Tag Archives: committee

Nov. 1: Important meeting preview!

Tomorrow night the Board will meet as a Committee of the Whole (where we meet and discuss issues on the agenda but don’t take action). The agenda includes an update on the district’s controversial math policy, including what I am told will be a discussion of possible other options to allow students to take Calculus by senior year (currently the only officially recommended route is taking a challenging Precalculus/Algebra II compression course in the 11th grade; to avoid the course, some parents are paying for a costly online CCSS Algebra course before 9th grade, or having their students “double up” in CCSS Algebra and CCSS Geometry in 9th grade).

The Board will also discuss the timeline and process for hiring a new Superintendent with our new search firm, Leadership Associates.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. It will not be telecast or broadcast online, but recordings should be available within 48 hours of the meeting.



Proposed changes to the A-G graduation requirements

Tonight the Board had a good discussion on the Superintendent’s proposal to modify our A-G graduation requirements to address concerns that students in our Court/County or Continuation schools will not achieve a diploma under the new, more rigorous requirements.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall that in 2009, the Board voted unanimously to change the district’s graduation requirements, starting with the class of 2014, to align with the entry requirements for the UC/CSU system — known as the A-G course sequence.
Since that time, the Board has monitored the new policy with trepidation, noting that large numbers of African-American students, Latino students, students with disabilities and students who are English Learners were not on track to graduate.  Tonight, the Superintendent presented data on the progress of members of the class of 2014 towards graduating under the new requirements. Here’s a snapshot (complete data in this Excel spreadsheet):

2014 and 2015bwThe very good news is that 91 percent of the class is either fully on track, or on on track in credits but missing one or more required classes (Algebra 2 in many cases, or a semester of P.E., or for English Learners, a required additional English course).  Currently, 920 students at comprehensive high schools (e.g., Lowell, Washington, Lincoln, Balboa, etc) or continuation high schools (Ida B. Wells or Downtown) are OK with credits but missing a course, and that situation is fixable. Counselors have already met with each of these students and their families, and developed individual plans to make sure these students can make up the necessary courses and graduate on time or over the summer.

The bad news is that as you can see above, 262 are at least a semester off track, and 97 are severely off track — more than a year behind. Still, even as recently as last spring, the Board and staff thought we might be looking at numbers that are much worse.

So: what are we going to do about it? In addition to existing supports like improved communication of student-level data to sites (to identify and work with struggling students earlier), stepped up counseling, individual academic review plans, credit recovery options like summer/night school or Cyber High, the Superintendent tonight proposed the following important changes:

  • Presenting a “seal of College Readiness”  to each graduating high school student who completes the required A-G course sequence with a grade of “C” or higher; and
  • Create new graduation options for students in County/Court schools and Continuation schools.*

Essentially, the Superintendent’s proposal would allow students in County/Court or continuation schools to graduate with 220 rather than 230 credits, and waive one year of world language as well as the requirement for Algebra 2. Commissioners had a lot of issues with that recommendation tonight, noting that a good number of our students in these schools — despite being our most disadvantaged in many cases — have managed to meet the requirements up to now.  The counter argument is that under the current policy, there are a lot of students in the class of 2014 who would qualify for a diploma under the previous requirements (which didn’t include Algebra 2, for example) but not under the new A-G requirements.

San Francisco USD is unique because it is both a county system and a unified school district — no other district in the state has that dual role. And so we are also the only county school system that is currently requiring all students to graduate having passed the A-G course sequence. Other unified school districts require A-G for graduation — San Jose, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Diego, to name a few — but they also can refer students to separate county systems with less rigorous graduation requirements. Under our current policy, San Francisco does not have that “loophole” or “escape valve” (what you call it depends on your point of view).

Based on tonight’s discussion, it appears that the Board would rather see a one-year waiver of the requirements for members of the class of 2014 who attend Court/County or continuation schools (so that they could graduate with the previous graduation requirements if necessary), and for the district to continue to push for universal A-G completion in future years.

A final vote on the proposal is scheduled for Dec. 10.

*(County/Court schools serve students who are incarcerated, on probation or otherwise involved in the juvenile justice system, as well as students who have been expelled or had other disciplinary issues. The county also maintains Hilltop HS, a school for pregnant or parenting teens.  The school district’s continuation high schools serve students who are age 16 and over and severely behind in credits).

(Bad) news from the budget committee

Tonight the Budget and Business Services Committee met, and among other items, we got a blast of bad news in the form of the state budget update. It went like this:  Last week, the state Controller John Chiang announced that California’s tax receipts for the first month of the new fiscal year were over 10 percent– or more than $500 million– lower than expected. That’s bad, because the budget signed by Governor Brown in late June contained $4 billion in what the state euphemistically called “speculative” revenues.

