Thursday, December 24, 2015

Savings from a rainy day

This winter, 25 SFUSD schools are taking advantage of our El Niño weather. With cisterns installed in their green schoolyard gardens, they are capturing and storing water to be used later. SFUSD's green schoolyards are designed by each school's community, and many have opted to include cisterns—some of which can hold up to 3,000 gallons of rainwater. Cisterns are provided with support from organizations such as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and Tap the Sky.

Want to learn about getting a cistern for your school? Contact SFUSD Sustainability Director Nik Kaestner.
Want one for your home? SFPUC has a rain barrel program for San Francisco residents.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

SF students learn cooking and history all in one lesson

By Laura Dudnick | S.F. Examiner

Photo: Mike Koozmin, S.F. Examiner

18-year-old Frankie Pena holds a container of Oysters Rockefeller stuffing as he walks out of the refrigeration unit at the John O'Connell High School O’Connell Culinary Arts program, Tuesday, November 24, 2015.
Former longtime chef and owner of renowned Financial District Italian restaurant Palio d’Asti Daniel Scherotter stood at the front of the kitchen as he handed out advice to the 17 budding cooks preparing a Thanksgiving feast around him.

“I have the butter, so now you said to strain it?” one asked.

“Take out the leaves and pour the butter all over the Brussel sprouts,” Scherotter replied.

Another came up to him: “For the oysters, do you want me to put the meat inside the shell now?”

Without missing a beat, the chef responded: “Did you already put the cheese in the [filling]? Get the Parmesan cheese and get the bread crumbs.”

A third cook held up a dish with sweet potatoes and questioned: “Where do the onions come into play with this?”

Unfazed, Scherotter laughed and said, “It’s your recipe.”

Such was the buzzing activity just hours before high school students at John O’Connell High School on Tuesday served the school’s roughly 70 faculty and staff a feast of the culinary arts and entrepreneurship class’s own take on Thanksgiving.

The menu, a mix of traditional dishes like turkey and mashed potatoes but with a unique kick, serves as a lesson in and of itself, Scherotter explained. Items like Native American corn pudding, tropical basmati rice and Thai butternut squash soup were selected after students researched the faculty’s flavor preferences to teach them about business.

“After studying what Thanksgiving was and how it evolved over time, they did a marketing study of the faculty and looked at what was trending in the culinary world and decided they wanted to do a locally oriented Thanksgiving meal, but with flavors of the Pacific Rim,” Scherotter said.

In the four years since he quit the full-time restaurant business to become a high school teacher, Scherotter has helped to redefine the way students in San Francisco are taught social studies: by aligning cooking with history lessons and entrepreneurship. The class meets five days a week and is co-taught with a social studies teacher. Students spend 25 percent of that time in a restaurant-quality kitchen adjoined to a regular classroom.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Batten down the hatches!

By now we’ve all heard about the very rainy El Niño season ahead of us. The city of San Francisco is making extensive preparations for large amounts of rain by making plans for emergency shelter, ensuring our sewers can stand up to heavy storms, preparing for landslides or flooding, making various emergency repairs, and anticipating what to do for power outages or tree issues.

We, too, are busy preparing for storms. Over the summer, our Buildings and Grounds staff cleaned gutters and drains, checked boiler rooms for leaks, and cleared floor drains.

When the rain hits, we will be ready to respond to emergencies. We will have satellite locations throughout the city stocked with flood supplies so our maintenance crews have quick access to tools needed to service leaks and power outages and to mitigate flooding. Our service vehicles will be equipped with sand bags, water pumps and extra tools to handle site complications due to storm-related issues.

In the unlikely event of a school closure, we’ll call, email and text message you using the contact information in our student information system. Make sure your children’s schools have all of your contact information and that it's up to date so you can be reached quickly. Please note that you will only receive text notifications if you have opted in—check with your school secretary if you have any questions. Information will also be posted on the homepage of the district website ( and shared with major media outlets as well.

Is your family feeling prepared? Here are some basic things you can do to get ready:

  • Create an emergency plan and assemble an emergency kit.

  • Sign up for weather alerts from the National Weather Service or get more local alerts from

  • Get free sandbags—San Francisco residents and businesses can have up to 10 free sandbags through SF Public Works. Pick them up from Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2323 Cesar Chavez St. (entrance on Marin St. and Kansas St.).

  • Elevate your belongings, especially anything valuable or anything with chemicals such as pesticides or cleaners.
  • Don't forget about your pets, if you have them! Remember to include their supplies in your emergency kit, or if they are in a cage, make sure it's located somewhere safe from flooding.

  • Relocate your vehicle if you live in an area prone to flooding.

For further resources, go to

Healthy and delicious holiday meals

Thanksgiving lunch at SFUSD
This holiday season, give thanks for family, health and good food. SFUSD is here to offer some tips for making your holidays happy and healthy:
  1. What’s just as wonderful as eating your holiday meal together? Cooking it together, too! Add some dishes to your holiday menus that are fun for the whole family to prepare, like mashed yams or potatoes and a veggie medley with beans or grains.

  2. Mix up traditionally heavy, starchy holiday sides with some crisp, fresh vegetables like lightly roasted broccolini or asparagus. A splash of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar or fish sauce adds a savory kick to their natural deliciousness.

  3. Celebrate Bay Area bounty this holiday season and give the gift of supporting your local community by using ingredients from local farmers’ markets and grocery stores. It is sure to bring the best flavors of the season to your table.

  4. Still working through your leftover turkey? Substitute this delicious, healthy protein in some of your favorite winter dishes like soups and moles, or use it as an added boost to salads.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Greening the next generation

Student planting plants
A few weeks ago, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson visited Lincoln High School to tour its Green Academy. Part of his visit included a call for the integration of environmental science into other subjects to educate a generation of “ecoliterate Californian students.”

