SF Green Party School Board Endorsement Questionnaire 2012

Candidate Name: Sandra Lee Fewer
Phone Number: (redacted at request of candidate)
Web site: www.sandrafewer.com
E-mail: Sandra@sandrafewer.com
Name of Campaign Manager: Left Coast Communications
Signed voluntary spending limit: YES
Campaign Manager: Sandra Fewer
Major Endorsements: SF Democratic Party, SEIU1021, Coleman Action Fund, Alice B Toklas Democratic Club, Richmond District Democratic Club, State Senator Mark Leno, Supervisors Chiu, Avalos, Campos, Kim, Olague, Mar Weiner
Favorite Incumbent School Board Member: Myself
Least favorite: rather not say since they are my colleagues

1. How are you currently involved in the SFUSD -- or how were you involved in the past?

Four generations of my family have attended San Francisco public schools. I, along with my grandfather, parents, husband and three children, are SFUSD alums. I have been a PTA President for 12 terms, a SFPTA Vice President for 2 terms, served on 11 school site councils, served on the PEEF Committee for 4 years and have served on numerous community and advisory committees in SFUSD. I was the Director of Parent Organizing and Education Policy for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth for 8 years and during that time I wrote the resolution to create the Parent Advisory Council to the Board of Education. I secured funding for the council and it is now in its 8th year. I also helped craft the first Education Equity Platform for San Francisco public schools and used that platform to organize parents to push the district to adopt the Close the Achievement Gap resolution. I am a founding Board member of the Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network, now in its 10th year. I have presented workshops on parent rights to over 3000 parents and have trained many parents to be advocates for their children.
1. I was elected to the Board in 2008 and was sworn into office January 2009. During my time in office I have authored resolutions to reform our discipline policies by implementing restorative practices, have ethnic studies classes in our high schools, create a parent engagement plan that takes us from a dependency model to one of empowerment and making our schools safer for our LGBTQQ youth.

2. Why are you running for school board?

I am running for re-election to the Board of Education because I want to further institutionalize the policies and changes we have been making on the Board. I believe we are headed in the right direction, with finally an upward trajectory in those schools that have been low performing for decades. My major issues are: graduating all students prepared for college or a living wage job, closing the racial achievement gap and improving the lives of our students and their families.

3. How can we redistribute the more experienced and higher paid teachers throughout the city? What do you think the school district needs to do to attract and improve the retention of good teachers who are willing to work in socially stressed schools?

We have been able to attract high quality teachers but our problem has been the retention. We lose 47% of our new teachers at 5 years and part of the problem is the expense of living in SF. Prop. A was a great incentive because it made our pay for new teachers competitive with surrounding jurisdictions. We could and should assist with teacher housing and we should be supporting teachers to be successful. Most teachers went into teaching knowing they would not be earning millions of dollars. They do it because they believe in education and how profound education is in a child's life, and they want to provide that for our students. Therefore, we must give them the tools, skills, strategies and support that will make them successful. This is why professional development is so important. Although we have limited resources, we must prioritize some of the resources for professional development.
It has been a challenge to attract experienced teachers to the lower performing schools and since we cannot assign them there, we must try to attract them to interview at these schools. Most often they choose to teach at other schools like Dianne Feinstein in the sunset district. These lower performing schools have 4 times the turnover than high performing schools and every year some of them see 60% of their staff leave. It is devastating to the schools and their students.

4. Would you ensure that all San Francisco students have access to a public pre-K program? If so, how?

I am strong believer in PreK programs. I am in support of "frontloading" because our data tells us that if Latino or Black who are behind in 2nd grade, flatline?they stay behind forever. They never catch up. The catch up is very expensive and we are not very successful at it because by that time the student has lost his/her self-confidence and most have given up already. I think all students should have access to a public Pre-K program. We are trying to align our Early Education program with our K-5 curriculum so students are prepared for K work. I will support the Early Education program and try to keep all of them open. I know there is great need and yet we always have openings. We need to do a much better job at outreach and make it easier to enroll.

