Four years ago, students at Everett Middle School were afraid to walk the halls. The campus, located on the border of the Castro and Mission districts, had a reputation for violence and low test scores. The San Francisco Unified School District decided to turn to the federal government for help.
Now, the changes made possible through the School Improvement Grants program are noticeable — and federal and state officials have taken notice as well, citing San Francisco as a model for how to approach underperforming schools and how to fund them.
“With SIG funding, we’ve had the opportunity to invest in certain leaders,” SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza said. “We’ve said, ‘If you believe in these children and in that school and in that neighborhood, we’ll set up a system that will provide infrastructure to support you being effective.’”
The funding was awarded in 2009 to Everett and nine other San Francisco schools that were historically low-performing and had a higher number of low-income and English-language learners.
“You guys are the pioneers of the turnaround model,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of eighth-graders during a recent visit to Everett. “There’s now a waitlist to come here. You changed that culture. You’ve done something special here.”
The grant meant Everett and the other schools could purchase more books, increase teacher training, hire a literacy coach, hire more counselors and tutors, and increase after-school programs.
Education officials say the turnarounds also highlight the need for investment in the nation’s underserved students, because all the schools have increased test scores and improved their learning environments.
Duncan said the results from Everett show what can happen when consistently low-performing schools are funded properly.
“We made the investment because we thought this would work,” he said. “It takes a lot of commitment and it’s hard to do, but it can happen.”
The $45 million in funding expires this year, and SFUSD officials have been searching for ways to keep the extra resources the money created and expand them to other campuses.
There are at least 20 additional struggling schools and countless children throughout the district who need more resources to succeed, said Guadalupe Guerrero, the SFUSD’s deputy superintendent of instruction, innovation and social justice.
But funding is hard to come by — the state ranks 49th in the nation in per-pupil spending.
That could change. Armed with extra funding — from November’s Proposition 30 and robust tax returns California received this year — Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a new funding structure to help underserved schools and students. The plan would put more money in districts with a higher percentage of low-income students and English-language learners. Districts also would have more control over how they spend funds.
The City would see an increase of about $4,000 per student, from $7,250 to $11,171.
Brown said he will fight to keep the proposed structure intact and get it in the 2013-14 budget, which takes effect July 1, but he is facing opposition even from his own party.
San Francisco for years has had a similar model to Brown’s proposal. Known as the weighted student formula, the district increases funding for schools with higher concentrations of low-income and English-language learners.
School officials are optimistic about receiving more funding, but realize a lot can change before the final budget is adopted.
After all, Democrats say Brown’s proposal ignores the same underprivileged students in more affluent districts. They are proposing an alternative that would increase funding to all schools by divvying up the money on a per-pupil basis. But additional funds would go toward low-income and English-language learners.
For the schools that benefited from School Improvement Grants, money did make the difference.
“It put us in a position to focus on key elements,” said Chris Rosenberg, principal of John Muir Elementary School. “It allowed us to accelerate teacher hiring and bring students up to speed.”
At Everett, school officials realigned the master schedule, required a “laser focus” of teachers during early dismissal days, and limited planning time to be about academics instead of other training, which helped with the changes, according to Assistant Principal Jennifer Kuhr.
“It took a lot of organizing on the adult’s side,” Kuhr said. “It’s working so far. They’re using [these schools] as a model to replicate and bring to other sites.”
Test scores improve at schools with high funding
The 10 consistently low-performing schools in the San Francisco Unified School District that received an influx of money from the federal government over the past three years had a higher increase in test scores compared to similar schools that did not receive the money, data show.
The 10 schools — George Washington Carver Elementary, Paul Revere Elementary, Willie Brown Jr. Elementary, Bryant Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, John Muir Elementary, Everett Middle, Horace Mann Middle, Mission High and John O’Connell High — each received a portion of the $45 million awarded to the SFUSD through the School Improvement Grants program.
The money has been used for more counselors, summer school, tutors and parent liaisons, among other uses, to help improve schools through one of three models: transformation, turnaround or closure.
The 10 schools are based in either the Bayview or Mission districts and have a high population of low-income and English-learning students.
Compared to schools of similar size and demographics, the schools that received SIG funding fared better in state standardize testing. California uses the Academic Performance Index to test students in English and math in all grade levels, along with science and history in higher grade levels. Schools must score at least 800 to be deemed proficient.
John Muir in the Western Addition saw its API score increase from 573 in the 2006-07 school year to 715 last year.
Low-income kids account for 89 percent of the student body, while 33 percent are English-language learners.
By comparison, 91 percent of the student body at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in the Excelsior district are low-income and 65 percent are English-language learners. Its test scores went from 682 in 2006-07 to 676 last year.
Additionally, schools seemed to benefit from having similar resources as those that received SIG funding. Leonard Flynn Elementary School in Bernal Heights has never received SIG funding, but it is included in the SFUSD’s Superintendent’s Zone program that provides extra support to low-performing schools.
Its scores went from 696 in 2006-07 to 738 last year. The school consists of 71 percent low-income students and 36 percent English-language learners.
Of the 67 elementary schools in the SFUSD, 30 hit the API benchmark of 800 in 2006-07. Five of 16 middle schools and one of 18 high schools also reached the goal. Many are located in more affluent parts of The City.
By the 2011-12 school year, 41 elementary, eight middle and three high schools reached 800 or higher.