Tag Archives: persistent underperformers

And so it begins: Fighting over scraps

It really is looking like we might not get to vote on tax extensions in June after all — though the Governor really could declare any day he wants for a special election (it doesn’t have to happen on a Tuesday or even in June at all!).  But the latest gossip I’m hearing from Sacramento is that now the Governor is talking about bypassing the legislature altogether and putting tax increases on the November ballot through the initiative process (three guesses who might help pay for the signature gathering drive!). Update: here are Brown’s current options, according to a column in the Sacramento Bee.

Anyway, the “catastrophic” Option B is looking more and more like it might come to pass, at least in the short-term. And when Option B happens, constituencies start fighting with each other over their share(s) of the budget.

Tonight’s meeting started off beautifully — we showed a student documentary made about the SOTA mural I wrote about last week, and teacher Heidi Hubrich was on hand to talk about her students and their artistic achievement.  We zipped through three charter school renewals (well, not zipped exactly, there was a lot of public comment and some board discussion about the growing trend of charters using the El Dorado SELPA to deliver special education services rather than using the SFUSD SELPA – it’s a lot cheaper for the charter operators. In general we need to improve the district’s oversight of all of the charters we’ve authorized in the area of special education, but that’s a discussion for another day). Final results: City Arts & Tech HS was renewed on a 6-1 vote; Five Keys Independent HS and Five Keys Charter School, our two charter schools for students incarcerated at the County Jail in San Bruno, were renewed on a 7-0 vote, with nary a dry eye in the process — the story of Five Keys is one that restores your faith in humanity, your faith that people can change, and our conviction that educational opportunity transforms lives.

We had a very interesting discussion on the Board’s expanded Residency Policy – none of the principles in the policy are new, but they had been contained in existing Administrative regulations, procedures and practices that had not been memorialized in a single Board policy. We’ve stepped up residency enforcement as part of implementing the new assignment system, so updating our Board policy with those existing regulations, procedures and practices made sense. What surprised me was that there was any controversy at all about this policy. Several community members have come to every Board discussion about the policy, arguing that the district is giving itself sweeping new powers to enforce residency — but by this logic, any school district that assigns students on the basis of where they live is assuming these kinds of powers. Anyway, the Board voted 6-1 to adopt the policy (Commissioner Fewer voted against it as she feels unwilling to enforce such a policy against graduating seniors, even if they are found to have committed residency fraud). I understand her concerns but I don’t think we can leave any loopholes here — drawing a line around seniors simply encourages families to just “get through” 11th grade and then breathe easily. We have found we have a significant problem with people using false addresses to attend highly-sought after schools in San Francisco: this policy is the right step to address that problem.

Then came public comment – at least two hours of it. A group from Bret Harte Elementary came out to complain about the administration of the Bayview Zone. A group from Carver Elementary  came out to complain about their principal.  A group from Bryant came out to protest the reassignment of some of their teachers, required under the Turnaround model plan that made the school eligible for funds under the Federal School Improvement Grant program for persistently underperforming schools. Finally, a group from Washington HS came out to protest what they called the “very bad” Option A budget scenario and the “catastrophic” Option B budget scenario. The situation at Washington will need more digging, but it appears that a “bubble” senior class will graduate this year, causing an overall drop in year-over-year enrollment at the school. Since enrollment = dollars, the already bad budget is looking really bad at Washington.

Anyway, to tie it all together – all of these issues are, ultimately, about sharing a pie that is not big enough for everyone. Bryant and Carver get dollars they desperately need, but there are strings attached — a beloved principal, or beloved staff have to go in order to accept the funds. These conditions seem awfully abstract and arbitrary to the families in the trenches, and so they are pushing back. There are other management and instructional and systemic issues in play at Washington and Bret Harte as well, but at the core? Money and a fight over who has the power to make decisions.

