Tag Archives: Horace Mann

Recap: Lots of public comment

Not a lot of weighty business on tonight’s board agenda, but we always manage to make our meetings interesting!  The meeting began on two uplifting notes:  a Superintendent’s Resolution commemorating the Week of the Administrator and commendations to a few of our hardworking administrators; then an announcement from the Superintendent that SF Mayor Ed Lee has agreed to release the Rainy Day Fund to SFUSD for 2011-12 – a lifeline of $8 million for next year.

Then on to an earful of public comment — about an hour’s worth — from several different school communities: SF Public Montessori, Bryant, Buena Vista and Lakeshore. First up, UESF and some of the parents at SF Public Montessori are upset that several of the preschool teachers received notices that they would not be retained next year; one was relieved of duty immediately due to issues with her credential. This school has had a troubled history in its few short years in the district, partly because of strong personalities with strong opinions for and against the project, and partly because it’s just challenging–not impossible, but challenging!– to fit the Montessori philosophy into a traditional public school model. The irony is that the current group of warring parents and staff at the school all truly love the program and are committed to building a great K-5 Montessori program in San Francisco. It’s just that they differ on how this should best be done, and with whom.

Next up: a group of parents and one teacher from Bryant Elementary, one of our SIG schools that will utilize the “turnaround” model as part of its reorganization plan (the model requires, among other things, that 50 percent of the current staff at a school find new jobs within the district).  Most of the parents spoke against the turnaround strategy, and were advocating against losing any of their teachers. Others spoke in support of the principal, including the Instructional Reform Facilitator, the school’s on-site teacher coach.

After that, Buena Vista parents and staff spoke about their misgivings in the wake of poor communication and shifting plans for their planned move to Horace Mann to form a K-8 Spanish Immersion school in the Mission.  They were unhappy to learn that 6th graders would be admitted to the school’s GE strand for 2011-12, having been under the impression that only 7th and 8th grade GE students would remain at the school next year; BV families are also upset to learn that the leadership of the new school remains in flux, subject to an open hiring process that will commence this month (many had hoped that the current principal of Buena Vista would automatically move into the leadership position at the new site, but the Board and Superintendent have decided that the fairest thing would be to conduct an interview process as we would for any other school community).  As it stands, the current Assistant Principal at Horace Mann, Adelina Aramburo (formerly the principal of Cesar Chavez ES, another SIG school!) will lead a planning team made up of staff and parents from each school, and will manage the transition until a site leadership team is selected.

Finally, Lakeshore parents came to express their unhappiness that their school would feed into Denman MS under the revised proposal for the middle school feeder plan. They have a point in that Denman is  further from their school than Aptos or Giannini, but I was a little put off when one parent said it didn’t feel “equitable” to be sent to Denman rather than Aptos or Hoover or A.P. Giannini. Equitable to whom? Her point, of course, was that the offerings of various schools differ. They do — the most obvious difference between middle schools being the presence or absence of a GATE or Honors track (it’s arguable whether that presence or absence is the most important difference, however).  Lick and Denman both do not have an Honors track, while Presidio, Hoover, A.P. Giannini, Aptos, Marina and Roosevelt all do (I am not sure about the status of an Honors track at Everett, Francisco, Horace Mann, Vis Valley or Martin Luther King — some of these schools are extremely under-enrolled, and it’s hard to support two tracks in that situation).  It’s late, and I don’t want to write a treatise on the subject, but I do think we are long overdue for a discussion about the role of Honors classes in this district (not to mention the sham that GATE is in elementary school, but I digress).

The treatise, in a nutshell:  Some people think we should just do away with Honors altogether — that it’s a leftover from a time when college was the goal for only a few and great jobs could be found without a college education; now, they argue, the Honors track is simply a sorting mechanism that introduces higher academic expectations for some and lower expectations for others. Another group argues that Honors classes challenge high-achievers and allow teachers to move faster on material than they otherwise would be able to in a GE population.

My question is:  which is it? As it stands right now, we are kind of having our cake and eating it too — saying that it’s possible to challenge high-achievers without Honors in some schools, and in other schools saying, no, Honors is the only way to make sure high-achieving students are receiving rigorous content. To me, it’s all about expectations and rigor. Can you have universally high expectations and acceptable levels of rigor if you have multiple tracks? But I’m also sympathetic to the argument that some kids need a faster pace of material than others. I actually know that is true, since I have two kids who learn at drastically different paces; the 5th grader is handily doing math that completely escapes the 6th grader.

