Friday, October 21, 2011

Ask NOT what your middle school can do for you. Ask what YOU can do for your middle school!

Well, it has been several years since the District began touting "Quality Middle Schools for All." For the past year, it was the slogan for the middle school feeder proposal.

Now, all is quiet on the Western front. Who’s minding the store? Is anything happening to improve middle schools?

Do you have a story (or two) to share with SF K Files readers that shows how the District has been working towards improving your child's middle school over the past year?

- Donna


  1. Donna, I don't think SFUSD has had a middle school initiative going on several years and I've never heard it referred to as the Quality Middle Schools for All Initiative. We called Prop H Quality Neighborhood Schools for All, but that's a different thing.

  2. Quality Middle Schools Initiative is a fancy title for aprocess in it's infancy. There is no set plan of action, no goals and no timeline. In other words nothing to see here people, move along, move along.

  3. Donna, I am glad you are bringing this back to everyone's attention. SFUSD seemed so enamored of its assignment redo that it seems to have forgotten. Let's recap: there is virtual consensus that something is going terribly wrong at the middle school level. Test scores plummet; kids start to fall through the cracks. A couple of years ago the New York Times ran a series on how virtually every major metropolitan school district was looking into creative solutions. Schools within schools. New programs. New teaching methodologies. Out school district instead spent a wad of money on a redo of it's assignment system instead. What a crime against the kids!

  4. Thank you Donna! The district seems to have conflated "middle school assignment" with "Quality Middle Schools for All" as if assigning children differently will miraculously improve all middle schools. The same people who were in charge of the middle school feeder plan are now in charge of improving middle schools, so I'm not holding my breath on any great improvements.

    What would I do to improve middle school?

    -- Ensure access to arts enrichment in every middle school , including visual art, dance, band & orchestra at every school.

    -- Allow general ed students to take a language (currently only immersion students have access to language instruction)

    -- Whether or not you call it "honors", there needs to be some differentiation in math instruction so that kids who need extra help get it, and kids who have already mastered grade level material can proceed to the next level. Academically prepared middle schoolers should be have access to algebra and geometry at every school, not just those on the west side. Integrate available tools such as Khan Academy, ALECKS, etc for maximum student success to address knowledge gaps within the classroom.

    --Offer more intramural sports at lunch time, since extracurricular sports are so limited by budget constraints (one coed soccer team per school!!)

    Some schools are too small to offer all these programs without additional funding, but if that's what's needed to keep our kids engaged and learning, then the district needs to find a way to re-allocate resources to make it happen. Either that or combine smaller schools to make a better quality experience.

    Middle school is a critical make it or break it time for a lot of kids and we need to make sure more kids are making it.

  5. Although parents didn't get actively involved in the District's fiasco given the misnomer "Quality Middle Schools" until 2009, when the Diatrict tried to ramrod a new feeder proposal through the BOE, it was supposedly being kicked around for a few years before that. Parents were able to delay implementation for a year, but could not stop the train.

    For those who don't know about the Quality Middle School initiative or if you are curious and want to know more, go to and put "Quality Middle School" in the key word search at the top of the page. You won't get access to the materials from 2009, but you will get links to a few presentations from Spring 2011.

    I will be interested to hear how the District and BOE are improving middle schools, based on all the "research" and feedback that they collected over the past two years. From what I can tell, the whole thing was a scam, to cover up their ill-conceived K-8 feeder pathways, and parents, faculty, and staff are expected to improve the middle schools without State or District funding.

  6. @6:23 " parents, faculty, and staff are expected to improve the middle schools without State or District funding" consider the nail hit squarely on it's head but let's not forget the other handicaps of the feeder plan: the creation of nearly homogenous racial and socio economic student bodies and the even more insiduous grouping of mid to low performing ES's into low performing middles. Yeah that's got success written all over it.


    "Aptos is being asked to create a Mandarin Secondary Dual Language Pathway for students arriving from the immersion programs at Starr King and Jose Ortega feeder schools. This program will be open to students who have graduated from an elementary Mandarin immersion program, and to native speakers of Mandarin. Next year, there will be just one class of 33 6th graders, but the program will expand over time.

