Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Closing of Willie Brown

The Closing of Willie Brown

by David Russitano

In March, SFUSD identified 10 schools as part of the bottom 5% of schools in the state of California. Many of these schools are now in the spotlight as they are forced into major changes – most of which are business models that masquerade as educational reform. Predictably, these schools serve the communities that need schools the most – high poverty neighborhoods enrolling majority Black and Latino students that have traditionally been underresourced. One school has been chosen by the district to be closed so that it can be renovated. Willie Brown Academic Middle School will be shutting down at the end of the current school year. While renovation seems like a logical step, we should remember that the district spent millions to renovate Gloria R Davis in Bay View Hunters Point only to close the school for good the next year. This time they are closing BVHP's only middle school.

As reported in the Bay View (, "“I don’t see where they are going to get the funds to rebuild Willie Brown when the school budget is operating at a deficit. Building a new school is not the answer. We need to learn how to work with what we have first and improve that before we try to build new facilities" said Daphina Marshall, a parent and a resident of the Bayview Hunters Point community.

Ironically, Willie Brown has received money through the School Improvement Grant (given to each of the bottom 5% schools) and is using that $50,000 dollars to find students from Willie Brown "higher performing" schools to attend. I’m not sure why it costs $50,000 to look for better schools, but I am sure that school reform that doesn't come from the community will never be effective and will continue to leave parents, students, teachers and families feeling like reform is done to them, not for them.

Want to get involved? Critical parent meeting on Monday, Oct. 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m., in the Bayview YMCA conference room on Quesada and Lane Street.

A Teacher We Will Miss

Mission High School English teacher, Kathleen Cecil passed away suddenly on August 18th from a brain aneurism. Kathleen was a long time union activist and advocate for social justice. She was a member of the Executive Board of UESF where she constantly raised issues of justice and equity for students and families. In addition to her time as a SFUSD teacher, she also participated in the Bay Area Writing Project (BAWP), the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE), and Teachers for Social Justice (T4SJ). Kathleen also had a love for traveling and dedicated her summers to writing literature and to gardening.

She was brilliant teacher who dedicated her life to teaching. For her students and members of EDU (and the union) this is a tragic loss. She is an irreplaceable fighter and teacher and we will all miss her. We will do our best to hold up her achievements and continue the fight in her spirit.

EDU members and friends will be planning and fundraising to create a scholarship in Kathleen's name. Anyone interested in helping, (Derrlyn)

Book Discussion Group on Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Book Discussion Group on Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System

by Aaron Niemark

A number of EDU members and other educators began meeting last spring to discuss many of the critical educational issues affecting all of us by reading Diane Ravtich's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. We saw the need to engage in discussions about Race to the Top and other national educational policies that are working to deprofessionalize education and disrespect students and families.

We met about once a month and discussed a few chapters at a time. I found myself better able to talk about these issues with colleagues and with families due to the book group. A next step for me is organizing a book discussion group about Ravitch's book and other readings on education policy with members of our parent and teaching community at my school site, Feinstein Elementary.

Our next book for the EDU discussion group is The Shock Docrtine by Naomi Klein. In this book, Klein discusses how human made and natural disasters have created a prime opportunity for those interested in exploiting such situations for profit and control. The first meeting for discussing, The Shock Doctrine (in parts) will be on monday november 1st, location (and amount of the book assigned) to be determined. If you are interested in participating please contact me at

Fighting for Social Justice and Authentic School Reform

Fighting for Social Justice and

Authentic School Reform

By Nina Lawlit

EDU wants our union to bring members into the struggle for larger social and political issues and to work with allies in our communities to make things right for students, families and educators. A quality education for all students is a social justice issue. Diane Ravitch and others have made powerful critiques of the business-driven reform model for education that is dominating the conversation today. Business-driven reforms don’t work for schools; we want authentic change for education. In dialoguing and allying with families we can work to fully fund our schools and to transform them, deepening our relationships with our students, developing rich, well rounded curriculum and rediscovering the excitement of learning as opposed to the daily boredom of teaching and learning to the test.

On Sept. 3rd Amy Goodman hosted a good discussion of these issues on her radio show, Democracy Now!. It featured Karen Lewis, the new president of the Chicago Teachers Union, and Lois Weiner, an education professor at New Jersey City University. Karen Lewis talked about the problems of applying the business model to education. In the business model you select and discriminate; in public schools we do not discriminate, we take all students, and what we need are more resources and support for everybody there. And why, she continued, should we follow the business model? It brought us to “financial ruin and the brink of Armageddon in 2008,” unless of course, you’re a banker or a CEO Our unions are not, as the so-called reformers claim, against accountability. But, Lewis explained, high stakes testing is not a way to ensure accountability. Our urban neighborhoods have been under- resourced and devalued for decades. That’s what needs to be changed and our schools cannot do it by themselves.

