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SF Mandarin Middle School – The Last Word?

August 24, 2010

The San Francisco Mandarin Immersion Parents Council met yesterday evening to discuss the district’s draft middle school plan and what changes, if any, the group might like to propose to parents and the district leadership.  Here are my notes from that discussion…


The Jose Ortega parents are generally satisfied  with the current middle school plan, which sends their children to Aptos Middle School, while the Starr King community has more mixed feelings about the plan, which sends their children to Horace Mann Middle School.   Some portion of the Mandarin immersion parent community at Jose Ortega might join Starr King MI parents in asking to combine the programs at a single school, but probably only if that proposal targets Aptos.

The Starr King parents are therefore considering the following courses of action…

  1. Embrace the selection of Horace Mann and work with the other feeder schools (Buena Vista, Chavez, and Webster)
  2. Accept the selection of Horace Mann and petition the district for possible changes to the plan
  3. Develop a consensus among the entire Starr King community (both MI, Gen-Ed, and Spanish biliteracy), that Aptos is a better choice, then petition the district to make this their middle school

They have assigned action items to different parents to do the following…

  • Visit Horace Mann next week
  • Reach out to parent groups at Buena Vista, Chavez, and Webster
  • Visit or perform research on Aptos
  • Survey their parent community to understand their reactions to these different possible options

Given these facts, the middle school issue has become a question primarily for Starr King.  The MIPC has no plans to meet again on this topic and the MIPC middle school committee is essentially inactive.  However the MIPC will continue to meet on other topics such as Mandarin language materials, curriculum, etc.

Conversation with Orla O’Keefe

Starr King Parent and MIPC president Beth Weise met with Special Assistant to the Superintendent on Student Assignment, Orla O’Keefe.  Ms. O’Keefe is the person with overall responsibility for the new plan.  Here is what Beth learned…

Parent communities wishing to suggest a change to their own middle school assignment should understand the high-level goals that are driving the new plan.  One of the most important goals is to keep school communities together as the children move from elementary school to middle school.  This means that the district is unlikely to create a system that assigns students to a middle school based on participation in a program such as Mandarin immersion.  Ms O’Keefe said, “By splitting schools that have immersion and GE program, you diminish the opportunity to have a integrated learning opportunity”.

Another goal is to make elementary schools feed into middle schools that are nearby.  While there are exceptions to this, the district generally avoids assigning children to a middle school that is far from their elementary school.

Also, the district wants to locate Mandarin immersion programs in all four quadrants of the city.  This is an equity issue because the goal is to make Mandarin available and nearby for every community.

Finally Ms. O’Keefe did acknowledge that it is a challenge to achieve all the goals listed above and create a viable Mandarin immersion program at a school like Horace Mann.  The question of attrition and lack of participation is one that does concern her.

Starr King Parent Feedback

Every parent in attendance had the chance to share their feelings.  Here are some of the common themes…

Positives of Horace Mann and the SFUSD plan

  • This is more of a neighborhood model
  • Principal Mark Sanchez is a strong school leader
  • The school will have a large “language immersion” community because Buena Vista and Webster have Spanish immersion programs
    • It will be more like a true “immersion school”
  • Mann will have a much larger budget-per-student than any other school in the district
  • Horace Mann is well served by public transit (BART, multiple Muni lines, etc)
  • Excited about the mix of schools feeding into Mann (Buena Vista, Webster, Chavez)

Negatives of Horace Mann and the SFUSD plan

  • There is a significant risk of attrition from the program because families will perceive Horace Mann as a less desirable middle school
  • We won’t have strength in numbers, and combining our children at one school would have made a stronger Mandarin immersion experience for our middle school children
  • The school will not be located where the Chinese population primarily lives

Jose Ortega Survey

During the discussion, I presented the data from a survey I ran of Jose Ortega parents.  Here is a very brief summary…

  • 43 parents participated, including 32 from the Mandarin program and 11 from the general education program
  • A large majority of parents are satisfied with Aptos as our middle school
    • Those that aren’t satisfied nearly all added comments that said they wanted a “better” school and mentioned schools like Hoover, Giannini, Presidio, or private school
  • Half the parents clearly said that they want to “keep our Jose Ortega community together” as we move to middle school, and half said that they wanted to choose the best program for their child
  • When asked what other middle schools they considered acceptable, the parents listed Aptos, Hoover, Giannini, James Lick, and Presidio.  A smaller number also listed Roosevelt and James Denman.  The remaining middle schools in the district, including Horace Mann, were listed as “unacceptable” by a majority of respondents.

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