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Report of Findings and Recommendations from Community Conversations about Building Quality Middle Schools & Proposed K-8 Pathways May 9, 2011. Presenters. Cindy Choy Carla Cuevas Rhoyal Baibé Foston Ruth Grabowski Michelle Jacques-Menegaz Carol Lei

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Report of Findings and Recommendationsfrom Community Conversations about Building Quality Middle Schools & Proposed K-8 Pathways May 9, 2011

Cindy Choy Carla Cuevas

Rhoyal Baibé Foston Ruth Grabowski

Michelle Jacques-Menegaz Carol Lei

Marilyn Luong (inter.) Daphne Magnawa

Ellie Rossiter Chablis Scott

  • PPS & PAC Members and Staff
  • Our Volunteers!
  • SFUSD Middle School Planning Team
  • Middle School Principals and their Staff
  • SFUSD Translation & Interpretation Unit
  • Parent Liaisons
  • All the people who participated in the forums.
  • What we did and why
  • Who we heard from
  • Findings from community meetings
  • Recommendations for the Board and district staff
  • Conclusion
what we did and why
What We Did and Why
  • In March 2010 the Board of Education adopted a student assignment policy with feeder patterns for middle schools without community input on this idea.
  • Last fall the community reacted negatively to the feeder patterns, and the district delayed implementation in order to explore options for K-8 Pathways.
  • The PAC and PPS worked with district staff to organize and conduct community forums to talk about middle school quality, proposed language pathways, and feeder patterns.
goals of the forums
Goals of the Forums
  • Let parents, educators and community members know about district proposals for K-8 pathways and improving middle schools.
  • Hear the community’s questions, concerns and ideas about these proposals.
  • Report community feedback about these issues to the Board of Education and district staff, to inform your decisions and strengthen new systems for all middle schools.
community forums march 1 april 21 2011
Community ForumsMarch 1 – April 21, 2011
  • We heard from over 850 people.
  • We went to 12 middle schools, 5 elementary schools, and held two targeted focus groups.
  • Attendance ranged from 12-200 people (average 50). Some of the elementary school conversations had more participants than the middle school forums.
  • We know large, centralized events don’t tend to draw a representative group of people - so we held meetings in targeted communities to make sure we heard from parents with diverse backgrounds.
who we heard from
Who We Heard From
  • Parents who participated in these elementary school meetings and focus groups did more closely reflect & represent the district’s student populations.
  • In these targeted conversations we found:
      • The same range of ideas & concerns we heard at the larger forums
      • The same concerns we heard & reported last year
  • We have full confidence that our report reflects the diverse perspectives of parents across the district.
findings what we ve heard before
Findings: What We’ve Heard Before
  • The main messages we heard during the community forums are similar to what we’ve heard families say repeatedly over the past several years - and what we’ve repeatedly reported to the Board of Education and district staff:
    • More than anything else parents want quality schools - and they don’t perceive all schools as quality schools.
    • Beyond test scores, schools are different from each other. Parents want to be able to choose a school that will meet their children’s needs.
what we ve heard before
What we’ve heard before
  • Most parents questioned whether student assignment - specifically, the proposed feeder patterns - has any direct relationship to building quality middle schools.
  • Most parents would like their children to attend a school that’s easy to get to, but they also care about special programs, school culture and size. Many parents would be willing to send their child to a school farther away if it would better meet their family’s needs.
what we ve heard before1
What we’ve heard before
  • Many parents challenged the feeder patterns as unfair and inequitable. They don’t want to feel forced into something that won’t work for their children.
  • Even parents who supported feeder patterns, as a way to address the challenges of increasing student enrollment and to support better planning, had questions about how feeder patterns would meet the individual needs of different students.
new issues that emerged
New Issues That Emerged

There is widespread support for expanding language programs. At the same time, parents want the district to meet the language needs of all students, including:

  • Newcomer students who speak languages in addition to Cantonese, Spanish or Mandarin
  • Students who need bilingual support to develop academic English, as well as recognition of their bicultural identity
  • Students coming out of K-5 language immersion and bilingual programs, and
  • General Ed. and Special Education students, who should have access before high school to learn another language.
new issues that emerged1
New Issues That Emerged

