Tag Archives: ruth asawa

What’s up in SFUSD? Lots.

Welcome back! School starts August 19, and our first Board meeting of the new school year is tomorrow evening, August 13.

Administrators returned to work on July 31, and heard this rousing speech by  Superintendent Carranza to set the stage for the 2013-14 school year. I know it’s long, but it’s worth listening to in its entirety. Some will reject the message completely, and feel it doesn’t speak to them or to their children. That would be missing the point: really, the Superintendent is talking about ALL children — about living up to what we say we’re about as a diverse, high-quality public school system:

Then, a few days later, we heard our district and seven others across California were approved for a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)  — the law formerly known as NCLB. This is big too — the waiver means that we will be able to recapture money that has been controlled by Federal policy directives: paying for private tutoring services that have little oversight, for example, or spending on additional compliance activities after schools or districts haven’t been able to meet arbitrary test score targets.  There is good information here and here — you will be hearing more about this waiver so it is good to understand the basics now.

And how did we do on those tests, anyway? Okay, but it depends on where you look. Here are some different perspectives:

Finally, some very sad news: SFUSD arts education champion Ruth Asawa Lanier passed away on August 7. Ms. Asawa was a world-renowned sculptor who took on the challenge of making sure that every public school child in San Francisco had access to excellent arts education — she succeeded beyond many people’s wildest dreams (though Ruth herself was never satisfied — she always knew we could do better).  Two years ago, Commissioner Wynns finally convinced Ruth to allow the school district to name School of the Arts after her– christening it now and for always the Ruth Asawa School for the Arts. I can think of no better tribute than to finally realize the dream of bringing the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts to Civic Center, to its rightful place as another jewel in the crown that is the corridor occupied by the San Francisco Opera, SF Jazz Center, the SF Ballet, the SF Symphony, the Herbst Theater, and many other arts organizations.

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A bright spot

Sometimes, things happen to reinforce my faith that good things are happening in this school district, despite all the angry e-mails I get. Today, I had the absolute pleasure of attending the unveiling of a mural at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, created by two students from the Community Access Transition (CAT) class at the school. (Students in CAT classes are over the age of 18 but, due to their individual needs, still eligible for special education until the age of 22).  The CAT teacher at SOTA, Heidi Hubrich, noticed that two of her students had particular drawing abilities, and arranged for them to work with artists at an amazing local program, Creativity Explored.

Every Wednesday for almost a year, Steven Liu and Joel Kong worked with artist Larry Morace on drawing. Mr. Morace quickly noticed that Steven was especially talented at landscapes; Joel was especially talented at portraits. Both young men are extremely loyal to their hometown of San Francisco, and blossomed as artists when they began to visit locations around the city to find subjects to draw. Out of Steven and Joel’s work with Mr. Morace, a mural honoring San Francisco subjects was born.

The mural is  a lovely and inspiring artistic achievement in and of itself, but in the true spirit of SOTA (and its patron, Ruth Asawa), other student artists noticed the work and responded in kind. Two juniors in the Media Arts program created a five-minute documentary (which I am seeking to show at the March 22 Board meeting) about Steven and Joel and their mural. A student in the Creative Writing program wrote a poem about it. And today, artists and supporters from Creativity Explored, SOTA students and faculty, Steven, Joel and Heidi’s family members and many others gathered at SOTA to view the completed mural for the first time, celebrate the universal appeal and accessibility of the arts, and honor artists of all abilities.  Today’s event felt like a peek into a future we know can be in all of our schools – where students are respected, accepted and celebrated for what they CAN do rather than sorted based on what they CAN’T. It was lovely.

The next time you are visiting SOTA, check out the mural right next to the door to room 208, Ms. Hubrich’s CAT class,  and pause for a moment to think about whether the “dis-abilities” of the artists really matters.

Saving the best for first: meeting recap

Tonight’s meeting started out great, and went downhill from there. First up: a unanimous vote in favor of a resolution to finally name School of the Arts after renowned artist, arts advocate and local treasure Ruth Asawa. Even Commissioner Wynns cried, and that takes some doing. It was a sweet moment.

Second: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer and Kim on establishing an Ethnic Studies course in every San Francisco high school.  The program would pilot at up to five high schools in 2010-11 and expand district wide in 2011-12. There are some very good reasons for implementing/expanding an Ethnic Studies program: for one thing, we need a 9th grade social studies course that will help prepare students for World History in the 10th grade. Second, students are clearly enthusiastic about the course, judging from the crowd that came out in support of the Fewer/Kim resolution — and increasing student engagement is a major goal for the Board. Third, SF State has offered our students college credit for passing the course, and significant help in getting the course started in SFUSD.  Still, I do have a few personal reservations about Ethnic Studies as a discipline. An email I received tonight from an administrator (a person who is committed to social justice and not at all a reactionary person) sums it up:

 ALL history classes should be reflective of the students’ history in the classroom. The danger with ethnic studies is that it takes everyone else off the hook. We should offer ethnic studies AND do a better job of integrating ethnic studies into everything else.

