Thursday, May 29, 2014

School librarians a rare find in California public schools

By  | EdSource

Shannon Englebrecht, who works for the San Francisco Unified School District, is poised to become one of a rare breed in California when her hours are increased next year: a full-time public school librarian.

California employed 804 school librarians in 2012-13, which translates to one certified school librarian for every 7,784 students in 2012-13, according to data from the California Department of Education. That is the lowest per-student ratio of any state in the country. The national average in the fall of 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, was one school librarian for every 1,022 students, according to The National Center for Education Statistics.

The lack of certified librarians has led to a decrease in student access to books, a decline in student research skills and the loss of an important resource for teachers, said Janice See-Gilmore, president of the California School Library Association.

“It’s actually pretty dreadful,” See-Gilmore said. “In 1999 we had 1,300 teacher librarians. We’re just going in the wrong direction.”

There are fewer school librarians in California today than there were in 1988. (Note: Data for years 1989-1997, 1999 and 2009 is approximate.) Sources: California Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics
(Click to enlarge.) There are fewer school librarians in California today than there were in 1988. (Note: Data for years 1989-1997, 1999 and 2009 is approximate.) Sources: California Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

State funding for school libraries has never been steady. Prior to 1994, there was no money specifically set aside for them. Between 1994 and 2009, various statewide initiatives – from a check-off on income tax forms to a block grant program for districts – funneled vastly varying amounts of money to public school libraries. Those amounts ranged from $266,000 to $158.5 million annually.

Beginning in 2009, the funding set aside for libraries became “flexible,” meaning it could be spent on other priorities as districts scrambled to slash their budgets during the recession. Many districts now employ only one teacher librarian who oversees all the libraries in the district.

Cities that have managed to avoid that fate have had to look for money closer to home. San Francisco residents voted in 2004 to set aside money from the city’s general fund that would support “extras” like sports, art and school libraries, among other programs, for public school students. See sidebar. 

As tax revenues returned to pre-recession levels this year, the fund has grown significantly, allowing public schools like the one where Englebrecht works – Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy – to increase the number of hours their librarians spend on campus.
On a recent afternoon in her sunny library at Charles Drew, Englebrecht shifted some chapter books around on a shelf, trying to make it look full. Short, easy-to-read chapter books are exactly the type she knows her young students, who live in a low-income neighborhood of San Francisco, need more of.

Englebrecht gets an annual budget to buy new books and replace dog-eared or out- of-date ones. Since Charles Drew hasn’t had a full-time librarian dedicated to curating the collection for a while, Englebrecht said there’s work to be done. In addition to more chapter-books for early readers, she’d like her 6,000-book collection to include more graphic novels for children who aren’t ready for large blocks of text and more books about sports and other topics that tend to interest boys.

“I’m looking for empowering, enabling books about African-American children,” said Englebrecht, whose school population is 80 percent black. “Then (for books about) Latino kids. They also deserve to see themselves in the collection.”

Englebrecht also takes her teacher-support role seriously. She’s created a teacher resource library in a storage room off the main library. Teachers can find collections of books on subjects they teach, lesson plans and curriculum reference materials.

“Having a librarian has definitely directly benefited me as a teacher,” said Englebrecht’s colleague, Laura Todorow.

Todorow, who teaches 3rd grade at Charles Drew, said the library contributes to a climate of learning and valuing books. Her students have had a chance to practice selecting and caring for books, have learned how to use a book catalogue and are more engaged in silent reading in class this year, Todorow said.

May 2014
Two 3rd grade boys look through chapter books about African American children in the library at Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy, a public elementary school in San Francisco. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

“I feel a school librarian is a non-negotiable necessity in any school,” she said.

Across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, district librarian Ann Mayo Gallagher worries that teachers in her district might not know what benefits a school librarian could bring. Of the 75 school libraries in Oakland public schools, 23 are closed, 10 are run by volunteers and another 23 are run by part-time clerks. Nineteen are staffed by professional librarians, Mayo Gallagher said, but only one of those is paid by the district. The others are paid by individual schools, usually with money raised by the PTA.

