Tag Archives: charters

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.

Recap: Final meeting of 2015

We had a very packed agenda last night, with many substantive items and some good discussions. First up is a summary of actions:

  • We recognized winners of the 2015 QTEA Innovation Awards — these are schools that successfully applied for innovation funds provided through the 2008 Quality Teacher and Education Act (the school parcel tax that also provides key support for teacher salaries and professional development);
  • I was proud to sponsor a resolution commending the California Academy of Sciences‘ Guest Services Department for their amazing support of students with disabilities by providing job support and training for students from AccessSFUSD:The Arc. It was kind of an accident that we ended up issuing the commendation during Inclusive Schools Week but utterly appropriate. I am so grateful to the Academy and also to Heidi Seretan and Jennifer Kabbabe of AccessSFUSD:TheArc. I also love seeing their students (I care about them all but there is a special place in my heart for DeMian and Chris — love you guys!).
  • The Board voted 6-1 (Wynns voting no) to issue a charter to Mission Prep, previously a state-authorized charter school in SFUSD . I’ll add more about that below.
  • We unanimously passed Commissioner Fewer’s resolution recognizing the historical contributions of Chinese Americans in San Francisco public schools. It was an honor to hear from retired principal Lonnie Chin and family members of Gordon J. Lau (San Francisco’s first Chinese American Supervisor), and chilling to be reminded of the horrors of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on Chinese Americans in San Francisco and all over the country. There are some similar xenophobic strains reverberating through the country right now, so it is more important than ever that we learn from our history.
  • The Board approved the 2016-17 instructional calendar, which has school starting on Monday, August 15, 2016 and ending on Monday, May 26, 2017. The full calendar is printed on page 59 of the agenda. (big PDF document; don’t download on your phone).
  • We also accepted the Balanced Scorecards/Single Plans for Achievement for every school. If you would like to see your school’s Balanced Scorecard, please visit this link, then click on the link for the school you would like to view.
  • Finally, we heard an informational presentation on the progress towards fully-realizing the Afterschool for All initiative. The vision is that there will be ample, sliding-income-scale capacity for any student who needs or wants afterschool enrichment programming at every school. We aren’t there yet, but great progress has been made, and the goal is to make sure the vision is fully-realized during the 2016-17 school year. I commend the staff for the great work that has been done on this initiative so far.

In depth: The Mission Prep charter was a tough decision for many members of the school board. This is a charter that five years ago was not at all ready for prime time when it was first submitted. It was unanimously denied, but subsequently granted by the State Board of Education. In my opinion, the State Board approves many sub-par charter petitions that were appropriately denied by school districts and county offices, more out of ideology rather than some deep understanding of educational value. However, because of the actions of the State Board, Mission Prep was established and began enrolling students in 2012-13.

They have, contrary to my expectations in 2010, done a good job. We have had three hearings on the renewal petition — in the Budget and Curriculum committees, and again last night at the Board. It’s been clear at each of those hearings that the Mission Prep families are passionate about their school, and that they believe strongly that the school is serving their children well. The school’s outcomes are so far very good. And the staff analysis of the petition and the program found no deficiencies and a strong financial position. Here are the remarks I prepared for last night’s meeting about the Mission Prep application. I didn’t deliver them verbatim, but they’re close enough:

I intend to support the petition, for two reasons.

First, the petition is a very strong petition. I have no doubt that should we deny this petition this evening it will be granted by the State Board of Education, which has granted much weaker petitions than this and imposed schools we didn’t ask for and didn’t want on this school district. Given that reality, it makes sense for us to have a relationship with Mission Prep as the authorizer of its charter.

The second reason is the families. I have heard in testimony tonight and at the Budget and Curriculum committees that this school is a positive place where your children are learning and growing. That counts for a lot. I cannot look each of you in the eye and say you can’t have a school that is working for your children.

I do, however, want you to understand the impact your request for a building is going to have on other students and families in the school district. Prop 39 requests displace existing school communities or they result in co-locations, which rarely work. There are many in-district schools that are working for their families and their students as well — your request for space may result in this board having to disrupt some other student’s education. I don’t think it’s fair and I think the law is a bad law.

I hope that should this petition be successful this evening, you will be mindful of your impact on the entire district and on other students.