The other day I was astounded to look back at a news article from 2006 that talked about how ill-funded SFUSD schools were at around $8,000 a student. Now? Even before Option A or Option B, we’re at around $4,000 per student.  But here we are, fighting over scraps, thinking — if we could just hold on to what we have, everything would be OK.

Last up: Commissioner Maufas introduced a resolution to rename Burnett Early Education Center after Leola Havard, a renowned African-American educator administrator whose roots reach deep into the school district (her sister, Lois Sims, was a teacher in the district and her niece, Deborah Sims was the district’s Chief Academic Officer under Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Collectively, the family has dedicated over 50 years of service to SFUSD).  It turns out that Peter Burnett, the original honoree of the school, was (in the words of Rev. Amos Brown, who addressed the Board this evening) a bully. The first Governor of California, Mr. Burnett was an advocate of banishing African-Americans from the state and while he was at it, Chinese-Americans should go too.  (See this exhaustive history by historian and civil rights leader John William Templeton, who also addressed the Board this evening).  The Board will issue a final vote on this proposal at the April 12 meeting, but I predict it will pass.

And actually,  Rev. Arnold Townsend of the NAACP made a great suggestion tonight, noting that SFUSD would probably have renamed Burnett years ago had anyone bothered to learn about the school’s honoree in the first place. Do you know who/what your child’s school is named after?  Sounds like a perfect 4th grade history lesson as a companion to the obligatory project on the California missions.


Recap: Update on the Superintendent’s Zones

Tonight’s Committee of the Whole was a look at what has been happening at the Superintendent’s Zones in the Mission and Bayview neighborhoods of the City. These zones comprise schools that primarily serve low-income students and those impacted most by the racial achievement gap in our schools – all 10 SIG schools are also located in either the Mission or Bayview zones. (SIG schools have been designated as persistently-underperforming by the state, and therefore are eligible to receive additional funding for three years in order to improve their performance.)

San Francisco Unified has 10 SIG schools, including: Bryant Elementary, Chavez Elementary, John Muir Elementary, Everett Middle School, Horace Mann Middle School, Mission High School and John O’Connell High School are in the Mission Zone; Carver Elementary, Paul Revere K-8 and Willie Brown 4-8 are in the Bayview Zone.  There are five additional (non-SIG) schools in the two zones: Bret Harte Elementary, Drew Elementary, Malcolm X Elementary, and Thurgood Marshall High School are in the Bayview Zone; Flynn Elementary is in the Mission Zone.  The Mission Zone is led by Assistant Superintendent Guadalupe Guerreo and his team; the Bayview Zone is led by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patricia Gray and her team.

Tonight’s presentation focused on the various strategies each team is using at their schools, as well as specific goals each Zone has set for its schools, such as “double-digit growth in the number of students scoring at proficient or above on the the Math and English/Language Arts CST test for 2010-11,” (from the Bayview Zone presentation.

Public comment centered mostly on the need for more and better public engagement around the changes that are happening at the various schools, SIG and otherwise. Families and staff are communicating with Board members to say that they feel they are not being consulted about the big initiatives and plans going on around them — I am definitely hearing that people feel bewildered and less than fully up-to-date on what is happening, but I also know that the staff in both Zones are spending significant time trying to communicate with families. So I think that perceived communications failures are probably about the methods that are or are not being used to get the word out, and the time that is available to do the communicating (not much after the demands of the work itself). Communicating about change and initiatives that get schools and families out of their comfort zones is not something this district does particularly well (does any school district?) so I am not surprised we are hearing this particular complaint.

Staff from Bret Harte and Horace Mann were on hand to specifically talk about issues in implementing the Zones at their schools — Bret Harte staff have complained several times now about prescriptive strategies and top-down management; Horace Mann staff are concerned about the implications of the announced merger of their school with Buena Vista Elementary.

There was a lot more in the 2+hour presentation, but those are the highlights. The Board’s job will be to return to this initiative several more times before the end of the year, to monitor our investments and the academic outcomes.  The next opportunity to check in on the work of the Zones will be the March Budget Committee meeting, now tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 30 at 5 p.m. (yes, that is Spring Break).

