Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Graduation a Hard-Won Success for Continuation-School Students

 “It’s the first productive thing I’ve ever done,” says one graduate

By: Trey Bundy

On Monday, with graduation season in full swing, 18-year-old Olivier Grandvoinet put on a cap and gown and gave a speech on behalf of his class in front of 250 people at San Francisco’s City Hall. He thanked his family, his teachers, his principal — and his probation officer.

“I know I’m not perfect yet, but I’m trying,” he said.

Grandvoinet, who said he used to be on probation for fighting to protect a girl he knew, is one of more than 50 students graduating from San Francisco court and continuation schools this year. The programs cater to youth who have failed out of traditional schools or been ordered by a court to attend classes in non-mainstream settings.

“It’s one of those quiet successes, but clearly it’s indicative of the success of kids who have struggled in a traditional school environment prior to their involvement with the system,” said Allen Nance, assistant chief of juvenile probation in San Francisco.

For the students, the road to graduation has been tough, and success was anything but certain. Some got in trouble because they were bored in their classes. Others got involved with drugs or gangs, and many completed their high school degrees while they were incarcerated.

Rodolfo, an 18-year-old from the Mission District, has spent nearly two years in the juvenile justice system: 15 months at juvenile hall and seven at Log Cabin Ranch, San Francisco’s South Bay youth camp for young people who have committed serious offenses. Nance requested that only Rodolfo’s first name be used. As Rodolfo lined up Monday to walk onto the stage, he said he would rather talk about his future than his past.
“I got caught up just doing bad things,” he said, adding that he plans to join the San Francisco Conservation Corps when he leaves the ranch in five months. “This is the first thing I’ve ever been proud of in my life. It’s the first productive thing I’ve ever done.”
Nance, who spends much of his time overseeing Log Cabin Ranch, said his team has been partnering with the San Francisco Conservation Corps and other groups that teach teenagers life skills through experiential learning. The ranch program includes academics, computer training and sports, as well as vocational skills like horticulture, carpentry and, soon, forklift driving.

“These kids have built a fence around the orchard, complete with a gate,” he said. “They’re now working on the landscape design project and redesigning the picnic area.”

Jim Fithian — the principal of the Principals’ Center Collaborative, a school whose 40 students attend classes there by court order — turned away from the audience during Monday’s ceremony and addressed the students directly.

“You may have saved a life today,” he told the students. “You’ve certainly changed your communities.”
Half an hour before Monday’s ceremony, on a balcony overlooking the City Hall rotunda, Mayor Ed Lee honored Fithian with the Principal of the Year Award. In his remarks, Fithian recalled how he started teaching kids in the juvenile justice system by accident almost 20 years ago. He thought he was just signing up for a special education position.

“It turned out to be juvenile hall,” he said. “I didn’t know that until I got there.”
Fithian recently announced that he is leaving his post as principal of PCC to become a teacher at Log Cabin Ranch. The move comes with a 30-percent pay cut.

“I told the staff, ‘That’s how much I want to go down there,’” he said.
Grandvoinet, the student who spoke at Monday’s graduation ceremony, wants to be a teacher, too. He just completed his first semester at City College of San Francisco, where he is studying child development.

“I want to teach eighth-grade English,” he said. “In ninth grade, they start thinking they’re cooler than the teacher. That’s what happened to me.”

Mayor to principals: "Good on ya!"

While being a public school principal can sometimes feel like a thankless job, three San Francisco school leaders received a resounding round of applause from Mayor Ed Lee this week.

Lee selected the three -- JoLynn Washington of Jose Ortega Elementary School; David Wong of Francis Scott Key Elementary School; and Jim Fithian of Court Community Schools -- as the city's principals of the year.

He recognized their "dedication, professionalism, and work on behalf of the City's young people."

"San Francisco's families deserve great schools and I salute the outstanding work that is done every day by our public school principals who deliver a quality education to all of our children," Lee said.

The honor comes with a small monetary award, a Tiffany trinket, San Francisco Giants game packages, San Francisco Opera tickets and an Apple MacBook Pro, pause for breath, as well as gifts from the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, Beach Blanket Babylon and merchants at Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39.

Principals Wong, Washington and Fithian, you just got seriously thanked.

