Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The safest route to school is the route to the closest school.

My wife just sent me the following email from the Golden Gate Mothers Group.

Last night’s school student assignment meeting

Tue Apr 14, 2009 8:46 am (PDT)

Here's a brief update of last night's meeting on the SFUSD school assignment redesign. There were 3 general scenarios presented for K. The first involves automatic assignment to your attendance area school with choice/lottery for special programs and extra seats. The second involves choice/assignment to a school in your attendance area zone with choice/lottery for special programs and extra seats. The third choice is similar to our current system, which is primarily considered a choice system (even though 1/3 or more get none of their choices).

HERE'S THE CRITICAL POINT: attendance area is defined by academic/economic/linguistic/racial diversity, geographic barriers, enrollment projections, student density, and school capacity. Proximity or neighborhood is not any part of this!!! Here is the quote from the presentation, "Proximity is not a priority but should be considered when it does not compromise academic/economic/linguistic/racial diversity." In case the implication of this is not clear, it means that your attendance area is not necessarily where you live and could in fact be anywhere in the city.

Two of the Board of Ed Commissioners (Norton and Yee) pushed for simulations that are neighborhood based. Commissioner Wynns seems think proximity is unimportant and said, "we just keep hearing from a vocal minority that parents want neighborhood schools." Commissioner Mendoza seemed on the fence about choice vs. neighborhood but recognized that distance to the school was important in her family's situation. I couldn't tell what Commissioner Kim's position is. Most notably, there was an impressive showing from the community. There must have been 50 families and 30-something stayed to give public comment. This is the kind of effort we need if we have any hope of influencing the outcome. I had to leave just after I made my comment (I was third) but I would love to hear about the rest of the comments - so if you went and stayed for the comments, please pass on any information you have.

Now is the time to speak up if we don't want to be stuck with an assignment process that is unworkable for SF families! The next meeting is on April 25th, 1-2:30, through Parents for Public Schools: http://www.ppssf.org/Issues/SAS.html After that there is a meeting on May 11 at 6pm in the Excelsior (scroll down on above link). Also, please send comments. The SFUSD lead on this is Orla O'Keeffe (okeeffeo@sfusd.edu) – she is a special assistant to the superintendent. You can also email the SFUSD Superintendent, Carlos Garcia at carlosgarcia@sfusd.edu. Our elected officials working on this are the Board of Ed. Commissioners.

Here are their emails: Kim-Shree Maufas: Kim-ShreeMaufas@sfusd.edu

Jane Kim (Chair of redesign BOE committee): JaneKim@sfusd.edu

Sandra Lee Fewer: SandraFewer@sfusd.edu

Hyra Mendoza: HydraMendoza@sfusd.edu

Rachel Norton: rpnorton@gmail.com

Jill Wynns: JillWynns@sfusd.edu

Norman Yee: NormanYee@sfusd.edu

Lastly, here's the email address for comments on SFUSD's assignment redesign website:


Please keep the effort up – we can make a difference!

I am painfully aware that there is an elementary school 2 blocks from my front door. Why is this painful - do I not relish the youth of America, instead wishing that Children be seen and not heard?

Au contraire! To quote the diva - I believe the Children are our Future. The reason the school being so close is sort of a problem is that I have to ride past it at "Rush Hour" in the AM. Cars line up in the opposite direction that I am traveling, and after dropping off their kid, they pull out into my travel lane pretty much without looking to see that this very well may painfully introduce me to their windshield. This car dance every morning is an affront to all those who walked to school, 7 miles, uphill each way, in a blinding snowstorm. It's like these kids are made of sugar.

However, I also see dozens of children being walked to school. Wonderful. But if you live in Cole Valley it's sort of hard to walk your kid 4 miles over Twin Peaks to school. Thus the rash of drivers. In fact I get a second helping on my way to Caltrain in front of the Harvey Milk Academy on 19th St. And you see very few kids on bikes - it's not impossible, the SFBC is pushing for Safe Routes to School - maybe someday we'll have our own Freiker!

Now - some intellectual honesty is required. Absolutely some of the people who will fight for geographic assignments are primarily interested in replicating what goes on in pretty much every other school district in the world - the reason you moved to where you did was so your kid could go to the "good school". If you have money, you get to go to a better school.

This is how it works anyway! If you have money and you don't get the school you want in SF via lottery, you pay your way into a private school or you move to Marin/Burlingame/Piedmont. You can say what you want about spoiled rich kids, but those kids will bring a lot more to the table than just their blonde hair and blue eyes (or their parent's drug stash in the case of Marin County). I'm going to go out on a limb and say that parents who are willing to move out of SF just to get their kids a decent school, would be willing to show up at bake sales and PTA meetings.

Nobody is "forced" to move out of SF in the pursuit of good schools but it does happen, and the net impact of those kids leaving the city is detrimental on the SFUSD. And those that don't, are in many cases required to drive their kids all over the city to get them to school, which is a detriment to the city (traffic), the kids (time, going to a school in a car instead of getting exercise), and the parents (time in a time limited world, and you bond better with your child *walking* to school instead of with them in the back seat).

Of course the 800 lb gorilla in the room for the neighborhood schools advocates who (please say I am not alone) also care about Social Justice is that while San Francisco may already have polarized neighborhoods, polarizing the schools as well creates a host of new problems and is detrimental to the kids who don't have the inherent advantage of living in Noe Valley or Pacific Heights. I fully believe this problem can be solved without denying the chance for parents to walk their kids to school and attend PTA meetings with time they are no longer spending driving from the Sunset to the Mission. Proximity can be factored in while giving opportunity to those who want the opportunity to attend schools outside their neighborhood. If the belief is that schools in "good" neighborhoods are inherently better due to the advantages that the student body has outside of school and parental involvement, the school district can attempt to mitigate that with financial wrenches - increasing pay for teachers, resources available, etc... at troubled schools (this is sort of the opposite of merit pay - instead of paying more to the teachers who have better students, pay more to the teachers who have a tougher task, incenting teachers to take on that job).

The benefits are many fold. There are strollers all over Noe Valley, but not so many pickup basketball games with teenagers. The neighborhood is not stable because there is turnover when children reach school age. This is bad for the fabric of neighborhoods, bad for children who are yanked out of their Neighborhoods after 5 years of bonding with the kids on the block, bad for the children (and bike commuters!) who must navigate the cars zipping around schools in the morning, and bad for the City in terms of traffic, in terms of school stability, in terms of livability.

I'm not an educator but that's my take. I'll fully admit that I am incented by not wanting to move and wanting Liam to attend Alvarado with the friends he will meet the next 4 years of his life.

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