Tag Archives: SOTA

May 26 Board recap (a week late)

I’ll be honest. I have been putting off writing this recap, because the last week has been difficult and I would rather not re-inflame controversy unnecessarily. If you are a reader of the SF Chronicle, or you watch ABC-7 news, you know what I’m talking about: the resolution Matt Haney and I sponsored: In Support of Access, Equity and Diversity in the Arts at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Throughout SFUSD has generated a lot of heat.

Things the resolution does not do: If you have not read the resolution, stop right now. Download it and read it. It does not end auditions at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. It does not “kick out” any student currently attending the school. It does not institute racial quotas, and it will not (despite the histrionics at the Board meeting and on my Facebook page) “destroy the school.”  I did not write the resolution for personal reasons or out of emotion. If you think you know something about my family — check yourself. You don’t.

The resolution does two things: the most immediate impact is that it ends out of district enrollment for students entering the school in 2016-17 and beyond. A Board policy dating to 2001 limits out of district enrollment to 10 percent, but as far as I know the school has never complied with that limit. In 2014-15, almost 14 percent of the school’s enrollment–84 students–came from out of district. 26 of those students call the Jefferson Union High School District home — the rest come from Oakland USD, San Mateo Union HSD, Redwood City, South San Francisco, Marin, Berkeley, San Jose and other places in the Bay Area. (According to district records there is indeed one student from North Humboldt HSD, as ABC-7 News reported, but I think there must be more to that story, since that would be an awfully long commute.)

Why does the school admit out of district students? The school was originally conceived as a “regional” arts school, which, according to our resident historian Commissioner Jill Wynns (the longest serving BOE member ever) meant that the district hoped neighboring counties would help support the school’s operations. Though students enrolling from other school districts do bring ADA (average daily attendance) funds with them, those funds only cover a portion of the operational expenses of running RA SOTA.

Because the financial rationale never really materialized, the ongoing rationale for out of district enrollment became more about “breadth and depth” of the arts programs — the idea was that casting a broader net for applicants would make it more likely that hard-to-find talents like bassoon players or harpists or male dancers would apply and broaden the program.

In practice, however, out of district enrollments can edge out SF students, especially in departments where filling out an ensemble is less relevant (creative writing, theater tech, visual arts are examples). In addition, “casting a broader net” can cause applicants to be filtered to a more narrow ideal that may or may not disadvantage those with less traditional arts training.

The school’s web site says students “who have the focus, vision, and ability to work hard to achieve their artistic goals and who are interested in an alternative and highly creative high school experience are encouraged to apply.” Digging deeper though, it’s obvious that applicants who can read music or have other specific training are going to do better in the audition process. That’s a concern if out of district students with private training are going to be admitted over SF students — those whom the school Board is entrusted by the voters and the City charter to serve.

The main concern in favor of keeping the practice seems to be: if we confine enrollment to SF students only (as we do at Lowell HS, our other competitive entry HS) then we will have a smaller pool of prepared students to choose from.  That’s where the second action in the resolution comes in. It calls for two additional steps: a summer arts program for middle schoolers aimed at helping them prepare for the rigorous audition process at RA SOTA, and a task force — made up of stakeholders including students, parents and staff from RA SOTA — to look at the existing pipelines for students and making sure we receive more applicants from across the City (right now 90% of the RA SOTA applicants come from five middle schools — Presidio, Giannini, Aptos, Hoover and Lick).

My personal opinion is that we need to define and standardize some best practices around auditions and admissions at RA SOTA. Equity, diversity and excellence are not mutually exclusive but it takes self-reflection and vigilance to make sure all three ideals are realized.

