School district searching for ways to help minority students thrive 

Every time teacher Jang Wen asks his Sheridan Elementary School fifth-graders a grammar question, he adds, "discuss it with your partner."

The students whisper for a few seconds before their hands shoot up.

Partnered learning is one of a broad palette of strategies used at the Ocean View neighborhood school that is helping many of its students — 96 percent of whom are nonwhite — succeed when their peers throughout The City are falling behind, according to Principal Nur Jehan Khalique.

When Khalique arrived seven years ago, Sheridan’s overall performance on state standardized tests were flagging at 638. The school had been put into the district program that provides additional support for underperforming schools.

Now, Sheridan’s state Academic Performance Index score for its socioeconomically disadvantaged students is 830 — above the statewide performance target of 800. Students who succeed at Sheridan often go on to succeed at other schools, Parent-Teacher Council President Roderick Mills said.

"When my daughter [Victoria] transferred to Hoover Middle School, she went straight into the honor roll," Mills said. "They’re definitely getting prepared for the next level."

Sheridan is one of numerous schools within the San Francisco Unified School District that is beating the odds.

While the district is the top-performing large urban school district in the state, 77.8 percent of blacks, 64.8 percent of Pacific Islanders and 66.2 percent of Hispanics are not meeting proficiency levels on state assessments, according to Sandra Fewer, director of parent organizing for Coleman Advocates, a San Francisco nonprofit.

In hopes of boosting what’s known as the "achievement gap," The City’s Board of Education is considering a resolution that would give the district a deadline of 2011 by which it would need to get 60 percent of its minority students at proficiency levels in math and English.

The timeline was adopted by the Board of Education’s curriculum committee April 7 and is expected to go to the full board for approval April 22. The resolution will also be discussed at the board’s budget committee Monday.

The district board also passed a resolution four years ago requiring annual updates on the achievement gap; the first update was April 7.

More minority students are enrolling in Gifted and Talented Education and Advanced Placement programs, according to Susan Wong, district director of pupil services.

District leaders are in the final stages of crafting a master plan that would study students in depth and find more ways to help them succeed, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia, who said he hopes the plan will be adopted by the end of this school year.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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