Lowell High School in San Francisco's Sunset district Tuesday, December 13, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SFUSD needs a better plan for Lowell admissions

On Sept. 25, the San Francisco Board of Education (SFUSD) plans to vote on an unprecedented proposal that weakens Lowell High admissions standards, fails to support the students it seeks to help and lacks needed input from parents and students.

The Lowell Alumni Association supports real efforts to increase diverse enrollment of students from across the city and strengthen their preparation for Lowell. We urge the School Board to reject this proposal and send it back to the staff so that San Franciscans who care about educational opportunity and the success of all students can participate in developing a meaningful and effective plan.

For the past 17 years, middle school students have earned admission to Lowell in one of three ways: 70 percent of the class is admitted with almost an A average in 7th grade and the first half of 8th grade and an admissions test score in roughly the 95th percentile; 15 percent does not need as high grades as the first group as long as they have demonstrated promise and potential and are recommended by their school based upon, among other things. overcoming hardship and actively participating in their school. The final 15 percent is admitted in a similar fashion as the second group but comes from schools that do not historically send many students to Lowell.

The new proposal exempts one middle school from the existing framework and guarantees admission to all its 8th graders who can have roughly a B average and score in the 60th percentile as long as they started that middle school in the 6th grade. Singling out this one middle school is a disservice to equally hardworking and diverse students at other public middle schools across the city who will be forced to compete for fewer seats and have higher scores.

The Lowell Alumni Association strongly supports the goal of increased enrollment of African American, Latino and Pacific Islander students at Lowell. Over the past three years, we have created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee that supports outreach to prospective parents and students from these communities and helped fund a wellness center and programs and scholarships to reduce economic and other barriers during students’ high school and subsequent college years.

We urge the SFUSD to invest in a pipeline for success in high school by identifying promising students as early as 5th grade and providing them mentors and tutors. Enriching their middle school curriculum and empowering diverse students during both the academic year and summertime puts more students on the path toward academic success and determination.

Equipped with academic coaching, advising and planning, leadership development and skills enhancement, these students will enter high school confident of having the coaching and track record that prepares them to succeed in any academic program.

The SFUSD has not provided any data upon which to conclude that the admissions criteria to be relied upon predict student academic success. As presented by the SFUSD, the current proposal offers students no support during middle school so that they may be admitted on the same basis as other students. It fails to provide them the assistance they will need to compete effectively and perform well academically once admitted to Lowell.

In May, in response to a suggestion to give the students at this single middle school a more limited tie-breaker advantage for Lowell admissions, SFUSD staff wisely recommended “to hold off on making changes, and fold concepts into larger policy discussions.” It is a mystery who at the SFUSD reversed course. San Francisco residents and parents and students at all the affected schools, including the one singled out for more favorable treatment, should now be given the opportunity to create a plan that better prepares students for educational success.

John Trasviña is president of the Lowell Alumni Association and a candidate for the San Francisco Unified School District board.

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