    One question is whether Aptos will be funded for a “zero period” to accommodate this program, which needs an additional period for Mandarin language arts. This would allow Mandarin pathway students to take electives such as music and art classes. Mr. Dent said if there is a zero period for the immersion students, then that period should be also be funded for the rest of the students at the school. For students who currently do not get electives (for example, English-language learners and those in intervention programs), it would provide an elective; everyone else would get two. Zero period funding is something for which we will need to advocate (NOTE: this sentence was underlined in the newsletter).

    Another issue is that the five feeder schools alone will not provide enough enrollment to maintain Aptos at our ideal range of 1000-1100 students—numbers that allow us to fund our librarian, our band and orchestra, and much else. We will need to figure out how to recruit the numbers of students that we need, while also honoring the spirit of the new system and making our core feeder schools feel warmly welcomed. We will also need to work on integrating all the educational strands at Aptos into one strong community.

    Mr. Dent is pulling together a task force of administrators, teachers and parents to study these issues and to draft a six-year plan for Aptos (NOTE: this sentence was underlined in the newsletter). The task force will require a significant time commitment to meetings, but will be very important for this transition. Anyone who is interested in serving on this group should contact Mr. Dent."

    In closing, let me make it clear that I am happy to welcome the Mandarin students and their families into our school community. My beef is with the District's poor planning and lack of responsibility for their mandates. In the end, the BOE bears some responsibility too, because they allowed the District to proceed with the K-8 feeders with "no set plan of action, no goals, and no timeline" (as was mentioned by 10:58 PM), and to which I will add "no budget"!

  8. Part 1: My children are enrolled at Aptos, and I have concerns regarding the District's approach to creating Quality Middle Schools (or NOT). Below is an excerpt from the Aptos school newsletter, which shows what it means to change one of the top-requested General Education middle schools into a Mandarin Secondary Dual Language middle school. This requirement to change occurred last year, as part of the District's Quality Middle School initiative. It occurred without consulting the school community about feasibility and interest or considering the consequences of implementation and funding. When reading the newsletter, one realizes immediately that the District is noticeably absent in the planning for and funding of the changes that are necessary to accommodate a language pathway. The principal is soliciting "administrators, teachers and draft a six-year plan for Aptos. The task force will require a significant time commitment to meetings..." (Yes, parents, yet again, bearing the brunt of school reform and providing free labor to do the dirty work to cover up the District's incompetence). Why isn't is the District accountable for their decisions? Why do parents need to "advocate" to fund another period? Isn't it ironic that the District is turning an 1000+ student school upside down and inside out to accommodate language pathways, when the District is already almost bankrupt and Aptos is significantly underfunded by District standards (Aptos has among the lowest per pupil funding in the District). Since the District is strapped for cash, would it have made more sense financially to put new language pathways in middle schools that were already funded for zero period, allowing these students the full spectrum of electives? Do we need to bake and sell thousands and thousands of cupcakes to cover up the District's missteps? Lastly, and most importantly, note that the proposed K-8 feeder schools might result in under enrollment at Aptos with the possible loss of funding for "the librarian, our band and orchestra, and much else." Basically, all the things that attracted families to Aptos in the first place! All the things that parents said defined a "Quality Middle School." Muchas gracias Garcia! Is this how you are dismantling Quality Middle Schools in San Francisco?

  9. Apologies. My comment was too long, so I had to submit in two parts. For some reason, Parts 1 and 2 were published out of sequence, but you can get the gist even if you read in reverse order.

  10. 6:23,

    I have been saying for some time that that the Quality Middle School Initiative is a PR scam. They haven't done anything to rectify some of the glaring disparities between schools but they went ahead with the feeders anyway. It is the blind Board leading the blind administration and the blind parents who are starting to get religion.

  11. We have a board of ed that is entirely too concerned with getting along well with the administration, even where the administration and staff appear to lack any strategic vision or even competence. The BOE gives what appears to be obsequious deference to staff. At the same time they diss or outright ignore the concerns and hand work of parents.

    The real problem is vision -- the district has none, other than "we can't."

