Tag Archives: enrollment

Grrr. SF charter school counsels out child with mild-moderate disabilities

I got an email today that is really setting me off. I am redacting identifying details to protect the family, and because I believe this happens all the time: in many ways the specific school doesn’t matter. Read:

I did some research to see what would be the best option for my child. I really liked the idea of [redacted], and I thought it would work for my child with the right support. [redacted} charter school was one of my choices, so I spoke with its resource specialist. [redacted] was very fair and kind, but . . . told me that children with [disability] are typically not a good fit for [charter school]. This school is recommended for children who are independent and are able to learn without much of adults intervention. [emphasis added] I sent [redacted] my child’s last IEP in advance, and [redacted] thinks [redacted] disability is too severe that [school] may not be able to support [child] as it is a charter school with limited resources.

Wow. The parent who wrote me describes the child as having a speech delay and lacking social skills compared to peers. She wrote: the child is  “advanced academically and is able to follow directions. . . I would not call [child]’s’ disability ‘severe.'”

So here’s my question. Would the same charter school tell parents of typical children that it serves children who are able to learn without much adult intervention? I really doubt it, since that wouldn’t be a very good selling point.

This is a hot button for me because the practice of “counseling out” children who are more difficult and time-intensive to educate (read: expensive) is a common complaint about charter schools. Charters are particularly notorious for failing to serve students with disabilities — and parents of students with profound intellectual or physical disabilities often don’t even try to enroll their children at charter schools because it’s so rare that their kids are actually served at these institutions, even though Federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities apply to charter schools in the same way they apply to district-managed public schools.

I want to believe what the leaders of our district’s charter schools tell me — I really do. Every school talks about its commitment to serving all students, particularly those with challenges, how they want to increase opportunity for all students and how they are just struggling, underfunded public schools just like district-managed schools. And then I hear things like this parent’s story.

Tonight I did talk to a parent whose child with autism was served well at this particular charter school, and she urged me to get a fuller account before judging. Indeed, it appears that the professional that the original parent who wrote me talked to might be an SFUSD employee and not an employee of the charter school. So there is more fact-finding to do about this particular situation. On the other hand, in response to a Facebook post this evening I got an email from a different parent who experienced a similar situation a year or two ago:

My child is visually-impaired and when we were applying to SFUSD high schools, I called the head of special ed at each of the schools we were looking into, [redacted], [redacted], [redacted] and [charter].  I was really, really interested in [charter].  I’d heard that it was great . . .  When I spoke to the RSP, that was not my impression.  I was told no students with visual impairments had attended [charter], they don’t offer as many special education services as most of the schools in district. They didn’t have any special day classes.  I was told that because they were a charter school, [child’s] IEP didn’t really apply. 

To be fair, the parent also said that a highly-selective district-managed comprehensive high school was similarly discouraging. Her child is now in another district-managed high school and doing great. She isn’t looking to rock the boat, but was interested in sharing a perspective because I raised the topic.

I want all public schools, whether they are privately-managed charter schools or district-managed traditional schools, to be very thoughtful about their obligations to students with disabilities and to remember that their charge is to serve ALL, without barriers. Tonight’s communications have reminded me that we aren’t there yet and need to do much, much better by our students with disabilities.


Quick recap: assignment projections, SBAC results at Board meeting

Last night’s Board meeting didn’t end until almost midnight, and I have to get to my day job soon, so very little time for a recap today. There were a few items I wanted to quickly highlight, however.

The first is a high-level preview of the work the staff has been doing to refine our enrollment projections over the next 15-20 years. The City is growing, and the current housing affordability crisis has pushed a huge increase in building permits for housing at all price points. Those new units will come on line gradually over the next decade, but the impact on potential school enrollments will be huge. These numbers show we need to urgently begin the work of  planning new schools — not only in Mission Bay, which some of us have been saying for a while, but in Hunter’s Point and also Treasure Island. Parkmerced and the Financial District will also see big increases. These are all places where we don’t have schools or where existing schools are at capacity! I’ll have a lot more to say about this later.

The other presentation was an in-depth look at our SBAC results. There is a lot of very interesting information there, even if you already absorbed the headlines from the release last week. While we have some good news, there are also clear challenges in the data when you look at our subgroups. It will be interesting to hear how some of the other CORE districts were able to move their subgroups  (CORE is the consortium that received a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements).

Thank you to the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, which gave a measured report of successes and challenges for students in district special education programs. I am so grateful to these volunteers for the work they do on behalf of our students with disabilities.

Congratulations to Commissioner Walton, whose resolution (co-sponsored by Comissioners Haney and Wynns ) on cultivating SFUSD graduates for future employment opportunities in the district passed unanimously.

Finally, we had a lot of wrenching public comment from families and community members about Willie Brown MS. Opening a new school is challenging, but families are rightly upset about the way the first six weeks of school have played out. I believe the problems are fixable, and we are getting daily updates of things the district is doing to address all of the issues from behavior support for a few disruptive students to facilities glitches to staffing needs. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that the families are right — they had a right to expect the first six weeks of school to proceed much more smoothly than they have. Last week we announced that Bill Kappenhagen, the well-loved and effective principal of Burton HS, will take over the helm of the school later this month. The problems at Willie Brown are not about one person, but I do think that having this strong and experienced leader in place will help.

