Friday, April 26, 2013

Cage-Busting Recruiting

Guest blogging today is Scott Gaiber, Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support for the San Francisco Unified School District, a Pre-K to 12th grade district that serves over 55,000 students in approximately 140 schools. Scott manages a team that provides district-wide recruitment and staffing support, serves as a single-point-of-contact for all district administrators, provides professional development workshops on staffing, and visits district schools to support talent management. Scott is an Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship alumnus from the 2008 Bay Area Cohort.

There's a good dose of "cage-busting" happening at the San Francisco Unified School District to get the best school leaders and teachers into our schools and classrooms and to keep them there. We're working to eliminate as many barriers as we can to effectively staff under-performing schools, and a key element is the timing of hiring.

Top candidates usually search for positions early in the hiring season, around April or before. But if our district is not ready to hire candidates in April - and traditional district hiring timelines often mean that a majority of open positions aren't filled until August - we're simply not able to compete for top talent.
My job is to make sure that SFUSD can compete with aggressive recruiting practices and hiring timelines because it is essential that our schools are staffed with the best people to ensure great teaching and learning results.

The lesson about the high stakes for early hiring is something that I first learned as an Education Pioneers Fellow in 2008, working with TNTP. TNTP's research showed time and time again that the best candidates are hungry and they're looking for opportunities early. During my Fellowship, I worked with both the Oakland and San Francisco Unified School Districts to create a report that made specific policy recommendations to effectively staff teachers in these two under-served school districts.

Five years later, now working for SFUSD, that report still comes up regularly in my work, most recently when my team and I were responsible for high stakes hiring for one of the district's lowest performing middle schools.

When I joined SFUSD in 2011, the district was working to implement some fairly dramatic changes after receiving a massive federal student performance grant. Ten schools in the district had qualified for the grant, which is awarded to schools that are among 5 percent of the lowest-performing schools in California. Everett Middle School was one of them, and I was tasked with leading my team in supporting the site to implement a turnaround plan, meaning at least half of the staff would need to be replaced.

Located between the Mission and Castro neighborhoods of San Francisco, Everett has over 400 students in grades six through eight, over 50 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, and 23 percent who are African American. Over 70 percent of Everett's students are socioeconomically disadvantaged, and nearly half of the students are English language learners.

In the 2009-2010 school year, the school's Academic Performance Index (API) dropped by 31 points overall, and by 84 points for African American students. There was no question that Everett needed a dramatic and aggressive turnaround plan.

When I first arrived at SFUSD, district leadership, most specifically leadership in Human Resource Department, enabled me to create the team I needed: one that is customer service-based and equity-centered, and one that provides the most resources to the schools that have students who need them most. We are cage-busting by trying to eliminate as many barriers as possible to effectively staffing our under-performing schools. For example, we look to leverage the provisions of the Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA), voter-approved in 2008, which allows us to--among other policies--make San Francisco teacher salaries competitive with those in surrounding school districts; provide financial incentives for teachers to work at schools with historically high turnover and teach in hard-to-fill subject areas; and provide flexibility for the hardest to staff schools to hire teachers on more aggressive timeline than other district schools.

My team and I worked with Everett's new leadership team, principal Richard Curci and assistant principals Jennifer Kuhr and Lena Van Haren, to re-staff Everett for success, and we did a massive amount of new hiring that first year -- 27 new teachers. As we worked with Curci, Kuhr and Van Haren to put a plan together, we took the time to develop a clear model of what we were looking for in candidates and a rigorous, multi-step process for candidates to demonstrate their fit for the site, including demonstration lessons and incorporating student and family voice in the evaluation of candidates.

My team and I helped Everett's school leaders identify desirable candidates, conduct rigorous interviews, and support and bring along the people they wanted to get on board as employees. Since then, we've continued to support the school on hiring and managing their staff to ensure success.

The results at Everett are remarkable, and were recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle. There's a new culture at Everett that has transformed it from one of the lowest performing schools to the most improved middle school in the district. If you visit the school today, the kids are calm and they're learning; the instruction is infinitely better; the staff is cohesive; and the school as a whole has a clear vision and mission.
Now, other teachers from the district want to go there, and more and more families want to send their kids there. Because we were able to think strategically about our hiring decisions, we were able to get the talent into Everett that had the tools to improve student outcomes.

