Tag Archives: charters

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.

Gateway HS: Part Deux

So this morning I had a frank, productive and cordial talk with Gateway Public Schools Director Sharon Olken. I was again reminded how much I like Ms. Olken — I have in the past seen her as a “straight shooter” who tries every day to run a network of schools that are great for kids. I need to say first off that I apologized to her for casting aspersions against her character or questioning her integrity. I should not have done that and I was wrong to do that. I have been told in the past that sometimes I let my temper get in my own way and certainly being “livid” yesterday was part of that tendency.

Ms. Olken explained that the Gateway administration is saddened each year by families who *know* the school is right for their child, but are devastated when their child is not admitted. In addition, while application rates for the HS have remained steady, she has noted a gradually decreasing rate of matriculation — meaning that more students are being admitted off the wait list later in the spring when larger numbers of students who are admitted in the main lottery decide not to enroll.

She also reminded me — and I don’t dispute this — that while she has always understood my strong feelings that Gateway MS and Gateway HS are separate schools for the purposes of enrollment, she has always maintained that she would welcome the chance to work with kids from 6-12 grades. In the end, she said the decision to create a second early lottery was motivated by the school’s desire to work with students who are truly committed to Gateway and spare them the anxiety of going through a highly competitive lottery. As proof, she mentioned the school’s decision (despite some flak) not to participate in last weekend’s independent school fair — largely seen as a starting point for parents looking for options outside the regular SFUSD lottery.

I heard her out and I have no reason to believe–after talking to her– that Gateway made its decision with anything but the best of intentions, even if I continue to think they are seriously misguided.  I told her — half joking but with a big grain of truth too — that if there is one thing we know at SFUSD, it’s all the ways an assignment system can lead to unintended consequences.  “Learn from us,” I pleaded. What Gateway wants to accomplish–as stated by Ms. Olken–is laudable but it will not happen with their current policy. (Or really, any policy. In an environment where seats are in such high demand, it’s impossible to devise a way of allocating those seats that makes everyone happy if the only tool you have is a lottery or multiple lotteries).

I have two chief objections: first, setting an early deadline will just make in-the-know families apply earlier. What’s to stop them, since it’s obvious that odds will be better in the early round? I commended Gateway for making its application simpler — another long overdue improvement — but now it’s easier than ever to apply to Gateway, hold on to a spot, and wait to see how one does in the SFUSD and independent school lotteries. I’m glad Gateway isn’t touting itself to the independent school audience so far, but I am also certain it won’t take long for anyone who is interested and motivated to find out and utilize the early deadline if they have even the slightest inkling that Gateway might be a good fit for their child (and by inkling, I mean even something as flimsy as overhearing other parents say that Gateway is a good HS).

My second objection is the delicate subject of the MS students. It’s just not credible that Gateway MS won’t have all the information they need about applying to Gateway HS for the early round. Of course they will — Gateway MS would be derelict to its own students if it didn’t make sure they know that IF Gateway HS seems to be a good option, they should apply in the early round.  Gateway has employed a full-time outreach coordinator, and Ms. Olken assured me today that they are being very thoughtful and purposeful in recruiting students in underserved schools. (We both laughed when I told her that the new Gateway deadline had gone out on at least one middle school’s SchoolLoop site yesterday–some of my colleagues at SFUSD do not want any charter school recruiting at district schools.) But reaching parents who are not connected to the Internet or to parent networks, and/or who don’t speak English is not an easy thing to do. Most organizations that are doing this work successfully have coordinators who speak multiple languages and maintain extensive community partnerships — and even then, the outreach work is very hard.

Finally, this decision sets a precedent, as I told Jill Tucker of the Chronicle yesterday. There is nothing, now that Gateway has thought of it and actually implemented it, for other charter schools to simply set multiple lotteries and publicize them to different preferred constituencies. The genie is out of the bottle, whether Gateway intended to set a precedent or not.

In the end, we agreed to disagree, and Ms. Olken said she would consider making changes either this year or in subsequent years. She also agreed to share with me the outcomes from this year’s lottery — whatever they are.