The ongoing and most difficult issue with the charters, as I see it, are facilities. (Note that I said most difficult, as facilities are not the only issue). Prop 39 requires school districts to offer appropriate space to charter schools (meaning, that if a school is a high school it should have, for example, science labs and athletic facilities, so that it can meet the requirements of the education code ). We must comply with the law even if we denied a charter and the state is the authorizer.  This drives me crazy because it is so unfair and so contrary to the principle of local governance. We have school communities that may well be displaced or forced to co-locate with charter schools because the State Board thought that a charter was a good idea for our district even when the locally-elected board unanimously denied it.

Anyway, in the case of Mission Prep, I think we’re trying a somewhat new tack. We could easily have denied the petition, because in the end it would have made no difference, as I said above — indeed, in her remarks last night Commissioner Wynns said we could regard the hearing on the Mission Prep petition as a “procedural requirement,” or a box to simply be checked before proceeding to virtually guaranteed reauthorization by the State Board. In that scenario, it would have been the state’s job to oversee it and SFUSD still would have had to provide an adequate facility. (Note also that “adequate” is a key word — charters do not get to choose the facility they are offered, though often these offers are subject to intense negotiations. So long as the district’s Prop. 39 offer meets the adequacy standard, the district has met its legal burden under Prop. 39.)

However, as I also said, simply kicking the can down the road to the State Board probably wouldn’t have been fair to Mission Prep either — the school is clearly doing a good job for their students and there is an argument to be made that we, as the SFUSD governing board, have an obligation to make sure that continues to happen.

Anyway, when it comes to charters there aren’t any easy answers. It would help if state law created more of a level playing field, but the current education code basically says charter schools have more rights and fewer responsibilities than traditional schools. I fail to see how that kind of skewed policy-making helps all students in California. It certainly helps a few, but very likely at the expense of the many.

All of that said, I congratulate Mission Prep for successfully navigating the renewal process, and most importantly for their demonstrated commitment to their students. Now that the district has reauthorized their charter, I hope we can forge a newly collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship going forward.

Updates, updates

Lots of updates, in no particular order:

Student assignment: At its December 8 meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment will be working on the proposal to change the order of preferences in our student assignment system. We will hear an update on the district’s analysis on the effect of the proposal, and also discuss options for adding an income qualifier to the CTIP preference. The agenda, including meeting time and location (6pm in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street) is here.  As I promised last summer, the Committee is taking some time to analyze the proposal and consider alternatives before voting. At the current time, I would like to bring the proposal back for a vote of the Board in early spring, subject to any changes that might happen in the committee.

Charter schools: There have been a flurry of new applications for charter schools lately, and now we are in the midst of the annual process by which charters request space from school districts. State law says we must annually offer charter schools space appropriate to their program (e.g., a high school should have science lab and gym space; elementary schools must have adequate ground floor classrooms to accommodate K-2 students).

This week the Board got an update on the status of each of our 10 charter schools’ space requests for 2015-16. There is some good news: most of our existing charters will stay put for 2015-16 and our current and prospective students at Denman MS will be happy to hear that Leadership HS is vacating the space they currently occupy at that site and moving to a new site at 300 Seneca Ave. This has been a sore point for the Denman community, as parents were concerned about interactions between MS and HS students at the site, and Denman needed space to expand based on our increased middle school demand. It’s great news for the Leadership community, too — they will have a brand new site that is just steps from their current location.

The not-so-good news is that Mission Prep, whose charter was authorized by the State Board of Education in 2011 after the Board unanimously turned them down, has asked for space. Again, because of state law, even though the local district declined the charter, we must offer Mission Prep space that is appropriate to an elementary school program (assuming we can verify that 80 students enrolled at the school are San Francisco residents).  Similarly, One Purpose School, which we denied earlier this fall, has also indicated it will request a building if its charter is approved by the State Board in January. These requests may mean, regrettably, that one or more elementary schools will have to co-locate with a charter next year. Co-locations are challenging for everyone, and they can really adversely affect students, staff and families (note that I characterized the end of the Denman-Leadership co-location as good news). I have spent hours in Board meetings listening to emotional public comment about why a particular co-location shouldn’t happen. I’m not looking forward to hearing more this spring, and I wish that our state legislators would find the will to amend a law that forces local communities to accommodate charter schools that failed to win the support of their locally-elected school board.

Finally, I’ve been asked about the Board’s unanimous decision to deny New School of San Francisco a charter in late October. My remarks from the Board meeting are here.

