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Carol Kocivar On Education

Great Student Musicals in March

You can add another item to your “Only in San Francisco” list: The chance to see great student musical performances.

Take a moment to mark your calendars. Don’t miss these upcoming events at our local high schools!

West Side Story

March 12-14, 2015 | 7:30 PM • March 15 | 2 PM

Lowell High School

1101 Eucalyptus Dr, SF

Ticket Info: (415) 759-2730


The Bernstein and Sondheim score is considered to be one of Broadway’s finest. Among the songs: “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.”

¡Viva el Mariachi!

March 19, 2015 | 7:30 PM

Mission High School

3750 18th Street, SF

Ticket Info: (415) 241-6240

eventbrite.com ~ viva el mariachiThis special concert of mariachi and ballet folklórico celebrates the inauguration of the mariachi program in San Francisco Unified School District. Guest artists include the premier youth mariachi from Tucson, Arizona, Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School as well as local favorites Mariachi Nueva Generacíon and Ballet Folklórico Cuicacalli. Tickets are free and seating is open and limited.  For more information, contact Vikki Araiza at (415) 379-7786.


March 12-14 / 19-21 | 7:30 PM

March 14 & 21 Matinee | 2 PM

Ruth Asawa SF School of The Arts

555 Portola Dr. SF

Ticket Info: (415) 695-5700


THE MUSIC MAN! tells the story of River City, Iowa and the day Professor Harold Hill came to town, changing the town and replacing their pool hall with a marching band. Among the songs: “Gary, Indiana”,

“Goodnight, My Someone”, “ Pick-A-Little Talk-A-Little”, “Goodnight Ladies”, “Seventy Six Trombones”, “Till There Was You”, “Ya Got Trouble”.

March is Arts Education Month and these performances highlight just a few of the benefits of arts education for all children.

Reading Tip

A newly released report—A Blueprint for Creative Schools: A Report to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson by the Arts Education Task Force—highlights strategies to help bring the arts to more California children.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2015

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

Iwas in the back of the room at a parent meeting at Burton High School last week and thinking that Phoebe Hearst must be smiling.

We can thank PTA volunteers in schools throughout the City for reaching deep into their own pockets to help support our schools as the state of California continues to underfund our schools. (No boasting about being 46th in the nation in education funding.)”

It is not often that I think of Phoebe.

But about once a year — in February, my mind wanders to a San Francisco historical fact.

California State PTA Historical Briefs

1897 — California Home and School Child Study Association organized in San Francisco.

And why was I thinking of Phoebe?

Pheopb Apperson HearstWell—we can look back to 1897 and trace the world’s largest advocacy association for children back to Phoebe and San Francisco.

In 1897, Phoebe Hearst contributed to the establishment of the National Congress of Mothers, which evolved eventually into the National Parent-Teacher Association.

This was a BIG event.

The PTA was created when women did not have the right to vote and social activism was not popular.

It was created when our country was feeling the enormous impact of the Industrial Revolution. An immense wave of immigration was flowing into the country. Children worked in factories, in mines, and in the streets of the cities. Some could not attend school or obtain enough food to eat.

Phoebe and PTA co-founder Alice McLellan Birney believed mothers would support their mission to eliminate threats to children, and in early 1897, they started a nationwide campaign.

On Feb. 17, 1897, more than 2,000 people—mostly mothers, but also fathers, teachers, laborers and legislators—attended the first convocation of the National Congress of Mothers in Washington, D.C.

In 1970, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (National PTA) and the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers (NCCPT)—founded by Selena Sloan Butler in Atlanta, Ga.—merged to serve all children.

As the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the nation, PTA is the conscience of the country for children and youth issues.

We can trace a lot of the improvements to the lives of children to the advocacy of PTA:

Creation of Kindergarten classes

Child labor laws

Public health service

Hot and healthy lunch programs

Juvenile justice system

Mandatory immunization

Arts in Education

School Safety

If we just look to San Francisco, we can thank the PTA for those yellow pedestrian sidewalks near every school, for helping children get library cards, and for campaigning for funding that provides the arts, librarians, and physical education in all San Francisco schools, and for pre-school.