  12. A number of parochial schools see a bump in enrollment in 6th grade, even if their K-5 classes are not full and they offer fewer electives and extracurricular activities than comprehensive public middle schools. These posts make it clear why. Parochial school may be plain vanilla (and I mean facilities and bells and whistles, not race--many parochial schools are a lot less white than public schools like Grattan and Clarendon) but parents see sound academics, relatively affordable tuition, and a safe place for their kids to pass through puberty.

  13. Regarding the plan to change Aptos Middle School to a Dual Language Mandarin Immersion middle school:

    You can thank Beth Weise, Amy Graff, Rachel Norton and the others, for ruining the gen-ed program at Aptos.

    Beth, Amy, Rachel: Stratford School should send you a personal thank you, as I'm sure their proposed middle school will soon be bursting at the seams.

    Hey folks, voucher time can't be too far off.

  14. 8:48

    Oh for heaven's sake. I'm a current Aptos parent. I wonder if you have ever stepped foot on our school property. I would like the MI parents at Starr King and Ortega to know that this attitude is NOT representative of current administration and parent leadership. Nothing has been "ruined" and nothing will be. We welcome you and your children. We know we are starting with just one classroom of Mandarin immersion next year and we have time to figure out a lot of things.

    I'm not saying that everything is rainbows and unicorns. It's true that the district did not ask us what we wanted or needed in middle school improvements. It's true that we are very low funded for a school that is quite mixed in terms of need (more ELL and free lunch qualified kids than Presidio, for example, but with less funding). It's true that there will be changes in our schedule because of the MI program and that some teachers may get bumped for BCLAD certified teachers, and that has caused some anxiety. And it is true that we would like to get zero period (as was promised at one point by SFUSD leadership)--and that it is pretty clear we'll have to fight for that. So yes, there are issues that we have to deal with.

    But ruined? No way. We are working hard to build a great middle school. And we welcome our feeder school families.

    Who writes divisive stuff like that? I'm no pollyanna about the process the district has put us through, or about the work ahead of us. But attacking hard-working parents (mothers) by name and then declaring our GE ruined -- a year before anything has even started -- that takes a mean streak. It is also very far from the reality I am hearing and seeing at the actual school site. We have good leadership and we intend this to continue.

  15. I agree with 9:37 that 8:48's comments are entirely out of line.

    The Mandarin Immersion program and families are welcomed by most Aptos families. There is legitimate concern by Mandarin and GE families alike about how this will affect the school programmatically. For reasons even the district can't explain, Aptos has the lowest per pupil funding of any middle school, and the district has not added any funding to pay for this new program. But the principal, site council and interested parents and teachers are coming together to work these things out.

    Aptos may need to go back to the district with a plan, and may need to push hard for additional funding to accommodate the Mandarin immersion students need for an extra period of language instruction. It is essential that Aptos be able to continue offering great electives to all students. My opinion is that the easiest and fairest way to incorporate this new program without weakening existing programs is to add a zero period.

    James Lick offers 7 periods, but the second "elective" for general ed students is a bit of a sham (it's basically whatever they can get math/science teachers to teach, without giving the teachers any budget or materials.) I'm not convinced that 7 periods is the answer, unless it goes along with a budget to hire extra teachers to teach high-quality electives such as a second language to the general ed students.

    Focusing narrowly on a zero period would be the most cost-effective and least disruptive way to ensure that all students at Aptos continue to get a great education. And I have every confidence that the school will come together find a solution that works for everyone.

  16. ^^^ Well said. There is work to be done at Aptos to make this transition, including planning and so alpushing the district for resources that we do not have now. There is also good will and a spirit of welcome; I believe the principal is already in contact with the feeder schools. I don't know how other middle schools are doing in terms of planning for their transition to the new feeder model, but Aptos is trying to get a jump on it. 8:48 seems to be trying to start a fight between different groups of parents, and that is not mode we're in at Aptos.

  17. I would just point out that it was the District, not parents, who decided the feeder patterns.
    I'm pretty sure there were parents from all the feeder schools that are coming to Aptos next year at the Aptos PTA meeting a week ago. We all want to get involved and do what we can to make the transition smooth.
    SFUSD sets stuff up, we all try to make the best of it we can.
    We're excited about becoming part of the Aptos community. And we know that most parents there are looking forward to all of us from the feeder schools coming onboard.