CORE, a caucus of the Chicago Teachers Union, spent the last two years organizing alongside community members. The teachers and community started working together because they all saw the devastation caused by underfunding, and business-driven reforms. CORE was able to change the way the Chicago Board of Education was operating. They forced them to show up at community meetings and saved six schools saved from closure. Now CORE has been voted into the leadership of the Chicago teachers’ union – it’s inspiring.

When educators and community allies work together we build the capacity for social change. We want our union to lead the fight for authentic school reform and take on social and political issues. We hope we can link with the many teachers and community members who fight for social justice, but don’t see the union as a powerful leader in this struggle. We want to use the power of our union to fight for quality education for all students and for social justice for all educators, families and students. This means defending immigrant rights and fighting for public services and jobs that our communities need. There is a renaissance of social activism in educators’ unions in many parts of the country now. It’s exciting to think about our own activism within this main current for change

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Assembly Notes 9/15/10

Attendance: 55 - 65

This was the first Assembly of the school year. It took a while for people to show up but eventually the Assembly had an ok turnout. In general, I recognized most people there but there were a handful of new faces. Not a horrible first start, but also not an auspicious opening since the first meeting of the year is often more well attended than later in the year.

The Agenda tells everything about what UESF is all about right now...elections, elections, elections. There was a special order of business on elections and 7 of the 10 resolutions put forward by UESF involved election initiatives.

The meeting actually opened with a report on the new certificated member evaluation form put together by SFUSD and UESF. It's a very standards based evaluation form. It's sort of complicated, but it looks like a clearer form. If you don't know about it ask your principal to show you the DRAFT form and take a look at it.

After that, COPE director gave a speech on supporting Jerry Brown, Barbara Boxer, supporting Prop. 24 and 25, opposing Prop. B and UESF's 3 candidates for Board of Education. Then, the meeting took on a more organizing role as people were directed to 6 different staff members to get all the literature, to get a sheet where we do a voter questionnaire (and pitch) to each member at our respective sites and to sign up for two potential days of phone banking.

In many ways, what UESF did here is exactly what I think they need to do in general. Use the Assembly as an organizing center for our union. Problems....there was no time allowed for discussion of the relative merits of the various candidates. UESF endorsed and that's a done deal. It will also be a shame if UESF stops the organizing at the Assembly after the elections. There was more fire for action from our leadership this month than during our contract last year where it was very much 'wait and see'. There is little doubt Prop. B must be opposed and Prop. 24 and 25 must be supported. Kim Shree Maufus has been a fairly staunch union supporter and a supporter of progressive causes. Outside of that...questions arise (at least for me).

There was a resolution to support the Oct. 2nd mobilization to Washington DC calling on Washington to support a public works programs that will provide jobs during the recession. Great!

Next, were a series of resolutions on various election issues:

On opposition to a change in Health Service elections
Support of a Real Property Tax initiative - Tax on Office buildings and properties over $5million
Opposition to Prop. B -
Support of Election day registration
Support of Non-citizen voting in School Board elections
Support of Proposition J and Opposition to Proposition K - support Hotel Tax (J) and oppose effort to stop tax increase (K).

All these initiatives are good ones. The only problem was that all had already been acted on by UESF so there was no point in voting on them. They were made 'moot'. It moved the agenda along, but again, there really needs to be a way of involving more of our members in this process. Tom E. raised as much in the meeting. At the same time, I am not sure how this can be done short of organizing an August Assembly.

Next was the debate on the Oct. 30,31 Budget Cuts conference which was year 2 for the people who had initiated organizing around March 4th last spring. UESF agreed to send two observers. EDU argued for making those 2 observers "delegates", for UESF to endorse the conference and to send $100 to the conference organizers to defray cost for the Conference. The overall aim of EDU's amendments were to have UESF play a more active role in supporting the budget cuts conference.

UESF leaders pretty quickly challenged the idea of sending delagate idea saying that the democratic process of the conference was not clear. Lita urged a 'friendly' amendment for 'representatives' but to have UESF play more than an observer role at the conference. Dennis said there was no such things a 'friendly' amendment. So the discussion continued about 'representative' vs. 'delegate'. Nevertheless, in the time alloted for discussion the lines of debate were clear. UESF was fairly hostile to the students and groups organizing this and were unwilling to endorse without any endorsement from the SF labor Council or any other union. EDU was arguing that UESF play a leadership role by endorsing and play a more disisive role in making links with forces outside of EDU..particularly students and college workers affected by budget cuts.

