Tag Archives: jrotc

And home before midnight . . .

Must’ve been the Wheaties because tonight’s meeting wasn’t as arduous as I was expecting. We had a very substantive presentation from the Arts Education Master Plan Advisory Committee on the plan’s successes over the past decade and also ongoing challenges. In a nutshell, the plan has done a lot of good in our schools and it’s time for a major refresh — taking into account the vision for the SFUSD Arts Center that would house district-wide arts professional development and educational programs as well as a brand new Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.

One thing I think most people agree on is the need for a sequential arts curriculum (here’s a great example from New York City public schools) across schools that would assist us in reaching the simple and yet powerful vision of the Arts Education Master Plan: Every student, every school, every day. While we’ve made a lot of progress towards that vision, we haven’t realized it yet.

The Superintendent ended up pulling the Teach for America contract. After my post last night, I emailed him to tell him I was reconsidering my support for the program; it was pretty clear that other Commissioners weren’t prepared to support it either. As I wrote last night, even though I’m loath to limit the staff’s ability to recruit new teachers, it has begun to seem pointless to go through a very divisive debate every year for 15 intern teachers. It’s clear that the teachers’ union is very opposed to this program and their representatives made some good points about repurposing our modest investment in TFA teachers to invest in other programs (San Francisco Teacher Residency is one example) that have better retention rates. In the end, the larger problem is that we have a crisis in our schools that serve some of our neediest populations, and we need to think bigger and more radically than we have in the past to deal with the teacher shortage issue and stabilize staffing in those schools.

Then JROTC. The resolution under consideration by the Board was an attempt to fix a number of unreasonable restrictions imposed on the program by past resolutions, but it was problematic in that it also proposed sweeping changes to our P.E. policy. I had a number of issues with the P.E. portion of the policy, but wanted to support most if not all of the changes proposed to JROTC. The problem going into tonight’s meeting is that the authors (Wynns and Murase) insisted they did not want to split the policy into two resolutions — one making the needed changes to JROTC and the other proposing a lot of changes to our P.E. policy. After a long, and at times heated discussion, the authors agreed to split the resolution into two separate proposals and bring them back at a future meeting.

UESF members were also out in force, holding a rally asking for wage increases that would help teachers and paras afford San Francisco, as well as requesting additional investment in the Safe and Supportive Schools policy that has transformed our approach to discipline. Teachers stressed that they support the policy, but need training and resources to make sure that we are realizing positive approaches to behavior and discipline for all students.



An “eat your Wheaties” meeting

Muhammad_AliEvery once in a while, we have an “eat your Wheaties” meeting. Tomorrow night is one of those meetings.

There are three major items in the printed agenda, including a report from the Arts Education Master Plan task force, the renewal of the Teach for America contract, and a sweeping resolution that would reconfigure our P.E. programs and approach to JROTC. We also expect a large showing from UESF members, who are coming to rally for both a wage increase and increased investment in the Safe and Supportive Schools policy.

After tonight’s Personnel and Labor Committee meeting, it’s hard to see where the Teach for America contract will find enough support. Commissioners Fewer and Wynns spoke passionately against the program, and President Haney voiced concerns as well. In the past, Commissioner Walton has voted against the program and stated he doesn’t think the model is right for San Francisco. While I’m loath to tie the staff’s hands when it comes to recruiting badly-needed teachers, even I feel ambivalent after tonight’s presentation. The proposed contract is for 15 teachers — a drop in the bucket towards our recruiting needs this year, even though we’re specifying only hard to staff credential areas like math and special education. Teach for America interns attend a five-week summer boot camp before entering the classroom and most end up in our lowest-performing schools.  Many who come through the program are good teachers. Some aren’t. Most don’t stay in San Francisco, or in teaching at all, over the long term. Last year I passionately defended the Teach for America contract. This year, I’m wondering if it’s worth all of the fighting.  Maybe, if the Board sent a message against business as usual, we might get a different result over the long-term. I’m still undecided about how I’ll vote.