Gateway HS’ velvet rope

Another update: I am shutting down comments on this post as they are getting out of hand on all sides. Suffice it to say that some people are very angry at Gateway and some people are very angry with me for calling out Gateway in the way I did. I had a very good, frank discussion with Sharon Olken this morning and apologized to her for questioning her integrity and motives. She graciously accepted my apology and explained what Gateway is trying to accomplish. I credit the school for having the best of intentions but I still strongly disagree with the policy — I don’t think it will accomplish what they want it to. We agreed to disagree on this issue for now, and I am coming to visit the HS for the first time in a while in a few weeks. I will write a longer post later when I have more time.

Update: I just spoke to Jill Tucker of the Chronicle, who is writing about this issue for tonight. She confirms that Gateway will hold two lotteries: one after Oct. 4 and one (assuming there are any seats unfilled) after the regular January deadline. Gateway HS has not yet responded to my emails so that’s all I know — I’ll be waiting to read Jill’s reporting. 

In the past I’ve been an admirer of Gateway Public Schools, a charter school operator that runs Gateway HS and Gateway MS here in SFUSD. Gateway MS’ charter barely squeaked through in 2010 on a 4-3 vote — I was in the majority.

Tonight, I’m sorry I voted for them. I learned today that Gateway HS has set up an “early application deadline” of October 4, 2013 for the 2014-15 school year. Yeah, this Oct. 4– as in 25 days from today.  The only reason that makes sense is because when we approved the middle school’s charter three years ago, the Board made very clear that Gateway MS students would not have priority enrollment into Gateway HS. Now, the first class of Gateway middle-schoolers is ready to enter high school, so the schools have quietly set up a two-tier enrollment system with an insanely early deadline that was only publicized to current Gateway MS students.

Gateway HS is very small, and incredibly popular. Someone (I can’t remember who) told me last year that they had crunched the numbers and based on the ratio of applications to seats, that Gateway is more selective than Harvard. So giving the MS students a leg up is no laughing matter — it’s a serious advantage over the rest of students across San Francisco who are interested in attending Gateway HS. What’s worse, we know that the earlier you set an application deadline, the more you disadvantage families who are not connected to the Internet or parent networks and/or who don’t speak English. So setting an earlier deadline isn’t just advantaging current MS students — it’s advantaging families who are savvy enough to check the Gateway web site in September.

How Gateway has gone about it is seriously sneaky. I never would have approved their charter if I’d thought this was the way they would honor their commitments. I’m ashamed of them and hope they will change this misguided admissions policy.

Recap: January 29, 2013

We don’t often hold a Board meeting on a 5th Tuesday, but after last week’s agenda-posting glitch, it was lucky there was still another Tuesday left in January for a do-over from January 22.  And what a meeting it was tonight — public comment got very rowdy and I ended up clearing the room twice; finally the Superintendent called in SFPD to help us calm an especially agitated speaker.

I’m not going into all the issues people wanted to talk about — you can watch the meeting once it’s posted if you’re interested.  Generally, people were angry and wanted to tell the Board what was on their minds; that’s fine, but we also need to set reasonable limits on each speaker’s time or the Board will never get to business.  The rules and procedures that govern our meetings seem frustrating (e.g., you have to call in ahead of time or fill out a speaker card before an item is called if you want to speak publicly on that item; your time is set at two minutes or sometimes less, and your mike gets cut off if you ignore the time limit) but they have evolved over time to try to be fair to everyone with business before the Board and to help keep the meetings orderly and efficient.

And there was important business on the Board agenda — the Superintendent’s proposed “bedrock principles” of inclusion were introduced for first reading after a good discussion at the Committee of the Whole on Jan. 15; we also heard an information-packed report from the Bilingual Community Council on all of the issues related to the achievement of our English Learners.  We approved the 2013-14 spending plan for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) ahead of its hearing at the Board of Supervisors next month.

