Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wanted: More "Why I love my school" stories from SFUSD parents

In light of the budget cuts--argh!--I'm re-posting many of the "Why I love my public school" essays on SFGate. The idea is to show the community that our city is home to many public schools that are worth preserving. Also, SFUSD is planning to run excerpts from the essays on their new site And I'm still working on NPR.

I'd love to get more essays to post on The SF K Files and SFGate. Please try to keep them under 400 words--though if you feel inspired and can't stop writing that's fine. We can deal with trimming it down later.

Please don't hesitate to get creative with your essays and the more specific you can be the better--i.e., I love the are teacher who taught the kids how to fold origami cranes--rather than the art teacher is great. Thanks! Best, Kate

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Hot topic: Cursive writing

This from an SF K Files reader:
The SFUSD public elementary school my kids go to focuses a great deal of energy on cursive writing -- even making it mandatory at a certain grade level. While the students do get to do a limited amount of computer time, there is no emphasis on getting them to teach students how to type. This seems to me to be a somewhat archaic stance to take in this day of computer ubiquity. Indeed, I've heard from co-workers that some schools in the suburbs are completely downplaying cursive and instead focusing on getting kids to type on a computer. One school in the East Bay, for example, gives homework writing assignments with a "first choice" preference that it be done on a computer. I'm just wondering what parents with kids in upper elementary grades are finding their schools, be they public or private, are doing on this question.

S.F. Chron: It may take a lawsuit to preserve schools

Yesterday, SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia wrote an op-ed piece for the Chronicle:

On Tuesday night at the San Francisco Board of Education meeting my administration brought forward a preliminary budget proposal that encompassed the next two fiscal years and contains cuts of a magnitude never seen in California public education to date. To say it is a bleak outlook would grossly underestimate the size of the tsunami that is about to hit not only San Francisco's schools but the entire state education system. Yes, these cuts will be greater than those imposed after Prop. 13 and even greater than those experienced during the Great Depression.

To provide some perspective, here simply is our situation: SFUSD has an unrestricted general fund budget of approximately $400 million. Due to the actions taken in Sacramento over the last 18 months, our projected deficit over the next two years will total $113 million, or $1,365 less per student. This means we will be getting $4,977 per student instead of $6,342 per student. So we face 21 percent less for teachers and counselors, for books and math texts, for computers and art classes, and for field trips and science labs.

Sacramento has presented us with this problem and no new math can help us. School districts throughout the state are required by law to make the numbers work or face being put under state receivership. California school districts have been fiscally prudent; this is not a problem created by educators. We've tried to do more with less in a state whose dwindling commitment to education has gotten so bad that by next year we will rank dead last in the country for how much we spend per pupil. How is it possible that the eighth richest economy in the world can have the lowest per-pupil expenditure in the country?

Superintendent Garcia on proposed budget cuts

At Tuesday's board of education meeting superintendent Garcia was angry and dismayed when he presented the district's plan for meeting the $113 million budget shortfall. Listen to his speech here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

SFGate: Excellent education: a right or a privilege?

SFGate City Brights columnist and SFUSD parent Erica Sandberg wrote a blog post about the budget cuts and the upcoming Town Hall meeting at Marina Middle School on February 25. Here's an excerpt:

Being deeply entrenched in all things money, I see first-hand the link between quality education and real, lasting economic success. The better schools you attend, the greater the chance you'll find and prepare for work that will provide satisfaction and financial stability. This is not to say that other factors (such as parent involvement) don't count or that some people don't overcome the odds and attain wealth and happiness without attending or graduating from college, but I'm talking the basics here: kindergarten though high school.

The sad fact is that California public schools are in jeopardy. Many are wonderful now, but as the Chron's Jill Tucker reports, 113 million in funding cuts over two years will change all that. Teachers are facing lay-offs, class size will swell to unmanageable numbers, and programs that make schools appealing to students will be slashed. Want to make kids dislike and devalue formal learning? This will do it. And as a society, we can't afford to have children reject education. Those who do are more likely to make poor financial and lifestyle choices when they reach adulthood, draining the resources of the population at large.

Every child in San Francisco (and the Bay Area, California, America, the world) needs and deserves high-quality education. Excellent schools with classes that go beyond bare-bones fundamentals, enough books and materials for each student, a safe and pleasant learning environment, and passionate, well-qualified teachers should not be only reserved for children with affluent parents.

Do you agree or disagree? Speak your mind at the Town Hall meeting, Public Education: Funding our Future on February 25th, at Marina Middle School in San Francisco. Moderated by Michael Krasny, host of KQED's radio show Forum, the panelists include:

Mark Leno, California State Senator

Fiona Ma, California State Assembly

Tom Ammiano, California State Assembly

Carlos Garcia, SFUSD Superintendent of schools

Debbie Look, California State PTA, Dir. of Legislation

Jim Lazarus, SF Chamber of Commerce, Sr. V.P. Policy

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

SF Chronicle: 'Horrible' cuts planned for S.F. schools

Please take the time to read Jill Tucker's Chronicle story below about SFUSD's pending budget cuts presented at tonight's Board of Education meeting.

Our district is facing terribly tough times, and tonight I attended the meeting where Carlos Garcia mapped out how we can make up for the $113 million budget shortfall.

The cuts are painful, and while Garcia and deputy superintendent Myong Leigh went over the plan--reducing summer school, eliminating eight schools from the STAR program, introducing unpaid district-wide furloughs--everyone in the room shuddered.

In fact, people were hissing when he announced that class size might be increased to 25 students in K-3. Garcia looked up with sad eyes and said, "I know. I don't want this either."

The meeting was intense. After the superintendent's presentation, the community chimed in. When the 20 or so students from the SF International High School got up in front of the crowd and begged for the board to not make cuts, I couldn't help but cry.

I wasn't the only one tearing up. When Board of Education vice president Hydra Mendoza shared her feelings of devastation over the cuts, her voice was cracking.