Sifting through feedback on student assignment

Last week I attended one of the three community meetings (the one held at Everett Middle School) on the proposed attendance areas, middle school feeder patterns and transportation policy. I’ve also been monitoring conversation on various listserves, and comments sent to me both in private emails and posted here.  So while I haven’t seen ALL of the feedback that’s been given in various meetings, online surveys and in face-to-face meetings with district staff,  the picture is becoming clearer.

First, I have to say that I’ve heard very little feedback, positive or negative, on the elementary school attendance areas. A few people have contacted me with specific suggestions, such as moving a boundary a few blocks to better capture a neighborhood or provide parents with better choices (generally those comments have centered on attendance areas in Treasure Island and the Western Addition).  Heading into the August 18 meeting where the attendance areas were announced, I was certain I would hear much more from people who were unhappy with their new attendance areas; the relative lack of feedback on these points has been surprising.

What was also surprising is the concentrated anger about the middle school feeder patterns. Of course, many people are very happy with their proposed middle school assignment. I’ve received emails from parents at Sunnyside, who are thrilled with the proposal that their school feed into Aptos Middle School. Many parents in the Richmond are happy their schools will feed into Presidio Middle School.

Still, families at New Traditions and CIS at DeAvila felt that the schools feeding into Roosevelt with theirs would not create a school that was socioeconomically diverse; some families at McKinley were unhappy at the prospect of feeding into Everett, which is on the state’s list of persistently underperforming schools.

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Stirring up acronym soup: SIG v. RTTT

I just got a consoling email from a parent who learned that California was not, after all, selected to receive a grant in the second round of Race to the Top (RTTT). This is disappointing, but applying felt a little bit like doing a deal with the devil so I’m not really all that upset that we didn’t qualify.

But it’s important to know the difference between RTTT, the Federal government’s competitive grants program, and the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program that the State Board of Education is expected to approve today.

Our eligibility for SIG is related to the state’s list of persistently underperforming schools. Districts with schools on the list were invited to apply for SIG funds, and required to choose one of four turnaround strategies for every school on the list. Some districts (LAUSD, OUSD) gambled and applied for money for only some of their schools; SFUSD chose to apply for all 10 and were rewarded with a recommendation that the state fund our application to the tune of $47 million. After some scrambling (and advocacy by other districts that were shut out), the state board cut our funding recommendation back to $45 million and applied for a Federal waiver that will let them fund other school districts that were originally shut out.

We’re okay with that, generally, and that money will make a huge difference at schools like John Muir Elementary, Carver Elementary, Everett Middle School, and Horace Mann Middle School. We should receive confirmation later today about the money.

A “pickle” in Sacramento

So you’re forgiven if you missed this, since the news broke late Friday, but the committee charged with evaluating applications for School Improvement Grants (SIGs) issued its recommendations late Friday afternoon. Districts that had schools landing on the “persistent underperformers” list were eligible to apply for SIGs to help pay for the reform work already required under state law — SF Unified has 10 schools on the list and applied for $48 million in SIGs.  (I wrote about our application here).

It turns out that the decision to lay out a reform plan for all 10 schools in the application was key. San Francisco’s application was rated 95.5 out of a possible 100.0 points, and recommended for full funding under the rules approved by the State Board of Education (SBE) when it laid out the SIG process and evaluation rubric last spring.  By contrast, applications from Los Angeles Unified, Sacramento City Unified, San Diego Unified and Oakland Unified, among others, were disqualified by readers for receiving any funding because they did not agree to take on reforms at all of their persistently-underperforming schools in the grant application.

