School Beat: Parent Voices are Part of the New SFUSD Plan

by Lisa Schiff on January 4, 2007

San Francisco public school parents are typical San Franciscans. We want to be involved, consulted and listened to when it comes to issues affecting our communities and one of those issues is most certainly our public schools. Last year, in a unified voice, the community told the Board of Education (BOE) and the district administration that the difficult path through declining enrollment and insufficient budgets could only be successfully traversed if two major projects were undertaken.

The first was to develop a new long-term comprehensive education plan for the district. The second was to meaningfully include the voices of parents and guardians regarding issues such as educational programs, the achievement gap, school closures, the needs of different communities and neighborhoods and more.
The BOE and district administrators not only heard this call for a new approach, but took it to heart. They developed a solid if optimistically ambitious approach for developing a plan and finding out what communities around San Francisco are concerned about in terms of school options for their children.

An initial step was to establish the Community Advisory Committee on Student Enrollment, Recruitment and Retention (CACSERR), which has worked with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) administration, the SFUSD’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/default.cfm?page=parent_advisory), the San Francisco Ed Fund (http://www.sfedfund.org/index.php), school site staff and various community based organizations to design and implement an intensive community engagement effort.

The purpose of this effort is to bring community voices to the BOE (and the district in general) and specifically into the planning and decision making process in an authentic, timely way. As such, small structured group conversations have been undertaken in order to achieve the CACSERR’s primary goals which, as described in their November report to the BOE (http://tinyurl.com/y6qvos), are to:
*understand diverse community members’ aspirations for SFUSD schools,
*create shared knowledge about key issues facing the District, and
*involve multiple members of the community in addressing issues facing the District.

Meetings with parents at schools all around town have been going on since the beginning of the school year. Topics have focused on what kinds of schools parents and guardians want for their children, what they are most concerned with when looking for schools, and what kinds of schools people want in their communities.
As of late November, the CACSERR has reported that over 50 meetings had been held, with over 500 participants, about 100 of whom were youth. The analysis of these meetings will take place during January and February, after which there will be a formal presentation of findings. This information will no doubt feed into the development of the more comprehensive district plan.

For those who haven’t been able to participate in these discussions, there is still time. The final set of conversations is being held this month, organized by the original partners (SFUSD, PAC, SF Ed Fund) and Parents for Public Schools (www.ppssf.org). Four events, listed below, are scheduled in English, Spanish and Chinese, flyers for which can be downloaded from the PPS site. Because the meetings are small, participants should call PPS ahead of time (468-7077) to reserve a space and also child care if needed.

Saturday January 6 from 10-11:30am (in Spanish)
PPS-SF Office — 9 Silliman St, Ste 6 (@ San Bruno)
Thursday January 11 from 7-8:30 pm (in English)
San Francisco Education Fund — 47 Kearny St (between Post and Market)
Wednesday January 17 from 10-11:30 am (Chinese and English)
PPS-SF Office — 9 Silliman St, Ste 6 (@ San Bruno)
Tuesday January 30 from 10-11:30 am (in English)
PPS-SF Office — 9 Silliman St, Ste 6 (@ San Bruno)

If none of these dates is feasible for members of your community, the partners in this effort are offering to come to your school. Contact PPS to make arrangements.
The community engagement process undertaken by the CACSERR and partners is an encouraging event in the midst of so many challenges. Creating a successful process for more directly hearing the voices of parents and guardians is an enormous accomplishment in itself, especially if that process can be maintained or regularly invoked over time. At the very least, we will have had the opportunity to develop deeper understandings about the varying priorities and positions in our public school community.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children who attend McKinley Elementary School in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of the board of directors of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco (http://www.ppssf.org).

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