But our work is far from over. While Everett posted a 54 point API gain in 2011-2012, including a 32 point gain for African American students, a 29 point gain for Hispanic or Latino students, and a 23 point gain for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, the school's overall API hovers around 700. Though we don't yet have results for the 2012-2013 school year, Everett is on the right path to providing its students with the education they deserve, and we will continue to ensure that it has the right people in place to ensure success for all kids.

Richard Curci, principal of Everett Middle School, said of Scott's work: "In San Francisco Unified School District we are very fortunate to have the knowledgeable, dedicated and talented Scott Gaiber as our Director of Recruitment and Human Capital Support. Scott has helped my high needs school by steering the best candidates who were the appropriate fit for our school. He and his staff are always quick to respond to the many inquiries from our leadership team around human capital issues including interpreting the union contact. Scott is creative in helping us think out of the box to get our needs met. All his decisions are made with the students' best interest in mind. In all he does, Scott Gaiber is professional, supportive, insightful, proactive and always extremely helpful."

- Scott Gaiber

San Francisco achieves first with school solar panels

Alvarado Elementary School
Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley now gets power from 180 solar panels; more schools are in line for solar energy installations.
Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley is a white-walled, two-story building that stretches for a city block just east of Twin Peaks. Nothing on the exterior of the building, constructed in the early 1900s, would lead passers-by to realize that what sits atop it is a first for San Francisco.

The 180 panels perched atop the school are the first that were designed, installed and owned by city agencies.

There are 14 municipal solar installations in and around The City, according to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. The 7.4 megawatts that are generated by the system help the agency — which also generates electricity with its Hetch Hetchy water system — power public services and buildings in San Francisco, including Muni and schools.

But each of the solar projects that had been built before included contracts with private contractors in some form, including for designing the installations. This time, it was done in-house.

“SFPUC solar engineers, along with consultants, designed the solar system and purchased the equipment, while [the Public Works Department] provided the people power to build the array,” SFPUC General Manager Harlan Kelly Jr. said in a statement.

The agency said the in-house process takes a lot less time.

“By using its own engineers, consultants and unionized workforce, The City is streamlining the construction and purchasing protocols for solar arrays,” the SFPUC said in a statement.

The Alvarado project, which went online in November, is the first of more installations planned at SFUSD sites. Three schools — Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Downtown High School and Thurgood Marshall High School — could have solar panels within the next two years, according to the SFPUC.

“Given the success of the Alvarado school solar project, we are confident that this partnership with our fellow city agencies will grow,” said Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru.

Supervisors Scott Wiener and Eric Mar sponsored legislation in March 2012 to allow the SFPUC to work toward installing solar panels on buildings owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. Mayor Ed Lee signed the legislation into law in April of that year.

SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said the solar power from The City is a good deal and is in line with the strides the district has made in the past five years to move toward sustainable environments throughout its schools.

“The City provides us with the lowest rates for solar power in the country, and taking part in this new SFPUC program is an important way to contribute to San Francisco’s overall renewable energy goals” she said.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Letters to the editor, April 16 - Schools, family: partners

April 16, 2013

Responsible, mindful parents who have or have had their children attend the San Francisco Unified School District know that the district is an excellent educational organization that is getting better every year. ("S.F. school on a mission to change its reputation," April 13)

What can give any school a bad reputation is if there are a certain number of children from homes where focus, mindfulness and higher thoughts and visions of the future are not being discussed at home.
It is the quality of any family's conversations and thoughts from home that ultimately decides the fate of most children.

The district is aware of this fact and has tried with enormous tenacity to make up for the deficits in some home environments by having, for example, extra tutorial aid and after-school programs offering a huge variety of subjects accessible to any student choosing to join.

On behalf of grateful parents, I say thank you, San Francisco schools, for being a good stewardship partner with our families.

