Tag Archives: recap

Recap: Sept 13, 2016

I missed a good chunk of the longest discussion of the evening because I left the meeting for about an hour to attend the Potrero Hill Democratic Club’s endorsement meeting (and thank you, PH Dems, for the endorsement! The list is growing . . . check it out here).

Verizon is offering to donate $3 million in devices (iPads, with free data plans!) and other supports, to students and teachers at Hoover, Denman and Roosevelt Middle Schools. This is great, and the Board is appropriately grateful for the donation, but had a long discussion about whether the additional donation of  iPad cases and tote bags with scaled-back Verizon branding required a waiver for the Board’s Commercial Free Schools Policy (last seen at our August 9 meeting when the Board agreed to allow Golden State Warriors branding on a newly-refurbished basketball court at Willie Brown MS). The iPads need cases–middle-schoolers being the lovably clumsy half-kids half-teens they are–yet purchasing our own cases (which would probably come with some other company’s logo on them) would cost us $68,000.

Principles are pesky things sometimes. On the one hand, I am bombarded by commercial logos every day and I do manage to (most of the time) utilize critical thinking about the companies with whom I choose to do business. If a company is offering an expensive, desirable and useful device free to students, what’s the big deal about a small corporate logo on the case? After all, when I start up my own iPad, it always displays an Apple apple, and there’s an ever-present logo on the back. Won’t the kids be just as influenced by that logo as they would by the Verizon logo?

Probably. And yet. While it’s pretty much impossible to escape commercialization in this country, I applaud the school district and my colleagues on the Board for continuing to try. I appreciate it that we willingly have an hourlong discussion about whether it’s OK to accept a donation that comes with a small string that could have unintended consequences on the minds and opinions of the young people we are entrusted with educating. It’s why this work isn’t for everyone — the people who impatiently say: “oh my goodness, just accept the iPads and move on!” are missing the importance of carefully considering the impact of every decision, however tedious those discussions become sometimes.

Tonight, we finally agreed to accept the devices and agreed to hold an event with students, teachers and parents to celebrate and appropriately thank Verizon for the donation, but directed staff to ask the company whether they would be willing to donate cases without their logo. We agreed that Verizon-branded signage at the event is an acceptable string to attach, but cases that a student may look at every single day for his or her middle school years? Maybe not. Even when such a discussion makes a meeting that should be over at 9 p.m. end at 10:30, I would say it’s worth it. And, you’ve got me to blog it, so you don’t even have to be there — you can just read about it!

myong-first-meetingAnyway. I also need to appreciate Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh, who has stepped into this role like he has always owned it. I know he doesn’t want it forever — he’s made that abundantly clear — and he’s stepped up just the same. His Superintendent’s remarks at tonight’s meeting made clear that he is taking this new role seriously. I am so grateful to him.

We also heard from a lot of parents and (adorable, smart and articulate) students  at Francis Scott Key Elementary school regarding their concerns about a particular classroom. Because I cannot discuss personnel matters I will simply echo Superintendent Leigh in saying that parents have been heard and administrators are actively working to address the situation.  I understand the parents’ concerns and I expect a resolution very soon.

Other actions tonight:

  • Unanimously accepted the nominations for members of the Childcare Planning and Advisory Council (CPAC);
  • Adopted policies (updated to reflect current practice and state law) around our management of charter schools;
  • Unanimously endorsed  YES on Prop. 57 (to increase parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court);
  • Unanimously endorsed YES on Prop 56 (to increase the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack, with equivalent increases on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes);
  • Unanimously endorsed YES on Prop. N (to allow non-citizen voting in local SF school board elections).

Safe and supportive schools

That’s what we all want, right? Tonight at our Committee of the Whole the Board got our annual report on the implementation of the Safe and Supportive Schools resolution we passed in 2014. That resolution followed on the groundbreaking Restorative Practices resolution the Board adopted in 2009, which has completely changed the way the district approaches discipline.

I don’t want to minimize how much of a shift it has been, nor how much more has been demanded of teachers — sometimes without the necessary support and training. Passing resolutions and demanding change is one thing: you also have to back it up with dollars and training and support, and sometimes these resources haven’t been as available as they should have been.

Mainly what the resolution has accomplished is a big drop in suspensions. We have also seen much better tracking of out-of-school time–absences and also out of class referrals. We now have a much better idea of how much time students-especially students of color–are spending out of class, and while the picture is still quite depressing we at least are beginning to be able to trust the data.

