Two substantive discussions at tonight’s meeting:
First, the Golden State Warriors organization and other donors have offered to resurface the basketball courts at Willie Brown Middle School. The proposal involved putting team logos on the courts, a retaining wall around the courts, and the backboards (see photo below for an illustration of how the logo might look on the finished court):
The problem, if you want to call it that, is that putting a commercial logo on school property violates a 1999 Board policy entitled “Commercial Free Schools.” So the staff asked us to waive the policy to allow the donation to go forward.
It was an interesting discussion, and we all agreed that what we really need is an update to the policy to guide how we will and won’t recognize donors to the school district. This is especially timely because of the plan to rebuild 135 Van Ness to become the new site of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. That project will require significant private philanthropy, and donors who give millions to projects like this rightly expect to have their contributions acknowledged in some kind of public and permanent way.
In the end, we agreed to the basketball court and retaining wall recognition, but asked for more consideration of the backboard idea. I’m very grateful to the Warriors for the gift and I think the students at Willie Brown will be thrilled with their new court. As the Superintendent said, “students at Willie Brown will know that the Warriors have their back, and that their heroes care about them.” And, allowing corporate logos like this, even for such a good and positive cause, is a bit of a slippery slope that we need to navigate very carefully.
We also made a significant change to the student assignment policy — one that will not in my opinion affect most people adversely, but is nevertheless significant. Watchers of our student assignment policy will recall that starting this year, the middle school feeder system was supposed to go to “initial assignments” for 5th grade students currently enrolled in an SFUSD elementary school and moving up to the 6th grade in the following year. So, for example, if the initial or automatic assignment policy were to go into effect, a 5th grader at Lafayette Elementary school would receive a letter this October saying they are being assigned to Presidio Middle School for 2017-18, without the family having to file an application, because Lafayette feeds into Presidio.
However, in last week’s Student Assignment Committee (listen to the recording here), the staff and committee discussed a pending proposal that was supposed to offer students in language programs, and those at four Bayview elementary schools, more equitable options after the shift to initial assignments. But the options presented were very problematic:
- Problem #1: Willie Brown Feeder Pattern. Currently, families at Carver, Drew, Bret Harte and Malcolm X have two feeder options: Giannini or Willie Brown for Drew, Aptos or Willie Brown for Carver, Martin Luther King or Willie Brown for Malcolm X, and James Lick or Willie Brown for Bret Harte. This is problematic if all other 6th grade students in the district are receiving an automatic assignment to their feeder schools, since we wouldn’t know what middle school families at these four elementary schools would prefer. We discussed a number of options at committee. I suggested asking 5th grade families at the four schools — there aren’t that many of them, maybe 100 total — which feeder they prefer for their children and letting the families choose. Others suggested assigning 5th graders at these schools to the highest performing feeder choice. The staff suggested feeding all four schools into Willie Brown, but the Board rejected that option due to the obvious segregated pathway this option would create.
- Problem #2: Not enough Language Pathways. We have so many language pathways in elementary schools that it is not possible to feed students into a language pathway in middle school unless you create separate feeder patterns for language programs. For example, Cleveland and Guadalupe Elementary have Spanish bilingual pathways, but Visitacion Valley MS, where both schools feed, does not have the corresponding language pathway. We have already come up against staffing challenges for language programs that make it impractical to keep opening up new dual language pathways in middle schools, and yet providing equitable access and automatic assignments to dual language pathways in middle school would require just such a move. So the staff proposed instead proposed adding an additional tiebreaker — a language pathway tiebreaker — to the middle school enrollment process. All students would receive an initial assignment to the General Education pathway at their feeder middle school. Students in language pathways who want to continue in a language pathway in middle school would then apply to language pathways using the existing Round 1/March placement process. Students would receive a tiebreaker for the appropriate language pathway at any middle school, plus a tiebreaker for their feeder middle school if that school also offers the appropriate language pathway. Are you confused yet? I certainly was, and all of us on the committee felt this was a very drastic, confusing and unworkable change just so that we could continue the commitment to move to initial assignments as promised in the existing policy.
So here’s where we are: after a long discussion at the Student Assignment Committee, board members asked the staff to come back to us with a substitute motion that would instead delay initial/automatic assignments for at least one year, so that we would have more time to look at our options and engage families. I recognize that this decision kicks the can down the road, but it’s also probably the least disruptive change we could make at this late date because essentially, families will experience status quo in middle school assignment: the system will work exactly as it has in each of the last five years.
So tonight we agreed to remove the language requiring initial/automatic assignments from our Student Assignment Policy, and for this year waive the requirement that we make no changes to the policy within three months of beginning to accept applications. (Aside: we seem to run up against that requirement a lot, which is probably an indication that was wise to include in the original policy language, since it discourages tinkering except when it’s unavoidable. In this case tinkering was unavoidable because complying with the policy — going to automatic assignments — was going to wreak more havoc than delaying the implementation of that last piece.)