  18. 8:48 has started an anti-China blog to spew her hate. I hope she takes the troll and his sock puppets with her.

  19. VOTE NO on PROP H.

  20. Instead of trying to fund a 7th period for 1100 students to accommodate a mere 33 students, is it possible to add Mandarin as one of the year-long electives in a regular 6-period day, in lieu of band or orchestra? The Mandarin elective could be offered at different levels of proficiency (beginner, intermediate, advanced, immersion, and so on). Incoming immersion students could continue their immersion, and GE students would have a language elective if they so desired. Win-win.

    - MiddleSchoolMom

  21. MiddleSchoolMom, thanks for the suggestion. For a number of reasons, it is not that simple. Not simple to find enough qualified teachers. Not simple to schedule classes (especially since the immersion kids will need to be taught two classes, Mandarin language arts and social studies, in Mandarin). Not simple in terms of what that might mean to the band and orchestra, i.e., the numbers they would need to maintain themselves.

    The ideal would be a full 7th period so that all (well, most) kids could have access to both an arts elective and a 2nd language. (Most because some kids are still in extra English language support or in intervention classes.) We're not holding our breath. But a zero period could be cost-effective and also cost less disruption to the rest of the schedule, especially the arts programs.

    As a parent, I have to say that I don't understand all the issues, just that there are various constraints to what may seem like solutions that have been raised, but I know the administration and teachers are working hard to figure it out. We are all committed to keeping and building a great middle school as one community and to welcoming all the kids next year. The work to figure it all out is already underway.

  22. "Aptos is significantly underfunded by District standards (Aptos has among the lowest per pupil funding in the District). " WTH is going on here? Why is this middle school in particular underfunded? Is this even legal? It seems to me that the majority of parents, teachers and admin. at Aptos are more than pulling their weight and doing so with grace and good cheer. Now they also expected to fund the SFUSD's programming decisions? Too much. Advocate nothing. Time for lawsuits and revolution people. I'll bring the cupcakes.

  23. The district definitely needs to explain the Aptos funding situation ASAP so the school can move forward with planning for the new Mandarin immersion program.

    My understanding is that Aptos is receiving less per pupil funding that demographically similar schools such as Hoover and Giannini. This makes no sense on the face of it, but in any case, transparency dictates that the district be able to clearly explain the difference in per pupil funding at various schools.

  24. I wish that the middle school that my kids are feeding into was as proactive as Aptos at dealing with the realities of the new feeder system. I have contacted the school (Denman) to ask questions about establishing an honors track. Study after study shows that in the era of No Child Left Behind, a disproportionate amount of teachers' energy and resources go to helping the lowest performing students. And the kids who are doing okay or above grade level tend to be short changed.

    If there is an honors track for math and english language arts, then this is less of a concern for me. However it has been nearly impossible to get any information on whether there is the possibility of establishing an honors track at the middle school by kids are being fed into.

    I've attended a school site council meeting and the principal says it is up to the district. Getting a response from the district has been nightmarish. E-mails to Jeannie Pon are not returned unless you cc members of the board. And then the answers are completely uninformative. Basically just a rehash of the middle school assignment policy or explaining the quality middle schools initiative.

    My take on this extremely frustrating situation is that if you are feeding into one of the less popular schools and want honors for your kid, you are simply out of luck. I feel like my child is being discriminated against. There are schools in the district that have programs that would be suitable for him, but he is not allowed access into those programs.

  25. @ 8:59, you raise an interesting point, one that has come up before, namely do the state and federal laws & mandates that cover SPED cover GATE ? It can be argued that learning differences by definition embrace the entire spectrum of academic challenges and that a child whose lack of access to accelerated classes is being denied an appropriate education, challenged and gifted being two sides of the same coin ( and often the same child). It certainly bears further thought.

  26. 8:59 AM:

    "My take on this extremely frustrating situation is that if you are feeding into one of the less popular schools and want honors for your kid, you are simply out of luck."

