more than a quarter-century, San Francisco’s public schools have failed
to close the achievement gap for black, Latino and Pacific Islander
students. At a meeting where community activists urged the school board
to make changes, Pat Scott told a shocking story.
week, we got a boy who’s a senior,” said Scott, executive director of
the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center in the Western
Addition.“I asked to see his transcript. He has straight F’s.”
F’s,” she said. “Freshman, sophomore, junior and senior year. And no one
has intervened. He got a notice he wasn’t going to graduate last week —
and nothing happened.”
Chronicle obtained the boy’s transcript after the Nov. 14 meeting. It
showed that the student attended Washington High School in the Outer
Richmond District for nearly four years and failed every one of his
F in biology.
F in world history.
F in Spanish.
F in P.E.
F’s from grade nine to the first semester of grade 12. A social worker
who looked into the boy’s case found that he also failed every class in
the eighth grade, his last year of middle school.
the student, a Latino boy whose name The Chronicle is withholding,
attend classes? How could he fail and still be advanced to the next
grade? And most pressing of all, what allowed him to fall through the
cracks for so long?
Brian Feulner / Special To The Chronicle
High School students leave at the end of the day. A failing student
there enrolled in a continuation school after he got help at Booker T.
Washington Community Service Center.
officials, citing confidentiality laws, have refused to answer some of
these questions. Without open access to records, it’s difficult to tell
how responsive the school was to the student’s situation. But these are
questions staffers are asking at Booker T. Washington Community Service
Center, which helps students and young people transitioning out of
foster care in the Western Addition.
Trotter, program director for college and career readiness at the
center, said he hadn’t seen anything like the boy’s transcript in his 15
years of working with students.
were dumbfounded,” he said. “In my work with high school students — and
students, period — I’ve never seen anything as blatantly disengaged, not
concerned. Even the audacity to print the report. As an institution, I
would feel challenged or embarrassed to produce something like that
without some kind of extensive explanation.”
Saunders, Washington High’s principal, declined to say how the student
had been advanced from one grade to the next having failed every class,
and what action, if any, the school took to intervene. She also declined
to speak generally about how school officials would handle a student who
consistently failed classes.
could be bringing up specific family situations that I don’t feel
comfortable sharing with a reporter,” Saunders said.
Blythe, a school district spokeswoman, also declined to talk about the
student’s specific situation. She did say that “the school
administration doesn’t see how (it) would be possible” for a student to
receive all F’s, because “there are several checks along the way.”
are ways a student who did not get course credits can advance to the
next grade, Blythe said, such as a parent denying a staff recommendation
to hold back a student.
student, who could not be reached for comment, arrived at the Booker T.
Washington Community Service Center in October and enrolled in a career
readiness program, staffers said. As a part of enrollment, the center
asks for a student’s transcript and the most recent report card, which
is how they learned of this boy’s situation.
contacted the Success Center, a local nonprofit that assists with
educational programs. From there, the student was placed in a
continuation school, where he is now working toward a GED, said Kiyana
Merritt, the boy’s case manager at Booker T. Washington.
never too late to make a change,” Merritt said. “He definitely found
confidence and faith coming to Booker T.”
said Washington High officials had told her they tried on several
occasions to contact the student’s parents, but it’s not clear why, or
if, they gave up.
kind of shows the relationships schools have with families of color,”
she said. “They definitely need to repair the relationships.”
Truitt, chief of student family and community support for the school
district, said there are “lots of things the school could do” to help a
student who is failing every class. He declined to provide specifics.
probably a root cause,” Truitt said. “When you’re talking about a
student that’s failing every class, every semester for years, that’s an
extremely rare and severe case.”
Rivers, a grant writer for Booker T. Washington, outlined the boy’s
situation in a report on African Americans in the Western Addition for
the city Department of Public Health. Although the student is Latino,
his case was included because educational struggles tend to be similar
among both groups, Rivers said.
interviewed the student and school staff members to compile the report,
she said. The student, referred to as “client 1,” first met with
counselors in middle school to try to improve his grades. He flunked all
his classes in eighth grade but was still advanced to high school,
he entered Washington High, the student felt nervous going into
classrooms where he didn’t know anyone and “had no knowledge of what to
do and where to go,” Rivers wrote. “This caused him to get in with the
wrong crowd, which started distracting him from his studies.”
a freshman, the boy told his high school counselor that he couldn’t
focus in class and felt lost, but Rivers said the adviser was
counselor (Asian) was aggressive in how she spoke with client 1
(Latino), making him uncomfortable,” Rivers wrote. “Leaving with the
feeling of not being understood, respected, and discriminated against,
client 1 did not seek her assistance again, nor did she seek him out.”
added, “Client 1’s parents reached out to the school and was (sic) not
given resources, assistance as to how to work with her son, or resolve
to the issue.”
T. Washington staffers said the boy held a job at the time, and had to
look after several younger siblings. The student said he was “in and
out” of classes, but the school did not report him as a chronic truant,
the staffers said.
district rules, school officials must call a student’s parents after the
first and second unexcused absences, and then send a “declaration of
legal truant” letter if the situation continues. If the absences
persist, the district can refer the case to the district attorney’s
office for violating state laws that require regular school attendance.
before that happens, students are supposed to be offered counseling,
mentoring, tutoring or a referral to an after-school program. Washington
High School offers Beacon, a program funded by the city Department of
Children, Youth and Their Families.
to Rivers’ report, the student “was never offered a tutor, nor given the
option to go to this program.”
at Booker T. Washington say the situation is indicative of schools’
broader problem in dealing with underachieving minority students. Scott,
the executive director, recalled the case of a 12th-grader who came to
the center barely able to read a basic children’s book.
the program director for college and career readiness, said some
students who get A’s and B’s in math can’t do basic multiplication and
division during mentoring sessions.
consistency, for us, was these are all of our children of color,”
percent of black students across the district did not meet 2016-17 state
assessment standards in at least one subject area, district data show.
The same was true for 61 percent of Latino students and 65 percent of
Pacific Islander students. Only 14 percent of whites and 16 percent of
Asian Americans failed to meet standards in one subject area.
has changed in years and years,” Scott said. “There’s no help. There’s
the student came to Booker T., staff reached out to Washington High
administrators about the student’s transcript, leading to an agreement
to refer “at-risk students” to the community center, according to
any student was considered at-risk, it was this one,” Rivers wrote. “How
could the school district allow this to continue past the eighth grade,
and even in the first year of high school? Where are the balances and
checks for students, specifically the African Americans and Latinos? Why
did the school not make a plan of action in the beginning?”