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):


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.)





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.


Matt Haney, President of the SF Board of Education

Get ready: marathon meeting June 14


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!




Rape, privilege and justice. (Off-topic).

Tonight I’m going to write about something that isn’t directly San Francisco-related, or education-related, but it’s of importance to men, to women, and to people who have sons or daughters.

In early 2015, a young woman went to a party at Stanford University and got drunk. Very drunk. A few hours later, two cyclists saw a man on top of a body behind a dumpster. They yelled. He ran. They followed, apprehended him, and held him down until the police came. The young woman was taken to a hospital where she was found to have been raped. Here’s her blisteringly honest perspective on that evening and what happened next (taken from a letter she read her attacker, a star swimmer named Brock Allen Turner, on the day he was sentenced in court).

Brock Allen Turner, or Brock Turner depending on how formal you want to be, was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Judge Aaron Persky, a Stanford alum and onetime lacrosse coach at the university, decided he should serve only six months in county jail with probation, even though the offenses could have landed him in state prison for up to 14 years (prosecutors recommended six years).

In his decision, Judge Persky said that “prison would have a severe impact” on Brock Turner, and that he doubted Brock Allen Turner would be “a danger to others.” This is  not the first time Judge Persky has issued a lenient decision in a campus rape case.

I have teenage daughters, and I fear for their safety always in situations where drugs and alcohol are involved. Still, I think my anger in this case is related to the fact that, like many women, I was raped by an acquaintance in college after a night of drinking. I never reported it, because the situation was consensual up to a point, until it wasn’t. I was confused enough, and drunk enough, that I could never completely make sense of what happened, even though I felt violated and ashamed after he left. I never spoke to him again.

How is OK for one person to violate another, just because alcohol is involved? How is it OK for a judge to essentially slap a convicted rapist on the wrist, because of the “severe impact” of laws we’ve put in place to deter just this kind of predatory behavior? And if the circumstances were the same, but the attacker had been a young black man from East Palo Alto rather than a white, star Stanford swimmer named Brock Allen Turner, would the sentence have been the same? I think it would have been far harsher.

Judge Aaron Persky took class and privilege into account. He looked into the future, at the future a young, affluent, white, Olympic-hopeful athlete from Stanford could have, and he felt empathy. He thought, “well, one bad decision shouldn’t derail a bright future.” He could even have thought back to his own college experiences and bad decisions, and thought “boys will be boys,” because even at my own elite women’s college in the mid-1980s, that was the prevailing view. I didn’t tell my friends about my experience because I thought they would judge me for choosing to put myself in a vulnerable situation.

Anyway, I wish Judge Persky had felt the same empathy for the victim, who is still dealing with the consequences of that night in January almost 18 months ago. She’ll never shed it completely, especially since Judge Aaron Persky looked at her, and looked at her attacker, Brock Allen Turner, and decided it was more important to protect his future than uphold justice for her.

Brock Allen Turner of Ohio was convicted of three counts of sexual assault, carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years in state prison under California law. Judge Aaron Persky of Santa Clara County Superior Court decided his offense, over the heartfelt pleas of the victim and strenuous objections from prosecutors, deserved just six months and probation. Let’s remember this injustice.

TAKING ACTION: I don’t recommend filling out petitions because the business model is essentially to generate leads for nonprofit and advocacy organizations that want to solicit those leads for donations (i.e., they sell your information to others). Still, there is some good information in this petition on how to lodge a complaint against the judge.

Oh. P.S.: In a letter to Judge Persky, Brock Allen Turner’s dad, Dan A. Turner of Dayton Ohio, called the rape “20 minutes of action” and says therefore that justifies a very lenient sentence. SMH. (full letter here in case it gets taken down).

P.P.S. Columnist Scott Herold of the San Jose Mercury News thinks we should all be OK with a lenient sentence, because, you know, campus drinking culture. Yay Brock Allen Turner for increasing awareness!


Voter guide: June 7 election

There’s an important primary election happening June 7, and regardless of whether you agree with my guidance below, it’s really important to vote:

Local –

  • Democratic Party Central Committee: I’m a candidate in AD 19 (west side)! Please vote for me and fellow members of the Progress Dems slate. I especially want to recommend these women incumbents: AD-17 – Rebecca Prozan, Alix Rosenthal, Leah Pimentel and Zoe Dunning. AD-19 Mary Jung, Marjan Philhour, Kat Anderson
  • State Senator: Scott Wiener – I’ve worked closely with Scott over the years as District 8 Supervisor and I am in awe of his work ethic, and his detailed grasp of policy. He is a smart, reasonable and incredibly dedicated public servant and he will serve us well in Sacramento.
  • Assembly: Phil Ting (AD 19) and David Chiu (AD 17)
  • U.S. House: Nancy Pelosi or Jackie Speier depending on your district
  • Propositions:
    • Prop A (emergency preparedness bond issues): YES
    • Prop B (park funding) YES YES YES
    • Prop C (affordable housing) YES
    • Prop D (police oversight) YES
    • Prop AA (Save the Bay parcel tax) YES
  • Superior Court Judge: Paul Henderson. All three candidates are very compelling and qualified. But Paul rises to the top because of his long history in San Francisco with the DA’s office and City Hall.

U.S. Senator:  Kamala Harris (this is a no-brainer)

U.S. President (Democratic Primary): Hillary Clinton – Bernie Sanders has done a great job pushing progressive issues to the front of the Democratic agenda. But Hillary’s depth of experience and record of service makes her my clear choice. A Trump Presidency would be a disaster for the country, and she’s the candidate who can beat The Donald.


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.


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:
My deep appreciation to Ms. Esther Casco, Ms. Gentle Blythe, and Ms. Joyce Tsai for making this happen.