Commissioner Kim spoke eloquently tonight about being a product of Ethnic Studies, and movingly about discovering the words of Malcolm X and other great leaders and people of color.  I agree, it’s thrilling to read about people who have triumphed over oppression and led others out of oppression as well.  In my U.S. History courses, I learned about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Frederick Douglass, about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and about the oppression of Chinese-Americans even as they helped build California and other western states.  I learned about Navajo culture and about the Trail of Tears, and about American imperialism around the Pacific Rim and in Central America.  That history is all of our history, not isolated histories of isolated peoples. I hope we are not letting history off the hook or dividing the discipline into Ours and Theirs.

Anyway, I was a little taken aback when I was hissed by the crowd for simply asking how likely it was for an Ethnic Studies class to be approved by the UC system as meeting the UC system’s A-G requirements for entry (and graduation from SFUSD). This is not an idle question — we’ve tried several times without luck to have the class approved, and the resolution calls for the course to meet the “G” requirement.  In my question, I think I expressed clearly that I was OK with going ahead with a pilot, but that I was concerned about implementing the course district-wide without approval from UC that the course could meet A-G. Luckily, there was a UC representative in attendance who assured us that we could make the course meet A-G by introducing a co-requisite, like English or some other core course, to be taken concurrently with 9th grade ethnic studies.  Anyway, it’s fine to come to a Board meeting with a strong opinion, but it’s bad manners to hiss someone for asking a tough question.

The other issue for me was the budget, but the Budget Committee did a good job of coming up with a compromise that everyone could live with, so my concerns there were put to rest. Still, this is about $220,000 in new spending, and yes, we’ll have to cut something else to put it in place.  Final vote: 7-0.

Next up: a resolution authored by Commissioners Fewer, Kim and Maufas about expanding access to AP courses across the district. Now, this is a concept I strongly endorse. At CUBE last summer, several districts that are bigger, more diverse and lower-scoring than ours presented strong evidence that the challenges and academic rigor inherent in AP courses are very motivating and energizing for students, even when students don’t score well enough on the AP tests to earn college credit. The challenge and the rigor in and of themselves have a big motivating effect, and a positive effect on future achievement.  But–we’re in the middle of a budget crisis, and we can’t afford to do everything we know is right and beneficial for students. In the end, the authors amended the resolution to state the expansion of AP as a major priority for the Board, and directing the Superintendent to work on the issue, acknowledging our current budget constraints. Final vote: 7-0.

Then came the real fun of the evening: voting to authorize the district to issue layoff notices to hundreds of teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals. Members of UESF waited for hours during the earlier action items to argue in front of the Board that the district has not met its burden of proof, that we don’t have to issue layoff notices to paraprofessionals until April (certificated employees like teachers and principals must be notified by March 15, while paraprofessionals and other classified employees must be notified in late April– 45 days before the layoff date of June 30), and that the budget numbers are based on projections that may or may not come true.  I hate having to look our unions in the eye and vote the other way, and yet I don’t see that we have any choice at all. The budget is only going to get worse in the next six months, and while its true that we don’t have to issue paraprofessional layoff notices until April, I’m not sure what the point of waiting would be. Wouldn’t you rather know now that you’re getting a pink slip, rather than waiting until April to find out? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rescind at least some of the pink slips, but not nearly as many as we’ve been able to rescind in past years.  Pardon my language, but it sucks. Final vote: Authorizing paraprofessional layoffs 5-2 (Maufas and Kim voting no);  Authorizing teacher/administrator layoffs 6-1 (Maufas voting no).

Recap: Feb 9 board meeting

Long agenda, but again President Kim held us to a reasonable 4-1/2 hours. The meat of tonight’s meeting is really in the presentations I posted earlier tonight, but for those who like things tidy, here are the actions taken by the Board tonight:

  • Approval of the amended resolution in support of programs and policies to support LGBTQ students: 7-0 in favor. The Board’s action tonight committed the school district to a bare minimum ($60,000 per year) of funding for a half-time staff person, curriculum and web site. We’re hoping our community partners can help us secure outside funding to pay for additional policy components outlined in the resolution, and the Board also voted to revisit the level of funding once our budget outlook improves;
  • Renewal of the charters for KIPP Bayview and KIPP SF Bay Academy: 7-0 in favor;
  • Revisions to the Board’s policies and rules of procedure that will make our meetings more efficient and hopefully decrease the overall number of meetings it takes to make a Board decision: 7-0 in favor;
  • In support of sustainability in SFUSD: 7-0 in favor;
  • Resolutions to realign our policies supporting immigrant students and close Newcomer HS, and revise our student assignment system were introduced for first reading and referred to Committee of the Whole meetings scheduled for March 2 (Newcomer) and February 17 (student assignment);
  • A resolution to rename the School of the Arts after local artist and treasure Ruth Asawa (a major driving force behind arts programs in San Francisco public schools) was introduced for first reading and referred to the next meeting of the Buildings and Grounds committee.