Thursday, October 27, 2011

San Francisco schools grappling with pre-kindergarten program

Schools hope to prepare children who will be among the
youngest in their classes for the academic rigors
of kindergarten (Courtesy Photo)
A new California law requires school districts to offer children who turn 5 in the fall an extra year of kindergarten, but with funding tighter than ever, school officials are hustling to create what amounts to a brand-new grade level.

At its meeting this month, the board of the San Francisco Unified School District grappled with how to create the program when the law offers districts little guidance and no funding.

“For decades we have been talking about changing kindergarten age; most people who are experts in early childhood believe we should,” said board member Jill Wynns. However, she added, “This is really not the time to engage in an enormously complex educational program development, because it costs money.”

Although they are not sure how much it will cost, many school officials support the concept, which they say will help children who are younger than their peers become more successful students later on.
“I don’t think it will ever be a good time, but it’s good to have this,” said Sandy Mikulik, curriculum director at the Jefferson Elementary School District on the Peninsula.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 rolls back the cutoff dates by which children entering kindergarten must have turned 5. This year, that date was Dec. 2, but over the next three years it will become Nov. 1, then Oct. 1, and finally Sept. 1.

Beginning in fall 2012, schools will be required to offer children with birthdays after the cutoff date but before Dec. 2 a two-year program called “transitional kindergarten,” which will focus more on social and emotional development and pre-academic skills, such as using scissors.

Educators say this is important because in recent years kindergarten has become more academic, to the extent that some call it “the new first grade.”

“Those 4-year-olds, in general, they’re not ready for the academic rigor in kindergarten,” said Jessica Mihaly, a consultant who is helping several Peninsula school districts improve kindergarten readiness.

In addition to planning curriculum, school officials must also figure out how to get parents to sign their children up for the voluntary program, which some might see as stigmatizing.

Mihaly suggested families think of it in a different way.

“This transitional kindergarten is a great benefit to children,” Mihaly said. “There’s a concern that it is a ding on kids, but it’s a great opportunity for a 14th year of free public education.”

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SF schools gear up for tough graduation standards

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

As seniors, Lincoln's Vania Valle (left), Jessica Garrett, 
Kimberley Medrano and Andreana Kalaveras - shown 
with counselor Maria Martinez - don't face the tougher 
The pressure is on San Francisco's current crop of high school sophomores, who have less than three years now to pass a rigorous curriculum required for admission by the University of California and California State University.

The class of 2014 is the first in the San Francisco school district to be told they must complete 15 college-prep courses - ranging from algebra to lab science to visual arts - to earn a diploma.

It means that all 4,300 sophomores in the class that started high school last year are on the college track whether they saw themselves as college-bound or not.

The idea is to give every student a clear path to college and the help to get there.

"Whether or not to go to college should be a student's choice, not a failure on our part to prepare our students," Superintendent Carlos Garcia said when the policy passed in 2008.

The question is whether the district can succeed.

New urgency

Last year, about 550 freshmen flunked algebra and 650 failed English. Both subjects lay the groundwork for the three more years of English as well as geometry and algebra II now needed to graduate.
"There's urgency in keeping kids on track and supporting that," said Lincoln High School Principal Barnaby Payne.
The district is among just a few urban districts in the state to require students to pass the college-prep sequence known as A-G courses. San Jose Unified was the first to do so in 2003.

In San Francisco, that meant the district had to add two years of foreign language to the previous requirement of one as well as a third year of math through algebra II, instead of two.

In years past, a student could fail a handful of classes and still graduate. Now, more than two F's in required classes will send a student looking for a way to make up the courses outside the regular school day. Although the universities don't accept a D grade in the classes, the district still considers the grade passing, barely.

Knowing students would have very little room for failure, board members raised concerns when the policy passed in 2008 that the new requirements would lead to a higher dropout rate because students would give up if they failed too many courses and couldn't graduate on time.

To see that didn't happen, the district started flagging struggling students as they came out of the eighth grade - those with a grade point average below 2.0 and a high absentee rate.

For the class of 2014, 232 kids were identified as needing help.

"From the school sites' standpoint, there's really no time to waste," Payne said. "We start students on the A-G path right away."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Santana returns to alma mater, guitar blazing

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Carlos Santana (center) speaks to students gathered 
in the auditorium before performing at his alma mater 
Mission High school in San Francisco, Calif. 
on Monday, October 24, 2011.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Legendary guitarist Carlos Santana walked through the entrance to San Francisco's Mission High School on Monday morning, ready to play his guitar and celebrate the school he attended decades ago for its recent successes.

It was the first time he'd been back since he was a student there in the mid-1960s.