It was no surprise he picked SFUSD to host the press event; we’ve officially been pursuing a sustainability agenda at SFUSD for the past seven years. In 2008 Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the SFPUC and SF Department of the Environment to support the creation of the SFUSD Sustainability Office, which I have been proud to lead ever since.

Without using a penny of school district funds, the Office of Sustainability has grown to three full-time and two part-time staff working to make our buildings healthier and more efficient, reducing the waste we send to the landfill, and encouraging families to leave the car behind when commuting to school.

The nice thing about these initiatives is that they pay dividends in terms of our educational mission and bottom line as well as our environmental sensibilities.

For example, as our staff battles the drought by replacing water fixtures, reducing garden watering times, and installing rainwater cisterns, we also teach our students by example in the outdoor classroom -- and reduce our monthly utility bill.

Similarly, the Food to Flowers composting programs teaches our students to care for the natural world by composting cafeteria waste while also keeping our hauling fees from escalating. And when our kids join each other to walk to school (we call them “walking school buses”), they not only reduce pollution and congestion but also burn off some energy so they can arrive in the classroom ready to focus and learn.

Over the course of this school year I’ll feature some of our most exciting sustainability work in this blog and hope to inspire you to take similar steps at home–that is, if you haven’t already.

Sustainably yours,
Nik Kaestner
Director of Sustainability


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Back to School Night: Tips for parents

So, your children are settling in at school, but you don’t have a full picture of what the year will be like. Take advantage our Back to School Nights in September to get a glimpse of your children's school life and meet teachers, other parents and school staff. Check with your school to see when your Back to School Night is scheduled.

Visiting the classroom

Most common is a visit to your children's classrooms. Here’s an up-close chance to sit where they usually sit and get a feel for their school environment.

Teachers will introduce themselves and give an overview of students' daily routines, schedules, goals, and activities. You can discuss the homework policy, classroom behavior expectations, and any other important information, such as how to contact teachers or how your school uses School Loop. If your children have several teachers for different subjects, you will likely get their schedules and go from classroom to classroom throughout the evening, usually in the same order your children would.

Speak up!

At the end of each classroom visit, teachers will take questions you have about the world of the classroom.

Now's your chance to ask general questions about the class and clear up any confusions you might have. Keep in mind that this is not a good time to discuss your children's individual needs or progress—you will get plenty of one-on-one time for that at your upcoming parent/teacher conference. By then, teachers will know your children better, and you'll be able to get a more accurate sense of your children's progress.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Resources to get started for the new school year

New to our schools? First of all, we are happy to have you here in San Francisco’s public schools! You have enrolled your child in one of the highest-performing school districts that believes in educating the whole child, rigorous education standards, and graduating your child ready for college and career in this fast-paced 21st century world.

Here are a few things you can do right now to help you and your child settle in:

  1. Sign up to receive emails about your child's schoolwork and be in touch with teachers on School Loop (have your child's SFUSD ID number handy) 
  2. Find your school's website
  3. Learn about school district policies in our Student and Family Handbook
  4. Find out what's for lunch 
  5. Apply online for free or reduced-price meals—even if you don't need or want them, each completed application helps fund our meal services
  6. Join San Francisco parent organizations you're interested in
  7. To get the latest news and information, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or sign up for our monthly email newsletter
  8. Subscribe to our calendar so you don't miss an event or a day off

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Q&A: San Francisco Expands Computer Science Classes

The San Francisco school district announced last month that it will phase in computer science instruction for all students at all grade levels.

It's an ambitious plan. Chicago is the only other major urban district attempting to integrate computer science instruction in similarly broad scope—and San Francisco's plan goes even further by bringing the topic to students as young as prekindergarten.

Funding for the computer science expansion will come from the district, industry partnerships, and a deal with the Foundation that brought the school system $5 million to increase resources for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Education Week spoke last month with James Ryan, the district's executive director for STEM, about the new initiative. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the impetus behind this change? Why did the school board vote to make this happen?
Mr. Ryan: Computer science currently in the district is a few courses students can take in high school, mostly when they're either juniors or seniors, some as sophomores. But it's 5 percent or less of the students [taking it] and not even at every high school. In middle school, it's less than half a percent of kids who get exposed to computer science or coding courses, and essentially zero at the K-5 level.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

S.F. students build on trade skills in construction program

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Photo: Loren Elliott, The Chronicle
Students work on the construction of a tiny home during the
"building and construction trades lab" at O'connell High School
in San Francisco, California, on Thursday, July 2, 2015.
The course is taught by Chris Wood.
The chop saw whirred, the cement mixer churned, and the nail gun spit out loud thwacks. The scene looked nothing like stereotypical summer school.

But in San Francisco, dozens of students are getting real-life lessons in what it takes to build a tiny house, fix a Muni bus air compressor or create an alternative water treatment program.

The San Francisco Unified School District summer program offers a high school summer break enrichment program, the kind that nearly died off in public schools during the recession. For several weeks, 60 high school students are getting exposure to a range of careers through the hands-on programs at four schools.

David Jarillo, an incoming senior at Lowell High School, was among those wielding hammers and saws at John O’Connell High School, where students were participating in a construction trades program and building an eco-friendly tiny house.

The college-bound teen looked at ease in his work boots, safety goggles and white hard hat despite his previous inexperience with power tools.

“It’s a new experience for me,” said David, who is considering a career as an architect and thought a summer spent building a house would give him greater insight into design and construction. “I never thought I’d be doing something like this, but I like it. It’s a bit difficult sometimes.”
As difficult as one of his advanced placement classes at Lowell?

“Not that hard,” he said, laughing.

While the construction program looks a lot like the wood shop classes offered in vocational education programs from decades past, the district’s career courses aren’t looking to track youths into trades rather than college.

“We’re not in the business of raising ditch diggers,” said Erik Rice, the district’s supervisor of college and career readiness.

The summer construction program, which is offered during the regular school year as well, integrates the study of social issues, including affordable housing, homelessness, city planning, architecture, design and engineering.

