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Archive for the ‘San Francisco Unified School District’ Category

Taco truck fighting police ouster

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
December 17, 2008

A taco truck at the center of a gustatory debate is fighting to remain in its longtime location next to John O’Connell High School, despite a law approved last year making such juxtapositions illegal.

Police revoked El Tonayense’s permit to operate the truck, located on Harrison Street near 19th Street, in September, but owner Benjamin Santana is appealing the decision, saying his establishment should be grandfathered in because it’s been there longer than the school has. That revocation is suspended, pending Santana’s appeal hearing, scheduled for Feb. 4, according to a report from SFPD Cmdr. Sylvia Harper.

The Board of Supervisors passed new rules March 20, 2007, banning all mobile food vendors from setting up shop within 1500 feet of public schools. In July of this year, police contacted vendors and found only three violating the rules; two agreed to move, but Santana dug in his heels, according to Harper.

Although O’Connell allows many of its seniors to go off-campus for lunch, more teachers than students nosh at El Tonayense, according to Assistant Principal Rick Duber.

“I’m often in the yard by the truck, and very few kids eat there,” Duber said. “It’s kind of expensive for the kids.”

However, some nutrition advocates say O’Connell students frequent the truck at lunchtime, loading up on high-calorie burritos and bringing back food for their classmates. One regular, Robert Bell, said kids pass him dollar bills through the fence to buy Cokes for them.

“If this truck is getting none of its business from O’Connell, why is the owner so reluctant to move?” said Dana Woldow, chair of the nutrition committee for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Police identified an alternate location for the El Tonayense truck around the corner at 2300 Harrison Street, according to Sgt. Wilfred Williams. Santana opposed the move on the grounds that he was operating at his current site before O’Connell moved to the neighborhood eight years ago, according to a report from SFPD Capt. Thomas O’Neill.

Santana could not be reached for comment.

Woldow challenged the nutritional value of the food, arguing that O’Connell has some of the worst scores on California physical-fitness tests – just 22 percent of ninth graders met all six fitness criteria on the 2007-08 test. But Duber said the food’s not that bad.

“Most of it’s actually very healthy,” Duber said. “Much more so than McDonald’s or KFC.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

December 17, 2008 at 5:23 PM

District trying new tricks to get students to eat healthier

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by Beth Winegarner
Staff Writer
November 17, 2008

You can lead a student to the salad bar, but you can’t make him eat.

As San Francisco’s public schools have transformed their cafeteria menu options — kicking out the junk food and adding fresh fruit, salads and healthier meals — leaders have struggled to make those options enticing to kids.

This year, leaders have added two more ideas to the menu: more food options at the beaneries, and a district-wide point-of-sale payment system so kids don’t have to divulge whether they’re paying full price or getting a government reimbursement.

Almost 55 percent of SFUSD students qualify for federal free and reduced-cost food, earning the district a reimbursement on every meal those students eat, according to Ed Wilkins, head of district nutrition services.

That means the meals they get in school may be their healthiest meals of the day, according to Woldow. However, many of those students avoid the lunch lines so their peers can’t tell they’re not paying.

Over the next 18 months, the district will bring swipe-cards and networked payment systems to every school — at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million – so students’ lunch status stays under wraps, according to Wilkins.

At the same time, the district is working to make cafeteria and beanery options more enticing, offering two or three menu options per day, according to parent Dana Woldow, the district’s school-nutrition guru.

“You can get sandwiches and wraps, chicken or vegetarian chow mein, hot soup, fresh fruits and vegetables,” Woldow said. Another bonus: larger-size entrees at the high schools, where growing teens complain they don’t get enough to eat.

The district has come a long way in six years, since the Board of Education passed a resolution ordering sales of junk food — candy, sodas and chips – out of the schools. Although it wasn’t scheduled to take effect until September of 2003, Balboa High School Principal Patricia Gray didn’t wait — and she saw immediate results.

