Students walk to class at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in the Bayview. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

SFUSD leaders consider changes to student assignment, Lowell admissions process

San Francisco Unified School District leaders are mulling changes to the district’s school assignment policy that would make it easier for students in The City’s Bayview District to attend the middle school of their choice and change the admissions criteria for the academically competitive Lowell High School.

Amendments coming before the school board’s Rules Committee on Thursday would add a preference, or tiebreaker, to any middle school in the district for students who attend Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy elementary schools in the neighborhood.

Priority would also be given to SFUSD staff during the student assignment “hardship appeals process to all permanent, full-time, site-based staff who live in San Francisco and who wish to have their child attend the school where they are employed.”

Changes to the admission policy of one of The City’s top schools to provide for equal access and greater transparency are also being considered.

Currently, students are accepted to Lowell High School in the Sunset District based on a highly competitive application process that is dependent on three pathways, or “bands,” in which students are identified for placement.

Revisions to the policy would task the district and school leaderships, rather than a Lowell recruitment committee established in 2001, with recruitment at middle schools, including “through groups and committees that serve our underrepresented students with the goal of increasing Lowell’s African American, Latin(x) and Pacific Islander students,” per the policy.

Placement for approximately 70 percent of the seats available at Lowell is offered in the Band One pathway and is dependent on a combination of grade point average and students’ scores on the California State Standardized Test.

If approved, the policy would be updated to allow students who have not taken the standardized test in the Spring of their seventh grade year to take a Lowell Admissions Test, and use that score to apply for the school instead.

In Band Two, in which some 15 percent of Lowell’s seats are filled, students are identified by a school-based committee on Lowell Admissions composed of administrators, teachers, and counselors, who are selected by each participating school’s principal.

The committee nominates students from a list of all applications provided by the district’s Educational Placement Center.Those names are then sent to another committee, the Lowell Admissions Committee, which ultimately selects the students to be admitted under Band Two.

Amendments to the policy would alter this process by tasking the EPC with identifying students who meet the minimum criteria for admission — based on their grade point average and the admission test score — and sending the list to Lowell’s Principal.

The school-based committee would then score the students according to a list of criteria, including “extenuating circumstances” and “demonstrated ability to overcome hardship,” and provide those scores to the EPC for review by the District’s Lowell Admissions Committee.

In Band Three of the admissions process, principlals rank all student applicants based on their written personal statements and the Band Two criteria, and must then provide a written statement for each student to the District’s committee.

Current policy requires principals to only recommend students “who will succeed academically at Lowell.” The proposed amendments would nix that requirement, and it would also allow all students from Willie Brown Middle School who meet the minimum criteria to qualify for admission to Lowell, regardless of “under or over representation” in the school.

According to current policy, underrepresented public and private schools are allocated a number of Lowell admissions seats in Band Three proportionate to their percentage of the 8th grade population.

The full board is expected to vote on the amendments on September 26.

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