Finally, we discussed a somewhat controversial decision to raise the fee the school district charges charter schools for the use of district facilities — from 95 cents per square foot to $2.79 per square foot — over two years. The fee will rise to $1.87 in 2013-14 and another 92 cents in 2014-15 to reach $2.79 a square foot.  The fee has not increased in at least five years, but the main reason the fee is increasing is because the district realized it could change its formula to consider interior space as opposed to simply the exterior footprint of a building. Other districts, notably LA Unified, already do this, and charge considerably more than SFUSD is proposing. According to information given to the Board by staff this evening, LAUSD charges its charter schools $6 per square foot to occupy district facilities.

We honored members of the PEEF Advisory Committee (my appointee Bayard Fong will complete his service this month after serving a heroic four years; tonight I appointed Mark Murphy to fill his place — my undying gratitude to them both for their service).  We also honored Peer Resources and Mentoring for Success in honor of National Mentoring Month — I was particularly moved and struck by the easy and affectionate rapport between one mentor and her mentee (matched together for their “sassy personalities”) who shared their stories with the Board and the audience. I also loved hearing Mission HS principal Eric Guthertz talk about his experiences mentoring at-risk 9th graders: a best practice that Mission pioneered.

We also recognized the Early Education Department on the occasion of its 70th Anniversary, and heard information on the upcoming African-American Read-In sponsored by the SF Education Fund — elected officials and volunteers from all over San Francisco will read books by African-American authors and/or illustrators to schoolchildren at 16 schools on Monday morning, Feb. 4.

Oh, and last but not least, happy 100th day of school! I still remember helping my daughters with their count-to-100 projects in Kindergarten and how proud they were of the 100 hats they got to wear that day.

January 8, 2013: Meeting recap

gavel“And now it is my pleasure to announce that I have been elected President of the Board of Education.”

It’s kind of strange to chair the annual Board elections and be a candidate at the same time, but with today’s swearing in of new District 7 Supervisor (and outgoing Board President) Norman Yee, I was the only outgoing officer available to chair tonight’s meeting.  I’m honored and humbled to have been unanimously elected President of the Board this evening — thanks to all of my colleagues for their vote of confidence and especially to new Commissioner Matt Haney, who did me the honor of nominating me as a candidate.  Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer was unanimously elected Vice President of the Board.

Board elections and other procedural business disposed of, we then moved to recognitions and commendations.  Alice Fong Yu Alternative School and its principal Liana Szeto were recognized for receiving two major honors — a National Blue Ribbon School award and the Terrell H. Bell Award for Outstanding School Leadership. It was wonderful to see the joy and pride of the AFY community in celebrating these honors — though the school was asked to bring just three representatives to speak at the meeting, they couldn’t resist bringing at least 13, including parents, teachers, and many students. I will never, ever get tired of hearing what I’m told is perfect Mandarin coming from the mouths of African-American, Irish-American, or Filipino-American students at AFY — it’s one of the jewels in our district and the community is rightly proud.  Washington High School teacher Michelle Kyung was also honored by the Board for winning the Carlston Family Foundation award for outstanding teaching.

Also of particular note on tonight’s agenda was the adoption of the district’s annual financial audit. For the first time anyone can remember, there were no findings  requiring attention or remedies from the Board and district leadership. And the absence of findings isn’t unusual just for SFUSD — it’s unusual for school districts across the country. We have had the same auditor for many years, so it’s also not as if Vavrinek, Trine & Day (our audit firm) are just going easy on us — even in my four years on the Board I have seen them ding us for one thing or another.  Bottom line — it is an indication of fiscal transparency and good stewardship of public funds that we were able tonight to adopt a 100% clean audit.  Or, as our auditor Leonard Dana told the Board tonight: “I’ve never been applauded on presenting an audit before. Auditors never get applauded.”

rev foods sampleCommissioners also had an opportunity to sample meals prepared by our new meal provider, Revolution Foods. On tomorrow’s menu: Spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and 100% beef meatballs; fresh fruit, butternut squash, and baked whole wheat ranch-flavored chips. I would have to say — not bad at all. I am mostly hearing good things about the first two days of meals with our new provider, though there have been a few glitches. I would like to hear from more parents and kids — what’s your experience with the new Revolution Foods meals? Leave a comment or email me at comments “at” rachelnorton.com.