Anyway, the resolution is as much about acknowledging the district’s responsibility for offering robust and comprehensive arts education to prepare students for RA SOTA and building the pipeline of qualified applicants as it is about making sure this amazing resource is preserved for San Franciscans. Watch the Board’s discussion and the unanimous 7-0 vote in favor for more insights — the hearing starts at 2:30 and runs for about 90 minutes, including public comment. If you care about this issue, I encourage you to watch the whole thing and listen carefully to get a fuller understanding of the issue. I also ripped an audio-only version of the RA SOTA portion of the meeting:

Or download audio as an mp3

Other actions by the Board:

  • Arabic/Vietnamese Language Pathways: the Board voted unanimously to initiate the program placement process to determine the viability of opening Arabic and Vietnamese language pathways in SFUSD — read the resolution; read the district news release.
  • African American Achievement: the Board voted unanimously to expand services to African-American students and commit to raising the achievement of these students. Read the resolution; read the district’s news release.
  • CPR Training: Students will now receive training in CPR thanks to a resoluion authored by Commissioner Fewer and our amazing student delegates, Gavin Chan and Hanan Sinada. The 26th was their final meeting, as both graduated from SFUSD last week and are moving on to bright futures. I have enjoyed serving with them both and wish them all success in college and beyond! We will welcome new student delegates in August.

Coming up: I’ll write more about this in a few days but Commissioner Fewer and I have requested that our CTIP resolution “On Equity in Student Assignment” return to the Board for a final vote on June 9. Stay tuned.

Also – the district budget. We got a preliminary presentation at this evening’s Committee of the Whole and it is good. This is the first of the seven budgets I’ve been asked to consider as a BOE member that actually has meaningful new investments and money. More to come on that.

Fair warning: I am not approving comments that accuse me of doing things I did not do. (See above.) I’m also not that fond of nastiness, vitriol, name-calling, SHOUTING and other bad behavior.

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Catching up: Notes from the Nov. 12, 2013 meeting

I have been neglecting the blog — I am so sorry about that. In my defense, though there is a lot happening, there hasn’t been much actually decided in the last few meetings — most of the big initiatives happening at the moment are in community engagement mode, or in the hands of the State Board, or just not quite cooked. Mainly, though, I’ve neglected blogging because I’m working full time and there is only so much I can juggle.

Anyway, let’s get a little caught up by reviewing events from last night’s meeting:

  • The Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) — also known as the 2008 Prop A parcel tax — Innovation and Impact cash awards for 20 schools were announced last night. To receive the $15,000 prize for Innovation or for Impact, a school serving historically underserved student populations must demonstrate an impact on student achievement or innovative strategies and practices (some schools received two awards, including Paul Revere K-8). A  full list appears here.  Heartfelt congratulations to these 20 school communities: you are making a difference and I am very grateful for your efforts!
  • In his remarks for the evening, Superintendent Carranza noted that the Council of the Great City Schools (an advocacy group formed by the nation’s 50 largest school districts — of which SFUSD is one) is completing a study of outcomes from Federal School Improvement Grants (aka “SIG”) in their member districts. Though results aren’t yet final, SFUSD’s results are very positive compared to other districts, and our SIG work was highlighted at the organization’s most recent conference last month in Albuquerque.  Superintendent Carranza also noted that the number of books in circulation in SFUSD libraries has reached 1 million — pretty impressive!
  • The Board discussed the charter renewal petition for Creative Arts Charter School, a K-8 charter currently co-located with Gateway Middle School at the old Golden Gate Elementary School campus on Turk and Pierce Sts.  Creative Arts (CACS) is one of the oldest charter schools in SFUSD and no Board member seriously opposed renewing the charter, though several (notably Commissioner Wynns) noted the lack of racial diversity — the school is 45 percent white and 9 percent decline to state — compared to the district as a whole (11 percent white and another 10 percent not-reported).  Commissioners also pointed out that the school’s academic scores rank it as a 2 among schools with similar demographics — meaning it is underperforming based on its demographics under the state’s (very imperfect and now moot) API accountability system.  Nevertheless, the Board voted unanimously to renew CACS’ charter for another five years.
  • We heard a report from the Indian Education advisory committee, a Federally-mandated advisory committee that advises the Board on the education of students who are of American Indian descent. One of the bigger issues for this group of students is that there is no permanent space for the many cultural artifacts and curriculum materials the advisory committee maintains. The Superintendent pledged to make a recommendation for permanent space and to make sure that the group has access to the materials it needs to function.
  • We also heard an update on the district’s implementation of Behavioral RtI (Response to Intervention, a major component of the district’s strategy to reduce the number of African American, Latino and Samoan students being referred to special education). Teachers and the principal at Lakeshore Elementary demonstrated new, positive discipline strategies they are using in the classroom, with good results. Overall, the 25 schools in the first cohort of school communities trained in Behavioral RtI have seen a 33.5% decrease in referrals to special education, compared with a 23.9% percent decrease for schools not in the first training cohort. Referrals of African American students to special education have declined 14% at schools in the training cohort, compared to a 5% reduction at schools that have not received training.
  • We heard a very short update on the district’s Vision 2025 process — a large group of parents, students, educators and community leaders are meeting over the next few months to help the district envision its goals for 2025 — the next frontier for our strategic planning. It’s been exhilarating and sobering at the same time: there is so much to do and really so little time and resources to do it with; and it is so exciting and energizing to think about where we can be in the future.
  • Finally, the Board voted to extend the district’s contract with the Friends of School of the Arts (FoSotA), a nonprofit that raises funds for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (RASotA) and has over the past few years administered the essential Artists in Residence program at the school. The Superintendent said he will move this program back under district control starting in the 2014-15 school year but needs a bit more time to put the necessary structures are in place to be sure that the transition is smooth.