The JROTC resolution is kind of a mess, because authors Wynns and Murase have adamantly refused to split various half-baked P.E. policy revisions from some badly-needed reforms to our JROTC policy. Here’s what I support in the resolution:

  • Recognizing the new JROTC credential, which has been approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing as an appropriate credential to teach JROTC;
  • Allowing the JROTC course to meet the state’s P.E. requirement, so long as the course is found to satisfy the state’s required P.E. framework;
  • Continuing to allow students who take JROTC as an elective to enroll in P.E. independent study supervised by instructors holding the new JROTC credential, rather than requiring the instructors to have a P.E. credential;
  • Removing the district’s prohibition on the program receiving central office funding as well as site-based funding (this is probably the most controversial JROTC-provision).

Unfortunately, the resolution also contains some sweeping provisions allowing students at alternative high schools to take P.E. independent study, and provisions allowing students enrolled in high school athletics and marching band to receive P.E. credit. Any or all of these things might be good ideas or they might not be, but the controversy that perennially surrounds JROTC, as well as the complexity of the current resolution, has drowned out any other reasonable policy provisions.

The fact is, three board members will likely not support anything related to JROTC, so I don’t really understand the strategy of trying to hide some needed JROTC policy revisions behind other sweeping P.E. issues. At every committee meeting I have voiced my concerns about the way this resolution is written, but so far the authors have refused to consider splitting the P.E. issues from the JROTC issues. We’ll see what happens tomorrow night — I would hate to see the JROTC instructors and the kids who love the program pay for the Board’s inability to reach a compromise.

Anyway, after we discuss all of the above, we also have closed session. Eat your Wheaties. It’s going to be a LOOONG night.

Recap: Teachers, condoms and Mandarin


One of the highlights of the early spring at the school district is the annual celebration of the National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). This incredibly rigorous professional certification requires a serious commitment on the part of educators, so those who successfully complete the program rightly deserve to be celebrated!  At tonight’s board meeting we honored 17 new and 12 renewed NBCTs — the district has 264 NBCTs in all.

condom packet

This is the packet high school students currently receive when requesting condoms.

The much-discussed (in the media anyway — I have gotten very little mail from actual constituents, but most of the feedback I have heard has been positive) proposal to make condoms available to sexually-active middle school students was held after a request from a group of parents who wanted more time to understand the proposal. We’ll vote on the proposal at a future meeting, probably Feb. 23. If you’re concerned about the proposal, are some things to consider:

  • There is absolutely no research that shows condoms increase sexual behavior, and lots of research showing that they reduce the risk of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.
  • The Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that only five percent of SFUSD middle-school students are sexually active, so this is a small group of students we’re talking about; yet it’s crucial to be sure students that young are safe if they are engaging in sexual behavior.
  • State law allows students of any age to access contraception confidentially, and does not require parent consent.
  • At the middle schools, students will meet with a school nurse or social worker before receiving contraception.
  • The county’s Department of Public Health is strongly supportive of the policy.

I was very pleased and honored that the Board unanimously passed the resolution I authored with Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer to explore expanding access to Mandarin and other world languages. The amended resolution asks the district simply to initiate the program placement process to explore placing world language Mandarin programs into elementary schools that feed into middle schools that already offer Mandarin. As the Board was preparing to discuss and vote on the resolution, a group of teachers in district biliteracy programs and parents from those programs also gave public comment to draw attention to the additional demands of assessing students in two languages. The Board received petitions signed by almost 90 teachers asking for an additional 21 hours of compensation each year to address this extra workload.

bilingual teachers

And wait, there’s more . . .