We heard from many members of the Creative Arts Charter School community, who are alarmed at a proposal to co-locate Gateway Middle School at the Annex building on the Golden Gate Elementary School building they have occupied for several years. Creative Arts is a K-8 school that will have about 400 students next year. Gateway Middle is a 6-8 school that will have about 300 students next year, and is managed by the same group that manages Gateway High School, located for many years at the Benjamin Franklin Middle School site on Scott and Geary (about two blocks from the Golden Gate ES site).  Gateway MS has, since the Board first granted its charter in 2010, expressed a strong desire to be near Gateway HS, and serve the Western Addition.

Co-locations are often contentious and I understand that they are not ideal. No one wants to have to compromise about the program they offer their students so that a completely different program with completely different students can share their space.  District officials tell me that they have agreed to a suggestion that the Gateway, CACS and district decision-makers meet to try to come to a resolution that works for all parties. But somehow I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this.

I want to close with my sense of humility and gratitude to my colleagues that I’ve been granted this leadership opportunity (and responsibility) this year.  The quote I contributed to the district’s press release reads, in part: “Every Commissioner is utterly committed to increasing student achievement and making sure every student in San Francisco has access to educational opportunity. Our challenge will be to stay focused and make sure that our time and energy is spent crafting policies that best support these priorities.”

Here we go!

And so it begins: Fighting over scraps

It really is looking like we might not get to vote on tax extensions in June after all — though the Governor really could declare any day he wants for a special election (it doesn’t have to happen on a Tuesday or even in June at all!).  But the latest gossip I’m hearing from Sacramento is that now the Governor is talking about bypassing the legislature altogether and putting tax increases on the November ballot through the initiative process (three guesses who might help pay for the signature gathering drive!). Update: here are Brown’s current options, according to a column in the Sacramento Bee.

Anyway, the “catastrophic” Option B is looking more and more like it might come to pass, at least in the short-term. And when Option B happens, constituencies start fighting with each other over their share(s) of the budget.

Tonight’s meeting started off beautifully — we showed a student documentary made about the SOTA mural I wrote about last week, and teacher Heidi Hubrich was on hand to talk about her students and their artistic achievement.  We zipped through three charter school renewals (well, not zipped exactly, there was a lot of public comment and some board discussion about the growing trend of charters using the El Dorado SELPA to deliver special education services rather than using the SFUSD SELPA – it’s a lot cheaper for the charter operators. In general we need to improve the district’s oversight of all of the charters we’ve authorized in the area of special education, but that’s a discussion for another day). Final results: City Arts & Tech HS was renewed on a 6-1 vote; Five Keys Independent HS and Five Keys Charter School, our two charter schools for students incarcerated at the County Jail in San Bruno, were renewed on a 7-0 vote, with nary a dry eye in the process — the story of Five Keys is one that restores your faith in humanity, your faith that people can change, and our conviction that educational opportunity transforms lives.

We had a very interesting discussion on the Board’s expanded Residency Policy – none of the principles in the policy are new, but they had been contained in existing Administrative regulations, procedures and practices that had not been memorialized in a single Board policy. We’ve stepped up residency enforcement as part of implementing the new assignment system, so updating our Board policy with those existing regulations, procedures and practices made sense. What surprised me was that there was any controversy at all about this policy. Several community members have come to every Board discussion about the policy, arguing that the district is giving itself sweeping new powers to enforce residency — but by this logic, any school district that assigns students on the basis of where they live is assuming these kinds of powers. Anyway, the Board voted 6-1 to adopt the policy (Commissioner Fewer voted against it as she feels unwilling to enforce such a policy against graduating seniors, even if they are found to have committed residency fraud). I understand her concerns but I don’t think we can leave any loopholes here — drawing a line around seniors simply encourages families to just “get through” 11th grade and then breathe easily. We have found we have a significant problem with people using false addresses to attend highly-sought after schools in San Francisco: this policy is the right step to address that problem.

