Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Guest blogger: Jenifer Wana, author of a new book about getting your kid into preschool

For those of you embarking on the hunt for a preschool, here’s a guest post from SF K Files reader Jenifer Wana. Her new book, How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, just came out in August to rave reviews.


Before having to tour kindergartens and figure out the SFUSD school assignment system, most parents in SF will have to go through a equally (if not more so) complicated preschool admissions process. Here are a few tips for finding the right preschool for your child:

Consider what factors are important to you in a preschool. While there are many factors you can evaluate, some of the basics are: tuition, location, schedule (length of day and number of days per week), educational philosophy, and the admissions process.

Make a list of preschools that interest you. Ask everyone you know with kids for recommendations, including your friends, neighbors, co-workers, moms group, and parents you meet at the playground. Check out www.savvysource.com to find preschools close to your home and learn about their costs, schedule, philosophy, etc. Create your short list of schools and visit their websites or call them directly to learn about the admissions process and deadlines. Also, mark your calendar for Preschool Preview Night on Thursday, October 14th from 5:30-8:00pm at Golden Gate Park.

Decide what age you want your child to start preschool. Most children begin preschool at 3 and go for 2 years until they start kindergarten. Some preschools enroll kids as early as 2 or 2 ½, however, so check before applying. If you want to start at 2 but your dream preschool only takes 3-year-olds, you can always switch after the first year.

Also keep in mind that the private school kindergarten cutoff age is 5 by Sept. 1 (if not earlier) and public school is 5 by Dec. 1, that means that if your child starts preschool at 2 and her birthday falls between Sept.-Nov., she will go to preschool for an extra year if attending a private school.

Get on wait lists early – and then follow up. As ridiculous as it sounds, many schools accept applications the day a child is born—if not earlier. The sooner you submit the application, the better your chances are of getting a spot. Around 9-12 months prior to when you plan to enroll your child, it’s a good idea to call to follow up (and ask when a spot may open up, if the school runs year round). Continue to follow up every 4-6 weeks to show you’re serious about enrolling.

Try to visit preschools while class is in session. Talk to the director, teachers, and current parents. Ask about safety and security policies. Is the classroom warm and inviting? Is the outdoor play area well-maintained and fenced in? Do the children seem happy and engaged? How do teachers interact with the students—are they talking and working closely with them? Can you picture your child enjoying the environment?

Stay on top of admission deadlines. This is critical, as each school has its own timelines and requirements. For non-wait list preschools, you may need to sign up for school tours by September or October and then submit applications by the December or January prior to the September start of the school year.

Let your favorite schools know what you love about the school and why it’s a good fit for your family. Preschools want families who share their values and are enthustiastic about the program, so communicate this in your thank you letter, application, and when chatting with the staff.

Best of luck on your search for the right preschool!

For a comprehensive list of San Francisco preschool resources and to learn more about How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School, visit Jenifer’s website at www.preschoolprimer.com.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Check out the new reader forum

If you haven't already noticed, the SF K Files is now using a three-column format and on the left-hand side of the page you'll find a reader forum. In the past readers have emailed me "hot topics" and questions about schools that they'd like answered by readers. Now, I'm hoping readers can start using the forum and post their own questions and topics. Also, please feel free to share news of events and interesting articles on schools in this area.

The forum is a work-in-progress so if you have suggestions for ways to improve it, please share.



Friday, August 27, 2010

SFGate: San Francisco public schools a good choice

This from SFGate:
C.W. Nevius' columns about parents' distress over San Francisco schools rang a bell with me, and I was prompted to weigh in about my delight with the public schools my daughter has attended in San Francisco.

When my daughter was starting kindergarten, friends said: "You can't stay in San Francisco; you have to move!" I heard this often enough that I worried. Did my husband and I have to leave the city we loved?

Well, we did decide to stay, and we entered our daughter in our neighborhood school, Fairmount Elementary. "You can't send her there - she won't learn anything at a Spanish immersion school," friends protested. I worried anew.

Hot topic: School tours

This from a reader:
When are school tours starting?

Check out the Mann Middle School blog

This from a reader:
As parents with kids in elementary school try to get their arms around the new middle school feeder patterns, families with children who will feed to Mann Middle School in the Mission (Buena Vista, Cesar Chavez, Starr King and Daniel Webster) are gathering information about their new future school. They've started a blog and you can see it here: http://bit.ly/Mannmiddle

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Community Meetings

Attend a community meeting: Learn more about the new student assignment system and tell the district what you think.

Did you attend a meeting? Share experiences in the comments.

Wednesday, August 25 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary 50 Pomona Ave

Saturday, August 28 9:30 am - 11:30 am
Francis Scott Key Elementary 1530 43rd Ave

Tuesday, August 31 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Everett Middle School 450 Church St

Wednesday, September 1 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Marina Middle School 3500 Fillmore St

Monday, September 13 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
SFUSD 555 Franklin St
Board of Education’s Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment

Tuesday, September 28 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
SFUSD Board of Education, 555 Franklin St
Second reading and action.