Posted By: Jill Tucker (Email) | May 24 2011 at 03:27 PM

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Schools get creative to raise needed cash

Principals are kissing pigs. Kids are busking at BART stations, their violin cases open to collect cash.

And dog look-alike contests? Sure - anything to raise cash for classrooms.

These days, parents are thinking outside the bake-sale box to raise money for schools to save what most people consider basic to California education - music, art, libraries, books, field trips and even paper, pencils and toilet paper.

The scope of school fundraising is ranging from small potatoes to big business, with high-powered auctions or festivals raising dollars into six digits.

But as schools across the state reel from about $20 billion in budget cuts over the last few years, no fundraising is too small or too quirky.

Parents are still baking cakes, but they're also brainstorming creative ways to generate money, said Annie Bauccio Moore, a San Francisco mother who co-founded the nonprofit K-12 advocacy group Educate Our State.

One city school held a fabric sale. Another auctioned off brown-bag lunches.
McKinley Elementary, where Moore's two children go to school, has held a festival the past few summers featuring a dog show, with blue ribbons awarded for best bark, best trick and pets that look most like their owners, or vice versa.

As fun and beneficial as the events are, "it's really tragic what we've come to," Bauccio Moore said.
Still, parents are forced to debate what will get cut from classrooms.

Friday, May 20, 2011

SFUSD looks to upgrade aging facilities with new bond

In this article, the Examiner misspelled David Goldin’s name, and referred to his title incorrectly. He is the Chief Facilities Officer.

By: Andrea Koskey 05/14/11 8:00 PM

At Burton High School, students can take reading, writing and arithmetic, but to get to those classes, they have to endure the cracked tiles, broken windows and leaking roof.

The San Francisco Unified School District hopes to change that with a $531 million bond — the most asked for by the school district to date — that would be the final funding source in a series of multimillion-dollar upgrades to aging facilities.

Burton, built in the 1960s, shows its age. It’s a three-story solid concrete building with single-pane windows and cracked sidewalks.

The entire first floor is vacant not only because enrollment has decreased over the years but because if there’s a sewage backup, it leaks into these classrooms.

Principal Bill Kappenhagen said he also has a persistently leaking roof and traces of termites in the basement of the school.
“We’re at a disadvantage by the dilapidated facility,” he said. “It hinders school spirit and pride, and affects our ability to recruit and attract students.”

The bond program would pay for these fixes and more, according to district facilities manager David Goldin.
Nearly 50 other schools would benefit from the bond money in addition to Burton, which will be one of the first schools renovated. Willie Brown Academy in the Bayview neighborhood — scheduled to close at the end of the school year — is slated to reopen in a completely new building. James Lick Middle School and Roosevelt Middle School would also get updates as a result of the bond.

An estimated $5 million will be set aside from the bond to create or sustain “green” programs such as school gardens at 30 elementary schools. The bond would go before voters in November if approved by the school board and placed on the ballot.

The amount residents would pay has not been finalized for this bond, but for the $450 million bond passed in 2006, the owner of a $400,000 home pays roughly $129.

If voters decline to approve the bond with the necessary 55 percent approval rating, Goldin said he didn’t know what the district would do to help these aging schools.

“We’d be in real trouble,” Goldin said. “How do you fix schools without money?”

The district successfully passed bonds in 2003 and 2006 to upgrade and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; those bonds totaled $850 million.

Burton’s upgrades, one of the largest proposed projects, would cost roughly $20 million and take several years to complete. The laundry list of necessary fixes has not yet been compiled, but Goldin said it will likely be the size of a history textbook.

“Does that mean we can get new bleachers?” Kappenhagen asked Goldin.

“If we’ve got the money,” Goldin said.

SF Schools Make Strides

By Jacob Simas, May 17, 2011 11:19 AM

The San Francisco School Alliance held their third annual Spring luncheon at the Mark Hopkins Hotel last week, an event that was co-chaired by Mayor Ed Lee, Warren Hellman of the investment firm Hellman and Friedman, and SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia, with the latter presenting recent data on academic achievement in San Francisco Schools.

