Amarelis Raygoza, a second-grader at Cesar Chavez, walked to school with her mother Carmen.
Cesar Chavez parent Maria Lorena Vidrio said, “Keep the program, teachers and staff because Cesar Chavez has very good teachers.”
Kevin Galvez sits in the front steps of Cesar Chavez before school starts Wednesday.

Parents, teachers and administrators at some of the Mission District’s schools identified as among the state’s lowest-performing reacted Wednesday with dismay and anger to the prospect of drastic restructuring.

Many defended the schools and questioned the state’s assessment, but some parents said the district should do what’s best for students, even if that means replacing some teachers.

“If the crop isn’t good, then we must pull the weeds so that the crop is able to grow faster,” Israel Garcia, a father of two at Bryant Elementary School, said in Spanish.

“If they remove teachers that aren’t working and replace them with teachers that are, I think we’ll move forward.”

The Mission’s six underperforming schools—Cesar Chavez Elementary, Bryant Elementary, Horace Mann Middle School, Everett Middle School, Mission High School and John O’Connell High School—have four options if they want to qualify for additional federal funding in the 2010-11 academic year. Each school could replace its principal and at least half of its faculty; convert to a charter school; shut down completely and send its students to a higher-performing school; or replace the principal, increase instruction time and institute other reforms.

Carmen Raygoza, who has a second-grader at Cesar Chavez, said the state’s cuts to the schools budget show that California is not truly concerned about education.

“It’s very bad what they’re doing,” she said. “They’re cutting the programs for students. What kind of future will they have?

“I don’t think it’s fair that they say we’re the lowest school when we’re doing the best we can with what we have. And we don’t have tutors,” she added.

While parents said they support change, they were also worried about what that will mean for their children.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to our children,” Garcia said. “Will the teachers who come here be better? Will the children get the same attention? Will we keep getting the same results?”

“Each principal brings their own plan. And that harms students,” said Jose Guadalupe Regla, a 44-year-old father of a kindergartner and fourth-grader at Bryant Elementary School.

One option parents aren’t willing to support is the closing of schools.

“Imagine if they close the school? No. No,” said Ana Marenco, whose son has attended Cesar Chavez since he was in kindergarten. “This school is near my work. If they close the school, where will they send my son?”

Maria Lorena Vidrio, who dropped off her daughter Lorena, a fifth-grader at Cesar Chavez, said that instead of closing the school, she wants to see the school get more funding and support.

“Keep the program, teachers and staff because Cesar Chavez has very good teachers. Keep this school to be better,” Vidrio said.

Some Cesar Chavez parents said they are happy with the way the school is, and they don’t want to see the teachers go.

“It would be a shame if the school closes,” said Elda Rodriguez, who has a 9-year-old daughter at Cesar Chavez. “My daughter is learning very much, especially English. The school is working fine the way it is.”

Two teachers at Cesar Chavez said the state isn’t taking into account students’ academic growth.

“Even though we’re still a low-performing school, we have made progress every single year,” said Mali Pedroza-Chipman, a bilingual fourth-grade teacher.

“We’ve done a lot of reform. It’s not the same scripted curriculum. We’re planning around the standards,” Pedroza-Chipman said. “It is very disheartening because we work really hard with the students.”

Michelle Mak, who teaches first grade, said state educational officials “need to come and visit our schools.

“They have to see what we’re doing. They have to come and see that our children are joyful learners. They love learning.”

Test scores show that Cesar Chavez Elementary and Bryant Elementary have failed to meet federal targets in English and math five years in a row. At Cesar Chavez, 32.9 percent of the students are at least proficient in math and 27.2 percent are proficient in English. For Bryant Elementary, the numbers are 27.7 percent for math and 28.6 percent for English.

Principal Adalina Aramburo at Cesar Chavez said the school has implemented new methods of instruction for the past two years, such as focusing lessons based on the results from exams in class.

Aramburo said the state doesn’t take into account the progress students are making in Spanish, the first language for many of the children in the bilingual program.

“What the state is not seeing is that we’re creating bilingual thoughtful individuals,” she said. “Spanish is never recognized.”

Aramburo said she met with parents Wednesday morning during the school’s monthly “Café con Leche” chat to discuss the possible changes.

She told them, “You hear a lot of things. But you have to ask yourself what is my child doing? How is my child doing?”

When asked what she’d like to see, Aramburo said, “I’d like to remain here. And that’s not an option.”

Richard Duber, John O’Connell’s principal, called the four restructuring options “extreme” and asserted that there is no evidence that they will help raise test scores.

“There’s no data that shows charter schools, for example, are any more or less successful than public schools,” he said.

Duber, who said he first learned Tuesday that O’Connell was on the list, said he’s yet to learn from the San Francisco Unified School District the specific changes that will occur at the high school.

“We’re trying to get an answer to the question of what this means and how best to approach it,” he said.

One reason the scores are low, he said, is that half of the students are English language learners. Their English has improved but their scores are still below the district’s standards.

“It doesn’t mean that learning isn’t going on but the lens you are looking at our school is deficient,” Duber said.

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Rosa Ramirez grew up listening to stories about her father and uncles migrating from a small rural town in Mexico to work in the garment district in Los Angeles. Now, as a reporter for Mission Loc@l, Rosa enjoys telling the stories of immigrants from Latin America and other parts of the world who are making San Francisco their new home.
Her beat is San Francisco City College and higher education.
Before coming to UC Berkeley, Rosa worked for various news organizations across the country including Hispanic Link News Service, Birmingham Post-Herald, Rocky Mountain News and Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Rosa, who speaks Spanish and Portuguese, graduated from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

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  1. How would the restructuring impact the Special ed programs at Cesar Chavez for the Hard of Hearing? my daughter may be attending the preschool there for hearing impaired children, which I have heard is amazing.

  2. I am overjoyed too see some changes in ours schools. I also a graduated from san francisco under performing schools we need a over haul school system because what i notice most san francians that money put their childrens in private schools because they have better teachers/ school system

  3. It’s ridiculous to judge a school only by its test scores, especially schools with a large immigrant population. Educational authorities need to visit these schools and go into the classrooms to see what’s working and what’s not. Maybe these schools really are terrible, but I don’t think you can tell that from test scores. Those tests may indicate a lot of kids are failing, but it doesn’t really tell you why.

  4. I am a graduate of some of the under performing schools in the City. Speaking from experience, some schools need to be retooled with better teachers. There is more to it than that, obviously, but letting go of bad teachers is a start.

    From my academic research, having a strong principal is also key to improving student performance. Principals need to be supported by having the authority to choose their staff.

  5. Thank you Mission Local for this article.
    The last 2 sentences are key. Evaluate these schools for their addressing community needs and the way they are improving, rather than the same scale of test scores for every school. Do not disrupt these neighborhood schools, and support O’Connell, a priceless resource for the trades over the years.