Tuesday, June 21, 2011

S.F. schools' technology finally gets up to speed

By: Jill Tucker

When Erik Heinrich left the Pacific Stock Exchange three years ago to take a job overseeing technology in the San Francisco school district, he thought people were joking when they described Internet capability in city classrooms.

At the time, at high schools with 2,000 students, one student at one computer watching an educational YouTube video consumed a third of the school's bandwidth.

Most days the system simply stalled, unable to process the demand for online access.
Coming from a private industry that calculated to the millisecond every dollar lost during a computer failure, Heinrich was dumbfounded.

"It was not something I could comprehend," Heinrich said, noting the Silicon Valley companies a stone's throw away. YouTube headquarters was less than 10 miles from several San Francisco schools. "It was impossible to me."

It took two years of planning and one year of work to install the fiber cables to push the district into the 21st century. But as of May 20, each of San Francisco's 120 schools has 600 to 800 times the bandwidth it did last summer, Heinrich said.

Note to city property tax payers: This is where a bunch of your money went.
Each year since 2008, San Francisco property owners have ponied up $198 for Proposition A, a measure that largely helps recruit and retain teachers with higher salaries.

But in the small print, the ballot measure also noted the money would help upgrade district technology.

'BBB'-Silver awards give a hand to 3 future stars

By: Catherine Bigelow

There was a spirited pep rally of the most vociferous proportions last week at Club Fugazi, where talented Bay Area high school seniors sang, danced and acted their hearts out during the Steve Silver Foundation and "Beach Blanket Babylon" Scholarship for the Arts awards.

"Thirty-seven years ago this month, my late husband, Steve Silver, opened the first night of this show he created," "BBB" producer Jo Schuman Silver said. "It's my honor to keep his vision and creativity alive through this scholarship program."

She received more than 400 entries and spent the past few months poring over them, saying it was no easy task to determine just nine finalists, who all took their turn in the spotlight.

Nailing it for a "BBB"-size $10K check in support of their college tuition: dancer Darius Drooh (Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts), actress Jessica Chanliau (Novato's Marin School of the Arts) and singer Jillian Butler (Brentwood's Liberty High School).

Plan to implement middle school assignment system approved by SF school board

By: Andrea Koskey

Fifth graders entering the sixth grade in the 2017-18 school year will automatically be assigned a school based on their enrollment at the elementary level following approval of a plan by the San Francisco Unified School District’s Board of Education.

The school district has been working for the past two years to create a system -- known as middle school feeder patterns -- that will allow parents to know which school their children will go to based on where the child is enrolled for kindergarten.

A plan to implement the feeder patterns was approved by the school board Tuesday evening.
The way middle schools are assigned, however, will not change until the 2017-18 school year. In the meantime, parents will still have complete choice in their middle school. However if a school has too many students applying for a limited number of spots, those students attending an elementary school that will eventually feed into the middle school would get preference over other students.
By the 2017-18 school year, fifth-grade students will automatically be placed into a particular middle school without the need to apply.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia said he understands that not all families will support the system, but hopes they will understand this is one way the district is trying to address the quality of all programs at all middle schools.
“The system itself isn’t what’s going to create quality middle schools,” he said. “But we need to align schools in order to support that goal.”