"If you can remember only one thing today, remember this: You are significant. You are meaningful and you matter," Santana told the students at the event organized by his nonprofit organization, the Milagro Foundation.

The purpose of his visit was to encourage the school, whose student body has often struggled academically but has recently shown some promise. More of Mission High's students are going to college, there are fewer dropouts, and after several years of silence, the school's music program has been restored.

Dressed head to toe in white, Santana spoke of playing at Woodstock and with B.B. King, Miles Davis and John Lee Hooker. For kids born after 1990, those references likely were lost on many of them. What they were aware of, though, was that someone like them - an immigrant who lived in the same neighborhood and sat through the same algebra and history classes at Mission High - had made it and made it big.

Santana was joined by his drummer wife Cindy Blackman Santana, actor Edward James Olmos and film producer Peter Bratt, who offered students sage advice on how to live a similarly successful life, even if it's not one filled with fame.

Discipline born of love

"I'm not special. I'm not kidding you, man, I'm not special," Olmos said to a hushed auditorium filled with the school's 700 students. "I didn't come out of my mother's womb going, 'To be or not to be, man.' I found my love. And then I disciplined myself to do the thing I love to do when I didn't feel like doing it."

While not a Bay Area boy, Olmos' life and experiences resonated with the students.

Finally, Santana launched into a loud rendition of "Oye Como Va," accompanied by several giddy current and former members of the school's guitar club.

"It's probably the best moment in my life, well, so far," said recent graduate Gilberto Mejia, 18, who founded the guitar club in 2007, and whose own guitar now has a Santana autograph. "He's an inspiration. He's somebody in the world."

The starry-eyed students frequently raised their smart phones to capture images of the celebrities, but the advice and wisdom imparted had not been lost on them.

"If you have the opportunity to do what you want, you should take that opportunity," said junior Patty Calvez, 16.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mayor Ed Lee, police Chief Greg Suhr take cover with San Francisco students during earthquake drill

Ed Lee, Greg Suhr
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Greg Suhr
participated in the Great California ShakeOut with William
Cobb Elementary School students this morning.
(AP file photo)
Practice makes perfect.

That was the message that San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee had for San Francisco elementary school students who joined more than 8.5 million Californians participating in the country’s largest earthquake drill this morning.

Lee, along with the city’s top public safety and school officials, visited William Cobb Elementary School in Lower Pacific Heights to practice ducking and covering as part of the Great California ShakeOut.
San Francisco Bay Area rocked by 3.9-magnitude earthquake same day of Great California ShakeOut.

Earthquakes are an inevitable part of life in the Bay Area, Lee told a class of third-grade students while he read them a book about the 1906 earthquake and fire.

“Today, we’re better prepared,” he told the students, as Police Chief Greg Suhr, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White and San Francisco Unified School District board president Hydra Mendoza looked on.

More than 1.3 million Bay Area residents were expected to participate in the 10:20 a.m. drill — including 315,000 people in San Francisco, according to Lee.

It is the third consecutive year that the drill, which began in November 2008 as the Great Southern California ShakeOut, has been held statewide on the third Thursday of October.

Shortly before the drill, the school’s playground was bustling with activity and the sounds of recess filled the air. Inside, Lee, Suhr, Hayes-White, Mendoza and the students sat calmly in their seats and waited.

A voice came over the public address system and announced the start of the drill. Within seven seconds, everyone had enthusiastically dropped, taken cover under the desks and were holding tight, awaiting the all-clear.

Suhr was perhaps overly enthusiastic; he told reporters after the drill that he had bumped his head so hard as he was crawling under the desk that the young girl next to him asked if he was hurt.

“She said, ‘Ouch! Are you OK?’” Suhr said.

After the drill, students had streamed outside and formed neat rows, and Lee reminded them to encourage their families to participate in regular drills and prepare an emergency kit.

“The more you practice, the more you’ll be prepared,” he said.

This year, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia and Guam were also scheduled to hold ShakeOut drills today at 10:21 a.m., with an estimated 10 million total participants.

SF Farm Day brings surprise to urban schools

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Evelyn Yu, a kindergartner at Gordon Lau Elementary School,
moves in for a close inspection of Jerry the goat's hind quarters
during Farm Day in San Francisco, Calif. on Thursday, Oct. 20,
2011. The event was held to educate school children about
where their food comes from.

Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle
San Francisco kindergartner Evelyn Yu stared down Harry the sheep and then grabbed a handful of raw, yellowed wool on display next to the animal's pen in the Gordon J. Lau Elementary school yard.

"You can make your clothes out of that," said the girl's teacher, Denise DeLeon.

Evelyn wrinkled her nose and appeared unconvinced.

"It's too dirty," the 5-year-old said before walking away to check out Jerry the pygmy goat.

