By ALLISON DAVIS
This year, a record 1,700 San Francisco students took advantage of the federal tutoring program offered to students who attend schools that fail to meet the targets set by No Child Left Behind.
And, with the 29 percent increase in enrollment, the district has taken steps to better manage the tutoring programs, said Jorge Cuevas-Antillon, supervisor of federal and state-funded programs.
While most Mission schools agreed there had been improvements, Cesar Chavez Elementary, one of the schools in the district with the lowest scores, and Leonard R. Flynn Elementary said there were still problems.
Cuevas-Antillon’s office is charged with coordinating the nearly two dozen tutoring companies that work in San Francisco Unified School District each year, as well as managing money allocated for various city and state programs.
To improve communication between the schools and the companies, Cuevas-Antillon said he hired two school liaisons, Brenda Ow-Wong and Mary Elisade, both former principals. Among other tasks, he asked them to monitor tutoring sites in the district.
“At the district level, there are always good intentions to make this a seamless program,” said Amber Carroll, an employee of ARC Associates, a tutoring company that works in the district. “This year they have made some real changes. Before, we rarely interacted with them.”
Elisade said their goal was to make as many site visits as possible while the tutoring goes on between January and the end of April. The office said they visited every eligible school at least once this past year, but they declined to give Mission Loc@l a log of the visits.
The office said the on-site visits included sitting in on actual tutoring sessions and soliciting information from the school principal or resource teacher.
“We have a mini checklist of things that should be in place,” said Ow-Wong. This list includes well kept attendance sheets, engaged and focused students, and a pre-approved individual lesson plan for each student.
Most Mission schools agreed that communication improved this year.
Principal Veronica Chavez at Bryant Elementary said she met with Elisade several times since the beginning of the year.
“She’s been very responsive,” said Chavez. “She calls to check in. The whole department has been more responsive.”
Araceli Villalobos, the parent liaison at Marshall Elementary School, also reported a “wonderful” relationship with Ow-Wong, and three site visits.
Julie Norris, a fourth-grade teacher at Marshall, said Elisade helped parents with the paperwork in selecting a school and made sure they met the deadlines. While the district liaison may have been a presence at Marshall, teachers at Marshall also put in an enormous effort to coordinate with the tutoring company and with the district, they said.
Cesar Chavez and Leonard R. Flynn Elementary schools also reported that the school staff worked to monitor and communicate with the tutoring programs.
At Cesar Chavez, Principal Adelina Aramburo said she has been in contact with Elisade by email several times, but Elisade’s visits to the school took place on Saturdays. Saul Anaya, the after-school coordinator and the main contact for tutoring providers operating at Cesar Chavez, said he has no knowledge of Elisade’s role at the school.
“I communicate through the site coordinator at the tutoring company,” said Anaya.
“The way it is now, it’s intimate. You get to know [the tutoring companies] directly. At the same time, it would be nice if in the future we do have someone on the district level, so if there are some things that can’t be resolved, we can speak to someone in the district.”
Cuevas-Antillon insisted that the district office’s responsibility is to report to the principal and the principal alone.
Principal Charles Addcox of Flynn Elementary, however, said he hasn’t seen or had contact with either Elisade or Ow-Wong. That has been left to the parent liaisons, Arceli Jarcia and Gloria Morales-Beale, who have been in contact with Elisade.
“We’ve been doing a lot of telephone [calls] anytime we have questions through email. I saw her twice. She’s been very supportive addressing our needs through email and phone,” said Morales-Beale.
Both Morales-Beale and Jarcia have reported meeting with Elisade once or twice.
When there was a problem with the tutoring companies Tutor Works and Extreme Learning earlier this year, Elisade came to supervise, Jarcia said.
“The tutors aren’t well prepared. They are only very young people. They are not experienced with discipline,” said Jarcia. “The kids were running around and they didn’t have control.”
The tutoring companies provided one hour of homework help and a second hour of tutoring during weekly sessions. If students said they had no homework, tutors rarely had anything else to offer, said Jarcia.
“They didn’t even bring materials. The kids were bored.”
Jarcia put in calls to the tutoring companies and arranged parents to send letters and call the supervisors at Extreme Learning, which earned an estimated $664,794 working in the district this year, and Tutor Works, which earned an estimated $343,212.
“They sent the person in charge and they controlled the situation. Then [Elisade] came to supervise. Since then it has been a bit better, but the kids don’t receive very good services,” said Jarcia.
“There has not been accountability,” said Morales-Beale. “The program runs by itself. We speak to [Elisade] … on the phone and we had to call Extreme Learning and Tutor Works.”
Morales-Beale reports that she still has several questions and doesn’t understand the process. “Who is paying for this? Who are they accountable to? How involved should the principal be? It just doesn’t come with enough instructions,” she said.
Anaya agreed and thinks the district, the tutoring companies and the school should meet before a problem occurs, he said.
“Instead of everyone saying, ‘Here I am. We’ll tell you what happens later,’ we need to sit down way in advance and say what we’re hoping to accomplish.”
“I think it would be a good idea if someone from within each school monitored full time,” said Jarcia, adding that the two monitors were too few for the number of schools. “We try to do the best for kids but we have other things to do. If somebody can spend 20 minutes a day in each program, the difference will be amazing.”