And then there was the eighth grader from Hoover Middle School who didn't want her school's art and music program to go away, and the teacher/parent who stood up in front of the crowd and screamed at the top of her lungs, "It is a crime to settle for this amount of money? Who is committing this crime? We are not picketing! We are not rallying! We need to put pressure on the politicians! Our state is the third lowest in education spending in the country. We can't agree to this budget. We need to take care of our children and let them shine!"

I thought I would leave the meeting feeling depressed and helpless, maybe even thinking I should jump ship and move my kid to private school. But rather I left feeling hopeful and proud to be a part of the city's public education community.

In that room, there was so much passion and determination to figure out how to get ourselves out of the hole. The board vowed to try to get federal government money and to find ways to gain a profit from the district's real estate holdings. Teachers, parents, and students shared ideas.

Everyone had the children's best interest in mind. Not everyone agreed that the cuts should be made in the same places, yet they did all have a common end goal: to offer our kids the best education possible.

Even though Garcia was presenting these cuts, he was anything but the bad guy. He kept saying things such as, "Together, we need to figure out how to get out of this mess"; and "This is an assault to public education"; "No one in this room is the enemy and if we don't stand up for our children who will"; and "Our students deserve better than this." He also talked about suing the state for providing an inadequate amount of money to education our children.

I have heard rumors that board meetings are terribly boring. This was anything but that. I learned a lot about how our district functions. In the coming weeks, the board will be tackling budget cuts and the student assignment system and so I encourage parents to attend meetings. They're held the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month; click here for info. This was my first meeting, and I left feeling empowered and determined to work even harder to make our district better.

Here's Tucker's article for a less emotional, more factual take on the meeting:
San Francisco's school Superintendent Carlos Garcia laid out his plan Tuesday to bridge an expected $113 million budget shortfall over the next two years, describing it as a long list of "horrible and deplorable" cuts that rival those experienced during the Great Depression.

Hot topic: Recess before lunch

An SF K Files reader suggested this topic:
I know some SF schools already have recess before lunch, but others don't and I'm wondering why. Would like to know which do and if the ones that don't have discussed the idea and rejected it for any particular reason. The NY Times just ran an article on this topic:

Play, then eat: Shift may bring gains to school

Can something as simple as the timing of recess make a difference in a child’s health and behavior?

Some experts think it can, and now some schools are rescheduling recess — sending students out to play before they sit down for lunch. The switch appears to have led to some surprising changes in both cafeteria and classroom.

Schools that have tried it report that when children play before lunch, there is less food waste and higher consumption of milk, fruit and vegetables. And some teachers say there are fewer behavior problems.

“Kids are calmer after they’ve had recess first,” said Janet Sinkewicz, principal of Sharon Elementary School in Robbinsville, N.J., which made the change last fall. “They feel like they have more time to eat and they don’t have to rush.”

One recent weekday at Sharon, I watched as gaggles of second graders chased one another around the playground and climbed on monkey bars. When the whistle blew, the bustling playground emptied almost instantly, and the children lined up to drop off their coats and mittens and file quietly into the cafeteria for lunch.

“All the wiggles are out,” Ms. Sinkewicz said.

Read the full NY Times story

Rachel Norton: Recap: Closing in on a student assignment policy

A blog post from Board of Education member Rachel Norton about last night's student assignment system meeting:
Tonight’s meeting was a mixture of information we’ve already processed and other information that is really hard to relay accurately, but I think we’re starting to close in on a policy. Commissioners pressed for more hard policy recommendations and less theory, because time is really growing short. The staff is scheduled to present a preliminary recommendation for the new assignment policy just a week from tomorrow, on Feb. 2. We’re scheduled to vote on a final policy at the March 9 full board meeting.
Read Rachel's full post

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rachel Norton: Tonight’s student assignment meeting should be interesting!

A blog post from board of education member Rachel Norton. Be sure to read Rachel's blog at

Tonight’s meeting of the Board’s ad-hoc Committee on Student Assignment should be interesting stuff (the agenda is posted here). We are scheduled to hear a presentation from a group of researchers from Harvard, Duke MIT and Stanford (the same group that presented in October on various choice mechanisms). Tonight’s presentation will focus on the results of simulations conducted on the six options currently being explored by the Board, using Round I and Round II request data from earlier years. I’ve seen a draft of the presentation — it’s very information-dense, and comes to some interesting conclusions. (Update: the presentation is now posted).

In addition, we’ll hear the preliminary results of a qualitative study conducted by Stanford researcher Prudence Carter. Professor Carter’s study is based on interviews conducted with students, teachers and administrators at 24 schools across the district.

It’s important to note here that we have received tremendous financial and logistical support for this whole redesign effort — from local foundations like the Hellman Family Foundation and the Zellerbach Foundation, from Stanford University, and other funders like the Council of Great City Schools, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the U.S. Department of Education. Given the current budget crisis, this level of thoughtful and careful analylsis would have been impossible without the help we’ve received from these groups.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the Board room at 555 Franklin Street. The meeting will also be televised locally on SFGTV (Channels 26 or 78) and streamed online at the SFGTV web site. Meetings are usually archived here after 24-48 hours.

Be sure to check out Rachel's blog at

Why I love Starr King

I love that my kids read and write Mandarin Chinese. They’re often too shy (or just too ornery) to say anything in it when I’m around, but I hear from reliable sources that they actually can speak it, too

I love our teachers, who are some of the hardest working and most professional people I have had the pleasure to encounter. I am constantly amazing to find them at school or online at all hours of the day and night. Now that I see public school teachers in action day in and day out, I’m astounded they aren’t treated (and paid) more like the professionals they are.

And I’m so pleased that my 3rd grader (like all our 3rd grade Mandarin students) gets English class in a mixed (i.e. some Mandarin immersion, some general ed, some Spanish bilingual) English class so she’s getting one of Starr King’s great general ed teachers for English.