San Francisco Schools May Expand Green Cleaning Program

By

In an effort to reduce asthma attacks in children, San Francisco officials want to institute green cleaning programs in all of the city's public schools.
At the end of this month, the San Francisco Unified School District Board will consider expanding its green cleaning program. Under the plan, all of the sinks used by custodians would be retrofitted with specially designed faucets that release measured amounts of “green” cleaning agents. Roughly half of the city's schools are already equipped with these spigots.
The move is intended to combat childhood asthma rates, which affect nearly 667,000 school-aged children in California, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“Chemical cleaners are triggers for asthma,” according to school board member Jill Wynns. “When kids are with us, we are responsible for them. Kids can’t learn if they are having an asthma attack. Kids with asthma miss school and that costs us money.”
While green cleaning supplies typically cost more, district officials say the fact that the cleaning liquids will be released in controlled spurts will help hold down costs. Many cleaning products, including bleach, contain asthmagens, which can exacerbate or lead to the onset of asthma, health officials say.
If approved by the board on June 28, the green cleaning program would cut down on the use of toxic cleaners containing bleach and other cleaners, as well as retrofit sinks used by the custodial staff. The district hopes to establish a Green Cleaning Oversight Committee that would be charged with securing local, state and federal funds and private donations for the new taps.
It is not yet clear how much the project will cost. The committee will also design a green cleaning training program for school janitors, food service workers, special education teachers and parents.
The district intends to have the program fully established by the fall of 2013. A pilot program funded with local and state dollars retrofit sinks in 43 schools.
“I believe this won’t cost us any more than we now spend for cleaning supplies,” Wynns said. “We hope as more people use green cleaners, the price of them will go down.”
Some parents said they welcomed the program as long as it does not affect classroom funding.
“I support the program because at some point we have to bite the bullet and invest in sustainability,” said Crystal Brown, co-president of Educate Our State, a parent-led group dedicated to reforming the state’s public schools. “San Francisco is the city to do it. At the same time, I hope there is no money devoted from the classroom, because we can’t afford it.”
The district’s program is being developed with help from various health organizations and public health agencies, including the San Francisco Asthma Task Force, a group of educators, health and environmental officials tasked with examining local asthma rates.
“There is a huge cost to society from children missing schools,” said Linda Civitello, chief executive of Breathe California, Golden Gate Public Health Partnership, a Daly City-based nonprofit organization focused on lung health and air quality that is helping in the district’s effort. “Asthma is the number one cause of school absenteeism for children nationwide. It is the number one cause of hospitalizations for children with chronic illness.”
In an effort to reduce asthma attacks in children, San Francisco officials want to institute green cleaning programs in all of the city's public schools.

At the end of this month, the San Francisco Unified School District Board will consider expanding its green cleaning program. Under the plan, all of the sinks used by custodians would be retrofitted with specially designed faucets that release measured amounts of “green” cleaning agents. Roughly half of the city's schools are already equipped with these spigots.
 

The move is intended to combat childhood asthma rates, which affect nearly 667,000 school-aged children in California, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

“Chemical cleaners are triggers for asthma,” according to school board member Jill Wynns. “When kids are with us, we are responsible for them. Kids can’t learn if they are having an asthma attack. Kids with asthma miss school and that costs us money.”


While green cleaning supplies typically cost more, district officials say the fact that the cleaning liquids will be released in controlled spurts will help hold down costs. Many cleaning products, including bleach, contain
asthmagens, which can exacerbate or lead to the onset of asthma, health officials say.


If approved by the board on June 28, the green cleaning program would cut down on the use of toxic cleaners containing bleach and other cleaners, as well as retrofit sinks used by the custodial staff. The district hopes to establish a Green Cleaning Oversight Committee that would be charged with securing local, state and federal funds and private donations for the new taps.


It is not yet clear how much the project will cost. The committee will also design a green cleaning training program for school janitors, food service workers, special education teachers and parents.
The district intends to have the program fully established by the fall of 2013. A pilot program funded with local and state dollars retrofit sinks in 43 schools.


“I believe this won’t cost us any more than we now spend for cleaning supplies,” Wynns said. “We hope as more people use green cleaners, the price of them will go down.”


Some parents said they welcomed the program as long as it does not affect classroom funding.
“I support the program because at some point we have to bite the bullet and invest in sustainability,” said Crystal Brown, co-president of Educate Our State, a parent-led group dedicated to reforming the state’s public schools. “San Francisco is the city to do it. At the same time, I hope there is no money devoted from the classroom, because we can’t afford it.”


The district’s program is being developed with help from various health organizations and public health agencies, including the San Francisco Asthma Task Force, a group of educators, health and environmental officials tasked with examining local asthma rates.


“There is a huge cost to society from children missing schools,” said Linda Civitello, chief executive of Breathe California, Golden Gate Public Health Partnership, a Daly City-based nonprofit organization focused on lung
health and air quality that is helping in the district’s effort. “Asthma is the number one cause of school absenteeism for children nationwide. It is the number one cause of hospitalizations for children with chronic illness.”