Hot topic: GATE in middle school

This from a reader:
I'm seeing some info on The SFK Files about middle schools, but I haven't found anything on how the new middle school assignments will (or will not) care for elementary school students who have been GATE-designated. The maps show feeder schools by geography, but what happens when a GATE-designated student's elementary school is supposed to feed into a school with no GATE program (e.g., James Lick)? Will GATE-designated students still be assigned to James Lick (as an example) or will they have the option to go to a different school like Aptos or AP Giannini instead? I'd be interested to know what people are hearing about this topic. Thanks!

Community Advisory Committee Meeting for Special Education

Aug 26 Community Advisory Committee Meeting for Special Education (6:30 - 8:30 PM)

The State Education Code mandates that each Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) have a Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The purpose of the CAC for Special Education is to advocate for effective Special Education programs and services and to advise the Board of Education on priorities in the SELPA. The State Education Code mandates that each SELPA have a CAC and that a majority of CAC members be parents. In San Francisco, CAC meetings are usually held on the fourth Thursday of each month (except July and December). The meetings are from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. The first half hour is an informal discussion with CAC members. The formal public meeting is called to order at 7:00 p.m. These meetings are open to the public; everyone is welcome to attend. Joining the CAC gives you an opportunity to have your opinions heard and make a difference in the way Special Education is conducted in our area -- Please Join Us!
Meetings are held at Support for Families - 1663 Mission Street, 7th Floor, San Francisco (click for map)

* Free childcare and Interpretation are provided.
* You MUST call 920-5040 in advance to reserve these services.
* For more information and to confirm meeting date and location please call (415) 920-5040

Up Coming Meetings

* Thursday, August 26, 2010
6:30 pm
Guest Speaker: Rachel Norton, Board of Education Commissioner
* Thursday, September 23, 2010
6:30 pm
* Thursday, October 28, 2010
6:30 pm
* November - To Be Announced
* Thursday, January 27, 2011
6:30 pm
* Thursday, February 24, 2011
6:30 pm

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SFUSD press release: Lowest-Performing Schools set to Receive Unprecedented Support

August 24, 2010 (San Francisco) – Today the California State Board of Education authorized a grant of $45 million to the San Francisco Unified School District to address the needs of ten San Francisco schools identified by the State of California as “persistently low performing schools.”

The district applied for the federal funds through a competitive grant process which required the selection of one of four turn-around models and a detailed reform plan for each of the schools. The district’s application received one of the highest possible ranks from the State.

The proposed strategies to turn around the achievement for students represent a comprehensive approach, which includes taking the following steps at schools that are designated as either turnaround or transformation schools:

* Require a rigorous common core curriculum that clearly specifies what students should know and be able to do and sets high standards for rigor and instructional quality.
* Provide professional development on proven instructional strategies that is job-embedded and features one-on-one coaching.
* Institute a performance management system that ensures a data-driven approach to instruction and professional learning using common interim assessments and other evidence of student learning, as well as research-based strategies, to improve teacher practice.
* Focus on adolescent literacy needs in secondary schools and reading instruction in the primary grades.
* Provide the foundations for mathematic excellence in elementary school through partnering mathematicians with teachers in classrooms and ensure that all students can access algebra successfully in middle school.
* Create an academic culture conducive to learning that enables teachers and administrators to concentrate on rigorous instruction and student engagement.
* Create a college-going culture in all secondary schools.
* Extend learning time for students both after school and during the summer.
* Increase parent and community engagement that builds family involvement by integrating and coordinating the many services in the San Francisco community.
* Implement a full-service, community schools approach that encourages partnerships with local agencies to support both students and their families.

To better understand the needs and challenges of identified schools and the district as a whole, SFUSD leaders worked in partnership with university colleagues to understand how other schools and districts have beat the odds for low performing students. A new study, “Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago” (Bryk, 2010), helped shape the district’s process for identifying critical school interventions and supports. The district’s proposal was also based on the input shared by school principals about their continued improvement efforts and the kinds of supports most needed in their schools. District staff and community partners also held meetings with parents and teachers to describe the grant requirements and the implications of the federally-defined reform models.

Ten schools were named by the state as “persistently low performing” and the district included all schools in the SFUSD proposal:

School State Model
Willie Brown, Jr. Academic College Preparatory * Closure
Bryant Elementary Turnaround
Dr. George W. Carver Elementary Turnaround
Cesar Chavez Elementary Transformation
Everett Middle Turnaround
Horace Mann Middle Transformation
Mission High Transformation
John Muir Elementary Turnaround
John O'Connell School of Technology High Transformation
Paul Revere Elementary Transformation

*Willie Brown, Jr. Academic College Preparatory School is closing at the end of school year 2010-2011 in order to build a state of the art facility. The school is eligible for up to $50,000 and, if granted, funding will go to support a parent/community outreach coordinator to assist families in transitioning to new schools.

Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, Innovation and Social Justice Richard Carranza says that the district is well positioned to use the funding to drastically accelerate the academic achievement of students in these schools. The solutions proposed to remedy the problems of low-performing schools are part of district-wide reform that is underway.

“In carrying out the vision of our strategic plan,” says Carranza, “we are redesigning the way our central office delivers support to schools. All schools will be provided with more guidance about curriculum, and our resources and support services will be focused more on the needs of the district’s lowest performing schools through our Superintendent’s Zones.”

This year San Francisco Unified formed Superintendent’s Zones in the Bayview and Mission districts, where nine of the ten schools identified as low-performing are located. The tenth school in the Western Addition will be part of the Mission zone. Schools in the new zones have more than double the dedicated resources that other schools have to bolster student achievement, including intensive support for teachers and principals at zone schools.

Sac Bee: Proposed kindergarten cutoff date would mean some California kids start school later

This from the Sac Bee:

For decades, millions of Californians with children who have fall birthdays have struggled over whether to pack their 4-year-olds off to kindergarten – or hold them back because they might be too young to start school.

This week, California state legislators may be the closest they've ever come to making that decision for parents, with room for some exceptions.

A bill by Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, would roll back the date that entering kindergartners must turn 5 from the current Dec. 2 to Sept. 1.

In 2008, a Public Policy Institute of California review of 14 studies found that students who start kindergarten at older ages perform better on math and reading tests into eighth grade.

SFGate: California schools lose out in 'Race to Top'

This from SFGate:
California education officials expressed disappointment Tuesday after learning that the state had lost its bid for as much as $700 million in the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition, a $4.35 billion grant program aimed at improving schools.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Tuesday that nine states and the District of Columbia were winners in the second round of a program designed to encourage such aggressive reforms as connecting teacher evaluations and pay to students' test scores.

"I am deeply disappointed that our application was not chosen," said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "However, the loss of the funding may slow, but not defeat, our efforts to improve student achievement in California."

California had made the cut as one of 19 finalists after submitting a second round application assembled by seven superintendents, including Carlos Garcia of the San Francisco Unified School District.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The 3-day count continues

Please use this thread to advertise schools where there might be open spaces, to share news about getting into schools, and to ask questions about the wait pool process. Thanks!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Hot topic: Transitioning a child into immersion

This from a reader:
My daughter was no stranger to immersion. I started her out early. At age 3, she was exposed to a French music class once a week. At age 4, she enrolled at Ecole Bilingue on the East Bay for a year. She never had any meltdown, or negative experience at EB and picked up quite a lot of French by the end of the school year. Due to a change of circumstances, we moved to the City and got her in an English K class. I tried again to enroll her in an after school Italian class. That was when she started to dread learning a foreign language. A lot of stress, crying, fear,etc., which compelled me to drop her from the Italian class. This year, she just got into Spanish Immersion and as expected, total stress and fear for her. I believe she never cried this much, my brave and sweet little girl. My husband and I don't speak Spanish and we're literally ordering Rosetta Stone at the time of this writing to try to support her. Is there anything else we can do to help her relieve her stress level? School is supposed to be fun at this age!

Take the survey: Offer feedback on the new assignment process

The district has put out a survey to get feedback on the new school assignment process that is being put in place. For all those on their way to middle school soon, it might be worth taking and making sure your questions/comments are heard.

http://www.surveymo nkey.com/ s/VC7TQGX

Friday, August 20, 2010

A helpful summary of SFUSD's new student assignment system

Someone posted a concise, clear summary of the new student assignment system on the Bernal Heights Yahoo Group:
The way the new system works is: you have a neighborhood school as a default assignment. If you want a different school, you can take part in a choice process. Kids in areas in the lowest 20% academically are in a higher preference category in this choice process.

If there's more applicants from your neighborhood, then you may be assigned to the nearest school with vacancies. Even if you want your neighborhood school, you'll still have to do the application and go through the choice/lottery in case your school is oversubscribed.

For middle schools, each elementary school has a default middle school it feeds into. Again, you can choose a different school than the default, but there'll be a lottery process.

About 1/4 of the elementary places remain allocated through a choice process on a city wide basis. These include the K-8 schools and the immersion and Japanese bicultural programs at Clarendon and Rosa Parks.

High school places remain allocated by a city-wide lottery (except for Lowell and SOTA).

Rachel Norton: Oh, so many questions!