And not even the open libraries are open all the time, Mayo Gallagher said. Of the libraries that are open, about half are open less than 20 hours a week.

“Currently (in Oakland), it’s possible to enter kindergarten and graduate high school never having gone to a school that has a library,” Mayo Gallagher said.

Many districts in the state face issues like those in Oakland. About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries in Los Angeles public schools are closed, according to a story in The Los Angeles Times. Forty of San Diego Unified’s 180 school libraries have been closed since budget cuts in 2008, according to a story in The School Library Journal. And the problem has spread beyond large urban districts, said See-Gilmore with the California School Library Association. She is the only teacher librarian in her suburban district of La Mesa Spring Valley, east of San Diego.

California has more students per school librarian than any state in the country. (Note: Data for years 1989-1997, 1999 and 2009 is approximate.) Sources: California Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics
(Click to enlarge.) California has more students per school librarian than any state in the country. (Note: Data for years 1989-1997, 1999 and 2009 is approximate.) Sources: California Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics

A few school districts in the state, like Palo Alto Unified, have managed to use their wealthy, local tax base to support public school libraries for years. Despite the difference in demographics, teachers in Palo Alto cited many of the same benefits of having full-time librarians as their San Francisco counterparts.

“The librarian is an amazing resource,” said Beth Maxwell, a fifth-grade teacher at Addison Elementary School in Palo Alto. “Teachers can do a lot, but when you’ve got someone who knows the kids and who can help instill the love of learning and reading, it makes a difference.”

Maxwell said the librarian at her school, Patricia Ohanian, works closely with teachers to support whatever they are working on in their classrooms. In addition to providing appropriate books and resources to match the content of classroom lessons, Maxwell said librarians teach students skills they need to finish their classroom work. During a recent research project on famous Americans, for example, Ohanian taught students how to write a bibliography during their weekly library visit.

Ohanian has been a teacher librarian for nearly 20 years and she’s been at Addison for the past six years. In addition to supporting teachers, Ohanian said she spends time keeping the school’s 16,680-book collection up to date and high quality, hosting special events like visiting authors, answering parents’ questions about their kids’ reading and leading school-wide literacy initiatives.

As Maxwell’s students took their seats in the library recently, Ohanian reminded them to get started on their opening activity for poetry month: Picking poems they liked from the collection of books on each table and copying them down so they would have several to pick from for “Poem in My Pocket Day.” Next, she led the class in reading out loud from a half dozen poems posted on the walls.

boy with iPad, May 2014
San Francisco 3rd grader Kalique Cheeves zooms in on a iPad he’s learned to use thanks to a grant written by his school librarian. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

“My curriculum is based on Common Core standards,” Ohanian said later, referring to the English language arts and math standards that most states have adopted. “I take different themes of literature and then I weave in whatever I can.”

For school districts without the resources or community support found in Palo Alto, the new Local Control Funding Formula might be an option for better funding school libraries and hiring more librarians.
Districts are still developing their plans for how to spend the money they will receive under the formula and it’s unclear if libraries and librarians will rise to the top of their priority lists.

Oakland has not yet published a draft of its plan. San Jose’s East Side Union, one of the districts EdSource is following closely this year, will be increasing the number of librarians in the district in response to community feedback. West Contra Costa is taking a different tack. Under the new formula, West Contra Costa plans to buy books and other library materials, but makes no mention of hiring additional librarians.
For districts that don’t choose to hire more librarians under the new funding formula, a bill currently before the state Assembly Appropriations Committee, AB 1955, might provide them with extra funding for three school years to hire a school nurse, a school psychologist and a school librarian. Districts would need to have at least 55 percent of their student population classified as low-income to qualify for the funding.

April 2014
Librarian Patricia Ohanian reviews personification with fifth grade students at Addison Elementary School in Palo Alto. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Back in Addison’s library, 5th grader Simrun Rao had a mission. She’d just read a book called “Blue Jasmine,” about an Indian girl who immigrated to the United States and had to build a new life for herself. Simrun, who is Indian-American, wanted her friend to read the book too, so she asked Ohanian for the name of the author. Hearing “Kashmira Sheth,” the two girls scurried off to the “S” area of the fiction section.
Ohanian was glad to know that Simrun had liked “Blue Jasmine” so much, as she had recommended it. Like Englebrecht, Ohanian said it is critical for students to see themselves in the books they read and she has chosen the books in her collection accordingly. Her familiarity with her collection is the trait her students say they value most.