5. What is your position on JROTC in the public schools?

I am against having JROTC classes in our schools and have been the main opponent to it. I have voted against it every time.

6. What would you do to increase learning support services in San Francisco's public schools?

We are in a terrible situation now because we lost our 21st Century funding which is what funds all of our afterschool programs at high schools. We were depending on this money, approximately $1.5 million, to offer credit recovery options. I am working with Supervisor Jane Kim to ask the city to give the school district $3.5 million from the $15 million the city received from the State. This would cover the cost of the afterschool programs for two years. We depend heavily on the city to fund our nurses, Wellness Centers and social workers, through the Public Education Enrichment Fund. I have worked with Coleman Advocates to get money for summer school from the city. This resulted in summer school for all 9th graders who had failed their college/graduation required classes.

7. Would you support district elections for school board members?

No, because right now the majority of parents send their children to schools outside of their neighborhoods. Also, there are certain districts where schools have been traditionally low performing and all 7 members of the Board should be advocating for better schools in those areas.

8. What do you think of the public comment policy at school board meetings? How (if at all) would you change it?

I love public comment at school board meetings. It is the very basic form of a democratic process that you can go and speak on anything for two minutes to your elected officials. As an advocate working at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, I did it many, many times. If I were to change it, I would make it easier for people to come and speak, meaning providing childcare, having it take place earlier in the agenda and not requiring them to sign up to speak.

9. How would you expand the opportunity for staff development for paraprofessionals? What do you think of the district's staff development programs?

For many years our staff development was hit and miss, most of it miss. However, in recent years the professional development has been targeted on classroom strategies, teacher support, restorative practices and lesson planning. The result has been positive and I have heard good things from teachers who actually use what they have learned. Professional development should be extended to paraprofessionals but should be designed to meet their needs. Since most of our paraprofessionals are now one on one aides to SPED students, they also should be receiving professional development on how to best serve their students. I would create professional development for paraprofessionals by area of scope of work. We have paraprofessionals that are security guards, lunchtime aides, SPED aides, attendance liaisons, parent liaisons, etc., that could benefit from professional development in their field.

10. What is your stance on allowing noncitizen parents, guardians and caretakers of students to vote in school board elections?

I am 100% in favor of it.

11. In what ways would you work to increase teacher input in administrative decision-making? How would you work to increase the voice of school site councils (parents, students and staff), in administrative decision-making?

The vehicle we have for decision-making at the school site is the school site council. By its very design, parents have less of a voice than school staff. Students also have less of a voice than staff, percentage wise. However, the first step is actually training parents and students what the school site council is all about and how they can advocate for school change within that system of governance. I wish school site changes /decisions could be made with full agreement of the parties of the school site council but often it is the school administrator that has the most political pull. I have authored a resolution to create a parent engagement plan that takes us from dependency to empowerment and this is a large component of it. Training parents how to advocate for parent voice in decision making at school sites.

12. Would you strengthen the voice of the elected student representatives, so that they could introduce legislation and vote on measures?

Since I have been on the Board I have co-authored many resolutions with our student delegates. The majority of the issues came from the students who wrote the resolutions and asked me to co-sponsor them with them. We have put forth resolutions for free MUNI, recommitting to anti-discrimination of our LGBTQQ youth and a revised bathroom access policy. I love it when they want to bring forth policy changes because it is coming directly from those we serve. They do vote but their vote is not included in the decision.

13. What do you think of the District's and state's standards for curriculum? How would you increase student achievement levels?

We have voluntarily opted for an early adoption of the common core standards and are now in the process of creating curriculum using the common core but designing it with our strategic goals of closing our achievement gap in mind. So far, we are implementing professional development to support teachers in its first stages of implementation. I think the new common core will help us close our achievement gap because it builds on skills. It doesn't repeat the same lessons from grade to grade, but builds on the skill development in every subject. It is about setting the foundation to build on, but first mastering the skill before you move on.

14. How do you see the role of the School Board in comparison to the role of the superintendent?

A school Board member does not supervise personnel, that is the job of the Superintendent. A school board member is one person on a 7 member board and works with his or her colleagues to oversee the district's budget, direction and progress. School Board members vote on policies and give direction but the Superintendent carries it out. The school board supervises and evaluates only the Superintendent and the General Counsel.

