Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping Music Education Alive Despite Budget Cuts

Reporter: Ana Tintocalis

Schoolchildren across California have been performing holiday concerts this month. Given all the budget cuts to education, it might be surprising that arts and music programs still exist, but they do. At one San Francisco high school, a financial commitment voters made to the arts is paying off.Reporter: Ana Tintocalis

Mission Bears Honored by Mayor Ed Lee

By: Annie Pham

The Mission High School Bears made history on Thanksgiving Day when they won their first San Francisco Academic Athaletic Association championship in 57 years. This week it became official, as Mayor Ed Lee proclaimed Dec. 12 “Mission High School Football AAA Championship Day.”

On hand for the celebration were 49ers alumni Dwight Clark, Guy McIntyre and Dennis Brown.
It was a special occasion, notes Jared Muela, the 49ers’ youth football coordinator:
“This championship is the second enormous victory for the team this season. The first came on September 3rd, when they again were able to put a team on the field and get the 2011 season underway. Two years ago Mission High School almost had to discontinue their football program because of poor grades and participation. Coach Albano took this challenge head on and has resurrected a program most thought would fall by the wayside.”
View more photos at

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bucking a punitive trend, San Francisco lets students own up to misdeeds instead of getting kicked out of school

How one big-city district cut suspensions and expulsions — and why they may rise again

Tony Litwak, second from right, the director of the Peer Courts
program in San Francisco, has recruited more than 20 students
from schools across the city to work with misbehaving students
and keep them in class.
Photo by Jason Winshell / SF Public Press
Instead of being kicked out for fighting, stealing, talking back or other disruptive behavior, public school students in San Francisco are being asked to listen to each other, write letters of apology, work out solutions with the help of parents and educators or engage in community service. All these practices fall under the umbrella of “restorative justice” — asking wrongdoers to make amends before resorting to punishment.
The program launched in 2009 when the Board of Education asked schools to find alternatives to suspension and expulsion. In the previous seven years, suspensions in San Francisco spiked by 152 percent, to a total of 4,341 — mostly African Americans, who despite being one-tenth of the district made up half of suspensions and more than half of expulsions. This disparity fed larger social inequalities: two decades of national studies have found that expelled or suspended students are vastly more likely to drop out of school or end up in jail than those who face other kinds of consequences for their actions.
“My first act as a school board member was to push a student out of his school,” recalled Jane Kim, a former community organizer who as a member of Board of Education needed to approve all expulsions.
“That’s not what I expected to do,” she said, especially when it seemed to exacerbate the social inequalities she had pledged to fight in her position. Board colleague Sandra Lee Fewer said, “Sixty percent of inmates in the San Francisco county jail have been students in the San Francisco public school system, and the majority of them are people of color. We just knew we had to somehow stop this schoolhouse-to-jailhouse pipeline.”
Fewer and Kim, along with colleague Kim–Shree Maufas, led the three-year process for the board to officially adopt restorative justice. Though the task force charged with implementing the policy received only modest funding, expulsions have fallen 28 percent since its inception. Less serious cases have shown even more success.  Non-mandatory referrals for expulsion (those not involving drugs, violence or sexual assault) have plunged 60 percent, and suspensions are down by 35 percent.
Board members and many educators say restorative practices have kept students in school and out of the criminal justice system. “We’re holding kids more accountable than we did before,” said Kim, who now serves on the city’s Board of Supervisors. “In restorative justice, you have to actually have the offender and the victim sit down and discuss what happened and how the offender can make it better.”
But the data — along with interviews with parents, students and educators — reveal that progress so far is halting and uneven. Critics say that’s because the transition from punitive to restorative justice is underfunded and haphazardly evaluated. Suspensions and expulsions are actually rising in some schools that have yet to embrace restorative practices, often in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods. At one, Thurgood Marshall High School, suspensions have almost tripled since 2007. The resulting picture is a school-by-school patchwork, at best an unfinished project to reform the traditional juvenile discipline paradigm.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Shop class retooled for future at O'Connell High

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

O'Connell High School's Gus Amador (left) offers advice to
Lucerito Martinez as carpentry students work together to
rough-frame a stage being built for the industrial arts
building's unveiling today.
San Francisco school officials are to unveil a $1.1 million barn-like industrial space on the John O'Connell High School campus today, a mark of the district's revitalized effort to bring back old-school shop classes with 21st century twists.