This from Board of Education member Rachel Norton's blog:

I really do need to get a good night’s sleep tonight, but I’m trying to answer all the questions I’m getting and sort out for myself what issues really need addressing by the staff and which are just issues that are bound to arise because some people feel they “won” while others feel they “lost” when they saw the attendance area maps and feeder patterns. Here’s my working list of questions I am filing away to ask the staff at my next opportunity:

  • Language programs and pathways – lots of questions here about why some pathways are separated and others are merged — why wouldn’t it make sense, for example, to have both of the Japanese language/culture pathways (one at Clarendon and one at Rosa Parks) go together to the same middle school? Why did we feed the two very small Mandarin pathways (Starr King and Jose Ortega) into two separate middle schools rather than bringing them together?
  • Child development programs – the explanatory materials for parents need more explanation of our Child Development Programs, how to apply and a map of where they are located.
  • Middle school capacities vs. likely enrollment year one: the McKinley parents have complained that it looks like too few schools are feeding into Everett Middle School, but that seems to be the case for most of the middle schools. See this comment thread for more info.
Read the full post

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Middle School attendance areas/assignments

The new draft of attendance areas includes middle school assignments: http://sfusd.ggnet.net/resources/changes.php

What do parents think about their assignments?

Draft of new SFUSD attendance areas online



Rachel Norton: Attendance areas and feeder patterns

An excerpt from Board of Education Rachel Norton's blog:

As promised, tonight district staff unveiled the draft maps of attendance areas and middle school feeder patterns. I don’t have electronic copies of the maps, but they should be posted at the following site by tomorrow: www.sfusd.edu/Enroll
Tonight’s meeting was televised, and while you won’t be able to make out the teensy tiny maps on from the telecast, there was some interesting discussion and public comment.

Generally, I didn’t feel there were many huge surprises, or attendance areas that felt terribly “gerrymandered.” Parents from McKinley Elementary were on hand to protest the proposal that their school would feed into Everett Middle School; another group of parents pushing for a neighborhood-only school assignment scheme also came to speak for public comment.

The McKinley comments were difficult for me, because it’s a community I feel very connected to. My own daughter attended a pre-K class at McKinley for two years; more recently I have been honored to be a judge at McKinley’s last two DogFest fundraisers (a lovely and fun annual event). I also try to never miss the school’s annual Junior Olympics celebration, which manages to be adorable, fun and uplifting all at the same time. I understand that parents at McKinley have worked tremendously hard to boost enrollment at their school (a few years after my daughter went on to Kindergarten, McKinley ended up on the district’s dreaded closure list and had to “prove” it could attract more students in order to get off the list — thank goodness we don’t have a closure list anymore!). I also understand that Everett Middle School is on the state’s own dreaded list of persistently underperforming schools, so for many parents enrolling at Everett represents a leap of faith — trust that the school district can and will turn the school around. On the other hand, the whole reason we wrote middle school feeder patterns into the new assignment plan was to give families the reassurance that their child’s peer group would remain stable during the transition to middle school. As Commissioner Wynns said tonight, “Everett will be McKinley,” if students follow the feeder patterns.
Read the full post

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

McKinley car wash

Enthusiastic family volunteers at McKinley Elementary have invited all 10 SF Board of Education candidates to roll up their sleeves and get a little wet and grimy at our car wash fundraiser on Saturday, August 28, 10am – 2pm, at 1025 14th Street.

We know the race is heating up and every minute counts between now and November. So we've encouraged the candidates to look at our car wash as an informal "forum" with foam and sponges.

Please drive over for a quick wash and a chance to see which candidates show up to wield the squeegee.

We'll be keeping all you voters out there updated!

** Please note that this announcement was sent by family volunteers and does not represent an official communication from McKinley Elementary or the McKinley PTA.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back-to-school: Share positive news about your day!

Many kids started kindergarten today. Feel free to share good news about your day.

LA Times: Who's teaching L.A.'s kids?

This from the LA Times:
A Times analysis, using data largely ignored by LAUSD, looks at which educators help students learn, and which hold them back.

The fifth-graders at Broadous Elementary School come from the same world — the poorest corner of the San Fernando Valley, a Pacoima neighborhood framed by two freeways where some have lost friends to the stray bullets of rival gangs.

Many are the sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who never finished high school, hard-working parents who keep a respectful distance and trust educators to do what's best.

The students study the same lessons. They are often on the same chapter of the same book.
Read the full story

STAR test data released today

STAR test results are in. Here's a link:


SFGate: Progress seen in student test results

This from SFGate:
If slow and steady wins the race, California schools will eventually emerge victorious in significantly raising student proficiency levels in math and English, but at the current pace, it will take years if not decades.

Standardized test results released today show scores inched up for the eighth year in a row in the state's public schools. They rose across most demographics and grade levels, an indication that state schools are headed in the right direction.

The achievement gap between Hispanic students and their white or Asian peers narrowed a bit, but remained largely unchanged for African American children. About 40 percent of Hispanic and African American students were proficient in English on the California Standards Test at the end of the 2009-10 school year, compared to 69 percent of white students and 75 percent of Asian students.