15 minutes ran out just as the debate started. EDU argued to extend debate. The room ultimately voted against (24 - 21). Then the voting commenced,

Sending "delegates' or 'representatives". Failed . 28 - 19

Endorsing the conference. Failed. 27 - 19

Sending $100. Passed. 28 - 21

Votes are rough because I did not write them down. Overall, this was short of what EDU wanted but it was good and somewhat puzzling to see the Assembly vote to send money but not endorse. Overall, the vote reflects the divisions between PLC supporters and EDU supporters in the ASSembly. Each group seems to be hardening in response to each other in the absence of new forces in the room. That is my sense at least.

Still it was good to have the discussion and to talk about UESF's relationship to activism both within and outside it's union.

Andy Libson

Next the resolution on "Waiting for Superman" came up and both Susan Soloman and Dennis Kelly took the opportunity to speak on the movie and UESF action around it for approx. 8-10 minutes before the signatories to the resolution were called on to motivate it. Dennis also talked about how AFT is encouraging locals to not "just be in opposition" to the film but to talk about good schools that work. I motivated the resolution adding three things to the critique of the film a) not a single teacher interviewed b) no explicit raising of issues of race and institutional racism c) total union-bashing and the film makers and supporters know it. I also noted that the original resolution called for picketing and was more "oppositional" in its tone. I made the argument that we should be oppositional to the film AND accept and analyze critiques of the public school system (as opposed to not being oppositional and then being defensive about the state of US public education). I should have been more explicit that it seems problematic to put up two resolutions (this one and the October 30/31 one) that have been completely gutted and not note that in the resolution itself. Lita and I talked about sending a note to the office to request something along the lines of "Resolution passed AS AMENDED by the Executive Board" or something along those lines.

I did not move to amend this resolution (as gutted by the EBoard) because we decided at the EDU meeting that we will organize our own protest of this film and build it on our own. I felt very glad of this decision when Dennis made a point of saying that, "WE took the lead on this and had a flier ready for it even before AFT did and sent ours off to AFT to look at." It is because of EDU that UESF did anything at all around this film (sound familiar) and they squandered the chance to really organize something at that.

As to the reports:
No word yet on when EdJobs money could be expected to rehire people and get rid of furlough days - but this is what is likely to happen. Superintendent Garcia is reported to be willing to talk about rescinding the 5 certificated and 40 classified layoffs that still stand and the MOU that we signed with the district means that the district has to use new money to pull back furlough days.

Adrienne Johnstone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Principals of School Reform



Sustainable school reform can only be achieved with the full collaboration of all stakeholders: parents, students, educators and administrators. There is no single blueprint for school reform. Each diverse school community should decide which reform model fits best, and adjust it to most meet its communities’ unique needs. We therefore offer the following principles for creating successful schools for all SFUSD students.

Consultation and Collaboration Among All Stakeholders:

· Historically, reconstitution has failed to transform at-risk schools. It removes valuable stakeholders – educators – from the reform process. NO RECONSTITUION or teacher reapplication.

· All stakeholders -- parents, educators, students and administrators -- must be active participants in school design and reform.

· Both current parties to the Consent Decree – SFUSD and the NAACP – should consider UESF a partner in meeting desegregation and academic achievement goals.

· Research on effective reform must be reviewed and utilized.

· District-wide data on student achievement must be reviewed by SFUSD, UESF and other key stakeholders BEFORE implementation of any site-level reform effort.

· The SFUSD-UESF contracts should outline protocols regarding school site redesign

Sufficient Resources and Support For a Healthy School Community:

All sites need adequate public funds for:

· appropriately credentialed teachers and paraprofessionals; literacy, technology, art, music, health and PE teachers

· nurses, social workers, counselors, librarians, and core substitutes

· books, supplies and the maintenance of a safe and inviting environment

· programs to meet the needs of all students, including: early intervention, GATE, AP, remedial, vocational and elective classes

· release time for collective planning and collaboration

· quality childcare, parenting classes, translation services and adult education

Accountability For All Stakeholders:

Sustainable school reform is built on respectful relationships. For each school site an open process with clear timelines and definitions of responsibility among stakeholders is necessary, including:

· SFUSD central administration should:

o honor the will of the educators and parents at each site

o use date other than high stakes testing to assess school and student success

o provide the resources necessary to each site

· The Board of Education should provide clear policy direction to school administration.

· Educators should implement standards-based instruction to meet the needs of all students.

· Students should take responsibility for their own learning.

· Parents should be accessible partners to their children and to teachers in the learning process

Adopted by UESF Assembly April 20, 2005