I’m grateful for a school that’s a warm community and where I enjoy going to the holiday pageant, even though I’ve heard the songs for three years running, because I’ll get to chat with a bunch of moms and dads who are fun.

I was really pleased that when some kids teased my daughter about having gay parents, I got a call from her teacher about the incident before my kids even got home from school that day. And when I went in to talk to the principal about it, just one hour later, my daughter’s teacher had already talked to each child that had told my daughter it was ‘weird’ and ‘yucky’ to have two moms and two dads and had them write notes of apology.

Most of all, I really liked that the school took it seriously without making it into a huge thing, which was just the right tone and didn’t give the teasers power.

And I love that our school is in San Francisco. Unlike a similar incident in an East Bay public school last year, when my daughter’s teacher showed her class the film That’s a Family, which is about how there are all kinds of families in the world, there were no protests, no Fox News filming through the school windows, no letter writing campaign. Just a dozen or so kids who hopefully learned that there are all kinds of families and what matters is that you’re loved.

I also love it that when we sing Happy Birthday on Monday during the morning assembly, it’s done in English, Mandarin, Spanish and Samoan. And that our annual Car Wash has a DJ better than many dance clubs I’ve been to.

And, although I know it doesn’t effect their learning, I love that Starr King’s second floor has some of the most amazing view of San Francisco Bay in the city.

Does class size matter?

Many of you know that SFUSD is considering increasing class size next year to help cut the budget. For SFGate I'm working on a story on the issue and I'll be looking at how the number of kids in a classroom affects the learning experience. I'd love to get some quotes from parents. If you have anything to share please email me at Thanks! Kate

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NY Times: Foreign Languages Fade in Class — Except Chinese

A story from last week's NY Times:
Thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, according to a government-financed survey — dismal news for a nation that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy.

But another contrary trend has educators and policy makers abuzz: a rush by schools in all parts of America to offer instruction in Chinese.

Some schools are paying for Chinese classes on their own, but hundreds are getting some help. The Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools all over the world — and paying part of their salaries.

At a time of tight budgets, many American schools are finding that offer too good to refuse.

In Massillon, Ohio, south of Cleveland, Jackson High School started its Chinese program in the fall of 2007 with 20 students and now has 80, said Parthena Draggett, who directs Jackson’s world languages department.

“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher,” she said. “I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”

(Jackson’s Chinese teacher is not free; the Chinese government pays part of his compensation, with the district paying the rest.)

No one keeps an exact count, but rough calculations based on the government’s survey suggest that perhaps 1,600 American public and private schools are teaching Chinese, up from 300 or so a decade ago. And the numbers are growing exponentially.

Among America’s approximately 27,500 middle and high schools offering at least one foreign language, the proportion offering Chinese rose to 4 percent, from 1 percent, from 1997 to 2008, according to the survey, which was done by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a research group in Washington, and paid for by the federal Education Department.

“It’s really changing the language education landscape of this country,” said Nancy C. Rhodes, a director at the center and co-author of the survey.

Other indicators point to the same trend. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Chinese, introduced in 2007, has grown so fast that it is likely to pass German this year as the third most-tested A.P. language, after Spanish and French, said Trevor Packer, a vice president at the College Board.

“We’ve all been surprised that in such a short time Chinese would grow to surpass A.P. German,” Mr. Packer said.

A decade ago, most of the schools with Chinese programs were on the East and West Coasts. But in recent years, many schools have started Chinese programs in heartland states, including Ohio and Illinois in the Midwest, Texas and Georgia in the South, and Colorado and Utah in the Rocky Mountain West.

Read the full story

Friday, January 22, 2010

SF Chronicle: Cuts needed amid S.F. schools' $113 million gap

A story by Jill Tucker from today's Chronicle:
San Francisco schools are facing a $113 million budget shortfall over the next two years - a staggering figure that would mean layoffs, cuts to popular programs like summer school and increases in class size.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia announced the projections Wednesday in a letter to San Francisco Unified School District staff and at a teachers union meeting.

Garcia said there will be layoffs, but the number of teachers and staff members released will depend on what else is cut. Given the shortfall, however, the district can't avoid pink slips.

"Inevitably you're not going to cut $113 million without a single person laid off," he said Thursday. "We want to get it down to as few people as possible."

The district's projected shortfall is $30 million more than previous forecasts and reflects the latest numbers in the governor's proposed budget.

Garcia said he will lay out a specific plan to address the cuts at Tuesday's school board meeting, but his list is likely to include cuts in the district office, summer school and busing, increases to class size, and employee furloughs and layoffs.

"These numbers are large, and they will be devastating," Garcia said in his letter. "The cuts that the State is forcing us to make are the greatest ever made at one time in the history of our district."

District officials are looking at $45.5 million in cuts to administration, other district departments and categorical programs, which could include such things as teacher training, school safety and instructional materials.

Some of the options

In addition, the district will be looking at other options, including freezing teacher salary increases related to years of service, and unpaid staff furloughs.

Garcia said the district could save $500,000 per grade level with a one-student increase in class size; $2.25 million for each unpaid furlough day; and $5.8 million annually by freezing teacher salary increases related to years of service and education levels.

"It's almost like it's too horrifying to even imagine," said parent Lorraine Woodruff-Long, who has two children in district schools. "I'm just thinking I can't even imagine how we're going to do this. All I want to know is that these cuts are as far away from the classroom and school sites as possible."

In his letter, Garcia also said the district is thinking about suing the state over funding levels that fall well short of what is needed.

"We must all stand up for children and let the governor and legislators know that the current state of education funding is unacceptable," he wrote.