Teacher salaries: On November 25, the district and UESF announced a tentative agreement on the contract negotiations we’ve been working on since last spring. If ratified, the agreement would provide a 12 percent raise over three years, as well as additional prep time for elementary school teachers and other increases. If you are a UESF member, please look for communications from your union on the opportunity to weigh in on whether to accept the agreement. Ballots are due in the UESF offices by December 11.

Inclusive schools week: The district really stepped it up this year, with huge props to the CAC for Special Education for making this effort happen. I was honored to attend the kickoff press conference at City Hall on Monday and a great inclusive schools assembly at June Jordan HS for Equity on Wednesday. Today I’ll be at one of our elementary schools at a very special event with the Mayor. I am hugely grateful to district leaders and parent advocates for making this awareness week an amazing opportunity to celebrate how far we have come. More importantly, the week is evolving into an important opportunity for all students to learn about inclusion and acceptance. I’m very proud of the work that we are finally doing.

Budget committee: On December 3 the Board’s Budget committee got a great update on the district’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), which is the extra layer of supports that go to schools based on a cluster analysis of their needs — everything from demographics to achievement to climate.

The question we asked was — how does the district decide how to allocate those extra resources?  The resources we saw–including a chart showing the cluster analysis and the site-based budget resource allocation guide –would go a long way to helping the public understand how the district budgets, and how schools get resources based on the needs of their students (I wish I had soft copies — I’ve requested them and will post them when I have them).

MTSS resources are different from the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), the funds that School Site Councils decide how to spend, based on the enrollment of students at the site.  MTSS funds are centrally allocated. We were told that sites get input in the allocations, but the final decision rests with the central office.

MTSS resources are provided on top of the WSF funding. In the published 2014-15 budget approved by the Board in June 2014, the district expected to put about $255 million into the WSF.  In the same budget document, the district expected to centrally allocate 401 full-time-equivalent positions through MTSS. At an average salary of $85,000, that would make the additional MTSS investment somewhere around $3.5 million.*

*Big asterisk here as the actual amount could be more because MTSS positions in 2014-15 include 18 assistant principals, who earn more than the average $85,000 in salary and benefits earned by teachers. Also be aware that if UESF’s tentative agreement with the district is ratified by its membership, average teacher salaries for this current fiscal year and the next two will also increase.

Pondering unintended consequences: a recap

Long meeting at the Board tonight, starting with:

  • Five charter-school related items (Board voted 6-1 to pass material revisions to the KIPP HS and Gateway HS charters — Wynns dissenting; Board voted unanimously to adopt our Facilities Use Agreement for charters currently operating within our district; Board voted 6-1 to deny One Purpose school a charter — Mendoza-McDonnell dissenting; SF Flex HS renewal petition introduced and sent to Curriculum and Budget committees)
  • A long line of commenters for general public comment, including SEIU and UESF members, the bereaved family of a former SFUSD student who was gunned down last week  and parents from one elementary school commenting on the out-of-control behavior of an inclusion student (I had to leave the room for that – so inappropriate to publicly shame a child and his family in that way).
  • Sufficiency hearing on the availability of books, supplies and instructional materials for the start of school. I learned some interesting things: including that complaints from one middle school about the lack of a science textbook aligned with Common Core were a)accurate — the school has no such textbook; b)misplaced — no such textbook exists because the state hasn’t adopted one yet. On the one hand you have to sympathize with a teacher looking for an appropriate text and not finding one, but on the other I might be excused for feeling exasperated that the teacher has apparently complained to parents before discussing the issue with her principal, who could have explained the situation and helped the teacher resolve it before it got parents upset and escalated the issue to the school board.  I also learned, after asking questions about the Common Core math rollout, that the entire curriculum is available to teachers through School Loop, but being provided on paper a few units at a time. Many teachers don’t appear to know this and have complained to me and to their students’ parents that they are having trouble planning, so I urged administrators this evening to redouble their efforts to communicate the availability of an entire year’s worth of curriculum to those teachers who are looking to plan ahead.

Then, the main event: the proposal to modify the previously adopted set of feeders and preferences for elementary schools feeding into the new Willie Brown Jr. Middle School  (as the Superintendent stressed this evening, there’s a pause between the “Jr.” and the “Middle” to make clear this is not a junior middle school but a bona fide middle school). Let’s call it WBMS for short.

