From Rachel Norton:

On August 26, the Board adopted a feeder plan that offered 5th grade students at eight elementary schools (Dr. George Washington Carver, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Dr. Charles Drew, Miraloma, Gordon J. Lau, E.R. Taylor and George R. Moscone) an additional feeder preference to WBMS. Under that proposal, students at these eight schools would still retain the feeders they already have but be offered additional access to WBMS.

Tonight, the Superintendent asked the Board to modify those preferences, so that 5th grade students would be offered admission to WBMS using the following order of preferences:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance (sibling preference);
  2. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, and Malcolm X Academy (Bayview preference)
  3. Students who reside in 94124 (94124 preference)
  4. Students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts (CTIP preference)
  5. Students attending 5th grade at one of the following four elementary schools: Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, E.R. Taylor (Brown preference).

In addition, the Superintendent suggested modifying the high school choice process to give preferences to 8th grade students applying to high schools in the following order:

  1. Younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  2. Students graduating from WBMS who were enrolled in and attended WBMS in 6th, 7th and 8th grade;
  3. CTIP1, with a minimum of 20 percent of seats reserved at each high school for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  4. all other students.

The Superintendent further requested: “This new tiebreaker would become effective in the 2018-19 school year when Brown’s first cohort of students graduate from middle school and apply to high school and will continue for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but may be reviewed, modified or extended for future implementation.” (emphasis mine)

After a lengthy but cordial discussion, the Board voted unanimously to accept the Superintendent’s recommendations, but with an amendment proposed by Commissioner Wynns and passed 5-2 (Norton and Haney dissenting). That amendment deleted #5 from the list of elementary school preferences for WBMS admission. The result of the amendment is that the only elementary schools that will receive an additional, temporary feeder preference for Brown are the four elementary schools in the Bayview: Bret Harte, Dr. Charles R Drew, Dr. George Washington Carver and Malcolm X Academy. For now, meaning the 2015-16 and 2016-17 enrollment years, 5th graders at those four schools will have two choices for feeder middle schools. Depending on demand and other factors, the feeder to Brown may become permanent for those schools or the Board may choose to further revise feeder patterns district-wide to best support diverse, stable enrollment in all of the district’s middle schools.

There weren’t a lot of people in the audience by the time we got to this item, and there were only two public speakers — the Board Chair and the Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools San Francisco (PPS-SF). Both urged us to proceed carefully on making changes to student assignment. They were rightfully dismayed that PPS hasn’t been part of the conversation on two recent proposed changes to student assignment: the recent CTIP proposal and now these proposals on WBMS. President Fewer offered an explanation of sorts when she pointed out that it’s been a long time since we opened a school, and that we desperately want the new WBMS to succeed. I would agree: the Chronicle article this morning wasn’t wrong when it said there was a “whiff of desperation” in the speed with which this proposal is proceeding.

(An aside: Some of the online chatter on this topic has focused on comparing the opening of WBMS to Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila — let’s just say: talk about desperation! The Board–let alone the public–didn’t even know about the CIS reopening until it was a fait accompli and had we had almost NO input on the format or programming of that school. It’s a long story and maybe all’s well that ended relatively well, but the way the reopening of CIS happened was not the administration’s finest moment. We continue–with limited success–to try to prevent old mistakes, not repeat them.)

I’m rambling, and it’s late, so I’ll end this recap by saying that I agree the process has been flawed, and I accept that whatever we do around student assignment is guaranteed not to be universally popular. But I think this WBMS high school preference, limited as it is by the sunset provision thankfully inserted by the Superintendent, is worth trying. For a moment tonight it appeared as if a majority of the Board was veering towards doing almost nothing — adopting a limited set of additional elementary school preferences for WBMS and kicking the question of the high school preference down the road. From the process perspective that was an appealing course of action: it would have given us more time to let people know about the proposal and hear input. But it also would have ensured that the 2015-16 enrollment process that kicks off at the enrollment fair on Oct. 25 wouldn’t have offered complete information about a WBMS enrollment incentive, or worse, might have derailed an enrollment incentive altogether for this year.

If all my years as a PPS member, school ambassador, enrollment coach and then school board member have taught me anything, it is that once a school earns a bad reputation, it takes years to clear — even after the conditions that caused the bad reputation in the first place are resolved. The previous incarnation of WBMS had earned its bad reputation over a decade before it closed. So even if we were to reopen a WBMS that is perfect in every way, with every bell and whistle we can think of and even throw in a set of Ginsu knives, it could be years before parents are willing to take the plunge, because of long memories and efficient networks. I have several current examples I won’t name publicly of schools that I think are much better than their reputations — at some point a bad reputation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Opening WBMS with a robust, diverse enrollment will ensure a better education for every child who attends that school, and will ensure better odds that the school becomes a successful school for the long term. If I have to offer a set of Ginsu knives or some other gimmick for a few years to help accomplish that goal–so be it.