Sunday, August 28, 2011

Messages from SFUSD EPC

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO FAMILIES WHO HAVE SUBMITTED CHOICES FOR THE AUGUST PLACEMENT PERIOD

If you have submitted a request for an assignment for the August Placement Period and have not yet received a telephone call or an assignment letter in the mail, your requests will stay active until September 9.

If your child is able to receive an assignment into one of your requested schools at any time between now and September, your child will lose his or her present assignment of a school and must switch schools immediately. There will be no opportunity to return to his or her present school assignment.

If you are satisfied with your present school, and do not want to make a change, or do not want to participate in the August Placement Period, please contact the Educational Placement Center to cancel your request by e-mail by sending a message to EnrollinSchool@ sfusd.edu to cancel your request. You may also FAX in a written cancellation to 415-241-6087. Do not cancel by telephone. Please include your child's name, birthdate, grade and present school in all requests.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Guest post: The importance of differentiated learning

Let's say you're a parent with reasonably intelligent kids who you expect will do well to very well in school. Let's say you've read to them and discussed with them and explained things to them and exposed them to myriad educational opportunities as toddlers.

Let's also say that they speak English fairly well, whether or not that's the language you speak at home.

Let's not think about what color you are, what color they are, or how much money you make or don't make.

Say this child of yours is now four-years-old and will be old enough to enter Kindergarten next year. Which means you, dear San Francisco parent, are beginning the Great Kindergarten Hunt.
You will have heard harrowing stories about this Hunt, stories that make you quail in fear, along with some great stories of how Everything Worked Out Just Fine.

All those stories are true.

Here, then, is one suggestion for a way to look at possible schools in San Francisco. It should fit for both public and private though I'm writing it with public schools in mind.

The issue for you, a parent with a child who you have good reason to expect will perform well in school, is to find a school that will meet your child's educational needs. It doesn't have to be a school where all or even some of the children look like your child, or live near your child, or have or don't have the things your child has. For this thought experiment, you're just looking for a school that's going to meet your child's educational needs.

I'm going to make the case that the most important thing you need to look at in the schools you consider is not test scores, nor socio-economics nor race nor location (beyond what you can reasonably get your child to morning after morning after morning.)

The most important thing to consider in your child's school is how well the teachers differentiate learning and how much the school's administration supports them in doing so.

Why? Because in every class there exists a range of student abilities. Your child will fall somewhere within that range. The key for you it to find a school where the teachers know how to and do address the learning needs of all the children, rather than using a one-size-fits-all curriculum that may or may not fit your child's needs.

The one caveat to this is if you find a school that runs with a one-size-fits-all curriculum but it happens to be exactly where your child is. If you do, well done and sign up immediately.

If you don't, your job is to find a school where whatever the classroom make up of students, your child will get teaching that is at their level and allows them to stay engaged and learning.

Here's why this is a useful question to ask: The San Francisco Unified School District is committed to two things (well, it's committed to lots of things, but these are two biggies):

- Bringing up the achievement of the lowest performing students
- Integrating schools socioeconomically, academically and racially

The issue for parents with kids coming in at an already fairly high level of achievement (for whatever reason) is that they'll get assigned to a school where none of the other kids are at their child's level, and the entire focus of the school is on bringing the struggling kids up, thus putting their child in a situation where what's being taught is stuff they already know.

As one mom put it, "What do I do about a school assignment where Kindergarten is all about Alpha Buddies (learning the alphabet) and my son can already read?"

But rather than getting caught up in the perennial San Francisco arguments about whether it's racist or classist or evil or just fine to want your kid to be in a school where a goodly proportion of the kids in their class will come from that same background, you can change the equation.

You do that by ignoring test scores at that school for anyone but kids who have had the same kinds of opportunities your child has had. You do that by ignoring people who tell you your kid can't learn in a class with whiat kids or poor kids or Spanish speaking kids or Black kids or Chinese kids.

You embrace diversity and you're thrilled your child will get to have friends of every sort.
What you care about, and what you focus should be on in the school tours you'll soon be embarking on, is asking about how the school administration and the teachers makes sure to meet the needs of all children, not just the struggling ones (whether they're white, black, Chinese, Latino or some happy blend.)

What won't work for you is hearing "Oh, your child will do fine anywhere," or "We support all our students." You want actual evidence of how they do it, and a strong, expressed, commitment to the concept.

The good news is that there are a lot of San Francisco schools, both public and private, that do this and do it pretty well. Which opens up your list of schools wider than it might not have been.

The bad news is that there are also some schools that don't do this well. Some are so busy working to bring up struggling kids (an important and laudable goal) that they simply haven't had time to think about other kids and don't really pay much attention to them when they arrive. At some other the administration or some of the teachers are ideologically opposed to the notion that kids who are working at a higher academic level also deserve to have a strong and challenging educational experience.

Your job as a parent looking for a Kindergarten, is to find out which schools are which. When you do, you'll hopefully have a larger list of possible schools to apply to than you might have previously.

Or at least you'll have a strong sense of what you need to lobby the Board of Education about next time they're up for reelection.

So parents with kids in school already, what schools out there do both of these things well:

- Support struggling students
- Differentiate so that students working at or above grade level also have a strong educational program?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Are you still waiting for a school?

Most parents have landed their children in a school by now and that's wonderful news. But there are still many who are hoping to get a call from SFUSD this week or who are on private and parochial school wait list. This forum is a place for those parents and for those parents with a past history of navigating this difficult situation. Let's please stay on focus in this post and not veer into other topics. Some readers have requested that I turn off registration so parents waiting for an assignment can freely talk.

Monday, August 15, 2011

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 several 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. It would also be great to get help with moderating comments. As always, the SF K Files goes to great lengths to keep bloggers fully anonymous.

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

Congratulations to all the kids who started school today!

The first day of public school in San Francisco is always a little bittersweet. The parents of those kids who have a spot are always elated but it's always frustrating for those who are still trying to get into their favorite school. Our heart goes out to those of you who are still grappling with the system and all we can say is that it usually works out in the end and hang in there. And to those who started school today (or who returned), congratulations! Here's to another year!