  • The Parent Advisory Council (PAC) is now recruiting! The PAC is one of the parent engagement success stories in the school district, created to engage, inform and represent parent perspectives, ideas and voices on education matters. Serving on the PAC promotes, supports and builds parent leadership to improve outcomes for all SFUSD students. Learn more and apply! (information also available in Spanish and Chinese). Applications are due by April 15, 2016.
  • Did you know SFUSD holds the license to the KALW (FM 91.7) public radio station? At one time, many public school districts and universities held radio licenses, but we may be one of the few left. We are very proud of our partnership with KALW, and Station Manager Matt Martin gave his annual report of the station’s financial position and programming — some great stuff going on! Learn more about KALW and its programming at their website, kalw.org. You can also donate (I did!).
  • Commissioners Murase and Wynns introduced a resolution and proposed policy change that amends our P.E. independent study policy to solve a number of issues, including how students at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts complete P.E. requirements and the administration of the JROTC program. Given the always hot-button P.E. and JROTC issues, I expect this resolution to generate a lot of ink and heat in the coming weeks. We’ll discuss it at a Committee of the Whole on Feb. 16 starting at 6 p.m.
  • A big thank you to members of the CAC for Special Education, who brought us a slate of five new members who were unanimously approved tonight. This committee is where I got my start as a parent advocate, and I’m so grateful to the members who volunteer their time and effort to encourage awareness and advocate on behalf of students with disabilities in our district.
  • Last but not least, the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee came with our bond program auditor to present a positive report on the district’s capital program. Our schools look better than they ever have — go visit the new classroom buildings at Peabody ES and Sunnyside ES, the new campus at Willie Brown MS and see the construction that will renew Daniel Webster ES and James Lick MS for examples.

And if you haven’t read enough so far . . .

  • A bit more reading material: The Learning Policy Institute, a new think tank out of Stanford University, has released a report titled “Assessing California’s Teacher Shortage” (PDF download). There are some interesting policy prescriptions in the report. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we, as local policymakers, can really move the needle on the teacher shortage. Salary is the biggest piece of that, and we start contract negotiations early next year. In addition, there are other important ways we might be able to attract and retain teachers here in SF, as well as continue to grow our own. Take a look at the report and let me know what you think.


Recap: August 23 regular Board meeting

Tonight’s meeting was largely routine, with the following discussions of note:

  • The Board passed a resolution reconsidering parts of the legislation passed in June that extended the time for JROTC instructors to attain the necessary credentials to allow them to supervise the P.E. Independent Study program created by the Board in 2009.  The June resolution specified that any instructors hired into the program would have to have a P.E. credential, but failed to account for several candidates already in the hiring pipeline. Tonight’s action allows us to hire these new candidates (provided they can be funded with private money and enroll within a P.E. internship program within six months of their hire date, among other requirements).
  • The Board heard reports from our District English Learner Advisory Committee (DELAC) and the committee appointed to oversee the Quality Teaching and Education Act (QTEA, otherwise known as “Prop A” or the district’s parcel tax passed in June 2008).  The DELAC presenters chiefly recommended that principals receive more training in administering English Learner Advisory Committees (ELACs) at their sites, and that the district provide more funding to the School/Family Partnership office, which administers the parent engagement policy passed by the Board in 2009. The QTEA Oversight Committee was established in the 2008 ballot initiative that initiated the parcel tax, but was not fully appointed until 2010.  Committee members expressed some doubts about the district’s decision to reduce spending on some stipends for hard-to-fill areas and hard-to-staff schools during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, but acknowledged that they were not involved in those decisions because the oversight committee had not yet been convened. Going forward, committee members pledged to make reports to the Board twice a year, providing expenditure reports and evaluating the effectiveness of the initiative in the stated goals of retaining and recruiting quality teachers for the school district.
  • The Board voted to terminate two defined-contribution retirement programs established for district paraprofessionals several decades ago, citing a failure of those programs to meet the needs of our employees. Instead, new employees and existing employees under the age of 55 will be enrolled in Social Security, which will provide them with a more secure income source in retirement.  Paraprofessionals who are older than 55 (who may need to retire before they can accumulate the 40 quarters of Social Security participation required for lifetime benefits) will be offered the option of a 403(b) account.  Administration and union officials alike expressed relief that this difficult situation for employees has been largely resolved through this negotiated settlement (except, it should be noted, for those employees with less than four hours a day of work, who are excluded from the above settlement and will no longer have a defined-contribution retirement plan as part of their district employment).
  • The Board discussed, and ultimately approved, several large contracts for Swun Math destined for the Superintendent’s Zone (Revere, Carver and Bret Harte).  I haven’t seen a lesson yet, but the program gets strong reviews, and math is a major focus this year district-wide. The Curriculum and Program Committee will examine Swun Math and other math curricula in use in the district at the September meeting (date TBA).

Recap: June 9 Board meeting

(Updated 6/11/09 to clarify several points and expand descriptions of board actions on June 9).