Peter Vaernet, San Francisco

Monday, April 15, 2013

Cool School: San Francisco's Balboa High

Frank & Michelle check in at San Francisco's Balboa High School for KPIX 5 Mornings.

S.F. schools chief's 1st overseas field trip

April 15, 2013

San Francisco school Superintendent Richard Carranza returned this week from a trip to China where he toured schools, talked shop with education officials and took a side trip to the Great Wall.

While that might sound a bit ho-hum for the usual travel-weary public officials, it was anything but for Carranza.

In fact, it was the first time he's been out of the United States.

He had to get a passport so he could go.

"I'm just a little country mouse," Carranza said with a chuckle.

He's actually from Tucson, which would make him more of an urban desert mouse.

Carranza said he had a great time in China and loved the country and people. The school system? Not so much.

The regimented system bears little resemblance to school life here, and education officials there peppered San Francisco's superintendent with questions about how to foster creativity and innovation.

And the food?

Good, but he didn't eat a lot of it.

"I still watched what I ate," said Carranza, who has lost something like 50 pounds in the last several months.

"My first 10K is in a week."

- Jill Tucker

S.F. school on a mission to change minds

April 13, 2013

Four years ago, Aleksandr Faynleyb and his parents actually cried when the then-eighth-grader opened the packet from San Francisco Unified School District saying he'd been assigned to Mission High School.
They were sad tears, not happy tears.

Mission for years has been considered one of the district's "bad" schools, with the lowest of low test scores, and definitely not the place college-bound kids would want to go.

But if Mission High were a book, it would have an awful cover that offers little insight to what's inside.
And it is a cautionary tale, students said, of how statistics and test scores don't always tell the whole story of a school.

Faynleyb, now 18, had to choose from 10 universities that accepted him.

He's decided to attend UC Berkeley and will have plenty of company from the other 29 Mission High classmates accepted to Cal for the fall - nearly 15 percent of the school's class of 2013.

That's more than double the 13 students accepted to Cal last year and quadruple the seven in 2011.

Nearly 90 percent of the class has been accepted to at least one college or university and the vast majority will go, school officials said.

Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
Aleksandr Faynleyb will attend UC Berkeley, one of 10 schools accepting him.

"I think we're beginning to see the fruits of the work here," said Principal Eric Guthertz. "Cal knows the kids are going to be strong students when they get there."

Like many of the Mission students, Faynleyb "completely" attributes his long list of college choices to his time at Mission.

"I feel like there has always been a stigma against Mission," he said. "If I didn't go to this school, I wouldn't have had half the opportunities I've had."

Behind the scores


So why the low test scores?

Nearly half the 900 students are English learners, many new to the United States with little to no fluency in the language, and about 70 percent are low income, both of which typically align with low test scores.
In addition, 18 percent of the students are in special education programs, significantly higher than the average 10 or 11 percent at most schools in the state.

Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
Alexandra Edwards, 18, teases a visiting photographer as Principal Eric Guthertz shows off his Mission High School tattoo.

While these students often don't test well, they can excel in classes where they have more time and confidence to do the work, while gaining language fluency.

None of that shows up in statewide school rankings, where Mission has historically landed in the bottom 10 to 20 percent of California schools.

Michelle Li wasn't sure what to expect when she got to Mission as a lonely freshman in 2009. All her middle-school friends had gone to the "good" schools: Lowell, Washington, Lincoln.
They felt sorry for her, she said.

Now they envy her and her long list of college acceptances, including Cal.
"I had all these opportunities they didn't have," she said.

Pushing achievement


Last summer, 171 Mission students went to summer academic or athletic programs at university campuses across the country, paid for by the nonprofit Athletic Scholars Advancement Program, which is embedded at the high school and serves about half the students.

The program serves students involved in sports, but that could be as a player, team manager or even the students who write about sports for the newspaper.

Students spend hours and hours in the program office, working with 25 trained volunteers to research colleges, write personal statements, get recommendations, apply for financial aid and scholarships and decide where to go. In between, the volunteers help students get internships, participate in clubs and community service, and keep their grades up.

"We work really intensely with students," said Liz Butler Steyer, the program's executive director. "It's more like the counseling you get at private schools."