The program gives students a taste of the trades as well as a college preparatory experience, creating opportunities regardless of which direction they go after high school, district officials said.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Curriculum completed for first-ever LGBT studies course at SF public high school

By | SF Examiner 

There has perhaps never been a more pertinent time to introduce an LGBT studies class to a San Francisco public high school.

So says Lyndsey Schlax, a government, history and economics teacher at Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts since 2008. Although Schlax has previously touched on current events in her classes, she’s certain the first-of-its-kind LGBT studies class next fall will identify with students more than ever before.

“The overarching theme of the year is the nondominant narrative of the American experience,” Schlax explained. “[And] I think there is a lot going on in terms of the advancements of rights for the LGBT community.”

On Tuesday, Schlax finalized the curriculum for the groundbreaking course, which had 25 students enrolled as of mid-June. The class is an elective and will last a semester, as well as count toward the San Francisco Unified School District’s rigorous graduation requirements that ensure students are eligible for University of California or California State University.

While the class marks the first on-site LGBT lessons taught in the SFUSD, the district for years has strived to provide more inclusionary courses, particularly following a Board of Education resolution approved in 2010 to expand services for LGBT students. A district-funded course was offered in 2011 at Lyric, a San Francisco-based LGBT organization for youths, but that class was only available on Saturdays.

And the latest effort couldn’t come a moment too soon as the nation faces an LGBT crusade that in some ways mirrors the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, Schlax noted.

“We’re moving towards marriage equality, we’re moving toward same-sex couples being able to adopt in all states, we’re moving towards all sorts of workplace protections,” she said.

The LGBT studies class will be broken into three units, beginning with basic terminology, followed by identities and the history of LGBT leaders including the late Supervisor Harvey Milk and the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. The third unit will look at the current portrayal of those who identify as LGBT.

Schlax said there will also be a week to focus on transgender issues and the perception of LGBT people worldwide, including the opposition and persecution they face.

The class will include a field trip to San Francisco’s GLBT History Museum, which will allow students to learn from the museum’s 30-year-old archive.

“The archive was formed in 1985 in the height of the AIDS pandemic when no one would take our materials because of prejudice,” said Daryl Carr, acting executive director of the museum.

The museum also offers artwork, pictures, costumes and other artifacts — including a chair that belonged to Milk — that will give students a snapshot of various LGBT stories in The City, Carr said.
“It’s as relevant for kids today to know that how freedom is earned by both struggle and triumph,” he added.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Five things you can do to keep your child learning this summer

Superintendent Richard A. Carranza has tips on keeping your child learning during summer break:

Three students and a teacher in a cooking class
 Summer break has begun, but taking a break from the classroom doesn’t mean the learning stops.

In fact, I cannot say enough to parents: You are your child's first teacher. Taking time to do a quick math problem just for fun, finding something interesting to read, and talking about school shows your child that his or her education—inside and outside the classroom—is important to you.

  1. Sneak in some reading
    Are you planning to see some movies during the break? Before heading to the theater, have your child read a review of the movie and afterward ask your child to write a review. If you’re more outdoorsy and like to take advantage of our relatively warm winter days here in Northern California, take time to read a map or online guide books before heading to the park together.
  2. Bake up some science
    Do you have a favorite family cookie recipe? Have your child gather ingredients, read the recipe together and let your child do all the measuring. Talk to your child about how cooking is a science, involves math and how you need to double-check your calculations to make sure everything turns out delicious! (Ooops, measured wrong and it didn't turn out perfectly? Try again! Mistakes and perseverance are a vital part of learning.)
  3. Leave things around
    At home, have child-appropriate magazines and books on the table to spark your child’s interest. Children are naturally curious, and they will choose good reading material if it’s hanging around.
  4. Do math on Muni
    If you’re taking Muni somewhere, ask your child to count the number of people on the bus and then the number of people looking at their cell phones, then try to calculate the fraction of phone holders and non-phone holders.
  5. Be a storyteller
    Summer is a natural time to tell family stories. Perhaps relatives will be visiting, and childhood memories are part of the conversation. Share fun stories from your own childhood. Perhaps talking about a favorite teacher of yours when you were young will spark a conversation about your child’s teacher or a special staff member at school.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — When a teacher at the June Jordan School for Equity asked for students to say what they were grateful for, 18-year-old JaMarc Allen Henderson said, “I’m grateful that everyone was kind and cooperative with each other.”

People who know Henderson weren’t surprised by his statement. Henderson is about to be honored with a San Francisco Peacemaker Award for his work in peer mediation.

Henderson’s counselor say the teen developed into a top scholar and now has straight A’s.
The popular student has volunteers to travel to Nicaragua twice, helping to build a rural school.
He says that learning about social justice and the history of the African-American culture at his school opened his eyes to what is possible for him.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

SF schools are developing computer science curriculum for all grade levels

By Laura Dudnick | SF Examiner

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
The Digital District plan is a five-year roadmap highlighting how
technology will be woven into the classrooms of public schools.
Students in San Francisco may soon learn computer science starting as early as preschool.

The San Francisco Unified School District is exploring the bold and unprecedented curriculum change as part of its Digital District plan, a five-year roadmap released last year that highlights how technology will be woven into the classrooms of public schools. Computer science education includes coding, computer security and databases — all valuable skills in today’s job market.

The move could make the SFUSD potentially the first district in the U.S. to implement a mandatory computer science curriculum for all pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade students. Currently, there are 28 computer science courses offered at 10 high schools, which reach just 5 percent of The City’s high school students. Two middle schools offer computer science electives, impacting less than 1 percent of all sixth- through eighth-grade students. There are no computer science courses taught in elementary schools.

That means that students are not being exposed to computer science at a young age, potentially triggering an interest that could develop into a lucrative career, district officials said.

“We are not seeing a representative group of students take advantage [of computer science],” said Jim Ryan, executive director of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program for the SFUSD. “They don’t get exposure young enough so it becomes an interest of theirs.”