By now everyone pretty much knows the major news from last night’s meeting — the Board passed a resolution amending the district’s independent study policy to include students taking a JROTC course, allowing them to satisfy physical education requirements through independent study. I’ve posted thoughts about this issue here, and here, and here, so really — ’nuff said.  (For those completely new to this protracted policy fight, the district has helpfully posted a fact sheet).

In fact, the action item from last night that will affect FAR more students, staff and families is the approval of a new calendar for the 2010-11 school year and beyond.  I have received a lot of mail, mostly from elementary school parents, questioning this move — which basically starts school a week earlier, fixes spring break to occur always in the final week of March, and ends school just before Memorial Day weekend in May. Since I have two children in elementary school, I get the objections, but I need to point out that there are some real benefits for students in middle and high school — primarily because our calendar will now align with those of City College, where many high school students take additional courses, and because middle and high school students will now be able to complete their final exams before winter break. An additional benefit for all students (but not the reason the Superintendent recommended the change) is that more instruction will occur before the state testing in late April. Dennis Kelly, the President of United Educators of San Francisco, testified that 55 percent of his membership have also indicated a willingness to try out the new calendar proposal, which was also a persuasive fact for me.

My main ongoing concern is that community organizations which provide summer programming–like the YMCA, the JCC and many others–get enough notice and resources in order to completely realign their offerings to support families for whom summer camp is essential childcare. I have been assured that this is happening, and will be checking in on this over the next year.

We also received a report from the Bilingual Community Council (BCC), a Board-appointed committee that oversees the district’s services to English Learners. The BCC is mandated as part of the settlement of Lau v. Nichols, a 1974 Supreme Court decision that established certain guidelines for educating students with limited English skills; it is a separate body from the District’s English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC)–a district-level advisory committee. Basically, each school with 21 or more English Learners enrolled must have an ELAC; each ELAC must send a representative to the District ELAC, called DELAC. And under Lau, the Board must appoint, and listen to the recommendations of, a BCC.

Anyway, of primary concern to theBCC are procedures and services of the Educational Placement Center and support of ELACs.  Board members asked that the BCC provide a list of recommendations each year so that we can be held accountable on our progress toward implementing better supports and services for English Learners.

Also of note:

  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by myself and Commissioner Fewer calling for the establishment of a joint committee with City College of San Francisco to discuss issues of mutual interest;
  • The 2009-10 district’s budget was introduced for first reading but due to the late hour we opted not to hear the full presentation until the augmented Budget Committee hearing on June 16. For interested community members, there will also be a workshop on the 2009-10 budget on June 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at James Lick Middle School;
  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution calling for the second annual Soda Free Summer.

From today’s Chronicle: P.E. and JROTC

The Chronicle has run its curtain-raiser article for tomorrow’s Board meeting, where we will take up the independent study resolution for JROTC. This section contains the crux of the issue – does the class provide the necessary physical activity required by the state:

At the board’s May 12 meeting, when the JROTC program was restored, a district staff member told the board that in her opinion the military program can’t meet state P.E. requirements.

P.E. content specialist Michelle Zapata told the board there simply isn’t enough time for JROTC to provide the “400 minutes of the required physical exercise that is moderate to vigorous – 400 minutes over 10 days.”

State law does require 400 minutes of P.E. class time over 10 days, but there is no specific code or standard addressing how many minutes must or should be spent on instruction or physical activity.

The state P.E. standards recommend moderate to vigorous exercise four days a week, but does not specify how much each day.

The article goes on to say that even in traditional P.E. classes in San Francisco high schools, students are not participating in 400 minutes of vigorous exercise every 10 days. P.E. class time accounts for 430 minutes of every 10 days in a student’s schedule, but at least 20 minutes of that class time every day is taken up by non-exercise activities like changing clothes or taking attendance.

However, the JROTC instructors have personally assured me on numerous occasions that students can easily get 400 minutes of vigorous exercise in their classes and afterschool activities, AND pass the state fitness test before the end of 10th grade. So I’m more than confident that the class provides the necessary physical benefit to qualify for independent study P.E. credit.