Rachel Norton: The sun will come out tomorrow

A blog post written by Board of Education member Rachel Norton:

I’m afraid Tuesday evening’s post on our looming $113 million deficit for 2010-11 and 2011-12 (combined) left a lot of people feeling depressed and worried. It is depressing, no question, and none of the options in front of the school district for closing the gap are at all palatable. Still, there are a few bright spots in the generally gloomy skies:

  • Our funding for sports, libraries, arts and music (SLAM) is generally protected, because it is a set aside under the city budget. Next year’s SLAM funding is estimated to be $15 million even after the City pulls its 25 percent ”trigger” (allowed because the City is facing its own budget crisis), and it funds music, art and P.E. teachers, programs and supplies at each school level, and librarians for district schools.
  • Discussions with the Mayor’s office and the Board of Supervisors continue over going to the voters to secure additional revenues to protect our local schools from the crisis in Sacramento. If these discussions are productive, and we can convince voters to pass a revenue measure, our budget shortfall would be reduced significantly.
  • The district administration and United Educators of San Francisco are working together to see if we can find funds to offer a one-time retirement bonus to staff at the upper end of the pay scale. We saw a lower-than-normal number of teachers and paraprofessionals retire last year, so there’s a possibility that there are staff out there who are already considering retirement — this one-time bonus might sweeten the deal for those staff members. It would also lower our overall payroll and save some jobs of less-senior teachers and paraprofessionals.
Read the full post on Norton's blog at

Rachel Norton: Projected SFUSD budget gap takes a turn for the worse

An excerpt from a blog post written by Board of Education member Rachel Norton. The post was written on January 19 after a Budget committee meeting.

The hardy souls who stayed until the end of tonight’s four-hour-plus Budget committee meeting got a special treat: a budget update from Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh and Budget Director Reeta Madhaven. The punch line? The district’s two-year projected budget shortfall for 2010-11 and 2011-12 now stands at $113 million.

That’s just an unimaginable number, representing a cut of over $1,000 per student for each of the next two years. Deputy Supt. Leigh offered some “possible responses” to this crisis, including:

  • Cutting back summer school programs to save $4.6 million;
  • Reducing general education transportation to save $1.5 million;
  • Increasing class size (increasing by one student per grade saves $500,000 a year);
  • Suspending teacher sabbaticals (currently costing $2 million a year);
  • Freezing “step & column” increases (bargained wage increases that kick in at various levels of service) – these increases currently cost about $4.9 million a year;
  • Furloughs (another way of saying shortening the school year) – each day per employee saves about $2.25 million;
  • Repurposing FY 2008-09 Prop A funds set aside for additional instructional/staff development days for use in the General Fund (approximately $15 million);
  • Suspend or reduce Advanced Placement prep period allocations (schools get a certain amount of “prep” periods for teachers who take on AP courses) – probably saves $1 – $2 million;
  • Cutting Tier III categorical programs (programs that are targeted for specific students but newly allowed by the state to be “flexible” revenues), PEEF “third-third” and overall central office budgets by up to $40 million.
Read the full post on Norton's blog:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Associated Press: UCLA report details recession's impact on schools

An Associated Press story reports:
Widespread teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and increased economic hardship for children are among the impacts California's budget crisis and the recession have had on public schools and students, according to a report released Thursday.

Researchers at UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access interviewed 87 elementary, middle and high principals across California to gauge the impact of the recession and budget cuts on student welfare and school learning environments.

Before the recession began, California K-12 public schools, which were among the nation's best in the 1960s, already ranked near the bottom nationally in many measures of academic achievement and school quality.

Hot topic: Proposal for closing SFUSD's large budget gap

This from an SF K Files reader:
I am passing on the email that Dennis Kelly sent out to UESF (United Educators of San Francisco) members today regarding proposals for closing SFUSD's large budget gap in hopes that you will alert parents. As an SFUSD teacher I ask that you not use my name, but I think everyone is deeply concerned about what these proposed cuts would mean for our students. We need parents to stand up and demand transparency in the budget process, and to make it clear to the administration that cuts need to be made as far from the classroom as possible.
Here is the email from Dennis Kelly:
Superintendent Garcia Asks UESF Members for Millions to Deal with $113 Million Budget Crisis UESF Calls for Cuts Away from the Classroom, Transparency from District in Making Budget Decisions

Rally at the 555 Franklin - January 26 - 5:00 p.m.

Last night Superintendent Carlos Garcia stood before the UESF Assembly, detailing the need for upwards of $113 million in cuts over the next two years. The bad news was delivered as Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers continue to offer a cuts-only approach to the state budget crisis.

Lawmakers in Sacramento have failed our schools. Instead of looking for additional revenues to patch the budget, they instead look to take it out on our state's most vulnerable people - our students. In San Francisco we are now forced to consider such substantial cuts that the quality of education will be severely compromised.

All district employees got an email outlining the special cuts that the Superintendent is asking for. His presentation last night followed similar lines. Those cuts include at least 400 teacher layoffs, four furlough days, freezing step and column increases and sabbaticals for two years, eliminating summer school for two years, and raising K-3 class size up to 30. UESF staff is currently preparing a fact sheet explaining this information, which should be available by the weekend.

As this awful process moves forward, UESF now calls on the Superintendent and district officials to do everything they can to make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. We also call on the Superintendent to be forthcoming with documentation to verify the basis for his proposed cuts.

Last night the Superintendent promised to be open and fully forthcoming with specific budget information. Because of the collapsed timeline involved, he now needs to quickly make good on that promise.

Furthermore, in order for any sacrifice to be made by UESF members, we need to see not only that substantial cuts have been made on the administrative end, but that every possible cost-cutting approach has been thoroughly considered.

Moving Forward
Superintendent Garcia intends to present the proposed cuts he has outlined to the Board of Education at their meeting on January 26, 2010. He has also indicated that he wants the process to be completed by the end of February. The deadline for layoff notices to be sent to teachers is March 15, 2010. For paraprofessionals, it is April 27, 2010. In making his presentation, Garcia implied that without an agreement he would be forced to send out several hundred more layoff notices and to reopen full negotiations.