“We saw a 50 percent drop in behavioral problems, like referrals and fights, or kids going to sleep in class from the sugar crash,” Gray said. Since then, healthier food – along with focused effort among teachers — has helped students boost Balboa’s state test scores more than 10 percent, according to Gray.

The district has also rolled out healthier grains, from brown rice to whole-wheat pizza crust, as well as hot breakfast at every school.

“Sure, it’s more expensive, but you can’t wait for participation to go up — you have to start by making the food better,” and then watch as kids catch on, Woldow said.

Kids opt for off-campus, less-healthy food

Chicken teriyaki over brown rice or a healthy sandwich wrap for $3 probably sounds like an ideal lunch to many San Franciscans, but plenty of high-schoolers still prefer going off campus for a taco, burger or slice of full-fat pizza.

The San Francisco Unified School District has worked to make its lunch options tastier and more enticing. But nutrition guidelines – which say school food can’t get more than 30 percent of its calories from fat, or more than 35 percent of its weight from sugar – often get in the way of flavor, officials say.

“If these kids want a real slice of pizza, they have to go up the hill,” said SFUSD nutrition director Ed Wilkins. “My pizza is never going to cut it.”

Six high schools have open campuses, and students take advantage of the opportunity to leave at lunchtime – whether their school offers top-notch cafeteria choices and salad bars or not.

“The cafeteria food is very unappetizing,” said Mary Hodge, a sophomore at School of the Arts, which doesn’t offer a salad bar. Hodge was returning from a lunch-hour trip to buy a bottle of Odwalla juice instead, while her friends picked up pizza at Round Table.

That makes drawing students’ interest in the campus lunch line an uphill battle.

At Lowell High School, students are working on a project where they compare the calorie and nutrition content of off-campus food to the on-campus counterparts, according to Dana Woldow, co-chair of the district’s nutrition committee.

Many students said nearby restaurants offer more choices – albeit at higher prices – while others said they simply enjoy the freedom.

“Even though the cafeteria food is OK, it’s nice to take advantage of the privilege of going off campus,” said SOTA sophomore Jan Lopez.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

November 17, 2008 at 5:20 PM

Curfew idea sees light of day

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 15, 2008

City and school officials have pursued numerous approaches to encourage students and parents to curb truancy, but some leaders say San Francisco needs to do more to just pick loitering minors up off the streets and return them to school.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is pushing the San Francisco Unified School District, police and other agencies to step up enforcement of truancy laws, he told The Examiner on Monday.

At the same time, the Office of Criminal Justice is weighing a daytime curfew as one possible tool for keeping kids in the classroom, according to the office’s Maya Dillard-Smith.

“We need to get back to basics, and either have a trained protocol with the Police Department or another branch of government that can encounter truants and their parents and then have a facility where they’re able to admit them,” Mirkarimi said.

Police do pick up truant students and take them back to class or to The City’s lone truancy center, housed at the Bayview YMCA, according to police spokesman Neville Gittens.

However, Keith Choy, director of the school district’s truancy program, said police don’t get involved that often.

“What I hear from police is, ‘I should save my uniform for more substantive crimes,’ or ‘We don’t have a place to take them,’” Choy said.

Across the district, Choy has a staff of 65 attendance counselors — and one of their jobs is knocking on parents’ doors when kids start missing school. “I wish there were more,” he said.

The number of students who missed 10 or more days of school has held steady for the past three years, though it increased slightly to 5,449 in 2007-08, the same year District Attorney Kamala Harris began prosecuting parents of the worst offenders.

Six parents were given court-mandated instructions to keep their children in school and to get support for the problems contributing to truancy — or face increased penalties, including a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail. So far, five of the six families are complying, according to district attorney spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck.

Over the past four years, 94 percent of the city’s homicide victims under 25 were high school dropouts, according to Harris, who launched a $20,000 anti-truancy ad campaign Monday.