And perhaps you’ll be shocked, but people in those politically-connected districts weren’t very happy when they got the news, and suddenly, the SBE is getting some heat. So things got very interesting when the SBE began discussing the SIG recommendations at a special meeting today, since the SBE must approve the recommendations before districts can begin receiving money. “A pickle” is how one Commissioner described the situation, and a pickle it is.  There are lots of people in Los Angeles, San Diego and other places complaining that the recommendations aren’t fair. But assuming the reviewers followed the SBE-approved rubric, it’s also not fair to change the rules in the middle and award money according to criteria that were not originally spelled out in the original grant application. Complicating matters is that all of this has to be done within a certain amount of time (not sure how much, but not enough for a complete do-over).

In the end, the SBE did what politicians are wont to do and kicked the can down the road for a week or two, hoping that a way out of the pickle will magically present itself. But expect San Francisco Unified and other districts whose applications were highly-rated to cry foul if the SBE tries to shift money around or otherwise change the rules that they themselves wrote.

Lazy mornings with the newspapers

I’ve spent the last few days not doing anything in particular, but I did cull a few items of interest from my lazy mornings with the newspapers:

District applies for School Improvement Grants (SF Chronicle)

The SF Chronicle did a tidy job Saturday morning, pulling together all the pieces of the district’s application for a School Improvement Grant (SIG) to address achievement at the 10 SFUSD schools identified by the state as “persistent underperformers.”  Of course, most of this wasn’t new to readers of this blog, other than the list specifying which Federally-approved reform model (Closure is self-explanatory; Transformation means replacing the principal; Turnaround means replacing the principal and 50 percent of staff; Restart — not in the district’s plan — means closing a school and reopening it as a charter) will be applied to each school. Here’s that list:

  • Willie Brown Jr. Academy –Closure
  • Bryant Elementary — Turnaround
  • Carver Elementary –Turnaround
  • Cesar Chavez Elementary –Transformation
  • Everett Middle— Turnaround
  • Horace Mann Middle –Transformation
  • Mission High –Transformation
  • John Muir Elementary –Turnaround
  • John O’Connell High — Transformation
  • Paul Revere Elementary–Transformation

More schools turning to International Baccalaureate programs (NY Times)

Saturday’s Times carried an article about the growing adoption of the I.B. curriculum in public schools around the country.  SFUSD has plans to expand I.B. in our own district — one Primary Years Programme (PYP) is already underway at Flynn Elementary and another is planned for John Muir Elementary. Those would feed into a new Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme at International Studies Academy in Potrero Hill (a 6-12 grade school)– more about that here.

Anyway, the I.B. program, widespread in Europe, is considered to be more rigorous than the typical college-prep curriculum in American high schools. But critics quoted in the Times article point out the program is expensive, and (somewhat bizarrely) complain it is too closely tied to radical environmentalism (is that bad?). And some advocates in our own district have noted that the current implementation at Flynn may not support the specific needs of English Learners well enough.

Slain Bayview teen was a star athlete (SF Chronicle)

In today’s paper, there’s a very sad story about Stephen Powell, Jr.,  the 19-year-old slain last Saturday evening at Market and Castro during Gay Pride festivities. Mr. Powell was a star basketball player at Stuart Hall High School, but seems to have had a hard time navigating the two worlds represented by his exclusive private school and the violent streets where he grew up. After a stint at Lincoln H.S. and then Ida B. Wells, Mr. Powell was reportedly trying to get his life back together when he was slain. The police have called the shooting gang-related, but Mr. Powell’s parents say he was not involved in a gang.  And his history doesn’t fit the usual profile – he came from an intact, loving family and had many caring adults rooting for him to succeed. . All in, Mr. Powell’s death was a horrible tragedy that seems to happen all too often here in San Francisco.