In an effort to reduce asthma attacks in children, San Francisco officials want to institute green cleaning programs in all of the city's public schools.
At the end of this month, the San Francisco Unified School District Board will consider expanding its green cleaning program. Under the plan, all of the sinks used by custodians would be retrofitted with specially designed faucets that release measured amounts of “green” cleaning agents. Roughly half of the city's schools are already equipped with these spigots.
The move is intended to combat childhood asthma rates, which affect nearly 667,000 school-aged children in California, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“Chemical cleaners are triggers for asthma,” according to school board member Jill Wynns. “When kids are with us, we are responsible for them. Kids can’t learn if they are having an asthma attack. Kids with asthma miss school and that costs us money.”
While green cleaning supplies typically cost more, district officials say the fact that the cleaning liquids will be released in controlled spurts will help hold down costs. Many cleaning products, including bleach, contain asthmagens, which can exacerbate or lead to the onset of asthma, health officials say.
If approved by the board on June 28, the green cleaning program would cut down on the use of toxic cleaners containing bleach and other cleaners, as well as retrofit sinks used by the custodial staff. The district hopes to establish a Green Cleaning Oversight Committee that would be charged with securing local, state and federal funds and private donations for the new taps.
It is not yet clear how much the project will cost. The committee will also design a green cleaning training program for school janitors, food service workers, special education teachers and parents.
The district intends to have the program fully established by the fall of 2013. A pilot program funded with local and state dollars retrofit sinks in 43 schools.
“I believe this won’t cost us any more than we now spend for cleaning supplies,” Wynns said. “We hope as more people use green cleaners, the price of them will go down.”
Some parents said they welcomed the program as long as it does not affect classroom funding.
“I support the program because at some point we have to bite the bullet and invest in sustainability,” said Crystal Brown, co-president of Educate Our State, a parent-led group dedicated to reforming the state’s public schools. “San Francisco is the city to do it. At the same time, I hope there is no money devoted from the classroom, because we can’t afford it.”
The district’s program is being developed with help from various health organizations and public health agencies, including the San Francisco Asthma Task Force, a group of educators, health and environmental officials tasked with examining local asthma rates.
“There is a huge cost to society from children missing schools,” said Linda Civitello, chief executive of Breathe California, Golden Gate Public Health Partnership, a Daly City-based nonprofit organization focused on lung health and air quality that is helping in the district’s effort. “Asthma is the number one cause of school absenteeism for children nationwide. It is the number one cause of hospitalizations for children with chronic illness.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

How wellness centers help troubled S.F. students



By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer


As a dyslexic, African American male growing up in San Francisco's notorious Hunters Point neighborhood, the odds were far greater that Evander Williams would drop out, die or go to jail than graduate high school.

Well over half the city's black males don't make it to graduation day on time, according to state data.

Williams did, collecting his diploma from Thurgood Marshall Academic High School last week.

The 18-year-old credits his family, his faith and friends. But he also credits the support he found behind the door at the end of his high school's first-floor hallway.

The small sign on the outside simply says "Wellness Center."

Inside, Williams, like hundreds of other students, found courage, comfort and the mental, physical and emotional support it took to get him through the really bad days.

The center, one of 15 such offices at city high schools, offers students mental health support, reproductive services, referrals to physicians, a school nurse, and staff members who are there to listen.

"It was hard, though," Williams said. "I had a lot of challenges."
Hard is an understatement.

Young at Art

Posted By: Terence Clarke | June 08 2011 at 04:20 PM

With all the discussion in Washington D.C., Sacramento and elsewhere about education budgets and what the role of public education should be, there is usually little in the debate about the arts. They are the lost child of spending cuts.

You wouldn't have thought so if you had visited the 25th annual Young at Art Festival held recently at The de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

There, hundreds of children were walking through a few of the museum's large exhibit rooms, the walls of which were hung expansively with art of every sort that had been produced by students from the San Francisco schools. Many of these children had parents and relatives in tow, and were pointing them toward the particular pieces that he or she had made for the exhibit.

