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!