The new curriculum would introduce about 20 hours of computer science education each school year to students in preschool through fifth grade. An example of computer science lessons for elementary school students would be putting together blocks based on conditional statements, as if to mirror code-writing on a computer.

The model for that age group would likely involve one computer science specialist for every two schools. The teacher would spend about an hour a week in each classroom of one school for one semester, then switch to another school for another semester.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

S.F. schools’ iPad handout pivots from L.A.’s $1.3 billion scandal

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
Eric Mendez, right, and his son, Eric, 7, use the iPad given to them by
the San Francisco Unified School District to do his studying at home
in San Lorenzo, Calif., on Thursday, May 7, 2015. iPads were given to
first graders in four San Francisco schools through a donation made
by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
From 350 miles north, San Francisco school officials watched the $1.3 billion iPad program in Los Angeles schools implode amid allegations of illegal spending, improper bidding on contracts and software bugs, not to mention students hacking the devices to bypass security blocking social media and other online sites.

Then those same San Francisco district leaders bought a bunch of iPads and started handing them out in schools up here. But they’d learned lessons from Los Angeles.

Instead of loaning kids tablets to take home, San Francisco’s Digital Literacy program is giving them to families for free, loaded with hundreds of books, learn-to-read software and educational games, and with open-ended access to the Internet. After the parents go through a training, the iPads are theirs to keep, no strings attached, and students are then able to access the same books and reading programs at home as they do at school.

And the district is starting small. Instead of blanketing schools with the tablets as L.A. did, San Francisco is starting in five schools and working only with first-grade classrooms and families. So far, there are sets of iPad Mini tablets in each first-grade class at the five schools. And 155 parents who have gone through or are currently enrolled in the training have received iPads.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Forget bake sales — SF schools are crowdfunding

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle

Bake sales? So 20th century.

San Francisco schools aren’t organizing cakewalks to raise cash, they’re crowdfunding.
District officials announced a new partnership Friday with Tilt, an online fundraising platform, allowing schools to post technological needs and ask for donations.

Similar sites, like, allow teachers to post classroom needs and ask for donations. But this is the first-ever crowdfunding initiative by a school district, San Francisco Unified officials said.

The site,, already has several schools’ wish lists.

Sunset Elementary School, for example, is seeking $25,000 to boost its supply of iPads and Chromebooks.

Stevenson Elementary wants $28,000 for “one iPad cart containing 30 tablets that will be shared between the third, fourth and fifth grades.”

All the money goes to the schools, save a 1 percent fee to Tilt to maintain the district’s “SparkLearning” site that it houses. The company’s take is usually a couple percentage points higher.

“An investment in education is the best investment we can all make, and this new Tilt SparkLearning platform is making it easier to make that investment,” Mayor Ed Lee said, in a statement.

Lee and district officials have focused efforts on building relationships between the city’s tech sector and schools.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Summer Fun for the Family

It's only a few more weeks until school ends and summer vacation begins. Are you taking things easy, or do you already have a list of plans?

For those of you looking for more learning opportunities this summer--something we never object to--SF Kids has a list of summer camps and programs, including many that are low cost or free. We also offer opportunities for summer school and internships for high school students.

Bay Area Kid Fun's constantly updated compilation of family-friendly events is a great reminder that San Francisco itself is one of the best classrooms around. If you have a library card, you can also check out a Family Pass for a day of free admission to local attractions and pools.

Developing the math core curriculum

Shaheena Shiekh is in her third year of teaching math to seventh and eighth grade students at Denman Middle School.  It is also her third year working as part of the teacher team that developed and continues to refine SFUSD's secondary Common Core math curriculum.  While Shaheena is the first to point out that the new curriculum is a work in progress (getting the pacing down is the biggest challenge) and is frustrating many teachers and parents, she is also amazed by how her students are shifting from following mathematical procedures to making sense of math in new and meaningful ways.  "Just ask a student what they're learning.  You’ll be astounded by the depth of their responses."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

So You Want Your Kid to Speak Mandarin?

Rachel Levin | April issue of San Francisco Magazine

More and more parents are choosing Chinese immersion schools. Most love them - but some are getting more than they bargained for.

Elizabeth Goumas’s top criterion in choosing an elementary school for her kindergarten-bound son, back in 2009, was that it be within walking distance of her house. “If there were an earthquake, I wanted to know that I could get there,” she says, half joking. School leadership, diversity, and a supportive community were all close seconds. What wasn’t a priority, whatsoever, was a language immersion program. “My husband and I had totally ruled out immersion,” says Goumas, a blond, blue-eyed former software sales executive. “We thought it was too complex, too much to take on.” Chinese immersion wasn’t even on her radar.

As it often goes, though, with the San Francisco public school lottery, the Goumas family didn’t get anything on their wish list. Instead, they were assigned to De Avila, a closed school in the Haight that was due to reopen as a Chinese immersion K–5 elementary. “It was also across from a head shop and kitty-corner to the free clinic,” says Goumas, laughing. “We were like, oh no.”

But then they joined a summer playdate with other newly accepted families and saw their son hit it off with two bilingual Chinese kids. “Our biggest worry had been, how is Nicolas going to find his best friends? Will he be able to find them in those four or five kids who speak English?” Social concerns allayed, they decided to “take a leap of faith.” They also decided not to mention the Chinese thing to their son. “The first day of kindergarten,” says Goumas, “he came home and said, ‘Mom! My teacher didn’t speak any English!’”

Six years later, Goumas’s son (now in fifth grade) and daughter (in third, and about as tall as her Chinese teachers) are fully proficient in Cantonese; De Avila is one of the most sought-after public elementary schools in the city; and Goumas is throwing Chinese banquets out of her lower Pacific Heights home—despite the fact that she herself can’t understand a lick of the language. “Sending my kids to De Avila has been a transformational experience,” she says. She marvels as her nine-year-old chats up Cantonese speakers all over town, from the fiftysomething women fondling fabric at Britex to the waiters at Chinese restaurants. She says, “We feel connected to our community in a way we never would have.”