Outside, in the band shell area before the De Young, music and dance presentations were going strong throughout the week, conceptualized, produced and performed by numbers of primary and secondary school students, with ample help and direction from their teachers. As well, dramatic productions were presented on the stage of the Koret Theater inside The de Young. Almost all the arts were represented in this festival, and the overall effect was one of fine learning and genuine success.

Susan Stauter, the Artistic Director for the San Francisco Unified School District, points out how important such an atmosphere is for a child. "Here's a girl whose painting is on the wall of a major world museum, and if that's a place that her parents may not usually visit, imagine how important it is to her view of herself, that they see what she's done."

The trouble is that the value of the arts is tough to quantify in the world of skills-testing so dear to the hearts of contemporary legislators. What the arts teach is beyond what can be quantified in a true-or-false standardized test. Indeed Antigone Trimis, who is the Implementation Manager for San Francisco's Arts Education Master Plan, says that "esthetics and an appreciation of them are essential to any society that wishes to ensure its own progress, no matter how that progress is measured."

Luckily, San Francisco voters understand this. Read more at the SF Chronicle.

Schools try to get students whooping cough vaccine


It could be a challenging summer for school districts across the state as they have to make sure all 7th-12th grade students are vaccinated against whooping cough. Without the shot, the students will not be allowed to return to class in the fall. 


The new requirement is not just the public school system, private school students are also required to get the vaccine. In San Francisco, classes resume on August 15 and the district is warning parents, if their child does not have a proof that he or she got the vaccine, they will not be allowed inside the classroom.

The state says it has good reason to require students to be vaccinated against whopping cough.

"We are currently in an epidemic in California; we've had more cases this year and last year than we have had in over 60 years," San Francisco Health Department spokesperson Lisa Hedden said.

It is now up to the school districts and local health departments to help parents get the vaccine their kids need. So far there have been six clinics held for San Francisco public school students. Still, only 22 percent of them have been vaccinated. That leaves the district with a huge outreach task over the summer.

"We'll be calling them and we will be getting the news out in various ways, the website will be updated daily and communicating through posters everything we could think of so they are aware of the urgency," San Francisco Unified School District spokesperson Heidi Anderson said.

Letters have been sent out and fliers in three languages have been posted.

San Francisco families who think they cannot afford the vaccine should know health care for San Francisco children is free. Parents whose children do not have health care can call 311 for information on how to enroll in the Healthy Kids program.

Whooping cough is a serious respiratory disease that can cause death among infants.
"So younger kids will mostly cough, cough, cough, some will become cyanotic or blue where they stop breathing," pediatrician Dr. Monica Singer said.

Most children get their first series of whooping cough vaccines when they are babies. By the time they reach middle and high school they need a booster, but some parents forget.
And some adults think they do not need it for themselves.

"Especially when we see it in our older patient population, they are spreading it to our children, who are much more vulnerable to the disease," Singer said.

The vaccine is especially important for care givers who take care of. Other districts in the Bay Area, like San Jose Unified, are also reaching out to parents. Just a few weeks ago shots were offered at clinics in Contra Costa County. Walgreens also has the vaccine for $63.99.

(Copyright ©2011 KGO-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

S.F. bus driver marks 40 years behind the wheel


She was 25, and Richard Nixon was president. A gallon of gas cost 40 cents, and the first four-function pocket calculator hit store shelves with a $345 price tag.

Four decades later, Donovan is still making the wheels of the big yellow bus go round and round along the crowded and hilly streets of San Francisco, having covered some half a million miles shuttling thousands of children safely to and from school.

It was a career she stumbled upon in the early years of racial integration in city schools.
"All of a sudden in September of '71, there were all these buses on the road and there were a lot of women driving," Donovan said.

The idea of driving 91 kids up and down San Francisco's hills in a stick-shift bus appealed to the then 25-year-old woman. She thought she'd give it a couple of years.
But two years quickly turned into 10, and 10 into 20, and 20 into 30.