The program frees up school staff to work more closely with other students.

In addition to college and academic counselors who guide students, every teacher works with a handful of students to develop college plans, Guthertz said.

"It's all hands on deck," he said. "We're bugging the kids constantly."

All the hard work appears to have impressed college admissions officers, including those at Cal.
"At UC Berkeley, our holistic review process looks at the academic rigor within the context of what the school offers and academic success through grades and scores," said university spokeswoman Janet Gilmore, "but also participation in the community and activities that show leadership, commitment and a love of learning."

One girl's turnaround


When Janira Odar, 17, transferred to Mission after a year at Washington High, she had none of what Cal or other colleges were looking for. D's filled her report card.

Mission teachers pushed her to retake freshman classes to boost her grades.

She will graduate this spring with a 4.0 grade point average and a list of colleges to choose from, including UC Berkeley.

These kinds of success stories are starting to overpower the test scores in the realm of public opinion, Guthertz said.

Mission expects to have a waiting list for ninth-grade spots by the time school starts in the fall.
"I think the neighborhood is hearing this," the principal said. "What I hear from families is that they're really clamoring to get in here."

S.F. schools to cut furlough days

Teachers union rejects surprise offer, wants more

April 13, 2013

After years of cuts to salaries and other compensation, the San Francisco school district unexpectedly reduced the number of furlough days required of workers this school year.

The district's administrators union quickly accepted the give back of one day of pay. The union had expected two furlough days.

The teachers union, however, has so far turned its back on the offer, which would have reduced furloughs from 1.5 days to a half day.

The district was under no obligation to cancel the furlough days, but with the economy more stable and the passage of Proposition 30 to boost education funding, Superintendent Richard Carranza said he felt comfortable the district could afford the move.

In addition, Carranza and the school board decided to cancel all scheduled furlough days next school year - 1.5 days for teachers, two days for administrators and three days for central office staff.

"It's a sign of good will," he said. "We want to give back to our employees who sacrificed for us."

The district will spend $5.28 million combined to restore the furlough day this year and those next year.

Teacher union officials, however, said they have sacrificed a lot more than one furlough day and believe the district has enough money in reserves to give back more.

Union leadership has requested the district restore the full 1.5 days this year and give the teachers the pay from next year's 1.5 days of furloughs, too, Carranza said.

"We really have put ourselves out there," said Matthew Hardy, spokesman for the United Educators of San Francisco. "It's a sign a respect for the people who have made great sacrifices to the district and who do the work in the classroom."

While the teachers union has so far rejected the restoration of one day to their paychecks, a "me-too" clause in their contract requires the district to give teachers any additional benefits given to other employees.
That means teacher furlough days will be reduced by a half day to match the one-day furlough obligation of administrators.

"It was surprising the (give back) wasn't accepted with open arms," the superintendent said. Still, "we're excited because I think teachers and paraprofessionals will be excited to get something back this year and know there will be no furloughs next year."

District and teachers union officials said they are in discussions and could yet resolve the situation.

Friday, April 12, 2013

State graduation rates inch higher

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Freshman Casey Blas studies at Burton High,
which offers extra support for freshmen. Photo: Brant Ward, The Chronicle

Despite the recession and years of budget cuts, California schools overall haven't lost any ground in getting students to graduation day, according to 2012 statistics released Tuesday.

In fact, state high schools saw across-the-board improvement in graduation rates, with African American and Hispanic students posting the largest gains.

On average, 78.5 percent of students in the class of 2012 graduated on time, up 1.4 percentage points from the year before.

African American and Hispanic students continued to lag behind the state average, but closed the gap. In 2012, 65.7 percent of black students graduated with their class, up 2.9 percentage points, while 73.2 percent of Hispanic students graduated on time, up 1.8 percentage points.

"Nearly 8 out of 10 students who started high school in 2008 as the Great Recession hit our nation graduated in 2012," said Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association in a statement. "Imagine how much better these graduation numbers would be if the state had not cut or deferred more than $20 billion in education funding in recent years."

S.F. results


In San Francisco, district officials celebrated statistics showing extraordinary one-year gains among some of the most at-risk students.

