Tag Archives: transitional kindergarten

Recap: April 10, 2012 — a little good news!

Update: Oops and a big thank you to Bernal Dad who pointed out that I neglected to mention that Daniel Webster parents came by during public comment to again let us know that they are unhappy with the choice of ISA as a feeder middle school for Daniel Webster. The parents propose a split campus K-8 with the ISA site.

A mostly routine agenda tonight, with a lot of public comment on various topics (see below). I’m leading with the good news, which is that the district has finally reached a deal to sell 700 Font St., a long-abandoned school site that is pretty much smack in the middle of the SF State campus.

As soon the property was formally declared surplus (not sure when that happened but it was probably almost a decade ago), it made sense for SF State to purchase it, but the sticking point over many years has been price. At one point, probably 2007, the district had a buyer and a deposit, but the $13 million deal eventually fell through.

I visited the site back in February and it is an eyesore — it’s boarded up, full of graffiti and a haven for homeless people and those who are troubled or otherwise up to no good.  Because of its condition, age and general layout, it is no longer usable as a school site. SF State has  also had numerous security issues with the site (the property line — on the left — is just feet away from student dorms).

So it’s truly win-win for both parties that we have finally come to an agreement to sell the property for $11.1 million. By law, that income can’t benefit our general fund, as proceeds from real estate assets can only be spent on capital improvements or purchasing other property. However, here’s what it can do: the district will use the $11.1 million to pay down long-term debt on another property, which will realize $875,000 annually in interest savings — interest payments that would have come out of the general fund. In other words, $875,000 we would have had to pay each year for the next 16 years will now be saved and can go to the classroom.

Other highlights from tonight’s meeting:

  • A presentation from the Bay Area Urban Debate League, which provides afterschool debate classes in a number of SFUSD high schools. Debate is such a great way to learn critical thinking, public speaking and general literacy, so I remain a huge fan of this program. Program participants urged us to find ways to make the course a regular part of the academic day at the high schools, and it currently qualifies as a “G” elective under the district’s (and UC’s) requirements.
  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution authored by President Yee which clarifies the support and assistance the district will give to current employees who are non-citizens but working under an H-1B or other visa. Commissioner Yee’s resolution was born from a case where an employee’s work visa expired, and advocates were critical of what they saw as the district’s lack of support for the employee’s application to renew that visa.
  •  Public comment from parents and teachers at Paul Revere, Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, and Visitacion Valley Elementary, regarding personnel decisions. We have heard a great deal from different factions of Paul Revere parents this year, some of whom dislike the current principal and others who like her. Tonight’s group spoke in the principal’s favor and urged the Board to renew her contract (spring is the time we make most of our staffing decisions for the next school year). A group of Harvey Milk parents and teachers, by contrast, urged us to overturn a site council decision to forgo an interview process and offer the current principal another year at the school. Parents and teachers from Visitacion Valley Elementary spoke against the principal’s decision not to “re-elect” (rehire) a probationary teacher at the school.  These are all touchy issues with strong feelings on all sides — because they involve past or future personnel votes by the Board, I’m not going to comment on the merits of each of these positions and no particular opinion should be inferred by what I’ve written above.
  • Finally, three parents of  children who qualify for transitional kindergarten came to protest the district’s handling of the state’s Kindergarten Readiness Act (passed in 2010), which gradually moves the eligibility date  for Kindergarten back over three years, so that eventually children must be age five by September 1 of the year they enter Kindergarten (from the original December 1 eligibility date).  Some believe their current four-year-olds would do just fine in Kindergarten and so are urging the district to issue age waivers to their children. Others are fine with waiting another year for their children to enter Kindergarten, but take issue with the fact that there is not a broader choice of Transitional Kindergarten programs to choose from (the law requires districts to offer Transitional Kindergarten to four-year-olds who otherwise would have been eligible to enter Kindergarten).  I’ve talked to Sen. Simitian, who wrote the legislation to move the eligibility date and create Transitional Kindergarten, and I believe he did a good thing by drawing a new line for Kindergarten readiness. Kindergarten is much more academic than previously, and children who (for whatever reason) are not academically ready really suffer. At the same time, I believe an unintended consequence of the legislation was to create another complex and possibly unfunded mandate for schools. SFUSD’s handling of this issue has been far from perfect but I believe it is compliant with the law and minimizes the district’s financial risk in a time of great fiscal peril (did anyone see the news that state revenues, yet again, fell short of predictions? That’s fiscal peril for schools).  But no, the district’s plan does not meet the needs of all stakeholders and I’m sorry for that.