    I can't speak to the situation at Denman, but I did have a close look at the math scores at Lick a few months ago, another school that doesn't seem to be delivering on California curriculum middle school math standards.

    It's clear that school SF administrators don't have the intention of directing schools to deliver on state middle school math standards.

    From time to time, I've stumbled on teacher hiring posts by the SFUSD for middle and high school. Their focus is on *not* having any honors tracking in middle and high school. Only those staff that commit to this philosophy are being hired now.

    Without walking into the political minefield of whether or not there should be tracking, I will say that test scores indicate that, tracking or not, most middle schools are not delivering on California's math standards.

    Save your energy.

    Your best bet would be to start couching your child now in math, yourself. Take them to the Exploratorium for science exposure. If you can afford it, enroll your child in an afterschool enriched math program. I can't recommend any of these, as yet, but I will be looking into some of them on my blog at some point.


  27. PART I
    Thanks for the other Aptos parents posting on this thread. I’m happy to see more vocal advocacy from middle school parents - keep it up as much, much more is needed!

    Despite repeated attempts from the Aptos SSC, principal, and myself (Lorraine Woodruff-Long) for two years in a row we have not been able to get an explanation from the SFUSD administration on why Aptos is funded $100 less per pupil in our WSF than our most similar school, Hoover. Hoover has fewer students in number AND percentage that are ELL, special ed, and low socioeconomic students. But Aptos get’s $3800 and Hoover gets $3900 (closest I can recall) per pupil.

    Aptos receives the lowest per pupil funding of any middle school - but no one at the district will tell us how or why since, according to the districts' own WSF priorities, we should be getting more.

    For two years, this has amounted to $100,000 less in revenue every year. This was exacerbated by the 2011-12 loss of Title I funds amounting to $200,000 per year.

    I personally have been involved in or copied on at least 8 different conversations or emails to either Jeannie Pon, district administration, and/or BOE members over the past 2 years, pointing the situation out and asking for it to be checked out or explained.

    The typical response when I have spoken to someone has been a scratch of the head and a response of "Hmm. Yes, that doesn't seem right" --- but it stops there and emails go unanswered. To my knowledge, there has been no follow up to emails on questions sent from the principal or from me pm the subject.

    Most important is how the $100,000 annual shortfall affects reality in the classroom: Most kids are in classes of 35-37 kids. This includes those same ELL, and low socioeconomic kids that lost Title I funding who suffer most greatly

    Last year our PTA raised a “whopping” $33,000 for our 1000 student school (a 50% increase over the prior year.) We launched a paper drive because there was NO MONEY FOR PAPER. This year, fundraising has become an even higher urgency for the PTA and principal.

    Important to note: In SFUSD, Title I dollars serving ELL, low SES, etc. do not follow the kids. The district chooses to use an averaging system that ends up concentrating dollars at schools (usually smaller) that have higher percentages -- but notably not actual NUMBERS -- of Title I students. Last time I looked, the majority of students in SFUSD qualifying for Title I dollars are NOT enrolled schools that GET those Title I dollars. The majority of students that need these funds do not receive these dollars that come to SFUSD and are supposed to be used to benefit them.

    But…back to the issue of Aptos getting $100 less per pupil in WSF: I was told through the grapevine that the district administration did start checking to it an there appeared to be a problem with the Weighted Student Formula for Aptos. As of the beginning of the school year, no one had mentioned it to our principal and as far as I know, we are now entering the third year of being underfunded in our WSF compared to similar large schools like Hoover, Giannini, Presidio

    Smaller schools such as Horace Mann or Everett get almost THREE TIMES as much in WSF funding per pupil than the schools noted above – this is not the issue for me (although it WOULD be good to see, really, how such high dollar amounts result in better results for the most disadvantaged kids. The principal at Horace Mann told me himself that he had staff practically tripping over themselves because of such high resources.)

  28. PART II
    How can we find out details/formulas of how WSF dollars are allocated? And when was the last time they were reviewed? I believe I was on the last WSF committee meeting which was in 2006. If there is indeed no Aptos WSF allocation problem - fine. But we get no response, no answer and it certainly appears that it’s just being ignored.

