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.

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

Key events from last night’s meeting:

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

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: Another long one

San Francisco isn’t proud of our outcomes for African American students, who are not achieving at the level of White and Asian students and are much more likely to be identified for special education, suspended and/or expelled than students of other racial and ethnic groups. We’ve been working on (or at least talking about) the twin achievement and opportunity gaps for African American students as long as I’ve been on the Board, and for a long time before that.

As one speaker said at a recent meeting, “[SFUSD’s data] shows that Black students are not going to the same school district as White and Asian students.” That’s a profound statement, when you absorb it.

In May 2015, the Board established the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and made a number of audacious promises, including transparency, tracking and reporting on data on the condition of African American students. So, the centerpiece of tonight’s meeting was a rich discussion around the mid-semester report from the AAALI, one of an ongoing series of progress reports on the Initiative. The upshot: some modest, positive steps have been taken — we’ve got a good team in place and a couple of interesting pilot projects, including the “Village Roundtable.”

The premise is, of course, that it take a village to raise a child. The Roundtable pilot selected six schools with high concentrations of African American students– George Washington Carver ES, John Muir ES, Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, Paul Revere K-8, Mission HS and Burton HS–and selected five focal students at each school. Each of those students will be surrounded by a “village” of volunteers — peers, educators, parents or other adult guardians/allies, social workers, counselors, and representatives from community-based organizations and faith-based organizations. The hope is that the “village” will be the support network that helps a struggling child achieve.

Another project is a postsecondary initiative, which encourages and supports African American students to apply to college and seek financial aid, then continues to follow and support them in their postsecondary pursuits. Google.org just awarded SFUSD $1 million over three years to support this project, which we hope will increase the number of African American graduates of SFUSD applying to college and being successful in college. (Of 253 African American graduates in the SFUSD class of 2015, an analysis last summer found that just 113 had requested a transcript be sent to a 2- or 4-year postsecondary program.)

Other topics:

  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by Commissioners Haney and Walton on supporting children of incarcerated parents. I want to specifically call out Project What!, whose youth leaders provided very raw and honest testimony about their experiences growing up with incarcerated parents. I would most likely have supported this resolution without their testimony, because it is focused on a small group of students with acute and well-documented needs and has minimal budget impact (about $100K annually). Still, the testimony was incredibly moving and made such a strong case for the resolution — I was very proud of the youth and commend them for really making their experiences real for all of us. Thank you, especially Arvaughn Williams, who will one day without a doubt hold elected office somewhere.
  • Public comment from teachers who are struggling to afford San Francisco. I was particularly affected by testimony from two Kindergarten teachers at Cesar Chavez ES (one a seven-year veteran) who said the time is drawing near where they just won’t be able to keep up the struggle anymore. Cesar Chavez is a Mission District school serving a very high population of low-income English Learner students, and their students desperately need experienced teachers and stability. These teachers said they love teaching at Cesar Chavez and their school community but they’re getting very tired of living with roommates and commuting from Oakland. Something is going to have to give, and our students shouldn’t have to.

Notes from the Budget Committee:

Last week we had a Budget Committee meeting, and among the items discussed were preliminary school site budgets for 2016-17 (given to principals in late February) and planning for new investments in 2016-17. At the moment, we are planning for about $20 million in additional ongoing General Fund expenditures for 2016-17: previously-negotiated employee salaries and benefits, required increases in our payments to the State Teacher Retirement System (STRS), and cost-of-living increases in our contributions to special education, early education and student nutrition, and facilities maintenance cost increases. This leaves about $10 million for new spending. Of that, about $5 million has already been promised to school sites via the Weighted Student Formula and Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) — centrally-funded resources targeted based on student and school characteristics and needs. Another $2.5 million or more will likely go to enhance existing and renegotiated collective bargaining agreements. The Superintendent would like to spend almost $2 million more on technology infrastructure to support several central office functions, including Human Resources, Finance and Information Technology (the Budget Committee has reviewed these department budgets this year and our reviews have revealed a lot of needs). Still, that would leave only about $500,000 for new priorities, and the Board had developed a long list. So we have a lot more work to do.

