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SFUSD and parents address historic challenges

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The June 12 San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education meeting was a doozy.

The meeting didn’t go into closed session until past midnight. I attend quite a few board meetings, so I’ve seen my fair share of heated public comment.

But that Tuesday night’s meeting broke my heart.

The board was to vote on the SFUSD staff recommendation to deny a petition from a new charter school.

The public comment surrounding this item pitted Bayview pare nt against Bayview parent. The comments themselves were heated and passionate, both for and against.

Why did I find the evening so distressing? Many comments particularly disparaged our public schools in the Bayview and the Mission – yet they were generalizations without any specifics.

Much of this negative narrative is pushed by Innovate Public Schools, which I find duplicitous. While vilifying our schools and scaring families, they are drumming up enrollment for their proposed charter school. They are not pushing this negative narrative for the good of the community, but rather to profit from this division.

Our public district has done considerable work to recognize and address our historic challenges. The district created the African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI) in 2013. The director of this program reports directly to the superintendent.

The initiative holds SFUSD departments and city agencies accountable for providing a high-quality educational experience to African-American students and and provides a platform for African American students, parents and community leadership.

In addition, SFUSD resources are now being directed to schools with low achievement or with gaps between student groups.

The Special Education Department has expanded inclusion into all schools within the district – and the Board of Education laid out this commitment in its 2016 Inclusive Schools Resolution.

This year’s special education budget includes an additional $10 million for new teachers and para-educators.

The district is also implementing the Community Schools model to add community resources and aid families in supporting student needs with $10,470,000 for the first year from the Department of Children, Youth & Their Families to support the expansion of our Beacon community partners into 27 school sites.

I also appreciate that my voice is heard in SFUSD.

In Parent Teacher Student Associations and School Site Councils, I serve on multiple district-level advisory committees. I’m the chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. Our committee of parent volunteers is passionate about special education and supporting students with disabilities. We regularly attend Board of Education meetings, make public comment, and present to the board.

Last Tuesday, we presented our priorities for next year: implementing robust reading interventions for students at all reading levels, providing social emotional supports for all students and increasing staff stability.

The goal of all of us on each and every committee is to improve outcomes for our most marginalized students. And in SFUSD, we are not alone in our work.

As the adoptive parent of African-American students, two of whom have disabilities, issues of equity and social justice in our school district have always been important to me and my family. I have much compassion for families who are worried about whether or not their children will succeed in SFUSD.

But our district is addressing its under-supported minority students, students with disabilities and students for whom English isn’t their first language.

I would respectfully urge all families to look beyond slick corporate advertising and marketing masquerading as grassroots organizing. The narrative of failing schools is insulting. Look beyond test scores. Talk to a school’s students and families.

For example, ask me about Mission High School. My oldest daughter graduated from Mission three weeks ago. She is heading off to Washington College in the fall with a presidential scholarship.

Many San Francisco residents had cautioned my husband and me not to send our daughter to Mission. After all, hadn’t we heard about its reputation?

Not only does Mission serve the highest number of African American students in the district, it also had the highest number of students accepted to University of California campuses. Part of what makes that statistic so

impressive is that Mission is half, or a third of, the size of our larger high schools.

Reach out to your local neighborhood school. All schools will be offering tours in the fall, go check out your neighborhood school. Join us at the enrollment fair on Oct.13.

Go see for yourself what a school is really like. I hope that families keep attending Board of Education meetings and speaking out about what is important to them. I have seen first hand how impactful that can be.

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Alida Ducey-Fisher is the mother of three SFUSD students and a recent Mission High School graduate. She chairs the district’s Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and is an active member of the district’s African American Parent Advisory Council and LCAP Task Force.

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