People raised fundamental questions about how to meet students’ different academic needs:

  • How do we best meet students’ different learning styles, needs and abilities?
  • How can the district support teachers to provide differentiated instruction?
  • Why is access to high-quality elective courses so uneven from school to school, and how can English Learner and Special Education students have access to electives?
  • What’s in place now, what can be put in place, what’s the impact of budget cuts, and how does all this fit with efforts to align standards & curriculum across the district?
  • Quality Middle Schools
  • Language Pathways
  • Feeder Patterns / Student Assignment
  • How parents felt about the process
quality middle schools
Quality Middle Schools
  • People have different priorities, but there’s a common desire for schools where the principal, teachers, and staff have a clear vision for how to meet the different needs of diverse student populations.
  • While the district described a list of factors related to “quality schools,” no real information was presented about what the challenges are, what’s working, or specific plans for improving schools based on this information.

“Where is the research… on what is effective? Why do people choose the top-requested schools? What are they doing? Can we replicate that? Let that drive our decisions moving forward.”

quality middle schools1
Quality Middle Schools
  • The district is changing how Special Education services will be provided, but didn’t talk about that - or how feeder patterns could meet the specific needs of students in Special Education.

“Special Education is not being addressed. We need teachers, resources. There is not a lot of talk here about Special Education.”

  • What’s the district’s position or theory about how to meet the needs of both struggling and high-achieving students, whether through honors courses or differentiation?

“I’m not a big advocate for tracking - but I want the district to have a plan. If they don’t have a GATE program, how are they going to engage those kids?”

quality middle schools2
Quality Middle Schools
  • Parents want more electives and hands-on learning that kids are excited about - and which is not accessible at all schools.

“Sometimes that elective is going to be the ‘joyful’ piece - it’s what keeps them engaged.”

  • Some parents were skeptical that the district could find the resources to make the 7th period possible, while others felt it is such a clear priority that funds should be prioritized to make it work.
expanding language pathways
Expanding Language Pathways

Across differences in schools, neighborhoods, ethnicity, and primary language, people support the idea of expanding language programs for middle school students.

“Let’s overcome the obstacles and make it happen. Language acquisition is so important that it should be prioritized. Find the funds to make it happen.”

At the same time, many parents, educators and community members raised questions and concerns about the proposed language pathways discussed at the forums.

expanding language pathways1
Expanding Language Pathways
  • Parents want all middle schoolers to have access to learning another language.

“But that brings up the question - are all students going to have access to language? It seems like the resources are being put to a smaller group of students - I would want all kids to have access to language.”

  • There was confusion about how biliteracy programs work, what the “Lau Plan” is, or how the pathways would serve English Learner students.
expanding language pathways2
Expanding Language Pathways

Some school communities were concerned that expanding the language programs will mean dismantling their Visual and Performing Arts programs. In the forum at A.P. Giannini, parents were promised this would not happen.

“I just want to have it written down: unless you have the 7th period, the language program will dismantle the VAPA program we’ve built here [at Presidio].”

expanding language pathways3
Expanding Language Pathways
  • Even people who were enthusiastic about expanding language programs raised concerns about the challenges of finding qualified teachers, and the lack of funding and resources to implement the proposed programs.

“How are they going to pay for that? The district doesn’t have the resources to expand Immersion into middle school let alone language for all.”

expanding language pathways4
Expanding Language Pathways
  • People wondered how to improve services for English Learners in general, as well as those who don’t speak the major languages in the district.
  • Parents also wondered whether students in Special Education and general education would have access to language programs.
expanding language pathways5
Expanding Language Pathways

“[Despite] the language pathways commitment and this seal [of bilingualism], only the Lau Plan is a legal mandate, and as we try to do all of this warm fuzzy stuff, why don’t we serve the Pacific Islander students? There aren’t any biliteracy programs for them. If we’re having budget issues, what do we do first – fully implement Lau, or create trilingual paths? What takes precedence?”

feeder patterns
Feeder Patterns
  • Parents questioned whether student assignment in general - or feeder patterns, specifically - has any direct relationship to building quality middle schools.