Recap: It’s oh so quiet

Scholar Spencer Huston receives a $500 check from Carpenters Local 22 President Manny Flores

Tonight’s meeting was unusually short and quiet, even though we did have a sizeable group from John O’Connell High School to protest the layoff of the school’s wellness coordinator. This employee is certainly a major asset to a site that has more than its share of students who really need her services, and it was difficult to hear about the potential impact on her students if she leaves. Board members have asked district staff to continue to work on the situation, and I hope there will be a solution that keeps this employee where she wants to remain: serving the students of John O’Connell High School.
Also of note on tonight’s agenda:

  • Proposals establishing open enrollment in honors classes and revising Board policy on graduation requirements were withdrawn by the Superintendent, pending review by the Board’s Curriculum and Budget committees;
  • A tentative agreement between UESF and the school district was ratified by the Board — for their part, UESF members are in the process of ratifying the agreement by mail-in ballot;
  • UESF, UASF, the Association of Black Educators and the Carpenters’ Local 22 announced winners of their annual scholarships — some of the winners even got checks right then and there! (See photo above);

The board also heard a presentation on the district’s plan for the 10 SFUSD schools that landed on the state’s list of the 5 percent of schools in the “persistently underperforming” category. While the staff is still putting the finishing touches on the district’s application for School Improvement Grants (landing on the state’s list makes a district eligible to apply for these grants, also called “SIG”), Deputy Superintendent Carranza told the Board tonight that the Superintendent has decided the following:

  • To apply for all 10 schools this year — this has been a tricky decision because the Federal government says that a district can apply for a few schools at a time rather than committing to work on all of its schools in any given year; the state disagrees and says that districts must apply for all schools at once or risk losing out on SIG funding;
  • To implement the application over time, so that some of the schools will have a planning year and others won’t;
  • To implement the least prescriptive “transformation” model at five (as yet unnamed schools), and the more prescriptive “turnaround” model at four schools (also unnamed until the application is finalized). Both models require replacing a principal who has been at the school longer than two years, and the “turnaround” model also calls for replacing 50 percent of the staff at the school. One school will be closed temporarily, and rebuilt from the ground up.

This decision is probably the best we could have done considering the carrot — potentially millions in extra funding — the state is dangling for participating in the SIG program. There’s also a big stick, since state law requires us to eventually apply one of four intervention models to every school that lands on the persistently underperforming list — whether we ask for the money or not. Still, the turnaround model is going to hurt: it means displacing half the staff at four schools.

Mission, O’Connell students speak out

 New American Media has done a very nice video with students from Mission and John O’Connell High Schools talking about how it feels to be told that you attend a persistently low-performing school. The students are articulate, thoughtful, and not at all daunted by being labeled “underperformers.”

Watch the video >>>>

Irony, anyone?

Listening to Stan Goldberg’s interview with UESF’s Dennis Kelly. In his comments, Dennis reminded me that Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Paul Revere Elementary with great fanfare last May, hobnobbing with principal Lance Tagomori, students and teachers.

What a difference a year makes! Last month, the state named Paul Revere as one of the 5 percent of schools in the state classified as “persistently underperforming.” As a consequence of landing on the list, a school has four options — every one of which involves replacing the principal.  Sadly, Mr. Tagomori has told his school community that he has chosen not to come back to Paul Revere next year. (I need to say here that the district is not, at this moment, planning to fire any of the principals at the 10 schools — at five of them the site administrator has been in the job less than two years, and so are exempt from the potential consequences).

If Secretary Duncan shows up again, maybe we shouldn’t let him visit any schools!  Just kidding — really, the state is the entity that placed Paul Revere on the list of persistent underperformers. But it’s also true that the state’s policy arose out of our efforts to qualify for Race to the Top; by all indications the administration’s flawed policy prescriptions are soon to become the law of the land through the reathorization of No Child Left Behind (now “rebranded” the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – ESEA). So the Secretary must share the blame for pulling the rug out from under schools like Paul Revere.

Recap: Underperforming schools and the strategic plan

Tonight’s Committee of the Whole was the type of meeting I like the most: thoughtful, substantive and less formal than the regular meetings of the full Board.  There were two items on the agenda: a presentation by Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza updating the Board on our strategic plan progress, and a presentation on the administration’s plans for the 10 schools designated as “persistently underperforming” by the state.

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