I don’t know the answer yet, but I am continuing to ask the question, because I think it is hugely relevant to the middle school debate. I’ve asked that we bring this topic to a future Curriculum Committee meeting, because I’m interested in the pedagogy of GATE/Honors — What do we know about the benefits of tracked vs. differentiated environments? Now that we have opened Honors and AP classes to everyone, what have the results been?  I am not sure when the topic will hit the committee’s agenda, but I’ll post an update when the date is set.

Last, but certainly not least, we ended on a another uplifting note. At my invitation, staff from the Parent Education Network came to present to the Board about their organization, and their upcoming conference — EdRev 2011.  EdRev is an event that seeks to support several different swaths of the LD (Learning-Disabled) world — parents, who are looking for ways to help their kids be the successful, smart people they know they can be; students, who know they are smart but have felt stupid most of their lives because they learn differently; and teachers, who know their students can learn but need help and resources to assist their kids with LDs.  I can’t do the conference justice so go here to learn more (registration for parents is $60 with scholarships available; students and teachers may attend for free).

PEN has existed through sheer energy and determination over the past decade, and is finally growing into a bona-fide clearinghouse of information, resources and networking for parents, teachers and students (several student members of PEN’s SAFE Voices student to student mentoring group also spoke poignantly about their experiences). I was so pleased to finally host them in the Boardroom!

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Horace Mann and Buena Vista chitchat

Apparently there was some sort of announcement today about a plan to merge Buena Vista Elementary (a full Spanish immersion K-5 school) with Horace Mann Academic Middle School. I am not quite sure what has been publicly announced, but I have been aware of these discussions and have told the Superintendent that I am supportive of the outlines of the plan.

My understanding is that current Buena Vista K-5 students will move to the Mann campus, turning the school into a full Spanish immersion program for students in grades K-8 (Buena Vista’s Pre-K program will remain at the existing site for the time being). I also believe additional Spanish Immersion seats will be opened up for 6th graders so that students from other K-5 immersion programs will be able to choose Horace Mann for middle school.

That’s about all I know. Once more information is available, I’ll post it here.

Horace Mann and Metro, Part II

Tonight’s Special Meeting of the Board was supposed to be a short, routine affair — adopting the already-approved budget in SACS code format (don’t ask – it’s required by the state before we submit our approved 2010-11 budget document) and a few stray consent calendar items. But it was not to be — not after an angry group of staff and community members at Horace Mann Academic Middle School came to the Board meeting last week to protest the planned co-location of Metro Arts & Tech, a charter High School, at their location. Because the co-location was not on the agenda for the June 22 meeting, Board members agreed to hear a staff presentation and discussion of the plan at tonight’s Special Meeting.

Several dozen members of the public were on hand, with 10-12 Horace Mann staff members and parents speaking against the plan, and a handful of Metro staff and parents (including one student) speaking about their desire to be collaborative partners with the folks at their new school site.

Mary Richards, our Executive Director in charge of K-8 and charter schools, was on hand to give Board members an overview of the sequence of events in the decision to issue a final offer of space at Horace Mann to Metro; David Goldin, our director of facilities, spoke to the facilities issues raised around Metro’s current space at Burton High School, as well as its proposed space at Horace Mann.

Members of the Board expressed extreme frustration at being back here again — fielding complaints from parents and teachers about the district’s failure to make the outcome of the cumbersome annual Prop. 39 process fully transparent and timely. Of course, no one is ever happy about sharing a school facility with another institution — it presents big logistical headaches on top of the already significant day-to-day challenges at a school site. Still, Horace Mann’s principal, former Board of Education member Mark Sanchez, had engaged in informal discussions with Metro over the fall and winter, thinking that a partnership with the charter school could be a good opportunity for his students — who attend a school that is among the lowest-achieving in the district. After Metro turned down the district’s preliminary offer to remain at Burton for another year, discussions began in earnest. The picture gets very fuzzy here, according to the timelines the Board was given tonight, but several things are clear: Continue reading

The budget is adopted, with a whimper

Tonight the Board unanimously adopted the Superintendent’s proposed budget for 2010-11. It wasn’t exactly a happy moment — how can you be happy at such a budget, which leaves virtually no program in the district unscathed? But I do think we conducted a good process, with lots of community input and engagement. Amazingly, there was only one member of the public who came to the meeting to speak to us on the proposed cuts — I would say we’re starting to learn how to do this better (now we have to do an information (re)design for the budget document itself — next year).

