The smell of take out lingered in the air as attendees filtered in late for the Monday meeting of the Board of Education’s student assignment committee. Board members and presenters discussed strategies they will use starting next week to get parent input on the six options now being considered for 2010.

“We want to get the word out as much as possible,” said Muriel Niederle, the Stanford researcher whose team presented preliminary data of mathematical simulations last month. The data is being used to discover which option might best replace the current system that has left a quarter of district schools with more than 60 percent of a single racial group.

First was a quick overview and clarification of the options. The three based on parental choice with a preference on local schools, academics, or both are now being called “lottery” options. The local and zone options remain the same.

The team’s goals were to inform and engage the community, and share that feedback with the board to enlighten their deliberations before they approve a new assignment policy. One step is a letter that will be sent out to more than 300 community-based organizations next week. It will outline the options and list the dates of town hall meetings being held through January in schools across the city “to minimize the distance parents have to travel to participate,” said Niederle.

“We are working very hard to reach out to families that tend not to attend these meetings or participate in the selection process,” said Ruth Grabowski of the Parent Advisory Council, one of the groups spearheading community outreach. She added that the “challenge is the time of year” due to the holidays.

Ellie Rossiter, Executive Director of Parents for Public Schools, reminded board members of the importance that they show up to the town halls. “The level of trust it builds in this conversation is great,” she said.

Though they were “feeling a little overwhelmed” after the last meeting, the groups were able to boil all of the information down into 30-minute presentations that will begin every town hall meeting, followed by open-ended questions and discussions with parents in attendance.

The 18-page packet everyone in the room leafed through Monday answered the question raised at the last meeting: who makes up the 20 percent of parents who miss round one selections in January?

Just as everyone hypothesized in October, it is mostly historically disadvantaged populations that end up with less opportunity to choose what schools their children attend.

Based on kindergarten assignments in the 2008-2009 school year, 51 percent of all African American applicants, 39 percent of Filipino, and 31 percent of Latino applicants apply late. This is compared to 8 percent of Chinese and 10 percent of white applicants.

“I’m particularly interested in outreach to the schools where low percentages of parents participated in the school assignment process,” said board vice president Jane Kim, though the numbers were not discussed.

Future board meetings will go over the quantitative analysis of achievement and diversity from 24 randomly picked schools, said Niederle. “We should sell tickets to that,” joked commissioner Sandra Fewer.

After breezing through the presentations by 6:55 pm, board members stared out at the mostly empty blue chairs and allowed for public comment. Soon, laughter filled the awkward silence as everyone realized there would not be a long line of commenters this time.

The community meetings will take place at 6pm on:

If parents cannot attend one of the five meetings, there is a survey online to voice their opinions.

“This is a genuine and valuable effort for everyone to participate,” concluded commissioner Jill Wynns.

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Sade McDougal

Born in the Sunshine State of Florida (but raised in Philly), Sade is happy to now be living and reporting in the sunniest neighborhood in San Francisco. When the high school education beat is not keeping her busy, she loves to frugally satisfy her inner food glutton (the Mission is a great place for that!) and sing (both in the shower and on stage).

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