Thursday, February 28, 2013

S.F., Oakland seek waiver on test scores

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Fourth-grader Alex Haldemann works on a class assignment at
Spring Valley Science School.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
San Francisco, Oakland and seven other California school districts sought escape from the impossible requirements and severe sanctions of the federal No Child Left Behind law Thursday, applying together for a waiver that has so far been granted only to individual states.

Without the waiver, state schools must continue to operate under NCLB, which has required them to ensure an increasing percentage of students reach proficiency in math and English or be deemed a failure.
California, however, is not among the nearly 40 states to get a waiver from the law because it refused to comply with the requirement to evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

The nine California districts have collaborated to create their own plan, which will rely on data that goes beyond test scores to judge schools.

"Under the current NCLB system, teachers stand before their classroom of 35 children and are forced to see test scores. Under the new system, they would be able to see their students as the complete person they are," said Phil Halperin, senior partner at the nonprofit California Education Partners, which encourages education partnerships and sponsors the coalition. "Teachers have been demanding that for years now."

9 districts statewide


The consortium of school districts, called the California Office to Reform Education, also includes Los Angeles, Long Beach, Clovis, Fresno, Sanger, Sacramento and Santa Ana. Together they represent 1 million students, an enrollment that surpasses the vast majority of individual states.

The nine superintendents emphasized Thursday that they don't want to avoid accountability, but actually measure success across several criteria.

Participating districts would essentially police themselves and each other, holding the entire system accountable for student attendance, suspension rates, graduation rates, parent participation and test scores.
Schools that don't reach milestones in any of the categories would get additional support and training from experts in the area of concern.

Under NCLB, even high-scoring schools have been deemed failures over the past several years as the federal proficiency goals have pushed higher.

By 2014, the federal law requires 100 percent of students be proficient.

It's an impossible goal for virtually every school, yet those receiving federal Title I funding for low-income students face sanctions, which include setting aside funding to bus students to better schools and employ private tutors as well as sending letters home advising parents that the school is failing to meet federal guidelines.

More serious sanctions include replacing principals and teachers or even closure.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

First Tee helps SF kids with golf, fitness

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

SFUSD Supervisor Richard Carranza prepares to hit a long drive as
Lawton Alternative School fifth graders watch during a "First Tee"
golf class at TPC Harding Park on Friday, February 15, 2013 in
San Francisco, Calif. Carranza was there to congratulate the students
on completing the "First Tee" golf program.
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
San Francisco schools Superintendent Richard Carranza never stood a chance.

He teed up the golf ball at TPC Harding Park golf range and hit the ball Friday morning about 75 yards.
Then his competitor stepped up to the tee, took a few practice swings and let it fly, the ball soaring a good 100 yards and rolling for more.

The clear winner: 10-year-old Mackenzie Manalo.

The petite Lawton Elementary School fifth-grader didn't brag or tease the superintendent. She humbly shook his hand and smiled shyly.

After all, golf is about good manners, integrity and courtesy, personal skills she learned during her school's physical education class with the city's First Tee program, a four-week, eight-lesson course at Harding Park to introduce city students to golf and the life lessons that come with the game.

While Mackenzie was a bit of a ringer - she had some experience already with the game - most of the 8,000 city students who will participate in First Tee this year have never picked up a club or been to a golf course. And Tiger Woods sounded more like a scary wilderness area.

But the program, which is in all 50 states and four countries, isn't just about teaching kids to make a birdie or sink a putt.

It exposes them to an activity otherwise associated with hobnobbing businessmen in bad pants, offering access to the sport and life lessons in honesty, patience and personal responsibility, said Bo Links, board member for First Tee in San Francisco.

Golf's mantra is "replace your divot, rake your footprints and repair ball marks," he said.
"The message is simple: Leave the world better than you found it," Links added. "And be polite and respectful while you're doing it."

The First Tee international program started in 1997 and is in its 10th year in San Francisco, growing from a few hundred students participating to several thousand.

First Tee is in 48 city schools, focusing on fifth-graders either at a golf course or in school, with their teachers trained to incorporate golf into gym class.

San Francisco First Tee, a nonprofit that provides coaches, teacher training and equipment, currently uses Harding and a practice facility at Visitacion Valley Middle School.

Organizers hope to expand to a third location at the nine-hole course at Golden Gate Park, which would require city approval.