Overall, 52 percent of state students were proficient or above in English and 48 percent were proficient or above in math, up two points in each subject from the year before.

Since 2003, 731,133 more students have become proficient in English, a 17 percentage point gain, and 586,765 more are scoring better in math, up 13 percentage points, state education officials said.

San Francisco schools maintained higher scores than the state average, with 56 percent proficient or above in English and 65 percent in math.

SFUSD wants to hear what you think about the new student assignment system

Click on the flier to see a larger image...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

3-day count

This is a thread where parents going through the 3-day count can ask questions...vent...

We're all pulling for you and hope everyone gets into a school this coming week! Hang in there!

SFGate: S.F.'s low-performing Muir School starts over

This from SFGate:

John Muir Elementary School is officially one of the worst public schools in the state.

Despite years of local, state and federal intervention that brought the school more money and additional staffing, it has failed to budge from the bottom of the barrel - a "1-1" school five years running, the lowest possible ranking when it comes to California's standardized test scores.

Christopher Rosenberg knew all this when he walked onto the school's campus for the first time as Muir's new principal three weeks before Monday's first day of classes.

He was assigned to the San Francisco school to do one thing: Fix Muir.

The site is one of the state's 188 lowest-performing schools - the bottom 5 percent targeted for improvement. Each of those schools is required to adopt one of four reform plans, ranging from closure to a staff overhaul. Schools that start the process this year are eligible for up to $6 million in federal stimulus funds over the next three years to address the poor performance.

At Muir, the to-do list is long.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Have you received a call from SFUSD? Please share

SF K Files has received some reports from parents receiving calls with wait pool news from the district this week. Families are getting into schools....please feel free to share your news!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wanted: Bloggers for this year's school search

The SF K Files is a place for parents to trade information about all schools in San Francisco, yet the heart of the site has always been the stories shared by local parents in the midst of the kindergarten search. This is how the site first got started when I shared my experiences with touring both private and public schools in 2007 and 2008 (read the full series here).

Last year about three bloggers shared their notes from school tours and the tough decisions they had to make when creating their lists of favorite schools. I'm hoping we can find a few new contributors who are starting the school search this fall. As always, the SF K Files goes to great lengths to keep bloggers fully anonymous.

If you're interested, please email thesfkfiles@gmail.com.



SFGate: New twist in alleged theft at S.F. school board

This from SFGate:

The adult daughter of school board member Kim-Shree Maufas recanted her confession that she stole money in February from another board member after video surveillance showed she wasn't in the district office that day, district officials said this week.

Francesca Maufas told Superintendent Carlos Garcia in March that she took $160 from Jill Wynns' purse, which was in the Board of Education office, during a late February board meeting.

She also confessed to stealing a district laptop and $90 cash from a third-floor office of a senior staff member during the board's March 9 meeting, Garcia said.

In the second incident, a surveillance camera captured Francesca Maufas, 22, in the hallway and entering the staff member's office; Maufas admitted to the theft the next day, district officials said.

New forum for parents seeking a school

A friend just launched a great, new website called The School Boards that is both a resource tool and a chat board for parents involved in all levels of the school search (they have boards not just in San Francisco, by the way....in case you are reading this in NY, DC, LA etc.). The more parents that join this site, the better as it will allow more and more information to be shared. Registration is free...Check it out by clicking here.

WSJ: Private School Regroups After Leader's Departure

This from the Wall Street Journal:
With fall classes around the corner, San Francisco's Marin Preparatory School has had a bigger challenge than most grammar institutions: coping with its headmaster's abrupt departure and losing half the incoming first-grade class to his new rival school.

So far, the resignation of Ed Walters in May appears to have had a galvanizing effect on Marin Prep. All three of the school's kindergarten teachers stayed, and the four incoming first-graders remaining from a class of a dozen have been joined by at least three new classmates. In addition to the six students who went to the rival school, two of last year's kindergarteners moved this year to schools elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Marin Prep—which started as just a single kindergarten class in 2009—now has four classes including kindergarten, "junior" kindergarten—which acts as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten in some schools—and first grade, totaling 33 students. Eventually, the school in San Francisco's Castro district plans to grow to a K-8 campus with as many as 250 students.

"The reality is a school is much more than one person," says Melinda Kanter-Levy, co-founder of the Marin Day Schools system, a company that runs preschools and child-care centers and that established Marin Prep.

Mr. Walters didn't return calls seeking comment. Officials at his new employer, the just-opened Alta Vista School in the Mission District, also didn't respond to calls and emails.

The flap at Marin Prep underscores the competitive nature of private schools in San Francisco. With many parents dissatisfied with San Francisco's public school system, many opt to put their children in private schools, creating one of the higher ratios of privately taught students in the country. Around 30% of the city's students are enrolled in private institutions versus 8% statewide, according to the California Department of Education.

