Schoolyard bully

A charter high school uses legal threats to squeeze into Horace Mann Middle School without notifying parents or teachers

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The San Francisco Unified District is facing scrutiny over its decision to move a charter high school into Horace Mann Middle School for the 2010-11 school year. Parents and teachers at Horace Mann and even members of the Board of Education were not informed of this decision until it was finalized last month, sparking questions about how this decision could have been made without communicating to all the parties involved.

This is the third time in recent years that the district has moved charter schools into public school facilities without notifying employees and parents before a decision is reached. In 2008, the district decided to relocate Excelsior Middle School to International Studies Academy High School, notifying parents of the move just months before the school year started. The charter school City Arts and Technology took over Excelsior's site and was notified of the move a month before Excelsior parents.

In another case from 2008, district officials made a decision to co-locate Denman Middle School with Leadership High Charter School, again without informing the community of its decision until it was finalized. Now the charter school Metro Arts and Technology High School is moving from Burton High School in the Bayview District to Horace Mann in the Mission.

San Francisco Board of Education member Jill Wynns didn't know about Metro's move until parents brought up the issue at the June meeting. She said it's hard to let the community know about impending decisions because balancing community involvement and trying to avoid "public hysteria" is a difficult task. "Our commitment is to involve the community, but they are not allowed to make the decisions," Wynns told the Guardian. "We want them to know, but the decision is not up to them."

Still, Horace Mann teachers said that the district's habit of not notifying the community of its decisions isn't fair, especially since Metro parents knew about the move months before they did. "The process is really disrespectful to the parents and it's happening consistently to the disempowered," a Horace Mann teacher who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, told us. "This is happening to schools with high amounts of people of color and low socioeconomic statuses."

Envision Schools, the Oakland-based organization managing two charter schools in San Francisco, including Metro, wrote a letter to Superintendent Carlos Garcia on Oct. 15 requesting to move Metro to another facility, citing lack of natural light in its classrooms, lack of offices and spaces for administration, inadequate science labs, and lack of an identifiable school front entrance. Metro is protected under Proposition 39, a law voters approved in 2000 mandating that school districts must accommodate charter schools with facilities comparable to those used by other students.

Wynns said part of the problem is that Prop. 39 gives charter schools too much power. "The regulations are all biased in favor of the charter schools, and the charter schools rights are paramount," Wynns told us. "We had Metro in a facility that, in my opinion, was more Prop. 39 compliant than the facility they will be going to now. And now we are going to crowd them in a middle school."

Board members who criticize the deal say that the district didn't follow district policy in this case. Wynns said that while some members of the board were under the impression that Metro was staying at Burton or that Horace Mann was only a consideration, district officials had already made the decision that Metro was moving to Horace Mann without notifying the board — a violation of board policy.

Comments

Good coverage -- it's heartening to see the press asking real questions and not swooning over charter schools for a change. The Bay Guardian has a history of solid journalism in this area.

From the wording of the paragraph describing the Leadership Charter move into Denman Middle School and the City Arts & Tech move into the former Excelsior Middle School (a site shared with the high school June Jordan), some readers might infer that those were decisions made by the district and imposed on the charters. But that's not the case -- again, the charter schools hold the cards in these moves, thanks to Prop. 39.

Co-locations of charter schools with public schools (yes, some people call charter schools "public," but they're actually privately run with public dollars) are a divisive and harmful problem in many places. In the nation's largest school district, New York City, this is a huge issue, with the district under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg pushing charters into existing public schools and then giving the charters openly favored treatment -- better and roomier facilities, far superior maintenance, smaller class sizes, generally more resources.

While you're at it, SFBG, two more charter stories to watch:

A Boston charter organization is behind a push to create a new K-8 charter school in the Mission. The SFUSD Board of Ed has turned the proposal down -- and our Board of Ed is not inherently anti-charter -- due to inadequacies in the financial and other aspects of the application. The would-be charter operator is reportedly appealing to the State Board of Ed, which can then push the charter into our district, though it would be under the auspices of the SBOE, not SFUSD. (Does it get any monitoring at all from the SBOE or just operate on its own, accountable to no one? That's a question that should be asked.) And by the way, the Boston organization, includes a board member, Steven F. Wilson, who was the founder and CEO of Boston-based Advantage Schools. Advantage was a for-profit charter operator that collapsed amid scandal after a Boston Globe investigation revealed its troubles in 2001 -- and it was the last known employer of SFUSD's notorious former Superintendent Bill Rojas.