The new building, the first solar-powered site in the city's school district, will hold the power tools for traditional carpentry classes immediately, but have the flexibility to accommodate high-tech courses like robotics or aeronautics at some point down the line, said David Goldin, district chief facilities officer.
It's big enough that students could wheel in a small airplane and take it apart, Goldin said.

The space at the Mission neighborhood school offers students the hands-on, career-focused learning of decades past, while including enough math and other academics to satisfy the requirements of a college-prep curriculum.

This is definitely not your father's woodshop class. In a sense, the new building and the program inside combine old-school vocational education with college track rigor, a rejection of the either-or model of generations past.

Variety of skills

Students will be expected to learn the basics - everything from hammering a nail to using a tape measure - as well as advanced skills like creating blueprints and building plans. For example, they will make a playhouse to the same specifications of a real house - only smaller.

"The skills that make you successful in college are the same skills that make you successful in careers," said Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza.

The new building, funded by developer fees, will allow an expansion of the school's carpentry classes, which were restarted in 2008 after years of being on hiatus.

Classes are expected to begin in the building sometime in January, moving from a cramped classroom where saws share space with desks and where there's only enough room for about 15 students because of safety concerns, said teacher Guy Amador.

"The kids are knocking down my door to get into my classes," said Amador, who is looking forward to the move.

"I want them to go home with all their fingers," he said.

Shop classes were largely phased out over the last couple of decades as schools focused on pushing all students toward college rather than the frowned-upon tracking of some kids into skilled labor.
But in recent years, educators have pushed back, realizing that vocational-focused classes have always served a sector of students that won't go to college, giving them insight and experience into lucrative careers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

On Land and in the Bay, Innovation Tackles Truancy

Lianne Milton for The Bay Citizen
Downtown HS students build and sail boats as part of a "project-based" curriculum designed to decrease truancy.
“It’s so foggy you can’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Austin, a 17-year-old student at Downtown High School in Potrero Hill, as he worked the oars. When the students passed an old sailboat, their instructor, Jeff Rogers, told them it was built 120 years ago in Hunters Point. 

“Hey,” Austin said. “My ’hood.” 

If not for the boating expedition, Austin might have still been home, in bed, instead of in school. But on that day his classroom happened to be a sailboat. Before coming to Downtown, he was a chronic truant in the San Francisco school system, one of the thousands of students at risk of dropping out. Now he attends school about 80 percent of the time. 

For decades, teachers and school districts have battled truancy, struggling to engage students who cope with economic hardship, community strife, domestic violence and drug abuse. Some students avoid school because they are not interested or because they are being bullied. But since 2008, in part because of programs like those at Downtown, the San Francisco district’s chronic truancy has dropped by 31 percent. 

Downtown High is a continuation school, with one of the two largest concentrations of truants in the city; the other is Ida B. Wells High School in the Western Addition. There are no ringing class bells or six-period school days at Downtown; the curriculum is “project-based,” meaning students choose one course each semester to fulfill all of their academic requirements. Math, science, history and English are taught in hands-on classes in music, nature, drama and social movements. 

Jaime Osorno, Downtown’s counselor, came to the school four years ago after working in the district as a truancy specialist. “I chose this because I felt that we were offering something different to students,” Mr. Osorno said. “When I was in other schools, it was like, ‘Here’s your classes, good luck.’ ” 

Most of the 275 students at Downtown High have exhausted efforts by other schools to get them on track to graduate, including parent meetings, support programs and mediations with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. As a result, “attendance drives everything” at Downtown, said Mark Alvarado, the principal. 