No one should point fingers or be happy about this data: as a community we all own it and have a responsibility to improve it. Teachers are doing their best to manage sometimes difficult behaviors from students, parents are doing their best to get kids to school, and kids are doing their best to engage in class. And all of us can do better, if we support each other and figure out how to meet the most pressing needs in our communities.

Anyway, I highly recommend a close read of the latest report. It does a great job of detailing the district’s current approach and investments in safe and supportive schools, and is a good resource for anyone who wants to know more about the implementation of this very important and beneficial policy.

 

Recap: Warriors logos and student assignment

Two substantive discussions at tonight’s meeting:

First, the Golden State Warriors organization and other donors have offered to resurface the basketball courts at Willie Brown Middle School. The proposal involved putting team logos on the courts, a retaining wall around the courts, and the backboards (see photo below for an illustration of how the logo might look on the finished court):

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The problem, if you want to call it that, is that putting a commercial logo on school property violates a 1999 Board policy entitled “Commercial Free Schools.” So the staff asked us to waive the policy to allow the donation to go forward.

It was an interesting discussion, and we all agreed that what we really need is an update to the policy to guide how we will and won’t recognize donors to the school district. This is especially timely because of the plan to rebuild 135 Van Ness to become the new site of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. That project will require significant private philanthropy, and donors who give millions to projects like this rightly expect to have their contributions acknowledged in some kind of public and permanent way.

In the end, we agreed to the basketball court and retaining wall recognition, but asked for more consideration of the backboard idea. I’m very grateful to the Warriors for the gift and I think the students at Willie Brown will be thrilled with their new court. As the Superintendent said, “students at Willie Brown will know that the Warriors have their back, and that their heroes care about them.” And, allowing corporate logos like this, even for such a good and positive cause, is a bit of a slippery slope that we need to navigate very carefully.

We also made a significant change to the student assignment policy — one that will not in my opinion affect most people adversely, but is nevertheless significant. Watchers of our student assignment policy will recall that starting this year, the middle school feeder system was supposed to go to “initial assignments” for 5th grade students currently enrolled in an SFUSD elementary school and moving up to the 6th grade in the following year. So, for example, if the initial or automatic assignment policy were to go into effect,  a 5th grader at Lafayette Elementary school would receive a letter this October saying they are being assigned to Presidio Middle School for 2017-18, without the family having to file an application, because Lafayette feeds into Presidio.

However, in last week’s Student Assignment Committee (listen to the recording here), the staff and committee discussed a pending proposal that was supposed to offer students in language programs, and those at four Bayview elementary schools, more equitable options after the shift to initial assignments. But the options presented were very problematic:

  • Problem #1: Willie Brown Feeder Pattern. Currently, families at Carver, Drew, Bret Harte and Malcolm X have two feeder options: Giannini or Willie Brown for Drew, Aptos or Willie Brown for Carver, Martin Luther King or Willie Brown for Malcolm X, and James Lick or Willie Brown for Bret Harte. This is problematic if all other 6th grade students in the district are receiving an automatic assignment to their feeder schools, since we wouldn’t know what middle school families at these four elementary schools would prefer. We discussed a number of options at committee. I suggested asking 5th grade families at the four schools — there aren’t that many of them, maybe 100 total — which feeder they prefer for their children and letting the families choose. Others suggested assigning 5th graders at these schools to the highest performing feeder choice. The staff suggested feeding all four schools into Willie Brown, but the Board rejected that option due to the obvious segregated pathway this option would create.
  • Problem #2: Not enough Language Pathways. We have so many language pathways in elementary schools that it is not possible to feed students into a language pathway in middle school unless you create separate feeder patterns for language programs. For example, Cleveland and Guadalupe Elementary have Spanish bilingual pathways, but Visitacion Valley MS, where both schools feed, does not have the corresponding language pathway. We have already come up against staffing challenges for language programs that make it impractical to keep opening up new dual language pathways in middle schools, and yet providing equitable access and automatic assignments to dual language pathways in middle school would require just such a move. So the staff proposed instead proposed adding an additional tiebreaker — a language pathway tiebreaker — to the middle school enrollment process. All students would receive an initial assignment to the General Education pathway at their feeder middle school. Students in language pathways who want to continue in a language pathway in middle school would then apply to language pathways using the existing Round 1/March placement process. Students would receive a tiebreaker for the appropriate language pathway at any middle school, plus a tiebreaker for their feeder middle school if that school also offers the appropriate language pathway. Are you confused yet? I certainly was, and all of us on the committee felt this was a very drastic, confusing and unworkable change just so that we could continue the commitment to move to initial assignments as promised in the existing policy.