Happy Valentine’s Day! (Feb. 14 meeting recap)

Update (2/16): The district has just released an FAQ on the age waiver issue around Transitional Kindergarten. It’s here.

Lots of routine things on the agenda tonight, with a few items of note:

  • National Board Certified Teachers! I am always cheered by this annual event, where we honor the teachers who have achieved National Board Certification — essentially a rigorous advanced teaching credential.  SFUSD now has 204 NBCTs, which in percentage terms means we are in the top 2 percent of districts nationally and one of the highest in the state of California (LAUSD has more than we do but they are also 10 times our size).
  • Leadership High School: The Board unanimously approved the renewal of Leadership’s charter for another five years. Board members found the school’s presentations and application to be strong, even after the California Charter Schools Association recommended closing the school late last year. Several weeks ago, I was able to attend portfolio defense day at Leadership, where graduating seniors present a compilation of their work around four schoolwide outcomes:  critical thinking, social responsibility, personal responsibility, and communication. I found the students to be articulate, thoughtful, respectful of each other, and very earnest in their reflections on their academic work. In addition, I was impressed that Leadership seniors must pass A-G course work with a C or better to graduate — a more rigorous standard than SFUSD-managed high schools.  San Francisco has higher-performing public high schools (based on test scores, at least) than Leadership, but the Board has never believed that test scores are the only or even the best measure of a school’s quality.
  • QEIA Waivers:  The Board approved the Superintendent’s request to submit waiver applications to exempt the district from certain provisions of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) for the 2012-13 school year, including required class size reduction.  QEIA provides additional funds to fourteen schools in SFUSD as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed against the state by the California Teacher’s Association.  The settlement spreads QEIA funding over seven years, and sunsets at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
  • Transitional Kindergarten: Board members heard comment from a number of families distressed by the Superintendent’s decision to suspend implementation of Transitional Kindergarten. I have heard from a number of these families, and though I am very sorry for the uncertainty they are experiencing, I can’t at this point advocate for the Superintendent to change directions because of the state budget’s uncertainty and other logistical factors. Some are urging age waivers for students who just missed the cutoff, but even “just offer a waiver” isn’t as easy as it sounds. Cutting TK funding is a proposal, not law, and offering districts funding for young students “waived” into Kindergarten is also just a proposal. There’s no guarantee that when all is said and done with the state budget, districts will actually receive funding for students allowed to attend Kindergarten even though they don’t meet the age cutoff.  And even if districts were assured funding for every student enrolled in Kindergarten, regardless of age, it’s not possible for SFUSD to come up with a fair and well-thought-out waiver policy within the time constraints of the first round — the computer run for the first round of 2012-13 assignment will begin any day, if it hasn’t already. Any delay means ALL applicants will not receive their school assignment offers within the promised timeframe, with numerous ripple effects.
  • Personnel issues: We also heard public comment from staff and parents from several middle schools who are concerned about various personnel issues. This is the time of year when principals begin notifying probationary teachers if they will not be “re-elected” in the following year (in their first two years of teaching, teachers can be dismissed without cause; after those two probationary years, teachers in California are considered “tenured” and can only be fired for cause or laid off for economic reasons strictly based on seniority), and several addressed the Board this evening on issues related to their non-reelection.  The Board will vote on preliminary layoff notices at the February 28 meeting — these will be mailed by March 15 to employees based on seniority. Probationary teachers that are “reelected” may still receive layoff notices if they do not teach in a high-need area, because by definition they have low seniority.
  • Miscellaneous: The Board approved a number of changes to its P120 operating rules as part of a long-term effort to update and standardize our Board rules and policies and put them online in a searchable format; we also re-appointed members of our Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee and approved terms for upcoming bond sales.

Better late than never: Oct. 11 meeting recap

Apologies, blog followers – the last week has gotten away from me and so I never completed a recap of last Tuesday’s (Oct. 11) board meeting.  Here it is, better late than never:

The major item of the evening was an update by the Early Education Department on the plans for Transitional Kindergarten. To review, last year the state passed legislation that gradually moves back the date of eligibility for Kindergarten from December 1 to September 1. Over the next three years, the date moves back one month per year so that by the 2014-15 school year and beyond, students will have to be age five by September 1 of the Fall they enter Kindergarten. Students whose 5th birthday falls between September 1 and December 1 will be eligible for a new, optional two-year program called Transitional Kindergarten (TK).