There’s a lot more to dig into– the plans for the A-G graduation requirements for the class of 2014 are slated for a Board discussion on Nov. 26, and the Board must also have a discussion soon about the plans for reauthorizing the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF, also known as Prop H), which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year. In addition, there are community conversations going on about the possibility of combining PEEF with the reauthorization of the Children’s Amendment in some way — the Children’s Amendment is up in 2015 and currently provides upwards of $200 million in funding for all manner of children’s services from childcare to nutrition to violence prevention  in San Francisco (including $5o million in annual funding for the Department of Children, Youth and their Families).  Commissioner Haney is currently drafting a proposal to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, which disproportionately affect African Americans. While no one really disagrees with the proposed ban, it will require some careful analysis and discussion to be sure we really address the root causes of disproportionate suspensions of African American students.

Also, hopefully you heard that there are big changes coming to student assessment. Because of the adoption of the Common Core, students won’t take the CST this year — instead the district will pilot new computer-based assessments.  There are still a number of very key questions to be answered about the implications of this change — like the effect on Lowell admissions for the 2015-16 school year and beyond, since in the past Lowell admissions for SFUSD students have used  CST scores to help determine academic ranking;  in addition our cohort analysis that determines which schools get what services under the multi-tiered systems of support adopted this year is based at least in part on CST scores.

More next time.

Clarification to the Ruth Asawa SOTA community

It’s come to my attention that members of the Ruth Asawa SOTA community are planning to come to the Oct. 8 Board meeting this Tuesday out of the mistaken idea that the Board has made changes to the school’s Artist-in-Residence program (working artists are paid as consultants to work with students in their artistic disciplines as part of the school’s arts-focused program). I’m asking members of the Ruth Asawa SOTA community to share this widely to correct this misapprehension:

To: Members of the Ruth Asawa SOTA community

From: Rachel Norton, Board President

I want to reassure you that the Board of Education is not interested in curtailing or reducing the Artist-in-Residence program at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, nor have we taken any actions to change the program. In fact, on September 24 the Board unanimously approved the Superintendent’s request for Artist-in-Residence funding.

No cuts to the Artist-in-Residence program have been made or will be made this year. The Artist-in- Residence program with its full annual funding is included in the district budget that the board passed in June of 2013 and no change to that budget has taken place.

In recent years, Friends of SOTA has served as the fiscal agent for the district in administering the Artist-in-Residence program. The agreement that the district has with FoSOTA has been under review because the Board is interested in making sure that the district improves its internal administrative functions; we also take seriously our fiduciary responsibility for the democratic oversight of the expenditure of all the public tax dollars that we spend on behalf of the citizens of San Francisco. The Board has asked the Superintendent to investigate the question of what is the best and most publicly-accountable  way to pay these school district contractors, since we have several parallel programs that are paid through district processes—not a fiscal agent–efficiently and accountably. 

The Board remains more committed than ever to the program at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. We will make certain that there is no delay in the payments made for the artists as we are well aware of what an integral component of the school program they represent.

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.