Because many of the proposed cuts would require a modification of the UESF contract, Superintendent Garcia is essentially proposing that limited negotiations between the district and UESF begin immediately. At a meeting this morning with UESF leadership, we told the Superintendent that we must see more details on his budget numbers and know his priorities before we can have a any further discussions.

Anticipating receiving the information we requested, we have scheduled an emergency meeting of the Executive Board and Bargaining Team for January 27th to discuss entering these negotiations. The results of such negotiations would be put to the UESF membership for an up or down vote.

The district has been put into an incredibly difficult situation because of the failure of the state to adequately fund our schools. Many difficult decisions lie ahead that are in no way the fault of the Superintendent or the district. But it is more important than ever that these tough decisions are made with complete transparency, and with the priority firmly placed on saving the jobs of teachers and paras.

We ask that all UESF members stay engaged in the process, and that you stand in unity with your brothers and sisters to defend our jobs and the classroom.

Rally January 26th Before the Board of Ed Meeting
On Tuesday UESF will hold a rally and picket line before the Board of Education meeting at 555 Franklin St. Our message at the rally is twofold - first, to take a stand against any further state budget cuts and to call for progressive taxation and budget reform; second, to demand that the SFUSD make cuts as far away from the classroom as possible and that their budget process is done with transparency. The rally will take place at 5:00 p.m. Please plan on attending.

Please print, copy, post and share with UESF colleagues who are not receiving UESF emails.

United Educators of San Francisco
2310 Mason Street
San Francisco, CA 94133

Hot topic: Public school language options

This from an SF K Files reader:
Anyone have a good easy list of the language options (whether it be immersion, bbp, enrichment)? I'm wondering, too, about Clarendon's Italian enrichment program; is Italian a useful language to know??

Debbie's Story: My School List

Sorry for the delay! Here are the seven schools that we listed on our application:

1) Commodore Sloat
2) West Portal Cantonese Immersion
3) Dianne Feinstein
4) West Portal General Ed
5) Ulloa
6) Sunset
7) Rooftop

Our strategy: Put the most thought into what we put as #1, then stack #2 - #7 with schools that we don't expect to get into so that if/when we go 0 for 7, we'll be in a good position for a wait list. My understanding is that people who go 0 for 7 get a priority in the waiting pool (SFUSD Enrollment Guide, p. 27). Of course, I realize that there will be many others in the waiting pool that went 0 for 7, but it's all about doing what you can do and hoping for the best.

As I look at our list, #2 - #7 are great schools, but, if you read my Commodore Sloat tour posting, my heart is really set on our #1. It's a great school, but it seems to fly under the radar so it doesn't have the buzz around it that some of the more popular schools have.

Good luck everyone! I'll let you know what happens in March!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Hot topic: SFUSD start times

This from an SFKFiles reader:
I’ve heard rumors that the budget cuts will cut the school buses. If this is the case, is it likely that schools may change their start times (I’m most interested in the possibility of the 7:50 ones moving times up)? Presumably, this would require a decision from a majority of the school community on a case by case basis, but I think it could change things a lot.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

SFGate: Corn syrup removed from SFUSD chocolate milk

This from SFGate:
The cartons of chocolate milk served in San Francisco Unified School District cafeterias will no longer contain the highly debated sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A product containing sucrose will be offered to students beginning the first week in February.

Berkeley Farms, the dairy that supplies milk to SFUSD, decided to reformulate the chocolate milk due to multiple requests from the district's Student Nutrition Director Ed Wilkins.

Hot topic: 2010-11 SFUSD calendar

This from an SF K Files reader:
Is the sfusd schedule changing next year? if so, how about asking this on sfkfiles: The new (or is it proposed?) 2010-2011 sfusd schedule has school starting a week earlier 8/16 and ending 5/27. What does that do to your summer travel or camp plans?

S.F. public Montessori program to relocate

Jill Tucker wrote a piece for the SF Chronicle about the Cobb Montessori program getting a new home:
San Francisco's public Montessori school program will get new digs in the former Newcomer High School in Pacific Heights in the fall, the school board decided Tuesday night in a compromise that settles an emotional battle over the fate of Cobb Elementary School.
The vote means the district will shoulder additional costs required to reopen the closed Newcomer site at 2340 Jackson St. and the added cost of maintaining both campuses at less than capacity for at least a few years. District officials said it could be a short-term fix to accommodate both programs in the fall.
The decision will allow the Montessori program, now housed in four of Cobb's classrooms, to expand into a comprehensive elementary school offering preschool through fifth-grade classes. Cobb couldn't accommodate both programs.
Supporters of both programs jammed the school board chambers Tuesday night to argue their case. The issue had drawn emotional public protests, and while the school board voted to keep the peace and satisfy both sides, the final vote wasn't unanimous.
"It is fiscally irresponsible to open up a new school when we have been having discussion raising kindergarten class size to 30," said board member Sandra Fewer, the only vote against the move. "The cuts will be very painful this year. I cannot be part of opening a new school."
Initially, school officials believed the traditional program would be the one to go, given available space at nearby Rosa Parks and John Muir Elementary schools. Cobb's regular program has been underenrolled in recent years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hot topic: Cobb Montessori gets a new home, but CACS does not

This from an SF K Files reader:
I would appreciate if you could start a new thread regarding a vote at last night's SF School Board Meeting. At the meeting the SF School Board's voted to approve the move of the Cobb Montessori program (note: a school that is only currently established up to grade two) to the old Newcomer High School location at Jackson and Fillmore. Please point out that an already well established SFSD Charter School, Creative Arts Charter School, which is exactly 13 blocks south in Western Addition, has once again been overlooked for a potential new home. CACS has been requesting a new building assignment for several years. How was this possible? How can the district justify overlooking CACS?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hot topic: Edison charter school

This from an SF K Files reader:
What is the story with the Edison Charter School? I hear very little about it and it was not reviewed on k files (that I can find). I know its a "chain" and the few things I've found have not been flattering. It doesn't have a local web site and the national site is pretty general. What can people tell me?