According to Garcia’s report back to the audience of teachers, students, district officials and community stakeholders, San Francisco Unified is now the “highest performing large urban school district” in California, with an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 791. District drop-out rates, demonstrated Garcia, have been cut in half to 9 percent and two-thirds of all district schools have shown improvement in English language arts and math testing.

Interviewed after the event by Spanish-language broadcaster Univision 14, Garcia praised San Francisco public school teachers specifically for their role in raising the test scores of Latino students, gains that were cited by Garcia during his presentation. The data, based on standardized test scores aggregated by the state department of education, show that Latino 8th grade students in San Francisco made huge improvements in the area of English-language proficiency, to the tune of a 40.93 percent increase between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years.

Math proficiency also improved over the same period, by 15.51 percent, among Latino students at the 4th grade level. While not as drastic, Latinos also scored slightly better on the high school exit exam (CAHSEE) from one year to the next, showing a 6.78 percent improvement in math section and a 1.56 percent increase on the English section.

Garcia, however, told Univision that those improvements should be taken with a grain of salt, since – even with the gains -- more than 50 percent of all Latino public school students in San Francisco are
still not passing the standard proficiency tests for English or math. And data taken from the National Student Clearing House shows a decrease of 6.35 percent in the number of Latinos in San Francisco who are enrolled in Post-secondary institutions.

While the school district will continue to implement strategies to close the achievement gap for Latino students even further, said Garcia, the best way to ensure the academic success of students in the long run is for parents to get involved in their children’s education.

The city’s African-American students also made notable gains between 2008-09 and 2009-10 in the areas of 8th grade English (30.04 percent improvement) and math proficiency (9.69 percent improvement). The percentage of African American students who passed the English section of the CAHSEE rose by 11.32 percent in 2010.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

California teachers launch demonstrations at state Capitol, push lawmakers to pass taxes

By Associated Press, Published: May 9
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Hundreds of teachers from around California descended on the state Capitol Monday to make the case for extending tax hikes as a way to stave off deep budget cuts to public education.
Amid tightened security, the teachers marched to the Capitol in hopes of meeting with lawmakers and even staging sit-ins in the building.

The day was a kick-off to a week of action the California Teachers Association has dubbed a “State of Emergency.” It includes demonstrations and teach-ins throughout the state as schools face the prospect of mass layoffs and program cuts.

Chanting “Tax, tax, tax the rich, we can solve the deficit,” hundreds of teachers clad in pale blue shirts carried banners and signs into the Capitol building, where California Highway Patrol officers blocked the main rotunda areas to prevent demonstrators from staging sit-ins there for most of the day. By late afternoon more than 150 protesters rallied in the rotunda and about 65 of them succeeded in staying for two hours after the building closed, prompting arrests.

Several teachers were among those arrested. They said they wanted to stand with students.
“I watched us last year and now we’re worse off,” Union City math teacher Charmaine Kawaguchi told the crowd before being arrested. “So now I’m willing to do anything to make it better.”

Doug Nielson, a government and economics teacher at Coalinga High School, said he was frustrated after visiting the offices of Republican lawmakers whom he said seemed more concerned with adhering to their ideology than addressing what he called a crisis in public education.

“If we stick to our ideologies, our children are going to suffer,” Nielson said. “You can’t have first-class teaching on a Third World budget.”

Republican legislative leaders were pointing to an unexpected $2.5 billion in extra tax revenue that came to the state last month as a way to fully fund education without having to extend the recent tax increases.

“It’s an opportunity for us to live within our means and do the right thing, and still protect schools and law enforcement and the things that I believe are important to taxpayers and what taxpayers believe they’re paying taxes for in the first place,” said Assemblywoman Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

About 300 volunteers wearing shirts saying, “I will be a lay-off!” were expected to rally outside Conway’s district office in Visalia later Monday.

At issue are temporary increases in the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes the Legislature enacted two years ago. The increases are scheduled to end by June 30, but Brown wants a special election to renew them for another five years to help close the remainder of what had been a $26.6 billion budget deficit.

The deficit now stands at $15.4 billion after Brown and Democratic lawmakers cut spending and transferred some money between government accounts. So far, Brown has been unable to win the two GOP votes he needs in each house of the state Legislature to put the tax question before voters.