“If you tell her what type of book you like, she’ll help you out,” said fifth-grader Samantha Feldmeier, who visited the library with her class after Maxwell’s class had finished.

“She doesn’t have to look it up on the computer,” Emily Crowley​, also in fifth grade, added with a bit of awe in her voice. “She just knows.”

San Francisco Allows Special Needs Students to Choose Their School


Starting this fall, San Francisco public school students with special needs will be able to attend the school of their choice. Special education teachers and teacher aides will follow the students to their new schools.

Currently, San Francisco Unified has assigned nearly 7,000 special needs students to certain schools based on their particular disabilities. For the upcoming school year, 74 schools out of 114 will change their staffing to accommodate the new students. Some schools are getting more teachers or aides, some fewer.

San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton pushed for the change. As a parent of a special needs student,  she says she’s faced a patchwork system with some schools integrating students with disabilities into the mainstream, and others placing them into separate classrooms.

“It just felt very unfair, to me and to a lot of parents, because as a district our assignment system said kids can choose to go to any school that they want to except, apparently, if you had a disability,” she said.
Now, the school district is embracing “co-teaching.”

Special needs students will go to a middle school science class, for instance, and they will have two teachers. One is a science teacher, and one a special education teacher.

“But when you’re in the classroom you can’t identify which kids are in special education and which aren’t in special education; and both teachers are teaching all students,” San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker explains. “It’s a shift to saying, they’re not a special education student, they’re a student, and they just have special needs.”

All students in co-taught classes benefit from the extra instruction, Tucker said.

“Maybe a student who struggles with dyslexia or reading might need some extra help reading the text, but that student might be fantastic at creating science projects. So they work with each individual student and see what help they need,” Tucker said. “All students benefit from having differentiated instruction and teachers that can identify what each student needs.”

The district is also trying several other teaching options.
There are also self-contained classrooms that serve special-needs students all day; single classes for special-education students; teachers aides who accompany special-education students to regular classes; and regular class schedules with outside tutoring and support.
Many students have a combination depending on their strengths. A student who is fine in a co-taught math class might need a special-education-only class for English, an option available to parents as they work with the district to decide a student’s placement.
“We believe in success for all kids, even though that might look different for each kid,” said Presidio Middle School Principal Tony Payne. “It’s really important we be nimble.”
However, change can be daunting. Teachers have received training district-wide. However, even special education teachers may now be working with a wider range of students.

“Now you might have a student who has a learning disability, a student who has visual disability, a student who is on the autism spectrum in one classroom and trying to figure out how to adjust your instruction and how to meet the needs of these students can be difficult,” Tucker said.

District officials are meeting with parents, teachers and school communities to try to work out solutions and address their needs.

High Schools in Mission See More Students Graduate

By | MissionLocal

Michelle Nguyen holds her transcript proudly.
Photo by Andra Cernavskis
It didn’t look like Michelle Nguyen, 17, would make it through high school a few years ago. After a successful middle school career, Nguyen ended up at Lowell, the city’s most competitive public high school. It was here that her life began to unravel when problems at home began to creep up. She rarely made it to class in her freshman year, and the 0.0 GPA suggested a future without college.

Nguyen’s fate changed when she transferred to Mission later that year. She will now be a part of a growing number of students who attend high school in the Mission to walk across the stage in her cap and gown in a few weeks.

Graduation rates are on the rise at Mission High School and John O’Connell.

A few weeks ago, the California Department of Education released enrollment data, which includes both graduation and dropout rates, for the 2012-2013 school year. In just one year, the graduation rate at Mission High went from 73.5 percent to 81.6 percent, making it the high school with the largest increase from the previous year and placing them on par with the overall district number for the first time in many years.
“That’s a big deal,” said Eric Guthertz, principal of Mission High.