Carranza attended the last of Lawton Elementary's on-site sessions Friday, although the students will continue the program at school through the rest of the academic year. After-school and summer classes are also available so students can keep playing.

"We're getting kids out in the fresh air," he said. "Talk about the city as the classroom."

Carranza toured the chipping and putting stations set up for the students, who laughed as they fetched the occasional wild shot.

While some gym classes give an edge to physically fit or coordinated classmates, golf plays no favorites, Links noted.

"You don't have to be big, you don't have to be strong, you don't have to be fast," he said. "It's a great equalizer."

Mackenzie and Carranza already knew that.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

SFUSD celebrates 70 years of early education

By Lyanne Melendez | ABC Ch. 7 

San Francisco has always been recognized as a progressive city and in 1943, during World War II, the school district established four daycare centers. That was 20 years before the federal "Head Start" program got under way and on Friday they celebrated its 70th anniversary. 

The school board has been instrumental in keeping the program going since 1943. The men went to war and the women had to go to work. Who was going to take care of the kids? Back then, there were only four of these centers. Now, there are 43.

The Tule Elk Child Development center in San Francisco was originally called the Yerba Buena Children's Center, one of four founded in 1943. The nation was in the midst of World War II. The program supported low-income families, primarily women entering the workforce in large numbers for the first time, sometimes referred to as the "Rosie the Riveter moms. "

"For them to go to work, they needed to have child care. So this is actually the beginning of this formalized federal child care program called the Lanham Act," SFUSD Early Education Director Carla Bryant said. Pictures archived by the San Francisco Public Library show that besides a few good meals, the Ed centers provided health care for toddlers and preschoolers, and cots for the ever-important nap. The library also has a rare syllabus written in 1953 for student observers of child care centers.

Over the years, as more homes had both parents joining the work force, the need for these centers increased. The district now has 43 of these sites. The cost to attend is based on a family's income. The district still subsidizes this program. While other school districts nationwide have cut back, San Francisco Unified has managed to hold on to them. "We have our great partners, from funders, private and public," Bryant said.

The district says back then and now, the focus has always been on education and preparing kids for kindergarten, setting the foundation for a life of learning. "If we set the foundation now that school is important and we touch on all the components of a great education, hopefully that will set the stage for them to enjoy learning and have a love of learning and be successful even in college," said E'leva Gibson at the Tule Elk Child Development Center.

With that said, San Francisco Unified has typically posted high test scores among all the urban districts in the state. The district planned a celebration at Far East Restaurant in Chinatown Friday evening to mark 70 years of early education.

it Korean Lunar New Year at the Claire Lilienthal School

Simone Willets tosses an arrow while playing a game of tuho, with help from her classmate Adrien Stroumza (right), during a celebration of Seol Nal, the Korean Lunar New Year, at the Claire Lilienthal School in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Students in the Korean-immersion program wore traditional hanbok outfits and participated in a variety of activities to celebrate the lunar new year, which begins Sunday. Photo: Paul Chinn, The Chronicle

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Richard Carranza tackles S.F. school challenges

By Ron Leuty | San Francisco Business Times

Spencer Brown
Prop. 30 stopped hemorrhaging of school budgets at 
the state level, says Richard Carranza, superintendent.
Here’s your first day on the job: Key employees are threatening a strike. Your main financial backer may cut back on its commitment if its limited partners don’t approve more cash. And your product, which takes 13 years to make, is constantly under a microscope for its inconsistent quality.

Welcome to the world of San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza.
Carranza, who replaced Carlos Garcia in early July, is no stranger to the district. For three years, he was SFUSD’s deputy superintendent in charge of instruction, innovation and social justice. He had been a regional superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, overseeing 66 schools and more than 66,000 students, as well as a high school principal and teacher.

But when he took over SFUSD, the 55,000-student district was in a contentious contract negotiation with its 6,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses, psychologists and librarians. The union had taken a strike authorization vote in May and opposed Garcia over layoff notices that skipped less-experienced teachers at schools targeted in Garcia’s Superintendent’s Zone program.

What’s more, the district faced an uncertain financial future as Proposition 30 and the rival Proposition 38 tax proposals prepared to battle on the November ballot as ways to solve the state’s public education funding problems. In fact, the August settlement of the two-year teacher contract included a provision that would allow the district to reopen the issue of budget cuts and furlough days if Prop. 30 did not pass.