That demand for private schools can lead to more new private institutions being created—and ensuing troubles like the poaching of experienced school personnel like Mr. Walters. Some schools have also complained of student prospects being poached by rivals.

Read the full story

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hot topic: Getting into immersion this year

This from a reader:
We really want immersion--either Chinese or Spanish--for our child. It's proving really hard to get into a program and we're without a school for this year at this point. Where should we wait pool? Where can we actually get in? Or maybe this shouldn't be discussed on the blog because then everyone will switch to that school? Although I find that many parents have their hearts set on one school and they're not willing to consider others. We're pretty open-minded. We just want immersion, any immersion. Also, I wonder why the district doesn't just add another immersion class? It seems so popular.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hot topic: Private school wait lists

This from a reader:
Is there movement on private school wait lists after the school year starts? Anyone get in right before or after school started?

Hot topic: Recent letters

This from a reader:
I heard that some families received letters from SFUSD with school assignments over the weekend. Did anyone get a letter? We're still waiting for our school?

Alta Vista open house

Alta Vista School welcomes families, friends and community members to our upcoming Open Houses

Saturday, Aug 14, 2010 from 10 am to 12 pm

Saturday, Aug 21, 2010 from 10 am to 12 pm

245 Valencia Street (near 14th Street)

(415) 407-2967


We are currently filling our Jr. Kindergarten, Kindergarten and First Grade classes for Fall 2010.

This is a great opportunity for families looking to place their children in an innovative, supportive and growing school community.

Financial aid is available.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

HuffPo: House Clears $26.1 Billion State-Aid Package, Dems Slam GOP Obstructionism

This just in from the Huffington Post:

The House passed a bill Tuesday afternoon providing $26.1 billion to cash-strapped state governments, and preventing roughly 161,000 teachers and 158,000 public works employees from being laid off. The vote was 247-161.

Democratic leadership has been under tremendous pressure to pass legislation before the start of the school year policy-wise, and before the November elections politics-wise.

"The frustration of course has been that the Republicans have a two-step strategy: First of all, obstruct anything from getting better, and then point out that things aren't getting better," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "I mean the bill that's being passed today, if it were passed a month ago, we wouldn't have had the job loss report last week and I think they're fine with that."

Technically, the bill provides $10 billion to fund education and $16 billion to fund Medicaid, but states have been expecting to get the federal assistance and a majority have already budgeted for it, meaning that if the funds were blocked, cuts would have to be made elsewhere -- costing the jobs of firefighters, cops and other state employees. The House was already in recess last Thursday when the Senate passed the jobs bill. But lawmakers were more than willing to sacrifice a couple of days at home in their districts to get the bill passed, according to Frank who supports the bill.

Read the full story

Friday, August 6, 2010

NY Times: Senate Passes Child Nutrition Act

This from the NY Times:

The Senate on Thursday approved a long-awaited child nutrition act that intends to feed more hungry kids and make school food more nutritious, and it provides for $4.5 billion over the next decade to make that happen.

Called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, it passed the Senate unanimously and now moves on to the House, where passage is also expected. National child nutrition programs are set to expire Sept. 30.

The legislation will expand the number of low-income children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, largely by streamlining the paperwork required to receive the meals. And it will expand a program to provide after-school meals to at-risk children.

Food sold in schools will be required to meet new nutrition guidelines, whether sold in the school lunch lines or in vending machines. Schools still may be allowed to sell pizza and other favorites, though they may have to substitute healthier ingredients to qualify.

School vending machines and à la carte lines, however, may be prohibited from selling candy bars and high-sugar sodas that have long provided revenue for extracurricular programs.

To help schools cover the costs of healthier foods, the bill provides for the first non-inflationary increase in the reimbursement rate for federal-sponsored school meals— the amount local districts are repaid by the federal government — since 1973. The increase amounts to an additional 6 cents for every meal.

Read the full story

Thursday, August 5, 2010

New student assignment system: An update from Rachel Norton

SFUSD board member Rachel Norton provides a helpful update regarding the new student assignment system on her blog. Here's an excerpt:

I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from parents on the new assignment plan, mostly centered around the planned release of the new attendance area boundaries and middle -school feeder patterns next month. In a recent meeting with district staff developing the new plan, I received some further information about how the review process for the new boundaries and feeder patterns will work:

  • The proposed list of citywide schools, draft attendance area boundaries and draft feeder patterns — as well as a proposed transportation policy — will be formally released to the public on August 18, the date of the next Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.
  • After that meeting, members of the public will have several weeks to comment on the proposed citywide schools list, the draft boundaries and feeder patterns as well as the proposed transportation policy. In addition, these proposals, draft boundaries and draft feeder patterns will be further discussed by the Board at a yet-to-be-scheduled Ad Hoc Committee meeting in early-to-mid September.
  • The citywide schools, attendance area boundaries and feeder patterns will be finalized after taking into account any public comment and Board discussion; the final version of the boundary map and feeder patterns will be released by September 28.
  • The Superintendent’s proposed transportation policy will be formally presented to the Board as an action item for final adoption at that September 28 meeting.
Read the full post here