We did learn about a new tweak to the Weighted Student Formula, which administrators are calling the “Concentration Resource.” It’s a way of targeting funds from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) Concentration Grants, based on the percentage of focal students in a school. Remember, the Weighted Student Formula is a per-student grant based on the characteristics of a school’s overall student body. So, for example, imagine a school of 100 students that are high-need. Based on the needs of the students, the per-student rate would be very high, but because the school is very small, the overall funds the school gets through the weighted student formula wouldn’t be all that much.

The Concentration Resource is a way of making sure that schools with high percentages of high-need students get more, regardless of size. You can see how it works by studying this spreadsheet, which is also an interesting way of evaluating which schools have the neediest students. To understand the numbers, you’ll also need to understand what “unduplicated students” are: the LCFF establishes higher weights and funding levels for students who fit into one of three categories: qualifying for free/reduced price meals, English Learners, or foster youth. If a student fits into more than one of those categories, the district has to assign them to only one and subtract them from the others. In that way, they are “unduplicated.”

The Concentration Resource is still pretty small — the highest amount schools get through it is $50,000, but that goes a long way for a school with fewer than 200 students. And, it could represent a way to start addressing concerns about the equity of the Weighted Student Formula, which favors larger schools.

Planning for the 2016 bond

The school district is planning to place a bond measure on the November 2016 ballot, and tonight the Board met as a Committee of the Whole to hear an update about the planning staff is doing for this bond measure and to give input into where we should make particular capital investments.

There is a lot of interesting information in the presentation, including:

  • A summary of enrollment projections for the next 20 years;
  • Long-range capital needs, both for the current bond and the next bond (the presentation says 2021, but according to one speaker there is no election that year);
  • The current plans for the 2016 bond — currently listing over $700 million in capital projects, including $80 million for up to two new schools and $100 million for the SFUSD Arts Center, the long-dreamed-of new home for Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and a district-wide professional development and performance space at 135 Van Ness Ave.

There is much more information on enrollment projections in a hefty new report available on the district’s web site (don’t download it on your phone – the PDF is over 100 pages). I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so I have no reaction to it. But based on the summary from the presentation we heard tonight, we have to get busy building some schools!

enrollment chart

We are still in the early stages of bond planning (we have to vote to place a final version on the ballot by early August, but due to the annual board recess in July a vote might happen in late June). We’re hearing from a lot of people urging us to build a school in Mission Bay; it also looks like there is huge growth coming to the Bayview and southeastern neighborhoods.

Family engagement update

We talk about family engagement a lot at the school district, and we put a lot of resources toward it. But are we getting results? Also at tonight’s Committee of the Whole we had a discussion with Kevin Truitt, Chief of Student, Family and Community Support, and Mele Lau-Smith, Executive Director of Family Engagement and School Partnerships. It’s become increasingly clear that while we have a large number of family engagement initiatives, the work is disjointed and not focused enough.

A big part of our strategy continues to be Family Liaisons — people who are embedded at school sites and trained to support and engage families. Over the years many of these people have become essential community members, and their school sites can’t imagine life without them — most are bilingual and serve as a key communication point for parents who don’t speak English. (This handout shows sites with a Family Liaison and a summary job description for the role).  Still, it’s been challenging to make sure that every site adheres to the Family Liaison job description and that these employees are trained in all of what they might need to know — discipline policies, special education rights and procedures, academic standards, etc.

I would say that 90 percent of the issues that come to me from constituents are family engagement issues: questions or problems that for whatever reason don’t have an easy “just talk to your principal” solution. There really is no one place parents of any background can go to ask such a question — sort of a 311 for SFUSD. In an ideal world, we would have a help line staffed continuously from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.weekdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, with bilingual operators who could answer basic questions and log more complicated ones for a response within 24 hours.

One of the SEIU 1021 unit leaders (the union that represents our school secretaries) was in the audience and he emailed me that my suggested solution is too complicated. Instead, he suggested, why not offer our school secretaries and front-line clerical staff professional development that would allow them to answer most inquiries and transfer those they aren’t able to answer to the correct department within one transfer. I still think families need a help line, but I agree that better customer service training for front-line clerical staff would pay huge dividends in families feeling like they know where to go and that someone at the district is listening.