    But these problems or errors – if they are indeed that – affect the ability of our school to do its job educating all children and closing the achievement gap.

    When Carlos Garcia joined the district in 2007, he publicly spoke to parents a great deal about schools that are “succeeding not because of -- but despite -- the district administration.” I know there are many who post here who were in those discussions.

    Now in my 4th year as a middle school parent, it certainly appears that Aptos represents a school that crawls forward “despite and not because of” the district administration.

    Aptos isn’t perfect and certainly has its own issues to face (but I think the principal leadership under Dent the past two years has been excellent in trying to address these.) And I certainly am not aware of all things that happen at Aptos or the district. But being a SFUSD middle school SSC chair and PTA president has really made me see first hand how often the district administration doesn't appear pull their end of the deal to help us at the site level.

  29. When the district doesn't respond, go "higher", complain to the California Department of Education. If you want information, do formal FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. All that information is supposed to be a matter of public record.

  30. 6:48

    It's a good idea to go higher, but the bigger question is why won't the district figure this out? It's been pointed out to them numerous times, by the principals and school board they are supposed to be serving. If they don't have the ability to figure this out and fix it, that's a big problem. Why are they not being held accountable?

  31. 5:13

    If you want to know more about the Weighted Student Formula and the weights themselves check it out here:

    You can look on the individual school budgets which are posted on the SFUSD website under the annual budget and you can see the funding source.

  32. Vote Yes on Prop A and Prop H.

  33. The principal of my daughter's ES has met with the principal of the feeder MS, along with principals of other feeding ES's. They are having regular meetings throughout the year.

    I bet this is happening with all MS's and ES's. Ask your principal at your next PTA meeting.

  34. Great that your ES principal gets to do this.
    However, I just wish teachers WITHIN all middle schools would talk with each other - that doesn't happen.

    Also, I know that ES parent are trying to get involved in MS that have historically low parent involvement and are being ignored or rebuffed. The district sold the MS feeder idea to the BOE on the premise that parents could get involved earlier - what a crock!

    The district feeder plan completely misses the the real issue: SFUSD has not, and is not, doing anything to improve middle school quality. They haven't since Garcia came, and this crock of a feeder plan idea as a solution to anything (it was a made up problem to begin with) is bogus.

  35. Let's not forget that the MS feeder plan was launched when they said it could only be done with a funded 7th period.

    I personally heard a district rep say parents could help fundraise for it, when asked how it might be paid for.

    Aptos is only asking for what they were promised when the idea was floated - but the district hasn't come through.

    SFUSD administration really has no idea how their "plans" impact students on the ground. Get a clue.

  36. 10:52
    What middle school are you speaking of (not allowing parent involvement)?

  37. Vote NO on Prop H, even those on the radio this morning who supposedly supported Prop H said that they "wouldn't send THEIR kids to their neighborhood school".
    That speaks volumes, doesn't it?

  38. OMG. That's too funny.

  39. I took that comment by Mr. Khalif to mean certain schools need some equity before they are ready. That is the same problem the SFUSD is going after with the quality middle school program. Many schools are not ready for prime time. So where are the District answers? Why hold Prop H responsible for what it is the District fails to do?

  40. By making one's neighborhood school the default assignment, you create a system that is not equitable or fair. Prop H was put on the ballot by people who want a system that is not fair or equitable.

  41. then how about predictable?

  42. No on H. Until all the schools are equal, everyone should have the chance to go to one of the better schools.

  43. I'm voting no on H because it's a self serving bunch of nonsense from people who are tired of seeing their friends move to Marin. However I find it equally ridiculous that the same groups that pushed through the tragically ill conceived middle school feeder plan are suddenly all crowing about "choice". Please give us all a break!

  44. VOTE NO ON PROP H, the city's better schools should not only be available to those lucky (or rich) enough to live next to them.

  45. It's pretty clear to me what happened with Aptos. Aptos MS parents whose MS kids previously attended Lakeside or Miroloma (and before that Miraloma Co-Op) were particularly vocal about opposing the feeder system, which limits school choice for parents. Darlene Lim (architect of SFUSD's SAS) always remembers a slight and never misses an opportunity to get even.