Schools Lose Support That Helped Them Succeed

Brenda Reyes

Victims of their own success and state budget cuts, six elementary schools in the southern half of San Francisco are losing some of the educational resources that helped them meet California school standards.

Monroe, McKinley, Sheridan, Junipero Serra, and Glen Park elementary schools, and the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, will lose one full-time substitute teacher, a part-time nurse and student advisor, art and music instructors, and support from district leaders, who provided classroom observations, said Dee Dee Desmond, the executive director for the Reform & Accountability for the San Francisco Unified School District.

The district had provided those resources as part of its STAR Program - short for Students and Teachers Achieving Results. The 10-year-old program offers instructional, academic, and social support to schools that “have been historically underserved and low-performing in standardized tests,” according to Desmond.

All six of the affected schools are in lower- to middle-class neighborhoods below Market Street. Sheridan is in the Oceanside-Ingleside area; Monroe, McKinley and Serra are in the Mission; Milk in is Diamond Heights; and Glen Park is two blocks west of the BART station of the same name.

Because they now meet state standards, the six schools no longer qualify, raising the question of whether they could slip back when they lose the resources that got them to where they are.

For example, Desmond noted that when a music or art teacher came to the classroom, other teachers would meet to plan lessons, which is “important for schools to move forward." Next fall, these schools will have to do without that extra time to coordinate lessons.

“I know we have to lose something. How do we not go backwards?” said Monroe Principal Jennifer Steiner, whose fear is that students will lose the momentum they gained through the program.

According to Steiner, one of her school's biggest achievements was to have only eight out of 84 Latino students move on to intermediate school with sub-standard test scores.

A school leaves the program when it attains an Academic Performance Index score of 800. Monroe's score was 803 in 2009, up from 612 in 2001. “We’ve been working strategically” to help students, said Violeta Garcia, a liaison to Spanish-speaking parents at the school.

Glen Park Elementary, which has won the Academic Achievement Award for three consecutive years with the support of STAR, is another school leaving the program.

Principal Marion Grady said she knew this would happen eventually because the school started to exit the program in 2006. She was confident the cutbacks won't affect student learning, saying the staff will find alternate ways to provide for their school. “We can do it, because we must,” she said.

The schools are keeping an Instructional Reform Facilitator (IRF) and one parent liaison because those services are funded under Title I, said Desmond. According to STAR, an IRF is an experienced educator the district trains to work at a school to arrange professional development for its teachers. The parent liaison does outreach to parents in their native language to ensure their participation in school activities.

“This proposal to exit [STAR] rapidly is new,” said Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh, who acknowledged that the removal of the program would lead to “trade-offs.”

For instance, negotiations with the union could result in more furlough days instead of increased class sizes, said Director of Policy and Resource Management Nancy Waymack.

Steiner said she heard from other STAR schools in the city that they were doing fine next year, so she asked the district officials to provide a spreadsheet so that Monroe's staff and families could see exactly what each school in the district is going to lose.

Associate Superintendent Kevin Truitt said releasing the school-by-school data might lead to assumptions when the history of a school is unknown. However, Leigh said it would be a good idea to distribute the information.

Multilingual Challenges
Monroe serves students from multiple linguistic backgrounds. So Steiner said it offers three programs: English Language Development, Chinese bilingual and a Spanish immersion. That presents a unique challenge as a result of state-wide budget cuts on top of the loss of STAR services.

Desmond agreed Monroe may struggle more than other schools next year because it won’t receive enough base money to fund the three-part program. “It’s complicated because there’s so many funding sources,” she said.

Speaking in Spanish, parent Veronica Lacayo asked Leigh to take the teachers' and parents’ concerns into consideration. “We are a multilingual community and we have worked very hard,” she said.

Leigh, who met with Monroe parents on March 10, said additional meetings won't change the outcome of the budget. “There’s no negotiation between a school and a district,” he said.