For those with kids starting kindergarten in 2011

Details regarding SFUSD's new student assignment system are still fuzzy but little bits of news are starting to leak out. SFUSD should make the proposed attendance areas public on August 18. The board will then accept comments and release a final plan a month later. School tours will start in October, and the enrollment fair is slated for November 13. The application deadline will likely be pushed back to March 2011. Stay tuned for more details...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

SFGate: State school board adopts Common Core standards

This from SFGate:
California will toss out its current curriculum and require students to read the same textbooks and learn the same arithmetic as children in most other states, the Board of Education decided Monday.

The board unanimously adopted national academic standards to be in sync with schools across the country. So far, about 30 other states have also adopted the so-called Common Core State Standards.

The new content means discarding the standards California officials adopted about 13 years ago - standards widely considered among the best in the country.

Yet despite initial concerns that the new national academic standards would dumb down California's curriculum, state education officials said Monday that with just a few tweaks and some additional content, the new standards will give kids a stronger, more organized approach to math and English.

"The Common Core standards build upon the best of California's rigorous standards with the best of what other states and high-performing countries offer their students," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. "They are designed to be relevant to the real world, and reflect the knowledge and skills that students need for success in college and work."

Update from SFUSD's Student Nutrition Committee

This from the SFUSD Student Nutrition & Physical Activity Committee:

As students head back to school, there is good news on the school lunch front. All lunches served in the SFUSD now meet the Gold Standard of the USDA's Healthier US Schools Challenge. Meals will include more dark green and orange vegetables, such as spinach, sweet potatoes, collards, and broccoli, and more legumes. Brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain breads will continue. Even the breadcrumbs on the ever-popular chicken nuggets will be whole grain - and the chicken is made from whole pieces of breast meat, not "chopped and formed" dark meat, and baked, not fried. More varieties of fresh fruit will be available as well as a few more choices of cut up fruit (in its own juice, never syrup.) More salad bars will open at the few middle and high schools which don't already have one. The middle and high school salad bars will have added choices, including corn and beans daily. Schools without salad bars will see installation of a dome covered server for fresh leafy greens right in the lunch line, and a wider variety of fresh raw vegetables changing daily. Beginning in October, all schools will offer new entrée choices featuring more whole grains, legumes, and dark green/orange vegetables.

At the middle and high schools, the old system, which provided cafeteria service of government-reimbursed meals in one line and other a la carte selections available for purchase in a different line, has been eliminated. The new system offers more choices, all of which are available to all students, including low-income students who receive free lunch. All items are now sold as complete meals, which under federal requirements means they are all now available to students who qualify for free lunch. Students may select traditional cafeteria options with a salad bar, or choose from options like freshly made sandwiches, rice bowls, pizza or bagel with sun butter. All entree items will include vegetables, fruit, and milk for $3, or free to low-income students.

Of course, all of this better food comes at a cost. Studies show that healthier food costs more than junk food, and that the price difference is increasing

In addition, new federal regulations are expected to require that paid meals not be priced below the amount the government provides as reimbursement for a free meal. As a result, the price for paid lunch will now be $3 at all levels; breakfast price will remain at $1.50 and adult meals also will not increase ($2. for breakfast and $3.50 for lunch.)

SFUSD families may now prepay for students' cafeteria meals – by the month, by the week or on their own schedule. The new MealpayPlus program allows families to register at www.mealpayplus.com and conveniently prepay by credit card, debit card or electronic check online or by phone. MealpayPlus speeds up service in the cafeteria and eliminates the need for kids to carry lunch money to school. Families may also pay by check or cash at school, or may choose to send checks by mail. MealpayPlus also allows families, including those who qualify for free meals, to view their students' history of cafeteria purchases. You will need your student's ID number or H0 number, which is found on report cards and other school materials, or may be obtained from your school office.

Hot topic: New Catholic school standards

This from a reader:
The Catholic elementary schools will be required to meet new and stricter standards for teaching Catholic religion in order to be/remain accredited starting this school year. Does anyone know what the impact is on curriculum?


Hot topic: Parents who hold out for private schools (while holding onto highly coveted spaces at public schools)

This from a reader:
I thought I'd suggest a hot topic, or at least one that makes me really hot and not in a good way.

It is the topic of parents using highly coveted public school slots as a holding space for their child until they get into the private school of their dreams. Perhaps you have already covered this, but I'm so steamed as an involved 1st grade parent of an up and coming school with a language immersion program.