Program helps veterans become teachers

The Washington Post ran a very interesting piece last week on an innovative program to help military veterans become classroom teachers. It is operated by the, ahem, Defense Department. (If you don’t want to register at washingtonpost.com, you can read an abbreviated version of the piece in yesterday’s Examiner).

Troops to Teachers, which has placed about 11,500 teachers nationwide in 15 years, is one way the Obama administration aims to draw more men and minorities into schools and fill demand in the fields of math, science and special education.

About 82 percent of the former soldiers, sailors, Marines and other veterans who sign up are men. (About a quarter of all teachers are men, according to one estimate.) Nearly 40 percent of Troops to Teachers participants are members of racial or ethnic minorities. The program has put more than 2,000 black men into classrooms.

The recruits are producing results. A recent study found that Florida students taught by Troops to Teachers participants made greater gains in reading than peers taught by teachers with similar classroom experience. In math, students in Troops to Teachers classrooms outperformed those in other classes — even when the other teacher had more years under his belt.

“Honestly, at first, we thought a military officer dealing with today’s fifth-graders and seventh-graders was not going to be very effective,” said William A. Owings, an Old Dominion University education professor and one of the study’s authors. “We found out that is totally untrue. We have come to believe that you’re looking at life experience . . . that has a lot of crossover into good classroom skills.”

No comment.

Curriculum committee recap: 6/1

Tonight I sat in on the Curriculum and Program Committee meeting, which Commissioner Fewer graciously agreed to augment due to interest in the Gateway to College and JROTC Independent Study resolutions on the part of the full board.  Before I get to those two discussions, however, a few words about an update on the district’s draft Technology Plan.

SchoolLoop, a new online tool that will help parents, students, teachers and administrators connect with each other and share information about student progress, is almost here! It’s being piloted at 20 sites this year (I know Aptos Middle School is one, but not sure where else), with great reviews.  It should be rolled out at every school in the fall, and I can’t wait. However, to fully realize the vision of student, school and home connected-ness (not just SchoolLoop but laptops for all, interactive whiteboards, and work to integrate technology into every corner of our curriculum), it will take an almost obscene amount of money — $36 million at least. At least we are completing the first and very important step by creating a solid plan.

We also heard an update from the Program Placement committee, and I learned that a K-12 Special Education Master Plan has been proposed. (“Master Plan” is the new buzzword in the district these days, because of the success of the Arts Education Master Plan as a way of defining objectives and gathering support from internal and external resources. That’s why we have a new P.E. Master Plan, a draft Technology Master Plan, and now apparently a Special Education Master Plan in its infancy). Anyway, I’ll be interested in seeing what becomes of this idea.

Continue reading

Recap: May 26 regular meeting

I’m sore and sleepy today — seven hours in a hot, crowded meeting that lasts until 1 a.m. will do that to you. A very brief recap:

  • The Parent Advisory Council presented some very interesting statistics on participation and availability of after-school programs in SFUSD; information that needs to be absorbed and addressed by the Board on a night with a less packed agenda. Commissioner Fewer plans to bring this topic to the next Curriculum committee meeting, on June 1 at 4:30 p.m. in the Board room.
  • The San Francisco Unified School District has now aligned its graduation requirements with the A-G course sequence required for admission to the University of California and the California State University system, starting with the class of 2014. This is really a historic action and cements our commitment as a district to graduating every student college- or career-ready. Vote: 7-0 in favor.
  • The Board passed the P.E. Master Plan, which lays out a strategy to improve and expand our P.E. offerings in the coming years (the source of funds will be the funding stream provided by the Public Education Enrichment Fund–aka “Prop. H”). There was some discussion about whether the new requirement that all students take four years of P.E. (if students pass the state fitness test they may opt out of P.E. in grades 11 and 12) is too restrictive, given the Board’s concurrent discussion about providing alternative P.E. programs in certain cases. The General Counsel said, however, that the Board may create alternative programs at a later time as a “clarification” of this policy.  Vote: 7-0 in favor.
  • The Board had a lengthy discussion on a proposed partnership between City College, Communities of Opportunity and SFUSD to create a “Gateway to College” program at City College’s Southeast campus to re-engage students who have dropped out and get them back on a college path. There are many advantages and pluses to this proposal, since everyone agrees we have collectively failed these students; a multi-institution partnership is a great way to work to fix this problem. The objections center around the location: there are not extensive course offerings or support services for this group at the Southeast campus currently, and in the opinion of some Board members, the location does not provide the college experience that these students may need. In the end we amended the proposal to keep discussing locations while allowing the district to move forward with acquiring required waivers from the state. Vote: 7-0 in favor.
  • The Board unanimously passed resolutions calling for a Parent Engagement Plan and a Student Feedback System.
  • Many members of the public were waiting to comment on Commissioner Yee and Kim’s proposal to allow students in JROTC the ability to meet the P.E. requirement through an independent study program that would be supervised by the JROTC instructors. Originally, the plan was that the Board would vote to suspend the rules and act on the proposal last night. But by the time the item came up (well after 11 p.m.), Commissioner Mendoza had long departed and there were not enough votes to suspend the rules (this action requires a supermajority of the board, not a supermajority of the quorum). In the end, the item was referred to the Curriculum Committee (June 1, 4:30 p.m. in the Board room) for discussion, and will return to the full Board at the June 9 regular meeting.
  • National Urban Alliance — a controversial professional development plan proposed for 20 high schools at a cost of $2.7 million between now and June 2010 over two years — passed 4 votes (Yee, Kim, Fewer, Maufas) to 1 (Norton).