Then came public comment – at least two hours of it. A group from Bret Harte Elementary came out to complain about the administration of the Bayview Zone. A group from Carver Elementary  came out to complain about their principal.  A group from Bryant came out to protest the reassignment of some of their teachers, required under the Turnaround model plan that made the school eligible for funds under the Federal School Improvement Grant program for persistently underperforming schools. Finally, a group from Washington HS came out to protest what they called the “very bad” Option A budget scenario and the “catastrophic” Option B budget scenario. The situation at Washington will need more digging, but it appears that a “bubble” senior class will graduate this year, causing an overall drop in year-over-year enrollment at the school. Since enrollment = dollars, the already bad budget is looking really bad at Washington.

Anyway, to tie it all together – all of these issues are, ultimately, about sharing a pie that is not big enough for everyone. Bryant and Carver get dollars they desperately need, but there are strings attached — a beloved principal, or beloved staff have to go in order to accept the funds. These conditions seem awfully abstract and arbitrary to the families in the trenches, and so they are pushing back. There are other management and instructional and systemic issues in play at Washington and Bret Harte as well, but at the core? Money and a fight over who has the power to make decisions.

The other day I was astounded to look back at a news article from 2006 that talked about how ill-funded SFUSD schools were at around $8,000 a student. Now? Even before Option A or Option B, we’re at around $4,000 per student.  But here we are, fighting over scraps, thinking — if we could just hold on to what we have, everything would be OK.

Last up: Commissioner Maufas introduced a resolution to rename Burnett Early Education Center after Leola Havard, a renowned African-American educator administrator whose roots reach deep into the school district (her sister, Lois Sims, was a teacher in the district and her niece, Deborah Sims was the district’s Chief Academic Officer under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Collectively, the family has dedicated over 50 years of service to SFUSD).  It turns out that Peter Burnett, the original honoree of the school, was (in the words of Rev. Amos Brown, who addressed the Board this evening) a bully. The first Governor of California, Mr. Burnett was an advocate of banishing African-Americans from the state and while he was at it, Chinese-Americans should go too.  (See this exhaustive history by historian and civil rights leader John William Templeton, who also addressed the Board this evening).  The Board will issue a final vote on this proposal at the April 12 meeting, but I predict it will pass.

And actually,  Rev. Arnold Townsend of the NAACP made a great suggestion tonight, noting that SFUSD would probably have renamed Burnett years ago had anyone bothered to learn about the school’s honoree in the first place. Do you know who/what your child’s school is named after?  Sounds like a perfect 4th grade history lesson as a companion to the obligatory project on the California missions.

Accepted to Gateway MS? Read this

Today I heard from a friend whose child received an acceptance to Gateway MS and is trying to decide between that and another offer. Among the positives for Gateway, the mom told me, is that “you’re in through high school.”

Actually, you’re not. I’ve heard this misconception from a number of people who attended information sessions at Gateway MS,  and I want to make very clear that Gateway Charter MS and the highly-requested Gateway Charter HS are separate schools. Attending Gateway MS will not give students preferential admission to Gateway HS.  I was concerned enough this morning to call Sharon Olken, the head of Gateway HS and the person managing the MS startup, to ask her what parents were being told at information sessions for the middle school.

According to Ms. Olken, Gateway has told families that they hope many MS families will ultimately apply to Gateway HS, and that the school would welcome the opportunity to work with students from 6th to 12th grades. However, she acknowledged that the school is prevented under charter school laws from giving anyone other than siblings preferential admissions to the school.

This is an important thing for families to keep in mind — the Gateway HS lottery is competitive, and I know some families would love a competitive edge if it were available. I was quite clear when I voted for the Gateway MS charter (it squeaked through on a 4-3 vote) that it was a standalone middle school, and I feel strongly that “locking in” middle school families through HS is not fair to all the other families who may, in 7th or 8th grades, realize that Gateway is a good option for their child.