Saturday, June 20, 2009

Open forum: Summer!

I'll be traveling for a few weeks so here's an open forum post where you can bring up various topics. I will check email and the site periodically but not daily. Thanks! Best, Kate

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hot topic: Would a formal complaint system improve our district?

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:

Here's an article I would suggest you to link to. Think SFUSD would look different if it adopted this policy?

For some reason, in the school business we don’t much like to hear the negatives of our practice. It might be we have this problem with criticism because our output is such an indefinable, ambiguous product.

We like to point fingers at those who come before us. But if we took blame out of the equation, then maybe we would look at the problems we face in education with a perspective of resolution instead of helpless blaming.

Inviting complaints, acknowledging the problem and then seeking answers in an expeditious manner not only improves practice but also builds loyalty and appreciation from those we serve. And when parents are loyal and appreciative, the things we can accomplish are simply awe-inspiring.

Resolution Advice
Here are a few tips on do-it-yourself complaint resolution. Or consider this advice that will help to avoid hiring an expensive consultant to tell you what is wrong in your school or district.

• Seek complaints. Ask for the compliments and the bad stuff. Don’t become defensive when you hear bad news. Instead, probe for the exact nature of the problem, the resolution sought and ideas for how to accomplish this. A well-stated problem in operational terms can really help get a resolution under way.

• Let the person closest to the problem attempt to resolve the problem prior to your intervention. I always tell the educators with whom I work that I support them. However, I also let them know if they have made a mistake they need to get on top of fixing it or apprise me of the situation so I can attempt to resolve it (or at least get into damage-control mode).

I advise educators that if a school constituent calls me with a complaint, the first thing I will do is ask if he or she has contacted the educator in question. If not, then I probe for further information and ask the constituent if I can have the educator call him or her. If a resolution is not reached, the constituent is to call me back. In 99 percent of the issues, I never hear from the constituent again.

At the same time, the educator feels supported because I have allowed him or her to resolve the problem. The educator understands if he or she doesn’t resolve the problem, then I will do so because if I don’t, the problem will go over my head and someone on the school board or in the local news media will resolve it — and probably not to our satisfaction.

• Do something. It’s not good enough to hear a complaint and then agree with the complaint. If you can’t do anything, chances are the complainant will find someone who will.

The most effective job you can do is to listen dispassionately and objectively. Is the complaint reasonable? Is it coming from a reasonable person who has not gone off the deep end because his or her child has ADHD or SAB (simply annoying behavior)? You must be the professional who provides advice on dealing with a difficult child or educator instead of throwing up your hands and blaming someone else.

Find resources, find help, find solutions. You won’t have just one ADHD or SAB student in your schools nor will you have just one difficult employee so find help for the parents, and you will find help for your employees and yourself at the same time.

When you don’t know how to solve the complainer’s problem, simply ask, “How can we make this right?” Not only will you get a solution that the constituent will agree with since he or she is suggesting it, but there’s a good chance this idea of how to make things right will require less work or worry on your part than what you would have come up with minus the input.

Systemic Answers
• If there’s a pattern to the complaints, then address the pattern. A systemic problem needs a systemic approach to resolution. You are the one to be able to see a recurring complaint that your team and you can address. Adopt the attitude of fixing the problem rather than living with it.

• Find ways to have your employees adopt a schoolwide culture of using complaints as a way to improve practice. State it in your mission or school district goals, but constantly press for this way of seeing school operations from everyone in the system (from central office to principals, teachers, custodians, etc.). Constantly model an appreciation for complaints and resolving them by using this same approach with your employees, and point out what you are doing. Do not make problems your problems but our problems, and remember to get the complainers to help resolve the problem.

When you start to look at complaints as an opportunity to improve your organization rather than an attack on your organization, then you will (after a brief moment of regret and irritation) take your organization to a new level of performance. Wouldn’t it be nice if when community members left your schools they remembered their experience with schools as one of the best of their lives?

Embracing complaints will help you to make a positive difference in the lives of our students. And that is, after all, why we are all here.

Jan Borelli, a former superintendent, is principal of Westwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, Okla. E-mail:

Hot topic: San Francisco Unified Expulsion, Suspension, and Truancy Information for 2007-08

An SF K Files visitor asked me to post the following:

When I looked for a Kindergarten, this is the type of data I looked at:
San Francisco Unified Expulsion, Suspension, and Truancy Information for 2007-08

sobering numbers:

It's hard to imagine elementary-aged children being expelled ...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hot topic: How did this year go?

An SF K Files asked me to start the following thread:
If you've had a child in school this past year, take a moment to tell the (excited, eager, frantic, depressed, hysteria or just plain exhausted) folks waiting to start Kindergarten how it went. What did your child learn? What surprised you in a good way? What surprised you in a bad way? What do you wish you knew then that you know now? And if the school your child got into wasn't the school of your dreams, are you okay with it now or still mourning?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A letter from Paul Revere parents

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited San Francisco in May as part of his "Listening and Learning" tour through 15 states.

Early in his visit the Secretary expressed grave concerns about California schools, colleges, and universities ("U.S. schools chief: State longshot for stimulus," The Chronicle, May 23) saying that "California has lost its way."

"Your state once had the best education system in the country," Duncan told educators and executives. "I ask you, is California going to lead the race to the top or are you going to lead the retreat?"

His remarks were undoubtedly driven by a desire to trigger the state to take innovative approaches and make serious reforms in education. As part of the federal government's stimulus package, more than $4 billion is available for states that exceed their peers in improving test scores at the worst-performing schools. The money is to be used in part to improve development opportunities for teachers and other educationstaff.

