Some of the most common recent questions voters email me to ask are answered here.
More background on this issue, and the 2018 board resolution that created the panel who is making recommendations to the school board about renaming schools. This committee has been meeting over the past several months and has identified 44 schools it wants to recommend for renaming. It has asked those schools to come up with alternative names by mid-December.
The school renaming conversation is important and difficult, but in this moment we need to focus our time and energy on how to effectively support students--both in remote environments and in getting our highest-need students safely back into classrooms as soon as possible. Our schools are facing enormous challenges to provide a high-quality learning experience to each and every student during distance learning, to stay connected with families, and to support educators as they make major adjustments in how they teach. Opportunity gaps are growing every day. Working families are in survival mode. Everyone involved is exhausted and working at maximum capacity. We are also in a budget crisis and need to be very purposeful about how we use our limited resources to have a measurable impact on student outcomes.
I think it’s appropriate and important to consider changing the names of some of our schools, particularly if the person they’re named for did something egregious violating the rights of others. I believe those decisions should primarily happen in and with the school communities, and will take an investment of time, research and engagement with each school’s students, families, staff, and community. Because of the effort needed to run a strong collaborative process, let’s make sure we first prioritize a solid, actionable plan to get every student the learning experience they need during this pandemic. Then we can address renaming schools with the attention it needs.
I do want to recognize that some of SFUSD’s schools began conversations to rename their schools long before the pandemic started. It should be up to them to determine if they have the bandwidth to move those efforts forward now while balancing the other needs of their students and communities.
Proposed changes to the Lowell High School admissions process
Chronicle article that announced the proposed temporary change to Lowell admissions, which was approved on October 20. This statement was published after that and before the first board meeting about the topic.
As a Lowell parent, I believe that Lowell is known as one of the best high schools in the country because it is full of high-achieving students who want to be in a rigorous academic environment full of other self-motivated students. It’s important that we have spaces like this in SFUSD in order to achieve our collective mission to serve each and every student. Additionally, while we work to maintain a competitive admissions process, we also can and should do better to make Lowell a more diverse and inclusive school, as well as create more opportunities across the district. My recommendation on one way to do this is below.
One of the more frustrating parts of the announcement about the recommended [temporary] change to the Lowell admissions process is the eleventh-hour nature of it. While timing was necessary to give public notice of the meeting, anytime news is released at 5pm on a Friday, there is reason to wonder why. One of the most important things our school district needs to be doing right now is building trusting relationships with families, students and educators. Even if unintentional, the timing of the announcement doesn’t foster goodwill. Communication needs to be better and more collaborative.
Because of our district’s limited available resources as we meet needs arising due to COVID, as well as the [unfortunate] tight timeline, we need to keep solutions simple. I want to know what alternatives the district has already considered.
- Could we use 6th and 7th grade scores instead of 7th and 8th?
- Could we administer the Lowell Admissions Exam to all interested SFUSD 8th graders? We did this the year between the old and new state standardized tests when no scores were available. Effective proctoring software is available.
- There are already some written questions students have to answer in the Lowell application; could we rely more heavily on an essay as a performance assessment (known to be much better for evaluating than standardized tests and more equitable) where we provide a clear rubric for students and reviewers?
We also know that many members of the school board and the Lowell community itself (including me) believe Lowell can and should be a more diverse and welcoming space for all students who attend. I think there is an opportunity for the Lowell community to take a proactive approach.
As part of the conversation about Lowell admissions for the 2021-2022 school year that needs to be settled over the next week, we should advocate to the school board to form a Lowell Admissions Task Force comprised of a diverse group of Lowell students, families and teachers, as well as other stakeholders in the district to work together over the next year to propose a better way to have a competitive application process that would result in a more diverse and inclusive Lowell, that would also continue to provide a robust academic environment for self-motivated and high achieving students. The task force could also develop a plan to partner with middle schools across the district to invite students to apply and participate in the process, as well as ensure that once students are attending Lowell, the experience feels inclusive, supportive and rigorous. And of course we should do more to prepare students to be successful before they arrive in any high school--this is not just in subject matter content, but also in study skills and the ability to self-advocate.
As a side note: last year there were three times the number of requests to Lowell than there were available seats. Demand outweighs availability. The solution is to create more opportunity. SFUSD should create one or two International Baccalaureate programs in a couple of high schools and also add advanced courses and programs to existing high schools to provide a similarly rigorous academic environment for interested students. The answer to these challenges is not remove or limit opportunity; it is to create more of it. Equity demands it.