In 1981, the first Mandarin immersion school in the country—the private Chinese American International School (CAIS)— opened on Oak Street in San Francisco. West Portal Elementary followed three years later, becoming the nation’s first public elementary school to offer a Chinese immersion program. Since then, as China’s role in the world economy has grown, so has the number of non-Chinese parents (and second-, third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation Chinese-American parents) who want their kids to learn the language spoken by 1.2 billion people.

This fall, San Francisco will have a total of 14 Chinese immersion programs. Eleven are public, most at the elementary and middle school levels. Half are Cantonese, half Mandarin—and all are in high demand. Some operate as a separate language program within an otherwise conventional school; others, like De Avila and Presidio Knolls, a private K–8 Mandarin school launched in 2012, are full immersion. All in all, roughly 2,700 students are enrolled in Chinese immersion programs in the city.

And more are coming. Alameda County got its first Chinese public immersion school, Yu Ming Charter, in 2011; it receives four applications for every available spot. Next year a public school in Redwood City is introducing Mandarin immersion, and parents are clamoring for Mandarin immersion schools in Menlo Park and San Jose. In total, there are about 50 Chinese immersion schools in California, most of them in the Bay Area.

A majority of their students, not surprisingly, are Chinese-American or have one Chinese parent. While these schools are international and multicultural in obvious ways, they are not exactly bastions of diversity. At De Avila, 63 percent of students identify as Asian, 18 percent as white, 4 percent as Hispanic, and 1 percent as African-American. The demographic breakdown is similar at CAIS, where 38 percent of students are Asian-American and 41 percent multiethnic, 19 percent Caucasian, 1 percent black, and 1 percent Hispanic. The student body at a public K–8 immersion school, Alice Fong Yu, is 66 percent Asian and just 5 percent white. (Because they speak the language, some Caucasian students actually self-identify as Chinese.)

What is ‘Asian’ anymore, anyway?” asks Beth Weise, a former parent at Starr King Elementary and the author of A Parent’s Guide to Mandarin Immersion, published in 2014. “My daughters’ dad is Asian, so they are half Chinese, but they are being raised by two white lesbian moms.” Jeff Bissell, head of school at CAIS, agrees, pointing to the number of mixed-race couples in the area. “San Francisco is a wonderful mishmash,” he says. “The term ‘Caucasian’ is becoming less and less relevant.”

Semantics aside, interest in Chinese immersion education is on the rise, say administrators like Bissell and De Avila principal Rosina Tong. Parents are drawn to it because they want to stimulate their kids’ brains (being multilingual has cognitive benefits, studies show) and prepare them for the working world. Not surprisingly, a big draw is the traditional Asian emphasis on academics. Chinese immersion schools are invariably high-performing, which makes them attractive. “Take a closed or under-enrolled school and make it Mandarin, and test scores go up, enrollment goes up. You get a socioeconomic mix, and you attract parents who might otherwise go private. Waitlists form,” explains Weise. “It’s a win-win for everyone, the district and the families.” She adds, “I’ve never heard of a Chinese immersion school where it isn’t considered cool to be smart.”

It’s also become cool to be global. Linda Vann-Adibe, admissions director and parent at CAIS, says that what’s attracting parents today is the hope of creating global citizens in an increasingly globalized world—and the desire to give their children a competitive edge. Those goals, she says, were less evident 13 years ago, when she was a kindergarten parent—or even 6 years ago, when she started working in the admissions office. “Parents are more sophisticated now. They used to think: I’m not Chinese; why would I learn Chinese? The new parent thinks: It doesn’t matter whether I speak Chinese. This is the future.”

Patti Huang, a Taiwanese American who is married to a white man, says that she chose Starr King to prepare her kindergarten-age daughter for the competition that she will eventually face from the billion-plus Mandarin speakers around the world. Huang also wanted to spark in her daughter a general love of languages. “The heritage thing is a perk,” she says. “And there’s an element of wanting to make grandparents proud.” The desire to connect with their cultural heritage continues to be a major factor for many multiethnic and Chinese-American parents. “I have always wanted immersion,” says Kim Wong, who is also married to a white man. Their six-year-old son attends a traditional public school and takes Saturday Mandarin classes because he didn’t get into an immersion program. “I regret not knowing how to speak Chinese,” Wong says, “and there’s a loss of heritage. I want my son to at least be able to talk to my grandma if I can’t!”

For Weise, it’s also about creating opportunity. “I’m not telling my girls, ‘I want you to become biotech moguls in Singapore or software engineers in Shanghai,’” she says. “I’m just giving them tools. Maybe they’ll decide to become potters or open a restaurant. Learning Mandarin is about options.”

It’s also about rote memorization—and ridiculously difficult. To be considered literate, one must learn about 3,000 Chinese characters. And when it comes to learning those characters, the younger the better. Prime time is kindergarten and first grade, when children’s brains are like sponges and everything is new—washing hands, tying laces. Why not tack on Cantonese, too?

And these assimilated days, no one has a leg up. Most kids in the immersion programs, whether Chinese-American, multiethnic, or Caucasian, are starting from scratch. Some may have attended Mandarin preschool, but about 90 percent of families who choose Chinese immersion education, Weise estimates, don’t speak the language at home. Families who do tend to be more concerned that their children master English, so they choose all-English programs. And newer immigrants may not even be aware that immersion programs exist.

Income levels skew somewhat higher at Chinese immersion schools, Weise adds. In 2012, for instance, the number of Chinese-immersion students who qualified for reduced-fee or free lunch was around 34 percent, versus the district-wide 61 percent—at De Avila, it was only 17 percent. But that’s by no means universal, says Weise. And for parents who view private school as the pinnacle, getting into a Chinese immersion program is a “golden ticket”—they get an academically strong school without having to pony up $25,000 in tuition.

