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School board ready to move quickly on major student assignment overhaul

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Students attend class at San Francisco International High School in San Francisco’s Mission District Thursday, April 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Board of Education commissioners said Monday they need to move quickly on a major overhaul of the failed student assignment system for San Francisco’s public schools.

With classroom segregation increasing, the San Francisco Unified School District could roll out a new system as soon as the 2020-21 school year, according to Chief of Policy and Operations Orla O’Keeffe.

“This is complex work, it will require additional resources and dedicated time and effort to move at the pace that the community and the board want us to do so,” O’Keefe said Monday at the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment.

The district just finished a year’s worth of meetings reviewing the current student assignment system and its pitfalls since 2010.

Under the system, families can enter a lottery where children are assigned to schools based on a series of factors including whether they live in areas with low test scores or have siblings in attendance.

The system has been deemed a failure because it is difficult for parents to understand and schools have become more segregated. The district found last November that 14 of 58 elementary schools are segregated, with more than 60 percent comprised of students of one racial group.

Furthermore, few parents choose to enroll students at schools in the Bayview, leaving classrooms there under-enrolled.

“This is really important and it’s probably the biggest policy issue that our community can engage with us on,” Commissioner Rachel Norton said at the meeting. “We know it’s not working. Let’s go. Let’s figure out the next steps for making this policy work.”

Before rolling out an entire overhaul, district staff want the school board to consider transitioning to an online assignment system in 2018-19 and “turning off” a transfer mechanism in 2019-20.

The mechanism allows parents to swap school choices during different rounds of the lottery, but has only been used by a small percentage of students.

Commissioner Mark Sanchez said at the meeting that the current system is “broken and untenable.”

“It needs serious repairs and I know we are going to be doing some tweaks over the year, and I’m for that, but we need a massive rollout of something that our communities can have confidence in,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to see this for the ’20-21 school year.”

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