“This system is a strange bandage.”

  • Many people were very critical of the feeder patterns. Some were completely against the concept, while others were more concerned about the specific feeders being proposed.

“It looks really nice if you’re feeding into the top six requested schools, and doesn’t feel as good if you’re in the bottom seven.”

feeder patterns1
Feeder Patterns
  • Some felt the program planning and community-building opportunities would strengthen the middle schools’ ability to meet the needs of incoming students.

“Feeders have a lot of positive implications for middle school PTA’s because middle school is a short amount of time.  It’s hard to build continuity of parent leadership when people are in and out.”

feeder patterns2
Feeder Patterns
  • Many parents completely rejected the district’s plan to take away their ability to choose a school. They want to be able to select more than one option that works for their family, and not be constrained or forced into a designated school.

“This plan is the worst of all worlds. I’m coming from elementary schools we don’t live near, a middle school I haven’t chosen and might not live close to - let me choose where I want to go.”

feeder patterns3
Feeder Patterns
  • People challenged the feeder patterns as unfair to students unless all schools have all the same range and quality of programs - which isn’t always practical, and isn’t what most parents or school administrators say they want.

“The concept of feeders is great, but the devil is in the details. I feel like the district treats all the schools the same and doesn’t appreciate the differences among the schools in terms of dollars and resources.”

feeder patterns4
Feeder Patterns
  • Even parents who supported feeder patterns had questions about how they could meet the individual needs of different students.

“I have two children in middle school with really different needs. How are you going to serve their different needs if you take away my choice about where they can go?”

the mission bayview and excelsior
The Mission, Bayview and Excelsior
  • Participants in these conversations expressed the same range of interests, questions and concerns that came up in the other forums.
  • In addition, people are concerned that despite having the highest concentration of children of the city, the southeast has the fewest middle schools.
  • With the closure of Willie Brown, the Bayview will have no middle school at all. As a result, students will be sent to middle schools across the city.

“I’m upset that there will not be a middle school in my neighborhood (Bayview).”

the mission bayview and excelsior1
The Mission, Bayview and Excelsior
  • Many people wondered whether transportation would be provided for students being sent to schools far away. Everyone understands the district is scaling back school bus service - and wondered how their children would get to school on time.

“Here in the Bayview we’re almost in the bay, but if our kids go to Giannini, they’ll be almost in the ocean!”

the mission bayview and excelsior2
The Mission, Bayview and Excelsior
  • Parents and educators in these neighborhoods felt their students don’t received the same level of support, and don’t have access to the same quality of programs, as families on the west side of the city.

“We want a quality middle school that is exactly the same as all the other neighborhoods but here in our community. Because if we can’t have that here and we have to go to another neighborhood, how do you expect people to react when they come to this part of the town?”

mission bayview and excelsior
Mission, Bayview and Excelsior
  • They’re also concerned about a lack of cultural competency in some schools their children will attend - and whether their children will be made to feel welcome in those schools.

“We are concerned about how our kids will be

treated on that side of town.”

  • For many Latino parents in the Mission District, safety continues to be a major concern - not necessarily inside particular middle schools, but in the streets and neighborhood around those schools.
how parents feel about the process
How Parents Feel about the Process
  • People expressed a lot of doubt and questions about the district’s intentions, capacity or resources to implement these proposals.

“Is this a done deal? Is the district even listening to what we say?”

“The district is not giving parents the complete picture. We’re being led into a trap – there’s something fishy with this picture.”

“Why are they forcing this if people don’t want it?”

framing for recommendations
Framing for Recommendations

We acknowledge that the district is facing many complex challenges related to middle schools. Our recommendations address challenges in four areas:

  • School Quality
  • Expanding Language Pathways
  • Student Assignment
  • Communication with Families
challenges school quality
Challenges: School Quality
  • We’re losing students during middle school years.
  • There’s uneven academic achievement across SFUSD’s middle schools.
  • Schools have different approaches to differentiation; some schools have honors tracks and many schools don’t.
  • There’s uneven access to high quality programs, curriculum and electives among different schools.
recommendations school quality
Recommendations: School Quality
  • Address issues related to differentiation and honors programs.
  • Hold principals and teachers accountable to high standards, and support them to meet these standards.
recommendations school quality1
Recommendations: School Quality
  • Place highly-effective, culturally competent principals and teachers in schools that are struggling.
  • Ensure all students have access to high quality electives at all middle schools - including English Learner and Special Education students.
challenges language pathways
Challenges: Language Pathways
  • There’s a legal and moral obligation to serve the needs of English Learner students, who speak many different languages.
  • The district has invested in immersion programs in grades K-5, and needs more capacity to serve students in grades 6-8.
challenges language pathways1
Challenges: Language Pathways
  • All parents want their kids to have access to a multilingual education.
  • In addition to the cost of adding a 7th period and providing materials to accommodate expanding language programs, there’s a shortage of qualified multilingual teachers.
recommendations language pathways
Recommendations: Language Pathways
  • Establish clear criteria and priorities for meeting the needs of students who speak languages besides Spanish, Cantonese & Mandarin (for example, Samoan).
  • Incorporate serving general education and Special Education students in plans for expanding language programs.
  • Identify needs and strategies related to resources, and the tradeoffs.
challenges student assignment
Challenges: Student Assignment
  • “Feeder patterns” were added to the student assignment policy at the last minute in 2010, and adopted without community discussion.
  • There’s a projected increase in the middle school student population.
  • Uneven enrollment means we now have some over-subscribed and some under-enrolled middle schools.
challenges student assignment1
Challenges: Student Assignment
  • There’s no middle school in Bayview and not enough middle school capacity in the southeast part of the city - which has the highest concentration of students.
  • Unless the district shares a concrete plan for opening a new school in the Bayview - and involves the community in shaping that plan - people won’t trust that it’s going to happen.
challenges student assignment2
Challenges: Student Assignment
  • It’s complicated to implement language pathways in the context of a choice system.
  • When schools are under-enrolled it’s usually because parents believe they are not high quality.
recommendations student assignment
Recommendations: Student Assignment
  • Do not implement feeder patterns. Retain the choice system, while strengthening the quality of all middle schools.
  • Strengthen the mechanisms for choice in middle schools, and improve communication to families about ways different schools can address students’ academic and enrichment needs.
recommendations student assignment1
Recommendations: Student Assignment
  • Create “magnet schools” with high-quality programs that attract families, like arts, science & technology, or language. Place these schools strategically to support diversity and meet program demand.
  • Establish coherent pathways for programs that serve specific student populations with special needs, including English Learner and Special Education students.
recommendations student assignment2
Recommendations:Student Assignment
  • Focus on these tie-breakers for middle school assignment:
    • siblings
    • an equity mechanism
    • attendance area.
  • Open a high-quality middle school in the Bayview. Communicate details about this plan right away (including action steps and the timeline).
challenges communication
Challenges: Communication
  • Parents don’t trust that the district is listening to them, or is honest about its plans.
  • Information related to important district initiatives is often missing altogether, is not presented in parent-friendly format, and/or is not translated.
recommendations communication
Recommendations: Communication
  • So far, no one in the district is being held accountable for communication with families - especially parents who don’t speak English.
  • Provide a parent-friendly report about the middle school quality assessment inventory, highlighting the challenges and strengths of each school.
  • Develop and share detailed plans for action steps to strengthen middle schools, including measureable objectives and timelines.
our next steps
Our Next Steps
  • The PAC and PPS are committed to representing the voices of families we have heard from over the past several years.
  • We will continue to work with – and make recommendations to – SFUSD staff & the Board of Education.
  • We know it is our task to hold you accountable for our children’s education – and we will.
next steps in process and timeline
Next Steps in Process and Timeline
  • Tuesday, May 24: District staff gives the first reading of the Superintendent's proposed policy on feeder patterns
  • Tuesday, May 31:  Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment meets to discuss the middle school proposal
  • Monday, June 13: Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment meets to discuss the middle school proposal
  • Tuesday, June 14: BOE votes on the middle school assignment policy
contact us
Contact Us

Our full report of findings & recommendations with parents’ quotes is available online at

Parent Advisory Council

(415) 355-2201

Parents for Public Schools

(415) 861-7077