In addition, when students don’t attend school, the district loses money. District officials estimate it has lost $10 million in state attendance revenue because of truancy.

Other cities across the nation have daytime curfews in place to curb truancy. Students in San Mateo County who are truant multiple times can be fined up to $100 and lose driving privileges under the county’s curfew ordinance.

Mirkarimi said Harris’ prosecution efforts and the school district’s intervention programs aren’t enough without a citywide strategy and system of accountability.

Not everyone agrees that truants need more police intervention.

“Truancy should not be thought of as a criminal- or juvenile-justice issue,” said N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Youth. “Our schools lack support. They’re stretched, and kids are falling through the cracks.”

Truancy rates 2006-07

Defined as students with three or more unexcused absences, San Francisco’s truancy rates are among the highest in the Bay Area

Oakland: 23,562 (49.76%)
Marin County: 4,284 (15.02%)
San Jose: 6,501 (21.05%)
San Francisco Unified School District: 15,149 (27.47%)
San Mateo County: 18,802 (21.42%)

Source: California Department of Education

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 15, 2008 at 11:14 PM

Kindergartners face hurdles to better health

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
September 13, 2008

San Francisco may have a reputation as a health-conscious city, but a recent study found that kindergartners in local public schools were more likely to be overweight than kids their age nationwide.

A sample of 4,000 kindergartners entering school in the fall of 2007 showed that 18 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys were overweight, compared with 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys nationally, according to an Applied Survey Research study commissioned by First 5 San Francisco and the San Francisco Unified School District.

“There are plenty of kids who, by the time they’re 4 or 5, have a weight problem,” said Dana Woldow, co-chair of the SFUSD’s nutrition and physical activity committee. “And you’re going to see it most in low-income, Latino, Pacific Islander and African-American kids.”

Hispanic kindergartners composed 28 percent of last year’s student population, which also included 26 percent Chinese, 17 percent “other,” 16 percent white and 13 percent black students, according to the APR study. In addition, 54 percent of SFUSD students qualified for free or reduced-cost lunch in 2007-08, meaning their families took in less than $39,000 per year, according to Woldow.

Researchers also found that fewer San Francisco kindergartners were at risk of becoming overweight when compared with the national average, but speculated that parents might have under-reported the weights of “borderline” children but were more straightforward when their children were obviously overweight, according to the study.

More children become overweight as they get into their preteens. While 13.9 percent of children ages 2 to 5 were deemed overweight nationwide, that percentage rose to 18.8 percent among children ages 6 to 11, then fell slightly to 17.4 among kids 12 to 19, according to Karen Hunter with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, officials are working hard to help kids shape up.

Public-school kids are required to spend roughly 20 minutes per day in some kind of physical activity or play, from hula hoops to somersaults or running games, according to Mark Elkin in the SFUSD’s health division. Their school-provided meals also must meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition regulations, Elkin said.

Outside of school, children may stay outdoors because their neighborhoods are plagued by frequent violence, said Department of Public Health worker Christine Ngoette, who focuses on citywide fitness and nutrition policy.

“I would look at Sunday Streets as an example of how we’re trying to create environments that are conducive to getting outside and having fun,” Ngoette said.

How San Francisco compares nationwide

Kindergarteners in overweight category (95th percentile or more):

Boys: 18%
Girls: 20%

Boys: 13%
Girls: 15%

Average number of overweight children, nationwide:
Age 2-5: 13.9%
Age 6-11: 18.8%
Age 12-19: 17.4%

Sources: Applied Survey Research, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

September 13, 2008 at 11:17 PM

Superintendent making the grade

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
August 26, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Touring a number of schools on the first day of classes Monday, Carlos Garcia was greeted heartily by parents, teachers and principals, some shaking his hands, some actually hugging him.

As the superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, Garcia had some massive hurdles to overcome when he was hired to lead the district last summer. Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman departed with the reputation of having polarized the district. Schools’ leaders said black and Hispanic students were falling further behind.

