As community organization staff members watch a presentation by Michael Andolina from the Jamestown Community Center, the meeting itself took on a classroom-like atmosphere.

“We’re using statistics,” says Michael Andolina, education director for the Jamestown Community Center, “to try to explain the performance of the Mission’s schools.”  The data that followed was familiar to anyone with a passing familiarity with the Mission: the neighborhood has higher proportions of Latin American immigrants, crime, uninsured residents, low-income students — and a smaller proportion of students proficient in math and English than the rest of the city.

Yesterday, the Mission Community Council (a.k.a. “MiCoCo”) held a meeting with other community-based organizations (a.k.a. “CBOs”) with the premise of discussing some old news:  last March, the California Department of Education released a report that listed six Mission District schools among the “persistently lowest-achieving” in the state.

The central question of Monday’s meeting was, what can CBO’s do to help change that data and bring the educational scores of kids in the Mission back up?

This proved to be a tricky question.  Concerning education, the classroom was hardly mentioned.  Instead, “things outside of education” were highlighted as the reasons for the poor academic performance of kids in the Mission — the usual suspects of poor English literacy, health problems, gangs and poverty.

Andolina asked his audience to discuss their reactions to the data in groups.  At this, Senator Leland Yee, who’d quietly materialized in a back row chair during the introductions, disappeared from the room just as quietly.  Ariel Esqueda, who grew up in the Mission and is the sports director at Jamestown, took on the task of summarizing Andolina’s presentation:  “Unfortunately, it’s not a shock,” she said.  “We’re already behind and we’re falling below.”

What followed was a lively discussion between the different CBO’s present about their organizations and hypothetical services they could offer Latino parents to help them help, or at least not hinder, their kids.

“Well, I wouldn’t say they devalue education,” said a woman, urgently backtracking on her comments about Latino parents being distracted by work and other problems and therefore not focused on their children’s schooling — as she saw Jeff Feinman from Mission Graduates was ready to write it up on a big sheet of paper stuck to a wall.

Discussions circled endlessly around a need to communicate and collaborate on projects to help Latino families.  How that would actually be accomplished remained vague. There was talk of “validating informal caregivers” — kids’ aunts, uncles and grandparents, and creating a checklist of things that children should know before entering kindergarten for parents.

At the meeting, early childhood education was the hot topic, due to statistics showing that Latinos’ have lower-than-average  enrollment in preschools.  Only 69 percent of Latinos in the Mission enroll their children on-time for kindergarten, according to data given at the meeting, perhaps due to the immigration fears that also keep some parents from considering preschool or daycare programs.

Agreeing that many students struggle in kindergarten if their parents are not native English speakers, preschool seemed like a good way to prepare those kids for K-12.

One of the most popular ideas put forth by CBO’s were parenting workshops — ones that would  explain the importance of early childhood education to parents, for example.  Talk about parenting workshops got more face time than discussion of Bryant Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Horace Mann Middle School, John O’Connell Alternative High School and Mission High — the Mission’s six infamous underperforming schools.

But such workshops were also decried.  “It’s the same workshop year after year,” said Oscar Grande, a community organizer with PODER.  “Telling me how bad I am, I don’t cook right.”

But instead of attending preschool or educational daycare programs, CBO staffers mulled over how children are often cared for by relatives.  “My cousin takes care of my kids, but she hasn’t got no child development skills,” said Grande.  “She sets them in front of the TV.  But she needs some money, and the price is right for me.”

After the meeting, organizer and Youth Affinity Group Chair Luis Barahona said that changes in the Mission’s academic environment — from funding delays to new administrators — had kept MiCoCo from springing into action about schools’ poor performance sooner.  “We wanted to give them the space to figure stuff out,” he said.  But then MiCoCo lost their funding from the city, and had their own figuring to do.  Now, “I hope people come away with the idea of this being the beginning of something.  And that more people participate.”

“I think what we need is…” began Melissa, a young woman who mentioned having worked for at least two different local CBOs, neither of which, she said, knew how to smoothly refer families to other organizations that help with issues like mental health.  “Feedback.  Open-minded feedback,” she decided after a pause.

“You mean ‘collaboration’?” another woman offered helpfully.

The final conclusion?  Nothing yet.  They’ll talk about it more next year.

Those who want to participate in future planning are encouraged to attend MiCoCo’s Youth Affinity Group meeting at Centro Del Pueblo on January 13.

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J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

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  1. A number of the CBOs involved in that discussion (if not all of them) are working on substantive projects aimed at improving the achievement and enriching the lives of low-income, high-need students in the Mission.

    Here are two of those projects: New Day for Learning, which is working to create “community schools” that meet an array of needs for children and families beyond classrooms and academic curriculum; and the Summer Learning Network, which works to connect urban summer youth programs with the kind of enrichments that are routine in the lives of middle-class young people. “Summer learning loss” is believed to account for much of the achievement gap between low-income students and their more privileged peers, due to the far more enriched summers that advantaged young people enjoy.

    Both projects are run under the auspices of New Day for Learning (my employer), headed by Margaret Brodkin with major funding from the Mott Foundation.

    It appears that the Dec. 20 meeting left the impression that there’s lots of talk and hand-wringing about student achievement at Mission District schools but little substantive action. I thought it would be helpful to clarify that there actually is serious work going on to improve the academic success and enrich the lives of disadvantaged Mission District students.