Friday, April 8, 2011
Do Folks Really Want Smaller Grade Middle Schools In SF?
As our quest for a middle school for our special ed son Ben continues, I wanted to report on a meeting that I and other parents attended last night at Gateway. I think it is important because it speaks volumes about something that has concerned me about the state of middle school public school education in San Francisco. At the meeting, over 50 parents crowded into Gateway's Library to hear about our likelihood of getting off Gateway's wait list. Gateway principal Sharon Olken reported the news that, not only had nearly 300 parents applied for Gateway's new middle school, but, of the over 100 who had been offered enrollment, virtually all had accepted. So many in fact that Gateway is now projecting that only a handful of folks from the waitlist (which is now above 50) will likely get actual offers. Of course, we walked out of the meeting completely crushed. But I then stepped back and thought about the bigger implications of these numbers. Granted that Gateway Middle has a parent entity that has created a successful high school, but where else would a charter -- (1) that is completely new and untested; (2) that is going to have to move in the next two or three years as it runs out of room at its most likely location for next year (Muir Elementary); and (3) that offers no guarantee of admission to its better established high school -- be so wildly popular? And it seems to me patently obvious that this success is at least in part evidence of how much public school parents in San Francisco desperately want more smaller-grade middle schools. Principal Olken candidly admitted her astonishment at this turn of events. Even SFUSD itself, in its plans to redesign the assignment system for middle schools, is now recognizing that something is going wrong at the middle school level -- academic achievement starts to stall at the middle school level. And I see articles about efforts by other large school districts elsewhere in the country to experiment with different kinds of middle school options, including opening up more smaller grade middle schools (both charter and traditional public) as well as trying out "school within a school" models. Yet the reality here is starkly different: San Francisco offers few traditional small grade public middle school options that are extremely difficult to get into at the middle school level and only four middle school charters (one of which -- Edison -- it has recently sought to have shut down). And while SFUSD recognizes a problem at the middle school level, it appears to believe that the issue can be solved solely through rearranging which students go to which of the large middle schools. So, I ask a question that my fellow blogger Donna raised herself in a post last month -- how can SFUSD better improve academic outcomes at the middle school level? And I would posit that, at least in the view of many public school parents, the answer may be more small-grade middle school options.