So here’s where we are: after a long discussion at the Student Assignment Committee, board members asked the staff to come back to us with a substitute motion that would instead delay initial/automatic assignments for at least one year, so that we would have more time to look at our options and engage families. I recognize that this decision kicks the can down the road, but it’s also probably the least disruptive change we could make at this late date because essentially, families will experience status quo in middle school assignment: the system will work exactly as it has in each of the last five years.

So tonight we agreed to remove the language requiring initial/automatic assignments from our Student Assignment Policy, and for this year waive the requirement that we make no changes to the policy within three months of beginning to accept applications.  (Aside: we seem to run up against that requirement a lot, which is probably an indication that was wise to include in the original policy language, since it discourages tinkering except when it’s unavoidable. In this case tinkering was unavoidable because complying with the policy — going to automatic assignments — was going to wreak more havoc than delaying the implementation of that last piece.)

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Recap: Congratulations graduates!

Actually there was a lot more than congratulating our Class of 2016 at last night’s meeting, but that was the high point. It was the last meeting for our two student delegates for 2015-16, Miguel Tantiado and Teresia Chen, and we’ll miss them.

SAC

College Bound! From left: SAC chair Liam Thirtyacre, SAC liaison Sal Lopez-Barreras, Teresia Chen, Chief of Student Support Services Kevin Truitt, Miguel Tantiado

I so appreciate serving with student delegates. Each year, one is elected at large by students at all the high schools, and the other is elected by the Student Advisory Council. In this way, we generally get representation from the big comprehensive high schools and also from smaller schools. It seems to work well. And every year, I am so appreciative of the thoughtfulness and commitment of the students, and how seriously they take their role of participating in our debates and casting advisory votes. They come to every meeting, they stay almost until the end (we generally excuse them at 10 pm but they can stay as long as they like), they ask questions and offer perspectives, and often author legislation (our rules specify that an elected Commissioner must sponsor legislation authored by students). They have brought us less restrictive bathroom policies, support programs for students whose parents are incarcerated, and advisory measures supporting the ability of 16-year olds to vote, among many others.

Local Control Accountability Plan

We heard from the Parent Advisory Council and also the District English Learner Advisory Council (DELAC) on our draft Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP). For the most part, each parent advisory group indicated positive feelings about the LCAP and the process the district used to develop it, but had good feedback on how to make it better. Themes we heard:

  • Schools need to be more inclusive and structured to welcome students and families.
  • We need to get better at building relationships and communicating with families.
  • The district should better support families and students during key transition points: transition to MS and HS, transitions for foster youth and also newcomer students.
  • EL students need more support throughout the day — including better curriculum materials for ELD/ELA (the DELAC specifically praised the district’s teacher-developed math curriculum and recommended we develop an English Language Acquisition curriculum along the same lines).  DELAC leaders  said we need to do a much better job in providing support for families who speak a language other than English to understand how their students are doing and where they need to improve).
  • Afterschool programming for ELs should link with what students are learning throughout the day so that students can experience a more enriched and fun environment.

Next steps for the LCAP: the Board will formally adopt it in June, after the above feedback has been incorporated.

Public comment

We heard public comment from Jose Ortega parents who are concerned because a number of younger siblings of current students were not offered admission to the Mandarin Immersion program. They are asking for the district to add a Mandarin Immersion classroom to that program. I have asked for a response from staff on this issue.

We also heard public comment from members of our SEIU unit (we are currently negotiating their contract for the coming year). Because of a quirk in the City charter, employees represented by SEIU — like custodians, school secretaries and workers in business units like payroll and information technology — participate in the City’s Civil Service System and so their job descriptions fall under common job classifications with the City. However, city and school district units are funded through different sources and bargain separately, so there are pay differences between the City and the school district. School districts are (inadequately) funded by the state, so many job classifications at the district pay less than they do at the City (some jobs are year-round but others are school-year so it’s sometimes difficult to compare accurately).

Other business

The Board unanimously adopted the Good Food Purchasing Policy sponsored by Commissioners Fewer, Walton and Haney. This policy mandates that the school district work with our vendors to make sure that we are purchasing food that has been grown, farmed and processed in an ethical and responsible way.

We also unanimously approved a ban on district-sponsored travel to North Carolina, in response to that state’s passage of HB2, a law that curtails the rights (and dignity) of transgender people.