The African American graduation rate hit 70.8 percent, up 7.2 percentage points from 2011 and a total gain of nearly 14 points in the last two years.

Pacific Islander students posted the biggest gains, with 70.6 percent graduating, up more than 10 percentage points.

The graduation rate for Latino students stayed about the same.

"While we still have too many youth who are dropping out, I want to acknowledge all of the parents, teachers, counselors and principals who helped many youth persist and reach this important milestone of high school graduation," said San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza.

Dropout rates declined, with more students continuing their education even if they didn't graduate on time, according to state and local data.

Not all districts had cause to celebrate, though. Oakland's dropout and graduation rates, for example, were relatively stagnant.

San Francisco officials said a variety of efforts at city high schools have led to the higher graduation rates.
At Burton High, administrators have increased support for freshmen to make sure they can handle the academic and social pressures of high school.

Early warnings


In addition, all district high schools have adopted a system that uses a list of early warning signs - chronic absenteeism, suspension and other behaviors - to identify and help individuals at risk of dropping out.
At Burton, it's paid off with a graduation rate of 87.9 percent in 2012, up more than 10 points in one year, despite the significant cuts to the school's budget over the last few years.

While schools might not see any long-term effects of the recession for a while because of the time it takes for students to move through the system, the numbers released Tuesday indicate that the dire predictions of dismal failure caused by education budget cuts have not panned out.

"I think we did a very good job of focusing cuts where they would do the least damage," said Rachel Norton, San Francisco school board president. "When you realize what we've been through, I think people have really stepped up, but they're tired. Without an influx of resources, I don't know how long this can be maintained."

Norton said the district could see a dramatic drop in two years, given that graduation requirements for the class of 2014 include the more demanding college prep courses required to enter California universities.
"We have agreed that we want to bring these students up to a higher level," she said. "I don't want to be yahooing too much about these (2012) numbers because I know what's coming."



For more state or local data on graduation and dropout rates, go to

Are you as smart as San Francisco fifth-graders?

Hard to believe it, but it’s April and time again for our students to take the California Standardized Testing and Reporting tests.

Teachers and education officials use the results of STAR tests to identify individual student progress, as well as trends in how well groups of students are learning the standards in order to improve educational programs.

In second through 11th grade, tests cover English-language arts. Up to seventh grade, general math is also covered. Additional tests are added at various grades, including history-social science, science, algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry.

Based on students’ test results and a few other factors, the state assigns an Academic Performance Index rating and growth target to each school and district. Ratings range from 200 to 1,000, with a goal of 800 API for all schools and districts statewide.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s API has steadily increased since STAR testing began in 2001. We now have an API of 807, an indication that we’re one of the highest-performing urban districts in the state.

With all the talk of test scores, I imagine that, unless you’re a teacher or student, you don’t know what types of questions are asked.

Take a crack at answering a few questions.

Pencils ready ...

Sample questions from the California Standards Test (

1. Fifth-grade math
Question: The measures of three interior angles in a quadrilateral are 35 degrees, 50 degrees and 125 degrees. What is the degree measure of the fourth interior angle?
A) 60 degrees
B) 90 degrees
C) 120 degrees
D) 150 degrees

2. Eighth-grade science
Question: How much time is required for a bicycle to travel a distance of 100 meters at an average speed of 2 meters per second?
A) 0.02 seconds
B) 50 seconds
C) 100 seconds
D) 200 seconds

3. 11th-Grade history
Question: What did the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine state?
A) The United States would permanently station troops in the Philippines and other Pacific islands.
B) The United States reserved the right to intervene in the affairs of Central America and the Caribbean.
C) The United States had the right and duty to expand its colonial possessions in Asia.
D) The United States would provide military aid to Europe to resist communism.
A note about ensuring that students’ answers are their answers. In light of recent news about Atlanta’s public schools, some of you may be wondering how we make sure that STAR test sheets are not tampered with. At school sites and our central office, we document a chain of custody for both the test booklets and completed tests. In addition, our central staff analyze test sheets for irregularities and conduct investigations if anything looks unusual. Once submitted to the state, the tests undergo the same scrutiny before being certified.
Quite simply, inaccurate scores are not useful to us. We rely on our students’ test scores to show us where they need support in their learning.

