Tag Archives: SF Public Montessori

What a night! Highs and lows — a recap

Many supporters dressed in red to honor Mrs. Leola Havard (left) -- it's her favorite color.

Tonight’s meeting opened with what can only be described as a community celebration — a celebration of the achievements and contributions of Mrs. Leola M. Havard, the school district’s first African-American administrator; a celebration that culminated in the renaming of the  Burnett Child Development Center to the Leola M. Havard Early Education Center. There’s a good story behind this — one that was well-told by Rev. Amos Brown at tonight’s meeting if you care to watch the replay.  (Summary: it turns out “Burnett” is Peter Burnett, the first Governor of California and a supporter of policies to exclude African-Americans and Chinese-Americans from the state of California).

Anyway, your basic ceremony honoring a worthy individual was kicked up a notch because of the person we were honoring: Ms. Havard had great impact on her colleagues and her students in her many years as a teacher and administrator in the district (she started in 1949 and recently celebrated her 91st birthday) and retired as the much-loved principal of John Muir Elementary. Many of her former colleagues, friends and supporters were on hand to share their recollections of Ms. Havard’s career.

What was also personally lovely for me was the fact that Ms. Carol Ogilvy, my 7th grade typing teacher from Martin Luther King Junior High School in Berkeley (more years ago than either of us care to remember), was on hand to honor Ms. Havard and I was pleased to greet her and share my own memory of my teacher (I still type 50 mostly error-free wpm thanks to her!).  It was also an opportunity for everyone in the room to celebrate the impact that a great educator can have on generations of students.

All good things must come to an end, however, and then came public comment — maybe 90 minutes of it. A number of parents are very unhappy with their school assignments and came to talk to the Board about their frustration that their children did not receive a school of choice; a large contingent of parents from Lakeshore and from various language immersion programs came to urge the Board to back off the plan for middle-school feeders and instead revert to a choice-based system; a contingent from the SF Public Montessori School came to protest the district’s decision to begin recruiting administrators and teachers with American Montessori Society (AMS) training to staff the school (previously the school had only hired teachers and administrators with American Montessori Internationale–AMI–training).  For those outside of Montessori circles this doesn’t seem like a big thing, but AMI considers itself a purer representation of Maria Montessori’s original philosophy than AMS, and the training takes far longer (it should also be noted that all of the public school Montessori programs the staff has researched do *not* require an AMI-only program because of its higher cost and requirements) .   I remain a supporter of public school Montessori but I am very weary of the continuing drama around this school. This year (2010-11), SF Public Montessori cost us $230,000 more than a traditional elementary school of its size; of course, having a portfolio of elementary school options means that different programs cost different amounts. But I don’t like spending so much extra on a program that is falling apart because people cannot work together to build a great program within Ed Code requirements and funding constraints. Did the district screw up by not anticipating these issues ahead of time? Of course! The people who started the program swore at the time that AMI was the only way to go;  it’s only now that we’re hearing from other school districts that we should steer clear of the pure-AMI approach.

Another contingent of people came to protest the district’s decision to move the Principal’s Center Collaborative school – a county program for juvenile offenders on probation – from dilapidated trailers in the outer Sunset to the newly-retrofitted and currently empty facility on 7th Ave.  The Inner Sunset neighbors are upset because they believe the district should use the facility for an elementary school, and because they are worried about the behavior of the students who will attend the facility.

I am skeptical of the claim that the Inner Sunset needs an elementary school — it’s true that Jefferson and Alice Fong Yu are highly-requested schools in the area, but they are requested by people all over the City, not just the Inner Sunset. I plan to ask staff the question for the most recent assignment round — how many K applications did we receive from the assignment areas bordering the 7th Ave. site that listed their local schools? We’ll see. But I do resent the suggestion that the Principal’s Center students will be a disruptive influence in the neighborhood. They are students who have made mistakes and are trying to get their lives back together – they deserve the benefit of the doubt. (In the time I’ve been on the Board I have not heard of or received a complaint from neighbors of the current site -tomorrow I’ll check with staff for a deeper history.) And Principal’s Center is not a “drug treatment program” as one speaker claimed — it is a highly-regarded program for at-risk youth that is administered by the Probation Department in partnership with SFUSD.  We have an obligation to provide them with a facility and the one they are currently in is not acceptable for their needs. 7th Avenue is available, and suits their needs.  Of course, we also have an obligation to be a good neighbor and I believe our staff is trying to work with the neighbors on legitimate concerns.*

In other news:

  • We received a very uplifting report on the Bay Area Urban Debate League, which is bringing debate back to SF high schools (Balboa, June Jordan and Downtown were all on hand to showcase their programs).  I’m a huge fan of Debate, even though I was miserable at it in high school – it promotes public speaking, critical thinking, vocabulary and content knowledge of philosophy, law, history, politics and current events.  Being able to win people over through a logical argument is absolutely a 21st century skill — or should be!
  • The Board approved a resolution supporting a partnership between the schools and the public libraries — a program that puts library cards in the hands of thousands of SF public school students each year;  it also approved a resolution in support of legislation by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) that would lower the threshold for approval of a local parcel tax for schools to 55 percent (from 66-2/3 percent).

*One neighbor quoted an email I had sent to her a few weeks ago about the project, as if it proved that the students at Principal’s Center would be better served in traditional high schools. The passage, which I absolutely wrote, went like this:  “When we looked at the data on Newcomer, we realized that newcomer students who went directly into traditional high schools were doing much better academically than their peers who spent a year at NHS. That’s why we closed the school.”

What she missed was that the Newcomer population was/is very different than the PCC population. What works for the Newcomer students — being immersed in a traditional high school with supports — could be disastrous for the PCC students.  So I’m not sure the quote proved her point.

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Recap: Lots of public comment

Not a lot of weighty business on tonight’s board agenda, but we always manage to make our meetings interesting!  The meeting began on two uplifting notes:  a Superintendent’s Resolution commemorating the Week of the Administrator and commendations to a few of our hardworking administrators; then an announcement from the Superintendent that SF Mayor Ed Lee has agreed to release the Rainy Day Fund to SFUSD for 2011-12 – a lifeline of $8 million for next year.

Then on to an earful of public comment — about an hour’s worth — from several different school communities: SF Public Montessori, Bryant, Buena Vista and Lakeshore. First up, UESF and some of the parents at SF Public Montessori are upset that several of the preschool teachers received notices that they would not be retained next year; one was relieved of duty immediately due to issues with her credential. This school has had a troubled history in its few short years in the district, partly because of strong personalities with strong opinions for and against the project, and partly because it’s just challenging–not impossible, but challenging!– to fit the Montessori philosophy into a traditional public school model. The irony is that the current group of warring parents and staff at the school all truly love the program and are committed to building a great K-5 Montessori program in San Francisco. It’s just that they differ on how this should best be done, and with whom.

Next up: a group of parents and one teacher from Bryant Elementary, one of our SIG schools that will utilize the “turnaround” model as part of its reorganization plan (the model requires, among other things, that 50 percent of the current staff at a school find new jobs within the district).  Most of the parents spoke against the turnaround strategy, and were advocating against losing any of their teachers. Others spoke in support of the principal, including the Instructional Reform Facilitator, the school’s on-site teacher coach.

After that, Buena Vista parents and staff spoke about their misgivings in the wake of poor communication and shifting plans for their planned move to Horace Mann to form a K-8 Spanish Immersion school in the Mission.  They were unhappy to learn that 6th graders would be admitted to the school’s GE strand for 2011-12, having been under the impression that only 7th and 8th grade GE students would remain at the school next year; BV families are also upset to learn that the leadership of the new school remains in flux, subject to an open hiring process that will commence this month (many had hoped that the current principal of Buena Vista would automatically move into the leadership position at the new site, but the Board and Superintendent have decided that the fairest thing would be to conduct an interview process as we would for any other school community).  As it stands, the current Assistant Principal at Horace Mann, Adelina Aramburo (formerly the principal of Cesar Chavez ES, another SIG school!) will lead a planning team made up of staff and parents from each school, and will manage the transition until a site leadership team is selected.

Finally, Lakeshore parents came to express their unhappiness that their school would feed into Denman MS under the revised proposal for the middle school feeder plan. They have a point in that Denman is  further from their school than Aptos or Giannini, but I was a little put off when one parent said it didn’t feel “equitable” to be sent to Denman rather than Aptos or Hoover or A.P. Giannini. Equitable to whom? Her point, of course, was that the offerings of various schools differ. They do — the most obvious difference between middle schools being the presence or absence of a GATE or Honors track (it’s arguable whether that presence or absence is the most important difference, however).  Lick and Denman both do not have an Honors track, while Presidio, Hoover, A.P. Giannini, Aptos, Marina and Roosevelt all do (I am not sure about the status of an Honors track at Everett, Francisco, Horace Mann, Vis Valley or Martin Luther King — some of these schools are extremely under-enrolled, and it’s hard to support two tracks in that situation).  It’s late, and I don’t want to write a treatise on the subject, but I do think we are long overdue for a discussion about the role of Honors classes in this district (not to mention the sham that GATE is in elementary school, but I digress).

The treatise, in a nutshell:  Some people think we should just do away with Honors altogether — that it’s a leftover from a time when college was the goal for only a few and great jobs could be found without a college education; now, they argue, the Honors track is simply a sorting mechanism that introduces higher academic expectations for some and lower expectations for others. Another group argues that Honors classes challenge high-achievers and allow teachers to move faster on material than they otherwise would be able to in a GE population.

My question is:  which is it? As it stands right now, we are kind of having our cake and eating it too — saying that it’s possible to challenge high-achievers without Honors in some schools, and in other schools saying, no, Honors is the only way to make sure high-achieving students are receiving rigorous content. To me, it’s all about expectations and rigor. Can you have universally high expectations and acceptable levels of rigor if you have multiple tracks? But I’m also sympathetic to the argument that some kids need a faster pace of material than others. I actually know that is true, since I have two kids who learn at drastically different paces; the 5th grader is handily doing math that completely escapes the 6th grader.

I don’t know the answer yet, but I am continuing to ask the question, because I think it is hugely relevant to the middle school debate. I’ve asked that we bring this topic to a future Curriculum Committee meeting, because I’m interested in the pedagogy of GATE/Honors — What do we know about the benefits of tracked vs. differentiated environments? Now that we have opened Honors and AP classes to everyone, what have the results been?  I am not sure when the topic will hit the committee’s agenda, but I’ll post an update when the date is set.

Last, but certainly not least, we ended on a another uplifting note. At my invitation, staff from the Parent Education Network came to present to the Board about their organization, and their upcoming conference — EdRev 2011.  EdRev is an event that seeks to support several different swaths of the LD (Learning-Disabled) world — parents, who are looking for ways to help their kids be the successful, smart people they know they can be; students, who know they are smart but have felt stupid most of their lives because they learn differently; and teachers, who know their students can learn but need help and resources to assist their kids with LDs.  I can’t do the conference justice so go here to learn more (registration for parents is $60 with scholarships available; students and teachers may attend for free).

PEN has existed through sheer energy and determination over the past decade, and is finally growing into a bona-fide clearinghouse of information, resources and networking for parents, teachers and students (several student members of PEN’s SAFE Voices student to student mentoring group also spoke poignantly about their experiences). I was so pleased to finally host them in the Boardroom!