Margaret Brodkin School Board questionnaire

Margaret Brodkin School Board questionnaire

Postby Jeff_W on Mon Aug 16, 2010 7:11 pm

1) Why are you running for The Board of Education in the City and County of San Francisco?

I believe public schools are the most important institutions in our community and that I am uniquely qualified to help make them exciting community institutions of learning for all San Francisco students, and places that support parents and welcome community members, local CBO’s, and others as partners.

2) What is your background in Public Education?

I believe that I have prepared a lifetime for being on the Board of Education and plan to bring all the knowledge and all the skills I have developed to being an effective School Board member who works relentlessly for our children. I have worked specifically on behalf of San Francisco’s children for more than three decades, and am known and respected as one of the leading voices for children in the country. My work experience is:

· Executive Director of Coleman Advocates for Children – 1978 - 2004

· Director of the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth and Their Families – 2004 - 2009 – the department that was initiated in 1989 by my work.

· Director of New Day for Learning – 2009 – present

A signature feature of my work has been that I am solution-oriented – I have been a builder, and much of what I have built has contributed to the education of our children:

NEW FUNDING STREAMS - My paramount accomplishment was creating the Children’s Fund (now $50 million a year), making SF the first city in the country to guarantee funding for kids; I was instrumental in the creation and passage of Prop H (the Public Education Enrichment Fund which provides $40 million a year for the schools for arts, sports, social workers, etc); my advocacy has resulted in the allocation of millions of dollars for kids in the city budget (including significant funding for the schools and preschools) – year after year after year.

DOZENS OF NEW PROGRAMS - I have been a key force in developing programs throughout the city, including after-school for all, the country’s most extensive local childcare and preschool system (that includes wage augmentations for workers), and youth career development. I led successful campaigns to get Beacon Centers in our schools, Wellness Centers in high schools, programs for homeless children and youth, and services for LGBT youth, children who have been abused, children with mental health needs – and much more.

FORUMS TO SPEAK OUT, particularly young people and parents – My work has included creating YouthVote now held annually in the schools to determine the priorities of young people; the Youth Commission; giving students a second seat on School Board; creating Y-MAC, the city’s strongest youth action body; through Coleman the creation of the Parent Advisory Council to the Board of Education; at DCYF building a network of community conveners and sponsoring dozens of successful, well-attended community meetings..

ACCOUNTABILITY AND COORDINATION – My work led to the creation of the Department of Child, Youth and Their Families, the Juvenile Probation Commission, the Citizen Advisory Council for DCYF, Speak up for Kids Day at City Hall, the city’s first Policy Council on Children, Youth and Families, as well as literally dozens of task forces, councils, and oversight and planning committees that have worked successfully to improve programs and services for children.

During the past year and a half, I have headed up an education initiative that is a collaboration among the SFUSD, the City and the SF School Alliance. (San Francisco is one of two cities which received a grant from the Mott Foundation as a demonstration site for its report “An New Day for Learning” and I am leading that effort. The premise is that schools are locked into outmoded structures and need to be transformed to meet the needs of all our children in the 21st century. The goals of New Day are to promote the idea of a full service community school, experiential hands-on learning, a seamless day and year, a 21st century curriculum, city-wide partnerships, and parent and community engagement. I have worked at the site level (with 5 “early adopter” schools), the district level and the city level toward these goals and am very excited about a new vision for our schools.

3) If elected to this position, what are your top three priorities for improving public education in the City and County of San Francisco?

Making public education a fiscal priority of our city and our state and our country so that we have the resources for excellent public schools for all our children. The almost-criminal under-funding of public education in California is a (if not the) major problem facing San Francisco schools. It is a sad reflection of the fact that the very idea of a strong public education system is under attack. I will be a fierce spokesperson for public schools and for funding for public schools.

I have a successful track record advocating for funding for children, and have been responsible for over a billion dollars in added funding for children at the local level. I have developed funding proposals, led successful campaigns for more funding, negotiated with policymakers, and mobilized thousands of people on behalf of San Francisco children. I invented the Children’s Budget for San Francisco, the Children’s Amendment (which included the Children’s Baseline Budget and the Children’s Fund), and was a key player in the development and passage of the Public Education Enrichment Fund. I have fought vigorously to see that our city fulfills its commitment to the schools through Proposition H and through the Rainy Day Fund – as an advocate and as a department head in city government. I have the skills, courage and motivation to fight for resources for our schools at the local level, in Sacramento and in DC. And I believe that this must be done with a particular emphasis on paying our classroom personnel a fair wage that reflects the importance of their work to society.