To recap, on August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal  is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference,  limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a  WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.


Preview: Sept 23 Board agenda, plus other updates

A few interesting items on the Board agenda for this Tuesday, September 23 are related to student assignment policy — they are worth spending a few hours on a weekend to blog them, so here goes.

On August 26, the Board approved a temporary student assignment process — subject to review and revision after the 2015-16 enrollment process winds up — that would offer 5th grade students at eight elementary schools an additional feeder preference to Willie Brown MS (which opens in August 2015 and will be part of the enrollment process that begins in late October).  So, the revision to P5101 (our student assignment policy) said that 5th grade applicants to Brown would have priority in the following order:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • students attending 5th grade at one of these eight elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, Edward R. Taylor;
  • students who reside in zip code 94124;
  • students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

Of course, students at each of the eight elementary schools named above already have a middle school feeder preference: for example, Malcolm X and E.R Taylor students have preferences for Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, while Bret Harte students have preference to James Lick MS. Miraloma students have preference for Denman MS. The idea was to add a preference to Willie Brown while taking nothing away. This way, families who had planned on one middle school choice could evaluate a new option without feeling they were losing anything.

But board members expressed concerns about some of the proposed changes in August. On Tuesday, the Superintendent will propose two new amendments. the first would strengthen the Willie Brown preference for students who attend elementary schools in the Bayview and weaken the preferences for students who currently attend Lau, Miraloma, Moscone and E.R. Taylor.

In addition, and I think this is actually the bigger news, the Superintendent is proposing to change the high school preferences to give students who attend Willie Brown MS for 6th, 7th and 8th grade a strong preference for any HS of their choice starting in 2018-19, when the first cohort of Brown students would enter HS. Currently, high school preferences are as follows:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • CTIP 1, with a minimum of seats reserved at each HS for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

The Superintendent’s new proposed language is here. I’m in favor of both proposals but will ask to amend the HS proposal to give it an automatic sunset date that the Board has an option to extend. This school district has a long history of enacting wonderful-sounding proposals with unintended consequences, and while I can’t at this moment envision anything other than a more academically diverse Willie Brown MS resulting  from these two proposals, I don’t think I’m gifted with second sight.

I’m in favor of the first proposal because I think we are building a kick-ass middle school out of the ashes of one of the worst schools I’ve ever seen, and students from the Bayview deserve the first opportunity to go there. Visiting the old Willie Brown was, bar none, the most upsetting experiences I’ve had as a school board member. I saw students who weren’t learning, some staff who had given up, and others who were trying against insurmountable odds (lack of supplies, engagement, and district and community support). The school needed to close, and so we closed it in 2010. We’ve spent the last three-plus years rebuilding the school from the ground up, and are now working hard to reprogram it in alignment with Vision 2025. We’ve already hired the principal and will spend this next school year engaging the community around the school and making sure that the district’s vision of what a great middle school can be will be realized.

I’m in favor of the second proposal because I know that part of what made the previous Willie Brown MS a failed school was that it was perceived as a failing school. Many families in the neighborhood would not send their children to the school, leaving just those students whose families were less engaged and had other issues distracting them from focusing on their children’s education.  The proposed HS preference promise is a real incentive: something to say to families who are already living in the neighborhood, “we are so sure this school is going to prepare your children for any high school, we’re going to offer you the ability to attend any high school.” The policy doesn’t specifically mention Lowell or Ruth Asawa SOTA, but the district already has discretion for a portion of those schools’ competitive admissions processes.

Also on the Board’s Sept 23 agenda will be two material revisions to the charters the district has authorized for KIPP High School and Gateway High School, and these revisions affect student assignment.  Some readers might remember that last fall, I was “livid” (as the Chronicle described it) when I discovered that Gateway HS had initiated an early application deadline — in September — for students who wanted to attend the following August–a year later.  I have been clear with both charters that I cannot support manipulations to their application deadlines in order to give preferential enrollment to Gateway MS students who want to attend Gateway HS or to KIPP MS students to attend KIPP HS. I am clear that all charter lottery deadlines should align with SFUSD lottery deadlines. I have more mixed feelings about offering preference existing charter MS students to attend affiliated charter HS. But when I realized I had fewer misgivings about offering KIPP MS students preference at KIPP HS, I couldn’t justify not offering Gateway students the same preference, even though I know many families who decide, while their children are attending private schools or SFUSD-managed middle schools,  that Gateway HS is a great option for them. Voting in favor of the material revisions requested by Gateway HS and KIPP HS will make it less likely that students who discover these high schools mid-way through their middle school careers will be able to attend — this bothers me.