Guthertz, who is now in his sixth year as principal, has a lot to be proud of these days. “For graduation rates, that’s your bread and butter,” he said. “This is something we’ve been focusing on at Mission.”

He attributes the success to the school’s staff—both in the classroom and out—and its focus on anti-racist teaching, which includes providing more access to Advanced Placement (AP) courses for all students and focusing on students’ post-secondary careers.

Nguyen will be attending UC Santa Cruz in the fall and wants to study computer science. She has enough scholarship money that she won’t need to take out any student loans and is the first in her family to go to college. None of this would have been possible without the school’s wellness center, which provides students in difficult situations with support. They helped her navigate a difficult home life.

“People want you to succeed here,” she said.

Mission High has been able to offer more night and summer classes through the federal School Improvement Grant funding, which runs out this year. It is because of these classes that Nguyen will graduate on time.

“Michelle is one of many. There are lots of kids like her here,” Guthertz said. “Mission has been a school for a while where students who need extra support and care can come.”

John O’Connell, which is considered an alternative high school compared to Mission, also saw improvements in its graduation rates, which went from 67.6 percent for the 2011-2012-school year cohort to 72.7 percent for the equivalent group in 2012-2013.

“I am not surprised at an increase in graduation rates, rather am pleased to see data which is attached to many hard working teachers and staff doing whatever is necessary to help students into college,” said Mark Alvarado, principal at O’Connell.

John O’Connell also benefitted from School Improvement Grant funding, which they used to help raise overall academic achievement.

Despite the School Improvement Grant funding drying up, both schools are in good shape. Mission High has been preparing for this since last year, according to Guthertz, and John O’Connell started to receive new federal funding from the Mission Promise Neighborhood grant this year.

Now, John O’Connell is looking to focus more on its professional-minded programs, which are geared at helping students see the real-world applications to what they are learning in the classroom.

“Instead of just teaching math like algebra and geometry, and it not being related to real life, we are doing that through construction engineering,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado thinks tilting the school to be more in line with this model will help further improve the way O’Connell serves its own student population and the school’s graduation rates.

“To be perfectly fair, we are in transition,” he said. “It’s a little bit rough, but we’re going to turn into the wind here in about another year, and I’m really encouraged and excited about where we are going.”

Both Guthertz and Alvarado were surprised by some of the schools they passed in the rankings. According to both of them, San Francisco’s high school principals are a tight-knit group who enjoy healthy competition with one another.

“I appreciate and respect my SFUSD colleagues tremendously, which makes passing them on the performance list so sweet,” Alvarado said.

According to the San Francisco Unified School District, there are still some strides to be made in closing the achievement gap with certain portions of their population.

While the overall graduation rate for the district is 81.6 percent, the graduation rate for African Americans is 65.5 percent, and for Latinos, it is 68.4 percent.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Future finally here for computers in schools

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Since the first personal computers started showing up in classrooms in the mid-1970s, schools have been struggling to figure out what to do with them.

It wasn't uncommon to find donated, never opened and eventually outdated computers in classroom closets because no one knew how to set them up, use them or fix them.

But computers have become easier to use, less expensive and ubiquitous in everyday life. And public schools are increasingly seeing the benefits of bits and bytes.

In San Francisco, district officials have embarked on a 15-year plan to transform schools with digital curriculum, universal wireless access, a laptop for every educator, and laptops or tablets for every classroom.

A big part of it is training teachers.

This year, 30 of the district's middle school math and science teachers have spent hours and hours learning how to incorporate hundreds of iPads, already chock full of free and purchased apps, into the learning process.

Next year, 50 more will get the same training.

Real-life math

In one math class this year, textbook learning and solving 20 problems for homework went out the door.
Instead, the teacher told the students to create a catering budget for a movie set and present their bid for the job, said Michael Bloemsma, a program administrator in the San Francisco school district's education technology department.

The students were then set loose with their iPads to research the price of food and make a presentation using Skitch, Keynote, Educreations or Explain Everything software programs.

The teacher didn't have to spend much time showing the students how to use the apps. Like most middle school kids with an innate sense of technology, they figured it out.

The district is partnering with 3-D design software maker Autodesk, which provides training and free software to schools.