The California Teachers Association and other interest groups are calling on lawmakers to vote on the taxes outright before they expire, rather than waiting for a special election the teachers say would take too long and imperil about 20,000 public school jobs. That’s about the number of layoff notices that were issued to teachers and other staff for the next school year.

Meditation program mends troubled Visitacion Valley Middle School

Every day before class, Visitacion Valley Middle School students pass an informal memorial known as the “R.I.P. wall,” a reminder of trouble that awaits them when the afternoon bell rings.

‘It takes away the anger’: Transcendental meditation 
programs are conducted twice daily in 12-minute sessions at 
Visitacion Valley Middle School. (Dan Schreiber/The Examiner)

In 2004, two students discovered the partially decomposed body of a 19-year-old stabbing victim. Later that year, a gunman brazenly stormed into the school, threatened to kill a teacher and robbed two employees. In the 2009-10 school year, one-fifth of the students had one or both parents incarcerated.

“Everybody in this school was either related to somebody who has been shot, who did the shooting, or who saw a shooting,” said Jim Dierke, the school principal. “We had kids who couldn’t learn.”
In the spring of 2007, Dierke decided he would try a simple solution.

The quiet time program involves the ancient techniques of transcendental meditation, conducted twice daily in 12-minute sessions before and after class.

The first announcement comes over the school’s intercom around 8:45 a.m. — “Prepare for quiet time,” — and the teachers ring a little bell to mark the beginning of the exercise. Most students close their eyes; others cover their faces with their hands and focus on the repetition of a mantra.

“It takes away the anger,” said Charles Ollie, an eighth-grader at the school. “Your brain is like a lake holding in water, and when we meditate, the flood gates open and the water is released.”

Dierke and the school staff credit the program with reducing violence, increasing attendance and test scores and dramatically decreasing suspensions.

Other good things are happening, too, teachers said. The volleyball team made the playoffs this year for the first time in a long time, and some of the eighth-graders are making it into The City’s top high schools, such as Lowell.

Most of the annual $175,000 funding for the program is provided by the New York-based David Lynch Foundation, founded by the TV and movie director. The money is used to pay for dedicated staff to run the quiet time program.

Opponents call it “stealth religion” that violates church-state separation laws because of its association with Eastern religions, but advocates insist that the practice predates Hinduism by thousands of years.
“They come from broken homes, foster care and group home settings,” said Brian Borsos, a special education teacher. “This is a practice that helps them go back and face what they need to face. It’s a skill they take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Meritus College Fund celebrates 15 years

Every month, Yasmin Bhatti and her mother sit down with the electricity bill to see if they have enough to cover their lighting and heating. Sometimes money is so tight, they take the loose change from their pockets to pay the bill.

Every day is a financial struggle. Yasmin, 18, works at AT&T Park scooping ice cream and brewing coffee to earn enough for the bus fare that gets her to San Francisco's Mission High School. Her sister, now 20, was admitted to college but instead went to work to help support her family.

So when Yasmin walks into a UC Berkeley lecture hall this fall, she'll be the first in her family to attend college, thanks to a unique scholarship program for good students who might otherwise not get the chance.
The Meritus College Fund this year will celebrate 15 years of helping high school seniors who might otherwise fall through the cracks - not the valedictorians who have a relatively easy time getting financial assistance, but good students who have overcome hardships such as poverty, violence and homelessness.

Most scholarships may give relatively meager amounts to students with less-than-perfect GPAs, explained Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and founder of the websites FastWeb and FinAid.

And while the $12,000 that Meritus gives won't cover everything, it makes a huge dent, he said.
"These scholarships don't necessarily match a student's need dollar for dollar, but they do help reduce students' debt payment," he said. "That means they can possibly have an easier time repaying loans after graduation."

Requests for help from Meritus College Fund increased 25 percent this year over last. About 200 students are currently in the program, and of the more than 400 who have participated since the scholarship started, about half were the first in their families to go to college.

Peer support available for struggling San Francisco teachers

Peer review and assistance
In an age when taxpayers are increasingly asking for schoolteachers to be held accountable for a child’s success, the San Francisco Unified School District offers struggling teachers a chance to improve.

The program, known as peer review and assistance, began more than a decade ago. It was expanded in 2006 to include additional teacher mentors and a voluntary program for those who thought they needed it even if they received satisfactory remarks on reviews.