We can thank PTA volunteers in schools throughout the City for reaching deep into their own pockets to help support our schools as the state of California continues to underfund our schools. (No boasting about being 46th in the nation in education funding.)

And we can thank our parents for supporting our teachers and our administrators and school communities.

And that group of parents at Burton High School?

They were there to start a new PTSA to help their school. They were there to continue the legacy of activism to improve the lives of children that we can trace back to San Francisco.

So I am guessing—Phoebe must be smiling.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2015

And the winner is….

Clarendon Elementary School in San Francisco

Ever step back in time? Step back into a place that has so many great memories of growing up?

I did the other day.

It was my children’s elementary school—Clarendon, where they attended the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program.

For years, whenever anyone asked about public schools in San Francisco, I would tell them about my children’s school and say it was the BEST school in the state.

Thankfully, in San Francisco our community voted to invest extra funds to support those essential ingredients, including the arts and libraries and physical education. ”

Well, I was wrong.

Not just the best school in California but one of the best schools in the entire country.

Take a look here. A press release from the San Francisco School District:

Clarendon Elementary School has been recognized as a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School by the US Department of Education, along with 12 other California public schools and two private schools. 

The National Blue Ribbon Schools program honors schools that show exemplary performance for all student subgroups and those that have demonstrated considerable improvement in the performance of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Principal Peter Van Court credits the school’s success to several factors. “We have great parent participation and a great staff, so our students are thriving.” 

I couldn’t resist a revisit.

Clarendon is not only where my children grew up but where I also grew up. It is where I learned how great schools work. That experience of joy and success has guided my journey as an advocate for great public schools.

So I took a trip back in time.

I was a little bit on remote control, the route embedded in the early morning memory of dropping off and picking up kids day after day, year after year, through two kids in elementary school.

The first thing I heard when I got to the school was laughter. Kids out on the playground in a physical education class giggling and just having fun.

Then I heard the music—kids actually learning to play musical instruments.

Then I saw the parents. A parent leader was in the principal’s office discussing, collaborating on how to work together to improve the schools.

Then I ran into a teacher from the time my kids were in the school. (Please note—my kids are now grown up.) She knows me. She remembers my children.

I saw the vivid reminders that this is a bilingual school. This is a school where children learn, and value, different languages and different cultures.

There are so many ingredients to a successful school.

Paramount is supporting great teachers. Making this a caring community where teachers want to come in early and stay a little later. Making sure there is time for teachers to work together in grade level teams.

You need a principal who recognizes and values and strengthens all those ingredients.

It was all still there, just as I remembered—caring teachers and a caring school community.

A school where music and art and different languages and parent engagement are part of the culture and fiber of the school.

We know that we can have great public schools. There are lots of moving parts, not just one silver bullet, which create success.

AND you need the money to pay for these.

Thankfully, in San Francisco our community voted to invest extra funds to support those essential ingredients, including the arts and libraries and physical education.

Generous parents dig deep into their own pockets to try to make up for the failure of the state to fund all the ingredients needed for successful schools.

Ohh…just one more note. Sort of cream on top.

Not only was Clarendon selected a National Blue Ribbon School this year, but it was also selected as a California Distinguished School.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2014


There is a little mental checklist I go through each Sunday morning in the fall. To do it gracefully, you need to make sure you have found your car keys and are headed out the door.

It goes like this:

Water Bottle.


Matching socks.

Player pass.


This is accompanied by a sigh of relief—my shorts and shirt still fit (and it really does not matter that my socks are still in the back of the car from last week’s game.)

… hold your breathe … we even have a group that gets together on Tuesday mornings with some who are seventay.”

Yes, one more season of soccer…not for the kids but for ME, ME, ME.

On Sundays, I play on a women’s soccer Team called “Forte”. The name is sort of a play on words. We are— for the most part—way over 40 (fortay). In fact, we are fivetay and sixtay.

And…my goodness hold your breathe… we even have a group that gets together on Tuesday mornings with some who are seventay.

I think you get the picture. None of us play in the World Cup.

But play we do.

Thanks to a little quiz in the paper last week, I am even giddier at the thought of running around the soccer field.