Recap: Vote 16, Lowell BSU, Condom policy

Tuesday evening was very emotional, with lots of highs and lows. Among the highs: the amazing testimony from students on the Vote 16 resolution I  co-sponsored with President Haney and Commissioner Fewer. Parents and other adults are often skeptical about lowering the voting age, but after listening to the testimony of the young people who came to talk to us, I challenge anyone to say they aren’t ready to weigh in on the important issues of the day.

Commissioner Fewer and I are also sponsoring a related resolution that would, regardless of whether Vote16 passes or not, educate students about their right to pre-register to vote ahead of turning 18.  Voting is a habit, and studies show that the earlier one gets into the habit, the more likely one is to become a lifelong voter. I’ve even heard that it takes new voters four consecutive election cycles to actually get in the habit. In SFUSD, every senior takes American Democracy and that is a perfect training ground for new or prospective voters. While we need to be careful that undocumented or otherwise ineligible students don’t register or pre-register in violation of state and Federal laws, it’s still worthwhile to use the state’s existing Elections code to encourage every eligible student to pre-register, or otherwise exercise their voting rights.

Students, parents and alumni from Lowell HS came to talk to us in the wake of a horribly racist and upsetting incident at the school. (And may I just say that I am in AWE of these amazing young women leaders).  The video below is over 30 minutes, but I think anyone who cares about social justice and wants to be careful and respectful around issues of race and privilege should watch it and reflect. There’s a history here, one that is painful and ugly and not discussed enough. I don’t have a lot of answers at this point but I think it’s crucial to hear:

Oh and then there is the condom policy. I’m going to post the Superintendent’s remarks on the policy, and then my own, because (if I do say so myself) I think we covered the issues. I get that on its face, in the way the proposed policy has been framed by the media, it sounds alarming. My children aren’t in middle school anymore, but if they were I would not be worried at all by our current policy. I talk to my kids about keeping safe if they are contemplating sexual activity, and most parents I know do as well. The kids we are hoping to reach are those who don’t have parents to talk to, and I trust and thank school nurses and social workers for the care they are providing to our most vulnerable students already. This limited policy change will give these educators an additional tool to help students who really need assistance and adult guidance. I’ve received some email from religious activists claiming that our policy will  hurt young women who are in exploitative relationships, but I don’t agree at all. The whole point of the policy is to encourage vulnerable children to have an honest conversation in a safe space with a trusted adult.

Superintendent Carranza’s comments:

My comments:

Finally, we also got an update on the third year of implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution which has sought to transform the district’s discipline policies while decreasing the amount of time students spend out of the classroom for behavior issues (referrals, suspensions and expulsions are all part of this issue). The update can be summed up by the two charts below: on the one hand, we are making real progress in reducing suspensions:

suspensions

 

 

 

But on the other hand, suspensions are still disproportionately of African-American students:

disproportionality

 

There’s more data in the powerpoint posted above.

Important parent engagement event next week – please make sure this flyer (page one is in English and page 2 is in Chinese) is distributed at your school sites, particularly to monolingual Chinese-speaking families – the district is hosting a special parent engagement event in Cantonese (with English interpretation) at Jean Parker Elementary School next Saturday, March 5. The event represents what I hope is a first step in real efforts to engage and inform Chinese-speaking families about curriculum and other initiatives in the district. I think we have to do a lot more in parent engagement across all communities but recent events and conversations have convinced me we have a particularly urgent problem in the Chinese community.

Looong night

Note: I’ve now turned comments off on this post. Lots of people have had their say. Feel free to take the discussion elsewhere or email me at comments@rachelnorton.com if you have more to say.

It’s about 10:30 p.m. and we are about halfway through tonight’s board agenda. We also have a closed session conversation to get through before the night is done. There is so much to say about tonight’s meeting — amazing testimony from students on lowering the voting age to 16; harrowing testimony from African-American students, parents and alumni of Lowell HS about a long tradition of racism and microaggression at the school; the decision to go forward with a policy that will allow at-risk middle schoolers to access condoms — but blogging isn’t going to happen tonight.

I’ll post a longer update hopefully tomorrow or Thursday, and I urge anyone who cares about any of these issues to watch the SFGovTV video once it’s posted. Tonight’s meeting has been incredibly difficult but a lot of people got to speak their truth; that’s always powerful.