Across the city, thousands of urban students on Thursday got a first-hand look at where clothes and food come from, thanks to contributions from animals like Harry and Jerry as well as Norman the calf and Fillmore the turkey for the 25th San Francisco Farm Day.

"When kids think milk comes from the grocery store, we have a problem," said Kenny Watkins, chairman of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. "We need for them to make the connection that California has the most abundant and safest food in the world."

Students at Lau lined up to learn about the life cycle of chickens and turkeys, walking past eggs, then day-old chicks and poults (baby turkeys). Then they stood before Fillmore, a big, white Foster Farms tom turkey - and brother of the turkey that received the traditional Thanksgiving pardon last year from President Obama.

The event coincided with the Grand National Horse and Livestock Show at the Cow Palace this week.

At other schools and at the Cow Palace, students learned how to milk a cow, hull rice and candle eggs, a technique to determine if they are fertile.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Addressing truancy is a high-stakes game for San Francisco

By: George Gascón and Carlos Garcia | 10/18/11 9:59 PM

AP file photo
Transitioning from middle school to high school can be a difficult time in a young person’s life. Last year, Jessica was an eighth-grader at an academic middle school in San Francisco. Challenged by family instability and little adult supervision, she missed almost half of her eighth-grade year.

During her freshman year at a large San Francisco high school, Jessica continued to experience difficulty both at home and at school. She skipped more than 350 classes during the year — 56 percent of her ninth-grade education. In the spring, school officials referred her to the District Attorney’s Office for Truancy Court, where she was connected to case managers at the Truancy Assessment and Resource Center and assigned to summer school to make up missed credits.

Jessica is now performing better academically, consistently attending school, and has even joined her school’s cheerleading squad. While we are proud of Jessica’s success, we want to do better — to help students such as Jessica succeed in high school from the very first day they pass through the door.

We know chronic truancy leads to dropping out of school. This is bad enough, but it can also lead a young person into the criminal justice system. Two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts.

Research also shows that 94 percent of murder victims under the age of 25 in San Francisco are high school dropouts. It’s a high-stakes game to leave school without a diploma. That is why the San Francisco Unified School District and the District Attorney’s Office are furthering efforts to combat truancy by providing truancy prevention services directly at school sites — and surrounding students with support before their low attendance
jeopardizes their success.

A pilot program at Burton High School provides a new model of support for its incoming ninth-grade class. Supported by criminal justice funds from the District Attorney’s Office, the program is helping more than 20 formerly truant students successfully transition to high school.

From the very start of the school year, students have received individual case management and support from TARC. Case managers check in with students during the day at school — or at their homes if they are truant. They connect the students and their families to needed services.

The program is already seeing promising results. Since its launch in August, students in the Burton truancy pilot program are attending an average of 23 percent more school days than last year.

The partnership between the District Attorney’s Office and the San Francisco Unified School District to combat truancy began only four years ago. It already has resulted in a 33 percent reduction in the number of chronically and habitually truant students. Intervening directly at the school site with chronically truant students such as Jessica is one more critical step to ensuring that all students have the best chance at academic success, and that our students and communities are safe.
George Gascón is San Francisco’s district attorney. Carlos Garcia is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mission Students Support National Coming Out Day


Dozens of students at John O’Connell High School sport purple clothes and accessories in support of National Coming Out Day.

Prop. A: S.F. school bond plan's final installment

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

San Francisco - 2011: The Healthiest City for Families

As featured in Parents Magazine annual Smart Places to Settle Down list, SF made the top spot, thanks in part to some healthy steps taken by SFUSD.

#1. San FranciscoPopulation 744,041
Medical Care A
Healthy Schools A
Air & Water A+
Outdoor Fun A
Family Safety A-

(c) Getty Images
The City by the Bay rose to the top of our list in part because of its gutsy moves to bring healthier foods to schools. San Fran booted soda and high-fat, empty-calorie food out of its schools in 2004 (five years before the state did) and was one of the first places in the country to push for school gardens.

Salad bars -- stocked with California-grown produce and whole-grain breads -- debuted in 25 city schools in 2007; now at least half have them. "Students are definitely eating more fruits and vegetables at lunchtime since we installed the salad bars," says Ed Wilkins, school nutrition services director.

San Francisco also goes the extra mile to keep kids active, running 182 playgrounds (including Golden Gate Playground, with one-of-a kind slides and a sand-castle-building area), 82 recreation centers, and 60 soccer fields. The Sunday Streets program creates miles of car-free roads during designated times so families can get outside without traffic worries.

"My 3-year-old squealed when she rode her bike down the middle of the steep roads near our house," says Sumi Das, a spokesperson for the 4,300-member Golden Gate Mothers group.