As a School Board member, I will protect the funding we have, ensure that the City fulfills its funding commitment to the schools, support new revenue measures for the schools (bonds for 21st century facilities), a parcel tax and other possibilities, and promote in-kind services to the schools through partnerships with city departments and community organizations. At the state level, I will make sure that we use the lawsuit about school funding as an avenue to seek new formulas for schools and additional funding sources. I will ensure that our city lobbyist prioritizes education funding at the state and national level and that we use every possible avenue to impact funding decisions.

Promoting a Full Service Community School vision and approach – recognizing the comprehensive needs of children and the responsibility of the whole community to participate in addressing these needs. If we really want to address the achievement gap, we must have a rigorous and compelling curriculum, but we must also address issues that are beyond the control of the classroom that significantly impact student outcomes. I am uniquely qualified to make the full service community school vision a reality. I want schools to be the centers of community – places where children and families are welcome and have opportunities to grow, learn, and get needs met all day, every day. Services at schools should be coordinated and purposeful and in support of the overall academic goals of the school. They should include early childhood programs, parent engagement, and after-school and health services. A Community School approach not only means providing a strong curriculum and a wide range of services for our families, it means a commitment to a strong community of teachers who are partners in creating and directing the vision of the school – including the professional development opportunities, the implementation of curriculum, and the strategies for supporting students and staff. Schools cannot achieve this vision alone, and school districts cannot provide funding alone. We must leverage the resources of the entire community (including state and federal sources) if we are going to ensure academic success for all students and that every school is a great school

Closing the achievement gap between African American, Latino and Pacific Islander children – and the other children in our school district. SFUSD has one of the largest achievement gaps in the country – and the most schools (per population) in the state on the list of low performing schools. It is a disgrace. The low performing schools are in the Mission, the Bay View and the Western Addition. This appalling gap is certainly one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. I am currently working with schools in the BayView, the Mission and the Western Addition and I believe they have enormous potential to dramatically improve. I helped develop the grant for federal funds to improve those schools and will be a committed School Board member in focusing all our energy and attention on seeing that the students succeed. I am interest in not only school-level change, but also a change of culture in our communities so that the entire community supports success plans for our children and a “college going culture” from elementary school on. (more details below in question 4)

4) What is your strategy for reducing, or completely closing the learning gap between students of different ethnicities and income levels?

I will work with passion and urgency to address the achievement gap that has devastated the opportunities and hope for so many of our African American, Latino and Pacific Islander children. I have spent my adult life developing policies and programs for our most vulnerable children. We need to focus like a laser on our lowest- performing schools – for the children in those schools, and for the sake of all children and the future of our city. And most importantly, we must continually listen to students and parents about what will work.

Strategies I support:

· Focused attention on the needs of low-performing schools. The District has just created a “Superintendent’s Zone” – a cohort of the city’s 15 lowest-performing schools that are concentrated in the Mission and the Bay View. I strongly support this approach as a way to focus in on the needs of these schools and bring our most talented personnel and best instructional and curriculum practices to those schools. We need to make sure that the teachers and administrators in these under-performing schools have the resources (including incentive stipends), professional development, release time, and flexibility to do right by the students. The fact that so many of our low performing schools are in the Mission means that there is an urgent need for the entire community to mobilize around these schools and target their services more effectively. The Bay View must do the same. I am committed to helping that happen. It is the role of the School Board to closely monitor to see that this approach is achieving its objectives, and to insist on mid-course corrections when the need arises.

· Focused attention on the needs of low-performing students. Children start falling through the cracks at an early age. Elementary school absenteeism, for instance, is a significant problem and a predictor of future school failure. I strongly support strategies that allow us to closely track the success plan for all students and intervene just as soon as problems arise. For instance, I support the creation of the Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation (utilizing funding from the Gates Foundation) with the purpose of developing options for kids who are off-track for graduation in the 8th grade. This could include developing specific programs for 9th graders (including small learning communities, academies/teaming, and frequent parent communication throughout the year); utilizing credit recovery options, and developing innovative approaches in our court, community and alternative schools.