Finally, and not having to do with student assignment, there is the annual sufficiency hearing for books and instructional materials. This hearing is one we (the Board) always scrutinizes pretty carefully, even though in recent years we have improved a great deal (in the past having enough textbooks and instructional materials like science lab materials was a big problem).  When you read through the district’s report for this year it looks pretty good, except I am hearing some alarming things about mathematics materials since this is the first year we are implementing the Common Core standards. I’ll be asking about that.

From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

At tonight’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation of the results of the district’s research partnership with Stanford. Specifically, the partnership has looked at longitudinal data on English Learner achievement in several pathways — English Plus, Bilingual/biliteracy and Dual Immersion (full descriptions of each of these pathways are here).

I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have an electronic copy, and it’s pretty straightforward to understand. But basically, our concern as a district has been that we didn’t have solid data supporting the big investment we’ve made in dual-language immersion as a strategy to support the achievement of English Learners. (And in addition, until the last two years, we didn’t have accurate data on the English proficiency/background of all the students enrolled in our language pathways).

Dual-language immersion–offered in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean– is wildly popular among English speakers and was designed to support both the English language instructional needs of target language native speakers as well as their content instruction needs.  These programs have exploded throughout the district and have been one of the district’s key strategies over the past decade for integrating schools (look at Bret Harte, Fairmount, Monroe, James Lick, DeAvila . . . the list goes on).

There is some data — not unique to our district — indicating that English Learners who are educated in dual-language classrooms (the ideal ratio is debated but generally held to be 2/3 English Learner/bilingual with 1/3 English native speakers) are slightly more likely to be reclassified English proficient by middle school than English learners educated in other environments.  Still, the sample sizes of the existing studies are small and the data they generated hasn’t been regarded as definitive (though to be fair it is considered “promising”).

But the Stanford longitudinal results are  much more robust and definitive than past studies, and I have to say that I was relieved when I saw that they basically support the earlier studies and our general approach up till now.

Essentially: students in English Plus programs (where they are immersed in content instruction in English much of the day and pulled out for specific English Language Development for a certain number of minutes per day) become English proficient faster and achieve at a higher level  in the earlier grades, but students in Bilingual and Dual-immersion pathways eventually catch up by middle school.  The takeaway is that it doesn’t really matter what pathway you’re in by the time you reach middle school.

The down side is that there is still a significant gap in achievement and overall English proficiency between students whose first language is Spanish and those whose first language is Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin).  And an additional down side is that all students — whether their first language is English, Chinese or Spanish — are not achieving at an acceptable level in math by middle school.  So we have a lot of work to do.

Also from tonight’s board meeting:

  • We reauthorized charters for Gateway High School and Life Learning Academy;
  • We heard public comment from community members at the Claire Lilienthal K-8 Korean Immersion Program, the Filipino pathway at Bessie Carmichael K-8, and Hunter’s View residents advocating for the district to refurbish and reopen the Hunter’s Point Youth Park;
  • We celebrated 33 teachers who achieved the rigorous National Board Certification this year — bringing the number of district teachers who have achieved this professional honor and badge of achievement to 239! Congratulations!

Catching up: Notes from the Nov. 12, 2013 meeting

I have been neglecting the blog — I am so sorry about that. In my defense, though there is a lot happening, there hasn’t been much actually decided in the last few meetings — most of the big initiatives happening at the moment are in community engagement mode, or in the hands of the State Board, or just not quite cooked. Mainly, though, I’ve neglected blogging because I’m working full time and there is only so much I can juggle.