The ‘notorious 11’ schools

This post from October has gotten a lot of attention recently. Since tomorrow is the deadline for submitting Round I applications in our school enrollment process, I thought I’d repost the key nugget as a public service:

Of the 947 families who did not receive any of their Round I choices last year, almost 800 listed one of these high demand schools as their first or second choice:

  • Alamo
  • Alice Fong Yu
  • Alvarado
  • Clarendon
  • Grattan
  • Lawton
  • Lilienthal
  • Miraloma
  • Rooftop
  • Sherman
  • West Portal

The way I interpret this data is that people are focusing a bit too much on how the statistics are developed and not enough on the choice patterns for high demand schools — I find the list above to be stunning. If you have your heart set on one or more of these schools for Kindergarten next year, you may have to settle in for the long haul, because a lot of other people have their hearts set on them too.

Get those applications in! And good luck, everyone.

Considering enrolling at Cobb? Here’s a FAQ

In recent weeks there has been a lot of community discussion around whether the district should save or phase out a general education program at Dr. William R. Cobb Elementary School in order to expand a Montessori program at the school (Background is here, here and here). Of course, with the January 8 enrollment deadline approaching, the uncertainty surrounding both programs at this school has created concerns that families who would otherwise request GE or to continue at Montessori for K will be scared away from doing so. In response to my request for guidance for families considering enrolling in either Cobb GE or Cobb Montessori, the Educational Placement Center has created a FAQ:

When will SFUSD make decisions about whether the General Education and Montessori programs will be available next year and their locations? The Board of Education plans to discuss this topic at a general public meeting on January 12 in order to reach a decision about where each program will be placed. 
What happens if I put one of these programs on my application and SFUSD decides to end the program or change the location?  Will I be able to change my application? If one of the Cobb programs is eliminated or re-located in January, the Educational Placement Center will contact the families affected by mail and telephone to inform them and to clarify their options.   Those families will have an opportunity to amend or revise their school or program choices on the enrollment applications prior to conducting the Round 1 assignments so families will not lose the opportunity to fully participate in the Round 1 assignment lottery. 
Must my child have been schooled in a Montessori program previously in order to attend the SFUSD Montessori program? The program is especially designed for multi-aged classrooms starting with children at ages 3 and 4.  Entry at an older age is possible for a few students if there are spaces but this is very limited. The Cobb pre-K Montessori program is reserved for 60% of students who are low-income.  District administrators are in conversation with Montessori experts to determine if there is a way to phase in more new students to the program after pre-school. 
Why didn’t the district resolve these issues earlier? Last winter, it was our understanding that Cobb school community members were united in their desire to have the Montessori program expand, we have since learned that this is not the case and are in the process of carefully weighing other options.

As enrollment season heats up . . .

Tonight I attended a panel discussion hosted by Marin Day School’s UCSF location in Laurel Heights. This is an annual tradition begun by Lisa Krim, a former Marin Day School parent and now a Claire Lilienthal parent, over six years ago. The 120 chairs in the large room were almost all filled, and I asked Lisa how the turnout compared to the early days — she said that the first few years only 20-30 parents would show up; tonight’s turnout was more like 100.

There’s been a paradigm shift in the middle-class attitude towards public schools in this city, just in the five years since my older daughter entered Kindergarten. Certainly, the uncertain state of the economy the past year or two has played a role in encouraging parents to take a closer look at their public schools, but I also believe a deeper shift has happened — I think parents with options are beginning to believe that we actually can do a good job educating their children.

On the other hand, the inequities still exist, and tonight’s experiences just reinforced my belief in the work we are doing to reform the system. There were just a handful of families of color at tonight’s meeting, and after my brief update on the assignment system redesign, one woman approached me and expressed deep concern about how few African-American and Latino families participate in our current assignment process. Apparently the security guard at this woman’s apartment building was surprised to hear that she could have chosen schools outside of her Bayview neighborhood for her young son. Now, there are many reasons why a lot of families who live in the Bayview choose to send their children to their local schools, but ignorance of other options shouldn’t be one of them. The lack of awareness and outreach to our most underserved families is one huge problem with our system, but there’s another, deeper flaw: choice, when used as an assignment mechanism, presupposes that a family has the wherewithall to actually CHOOSE – that they have the means and the education to research and evaluate options, and that their situations are flexible enough (transportation, flexible work schedules or one parent not working) in order to consider a broad range of options. So again, tonight I was reminded that the work we are doing to reform our system is ultimately about equity and a level playing field for ALL families.

I answered a few questions from the audience, related to memes that are apparently circulating the Internet:

  • Are schools going to be closed? NO. School closures have not been on the table in any budget conversation I have had either at public Budget committee meetings or in private conversations with the staff. It has been demonstrated to me over and over again that closing schools saves surprisingly little money — students still have to attend school somewhere, those students still need teachers, and you still have to maintain buildings.
  • Will class size be increased? As most people know, the district did raise class size to 22 for Kindergarten and first grades in 2009-10. Anecdotally, I am hearing that few K-1st classrooms are actually at 22 students, though if we continue to receive mid-year transfers in those grades, those class sizes could creep closer to the limit. For me, and I think a majority of Board members, class size and teacher layoffs are the absolute last resort, and we would have to have cut other areas absolutely back to the bone before I will entertain class size increases.