That’s not to say that everyone’s a happy customer. Some white parents just want a more multicultural experience for their kids—and then are shocked by what being a minority in middle school can actually mean. Back in 2003, long before Mandarin was trending, therapist Samantha Smithstein and her husband purposely sought out immersion—any immersion. “Spanish, French, Korean, Chinese...we really didn’t care which one.” They ended up at Alice Fong Yu (AFY). The first few years were wonderful, says Smithstein. “The kindergarten and first-grade teachers were warm and good at gestural communication—my kids loved it. They just soaked up the language.”

But the honeymoon didn’t last. By middle school, Smithstein’s twin daughters were miserable. “Many of the teachers were harsh. Some would publicly humiliate students, make them cry,” says Smithstein. “It was scary for my kids.” Her twins have since graduated, and her son, now in the seventh grade, is doing better than her daughters did. Still, she struggles to make sense of the experience. “I don’t know whether it’s the school or the principal or just a cultural difference. I’d heard stories about schools in China that are intense, and I’d think, is this the price I pay for sending them to a Chinese school?”

Sophie Wallace, a white French woman married to a white American man, has kids in the fifth and eighth grades at AFY. She raves about their experience, academically and socially. “The great plus is that the kids learn early on that they are not a majority, so they can’t be cocky,” she says.

But for Smithstein, AFY’s social structure was a definite minus. Many children have a tough time at that age, but her twins were outcasts. “There was a kind of racism at the school that was not addressed,” she says. “By eighth grade it became clear that the ‘in groups’ were the Chinese and mixed kids, and the ‘out group’ was the non-Chinese. By eighth grade most of the out group had dropped out—maybe only five or six non-Chinese kids were left. My kids told me it was the low point of their lives.”

Still, Smithstein doesn’t regret her choice. “When I step back, I know that it was a really cool experience. I feel good about the academics; they were exposed to a different culture; they are unafraid to plunge into new experiences; they traveled to China. They are two tall Jewish white girls who speak Chinese—so many positive things came out of it.”

One of the biggest positives? “We cannot help with homework,” says Mikhal Bouganim, a founding parent at Presidio Knolls. “And I love, love, love it.”

- See more at:

Monday, March 30, 2015

Robots: a Hands-On Approach to STEM Education

Stephanie Tam
California eighth graders are ranked 45th in the country in math. That’s according to the most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Meanwhile, the pool of jobs requiring math, science, and engineering experience is growing, especially here in the Bay Area. For people with the right skills, these jobs have become the latest iteration of the American dream -- steady, livable wages, and plenty of demand.

In San Francisco, a few high schools have started offering hands on tech experience to students in after school robotics clubs. George Washington High School in San Francisco’s Richmond District is one of them. They’ve entered a national robot-building competition of 3,000 teams. They have six weeks to build a robot that can lift and stack big plastic bins, for a regional contest in Davis.

Around week three, about twenty students are clustered in groups in a small classroom. They’re hunched over computer screens, with bucket-sized bubble teas on their desks. On the floor, there’s something that looks like a car battery got in a fight with a Roomba, scooting back and forth on command. The students have been working on it every day after school - all-day on Saturdays too.

“We don't come on Sundays - we would if we could,” said senior Sheldon Lau. “But they don't let us.” 

Not only do these students have to build and design a robot from scratch, they have to write code to make it perform specific functions. Taxi Situ described the first time they made the robot move.  “Everyone was cheering, everyone was taking their phones out and taking pictures of it,” said Situ. “SnapChat was a thing.”

For Situ - and everyone else on the team -- robot building is a completely new experience. This is compounded by the fact that there are only so many people who can help them. Many of the adults in these students’  lives have little understanding of what they are doing. “My parents aren't really into this techie kind of stuff,” says Lau. “I tell them I'm building a robot and they think I'm building some kind of android that's going to destroy the world or something I think it's because my parents - they don't work in these kinds of fields, like an engineering field or computer science, they do simple labor work, this is kind of a different world to them.”

So instead the Internet  - namely instructional Youtube videos - have become their textbook. They also get help from adult mentors from nearby tech companies, more seasoned high school competitors, and teachers.  Math teacher John Hajel is advisor to the club. He also teaches Computer Science at the school, which has gained popularity throughout the years.

“This is the second year of computer science at Washington,” said Hajel. “They had it years and years ago but budget cuts happened. This year we have four computer science classes, with about hundred and twenty students. It's really good.”

As the Computer Science program at the school gained momentum, Hajel wanted students to get more hands-on training. So did senior Stephanie Tam. She had friends on Lowell High School’s accomplished Cardinalbotics team. So they started up a club just like it. Interest wasn’t a problem, but money was. The parts for the robot cost thousands of dollars alone. A neighborhood organization helped the club get 20,000 dollars from Facebook.

Tech money in the SFUSD is not a new thing. This past year alone, Salesforce.Com donated five million dollars to the district. Hajel says he’s grateful for the resources, but the tech giants make some educators uneasy.


April means poems and pockets!

April is National Poetry Month. But wait, don’t yawn, it’s not only about metaphors and syntax.

There are plenty of ways poetry comes alive in San Francisco’s public schools.

Teacher-librarian Tracy Heffernan, who teachers both at Francis Scott Key and Frank McCoppin Elementary Schools, describes how her schools celebrate poetry on the culmination of the special month, a day called Poem in Your Pocket Day (April 30):

“Poem in Your Pocket Day is a day set aside each year in April by the Poetry Foundation to celebrate and share poetry. At my schools we explore poetry for two weeks during library time and in the classroom.

“I have recycled/reclaimed book pockets and old catalog cards we use as materials, and baskets of poetry of all kinds in the classrooms and the library. At lunch, in the library and any time in the classroom, students read widely and either choose their favorite stanza from a published poem or create their own to write onto the back of the catalog card, place in their ‘pocket.’ They decorate and wear as a kind of necklace on the day to share with each other, all over the campus!”