The cuts that hurt the most are:

  • Eliminating virtually all summer school, except for special education students and seniors who are in danger of not being able to graduate (a $4.6 million cut approved back in January);
  • Eliminating all high school transportation (a $1.7 million cut);
  • Shortening the school year by four days (a savings of $9.2 million).

There were scores of other cuts — reductions in art and music programs, nurses, counselors and staff professional development among them — but we squeaked through this year, bloody but still alive.

The Board also unanimously passed a recommendation from the Superintendent to prohibit the expenditure of any District funds on the travel and/or attendance of SFUSD staff or Commissioners to any and all conferences and meetings in Arizona, as a response to two recent laws passed there. The first (SB 1070) has sparked nationwide protests because it authorizes law enforcement to investigate a person’s immigration status when they suspect that a person might be in the United States illegally. The second, House  Bill 2281, prohibits public schools from teaching Ethnic Studies. In addition, the Arizona Department of Education has (incredibly) ordered its school districts to remove and/or prohibit teachers with accents from teaching English classes.

My tweet announcing this action of the Board sparked quite a debate among my Facebook friends, so I’m pointing everyone here so that I can say first that I am proud of the Superintendent and the General Counsel for bringing us this resolution, for reasons that are deeply felt and strongly rooted in our values as a school district. Second, I was proud to support it. The ignorant and discriminatory actions being taken by Arizonans who should know better affect all of us as Americans, and it’s important to stand up and be counted as an opponent to these unjust laws.  The Superintendent’s resolution quotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s caution that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” but I’m also reminded of  “First they came . . .” , a famous poem by German theologian Martin Niemöller, on the need to stand up to tyranny. Finally, it’s not “parochial” to prohibit our district’s money from being spent in a state that has proclaimed values so opposed to our own. If that means others will retaliate because Californians passed Prop. 8, so be it — I’d love for such a boycott to change some minds in other parts of the state and reverse our own unjust gay marriage ban.

We heard a report from a staff committee that is studying moving the high school start time to later in the morning. Currently, most of our high schools start at 8 a.m., with a few offering a “zero period” starting at 7:30 a.m. National research shows that most teens don’t get enough sleep, and this lack of sleep affects their academic performance and behavior. In addition, a representative from the SFPD was on hand to discuss the department’s data that incidents spike in the hours between 3 and 5 p.m., indicating that unsupervised teens might be at least part of that problem. (Chief Gascon, it appears, would like to see SFUSD supervise high school students a bit later into the afternoon).  But for every pro identified by the committee, there is also a con — higher transportation costs, obstacles for teens who play sports or work after school, as well as implications for start times throughout our school system. So while the Board remains receptive to the idea of starting high schools later, all of us urged a slow, deliberative process with lots of opportunities to engage parents, staff and others in the discussion.  In other words, this change is under consideration, but won’t happen anytime soon.

Among other items approved tonight:

  • The district’s request for almost $50 million in “SIG” (School Improvement Grants) funds from the Federal government as part of our plan to improve achievement at our 10 persistently underperforming schools.  The request doesn’t mean we’ll actually GET the $50 million, but at least we’re giving it the old college try.
  • A contract for $45,000 for an Inclusive Practices Specialist for our Child Development Program. This effort is LONG overdue and I believe it will save us many more thousands in the long run — the lack of inclusive programs in our Pre-K offerings is a major weakness currently.

Finally, a large group from Horace Mann Academic Middle School came to speak during general public comment to protest the news that they will be sharing their campus with Metro Arts and Tech charter high school operated by Envision Schools. There’s a back story here that has yet to fully emerge, but it appears that the Horace Mann community was first told they would not have to share space; this week an article in Mission Local indicated that the co-location was already a done deal. The staff and families of Horace Mann are justifiably angry at being left out of the loop — in one particularly dramatic moment a father pointed his finger at the Superintendent and recalled his time 17 years ago as a student at Horace Mann when Mr. Garcia was the principal. Anyway, Mr. Garcia handled the criticism without emotion and simply said that he had not been aware of the staff action that had set in motion the plan to co-locate the schools. But because the item was not on tonight’s agenda, legal counsel suggested the Board take it up at another meeting that could be properly noticed. That meeting will now occur Monday evening, June 28, at 5:45 p.m. in the Board room.