At Downtown, success means that a student attends school at least 80 percent of the time and earns at least 17.5 credits each quarter. Roughly 100 students achieve that mark, up from about 25 in 2007, but the numbers fluctuate weekly. 

The students fall into three categories. Those with 80 percent attendance or better are in Cohort A; students in Cohort B show up 40 percent to 80 percent of the time; and some students in Cohort C have never even set foot on campus. 

“These are the kids that make me nervous,” Mr. Alvarado said of Cohort C, adding that few of them make it to graduation. Instead, he tries to connect those students to adult education and vocational training programs.
“Cohort B wants to graduate,” he said. “They could have dropped out already. They weren’t successful before for whatever reason, but they’re coming to school.” 

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the school put on a holiday feast and a talent show. Mr. Alvarado estimated that 145 out of 275 students attended, a typical showing at Downtown.

S.F. schools struggle with more homeless kids

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Brothers Rudy and Danny Nguyen wait for a storage locker 
site to open so their family can stow their bag of possessions.
Rudy Nguyen, 10, is homeless.

Last week, he was sleeping on the floor at a San Francisco drop-in homeless shelter with his parents and 3-year-old brother Danny. Thin mats kept them off hard linoleum.

In the last two months, he spent three nights at a bus shelter and a week on the streets, sleeping on his parents' laps in a park.

Yet every morning, Rudy Nguyen takes two Muni buses to San Francisco's Spring Valley elementary school, where the fourth-grader is expected to be ready to read, write and multiply numbers - like every other kid in school.

Rudy is among a growing number of San Francisco schoolchildren in homeless families who too often come to class cold, hungry and sleep-deprived, making learning difficult if not impossible.

"If you're not fed, if you're not warm, if you're not sleeping ... you can't turn that off and focus on double-digit multiplication," said Jessica Chiarchiaro, Rudy's fourth-grade teacher.

In the city's public schools, there are 2,200 homeless children, some in shelters, others in cars, or on couches, or in long-term hotel rooms. That's 400 more homeless children than a year ago.

They are among the most difficult children to teach, educators say, because their unstable lives often lead to frequent absences or tardiness, lethargy, health issues and behavioral outbursts.

Doing homework can be tough without a kitchen table.

And yet in the spring, these homeless children will take the same standardized test as students in Hillsborough, Piedmont and Beverly Hills where every physical and academic need is met - their heated bedrooms full of books, computers and educational toys, their kitchens stocked with food.

"We're being held accountable for these kids scoring a certain percentage correct on a standardized test," Chiarchiaro said of the homeless schoolchildren. "I wish public schools had more resources so we can help them."

Homeless students typically post scores below or far below grade level on those tests, landing at the opposite end of the achievement gap from kids with greater advantages.

Late for school

One recent morning, Rudy's parents, Sophorn "Julie" Sung and Tung Nguyen, juggled a bag of clothes, jackets and Rudy's 3-year-old brother, Danny, as they left the Oshun drop-in shelter in the Mission District. They weren't allowed to leave anything at the shelter for the day, so they headed to a local storage facility.
Rudy and his family waited outside until 8 a.m. when the storage gates opened. At Rudy's school, breakfast was being served.

Rudy hadn't eaten yet.

The family came to San Francisco from Dallas in September after Rudy's unemployed father believed he had a good-paying job in shipping and receiving waiting for him. The job didn't pan out.

They had sold everything to come to California, except for the few belongings in the storage locker.
"Oh, he's going to be late again," Sung said as she stashed the clothes for the day.

School was just starting when Rudy arrived 45 minutes later. He had been delayed because the 49 Mission Muni bus he and his family hoped to catch pulled away as they crossed the street. They caught the next bus.
On the way to school, Rudy didn't talk much.