Hot topic: Creative Arts Charter School

This from an SF K Files reader:
Would you mind starting a new CACS topic? Their application period is, I think, still open and I'm trying to get more info on issues raised on the (now very buried) original CACS tour blog entry. Specifically, I'm wondering if anyone has info on what's happening with the board, principal, teachers, parents, etc. It's tough choosing a school without any real info about what's going on!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hot topic: Getting into immersion schools off the wait list

This from an SF K Files reader:
We put #1 as de Avila and I wondered if you could ask people what a good strategy is to get into immersion off the wait lists?

Funding Our Future

Thursday, February 25
6:30pm - 8:30pm
Marina Middle School

Enough is enough! San Francisco Unified School District is forecasting budget cuts of 10%-20% for the 2010-2011 school year. It is imperative that we find real short and long-term solutions to this unprecedented budget crisis!

On February 25th, join a coalition of parents in a community discussion with Carlos Garcia, SFUSD Superintendent of Schools, Mark Leno, Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano from the California State Legislator, business and non-profit leaders and educators to effect positive, lasting change for our children's education.

Let's look for funding solutions and ways to bring about long-term change together. We are Funding Our Future.

The dialog will focus on:

Creative funding solutions to pending budget cuts
Smarter long-term budget reform
Local and state-wide parental advocacy efforts

The Goal of the Event:

We are interested in going beyond the talk of what is being cut from education or how we can cut less. We know that:

California is ranked 47th in the country per pupil spending.

Our class sizes are increasing rapidly.

Our teachers are receiving pink slips .

Many families have exited the system.

Simply put there is nothing left to cut. The time has come to take a stand and speak up for our children's future. Our state's future. Enough talking about what is wrong. The time has come to find real solutions and work together towards real change. To DO something. Please join us in this very important conversation.

For more information, please contact Michelle Parker at

RSVP on Facebook: click here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

SFUSD Round I lists

Many parents have already turned in their Round I lists and more will be handing them in next week. Feel free to share your lists in the comments.

Why I love Alice Fong Yu

I love this school. The academics are stellar, and the opportunity to learn two dialects of Chinese is exciting.

I was surprised how rapidly my kid started to absorb the language - singing songs, counting numbers, and pointing out the characters he knows when we pass by a sign using Chinese pictographs. I think learning a new language has added to his confidence and pride. We feel fortunate to be in a district and school that has taken a real lead in immersion education.
The school is *very* well organized. The teachers are hardworking and highly trained. I've been impressed with the simple, elegant, understated way discipline is handled in the kinder classes, and have learned a lot on how to work with my own kid. The principal, Liana Szeto runs a tight ship, and had the vision to create the nation's first school that was wholly Chinese Immersion.

There are weekly newsletters from the principal and from your class teacher. The PTA is a veritable fundraising machine, with a New Year's Banquet and a Fundraising Gala. There's also opportunities to volunteer in the classroom, and there are regular potlucks during holidays like Halloween & Thanksgiving. Seeing my kid in a costume parade for Halloween was immense fun. I'm looking forward to seeing him in the Chinese New Year parade.

I've been surprised how much enrichment activity there is: there's a weekly art class for the kinders, a garden, and they've also had a dance class each week. How much of this is funded by the district, and how much by PTA funds, I don't know. But it certainly was more than I anticipated.

Expectations are high not only for the kids but also for parents. Homework starts early: there's a fair amount given to the kindergarteners, and this ramps up substantially in the higher grades. So expect a lot of wrangling as you get your kid to knuckle down. I love that there's a workshop for parents who aren't familiar with Chinese to help them help their kids with their homework!

I love that two AFY parents made a film about immersion education in SFUSD - "Speaking in Tongues", featuring kids from Starr King and Buena Vista as well as AFY.

I love that my kid will go to China in the 8th grade for a student exchange.

I love the after-school program, GLO, which is excellent and focuses on building the kids social skills. All the GLO programs have camps during holidays and breaks (for an additional fee) - a big bonus for the working parent.

My kid is very happy at the school, and was enthusiastic to be back this week.
If you gave me a coupon that gave my kid free automatic entry to any other elementary school, public or private, in the Bay Area, I'd refuse it. [Well, I might take it, but I'd then sell it on Ebay and then give the money to the Alice Fong Yu PTA.]

Tom McVey
Parent of an AFY Kindergartener

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

USA Today: Recession fuels shift from private to public schools

An excerpt from a USA Today story:
When the family budget started feeling the recession's pinch last year, Angela Allyn and her photographer husband, Matt Dinnerstein, pulled their three kids out of Chicago-area private schools and enrolled them in Evanston, Ill., public schools.

It has been a challenging transition: Maya, 16, now a high school sophomore, "doesn't like crowds — and her high school is as big as a small college," her mother says. Though Maya is learning a lot in the "amazing" science program, she's also hoping to leave the crowds behind by doubling up on coursework, graduating by the end of junior year "and then going and doing interesting things," Allyn says. Her younger children face their own challenges, from bullying to sheer boredom.

The transition also has been an education for Maya's parents, who say they had "no choice" in the struggling economy but to switch to public schools.

They're saving about $20,000 a year in tuition, but like many former private-school families, they're coming face-to-face with larger class sizes and the public school bureaucracy as they push to get services for their children.

"We ask a lot of questions — we follow up on things," says Allyn, a former professional dancer who's the cultural arts coordinator for the city of Evanston. "We contact the school board. ... We'll challenge teachers, we'll challenge coordinators. My kids are mortified because they don't want to be singled out."

It's too early to tell whether the recession has had a profound effect on public schools' educational mission. But parents and educators across the nation say it's already bringing subtle changes to the culture of many public schools as some families seek the personal attention they received from private schools.