SFUSD, with more than 100 preschool, elementary, middle school and high school facilities, has a 2012-13 budget of $623.3 million.

Carranza talked to San Francisco Business Times education reporter Ron Leuty about student achievement, involving more business partners, the Superintendent’s Zone and the district’s school-assignment lottery.

How would you grade SFUSD schools?: I took the first semester to sit in offices and have one-on-one conversations about the rap on San Francisco. It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I get to interact nationally with colleagues and they’re always interested in talking to me about (what San Francisco is doing with) teacher evaluation and retention, the achievement gap, under-performing schools. And then I come back to San Francisco and people think these are the worst schools in the nation.

It’s been based on a lot of urban myth. People have heard these things from other people.

We are one of the highest-performing large, urban school districts in the state, and the trend is consistently upward. As you unpack that data, not all the students are doing that well. We need to not lower the bar but accelerate the bottom.

There are a lot of really good things happening and a lot of work that needs to be done as well.
Strategically, we will continue to bring in good people — teachers, administrators, the board — and get engaged around the work and not infighting. Then you’re actually able to move the ball.

We’re absolutely on the honor roll, but we’re not a 4.0 student yet.

What’s going to change with SFUSD over the next 12-24 months?: We’re in the process of identifying and mining those practices resulting in accelerated student growth. Where are the schools and classrooms that are doing well? Our goal is to identify those best practices and diffuse those to the larger school system.
I’m a teacher. I taught for over 10 years. I was a high school principal. But as a superintendent I’ve had to recalibrate my vision. We’ve got an operating budget of over $600 million. We’re the fifth-largest employer in the Bay Area. When we factor in property, we’re a multibillion-dollar organization. There’s an accountability for student results, but with that accountability comes a responsibility to train staff.

How do we engage our partners? We can think about partners myopically: labor partners, the city. But how do we engage the tech industry, philanthropy and folks who for whatever reason aren’t (involved), to help them look at public schools not as an expenditure but as an investment? That changes the lens.

If you were to hire a high school student today, what skills and dispositions do they need? They need to be literate, write well, speak well, work in a team, they need to be self-starters and bring to fruition presentations around a concept and have multidisciplinary interests.

Education is changing. Education is not moribund.

What did it mean for SFUSD in particular, but most public school system in California as well, to have Prop. 30 pass?: It is multifaceted. First and foremost, it stopped the hemorrhaging from the state level. Although I’m looking at what we do from a business perspective, the fundamental difference is we don’t charge a fee for our services. We can’t raise prices.

We’ve had years now of under-funding public education. At least we know the basement.

The governor has talked about (how) we’re going to start the rebuilding. Now we have an opportunity to do strategic planning without worrying about how much further is this going to fall. But it’s not a panacea.

We receive $4,900 per student. The state website says $8,000 to $9,000 but that’s with English language learners, categorical funding. Pure funding is $4,900. If we go across the country to New York, it’s about $10,000 more per student.

People say, “We can’t throw money at the issue.” I’m in my 24th year in education. I wish just one year we would have thrown money at the issue. The facilities and the technology are not upgraded. If you can’t buy newer computers and upgrade the technology infrastructure or train teachers to use that technology, the chickens come home to roost.

Prop. 30 has changed the tide. Now people are understanding in the right way that we have to invest in education.

You pay later when that student drops out of school and you’re spending $60,000 per person to house them in San Quentin.

The voters see that’s what Prop. 30 did for us. We’re using that to bolster discussions of how to build professional development and support for students and rebuild that net. You need to provide equity, not equality for kids.

My son’s school supplements its spending by the parents raising more than $150,000. But other schools don’t have that luxury of parent involvement. How is the district working to ensure that kids in Cole Valley as well as the Bayview have the same access to education and resources?: The first step of any 12-step program is admitting you have an issue. We have proofs of concept in San Francisco — it’s called the Superintendent’s Zone.

As Carlos Garcia’s deputy, I was intimately involved in the Superintendent’s Zone. There are kids in pockets of San Francisco — this very progressive, well-educated city — that fundamentally start in a different place than other kids.

We could say, “That’s just the way it is.” Or, if we believe the road to the American dream is really fundamentally based on a good education, or if we believe the cornerstone to democracy is an educated populace, or if we believe the way to stay ahead of global competition is an educated workforce, why wouldn’t we address the achievement gap?