The content of TK isn’t really spelled out in the legislation other than to say it is a “modified kindergarten curriculum  that is age and developmentally-appropriate” and that TK “shall not be construed as a new program or a higher level of service” (because otherwise school districts would demand actual funding for the program). In fact, TK was largely conceived as a way to hold school districts harmless from the financial consequences of losing a chunk of potential Kindergarten students during the transition to a new eligibility date.  Enrollment of young fives in SFUSD schools varies a great deal by school, with three elementary schools enrolling no students who would fall in the TK window; others have as many as 13 (most elementary schools enroll between three and six TK-eligible students in Kindergarten).

Much of the presentation given to the Board centered on the experience in other districts which have already implemented some form of a TK program. LAUSD, for example, started its program with 36 standalone TK classrooms in 2010, originally funding those programs with Title I monies (Federal aid given to school districts to educate low-income students); Title I is no longer available for this purpose.  LAUSD’s program is the largest in the state, but San Diego, Long Beach, Santa Clara and others also have programs — SFUSD is participating in a statewide professional learning community with these other districts to share strategies and best practices.

Some of the lessons learned:

  • Most of the districts serve TK students in standalone classrooms dedicated to just this transitional age group. However, districts have found this approach to be challenging because it is difficult to find enough students to fill the standalone classrooms without busing and other expensive logistics. LAUSD now recommends combination classrooms as the best model for TK.  Districts have also found that standalone classrooms cost more than they generate in per-student funding from the state.
  • TK enrollment is very difficult to predict. Some districts found that students seeking TK programs were primarily low-income and/or English Language Learners; most found that boys were much more likely to enroll in TK classrooms than girls (often classroom ratios were two-thirds boys to one-third girls).  Some districts found that families preferred tuition-based preschool models for young fives, and had trouble filling their classrooms with eligible students.

As a result, staff is recommending an approach that could be described as “wait and see where kids land, then we’ll respond with programming.” Kindergarten teachers would be given additional professional development with the help of a TK coach, funded by a grant from the Packard Foundation. Schools with high concentrations of TK-eligible students would perhaps group those students into one classroom, with a modified curriculum; schools with just a handful of TK students might add in additional supports for them and allow those students to stay in Kindergarten for two years (the law says that schools and families can accelerate students into first grade from TK on a case-by-case basis). 

It’s important to remember that TK-eligible students are already here, being served today in our Kindergarten classrooms. While parents might have been hoping for an additional preschool-like option for their young fives, the current staff proposal is to keep things more status quo — TK-eligible students would apply to Kindergarten like all other students, go through the same student assignment process, and land in the schools they would have attended should the state never have mucked around with the eligibility date in the first place. Once they land, however, they do have the option to stay in Kindergarten for two years, and presumably some modified curriculum and staff development would be in place. Yeah, I know — some of you are thinking that “presumably” is perhaps too large a leap of faith.

The Board’s reaction to all of this was doubtful, and a bit apprehensive — while there’s absolutely no money to create a new standalone program, we also don’t want to give TK-ers the same old Kindergarten, only two-years of it. And it doesn’t feel fair to Kindergarten teachers to say “Oh by the way, now you are teaching TK as well as K — good luck with that!”  At the same time, I’d like to avoid the logistical issues of trying to find places to put standalone TK classrooms — there is space at some under-enrolled schools, but it’s not clear families will want to enroll their kids at schools they haven’t traditionally requested for  Kindergarten. In addition, would we offer busing to kids to get to TK programs (when we are cutting busing for our traditional K-12 programs)? How would we deal with the inevitable requests for transfers out into more desirable Kindergarten placements after the first year of TK is up.  Basically, the only thing that is clear is that there are still a lot of questions. Staff said they hoped to have things more fleshed out by early November, when the enrollment season for 2012-13 kicks off.

The Board also took up a Student Advisory Council resolution in support of free Muni passes for all youth under 18 in San Francisco. The resolution mirrors one currently under discussion by the Board of Supervisors, authored by Supervisor David Campos. Supervisor Campos’ resolution calls for SFMTA, SFUSD and other city agencies to work out a pilot for such a program, including how to pay for it and how to implement and administer it. Board members agreed in principle, but did discuss our inability to contribute much in the way of funds towards free Muni, at least not without a serious discussion of what we would be giving up in order to pay for it (the estimated cost of providing free public transportation to all youth under 18 is $5 to $6 million annually).  So for now, the school district supports Supervisor Campos’ plan in theory, and pledges to participate in the planning for how to implement it.

Coming up this week: a Committee of the Whole (Oct. 18) on priority-setting for the 2012-13 school year; and the first annual report on the outcomes of the new student assignment process (Oct. 19).

Board meeting recap: Sept. 27, 2011

(Advance warning: this post is long – it starts out as a recap of tonight’s board meeting but ends up covering a lot of ground: the current Prop A ballot measure, Transitional Kindergarten, summer school, SOTA admissions and the budget.  Also upcoming plans for a Curriculum Committee discussion on Honors/GATE in middle school. )

The absolute high point of tonight’s meeting was a before-and-after slideshow of schools that have been transformed by the 2003 and 2006 bond work:  Aptos MS has a gorgeous new auditorium; Glen Park ES has a more inviting playground; William Cobb ES, Martin Luther King MS and Wallenberg HS have new classrooms, new outdoor areas, and new entry facades; Civic Center Secondary and Principal’s Center Collaborative have been stripped down, ready for the makeover to bring the buildings into the 21st century (while preserving their historic facades). Most schools got repainted with vibrant colors (compare Cobb’s previous anemic green with its new dark red and white color scheme).

In 2003 and 2006, the voters of San Francisco passed facilities bonds for $295 million and $450 million, respectively.  The 2003 measure paid for upgrades to 30 sites, and was completed on budget and ahead of the deadline of June 30, 2010. The 2006 measure allowed upgrades and improvements to 59 more sites and is currently on time and under budget. Tonight’s presentation showed the results of the programs, clearly as a way to give voters the facts about past efforts –the third and final bond of this cycle is on the November ballot, for $531 million, and will allow the district to complete the work of making the remaining 50 aging buildings accessible to people with disabilities, seismically-safe, and upgraded for 21st-century learning. It’s illegal to use a public meeting or public resources to say it, but since this blog is neither paid for with public resources nor hosted on publicly-owned equipment, I can: The district’s track record with the 2003 and 2006 bonds (and the gorgeous buildings that have resulted) should assuage voters’ fears about supporting the remainder of the cycle. Proposition A has no meaningful opposition (even the Republican party is neutral) and deserves a Yes vote.  Here are resources for more information:

The district also held its annual hearing, as part of the Williams settlement, on the availability of books and supplies for students at every school. Last year was a debacle, for a number of reasons, so it was a pleasure to hear that most students (not all) started school with adequate access to books and supplies. High school science labs and health classrooms at a few schools were not adequately supplied, but most of these issues have since been resolved. In all, this year’s report was a huge improvement over last year’s, thanks to the work of Daisy Santos, the administrator in charge of the district’s supply of textbooks and supplies.

In other news:

  • 96 percent of SFUSD 7th – 12th graders have now received the TDAP vaccine — one of the highest percentages of any school district in California, according to the Superintendent’s report tonight.
  • The Board also passed a resolution commending George Washington High School on 75 years of excellence, on the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee celebration coming up next month.

Committee report

I’ve been meaning to give reports from the Curriculum, Rules and Budget Committees, which I attended last week.

Curriculum: We heard reports on various summer school programs that were implemented across the district, with some data on outcomes.  Thanks to Mayor Lee and the efforts of members of Coleman Advocates and other advocacy organizations, the City contributed $250,000 towards academic summer programs for credit recovery after large numbers of 9th graders failed core courses required under the district’s new A-G graduation requirements.  Here are highlights from the report given by Assistant Superintendent Janet Schulze to the Committee:

  • Approximately 25 percent of SFUSD 9th graders took part in a credit-earning summer program;
  • 90 percent of students taking English 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
  • 94 percent of students taking Biology 1 or 2 received credit, with 79 percent receiving an A, B or C grade;
  • 88 percent of students taking Algebra 1 or 2 received credit, with 70 percent receiving an A, B or C grade.

Lincoln High School combined its city funding with site funds, and offered programs for all entering 9th graders, as well as older students who needed to gain credits to stay on a graduation track. Principal Barnaby Payne was on hand to talk about the program and pronounced it such a success that the school intends to fund the program again next year. 

The Curriculum committee also heard a presentation on the district’s planning for Transitional Kindergarten, the state’s new program to both raise the eligibility age for Kindergarten, while offering students with Fall birthdays a transitional program that blends pre-K and K to allow those younger students to progress at a different pace than older students.  The district is proposing to either a)place transitional K students in regular K classrooms but allow those students to stay for two years, with additional Professional Development and programming specifically for them; or b)set up standalone Transitional K classrooms that would house students for two years and then allow them to “graduate” to first grade at other schools.

Staff is recommending the first approach, but both approaches have advantages and disadvantages, cost impacts and unintended consequences for student assignment. The Committee was disturbed enough by the trade-offs in each proposal to recommend a hearing by the full board, as soon as possible. The current plan is to hear a presentation and gather Board input at the Oct. 11 Board meeting.

Rules: The topic of most general interest was an inquiry on the current policy and data on out-of-district students attending Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.  Very few people know that Ruth Asawa (SOTA) is allowed to accept 10 percent of its enrollment from out-of-district applicants, since it was originally conceived as a regional arts high school. In many ways, this works out well for everyone — the school is able to draw from a larger pool of talent (useful when you need, for example, a tuba player for Orchestra, or male dancers to partner their female counterparts); students in other districts are able to access an incredibly rigorous and professional arts-focused high school (see this Chronicle article about dancer Darius Drooh for an illustration of how SOTA’s out of district policy enhances both the school and individual lives). No one would argue (especially not me) that the arts achievements of SOTA students aren’t exceptional — they are, and the school is a credit to the school district.

Still, I would by lying if I said that the out-of-district enrollment is OK with me. I’m glad we attempt to make the school’s offerings available to a broader swath of students through the Academy program, which is co-located with SOTA and does not require students to audition or demonstrate artistic ability (it also does not accept out-of-district students unless there are fewer SF applicants than seats). Still, SOTA’s out-of-district enrollment policy makes me uncomfortable, especially after the Board received data that currently SOTA is currently enrolling somewhere closer to 15 percent out-of-district students (we do receive funding for these students from their home districts so this policy is not so much a money issue — it’s an access/equity issue). I had a long conversation with SOTA’s  principal, Carmelo Sgarlato, about this state of affairs, and after that conversation I understood better that the implementation of enrollment policies are more complex than they  appear. Many SF students initially accepted to SOTA end up choosing other comprehensive high schools where they can play sports and have access to a broader array of classes (my nephew is one of them – he’s a talented trumpet player but ended up attending Lowell so that he could run track and play soccer).   In addition, SOTA departments have different capacities — Dance is always looking for boys but Creative Writing is usually fully-subscribed. Lots of students play trumpet, violin and clarinet, but fewer play the tuba.

Still, 15 percent is not acceptable, and I let Mr. Sgarlato know I feel that way. At the Rules committee, Board members in general expressed alarm and asked whether we need to “tighten up” on the policy.  Right now, I hear clearly that SOTA faculty wants to remain in control of the school’s audition-related admissions, but the Board’s reality is that the percentage of out-of-district students must come back in line or (I’m guessing) the school risks losing this flexibility altogether.

Budget:  Remember how I said we would be closely watching the state’s monthly announcement of tax receipts to see how likely it is that the “budget trigger” will be pulled, yanking the rug out from under schools? Yeah. August wasn’t very good — a bit better than July but on target for revenues to come in almost $600 million under what had been “speculatively” anticipated.  If that shortfall gets to $2 billion, schools are in big trouble. We have three more months to make up the difference.

Coming up: On October 3 at 5:30, the Curriculum Committee will start the discussion on GATE and Honors in middle school. I don’t believe we will receive full data on outcomes or research, but it is an opportunity for members of the public to come and ask questions/share views on the district’s honors/GATE policy and offerings. This is a long, complex and sometimes emotional topic that will not be resolved in one meeting– it may ultimately require a full Board policy but we are not there yet. Anyway, I’m sharing this specifically because I know from the input I receive from constituents that there is a lot of interest/strong feelings on this topic, and I’m trying to begin the discussion.