She adds: “My students continue their exploration right through the end of the school year usually, they are so excited to discover poetry!”

Find out what your school is doing for National Poetry Month, and maybe even start a Poem in Your Pocket Day at your school.

For National Poetry Month, KALW and America SCORES Bay Area have teamed up to bring you Radio Poets, a program featuring the voices of young poets from San Francisco’s public schools.

Throughout April 2015, you can hear SFUSD students read their poems on KALW 91.7, Monday through Thursday at 3:19 p.m. and 8:58 p.m.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

S.F. Mission High kids learn mariachi and more

By Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle
Instrumental music teacher Sofia Fojas, center, laughs as she leads the mariachi
class at Mission High School March 11, 2015 inSan Francisco, Calif. The class
will be performing in afree show called "ÁViva el Mariachi!" at 7:30pm on
March 19 atthe Mission High School Auditorium.
One student had played the cowbell in band class, another the tambourine and bells. But few of the 12 students sitting in the small theater at Mission High School had ever picked up a guitar until January, when they walked into the district’s first mariachi class in 30 years.

Seven weeks later, the students strummed the chords to “Volver, Volver,” a classic mariachi song about lost love and yearning, a real tearjerker. Some of the teens struggled to keep up with chord changes, but the melody was unmistakable.

Eddy Flores de León, 16, was the one playing cowbell in band class when he made the switch to guitar and the mariachi class for the spring semester.

Originally from Guatemala, he was unfamiliar with the Mexican music.

“It’s like a different sound, more unique,” said the sophomore, noting that no other high school in the district or area offers mariachi music. “I think it’s cool they tried it here first.”

A few days later at the district office, Superintendent Richard Carranza watched a video of Eddy and his classmates playing the Mexican love song and his face filled with emotion — a combination of joy and pride mixed with a bit of deja vu.

In the early 1990s, he had started a similar program in Tucson, where he was a social studies teacher at a school that was 92 percent Mexican American.

The program started with 11 students, and within 10 years Carranza was a full-time mariachi teacher with 250 students and a premier performance group, Mariachi Aztlán, that was paid for its gigs and toured the country. The money paid for college scholarships for the kids — $2,000 for each year the high school students were in the elite band.

“It brought a recognition of who they are, their cultural heritage, into the school,” he said. “We wanted to diversify what we considered art.”

And: “They always knew this was a vehicle to get to college.”

Carranza, a mariachi musician, said the program turned gangbangers into musicians with at least a 3.0 grade point average, which was required to perform.

And parent involvement exploded, as families held food fundraisers to buy costumes and showed up at performances to support the students, who won accolades across the country.

“Often times the athletes get all those kudos,” Carranza said. “This was so empowering for these kids.”


Monday, March 2, 2015

What should you know about the budget?

New expenditures

Budget priorities and increased expenditures
For the 2015-2016 school year, the biggest new districtwide expenses are increased employee costs, such as raises, retirement contributions and health benefits, and classroom technology.





How funds are allocated

The biggest factors in determining each school’s Weighted Student Formula and centrally funded Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) allocations are:
  1. Enrollment (per student allocation)
  2. Characteristics of students enrolled: the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) provides supplemental funding for low-income students, English-language learners and foster youth
  3. School characteristics determine centrally-funded MTSS resources

Friday, February 27, 2015

Get ready for the Smarter Balanced Assessment

Our 3rd- through 8th-grade and 11th-grade students will be taking the new Smarter Balanced Assessment between March 10 and May 29 (check with your school for exact dates), so you may be hearing about it from your child soon.

There's a lot that's new about the state assessments—everything from what's in the tests to how your child will be taking them—and we'll provide you with resources on that after the jump cut. But in the end, some things about testing will never change, like making sure your child gets a good night's sleep before the day of the test.

Here are a few things you can do:
  1. As mentioned, a full night of sleep is priceless.
  2. Provide a healthy breakfast that isn't too heavy or too loaded with sugar—being groggy or hyperactive won't help.
  3. Talk to them about the test. Are they nervous? What do they expect from the test?
  4. Get to school on time!
  5. Afterward, check in to see what they thought was easy and what was difficult. Emphasize that it's not about scores, but rather about understanding the material.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How can families participate in school planning, and what should they expect?

In the San Francisco Unified School District, March is school planning season as schools across the district develop their program and budget priorities for the next school year. Because schools want to hear from all the different groups who will be affected by the new school site plan, families, staff, and students in middle and high schools are expected and encouraged to participate in this process.

Each school is expected to have at least two school community meeting—often in addition to regular School Site Council and English Learner Advisory Committee (ELAC) meetings—to identify priorities and develop the site plan for next year.

Here's what you will be doing during the school planning process:
  1. Review data about your school and students, and reflect on how your school is doing to support students to succeed. Examples of information you can review include:
    • Academic assessments, such as CLA, Fountas & Pinnell, CELDT, writing assessments, and FEP reclassification data
    • Attendance, out-of-class referrals, and suspension data
    • Student and family surveys
  2. Based on that data, set goals and identify priorities for the next school year. What are the programs, services, and other resources your school wants to focus on to reach these goals?
  3. Starting the first week of March, look at how the draft of the school budget can best support these goals and priorities.

How you can participate:

  • Participate in School Site Council, ELAC and school planning meetings
  • Participate in your school’s student and parent surveys and make sure your voice is heard
  • Participate in the March 7 School Planning Retreat

The School Planning Retreat – March 7, 2015

The annual School Planning Retreat provides another opportunity to work together as a team on your school's Balanced Score Card, academic plan and budget for 2015-16. This year’s retreat is on Saturday, March 7. Talk to your school’s principal about how you can attend.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A One-Time English-Language Learner Puts Premium on Bilingual, Bicultural Education

Madeline Will | February 24, 2015 |

Richard A. Carranza first stepped into a Tucson, Ariz., kindergarten classroom not speaking any English. By 2nd grade, the now-superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District was fully bilingual.