· Educating all students to a higher standard. The goal must be that all students learn at high levels – and that we develop strategies to allow this to happen, so that teachers can identify academic challenges as they occur (through such things as formative assessments) and individualize instruction. This also means making instruction compelling and relevant for all students. This is a case where a high tide raises all boats and children who may start out doing poorly do much better when they are in a classroom with children doing well, rather than being shunted off to the classrooms (or schools) for the “low performing” kids. We must address the many ways that we segregate our students, such as remedial classes – and develop new strategies to educate all of our students together. High level curriculum must be available to all students.

· Full service community schools. What happens in the classroom can’t address the achievement gap alone. Early childhood programs, health services, engaged parents, and after-school academic support and enrichment must support a strong academic approach. Our lowest performing schools need to be first to fully implement the full service community school vision.

Addressing the achievement gap is a multifaceted undertaking that requires the attention and commitment of all stakeholders. As a School Board member, I will use a significant portion of my time helping the entire community and all parents understand why eliminating the achievement gap must be a city-wide priority – for all our sakes.

5) Do you believe Teacher and Principal Retention is important for student achievement? If so, what will you do to increase the retention of Teachers and Principals in the San Francisco Unified School District, should you be elected to the San Francisco Board of Education?

Stability in our teaching and leadership workforce is essential for high quality instruction and continuity with our children and families; and San Francisco has a major problem with recruiting and retaining teachers. Other districts pay better and offer better working conditions. So the major retention strategy is salary. I will work to continue to increase salaries until our teachers are competitive with other districts and make a fair wage that reflects the high cost of living in San Francisco. I will work for other kinds of benefits too, including affordable housing for teachers, school loan repayments, and support for further education. However, financial benefits are not the only way to retain staff. Working conditions and respect are very important. Schools need better support from central office; teachers need planning time and fair accountability measures and professional development opportunities that are truly helpful, as well as a strong voice in decisions that impact their school. Principals need authority that matches their responsibility, support from their supervisors, assistance so they can focus on their role as instructional leaders, and the opportunity to share and learn from their peers. They also need compensation that matches their enormous level of responsibility, as well as an important role in decision-making about all of the issues that impact their work. I will work hard to see that all of the issues identified above are prioritized by the School Board – I will monitor the status of these issues and recommend policy changes that are needed to accomplish these goals.

6) Special Education in public schools is essential for students with disabilities to achieve academically. However, most often the program is underfunded, or there is an unwillingness to make the reasonable accommodations needed for the students with disabilities to succeed. What plans do you have to mitigate this inequity in San Francisco’s public schools should you be elected to the San Francisco Board of Education?

As a result of experiences in my own family, I have developed an even greater commitment to addressing the needs of our children with disabilities. Many of our special education policies and programs are decades behind national best practices. As a School Board member, it will be my job to ensure that new plans are developed and that the best leadership is hired to implement the plans. I will be listening to parents to fulfill my responsibility to see that everything put in place best serves this vulnerable population of children.

Some priorities will be:

· Working with the First 5 Commission, the Department of Public Health and others to see that all children receive early assessments to identify children at risk during their pre-school years, so that appropriate services can be put in place immediately.

· Ensuring that children are diagnosed properly when they enter the school district and given the full range of services they need. Skimping on services early on only costs money down the line.

· Ensuring that children who do not belong in special education do not get labeled and placed inappropriately, but rather identifying positive responses to the real needs of these children

· Improving the quality of our programs so that parents do not feel compelled to go to court to demand expensive private programs to get the needs of their children met.

· Integrating children whenever possible into regular classes with needed supportive services to help all children thrive in mainstream education..

· Working with our Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and Support for Families of Children With Disabilities to ensure that there is ongoing feedback from families and that the views of parents are given the weight they deserve.

7) The San Francisco Unified School District in recent years has developed policy to ensure a safe environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender students in San Francisco’s public schools. Can you summarize your understanding of these policy objectives? What are your plans regarding this policy should you be elected to the San Francisco Board of Education?

