Tag Archives: history

My SFUSD roots: History gets personal

My sister and brother-in-law have become interested in geneaology in recent years, finding all sorts of long-lost tidbits about our respective families — tidbits that are all the more interesting because my sister married her childhood sweetheart, who hails from a family I’ve known since I was three years old. Long story.

Anyway, I learned a while ago that my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Arnold A. D’Ancona, served on the San Francisco Board of Education in post-earthquake San Francisco (prior to that, he was dean of UCSF’s medical school). Dr. D’Ancona is pictured above, and below with my late grandmother around 1925 (she’s the little girl wearing roller skates; he’s the gentleman with the white hair):

Dr. D’Ancona served as President of the Board of Education in 1913, and presided over the dedication of Lowell High School when it moved into a new building at Hayes and Masonic that year (the structure now houses the John Adams campus of City College).  Sadly, Dr. D’Ancona presided over a Board that restricted Chinese students to only one school, and had recently stated (in 1896) that its desire was that “Chinese or Japanese not be employed in or about the school buildings.”  I have to hope he was opposed to these and other similarly racist policies but I haven’t done enough research to know.

Next: I’m still trying to verify this, but family lore says that a few years later, in 1921, my great-grandfather on the other side, C.H. Snyder, was a civil engineer who helped build the lovely building at 135 Van Ness Ave –the building we hope will someday soon house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  (Great-grandfather Snyder also served as the civil engineer for our current City Hall, which rose from the ashes of post-earthquake San Francisco in 1915).  It also turns out that Bert W. Levit, who served on the SFUSD Board from 1948 to 1958, is related by marriage to my brother-in-law.  Later, Mr. Levit served as the first Finance Director for the state of California under Gov. Edmund G. Brown, the father of our once and future Governor, Jerry.

All of which is to say that history is always, if you dig deeply enough, personal. The joke about geneaology is that people always seem to find a connection to famous historical figures (who among us isn’t related to Cleopatra by marriage?) Still, it’s surprisingly moving to me that my connection to San Francisco and its schools is deeper than even I thought.

If you dig into your family’s historical roots, what connections to your current life will you find?

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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.