Private-school parents typically find that the structure of public schools takes some getting used to. In most states, funding for public schools is calculated on a per-student basis, based on average student counts during the first few weeks of the school year. If a student drops out after 40 days, the funding that student generated stays with the school — even if he or she does not return to that campus.

Private schools, on the other hand, risk losing tuition payments once a student leaves.

Read the full story

SFUSD apps are due this Friday, January 8

If you or someone you know is applying for the 2010-11 school year, please make sure it is turned in to the Educational Placement Center (EPC) by THIS FRIDAY, JANUARY 8.

Turning in your application on time gives you the best chance of getting the school you want.

Turn in applications with all documentation (record of birth, photo ID, 2 proofs of residency) to the Educational Placement Center (EPC) office at 555 Franklin, Suite 100; cross street McAllister. Please note that their hours are from 8am to 4:30pm, Monday thru Friday.

You can also turn in your application at the following satellite sites from 4-7pm. See flyer in English, Spanish and Chinese (pdf).

Wednesday, January 6, Dr. Charles Drew School, 50 Pomona Ave

Thursday, January 7, New Traditions School, 2049 Grove Street

Friday, January 8, Francis Scott Key School, 1530 43rd Ave

Also, Thursday, January 7 - Burton High School (400 Mansell Street) is having an Open House from 6-7:30pm. You can turn in your application to an EPC representative at their Open House. There will also be interpreters for Spanish, Cantonese, Filipino and Samoan, as well as childcare provided by Burton students.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why I love Jose Ortega

I love Jose Ortega because it sits on a hill that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. On a clear day you can see the Farallon Islands, and when the sun sets in the evening the sky turns soft pinks and purples, and my daughter says, "Oh mom, I wish I could have a dress in those colors."

I love the Friday morning sing-alongs when all the children and teachers and many parents gather in the auditorium. It's loud and noisy and chaotic and the children are distracted as they sing through a medley of songs. And then Ms. Young starts pounding the school song on the piano and the children sit up straight. They sing loud and proud: "It's Jose Ortega on the hill we love..."

I love that my daughter learned to read at Jose Ortega. She also learned to love books.

I love that the principal knows every child and parent by name and that she always puts children first. I love that I can walk into her office any time and she'll listen. I love that she stands her ground.

I love Jose Ortega because one day when my daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher said to me, "I'm really concerned because your daughter hasn't been smiling as much as she usually does and I'm just wondering if something is going on at home. I'd like to be able to help her."

I love that there's often a hawk sitting atop the fence overlooking the outdoor school yard.

I love that my daughter is learning to speak Mandarin. It's her magical power and it gives her confidence. I love that we were in Big Lots the other day and my daughter pointed out that one of the store clerks was speaking Mandarin to another customer.

I love that we planted an herb garden at the school entrance this year.

I love the parents at Jose Ortega because they support one another. They're the sort who invite you over for dinner when your spouse is out of town, who wait with your child when you're late for pick-up, and who put hot casseroles on your doorstep after you have a baby.

I love our PTA because it's bursting with passion to make our school better. It's small but doing the work of a big crew.

I love our greening committee that comes out on weekends to pull weeds. Its members have big dreams of converting our expansive blacktop area into a lush sea of green where children can climb trees and get their hands dirty pulling carrots from the earth. I love that ideas such as "We should get goats and chickens" are tossed out at our meetings.

I love that our PTA raised money to pay for tutoring kids who were falling behind.

I love Ms. Ginny who works in the office. I love that I walked into her office once and she was blaring music and dancing. I love that she puts band-aids on boo-boos that children are certain exist--but really aren't there. I love that she notices when my son has gotten a haircut. It's all about the little things.

I love Jose Ortega because it's small. The school has only 260 students so after awhile you really do recognize every face.

I love that when you're talking with the principal at Jose Ortega and a child interrupts your conversation, "Excuse me, I didn't get any breakfast and I'm really hungry...." the principal immediately turns her attention to the child. The kids always, always come first.

I love that my daughter brought home a Nancy Drew book that she checked out from the school library.

I love Jose Ortega because it has an amazing art teacher, Aiko, who taught the kids to fold origami cranes. They made nearly 1,000 cranes and the flock serves as the backdrop for the school stage. I love that this year Aiko is teaching the kids to paint and the school hallways are full of vibrant artwork.

I love that there's almost always a parent volunteer helping with recess.

I love that when you walk into the teacher lounge at lunchtime, the teachers are gathered around the table talking and laughing. They all get along--setting a tone and a good example for the rest of the school.

I love the small courtyard areas outside each classroom. Right now, the garden plots are filled with tangles of weeds but we have plans to transform these. We started a community garden program so individual families are adopting the plots. Come visit the school in a year and you'll be amazed.

I love that I visited my daughter's classroom one day and they were digging their hands into big tubs full of dirt and worms.

I love that my daughter came home the other day and said, "Mommy, I need to tell you all about Rosa Parks." She proceeded to tell me about how everyone is equal no matter their skin color. She talked about race candidly, comfortably, and openly. If only Jose Ortega could give the world this lesson.

I love the gorgeous Chinese characters that my daughter draws on everything--restaurant place mats, birthday cards, notepads, old envelopes. To her, writing in Chinese is like making art.

I love that a group of schoolchildren lead their fellow classmates in the "Pledge of Allegiance" every day. And I'll never forget the morning when our principal announced that the child leading the "Pledge" had just become a citizen.

I love that my daughter always points out her school every time we drive by it on the freeway. I love that she misses school over summer break.

I love Jose Ortega.

--Amy Graff, mother of a first-grader

A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education

This from an SF K Files reader:

Do you know an outlier school -- a great school with a low API? Please speak up for it.

On several occasions during the last few months, various leaders of the BBA campaign have met with Arne Duncan and his staff, and with Congressional staffers. Our purpose has been to urge the abandonment of a policy that attempts to judge the quality of schools primarily by their students' scores on standardized tests of basic skills. As the report of the BBA Accountability Committee asserts, we insisted that an accurate assessment of school quality must rely heavily on observation and judgment of experts regarding the breadth and quality of instruction.