Mr. Carranza’s experience—growing up in a Spanish-speaking home with parents who were also bilingual—has shaped his passion for language. It’s also the driving force behind his commitment to ensuring that English-language learners in San Francisco’s public schools not only become fluent in their new language, but also have the opportunity to become fully fluent and literate in their native one.

That passion has stuck with him throughout his career in K-12 education: first as a bilingual social studies teacher and principal and then in various administrative roles, including a stint as a regional superintendent in Clark County, Nev., before becoming superintendent of the 53,000-student San Francisco district in June 2012.

Language, he believes and says repeatedly, is an asset, not a liability.

“I think it’s so important that language becomes depoliticized and becomes what it is—a vehicle for communication,” Mr. Carranza, 48, said.

“We take the approach that everybody deserves an excellent education,” he said. “It’s not the student who’s at fault [regarding] whether they’re learning or not. It’s really the system being able to meet the needs of the students.”

Lessons from the Leader

  • Value Language, Culture: By valuing the language and culture of English-learners, you can build on their assets. Students should be given the opportunity to graduate bilingual and bicultural.
  • Power of Data: When schools have access to disaggregated data by classroom, leaders and teachers are able to use the data to inform and adjust their instruction and identify any gaps in curricular resources for English-learners.
  • Family Support: Providing English-learner families with translated information, community resources, and culturally competent support services is essential to supporting students.
San Francisco Unified’s English-language-learner services are governed by the Lau Action Plan, which outlines steps the district must take to ensure students with limited English proficiency receive sufficient language instruction in English and full access to the mainstream curriculum. That plan stems from the 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the landmark civil rights case, Lau v. Nichols, that ordered San Francisco’s schools to provide Chinese children who didn’t speak or understand English with a bridge to the curriculum. That case greatly expanded the rights of all children with limited English skills to receive special language instruction to learn English.


Monday, February 9, 2015

SFUSD teachers help design next-generation science curriculum

Laura Dudnick | February 9, 2015 | SF Examiner

Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner
Daria Soofi, left, teaches an outdoors class on composting as part of
Marshall Elementary School’s outside education program.
Galileo High School physics teacher David Barrios gave a demonstration while holding up a syringe with a balloon inside at a recent session for a select group of San Francisco Unified School District educators.

"Pulling [the plunger] is going to make the balloon change size," Barrios speculated, writing down his prediction on a sheet of paper, where he was also instructed to note observations. The teacher then plugged the end of the syringe with his thumb to prevent air from escaping, and slowly withdrew the nozzle.

Barrios' forecast proved true: The tiny balloon appeared to inflate inside the syringe.
That's because there are a set number of molecules inside the syringe, and when the volume increases, the molecules spread out, explained Tammy Cook-Endres, a teacher-in-residence with the Exploratorium's Teacher Institute who had assigned the experiment to SFUSD teachers at the teacher-training session last month.

"So you have fewer molecules in a given amount of space that are pushing on the balloon," thus allowing the balloon to expand, Cook-Endres said.

The fun-with-syringes lesson – which included experimenting with mini-marshmallows and M&Ms in the plastic nozzle as well — kicked off one of five teacher development days this school year in which 40 science teachers are helping to develop the SFUSD's next-generation science curriculum that is set to take effect within the next few years.


Monday, February 2, 2015

CA schools look to add 'social emotional learning' to curriculum

By Lyanne Melendez | February 2, 2015 | ABC Ch. 7

All students learn the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic. Add to that compassion.

Nowadays, more and more California schools are including social emotional learning in their curricula. Some districts are even including it on students' report cards.

"Draw a picture of a time when you saw compassion or when you had compassion for someone else," asked Pamela Schulting of her fifth grade class at Bret Harte elementary in San Francisco.

Once they put it in pictures, they discuss a time when they were empathetic toward another person.

"Compassion is kinda like empathy, to put yourself in another person's place, like as we say in our classroom, put yourself in another person's shoes," said student Leah Maes.

Every Monday at 2 p.m., students at Bret Harte Elementary spend an hour on social emotional learning. What they discuss here is applied in every situation at school and at home.

"If we give kids language to engage in conflict resolution, we feel like they are much better as a result in settings like recess and in the cafeteria," said Principal Jeremy Hilnski.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

 Joe Rosato Jr. | NBC Ch. 11

Adolph Sutro was one of those forward-thinking pioneers. His stunning creations at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach include Sutro Baths, the massive Victorian version of the Cliff House - and a hilltop mansion lined with Greek Statues. Though all those edifices are now gone - curiosity over Sutro’s buildings remains.

And so on a recent day, a group of students from San Francisco’s Ida B. Wells High School dug into the ground at the base of Sutro Heights Park, probing the churned-up soil for any artifacts of Sutro’s reign.

“We know Adolph Sutro was here,” student Mika Henderson said. “But we don’t know none of his employees who worked here.”

The work site was just down the hill from where Sutro’s mansion stood, at a lower site once occupied by his workers’ homes. The budding student archaeologists were guided by National Park Service rangers who are piecing together a collection of artifacts and stories from the land.

“This is us trying to grow a new collection for the park of the people who built this place, rather than the people who owned this place.” said Leo Barker, chief archaeologist of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Students worked in small square plots, shoveling dirt into buckets which they dumped onto wooden sifters. The students shook the dirt - probing through the clumpy remains.

“They’re hoping we can find some of the stuff that the people had who lived here,” Henderson said.
The two-day dig turned-up plenty of artifacts reflecting the many decades since people first turned up at Ocean Beach. Pieces of ceramic dishes and broken glass were among the common take. Barker said the area had once been picnic grounds. There were chunks of concrete, most likely part of the foundation of the homes that stood there. Henderson and another student also hit upon what became the expedition’s most celebrated find.