We have several such parents coming in and it amazes me that they can sit right next to their fellow preschool/neighbor parents who are wait listed or got a general ed slot instead of their hoped for immersion program. I've heard "...well, what do you really think of so-and-so teacher, and their after school program, (yadayada)? Hmmm, If we could just get the word from Live Oak since they keep asssuring us that we are first on the list...THAT is really our 1st choice."

Worse, are the ones ready to go into an immersion program for ONE OR TWO YEARS, until they can get the better chance of their preferred private school!! This totally eliminates an immersion slot for the entire K-5! Our schools need committed parents...

NY Times: Educators Are Opposed to Obama’s School Plan

This is a June story from the NY Times:
When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced last week that California was submitting a new bid for hundreds of millions of dollars in financing under President Obama’s education initiative, Race to the Top, he could not resist a Hollywood joke.

The school superintendents who prepared the bid deserved an Oscar “for the great performance in putting this together,” he said, thanking several by name, including Carlos A. Garcia, the San Francisco superintendent.

“It’s supported just about by everybody,” Mr. Schwarzenegger added.

That, too, was meant to be a joke.

Over the past few months, educators, the teachers unions and lawmakers have clashed so bitterly regarding the changes tied to Race to the Top that state officials privately say the weakened bid stands at best a 50-50 chance of gaining approval — and a sorely needed $700 million — from Washington.

The Bay Area has been at the center of this fight. Mr. Garcia had to be prodded into joining the bid by Ramon C. Cortines, the Los Angeles schools superintendent, and even now he continues to openly criticize a federal program that he hopes will send $20 million to the San Francisco Unified School District, which is facing a $113 million deficit.

Mr. Garcia has said he objects to both the stringent standards and to Mr. Obama’s execution of Race to the Top, which aims to overhaul the nation’s public schools by awarding money based on several conditions, including tying teacher salaries to student performance, abolishing teacher tenure and expanding charter schools. Many of the programs’ critics, including Mr. Garcia, say it is a strong-armed approach similar to the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy.

“We’re tired of all that stuff,” Mr. Garcia said. “Even if we get the money, I’m not sure if we can implement all of that.”

Mr. Garcia’s dilemma — he disagrees with the policy, but badly needs the money — is shared by many other strapped superintendents. But his perspective is unique to the Bay Area, where growing discontent among progressives over Mr. Obama’s brand of liberalism is reflected in resistance to his administration’s education policy, which has been forcefully articulated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Read the full story

SFGate: Taking the stress out of San Francisco kindergarten admissions

This from SFGate:
San Francisco residents Rich Peterson and wife Tanya Peterson visited a dozen elementary schools - a mix of public and private - in search of just the right place for their daughter, Avery. None of the schools seemed right.

The Petersons wanted a mainstream school, but also one that would be attentive to Avery, who had a history of seizures. That's when they turned to Betsy Little and Paula Molligan to help them navigate the Bay Area's daunting kindergarten admissions process.

"We met with them, they listened to us talk about our daughter, and as we were talking, they looked at each other and said at the exact same time, 'Marin Primary,' " recalled Rich Peterson. "It was a school we hadn't even considered. It is a mainstream school, but one that turned out to be just perfect for her."

These days, coaches like Little and Molligan are gaining in popularity, part of a cottage industry that has sprung up around getting kids ready for kindergarten placement. It's an industry that includes tutoring, boot camps, assessment programs, checklists and guides.

Based in San Rafael, Little and Molligan specialize in providing admission counseling for families trying to find the right preschool, primary or secondary school. Both women have master's degrees in education, and both have worked in private schools - Little as an admissions director and Molligan as teacher and head of a school. And they are the authors of "Private K-8 Schools of San Francisco & Marin," a book that is often heavily earmarked and riddled with sticky notes by parents. (A new edition of the book is due out early this month.)

Their services range from hourly consultations (at $400 an hour) to a year's contract, offering unlimited time to families during "admissions season," which runs from March through March. (Letters of acceptance are sent out the second or third Thursday in March.)

With too many applicants vying for too few spots, the process of getting into a private kindergarten is generally considered torturous. There are school tours and parent interviews, coffees and cocktails. There is the dreaded drop-off of children to be assessed by admission directors for things such as writing of one's first and last name (correct capitalization required), shaking hands and making eye contact, and drawing a three-dimensional self-portrait.

"We actually try to dispel the anxiety around assessment," said Little. "We also try to get people to think outside the box, and to apply to between five and seven schools."

They also urge parents to think carefully about the costs of going private, noting that there are high-quality public and parochial schools. Tuition at private primary schools runs as much as $24,750 a year, and it can cost more than $33,000 at private secondary schools, bringing the total of a kindergarten through 12th-grade private school education to around $400,000.

"This is after-tax, nondeductible money," said Molligan. "If it's going to be a huge sacrifice to send the child to private school, we say, 'Don't feel compelled. There are lots of options.' "