Most of us who exist on a budget instinctively grasp that speculative revenues are not the same as, say, a regular paycheck. And in its wisdom, the state of California acknowledged this law of nature in its 2011-12 budget, inserting “triggers” for various levels of mid-year budget cuts if those hoped-for revenues didn’t actually materialize. (More about the triggers in this Sacramento Bee article from June).

Things start to get really bad for Californians (as if they aren’t bad already) if the state’s revenues as of November of this year are more than $1 billion behind projections; schools take a big hit if revenues are $2 billion or more behind projections.  Mid-year cuts are pretty much impossible for SFUSD due to our labor contracts, and the district will have enough cash on hand to pay our bills through next June. After that, though — things could get very difficult.

Commissioners stressed the need to start planning NOW for possible disaster, and asked staff to consider proposing another two-year budget like the one we developed for 2010-11 and 20011-12. We’ll all have to watch the state’s monthly tax receipts very carefully in order to have a better idea of what’s coming. Stay tuned.

The committee also heard:

  • A renewal petition for Metro Arts & Technology Charter High School, now quartered at the old Gloria R. Davis Middle School site in the Bayview district. The committee asked for some additional budget information to be presented to the full board, and passed the petition on with no recommendation;
  • A report from the Information Technology department with more detail about the district’s budget for the new Student Information System (dubbed the Student Data Redesign project) approved by the Board last year. Over the next five years, the district will spend $8.6 million to completely upgrade our student information systems and enhance schools’ ability to capture and track data on student achievement, demographics and other variables in order to better target our programs to student needs (the budget includes training for staff, new technology for school sites, and temporary positions needed to help us implement the new system). It’s a big effort, but the sorry state of district technology and data management makes such an investment imperative.

Recap: Oct. 6 Rules, Policy & Legislation

arrowsFirst, the committee reviewed a draft resolution stating proposed principles for SFUSD’s positions on legislation at the state and Federal level. As part of its responsibilities, the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee takes positions on behalf of the full board on pending legislation — with the stipulation that any Commissioner can request that an item be brought before the full board for a more thorough discussion and vote. This practice began over a decade ago as a time-saving mechanism for the full Board. In the course of any legislative term, the district considers hundreds of pieces of education-related legislation. Board members were tired of spending time in the full board meetings considering most of these routine items, so they delegated that function to the Rules Committee, which as a result got the word “Legislation” tacked on to its name. On occasion there is a bill that generates more debate and controversy, so those bills can and should go before the full board.

With the creation of legislative principles, we are trying to invite more input from the larger Board on how to decide which pieces of legislation to support, and which to oppose. In addition, we need to create a better way of informing the entire board and the public ahead of time when positions on bills that other Commissioners care about are coming up for discussion–and to put in writing, somewhere in the Board’s procedures, the obligation to give any Commissioner the opportunity to weigh in and advocate a particular position on a piece of pending legislation.

arrowsWe then moved on to a discussion of the way the district informs the Board about contracts up for approval. There is an ongoing effort to improve the quality of the information given to the Board, and committee members, joined by Commissioner Fewer, gave a number of suggestions for improvements to the staff and legal counsel. These included:

  • Focusing more on the department paying for the contract, rather than the site where the service described in the contract will be delivered;
  • Instituting different processes and input forms for sites and central office;
  • Giving more detail about the funding source proposed for a contract, and what the limitations/allowed uses are for that funding source;
  • Increasing the threshold for Board approval of spending (currently any expenditure under $8,000 does not require Board approval), but also increasing the detail and frequency of reporting to the Board on administratively-approved spending;
  • Improving the descriptions of proposed services and eliminating “boilerplate” communications.

arrowsThe committee also discussed the process for appointing a new representative to the Elections Commission. Our current appointee resigned unexpectedly; since in 2008 we conducted an extensive interview process the commitee discussed the legality and process of appointing one of the runners-up. This discussion and a suggested course of action will be brought back to a future meeting of the full Board.

arrowsNext, we discussed proposed by-laws for the joint City College-SFUSD committee, a body that was formed to improve transitions for SFUSD students, and promote shared resources, data and planning between both bodies. Committee members suggested a few changes, and the proposal will be brought to the next meeting of the joint committee to discuss ratification and adoption by each board.

arrowsAs a companion effort, committee members discussed proposed amendments to the by-laws of the City-School District Select Committee, with the aim of refocusing the committee rules in a way that improves communication and working relationships between the two bodies, and bringing them in line with the proposed City College-SFUSD joint commitee rules. District legal counsel will take the proposed changes to the City Attorney’s office for comment and discussion.

Recap: Committee on Student Assignment

The Board met as a Committee of the Whole this evening to discuss progress towards the new student assignment policy. Tonight’s presentation focused on two issues: changes in the way we assign English learners and the programs we offer them, as well as a report from the Parent Advisory Council and PPS on the feedback they got from a series of community conversations with over 270 SFUSD parents over the past few months.

