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.
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.
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.
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.