I have been working on programs and policies to support LGBT youth since 1980, when as the Director of Coleman I provided office space and funding for the then Sexual Minority Youth Services Coalition, one of the first groups of its kind. I led Coleman as our youth group helped lay the groundwork for the current LGBTQ policies in the schools. We have come a long way in increasing sensitivity toward, acceptance of, and support for LGBTQ young people- as well as LGBT parents and their families in the schools. Unfortunately the level of prejudice is so great that the work seems never done. As a School Board member, I will want to know how our current education and support system is working – and will promote a greater understanding of LGBTQ issues and people through everything from curriculum, to resource materials, to professional development. I will also monitor the mental health issues of our LGBTQ students, since the rate of mental health problems (including suicide) is so great among this population. I will make sure that our Wellness Centers, counselors, learning support specialists and others are serving this population well. All policies require continued review and updating – I will make sure that our LGBT policies stay a high priority on the School Board’s radar screen.

8) What role if any, do you believe Charter Schools play in the public educational system of the United States?

I believe that there is a rationale for charters, when a charter has the potential to do work that SFUSD is unable to do and when SFUSD has the opportunity to learn from the charter. Life Learning Academy is an example of a charter that meets those criteria. But public accountability is essential and privatized governance is antithetical to the public school system. Public accountability mechanisms must be strong for charter schools. It should also be noted that Prop 39 poses challenges to the SFUSD schools in providing space to charters while maintaining appropriate and adequate space for regular SFUSD schools.

Charters have not proven to be more effective than regular public schools. Many have demonstrated subtle ways of selecting out the most difficult to serve students. I will push to have the district provide what is needed to have schools flourish and keep innovation and initiative within our own system whenever possible. Small-schools-by-design is an effort to do just that – experiment with autonomy and student engagement within a cohort of schools for which the district is responsible.

9) What is your position regarding the privatization of public education?

I strenuously oppose the privatization of public education, and believe that the threat of privatization is one of the great challenges we face. I led the fight against bringing the for-profit Edison Corporation into San Francisco and have opposed profiteering by the soft drink and junk food industries. Current policies are threatening the very idea of public education by undermining teachers and the teaching profession in a variety of ways, including the demand for reconstitution and accountability measures that rely only on test scores. Furthermore, one result of the under-funding of education is that public schools become increasingly reliant on private sources of funding that often come with string attached that reflect a privately developed, not publicly developed agenda.

On my website, I say the following about privatization:

KEEPING THE PUBLIC IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS – Too many of the currently popular school reform ideas threaten to undermine the teaching profession, the idea of public governance, and the nature of education. Here are some of the problems:

· Schools are deemed “failures” solely on the basis of their test scores – even though these scores are often not a comprehensive reflection of the progress being made at the school. “Failing schools” are being forced to take steps, such as firing principals and teachers that may not be in the best interest of student success.

· The obsessive focus on test scores threatens to narrow the curriculum, so that children become focused on test taking and the subjects covered by the tests. As a result students not only have an inadequate knowledge base about the world, but they have not developed the attitude and skills to be lifelong learners.

· Teachers are being blamed for all of the failings if our educational system – the teacher-blaming and all its concomitant proposals are threatening the future of the teaching profession.

I support:

· A strong diverse curriculum that includes science, history, social sciences, languages, physical education – and, very importantly, the arts. Children with a strong background in these areas will actually do better on standardized tests, even narrowly prescribed tests.

· Using testing as only one tool to determine a child’s academic progress and cognitive growth, and then using it primarily to help teachers target on the child’s specific needs.

· Teacher accountability systems that rely on observation of the teaching and a variety of criteria, as opposed to student test scores; providing teachers who are struggling with adequate coaching and support, as opposed to quick termination. San Francisco has developed a system to address the problem of a low performing teacher – called PAR. When needed, the SFUSD instructional leaders should use it.

· Positive and intensive support for schools that are unable to meet children’s needs, rather than reconstitution and closure.

· School site-level flexibility sufficient to allow schools to experiment with alternative structures and innovative pedagogical techniques – as long as they are firmly complying with the SFUSD’s core curriculum.

· A strong system of public governance and public accountability. Transparency and public engagement in decision-making regarding this most important institution in our society is essential. That means everything from adequate public notice for meetings, to full disclosure and timely discussion regarding the district budget.

10) Do you favor the use of Project Labor Agreements in the San Francisco Unified School District?

It is my understanding that the SFUSD has a PLA in effect and that so far it is working well, although it has been in effect for a relatively short period of time. I don’t have a deep understanding of the district’s PLA, but I support its basic tenets and would want to monitor the benefits of PLA covered projects and non-PLA covered projects after it has been in effect longer.
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