However, as California looks to slash education funding in the face of a budget crisis, it seems clear that it will in no way increase its chances of getting those federal funds. Furthermore, as Duncan told San Francisco Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia, individual school districts cannot apply for such funds independently.

The Secretary then spent the afternoon on the ground, at the University of California San Francisco and Paul Revere Elementary School in Bernal Heights. Paul Revere is the city's only pre-K-through-8th-grade public school and it offers a Spanish Immersion program as well as English language curriculum while serving a largely low-income, mostly minority population.

At Paul Revere the Secretary should have learned some lessons to spur the Obama administration and Congress into reconsidering whether to give individual school districts access to federal stimulus money. At Paul Revere and other schools, the San Francisco school district is taking exactly those steps that the federal government seems to be looking for.

Principal Lance Tagomori and his staff are focusing on teacher development, on ensuring a path to success for each and every student, and on involving the community in the process.
Such efforts are not unique to San Francisco, but they are repeated across this city and are part of a turnaround in education that is starting to show results. At Paul Revere, for example, some 20 percent of this year's 39 8th graders have been accepted to Lowell High School in San Francisco, which is ranked by Newsweek one of the top 100 schools in the country.

Back in Washington, Duncan should look back on what he has seen and understand that budgetary failure at the state level should not undermine our tremendous strides, creative initiatives and community-driven gains on the local level. Individual districts are working hard to make the changes envisioned by the federalgovernment, but their hands may be tied by the state's refusal to support education. San Francisco seems unique in that this city is helping to fund schools with its own rainy day fund.

Our city leaders are willing to walk the walk of making education a top priority. That should be recognized and rewarded by allowing individual districts like San Francisco to qualify for stimulus money. San Francisco and schools like Paul Revere are ready to lead the race to the top, even if the state is in retreat.

Paul Revere parents
Carel van Panthaleon van Eck
Anabel IbaƱez
Margie Pollock
Charlotte Allen
Joy DiPaola
Lorraine Orlandi

SFUSD budget meeting

There will be a Community Meeting held on Wednesday, June 17, from 6:30 to 8pm at James Lick Middle School to discuss the SFUSD budget for the upcoming year. To be covered:
  • Raise awareness of the state’s budget and its implications for SFUSD
  • Share information about SFUSD’s budget outlook, including
  1. the impact of federal stimulus funds, Prop A parcel tax, Prop H, and rainy day funds
  2. outlook for school budgets
  • -Gather feedback (overall impressions and specific ideas) from participants about what SFUSD should consider in difficult budgetary planning
  • Let SFUSD community members know what they can do to advocate on behalf of San Francisco’s schools
KidsWatch for ages 3 and up sponsored by PPS-SF
Interpretation in Spanish and Chinese available. Contact 241-6081.
For more information, please contact

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mission High School Students beat the odds

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend some time with four Mission High School students who are graduating this week and going to college in the fall. They all overcome tremendous obstacles--mainly rough home lives--to get to where they are. I wrote up their stories in the following SFGate post:

Hot topic: Budget cuts

An SF K Files readers asked me to post the following:
I was wondering if you might start a thread or post some information or links regarding the implications of the state budget cuts for K-12.

Chanes to 2010-11 calendar

The Board of Education discussed proposed changes to the 2010-11 calendar at their regular meeting on Tuesday, May 26th, with a second reading and vote scheduled for Tuesday, June 9th.

The proposed changes are designed to end the first semester before the Winter Break, which would mean that the school year would start earlier in August and end at the end of May.

1st semester starts Monday, August 16 and ends Friday, December 17.
2nd semester starts Monday, January 3 and ends Friday, May 27.
See Draft A (29kb,pdf)

There would be a year before the proposed changes go into effect, allowing the district time to assure that summer programming remains intact. If you wish to speak to the BOE about the proposal, please call the Board office at 241-6493. If you wish to email your comments, feel free to contact Deena Zacharin, Director of the Office of School/Family Partnership at

Hot topic: Lakeshore Inclusion Program

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:
Since you have so many viewers I was hoping you'd post a question: "Does anyone out there have feedback/information on the inclusion program at Lakeshore?"

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hot topic: Important upcoming dates

An SF K Files readers asked me to post the following:

I just got off the phone with EPC and they informed me of the following:

July 6, 2009:SFUSD mails letters to families where waitpool choice can be assigned.

Aug 18, 2009: SFUSD mails letters to families where waitpool choice can be assigned

Aug 28, 2009: SFUSD CALLS families where waitpool choice can be assigned.

Sept 18, 2009: SFUSD CALLS families where waitpool choice can be assigned.

Afterwards, the waitpool gets dissolved.

Hot topic: middle schools

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:
Hi, I know that there have been mentions in passing of middle schools on various threads on your blog in the past, but I was wondering if you could start a thread talking about different middle schools in SF. I think there are lots of your readers who are now starting to think (worry?) about middle school -- I know I am! I also get anecdotal information suggesting that there have been recent major changes at some middle schools -- some for the better, some for worse. Any chance of setting up a thread?

Parents wants to get in touch with new Flynn families

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:


I'd like to get in touch with parents of new kindergarteners who will be starting in the Flynn School Gen Ed program this fall. My daughter Elizabeth will be starting this coming fall, and it would be great if she had the chance to meet with other new Flynn kindergarteners before school starts up. (And, I'd enjoy meeting parents of kids starting up at Flynn!)

I'd like to arrange an informal get-together for the kids some afternoon at the Precita Park playground.

Please email me ( if you'd like to get together, or feel free to pass on my email to other parents with kids starting kindergarten in Flynn's Gen Ed program.

Thanks, Sarah