“We needed someone who was a unifying force, someone who could speak to the positives about public education and yet have a clear understanding of the extreme challenges we have, in terms of the achievement gap [between white and Asian students and Latino and black students],” said Mark Sanchez, chair of the Board of Education.

By all accounts, the district received it — in spades.

Throughout The City, leaders credit Garcia with accomplishing two of the major goals he set for his first year on the job: convincing voters in a tough budget year to approve Proposition A, a $198 parcel tax to boost teacher salaries, and creating the strategic plan, a five-year plan that Garcia hopes will close the achievement gap, which has been a growing problem for The City.

They also credit him with taking the time to visit every school in his first year and to getting to know each principal and many teachers.

“I like seeing him come out here and talk to the community,” said Rudy Corpuz, executive director of United Playaz, a group that works with at-risk youth. “We need more of that.”

However, while most say Garcia has done a lot to lay the groundwork for positive change in San Francisco schools, the coming year will show whether that change can happen.

“It’s very early to make a judgment about his time in San Francisco,” said Dennis Kelly, president of the teachers’ union. “But our concern is that [the strategic plan] shouldn’t be a lot of additional work for the teachers.”

Jill Wynns, the longest-serving member of the Board of Education and an Ackerman supporter, agreed that Garcia must get down to brass tacks when rolling out the plan and how it will help students.

“He’s had a good honeymoon, but it’s still a honeymoon,” Wynns said.

As for Garcia, the former superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, he said he’s proud of his first-year accomplishments. However, he’s hoping this year he will be able to tackle literacy and mathematics, programs he didn’t get to as quickly as he wanted.

“Last year was a great year, but you can always say you could have done more,” Garcia said.

Garcia’s report card
Schools leaders weigh in on the achievements of Carlos Garcia, hired last summer as superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District

School leader Grade
Lorraine Woodruff-Long (parent leader): A
Mark Sanchez (board of education chair): A
Dennis Kelly (president of teachers’ union)*: A

Year one goals accomplished?
Help get Prop. A passed: Yes
Develop and approve the strategic plan: Yes
Hire assistant superintendent: Yes
Hire superintendent of academics: Yes
Kick off new K-3 literacy programs: No
Kick off new mathematics program: No

Year two goals
Roll out the strategic plan
Revamp district’s school-assignment system
Start K-3 literacy programs
Start new mathematics program

* Kelly gave an incomplete grade on Garcia’s ability to close the achievement gap

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

August 26, 2008 at 5:59 AM

School district defends safety measures

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 25, 2008

Four San Francisco students have been caught bringing firearms to class this year, and 65 carried other weapons — incidents the Public Defender’s Office says are becoming increasingly common.

A 6-year-old brought a handgun to Cleveland Elementary School on May 9, the day after a 17-year-old was discovered with a loaded semi-automatic weapon during an evening class at Lowell High School. Two other gun-possession cases were reported earlier this school year, according to district data.

Though recent incidents sparked online debates over access to guns — even toy guns — among San Francisco parents, district officials say existing safety measures are working well.

Security guards and police officers are posted at most San Francisco Unified School District campuses, spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said. Schools perform lockdown drills once a year, but have not installed metal detectors to check students for weapons — and don’t plan to.

“One of the goals is to be open and inviting, to create a place where students and parents feel safe,” Blythe said. “There are a lot of ways to create that safety.”

When a student is disciplined for carrying a weapon, “we make sure they get counseling and other support, so they can hopefully integrate back into the school system,” Trustee Eric Mar said.

Despite occasional guns in school, students haven’t shot fellow students on campus, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

However, “We’ve definitely seen more cases of young people with guns,” Adachi said. “And if you’re seeing a steady flow of guns and knives in school it raises that possibility [of a shooting].”