15. What do you think of the current arrangement of armed police officers in schools? What measures would you support to make sure that our children are safe in our schools?

I am against having police officers in our schools and have advocated against it for many years. We are in charge of discipline. The police are in charge of responding to criminal acts. If we need the police we can call them, otherwise we should handle our own discipline and having police in schools makes our students vulnerable to arrests and human right violations. We can make our schools safer by implementing programs that actually change behavior and perspective, such as restorative practices, which I authored. This has resulted in 500 less suspensions in one year.

16. How do you feel about the current school assignment system?

The student assignment process is a really difficult and complicated issue. It is not a perfect system by any means, but I do think we can better ensure it meets its goals by closely monitoring it and evaluating it. The factors in demographics change quickly so things like the CTIP areas need to be readjusted in response to population changes. I think the Board had hoped that the assignment system would be a tool to help us desegregate schools and bring more equity to schools but learned that we can only hope to meet these goals minimally through the system and most probably the main thing the system should do is assign students to schools in the most efficient and easy way possible for parents.

17. A portion of SFUSD income is from rental of various properties. What changes should the district make to increase the income from these properties?

San Francisco Unified is the largest landowner in San Francisco. Some of it has been labled "surplus property" meaning that the district has currently no use for it. When I started on the Building and Grounds Committee last year, I went to my first meeting and discovered that 1950 Mission, an abandoned school site on Mission between 15th Street and 16th Street was going to be offered to private developers to build 130 units of market rate housing. I immediately called affordable housing advocates and sought their advice on how we can designate this site for affordable housing, and hopefully teacher housing. Through many discussions, strategic planning and community advocacy, the Mayor's Office of Housing has offered to build 110 units of affordable family housing on that site with proceeds from the retail space going to a fund to subsidize teacher housing.
So, what I guess I am trying to say is that there are properties that we should negotiate better rents for, but there are properties that can be used for public good, with very minimal rental income. I personally feel that I am a temporary steward of public property and that public land should benefit the public. Sometimes, that doesn't mean high rent. Sometimes it means carving out a place for our public school families to live.

18. What should the district do to make its schools more environmentally friendly?

We should be installing tankless water heaters in all of our new schools and when we are replacing water heaters. We also should be building solar panels on our schools and use sustainable products. We have eliminated water bottles and have gardens at all our schools. We also have hired a Sustainability Director to examine the district's facilities and policies about building a sustainable culture in our schools.

19. What is your assessment of how adequate the School Board Sunshine regulation is?

I actually think it is very good. We have all been trained on the Sunshine policy and Brown Act.

20. Should every high school have a functional, open, operating library? If so, how could we make it happen?

Fortunately that is now a reality. With the passing of the Public Education Enrichment Fund, we allocate millions a year to hire librarians in all of our schools and now every school has an open, functioning library with a certificated librarian.

21. Would you favor a transition away from a reliance on paraprofessionals to team teaching in socially stressed schools?

I would actually place more classroom paraprofessionals in classrooms of socially stressed schools. For the last 10 years we have been slowly decreasing the number of classroom paraprofessionals so it is very rare that any schools have any at all. The paraprofessionals were predominately people of color, the majority of them were bilingual and they were an extra hand when a student needed individual attention. Since our teaching staff is 75% white, paraprofessional helped to translate and help with family relations. They helped to lower the student to adult ratio in a classroom. Also, they enabled teachers in these schools with little parent involvement to take students on field trips, something high performing schools do all the time. I would hire more of them for these schools and implement team teaching.

22. Did you support SB 1381, the proposal that raised the age requirement for students entering kindergarten?

It is an unfunded mandate and it has caused havoc in our enrollment process for parents. I think it was unfair to put it on school districts without funds to help us fund an alternative for those students not meeting the age requirement.

