Friday, September 03, 2010

An open letter to SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia

Dear Superintendent Garcia,

I was going to copy your Associate, but I seem to have misplaced his card and I would appreciate it if you could forward this email to him. While I had a chance to talk with him at the tail end of the meeting, I had to leave to go over to Everett for the session there before talking with you.

First, thank you for taking your time to meet with the Second District PTA. It's always nice to interact with people leading the SFUSD. As I am the PTA president of McKinley Elementary, many of our families are deeply concerned about the new feeder program, and I had some follow up questions.

1 - I like that there will be 4 million dollars coming from the SIG to infuse into Everett. When you have the plan outlined as to what that money will be used for, I'm sure that the various families entering Everett would like to have a look at it (the sooner the better). We want to see what kinds of improvements are planned as many of our children will matriculate through Everett.

2 - What is the plan to sustain the changes implemented over the next four years once that money evaporates? In five years, the heavy fiscal burden will shift, but to where? It would be important for people with children now in Kindergarten to know that they will not be taxed or asked to make up the short fall in some way. How will the four years of four million dollars be supplemented with another sustainable revenue source so that Everett will not be heavily dependent upon the PTA for raising the million dollars a year to continue whatever programs are in place at that time?

This is akin to McKinley's loss and draw down of STAR Funding over the last two years. As STAR funding evaporated, our PTA has had to take up the slack and fund various initiatives that were otherwise covered with STAR funding.This was very disappointing and felt a bit like a bait and switch as the programs & staff in place that drew many families into McKinley were no longer supported by any funding. Fortunately, our McKinley PTA is very healthy and we were able to resuscitate many enrichment programs that families came to expect under star funding. With the Everett situation, it would be critically important to not only know the SFUSD pans for the next four years, but what will you do to continue to support the school beyond that time frame in a fiscally responsible way.

3 - When I was talking with your assistant superintendent (I think that's his title), he mentioned that with the 4 million dollars going into Everett over the next few years, the SFUSD was planning to do some things that will allow District staff to experiment and try out new approaches. What might those be?

4 - Given that the SFUSD is already hosting & fully funding several educational experiments in the form of the various charter schools, what is your plan to infuse any best practices into Everett and other mainline schools across the SFUSD?

What we have is a disconnection between what the promise of charter schools are and the learning that is supposed to move back into the mainstream schools. While the City and it's taxpayers have been supporting the various charter schools, and allowing them to invent new ways of delivering education, there hasn't been any corresponding transference of learning from those best practices back into the mainstream schools that I'm aware of. This seems to be a collapse of the two way street promise of charter schools - in other words, there appears to be learning and growing at the charter schools, but there's no transference back to mainstream schools.

5 - Finally, if we can't learn from existing experiments at charter schools, how do we expect to improve what we have existing? It appears to me that we could save time, energy and resources, by simply replicating charter school best practices at mainline schools. If there is a plan, which I think you wouldn't operate without, then the sooner it is opened for viewing, the less backlash you will see from the public.

The Everett forum on the feeder program, on the same Tuesday evening as our second district reception, was at times caustic and some times sane, but I'm afraid the messages promulgated by the parents & guardians assembled will be dismissed as rants from an ill informed public. We are dependent upon you for disbursal of accurate information and plans, and as with all change, it's better to opt for frequent and informative missives rather than one time forums that come after policies are put in motion.

One other observation from the Everett evening. It appears that there is a special interest based on the feedback I heard from families sending their children through the different immersion programs. They are a loud and vociferous group, and justifiably disturbed on the prospect of having their children funneled from an immersion school of their choosing, into a school with none. Perhaps the SFUSD should reconsider the funnel pattern to allow this special interest to go to the usual schools that they traditionally matriculate with after elementary school. There is an existing, subliminal, quasi-feeder program already in operation which gets those in immersion programs fed to the right immersion middle school.

Perhaps like the groundskeepers at a new campus are wise to let the students trample the grass and then put in sidewalks, perhaps there are more natural patterns for those in immersion programs that should be honored. It may reduce the flak, but my finer point is that we shouldn't let those who are the most loud dictate the direction for the whole operation. It's debatable as to if the immersion program is really not just a native language program for students who experience English as their second language (which if you observe the bulk of the immersion students, might there be an overabundance of native Chinese or Spanish speakers in them, for example? This is not a fact based question, but something I've wondered for a while).

Suffice it to say, at the Everett program on Tuesday evening, there were some heated opinions launched at your staff, but in the mix, were also some cooler heads. I would hate for any reactions to be knee jerk in the wrong direction that offer concessions to any one group for simply the fact that they are the most vocally vociferous.

I would be happy to talk about this email or any aspect of your plan over coffee any time. I work at Powell and Market and could easily meet you at Blue Bottle on the Mint Plaza. If you have time, I will bend my schedule to meet yours.

Regards and best of luck solving this concern as all our children's fate is in your hands.