Also, remember Edison Charter Academy, the "it's a miracle!" news story of 2001, run by the for-profit Edison Schools Inc. entrepreneurial enterprise? Edison Charter Academy, at 22nd and Dolores, is also chartered by the SBOE (it is now a rent-paying tenant in an SFUSD-owned site). Anyway, Edison Charter Academy apparently staged a revolution and declared its independence from the remaining feeble shreds of the once-hailed for-profit Edison Schools Inc. So it's now independently run. The many forces, local and national, that once touted Edison Inc. and for-profit charter operators as the miracle future of education are now pretending they never heard of it. (Former Edison booster and Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders is currently too busy vigorously espousing discrimination against gays.)

Posted by CarolineSF on Aug. 05, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

Here's an eye-catching example of the co-location furor in New York City, from the NY Times.

It took almost six months for David M. Steiner, the state education
commissioner, to decide that New York City had broken the law when it decided to
take space from a program for autistic children on the Lower East Side and give
it to an expanding charter school.
It took less than two days for Joel I. Klein, the city schools chancellor, to
say he would disregard the decision, at least temporarily.

On Wednesday, the chancellor announced he would use his little-known emergency
powers, based in a clause in the State Education Law, to follow through with the
city’s original plans.

The emergency clause, designated section 2590-h (2-a) (f), provides that the
chancellor may unilaterally transform how a school is used, avoiding the normal
process of public hearings and notification, when doing so is “immediately
necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare.”

It was Mr. Klein’s first use of his emergency powers, which were embedded in
the law passed last summer extending mayoral control of the city’s schools.
His exact reasoning as to why they were warranted in this case �" whether for
health, safety or welfare �" is due to be posted on the city’s Web site in
the coming days, a city spokesman said.

...In February, the city approved the plans of the Girls Preparatory Charter
School, an all-girls elementary school founded by a group of wealthy investors,
located in Public School 188 on the Lower East Side, to add middle-school
grades.

To make room, the city decided to reduce the grades served in a program for
autistic children, saying it would send students who would have gone there to
other locations.

(The website won't let me post the link; it's easy to find the whole article.)

Posted by CarolineSF on Aug. 06, 2010 @ 1:52 pm

Dear Ms. Baguio,

To start with, thank you for showing multiple perspectives on this article. While the title is clearly biased and does not align with the process you describe in the article, I still think it is well-informed overall. I do, however, want to highlight a key missing ingredient: what's best for the students? Your article covers a lot about teachers and principals and Districts, but little to nothing about students, which should be the main point. This neglect is sympomatic of what is wrong in the dialogue around education today.

In my opinion, as a Metro teacher, the move is not the best option for our students but certainly better. Our students will now have the opportunity to see sunlight during the day. They will be closer to their homes. They will be able to take advantage of the opportunities of an amazing neighborhood, just to name a few. Horace Mann students will get to interact with strong, positive role models in the form of Metro students. They will get to be around the amazing art and performances of Metro students. And, hopefully, down the line they will be able to collaborate with Metro students on projects and formalized programs.

Thank you for your time and in the future I strongly encourage you to consider what's best for the students when you cover education.

Posted by ZebZ on Aug. 07, 2010 @ 1:18 pm

Once again the issue is avoided. The arrogant assumption Horace Mann Students will fare better because of the superiority of the "Metro Education"
The isuue is and will always be the process. Had it been collaborative, with input and decesion making with all, including the school board perhaps there would not be this sense of "take over".

Envision, with their dominate culture attitude imposed their idea of what's best for those poor Horace Mann students and teachers. Envision will enlighten them to the truth.

One only need look at the disaster of their other schools.

Posted by Guest tia on Aug. 09, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

Yes!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 17, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

Brittany, Metro High School has advocated for a Mission neighborhood location for over 4 years without any real consideration by some for the benefits this could have on the families in the area. Over half of Metro's families live in the MIssion, but it has been offered locations without regard for the needs of the community. The educational program offers real opportunities to its students. 100% of Metro graduates go onto college and over 85% are eligible to attend 4 year universities. Statistics on the number of historically disadvantaged graduates of color attending college or being eligible to four year universities is low for SF families and others across CA. The issue around community involvement and communication is complex. In terms of doing more balanced journalism, did you bother to interview any Board members who are supportive of the move? Both Board members you interviewed for the story are known for their opposition or skepticism to charters in general. Did you talk to any Metro parents, students, or teachers? What about organizations that support families in the Mission? With further study, I think you'd agree that the "Schoolyard Bully" title of this piece is quite hyperbolic and distorts the history surrounding Metro's move.

Posted by Going for Donuts on Aug. 12, 2010 @ 6:08 am

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