Answers: 1) d; 2) b; 3) b

Comcast Newsmakers Interview with Richard Carranza

View the video here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Class handed a secret - physics is fun

April 8, 2013 | SF Chronicle

Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Volunteer teacher Jarrod Hicks (left) shows Burton High students the results of a computer-aided laser cutting design.

San Francisco teacher Amber Zertuche led her physics students up two flights of the dingy staircase in the nondescript Mission District building to the destination of their field trip - a chaotic room filled with electronic gadgets and widgets, wires, wood, keyboards, plastic parts, metal pieces, tools, buttons and bulbs.

This, she said, smiling, is science.

Zertuche, a metrology engineer, worked on space telescopes before becoming a physics teacher at Phillip & Sala Burton Academic High School in San Francisco's Portola district this year. She wants students to see that science is not just in textbooks, but also in their phones, computers, video games and pretty much everywhere they look.

So her students this year are learning about energy transference, resistors and capacitors, and then building water bottle rockets, solar model homes and circuit boards. They also solve equations, have homework and take tests.

It's exactly kind of book-smart and hands-on combination envisioned for all academic subjects in the new Common Core standards adopted by California and most other states, which are in the early stages of implementation in San Francisco and other districts.

The new standards will replace what has been described as a mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum that gives students a basic knowledge about a lot of topics, but not always a lot of deep understanding of how those topics apply or work real world situations.

Getting creative


With the Common Core's best-of-both-worlds philosophy in mind, Zertuche took her physics students on the field trip to Noisebridge on Mission Street - otherwise known as an "anarchistic educational hackerspace."

Think MythBusters meets Burning Man.

Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Burton High student Gloria Chan works on her flashing LED light project at Noisebridge.

"If you're passionate about something, learn about it, be creative, take it apart and share your findings with others," Zertuche said. "That's science. In this space it's called hacking. Not all scientists wear lab coats."
Noisebridge is open 24/7 to anyone who wants to use the random electronic equipment, power tools, painting supplies, 3-D printers, and pretty much anything anyone would need to make a robot or a kitchen table. If something is lying around, you can use it, change it or take it apart.

Volunteer teachers


Some Noisebridge regulars offered their know-how to Zertuche's classes for the day, teaching students how to solder a small circuit, turn a computer image into a printed plastic medallion, bust open a portable piano keyboard and fiddle with the wiring, and create video games.

The physics behind the activities included electromagnetics, circuit flow, energy transference, and the use of resistors and capacitors - topics the students had learned in class using symbols and formulas and calculations.

At a soldering table, Alyanna Gregorio, 16, held up a piece of plastic with silver wires sticking out and two blinking lights.

"Oh my God!" she yelled. "I made this!"

Michael Macor, The Chronicle
Twelfth grader Jamie Guan, builds her LED flashing light project as students from Burton High School get a hands on experience in electronics and physics at Noisebridge, in San Francisco, Ca. on Tuesday April 2, 2013. Noisebridge is an infrastructure provider for technical-creative projects, collaboratively run by its members as a non-profit educational corporation for public benefit.

The Burton junior had just used a soldering tool for the first time, and all the intangible information about circuit flowing was blinking in her hand.

"In school we take notes and read books and it isn't fun," Alyanna said. "This is fun."

Nearby another group of students huddled around a table with electronic piano keyboards in various states of disassemble.

Noisebridge volunteer Martin DeVido, 23, described the process of "circuit bending."

The idea, he said, was to repurpose old and obsolete electronics and make new things.

"It involves opening up stuff," he said. "It's like dissecting a frog and creating a new monster."

On the table were keyboards with their capacitors, resistors and circuit boards splayed and their innards tinkered with to make weird sounds.

He encouraged the students to be adventurous and creative in playing with stuff that that is basically just science in the form of a machine or a musical instrument.

"They can be creators and not know what they're doing to be learning," he said after the students had left for another activity. "I never learned what a capacitor was until I blew one up."

Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: