Tag Archives: SFUSD

My SFUSD roots: History gets personal

My sister and brother-in-law have become interested in geneaology in recent years, finding all sorts of long-lost tidbits about our respective families — tidbits that are all the more interesting because my sister married her childhood sweetheart, who hails from a family I’ve known since I was three years old. Long story.

Anyway, I learned a while ago that my great-great-great uncle, Dr. Arnold A. D’Ancona, served on the San Francisco Board of Education in post-earthquake San Francisco (prior to that, he was dean of UCSF’s medical school). Dr. D’Ancona is pictured above, and below with my late grandmother around 1925 (she’s the little girl wearing roller skates; he’s the gentleman with the white hair):

Dr. D’Ancona served as President of the Board of Education in 1913, and presided over the dedication of Lowell High School when it moved into a new building at Hayes and Masonic that year (the structure now houses the John Adams campus of City College).  Sadly, Dr. D’Ancona presided over a Board that restricted Chinese students to only one school, and had recently stated (in 1896) that its desire was that “Chinese or Japanese not be employed in or about the school buildings.”  I have to hope he was opposed to these and other similarly racist policies but I haven’t done enough research to know.

Next: I’m still trying to verify this, but family lore says that a few years later, in 1921, my great-grandfather on the other side, C.H. Snyder, was a civil engineer who helped build the lovely building at 135 Van Ness Ave –the building we hope will someday soon house the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  (Great-grandfather Snyder also served as the civil engineer for our current City Hall, which rose from the ashes of post-earthquake San Francisco in 1915).  It also turns out that Bert W. Levit, who served on the SFUSD Board from 1948 to 1958, is related by marriage to my brother-in-law.  Later, Mr. Levit served as the first Finance Director for the state of California under Gov. Edmund G. Brown, the father of our once and future Governor, Jerry.

All of which is to say that history is always, if you dig deeply enough, personal. The joke about geneaology is that people always seem to find a connection to famous historical figures (who among us isn’t related to Cleopatra by marriage?) Still, it’s surprisingly moving to me that my connection to San Francisco and its schools is deeper than even I thought.

If you dig into your family’s historical roots, what connections to your current life will you find?

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Counting down: The top 10 events in SFUSD in 2010

Originally, this post was supposed to be three top ten lists in one: the top SFUSD events of 2010, the top education news stories nationwide in 2010, and the biggest education stories of the decade. But the SFUSD list alone got so long, I realized I’d better do this in parts. So, here’s Part I:

The 10 most important things that happened in SFUSD in 2010 (all lists are Letterman-style, 10th to first, and of course highly subjective):

10. Funding our Future town hall meeting: In early 2010, six moms at Sherman Elementary decided to act after hearing dreadful forecasts for the California education budget. On February 25, they held a town hall meeting, inviting all of our local elected officials and interested members of the public. Amazingly, over 1,000 people showed up, showing the intense concern of parents up and down the state over cuts to education.  The momentum from this meeting has led to the formation of Educate Our State, a grass-roots organization of parents across California who are advocating for the state to take action to fix and fully-fund our educational system.

9. SFUSD expands 9th grade Ethnic Studies course, promising students college credit The college credit promise didn’t pan out after SF State brass balked at giving high school freshmen credit for the course; the district planned to petition the UC system to allow the course to meet its A-G subject requirements (I’ll have to check in to see if we received this approval).

8.  SFUSD shifts the start of school a week earlier, to mid-August:  OK, the Board’s vote to begin school earlier actually occurred in mid-2009, but the implications didn’t start sinking in for most parents and students until spring 2010. Elementary school parents did a fair amount of grumbling, but on the whole, the earlier start of school didn’t seem to be that onerous.

7.  SFUSD posts great results on the California Standards Test:  District students posted the biggest test score gains in five years, with the district’s Academic Performance Index rising from 775 to 791 for the 2009-2010 school year. Fourteen of the 17 SFUSD schools with statistically significant African-American populations met their growth targets, compared to seven of 19 schools in 2008-09.

6. SFUSD is lead plaintiff in historic school finance lawsuit:  Robles-Wong v. California was filed in late May, alleging that the California school finance system is unconstitutional.  The suit has since been combined with another, similar lawsuit filed by Public Advocates and groups representing low-income families in California. Earlier this month, the judge in the case heard a crucial motion, called a demurrer, asking to dismiss the lawsuit. His ruling on the demurrer is expected in January.

5. Student Support Services investigation:  Earlier this fall, news broke that several top administrators in the district, including recently-retired Assistant Superintendent Trish Bascom, were being investigated for embezzling money from after-school grants. Investigations are ongoing, and I expect that the district attorney’s office will bring charges against at least some of these individuals.

4. 10 SFUSD schools listed as “persistently underperforming.” The state of California, following the wisdom of the Obama administration, set out early this year to identify the five percent of schools with the lowest performance. This was not a straightforward sorting exercise — each state set up its own criteria for determining low performance, and in California we exempted very small schools and charter schools. The upshot: SFUSD had 10 schools land on the list, which means we had to decide whether to replace administrators and/or teachers, close schools, or convert schools to charters. The process has been painful, but we were awarded significantly large School Improvement Grants this fall to help us make these changes.

3.  SFUSD cuts $113 million from its budget through 2012:  Cuts that would have seemed unimaginable even two years ago became unavoidable. Most notable: four furlough days in 2010-11 and again in 2011-12, eliminating summer school, and cutting all high school transportation. During the very contentious negotiations over the budget cuts (which required concessions from each of the district’s labor unions), hundreds of layoff notices were issued to teachers and paraprofessionals, which caused additional pain and much discussion about the disproportionate effect of layoffs on struggling schools (most of the notices were eventually rescinded).  

2. SFUSD releases results of highly-critical audit of its special education programs: The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative released a scathing report after spending several months interviewing teachers, parents administrators and community members and observing programs. Among the findings: students of color are disproportionately identified for special education, and special education programs in San Francisco are unnecessarily segregated; the district spends too much on its special education programming and gets unsatisfactory results for that investment.

1. SFUSD Board adopts new student assignment system: I am not sure the impact of this event can be overstated. Not only did we institute a system that is simpler and more predictable (after what seems like a decade of debate), but the new system led to a complete overhaul of the district’s transportation system as well as a major investigation of SFUSD address fraud that has in just a few months uncovered a large number of cases. I think the Board and staff did a great job staying focused on the data and our ultimate goals for the system, but only time will tell whether the years of arguing, studying and community feedback have led to a system that will truly be fairer and more effective than what came before — I have high hopes but will be anxiously waiting for the first round of data in March.

Tomorrow: The biggest education stories nationwide in 2010

Welcome back, Chuck!

Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius announced today that he’s moved back to San Francisco (District Six) after 20 years in the suburbs. That news isn’t remarkable (other than the fact that it deprives the Bay Guardian of part of their favorite nickname for Mr. Nevius — “suburban twit“), but this passage was:

The next act of the script was the same for many of us. We met a life partner and started a family. A baby arrived, so instead of meeting people while walking the dog, you talked to other parents pushing a stroller.

And then the game-changer – the factor that probably drives more young couples out of the city than anything else. It’s not panhandlers, the crime, or noise, or traffic. It is the curse of the third bedroom.

It isn’t actually true that units with three bedrooms don’t exist. That’s just how it seems. The prices are shocking, the selection is minimal, and the schools are an enigma. And it finally dawns on you that for less than what you are paying in San Francisco, you could live in the suburbs and not only have a third bedroom, but a yard, private parking and warm summer days.

The next thing you know you’re eating at Applebee’s and reminiscing about that great little pasta place in the city where the owner remembered your name.

The schools are an enigma.” I’ll accept that, especially since I’ve read worse so many times in the past (often in the Chronicle!). I’m sure Mr. Nevius will eventually write something about the schools that I’ll take issue with, but today, I want to thank him for forgoing the cheap shot. Merriam-Webster lists one of the defintitions of enigma as “something hard to understand or explain.”  I actually think that’s a reasonable way of describing our school system here in San Francisco:  there are many places where our kids are getting a good and even great education, and I’ll also grant that quality is uneven and our enrollment process is complex and difficult to understand.