The changes to our English learner services and programs comply with our Lau Action Plan, and are designed to ensure:

  • Proper identification of a student’s language needs;
  • Appropriate placement of the student in a program designed to best serve those needs;
  • Access to pathways that serve the student’s needs from grade K-12.

To accomplish these goals, the district has already implemented a number of interim changes as of this past January, including: more comprehensive assessments of language proficiency in applicants to dual language immersion programs; increased focus on achieving a balance of target and non-target speakers in our dual language immersion programs; and improved counseling for English learners and their parents to include the benefits of language programs. Starting in the 2010-11 school year, the district is recommending these further changes:

  • Better train site administrators, teachers and other staff in program models and goals, assessment and placement guidelines, and effective instruction;
  • Transition to a new English Plus pathway that will be available at all schools, offering students who are English learners more intensive support in developing English language skills;
  • Increase capacity at schools that currently offer biliteracy and dual language immersion programs and add programs at additional schools;
  • Conduct English language and primary language assessments for all new students (K-12) who indicate that English is not their first language;
  • Better training for Educational Placement and Counseling personnel on appropriate English learner placement.

Members from the Parent Advisory Council and Parents for Public Schools then presented the findings from their community conversations, conducted with a diverse group of over 270 parents (I attended two of the conversations, one conducted entirely in Spanish and the other in Cantonese).  Some excerpts:

Most parents would like a good school that’s close to home or easy to get to — but the vast majority of the families we heard from feel that choosing a school that works for their children is more important than having a school in their neighborhood.

We found you can’t discuss student assignment without hearing concerns about access to good schools–schools that have talented and caring teachers and principals, solid academic programs, ample enrichment opportunities and a safe environment.

Most parents support the district’s goals for equity and ending the racial isolation of students, but also pointed out that the student assignment system itself is not going to close the achievement gap.

Parents agreed that the current assignment system is daunting. Even though 76% of the participants got a school of their choice, a common feeling expressed is that the system is broken and “no one gets their choice.”

Another major concern was lack of communication from the district — about their children’s schools, explaining changes to district policies, and how they can be involved. Parents who don’t speak English face significant additional challenges trying to learn about schools and how to support their children’s education.

Give parents, students and educators the opportunity to review and respond to specific proposals for a new student assignment system before making a final decision. Most people support the district’s goals for a more equitable enrollment process, and they have powerful insights into what works–and what doesn’t work–for families. Adopting a new policy without giving the community this opportunity would be a serious mistake.

A big thank you to the members of the PAC and the staff of Parents for Public Schools, who continually amaze me with their ability to reach out and engage a broad group of district parents, all on a budget of little to nothing.

Rules, Legislation & Policy: May 5

I spent Cinco de Mayo chairing the May meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation committee, which was augmented (an “augmented” meeting means that all board members are invited and may speak but not vote. If a committee meeting is not augmented, members may attend as members of the public but may not participate other than giving public comment if they so choose). First up:

  • Positions on legislation. It is a long-standing practice of this committee to take positions on bills on behalf of the full board; members can request a hearing and vote by the full board if they so choose. The reason we do this is that there are tens of bills introduced every session of interest to our schools, and having the full board consider each of these bills at every meeting would eat up a great deal of time. As a result, over a decade ago Board members agreed to put consideration of legislation under the charge of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee, so that the district’s position on bills can be communicated more efficiently and effectively to legislators. I am glad to be chairing this commitee, as it seems many of the bills we consider have to do with special education. Last night was no exception — the staff recommended a “disapprove” position on a bill authored by Fiona Ma that would prohibit teachers and other staff from using physical restraints on students with disabilities. Because I am philosophically opposed to the use of physical restraint, I disagreed with the staff position and asked for more information.  Here are the recommended staff positions on all bills we considered last night; the commitee ratified all of them except for AB 1538, the physical restraint bill.
  • We forwarded the Superintendent’s implementation plan for A-G graduation requirements to the full Board with a positive recommendation, though I do remain concerned that there was not enough participation by special education staff on the study team, and that the current draft of the plan minimizes the cultural and curriculum shift that will need to happen for our students in self-contained classrooms to meet A-G requirements;
  • We forwarded Commissioners Yee and Fewer’s resolution on parent engagement to the full Board with a few cosmetic amendments and a positive recommendation;
  • We heard informational items on our coming stimulus money, a draft of legislative principles that will be passed by the committee in the Fall, and a discussion by legal counsel on the possibilities for a more focused district-wide fundraising policy.

Another day, another budget scenario . . .

Tonight was the first official meeting of the newly-rearranged Budget committee, chaired by Commissioner Wynns and featuring Commissioner Yee and Commissioner Yours Truly.  (President Maufas also sat in.) On the agenda: two fairly straightforward action items and three informational items on our ever-more-complex local-state-Federal budget scenarios.

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