SF School District Focuses on Student Progress


San Francisco’s new school board is continuing its vow to focus on whether kids are reading, writing and college-ready, rather than what critics have called three years of political theater that gave the priority to murals and school names over student performance.

This change, however, forces the board and the new district superintendent to delve into data that offers a grim assessment of where students are and how far they are from where they should be.

And they will begin that process this weekend.

The board of trustees and new superintendent Matt Wayne have scheduled a special meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Sunday to not only look at student data, but also to take a long, hard look at each other and how to lead effectively.

It starts with a very clear belief system, officials said.

“School systems exist to improve student outcomes,” according to background documents attached to the agenda. “That’s the only reason school systems exist.”

Data shows that “not all students are getting what they need to succeed academically, and the San Francisco community expects better from their public schools and district,” said school board chair Jenny Lam, adding that the council will draft a vision, goals and guidelines for the neighborhood on Sunday. “This is the beginning of a process to establish the district’s North Star goals for student achievement.”

Currently, the results are not worthy of boasting, with some post-pandemic declines adding to the work to come.

According to the district’s “performance analysis,” only 58 percent of students were proficient in reading last year and 71 percent were proficient in math. But results varied widely by race, with 34% of Latinos and 9% of black students reading at the grade level, compared to 85% of whites and 70% of Asian Americans.

In math, 81% of white and Asian American students are proficient in math, compared to 41% of black students and 55% of Latino students. Information from previous years was not immediately available.

The figures are the first data available on student performance since the pandemic, reflecting internal assessment data rather than state-standardized tests, which have been suspended for two years.

These vast racial disparities are common in public schools across the state and nation and are linked to a range of issues, including socio-economic inequalities and unequal funding and resources in schools, including teacher experience. , parental fundraising and other inequalities.

Yet San Francisco’s achievement gap is wider than most other districts and has persisted despite a long list of interventions as well as an injection of funding from the city and philanthropic sources.

The data review is the first step in what could be a long process to address issues that plague the district and have eluded the efforts of San Francisco school boards for decades.

District officials also said the percentage of children ready for kindergarten fell to 58% last year from 63% in 2019, with significant differences also between races and ethnicities. Assessment measures students’ readiness to enter school.

At the other end of public education, less than 58% were ready for college or a career in 2020, according to the most recent data available. Some students still fell behind, with only 25% of black students and 32% of Latino students classified as college or career ready.

The data also showed the district is grappling with a significant spike in chronic absenteeism — with 28% of students missing at least 18 days of the 180-day school year in 2020-21, up from 12% before the pandemic.

Proponents of the school board‘s recall said that’s exactly what district leaders should be doing.

“The extended school closures have left our children in a deep pit that we have yet to emerge from,” recall organizer Siva Raj said. “We are really pleased that the school board is transparently reviewing student results. This should be their primary goal of improvement and the yardstick against which they judge all interventions. »

School board president Jenny Lam, who was elected to the position following the recall, said it will be critical that elected officials in the district adhere to a standard of behavior and follow protocols to minimize distractions and unrelated debates. what students need to be successful. school and after graduation.

This includes learning to govern better, with Lam suspending regular committee meetings to take time to participate in training workshops on how to become an effective school board.

The public will likely see this play out in the coming months in shorter school board meetings, more conversations about student achievement and a “clear distinction” between board responsibilities and the superintendent’s role.

In recent years, the school board has been criticized for micro-managing the district, creating a range of new staff positions; hire or fire the best administrators; delaying the return to school during the pandemic; and publicly berating staff and former Superintendent Vince Matthews.

A year ago, Matthews only agreed to delay his retirement after the school board contractually agreed to change his behavior to minimize divisiveness and let the superintendent focus on the budget, reopening amid the pandemic and manage the district. These terms were routinely violated, including board members proposing policy changes that were unrelated to priorities.

City officials, who have criticized the district for its $125 million budget deficit and low literacy rate, applauded the renewed focus on children.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for, a leadership team that has an urgency about our students’ really worrying academic performance,” said supervisor Hillary Ronen, who is working on a ballot measure to provide $60 million a year. to the district only. to use to improve student achievement and emotional well-being. “If we have a school board and a superintendent who are focused on those same outcomes, then we are finally aligned as a city and a school district and I know we can make change.

“This is the first time in a very long time that all the stars have aligned.”

Jill Tucker is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jilltucker

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