If a teacher is put into peer review and assistance by receiving a poor performance review, the troubled teacher is assigned a coach — who is also a classroom teacher — and given one year to show improvements or face dismissal.

Union contracts make it hard for districts to fire the teachers. However, many teachers who are offered assistance and a plan for improvement instead choose to leave on their own if they don’t show progress.
Superintendent Carlos Garcia said at least 12 teachers have left the district of their own accord since the program was beefed up.

In addition to work on lesson planning, coaches help struggling teachers improve their ability to engage students and help them reflect on their own practices. Much of the coaching is focused on the teaching standards set by the state.

Debra Eslava-Burton, the district’s supervisor for teacher support and development, said as many as 40 teachers can be in the peer review program at a time. All teachers qualifying for peer review and assistance are veterans.

“It’s a changing practice,” Eslava-Burton said of the profession. “If you’re used to being autonomous with 30 students in and a closed door, it’s not that anymore.”

Eslava-Burton said teachers in the program are still in the classroom receiving periodic reviews and up to 150 minutes of one-on-one time with their coaches each week. They’re not given administrative duties.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

Dogs unleash elementary students' reading skills

Eight-year-old Doug Turner reads to Sophie the Maltese 
under the guidance of her owner, SPCA volunteer Debra Greenstein.

Doug Turner, 8, is not a big fan of reading. His tutors say he'll find any excuse to avoid it, like asking for a water break, forgetting his book or saying he has to go to the bathroom - again.

But not on Wednesdays. That's when Dusty and Sophie come to Junipero Serra Elementary in San Francisco to listen to him read. They never giggle, and they never criticize. Dusty is a shih tzu and Sophie a Maltese, and in that canine way, they are Doug's biggest fans.

"Children, get your coats on," Doug read from his "Phonics Library" book, "We're going shopping. They roomed ... roamed ... up and down the aisles, looking for gifts."

Sophie sat at attention on her owner Debra Greenstein's lap, watching Doug turn each page. Dusty stretched out on a patch of sunlight at Doug's feet.

Since 2007, the San Francisco SPCA has been sending therapy dogs and their owners to public and private schools, libraries, and pediatric hospital units to encourage "struggling readers" to open books and give it a try. Six students have been reading to Dusty and Sophie since the start of the school year, as one of the many ways educational resource specialist Wendy Fergus is trying to lift their reading levels up one or two grades.
"The animals seem to take some of their nervous energy away," Fergus said. "If kids are reading to a dog, the dog's not going to say, 'You're wrong,' they're just going to listen."
Doug agreed it's easier to read to a dog.

"A person, they get hungry, or have to go to the bathroom, they have to leave and go do stuff," he said. "But a dog, all they do is walk up to you and sit in your lap."

Monday, May 16, 2011

It’s Off to College for More than 80 Percent of Mission High Seniors


For years, Mission High has been associated with gangs more than grades.

Nowadays, however, improved test scores and high GPAs at the school, which has been underperforming for years, have renewed its reputation. The outcome: More than 80 percent of its graduating seniors have been accepted into two- and four-year colleges, according to Principal Eric Guthertz.

“This is a counterweight to all the negativity surrounding this school about scores and grades. Mission High can support students the way few schools can,” said Amadis Velez, who teaches expository writing.
“There’s a change happening at this school — and it’s being led by students like these.”

Among that 80 percent are students belonging to Mission High’s large immigrant population.

Take Diana*, for example, an undocumented immigrant who came here from Mexico at the age of 18. Family members warned she was too old to start high school, but at the insistence of her co-worker, she soon found her way into the halls of Mission High.

She is now 21, and headed to San Francisco State University with a $15,000 scholarship from 826 Valencia.
Part of successes like Diana’s lies in classes taught by Velez. Out of the 26 students in his class, including Diana, all have been here for less than four years, coming from countries like El Salvador, Yemen, Thailand and Greece; all started out as English-language learners.

Next fall, 22 of these students will attend four-year universities, among them UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and Santa Clara University. Two will be off to City College of San Francisco to study culinary arts and automotive technology. One will return to India for college, and the other has chosen to continue working at a restaurant in the Castro.