Anyway, let’s get a little caught up by reviewing events from last night’s meeting:

  • The Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) — also known as the 2008 Prop A parcel tax — Innovation and Impact cash awards for 20 schools were announced last night. To receive the $15,000 prize for Innovation or for Impact, a school serving historically underserved student populations must demonstrate an impact on student achievement or innovative strategies and practices (some schools received two awards, including Paul Revere K-8). A  full list appears here.  Heartfelt congratulations to these 20 school communities: you are making a difference and I am very grateful for your efforts!
  • In his remarks for the evening, Superintendent Carranza noted that the Council of the Great City Schools (an advocacy group formed by the nation’s 50 largest school districts — of which SFUSD is one) is completing a study of outcomes from Federal School Improvement Grants (aka “SIG”) in their member districts. Though results aren’t yet final, SFUSD’s results are very positive compared to other districts, and our SIG work was highlighted at the organization’s most recent conference last month in Albuquerque.  Superintendent Carranza also noted that the number of books in circulation in SFUSD libraries has reached 1 million — pretty impressive!
  • The Board discussed the charter renewal petition for Creative Arts Charter School, a K-8 charter currently co-located with Gateway Middle School at the old Golden Gate Elementary School campus on Turk and Pierce Sts.  Creative Arts (CACS) is one of the oldest charter schools in SFUSD and no Board member seriously opposed renewing the charter, though several (notably Commissioner Wynns) noted the lack of racial diversity — the school is 45 percent white and 9 percent decline to state — compared to the district as a whole (11 percent white and another 10 percent not-reported).  Commissioners also pointed out that the school’s academic scores rank it as a 2 among schools with similar demographics — meaning it is underperforming based on its demographics under the state’s (very imperfect and now moot) API accountability system.  Nevertheless, the Board voted unanimously to renew CACS’ charter for another five years.
  • We heard a report from the Indian Education advisory committee, a Federally-mandated advisory committee that advises the Board on the education of students who are of American Indian descent. One of the bigger issues for this group of students is that there is no permanent space for the many cultural artifacts and curriculum materials the advisory committee maintains. The Superintendent pledged to make a recommendation for permanent space and to make sure that the group has access to the materials it needs to function.
  • We also heard an update on the district’s implementation of Behavioral RtI (Response to Intervention, a major component of the district’s strategy to reduce the number of African American, Latino and Samoan students being referred to special education). Teachers and the principal at Lakeshore Elementary demonstrated new, positive discipline strategies they are using in the classroom, with good results. Overall, the 25 schools in the first cohort of school communities trained in Behavioral RtI have seen a 33.5% decrease in referrals to special education, compared with a 23.9% percent decrease for schools not in the first training cohort. Referrals of African American students to special education have declined 14% at schools in the training cohort, compared to a 5% reduction at schools that have not received training.
  • We heard a very short update on the district’s Vision 2025 process — a large group of parents, students, educators and community leaders are meeting over the next few months to help the district envision its goals for 2025 — the next frontier for our strategic planning. It’s been exhilarating and sobering at the same time: there is so much to do and really so little time and resources to do it with; and it is so exciting and energizing to think about where we can be in the future.
  • Finally, the Board voted to extend the district’s contract with the Friends of School of the Arts (FoSotA), a nonprofit that raises funds for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (RASotA) and has over the past few years administered the essential Artists in Residence program at the school. The Superintendent said he will move this program back under district control starting in the 2014-15 school year but needs a bit more time to put the necessary structures are in place to be sure that the transition is smooth.

There’s a lot more to dig into– the plans for the A-G graduation requirements for the class of 2014 are slated for a Board discussion on Nov. 26, and the Board must also have a discussion soon about the plans for reauthorizing the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF, also known as Prop H), which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year. In addition, there are community conversations going on about the possibility of combining PEEF with the reauthorization of the Children’s Amendment in some way — the Children’s Amendment is up in 2015 and currently provides upwards of $200 million in funding for all manner of children’s services from childcare to nutrition to violence prevention  in San Francisco (including $5o million in annual funding for the Department of Children, Youth and their Families).  Commissioner Haney is currently drafting a proposal to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, which disproportionately affect African Americans. While no one really disagrees with the proposed ban, it will require some careful analysis and discussion to be sure we really address the root causes of disproportionate suspensions of African American students.

Also, hopefully you heard that there are big changes coming to student assessment. Because of the adoption of the Common Core, students won’t take the CST this year — instead the district will pilot new computer-based assessments.  There are still a number of very key questions to be answered about the implications of this change — like the effect on Lowell admissions for the 2015-16 school year and beyond, since in the past Lowell admissions for SFUSD students have used  CST scores to help determine academic ranking;  in addition our cohort analysis that determines which schools get what services under the multi-tiered systems of support adopted this year is based at least in part on CST scores.

More next time.