P.E. and JROTC

I am getting a lot of mail about P.E. and JROTC, and a great deal from P.E. supporters who don’t think the course should be allowed as an alternative to P.E.  I’m sorry, but I disagree.

It’s true that in recent years, the state has made great progress in raising standards for physical education. It has beefed up its content standards, as well as its requirements. It’s important for us to teach students to value and achieve physical fitness, to understand how to live healthfully, and help them draw the connection between physical and emotional health. It’s also true that earning a credential to teach P.E. requires a significant commitment of time and effort.

What I disagree with is the insistence that only P.E. can achieve these goals. Yes:  in many (and even most!) cases, traditional P.E. can help students learn what they need to know in order to live a healthy lifestyle and be physically fit. But in some cases, traditional P.E. is counter-productive, and I question whether it’s a wise course to insist on a one-size-fits-all approach. The fact is that there are alternatives, from competitive athletics, marching band, dance and, yes, JROTC,  which can all provide the vigorous physical activity required by the state, while also engaging students and involving them in activities they are committed to and  which they enjoy.

I applaud our efforts, through the P.E. Master Plan, to improve our P.E. instruction and better align that instruction to the state content standards. However, I don’t see that work as the only way to get to our overarching goal of helping students learn the benefits of being physically fit.  To my mind, the most important thing is to help students find a physical activity they enjoy, and one they will stick with in order to live a healthy and fit life. So I’m sorry, but I think it’s important to allow students as many alternatives as we can if the outcome is that they will ultimately learn how to respect themselves, respect their bodies, and make choices that lead to a healthy, long, and fulfilling life.

I also reject the contention that allowing qualified alternative courses to satisfy the state’s P.E. requirements somehow cheapens the credential that certified P.E. teachers work so hard to earn. This isn’t about the teachers! This is about finding the best ways to reach and engage every child in the quest to help young people live healthier lives.  I’m sorry if P.E. teachers feel their professional qualifications are somehow dismissed; I don’t endorse that view. But I also don’t endorse the view that it’s disrespectful to P.E. teachers to allow students a range of options to satisfy a requirement.

Finally, it’s come to my attention that a district employee, acting in an official capacity as a supervisor, sent an email to many of our P.E. teachers claiming that some high school P.E. teachers could lose their jobs if the district again allows students an alternative pathway to traditional P.E.  Aside from the fact that this claim couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s also an outrageous abuse of this employee’s responsibilities as a supervisor and a blatant attempt to manipulate teachers in order to influence an action of the Board. (Wouldn’t you write the Board if a supervisor told you your job might depend on it?)

Bottom line: with the new P.E. master plan we will have need for more, not fewer P.E. teachers, regardless of what happens with JROTC. Also, the deadline to send out layoff notices for next year is long past, so even if we WERE planning to lay off P.E. teachers (we aren’t!), we would not legally be able to.