School Beat: What do YOU Want Our City to Do for Public Schools?

by Lisa Schiff on April 20, 2006

Public education activists always have more than enough possibilities for engagement, but this week two opportunities particularly standout: the Parents for Public Schools’ (PPS) Annual General Meeting and the school district’s Community Advisory Committee on Student Enrollment, Recruitment and Retention (CACSERR).

The PPS event will be held this Saturday April 22nd from 8:30 am to 1pm at Denman Middle School, 241 Oneida Ave (2 blocks from Balboa BART station). The day will include workshops and the chance to hear from and talk with district and City leaders.

Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan will be speaking briefly, followed by an hour-long discussion on how the City can help support our public schools. This portion of the day will be partially informed by the recent findings of the the Mayor’s Policy Council on Children and Families regarding why families are leaving San Francisco (
Having a direct outlet for the results of such a discussion is great, but what makes this conversation especially unique is that Mayor Gavin Newsom will be on hand to listen and participate. Meeting attendees will be able to bring their thoughts and questions about the relationship between the City and our schools to the Mayor himself.

This is an invaluable opportunity. How often do parents and guardians get the chance to bring ideas and concerns directly to those elected officials who make decisions about programs and resources? Certainly not often enough and rarely in this kind of setting.

The list of potential topics is endless. For instance, what role can the City play in demanding the return of Proposition 98 money? What is the possibility of getting a parcel tax passed so that locally we can more significantly fill in the funding gap created by continued negligence at the state and federal levels?

Economic inequities across the City translate into daily challenges for kids and schools. . What plans does the City have to strengthen communities that have historically been ignored and under-served? How can the City more fairly distribute existing resources and generate additional resources for this purpose? How can we be assured that such efforts will proceed in a way that doesn’t repeat disastrous “redevelopment” tragedies that destroyed entire communities?

Since teachers’ salaries are low (even with the new contract) and housing prices in San Francisco are so high, how can the City help teachers find adequate housing (from home ownership to renting) so that they can stay in San Francisco and continue to teach? What are the pros and cons of such options as direct subsidies or building more housing throughout the City that is priced at the salaries teachers are currently paid?

Are there ways that City departments, such as the Recreation and Park department, can work more creatively with the district and individual schools to bring programs directly into schools? In an effort to use space more efficiently and reduce the pressure to close schools, are there possibilities for existing programs to share facilities with schools that are under-enrolled?

After this more policy oriented part of the day, people will be able to choose from one of several workshops designed to help school communities promote and improve their schools. One of the workshops is on marketing your school, an area that many school communities want to do better as we all recognize the need to attract a greater number of families into our schools.
• * Best practices of successful schools, presented by Springboard Schools ( What do successful schools have in common?
• * Marketing your school to increase enrollment
• * Helping your child be successful in school when there is a language barrier (workshops in Cantonese and Spanish)

Interpretation in Spanish and Chinese will be available. Childcare and a box lunch can be reserved by calling 468-7077. Childcare will include a free woodworking workshop with Michael Buck of Junior Woodchucks. Flyers in English, Cantonese and Spanish, as well as more event information, can be downloaded from the PPS website at .

The PPS event will be an energizing opportunity to connect with parents and guardians from schools all over the City. Hopefully we will walk away with new skills, ideas and inspiration. The Community Advisory Committee on Student Enrollment offers an opening to take that energy and renewed commitment and use it to tackle some of the toughest but most essential challenges our district is facing right now.

In order to prevent the trauma generated by the school closure processes of the last two years, the district has committed itself to addressing the issues of a likely continued decline enrollment, over and under-enrolled schools, uneven program placement, and the varied and changing needs of our student population as an interconnected set of issues described under the heading of student enrollment.
One of the strategies for making this process effective is to bring in community expertise in order to provide insight and oversight to the district’s analysis and planning efforts. The deadline to apply for this committee has just been extended to April 24th. Applications in English, Spanish and Chinese can be downloaded off of the district’s website at

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children who attend McKinley Elementary School in the San Francisco Unified School District and is the president of the board of directors of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco (

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