What we did is identify it. We used metrics that identified (14 schools) with historically low student achievement, teacher turnover rates that were higher, facilities that were not in the best of shape, that were within vast pockets of poverty and had a growing group of students with challenges. It fell into two areas: The Mission and Bayview.

Then we asked, what will it take for kids to have an equitable opportunity to catch up? One year’s growth is not enough. We looked at best practices. We looked at Montgomery County, Md. We learned lessons from Chicago, and Tony Bryk and his model (at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). We looked at his five pillars and we crafted a plan that’s very simple: Schools in the Superintendent’s Zones have the biggest challenges — they’re not the worst schools — and we focused our meager resources on those schools.

This is the third year that we’ve targeted student learning, social and emotional support, professional development and a clear, tightly aligned curriculum. In our most-challenging schools, we’re accelerating student achievement two or three times the rate of growth of the rest of the district. In some schools, it’s six times the rate of growth in mathematics.

That’s really the quantifiable approach.

What kind of feedback have you received about the new lottery system?: They’re not the Ten Commandments. They’re not set in stone.

A vast majority of folks get their first choice in the first round. We hear a lot from folks who don’t get their choices. There was a lot of talk about neighborhood schools, but less than 24 percent of participants in the student assignment system chose their neighborhood school as their first choice. So there’s a little bit of urban myth mixed in.

That being said, we know it’s not perfect. We’ll continue to tweak it.

Pilot Profile: Independence High School in San Francisco
Last December, Beth Alberts spent hours collecting driftwood to prepare for a lab class. In some ways, driftwood fits right in at Beth’s school, Independence High School, a public high school about 6 blocks from the glistening ocean in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood.

In this lab, Beth challenged her students to use their knowledge in gravity and balance to create a driftwood mobile that didn’t wobble dramatically or tilt drastically. They manually drilled steady holes through the driftwood, carefully tying together string, wood, and a few additional beads for balance. They went through multiple iterations and lots of knots before accomplishing a perfectly balanced mobile – and identified the center of gravity along the way.

In another lab, Beth’s students opened the heavy covers of their science textbooks without using their hands. There were string and pulleys everywhere, including a successful attempt at linking the opening of a window to the opening of the textbook. Beth notes that students are becoming more persistent, not getting so easily frustrated at small, initial setbacks, and just coming to school more often.

Room NameAt Independence High School, Robert Maass, school principal and active maker, and Beth Alberts, science teacher and inspiring/aspiring maker, are tirelessly working to create an environment that allows safe, engaging exploration. They have revamped Beth’s classroom into an interdisciplinary welcoming space – for students and teachers alike – to build hands-on projects, try out new skills, or just hang out and sketch. Beth teaches both “project” and “lab” classes each week: project classes can be on any topic and on any project, from hacking toys and beading to designing stencils and created stained glass pieces. Robert teaches project classes too, when he can. Beth’s lab classes are more science-focused, with a key concept that she addresses, but also seamlessly integrate hands-on projects that require some exploration, some frustration, and lots of manual dexterity.

photo 4In last Friday’s project class, a small group of teachers and students learned how to work with stained glass. With the instruction and facilitation of Mei Lie Wong, a friend in the community, students learned how to use glass tools to carefully score and break pieces of colored glass into the shapes and sizes they desired. They fiddled with smoothing rough edges, arranged their pieces into an optimal design, and applied copper tape. At the end of the hour, all participants had their own unique – and beautiful – version of a window ornament. Next week, they’ll learn how to solder all the pieces together!

Unlike the vast majority of high schools, Independence High School does NOT require students to attend every class from 8am to 2pm, Monday through Friday. Rather, it’s an independent study school.

Students are required to meet with a teacher or advisor at least once per week, for a full class period, but are otherwise welcome to be at school for as much – or as little – time as they desire. Naturally, they’re encouraged to attend electives, connect with their fellow students, join in activities, study, etc and in fact, many do.

Bianca comes to school every single day. Sometimes, students even bring friends (who attend other high schools) to Independence.

Woodworking1With an unusually supportive principal and a teacher who never runs low on new ideas, Independence is creating a fun, engaging space for the whole school community. More teachers are involved, bringing in new ideas and hobbies, interested in helping or leading a project class; more students are coming, and coming back. And everyone is just more excited to learn and do.