In a recent meeting, we advised Department of Education staff that their policy of identifying the lowest-performing 5% of schools in each state, in order to target these schools for massive intervention and "turnaround," was bound to have adverse consequences if these schools were identified primarily by such test scores. We said that many schools that should be considered among the lowest performing schools would be missed if they artificially boosted their test scores at the expense of a balanced curriculum, by excessive test preparation activities and other gaming. And other schools that pursued a more balanced curriculum and attended to children's long run achievement might falsely be identified as among the lowest-performing schools because they refused to engage in activities that artificially boosted test scores.

Department of Education staff were not persuaded, and asked us to provide examples of schools that might fall into each category:

a) Low-performing schools whose test scores have been artificially inflated by excessive test preparation and gaming.

b) Better schools with very low scores but that were delivering a higher quality of instruction.

We are collecting examples of such schools to provide to the Department and need your help. If you can identify one or more schools that would likely fall into one of the two categories described above, would you please send us by reply e-mail ( a description of these schools?

Please include the name of the school, the name(s) of your source(s) of information, and other identifying information in your description. We will not initially provide all of this identifying information in the material we supply to the Department, but we have to be prepared to back up our claims by naming names if necessary.

As example of the kind of thing we are seeking, we have reprinted below two examples that we initially provided to the Department. But we need more.

Thanks for your help, and we wish all of you a very successful and productive New Year.

Illustrations provided to the Department of Education:

a) A school whose test scores has been artificially inflated, but should properly be considered low-performing.

During the 2008-2009 school year, I was employed by Prince George's County Public Schools. I was placed at XX Elementary School in XX, MD where I spent the first half of the school year teaching 5th grade language arts and social studies. The second half of the year, I taught 2nd grade. At the beginning of the year, the staff reviewed the 2008 MSA (Maryland State Assessment) data to find that the-now 5th graders scored extremely well as 4th graders. However, I was disappointed to find that the data were not reflected in my students' daily work. Almost all of the fifth graders were grossly behind in basic reading, writing, and comprehension skills.

I began to speak to the discrepancies during collaborative planning times. My questions were dismissed and unwelcomed by the principal, XX. As the year progressed, it became evident that there was something terribly wrong with the instructional approaches I was told to use. In November, the principal distributed the actual MSA tests to the teachers during collaborative planning and asked us to: take the test ourselves, write down the strategies we used to answer the questions, find the areas in our curriculum that fit into the test questions and strategies, and teach only what we found from Nov. through March, when the students would take the test.

I was unwilling to forgo the well-balanced and holistic strategies I was successfully using for this skill/drill teach-to-the-test madness. The day we returned from Thanksgiving break, the principal told me she was moving me to 2nd grade for the rest of the school year because the way I was talking, "I could become a cancer in the building."

In summary, until four years ago, XX Elementary School was consistently performing so poorly, it was closed. The new principal, XX, has been celebrated for her leadership achievements in turning around the school so quickly. I am disgusted by the fact that the students at XX Elementary School are not benefitting from a balanced curriculum and not afforded an opportunity to learn anything beyond taking a test.

b) A school with low test scores but a high quality of instruction:

Here is a link for one of several Newcomer schools in California -- Newcomer High in SF. Students attend when they enter the country for only a short time until they learn English.

Its test scores are abysmal but it has a hard-working and experienced staff and a 96% attendance rate among students (unheard of at the high school level). When the students learn enough English to pass the state tests, they move on.

Here's another one, Newcomer Academy in Redwood City, which enrolls all of its students as new immigrants from Latin America. Students stay until they become acclimated and learn English.

The API score is lower than almost any other schools in California, but the school is doing great work with its students.

Newcomer schools also exist in Sacramento and Los Angeles.

For further information about A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education,
contact or visit

—BBA Co-chairs Helen Ladd, Pedro Noguera, and Tom Payzant

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hot topic: Student assignment system update

This from an SF K Files reader:
Are there any news on what is happening with the lottery redesign process? What are they talking about with the option that would strive to increasing diversity based on academic achievement? Would it simply mean weighting parents' educational level higher? What redesign option seems most likely to be selected?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Why I love Zion Lutheran

We are a military family and we move A LOT, so when we choose a school for our kids we need a pragmatic approach. When the Army said, ‘you’re moving from Germany to San Francisco in 6 weeks’, we drew a 3-mile radius around our new address and started calling every school in the circle. I wanted to find a place my kids would be safe, challenged and happy, and where they could get some individual attention in case the transition was challenging.

Luckily, I was only 4 or 5 schools into my phone list when I reached Zion Lutheran School, a small, diverse religious school in the Inner Richmond. After the call I hung up the phone and called to my daughter to ‘come look at your new school website!’ Sometimes it pays to go with your gut.

Zion is a tiny school, with an average class size of less than 20, but is packed with quality programming and an astonishing level of commitment from the teachers and staff. The academic programs are rigorous and challenging, and after school activities include additional languages, cooking, Lego engineering, art and music lessons, all offered through the school, which is no small thing for a working parent concerned with transportation. The school musical in the spring is the highlight of a tremendous music program, and is far better than many high school productions I’ve seen.

But even more important than the programming is that the teachers truly know and care about my kids. Before Christmas my oldest finished a dance class through the JCC- just a dance class she wanted to take for fun, and both her current and last year’s teacher arrived unannounced at the last class to see the recital! Each of the teachers routinely attends the girls’ soccer games, even though the team is run through a city program – they just care enough to come. And on my daughter’s birthday, both of the outside chaperones had wished her a Happy Birthday before they even shut my car door.

In a city where we arrived not knowing a soul, my kids found an instant family. To anyone looking for a wonderful, high-quality school with personal attention for your kids, I’d recommend calling Zion Lutheran.