Tag Archives: nua

Lessons from a high school turnaround

The Daily Howler dinged me (and many others) on accepting the “outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools” statement at face value. Turns out that this statistic isn’t accurate, so I’ve removed that reference (overstrike text marks my edits). I still think this high school has had successes that demand some attention.

Today the New York Times has what feels to me to be a very important article on a high school turnaround in Massachusetts. A decade ago, Brockton High was a “dropout factory,” with just a quarter of the students passing state exams and a third dropping out entirely.  But in each of the past two years, the school — 4,100 students, 69 percent of whom are eligible for free/reduced-price lunch — has outperformed 90 percent of the high schools in the state.

What happened? How did the school respond? According to an in-depth Harvard report summarized in the Times article, a small group of teachers began meeting on Saturdays to look at data and discuss reform:

The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.

The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.

The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.

I haven’t read the Harvard report, so I don’t know what additional investments were made in professional development for teachers (the Times article makes it sound as if teachers worked together to train each other with minimal outside PD). The school is now bringing in a consultant to help with mathematics instruction, since students’ progress in math is still behind. I bring this up because the lightning rod National Urban Alliance contract is coming back on the Board agenda tonight. ($250k to train 100 teachers; some people like their approach and others don’t. I’m still not going to vote for it, though it will likely pass anyway.)  It seems to me that Brockton High got it right — teachers worked together to figure out what was working and what wasn’t, supported each other in learning more effective strategies, THEN brought in outside expertise when a weakness was identified that couldn’t be addressed in-house.

I think there are a lot of lessons in the Times’ Brockton High article, but the key one is that focusing on instruction and supporting teachers to work together can bring about reform in even the most chaotic schools.


Recap: Sept. 14 Board meeting

At tonight’s regularly scheduled Board meeting, Commissioners heard a presentation on plans for the new Superintendent’s Zone — comprised of 15 of our lowest-performing schools. Assistant Superintendent Patricia Gray supervises the Bayview portion of the Superintendent’s Zone, which includes Bret Hart ES, Carver ES, Drew ES, Malcolm X ES, Willie Brown College Prep, Paul Revere (which is actually in Bernal Heights), and Thurgood Marshall HS.  Assistant Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero supervises the Mission portion of the zone, which includes Bryant ES, Chavez ES, Leonard Flynn ES, John Muir ES (which is actually in the Western Addition), Everett MS, Mann MS, Mission HS, and John O’Connell HS.

Many of these schools are eligible for the $45 million in SIG money that was authorized by the state Board of Education several weeks ago; the district’s presentation was a high-level overview of how that money will be spent, including new instructional and assessment strategies; additional staff to focus on parent and community engagement; and staff to coordinate the services of the many nonprofits also working with students and families at these sites.  All of the plans sound good, but of course we have seen many reform agendas before in this district — the proof will have to be in the results.

Also of note: a renewal of the controversial National Urban Alliance professional development contract was on tonight’s agenda — $250,000 in additional services to staff at seven or eight schools. Readers of this blog might remember that I voted against the NUA contract when it was first brought forward in 2009, and despite some positive testimonials from teachers and administrators, I voted against it again. This time, however, due to the absence of several board members, the final vote tally was 3 votes in favor (Fewer, Kim and Yee) and 2 votes against (Wynns, Norton). Since three votes is not a majority of the Board, the motion failed, and the Superintendent will have to bring the contract back to the Board at a future meeting (where I will vote against it again). Why am I opposed to this contract? For one thing, despite the testimonials, some staff who have been through the training have privately told me they found it to be so-so. For another, the NUA consultants charge very high daily rates. Third, the funding source for this training is unrestricted — meaning it can go towards any use, and I’m not sure we should be spending unrestricted funds on an expensive program that gets mixed reviews. Finally, and most important, the schools currently receiving the program are not our priority schools!  Only one, Willie Brown, is located in the Superintendent’s Zone (the priority area we had just heard all about earlier), and we’ve already said we’re closing down Willie Brown at the end of this school year. Enough said.

Finally, the Board had a good discussion about the administrative approval limits and procedures. Late last year, the Board raised the limit for administrative (i.e., bypassing the Board) approval of contracts from $8,000 to $25,000, and agreed to eventually consider raising the limit to $75,000.  Because board members have noticed a few recurring issues, the discussion will go to the next Rules Committee so that the legal department can review the language with us and close any  loopholes that exist.

An alarming development

Earlier this week, I blogged about a $40,000 contract with hip hop artist Bryonn Bain (read down to the end of the post). The contract was passed, 4 votes to 2, despite some nagging questions about the efficacy of the program. Now, I’ve heard that the  well-respected administrator for the Court and County schools, where this program is supposed to be housed (at least as described in the contract passed by the Board), has said that he does not want the program at the schools he supervises. How is it possible that the Central Office and the Board can (or would want to) impose a $40,000 ‘arts’ program on a school over and above that school administrator’s objection?  And in this budget climate?

I have asked senior staff to investigate this situation further and have suggested we hold off committing ourselves to this contract, even though a majority of the Board has authorized the expenditure. Again, everyone agrees that our students in our court and county schools are our most underserved, so this debate is not about taking resources away from the students that most need them–instead, it’s a debate about which resources are most aligned with our strategic goals.

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).

May 19: Budget meeting recap

Lots of items on last night’s Budget and Business Services Committee agenda. First up: the Superintendent’s proposal to align SFUSD’s graduation requirements with the University of California’s admission requirements, known as the A-G course sequence.  The presentation from the staff focused on the fiscal impact of making this change, which is not insignificant but actually less than one might think, considering we are going to need to seriously re-align our course offerings and institute support services for students who struggle with the more demanding series of courses.

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