on Edison charter renewal following the adjournment of the Committee of the Whole.

Thursday, May 5, 6 p.m.: Community budget meeting at Thurgood Marshall HS, 45 Conkling St., near Silver Ave.  (Free childcare and interpretation available by reservation, call 249-9293; Free parking; Muni 44, 14x)

Monday, May 9, 6 p.m.: PAC and PPS present findings and recommendations from the middle school forums at the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

Thursday, May 12, 6 p.m.: Community budget meeting at James Lick MS, 1220 Noe St., at 25th St.  (Free childcare and interpretation available by reservation, call 249-9293; Free parking; Muni 24, 48, J)

Tuesday, May 24, 6 p.m.: District staff present their recommendations on the middle school feeder plan at a regular meeting of the Board of Education.

Wednesday, May 25: Budget review open office hours 2 pm – 6 pm, available by appointment first come, first served. Email HernandezE2″at”

Monday, June 13, 6 p.m.: Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment meets to discuss the middle school proposal.

Tuesday, June 14, 6 p.m.: BOE is likely to vote on the middle school assignment policy at its regular meeting.

Video fun

Two fun videos to share:

The video above shows the work of  students in our CAT program (transition for students with disabilities ages 18-22) who participated in a stop-motion animation class sponsored by  the City’s Recreation & Parks Department.

Click here to see SFUSD students featured on ABC-7 News tonight — the clip is about “Everything Goes,” a performance of the SF Arts Ed Players (full disclosure: my children are part of the Players this year).  You probably know SF Arts Ed for the artists-in-residence it provides to San Francisco public schools during the school year, and the Players are part of another amazing program where students learn dance, singing and acting skills and perform in a professionally-staged production.

Saturday and Sunday, the Players will be performing in a revue of Cole Porter songs — they have worked incredibly hard since September, with hours of rehearsals each week, and the hard work shows!  Shows are 2:00 p.m. both days at the Eureka Theater (215 Jackson St., SF) — Tickets can be purchased online through City Box Office.

Shout-out: Mother Jones’ Mission High series

A week or so ago I had a pleasant coffee with Kristina Rizga, a reporter for Mother Jones who is embedded at Mission High for the year. She’s been writing regular dispatches from the ground, and doing a great job capturing life at an inner-city high school. I’m particularly interested in her upcoming post about watching “Waiting for Superman” with a Mission teacher and his students, and the discussion about the movie.

Here’s Part I of the “Waiting for Superman” dispatch >>>

Hanging with the Supe

You know you’re in the realm of the A-list when omnipresent local treasure Bill Wilson snaps your photo at a luncheon. Carlos and I were chatting at the Geary Boulevard Merchants Association lunch when Bill happened along with his camera.

supe and the commish copy

Update: Special Education CST results

Last week I posted figures from CDE on the special education achievement gap. But tonight I learned from Dr. Ritu Khanna, our Executive Director of Research, Planning and Accountability, that the CDE has pulled ALL of its special education results to recalculate them due to some unspecified error (not just with SFUSD’s numbers, but the entire state’s!).  So I’ve redacted the information in the earlier post and will repost updates when available. If I don’t get to it within a month, someone remind me to ask for updates.

First day musings

Happy first day of school, everyone! I haven’t posted in a few days so there are a few things I wanted to note:

  • Nice article in the Chronicle this weekend on the Potrero Residents Education Fund (PREFund) parents’ investment in Daniel Webster Elementary. The school has been transformed by the care, investment and attention the neighborhood parents have showered on it since bringing the school back from the brink of closure in 2006.
  • High school students in San Mateo experienced a terrifying first day of school after a former classmate set off at least one pipe bomb at Hillsdale High School. The boy was captured before anyone was harmed, but the incident was chilling nonetheless. The principal and teachers at the school credit frequent drills on emergency procedures for quick action that kept anyone from getting hurt. SFUSD has recently updated all of its emergency procedures, so I’m confident our schools are similarly prepared, but it never hurts to double-check. Talk to your principal if you are at all concerned about safety issues.
  • I recently heard from a new Kindergarten parent who was very disappointed in the welcome offered to new families by her child’s new elementary school. The school principal did send out a letter to new and returning families, but it arrived less than a week before school started and had less information than the parent wanted. I understand how a new parent feels — when your child is entering a new school the most important thing is for you to feel that they will be welcomed into a safe, stable environment with open arms — but I also feel sympathy for the principal, who has a million and one things to juggle and arrange and fix and ready ahead of the start of school. In many schools, welcoming new parents is a task the PTA takes on, but sometimes it takes a few weeks for the PTA to rev up at the beginning of the year. If no one is around or paying attention in August, then the welcome letter doesn’t get done until the last minute, if at all. It is one of the niceties that falls through the cracks, because, after all, the important thing is to have schools ready to receive our children on the first day.  And like many veterans of the public schools, I have already forgotten the intense anxiety of the First Day of Kindergarten and settled into the “everything gets sorted out after the first week” attitude, because I’ve seen from experience that our children will be well-cared for.  So, I have two suggestions that might make everyone’s lives easier. To newbies: lighten up! Your children are going to be fine and if the first week is a bit chaotic, try to go with it. Things will settle down and I predict your child will be just fine (he or she might even enjoy the ride!). To veterans: remember what the first week was like and try to mentor or reach out to new families at your school. The small pieces of information no one thinks to pass on will make a world of difference to someone who is new.