"Mom, I'm hungry and cold," he said as he walked up the final hill toward Spring Valley elementary school.
His mom didn't respond.

2,200 homeless students

Friday, December 2, 2011

Budget cuts could jeopardize at-risk teen programs in SF

Career academies
Mike Koozmin/The Examiner
Teacher Valerie Ziegler, center, and student teacher
Lauren Karas, center left, lead a class at Lincoln High, 
\where three special academies could lose state aid.
Inez Vara attributes her academic success to the Green Academy, one of four career-focused schools-within-a-school at Abraham Lincoln High School.

When Vara was a freshman at Lincoln High, her earth sciences teacher suggested she sign up for the Green Academy, a program the school was starting the next year.

“I thought, ‘All it is, is save the whales, save the trees,’” she said. “But it was not what I expected.”

Now a senior, Vara has learned about recycling, waste management and climate change. She is taking Advanced Placement environmental science and applying to four-year colleges, and she hopes to have a career in foreign aid.

Participating schools must ensure that half the students entering an academy be deemed “at risk” of dropping out in the future. But despite the greater challenges faced by many academy students, a recently released study by researchers at UC Berkeley found that 95 percent of students in the state’s 500 career academies graduate on time, compared to 85 percent of all students statewide. Academy students also were more likely to pass graduation exams.

At Lincoln High, students said the study’s findings made sense.

“Abraham Lincoln is such a huge school,” Vara said. “In the academies, we create smaller communities. We build closer relationships with the teachers and closer relationships with each other. We’re not just another student in the hallway.”

Kitty Lam, a senior in Lincoln’s Teacher Academy, agreed.

“You’re with these people for so long,” Lam said, noting that students in each academy share the same small group of teachers for three years. “You strive for success. You can’t just let them down. The class, the teachers, we’re a family.”

The academies’ success may be in jeopardy, however.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

School Beat: High Schools – the Last Stop in School Searches

San Francisco voters were generous once again and passed Proposition A, the last in a trio of facilities bond measures to repair and refurbish our city’s public school buildings. Those among us who are touring schools as part of the student assignment process have had ample opportunity to view both the benefits of the previous two bond measures and the need for this last round. If only all school improvement efforts were as tractable as physical plant upgrades, we would be in great shape, but of course this isn’t so.

My family is currently looking at high schools for next year, so we are in our last-ever engagement with San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) school assignment system. This system has been the focus of much debate and angst over the years, no less so these days after being recently revised to more strongly weight a child’s home address, while at the same time attempting to prioritize choices for children likely to be experiencing educational disadvantages.

Because of past lawsuits, legally binding agreements, and a moral imperative to provide equal access to educational opportunities, SFUSD has not had a “simple” neighborhood assignment policy for years. Apparently voters understand the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in, as evidenced by the Proposition H advisory measure failing to pass.

Still, the very fact that such an advisory measure was on the ballot highlights how student assignment captures the majority of attention regarding school issues. But the problem with focusing so much energy on this one aspect of the school system is that it can only go so far in addressing a more fundamental issue – the inequalities in schools across our city and what we must do together to strengthen all of our schools. A positive attribute of our school system is that, within quite a burdensome set of financial and policy constraints, schools have developed in unique ways. Various types of programs and approaches are found from school to school; sizes are different; communities are different. These differences can present meaningful, distinct options for families.

The flip side of course, is that our schools are not individuating from a shared strong, baseline foundation. Disparities persist and because they are based in a multitude of factors, they are hard to tackle. One approach that was supposed to address resource inequities was the Weighted Student Formula (WSF), but this has not completely panned out. In this model, resources follow a student. If a student falls into certain categories that have specific funding associated with that category – say a student who is an English Language Learner – those monies go with that student, wherever they are, regardless of school. That works to a certain degree, but students don’t receive education like they do servings of food. Portions of education can’t be easily meted out on a student by student basis.