Juvenile-hall inmates polled by the Public Defender’s Office said students predominantly carry weapons for protection — not assault.

But protection can mean something different to teens such as the student who brought a gun to a San Francisco high school several years ago, said Visitacion Valley Middle School Principal James Dierke, who would not name the school where the incident happened.

“This boy had bought the gun the day before on Market Street for $100 because someone had taken his parking space at school and he was going to get the guy,” Dierke said.

At Visitacion Valley, assemblies teach the consequences of gun violence — both for the victim and for the perpetrator, Dierke said.

Trustees have taken disciplinary action against the 6-year-old, though details could not be revealed for legal reasons, said trustee Eric Mar.

Setting a trend

SFUSD started tracking student incidents involving weapons or assaults to spot trends. Here’s what it found this school year:

Students who brought guns to school: 4

Students who brought other weapons to school: 65

Assaults with weapons: 22

Battery cases: 17

The security detail is divided between many schools.

Total guards: 119

1 at a child development center

8 at elementary schools

2 per middle school

4 per high school

Total police: 32

On duty: Ten hours per day, four days per week

Patrolling: Middle and high schools

Source: SFUSD

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 25, 2008 at 11:01 PM

Improved exam scores beat peers, trail ’burbs

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
May 21, 2008

San Francisco public school students continue to outperform students in other urban areas statewide on standardized tests, but they still struggle to keep up with the high scores of the neighboring districts in the Bay Area, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s overall score — based on students’ collective performance on the tests — improved this year, bringing the district to a 764, just a few points shy of the state’s target score of 800 for all schools and districts. Schools are ranked between a lowof 200 and a high of 1,000.

When compared with urban districts across the state, San Francisco continues to come out on top. But the district rubs shoulders with higher-scoring districts, such as Alameda and Palo Alto unified, where students are scoring above 800.

“The fact is, we’re doing better than our peers — but the bar is relatively low,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner on Wednesday. “I’m proud of our progress, but we need much more audacious goals.”

Boosting minorities’ performance is one of those goals, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

In SFUSD, black students in The City earned an API score of 582, while Hispanics scored at 649 — compared with 843 for Asians and 849 for whites, according to the California Department of Education.

In the coming years, Garcia said he is hoping to use the API, along with other measures, to track student progress.

Garcia’s plan would pinpoint trouble spots and highlight schools that have stumbled upon ways to help low-performing students succeed, he said.

“We won’t have to hire outside consultants to tell us how to do this — we can use in-house expertise and share information on what’s working,” Garcia said.

Overall, elementary and middle schools in The City are ahead of their peers — urban or otherwise. While 34.6 percent of elementary schools in California scored 800 or higher, 46 percent of San Francisco schools did. Among California middle schools, 24.6 percent reached or exceeded 800 while 31 percent of San Francisco middle schools did so.

However, only one San Francisco high school, Lowell, exceeded 800.

School wears ‘most improved’ honor proudly

“Most improved” can sometimes be a dubious honor, but the leaders of Metropolitan Arts and Technology High, a charter school catering mainly to low-income minority students, are taking it proudly.

Metropolitan saw its Academic Performance Index scores rise 95 points, from 580 in 2006 to 675 in 2007 — its second straight year of 90-plus growth, according to Vice Principal Todd Williams.

The state gives schools and districts a target goal of 800.

The school population is comprised of at least 41 percent black and Hispanic students, with numerous others listing their ethnicity as “multiple.” Black and Hispanic students make up approximately 35 percent of the overall district population.

With 22 students per classroom and plenty of advisors and parental involvement at Metropolitan, which was founded in 2005, students are thriving, teachers said.

“We have a diverse population … with many coming from poverty or violence,” said Abby Benedetto, one of Metropolitan’s teachers. “We’re able to sit down with a student and say ‘Working on this essay is going to be the thing that gets you out of your neighborhood.’”

This story originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

May 21, 2008 at 10:48 PM