23. What do you think of the current rules regarding teacher tenure?

As most people know, this February, the Board voted 5 to 1 to bypass the teachers in the two Superintendent Zones (Mission and Bayview, but also includes Paul Revere school) when administrating lay off notices. I was one of the Commissioners that voted in favor of it. This was an extremely difficult vote and I believe everyone wishes they did not have to make the vote. I voted for it because it was an effort to stabilize and keep the integrity of those vulnerable schools in tact. During my work at Coleman Advocates I was a community organizer and I went into many of the homes of those students and asked their caregivers about the dreams they had for their children and grandchildren. I have seen the statistics of those children that attend those schools. I have been in those schools many, many times and I, like my fellow colleagues who voted with me, felt desperate to do something for those students. These are schools that have 4 times the turnover of teachers and are in the lowest 5% in the state. They have been underperforming for decades. They are majority African American, Latino and Pacific Islander. Our data told us that what we had in place was working. The trajectory was pointing upwards, for the first time in a long time. I wanted to continue that and stabilize that for greater, institutionalized growth. I realize our labor partners felt betrayed, but they also did not make an effort to educate us on the issue. They assumed we would know the implications of this vote nationwide. I, for one, did not. I was looking at my responsibility of running the San Francisco School District with 119 schools and 56,000 students. I take my responsibility very seriously and I took the vote very seriously. It was not, as some claim, malicious and intentionally done to hurt our labor partners. It was done to attempt to help these schools. It is also important to note that I spoke to many principals and heard from many teachers before I made this vote.

24. Do you think Prop 13 needs to be reformed? If so, in what ways? How will you use your position on the Board to advocate for this?

I think Prop. 13 needs to be reformed by not including corporations and businesses. Prop. 13 was designed to give home owners relief from property taxes but the loophole is that they included big corporations and businesses. That is wrong and they should not get any tax relief as they are profit making organizations.

25. Have you read Diane Ravitch's recent book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System?" What lessons should the District take from this work? Whether or not you've read the book, what role do you see for charter schools in the public education system?

Charter schools give parents another option for public education. . My feeling is that Charter schools serve public school children and if they can prove they are doing a better job than we are to help us close our achievement gap, then I am more inclined to renew the charter. I am not hostile to Charter schools but I have voted to approve only one new Charter school (KIPP High School) while my time on the Board, and there have been many requests for new charters I am a huge fan of the charter schools we have in the county jail system and attend all their graduations.

26. How can the public schools better address the needs of Special Education students and ESL students?

Our district had an audit done on our Special Ed program and the auditors, who audit SPED program nationally and internationally, said that our program was the most egregious program they had ever audited. We spend $14.5 million on non-public school placement for our SPED students, never knowing if they ever achieve their academic goals. The majority of SPED students we keep in our district are not in the least restrictive environments, few participate in inclusive classrooms, they are not being taught by a teacher certificated in the subject matter and Black students are 7 times more likely to be placed in SPED simply because they are Black. However, we are making slow progress: we are moving to inclusive classrooms, IEPs are being more closely monitored, we now have a screening process for students to be referred for an assessment placed in SPED and most important of all, we are implementing tiered interventions, otherwise known as RTI.The single most important thing we can do is to institute a tiered intervention program for academics and behavior in our general education instruction. This would reduce the number of students identified as SPED and get services to students who really need SPED services.
We spend $14.5 million on non-public school placement. These are students that we say we cannot teach so we pay for their tuition at a private school. We never track the progress of these students, we simply wash our hands of their education. The majority of these children are Black boys. This is real evidence of racism in our SPED program. We must change that and we are.
We are doing much to help our English Learner students. We are now monitoring the progress of our El students since we discovered that we have many, many longterm El students, which means these are students that we have had since Kindergarten and they have not been reclassified as English proficient by middle school because they have not passed the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). Long term Els have the most difficulty with academic work in middle school because they are not as academically prepared as other students, do not have a grade level knowledge of the elements of English Language Arts, such as sentence structure, word recognition and language development. We are setting them up for failure by not catching their lack of progress earlier and using interventions to get them on track of exiting the EL program.
I could write a paper on what we are doing to help them graduate. If you are interested, feel free to contact me. It is all very good and promising!