On Tuesday, the 30 middle school teachers in the first training cohort filled a conference room at the company's San Francisco office to learn about possible applications of the software.

The idea is to expose students to technology used in the workforce now and likely commonplace in the future, said Tom Joseph, senior director of education at Autodesk.

Creating a digital part for a broken pair of eyeglasses and printing it on a 3-D computer, for example, will be relatively simple in the near future, he said.

"You don't need to be a geek," he said. "You can use this in our everyday lives."

And kids need to learn how, district officials said.

Teacher Steve Temple uses the software in his science classes at San Rafael High School.
The goal isn't to teach them the software, but how to use the software to solve problems.

"We are in alignment with what industry and higher education were doing," he told the 30 teachers during the training.

And the best part? The students to a large degree taught themselves or each other how to use the 3-D modeling program. He described himself as a facilitator who challenges students to make robots or solve engineering conundrums.

"If you think you're the only avenue to knowledge as a teacher, you really have to rethink that," Temple said. "That's hubris."

$8 billion industry

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley is paying close attention to the increased use of technology in classrooms.
Education technology is an $8 billion industry in the United States, according to the Software and Information Industry Association.

The number of education apps and gizmos or gadgets grows every day, with venture capital pouring millions into what are being called ed-tech startups.

Yet schools are not easy targets anymore in terms of buying technology because it's shiny and new, even if it might sit on the shelf.

"Education leaders are becoming more sophisticated," the association's analysts wrote in a 2013 report. "They are not looking for companies to sell them technology products but are instead looking for partners who understand their challenges and can help provide matching solutions."

In other words, schools want stuff that improves learning and won't go to waste in the back of a classroom closet or used as a glorified piece of paper.

"We don't want teachers to basically put their worksheets on the iPad," Bloemsma said.

Stiff criteria

Sales pitches are evaluated with a wary eye, said Michele Dawson, district supervisor of education technology.

"Trust me," she said. "We get a plethora of people who want to show us their products."

To be selected, a product has to meet stiff criteria, giving students and teachers the tools for critical thinking, creativity, the ability to communicate or share information and offer feedback on student understanding, she said.

But the stuff is secondary. Training teachers how to teach with technology is even more important, Bloemsma said.

"It's more student centered," he said. "This is scary for teacher, giving up control."

San Francisco veteran teacher Karen Clayman is among the 30 trainees this year.

She has always loved computers.

Her first computer was an Apple IIe, first released in 1983.

But using technology in her classes at Giannini Middle School was a little intimidating. With 35 years in the classroom, she had seen the early attempts and the resulting disasters.

This year, her students are using iPads to create class presentations, share documents and other applications that allow them to be creative in their class projects. She can see what they are each doing and control their iPads from hers or post their work on a digital whiteboard.

"They love it," she said.

The only downside is the reliance on power.

"If I didn't have electricity, if we have a power failure," she said shaking her head. "I'd have to remember how to use a (manual, write with a pen) whiteboard."

Friday, May 2, 2014

My how distinguished these nine schools look

Jill Tucker | SFExaminer

Nine San Francisco schools landed on the list of California Distinguished Schools Wednesday, a top-dog status.

They were among 424 selected, which sounds like a lot, but it’s out of 10,300 schools statewide. (The full list of distinguished schools statewide can be found here.

“I am very proud of these award-winning schools for the incredible work they do every day,” said San Francisco Superintendent Richard A. Carranza. “Receipt of this recognition represents not only the great learning that is happening for our students but also the initiative each of these schools has taken to document and share their practices with others.”

The city’s 2014 California Distinguished Schools are:
Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila
Clarendon Elementary
Grattan Elementary
Gordon J. Lau Elementary
Lawton (K-8)
Claire Lilienthal (K-8)
McKinley Elementary
Sunnyside Elementary
West Portal Elementary

The selection process includes the evaluation of test scores as well as a review of innovative and effective policies and practices.

“I applaud these strong, thriving schools that are making such impressive strides in preparing their students for continued success,” said state Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson. “This award is well-deserved by these school communities for their enduring dedication to high standards, hard work, and unwavering support.”