By Nicole Achs Freeling
- What The Community Wants From Public Schools
- Committee Discusses Use of In-Kind Services
What Community Wants From Public Schools
The results of a series of "community conversations" conducted over the last six months yielded some surprising and, board members said, illuminating answers to the question of what the public wants in its public schools.
Speaking before the Committee of the Whole Tuesday night, leaders of the conversations involving close to 1,000 members of the public laid out their findings in a sweeping report, complete with data showing how the responses varied by ethnic group. The study showed some significant differences among groups. Location was higher priority for African- American families than others, for example, while language programs topped the list for Latino families, academic performance for whites and Asians.
But facilitators found deep consensus on many issues. Among these were lack of trust in the current assignment process, a consistent negative perception surrounding S.F. public schools, a uniform desire for schools that felt safe and were in safe neighborhoods, and the desire for more solid, well-rounded schools in every community over specialty programs at specific schools.
The effort — led by the district's Parent Advisory Committee, Parents for Public Schools and the San Francisco Education Fund — involved convening close to 1,000 parents, youth and members of the public at large in some 87 small, "community conversations" throughout the district. The meetings were held in virtually every neighborhood and represented a wide range of ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups.
The complete report will be available after March 23 in English, Spanish and Cantonese. Some of its key findings:
- Well-rounded schools over specific programs. For elementary school, the report concluded, parents are seeking a solid academic foundation, but also enrichment with art, sports and music. Parents valued daily language instruction offered from an early age over more specialized immersion programs. When it came to high school, specialized programs were more important. Parents and students were willing to sacrifice location for programs that could keep teens interested and energized, and offered electives and after-school programs that would give kids a sense of belonging. "Parents want the option to go across town for specific programs but they also need to know they can get a solid education at a convenient school, a minimum of solid academics, engaging instruction and quality teachers," said PAC member Stephanie Choy.
- Diversity a double-edged sword. "Many people want diversity, but they also want to be at schools with students like them," said one facilitator. "They want to feel comfortable that they are with other families that share their experiences and backgrounds." People only made choices based on diversity when all the other important factors were equal. "Diversity is trumped by location, academics and the students' own sense of belonging," said PAC member Ruth Grabowski.
- Parents like their school, hate enrollment process. "Many parents who got the school they wanted felt they had 'gotten lucky,'" said Grabowski. "Even when people get schools they like they don't understand or trust the process." Parents want a system that's clear and predictable. One member of the public, a recently married SF resident, expressed it this way. "A lot of my friends have one foot out the door (of San Francisco) because they feel they have to tour dozens of schools to find the good ones, and have to pick up a booklet that's a half-inch thick at the lobby to find out all the information, and it's just too overwhelming."
- Need to address under-performing teachers. Members of the public felt it needs to be easier to get rid of bad teachers and called for an honest discussion with the union around this. Several members of the board also discussed the need for some difficult talks with the teacher's union but said the big problems were getting more experienced teachers into lower performing schools and finding ways to better support teachers perceived as poor so they can improve.
Several board members sought to reassure the public that their input would be put to use. "I guarantee you, this is not going to sit on the shelf," said Commissioner Norman Yee, leader of the Committee of the Whole. Board members said the report would be incorporated into the long-term plan the district is developing and would continue to inform board policy.
Committee Discusses Use of In Kind Services
Budget and Business Services Committee discussed a controversial resolution to accept in $2.5 million worth of in-kind services from the city in lieu of cash next year under Proposition H, a voter-approved initiative to direct more money to the schools for enrichment programs. The resolution has generated controversy because it does not stipulate that the services the city provide be new programs. Under the current proposal, services that the city has long provided the district could be counted as fulfilling Prop. H requirements.
"The people of San Francisco were very clear when they passed Proposition H that this was to be increased funding for the schools," said Novella Smith, a longtime member of the Community Advisory Committee that plans how Prop. H funds will be spent.
At the meeting Tuesday, Commissioners Jane Kim and Norman Yee (fellow committee member Kim-Shree Maufus was absent) discussed the resolution, and whether a stipulation should added to require new, rather than existing in-kind, services. After much wrangling and discussion, the commissioners decided not to vote on the matter and to table further discussion until a meeting with the Board of Supervisors. A Select Committee representing both members of the Board of Education and Board of Supervisors will meet Thursday, April 12 from the 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. in Board Chambers at City Hall.
"We want to make sure the Board of Supervisors is hearing the same concerns and from the same community as we do," said Commissioner Jane Kim. "We (all) need to understand the community concerns not only in terms of the funding but also how we define in-kind services."
"To be fair, I understand (the city's) concern. They don't want to be viewed as an ATM," she continued. At the same time, she echoed concerns that the in-kind contribution would replace existing programs, rather than bringing new funds and programs to the district as was the intent of initiative. Among the in-kind services the city has proposed is providing utilities to the district. According to Kim, this would be a net benefit to the district because it would free up the money the district currently spends on utilities. But other in-kind services, such as free admission and tours of the Asian Art museum to SFUSD students, are programs the city already offers. To count them as in-kind services under Prop. H without expanding them wouldn't serve the intent of the proposition, Kim said.
Numerous members of the community Proposition H Committee appeared to urge the Budget Committee to give the resolution the thumbs down. "The amount of money is too high, it should be new services, and it needs to be services the schools need," said Smith after the meeting. This year's Prop. H spending plans calls for $250,000 in in-kind services, one-tenth of that in the resolution for next year. Smith was outraged the Budget Committee did not take action on the resolution, either to amend it or strike it down. "There are no two sides to this. You're going to fight for this or you're going to take the money from the kids."
However, supporters of the resolution, including its author,Commissioner Mark Sanchez, point to the need to work cooperatively with the city. Sandra Fewer of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, spoke of the need to resolve the issue quickly and get Prop. H funds flowing to the district. The Board of Supervisors has held off approving the district's current Proposition H spending plan — which it must approve before the city releases funds to the district — because of concerns that it doesn't include a large enough portion of in-kind services.