Legislation introduced for discussion and future vote

Transparency alert!
I am told, that after years of my wheedling, recordings of SFUSD committee meetings are now available online (I know people have been really chomping at the bit to spend additional hours listening to these recordings, previously available only on cassette tapes from the Board office🙂. I have not yet attempted to download a recording, but they are said to be available from the following sources:

People can also directly download the audio files from the Board of Ed meeting agendas page: http://www.sfusd.edu/en/about-sfusd/board-of-education/meeting-documents.html
My deep appreciation to Ms. Esther Casco, Ms. Gentle Blythe, and Ms. Joyce Tsai for making this happen.

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.

 

Recap: April 12 – voting and not much else

Very short agenda for last night’s meeting, which was good because we were in danger of losing quorum most of the meeting. Commissioners Walton and Murase are out of the country, and Commissioners Wynns, Fewer and I are running for office with heavy demands on our time at the moment.
Somehow we made it work, and I am very proud that “Encouraging Students to Exercise Their Voting Rights,” authored by Commissioner Fewer and I, and co-sponsored by student delegates Teresia Chen and Miguel Tantiado, passed unanimously. I’m very grateful to the Youth Commissioners who came out to testify in favor, and I owe a huge debt to the youth of Vote16SF who have been incredibly passionate and persuasive advocates for lowering the voting age.

In February, the Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the Vote16 initiative, but we felt we could actually go further, right now, before voters actually go to the polls to decide whether to lower the voting age. Last night’s resolution doesn’t require an act of the voters, because it’s already state law that people as young as 16 can pre-register to vote. When I learned that,  I looked up the research on pre-registration. A 2009 study from George Mason University tracked outcomes of pre-registration programs in Florida and Hawaii and found that they were helpful in encouraging regular voting. So, why not promote voting in the American Democracy classes every senior in SFUSD already takes? And why not make voter registration forms available so that every SFUSD student who is eligible to register knows how to do so?

Originally, we wanted to make voter registration a classroom activity, but because a significant percentage of our students  (we don’t know exactly how many and we don’t ask) are undocumented, such a requirement could put an undetermined number of students at risk for filing a false government document. So instead, the school district will partner with the Department of Elections and make voter registration forms available to students, and we will also make sure students know whether or not they are eligible to vote.

Some people think 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote, and as a parent of a 16-year-old, I understand that instinct, because 16-year-0lds can be very exasperating. But they can also be incredibly earnest, idealistic and thoughtful, and adults tend to make a lot of decisions for them without asking. Also, when you think about it, driving is as much a privilege as voting when you factor in personal responsibility. In addition, voting is a habit that takes root over time. If, as I do, you care about people exercising their right to vote as early and as often as legal, Vote16 is not a hard leap to make.

A number of public speakers came out to denounce a proposed resolution (pulled by the authors, Commissioners Mendoza and Fewer) that urged information about “comfort women” be included in the state’s history standards. The history of comfort women has been a hot topic of late, because activists have been pushing for this very dark chapter of WWII history to become better-known and acknowledged. Other activists say that the “sexual slavery” narrative of the comfort women is overblown.

Recap: Feb. 22, 2016 — CAT, doors and teachers

Key events from last night’s meeting:

  • Renewing the charter for City Arts and Tech (CAT) charter HS; there are some real concerns about the school’s high suspension rate (16% in recent years) but most of us feel the school is doing enough good things for students to renew the charter. The school has pledged to cut the suspension rate in half by next year so we will be watching that closely.
  • Public comment: parents and community members came again to remind us that the situation at Carver Elementary is untenable. The school was designed in the 1960s as an open pod, all the rage at the time, but times have changed. Parents and teachers feel strongly that the noise and open design of the school presents problems both for student learning and student security, and they are demanding the school be remodeled to address these issues. I think every Board member agrees that the school design is not workable, and the Superintendent announced that funds from previous bonds are available to address Carver facility issues — possibly as much as $1 million.
  • The Board passed the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) spending plan, which included new spending of more than $800,000 since the last time we discussed the plan at the Feb. 15 Committee of the Whole. New money is good, and I am in broad agreement with the Superintendent’s plan to divide the additional revenues between the SLAM (Sports, Libraries, Arts and Music) portion and the “third-third” (other general revenues) portion — directed to Peer Resources and the SOAR program that serves and supports students with serious behavioral issues. Still, as the chair of the Budget Committee,  I had to raise the issue that a significant chunk of new money dropped into the budget between the first reading and the Board vote, and I am a little uncomfortable that the Board had no discussion on how to spend those funds before second reading.
  • The Board voted unanimously to support Supervisor Campos’ legislation that would expand tenant protections to prevent teachers and other school employees, as well as families with school-age children, from being evicted during the school year for most reasons other than nonpayment of rent.