You know I am a sucker for quick quizzes. Last week it was a nuanced question: What is your fitness age? I hoped there were double points and a smiley face if we could get our real age and our fitness age answered correctly.

It seems that a group of researchers have put together questions that will prompt you to get out of bed and MOVE.

You should be able to answer these.

Your weight. Your height. You waist (ugh.) Then you have some calculations to do about your heart rate. Finally, there is what I call the “Truth or Die” question. How often and how hard do you really exercise?

According to the researchers, your body’s capacity to transport and use oxygen during exercise (VO2max) is the most precise measure of overall cardiovascular fitness. Based on the research of The K. G. Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, you can easily estimate your fitness level:

Go for it at this web site.


One of the best parts of the quiz is that you can cheat. (Sort of.)

If you don’t like the results of the test, you can get a better score… by just exercising more.

So how did I do? Well…thankfully…after all this sweat… my fitness age is a decade younger than my real age.

But I am the ever perfectionist. That is not good enough.

After taking the quiz, I doubled down on the soccer field—running harder and longer. And that was just the warm–up as I circled the field.

While I didn’t score a goal, I am on the way to a better score on the fitness test.

My goal is Forte.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2014

Two Great Chances To Help San Francisco Kids

Yes on Props C and E

About 10 years ago, San Francisco did something quite remarkable for kids. It was an act of conscience...a decision to step in and make a real difference.

Here is the story:

State funding for education was so low that many students in San Francisco did not have music and art and physical education and librarians.

They did not have enough health services and there was a shortage of funding for early education.

Rather than wait for a miracle of money from Sacramento(note: we are still waiting), San Francisco voted to help fix this ourselves.

San Francisco can again be a leader in public policy through this effort to reduce soda consumption and fund active recreation and nutrition programs. ”

We voted to pass the “public education enrichment fund” to support our children through a dedicated fund from the city.

That’s right. A dedicated fund.

Money to restore school libraries and to bring the arts back into classrooms. Money to support athletics and physical education. Money to provide our youngest children with early education services.

The research is in and no one can quibble about whether these programs help kids succeed in academic and social development. They do. Period.

And boy, was this timely.

When the Great Recession hit, schools throughout California suffered devastating cuts.

Through the wisdom of San Francisco voters, our children were spared the worst of these cuts.

Now it is time to renew that commitment. On the ballot in November is proposition C.

Programs funded by Prop C will include:

Athletic coaches and PE Teachers

In-school music classes

Arts classes and supplies

A librarian for every school in San Francisco

Universal Pre-School

Support for children in foster care

After-school programs for more than 10,000 kids

Support for homeless youths

Funding for organizations like Boys and Girls clubs and local YMCAs

Proposition C will extend both the Public Education Enrichment Fund and the Children’s fund until June 30, 2041.

Oh…and it does not increase taxes.

California still has not solved the school-funding crisis. Even with a growing economy, California still lags the nation in funding education.

Prop C is our chance to do the right thing for the children of San Francisco.

This is our City. These are our children.

And we have the chance once again to dedicate funds to support a quality education and children’s services in our community.

My vote: Yes on C

Prop. E: The Soda Tax

This one has my YES vote, too.

This really is about choosing health.

We have an obesity crisis in our City. Too many kids consume too much sugar and don’t get enough exercise. And the results are not just fat kids .The results are diseases that kill and maim.

San Francisco can again be a leader in public policy through this effort to reduce soda consumption and fund active recreation and nutrition programs.

Prop. E is an important part of an overall strategy to support the health and well being of San Francisco’s children.

You can find more information in simplified form here:

October 2014

First Quiz of the New School Year

School has just started. Time for the first quiz of the season.


Which school reform-- starting with the letter “C” in bold below-- needs to be moved much closer to the top of our “to do” list?

• Charter Schools

• School Choice

• College and career ready

• Civic Education

Please don’t tell me you are stumped.

Civics is more than that class in 12th grade. It is about our values as a nation and our values in our communities. Learning these values cannot wait until the last year of school. It must start at home and in kindergarten.”

And please don’t tell me that you really don’t know what “civic education” means.

Charters and school choice and college/career get a lot more press. That, quite frankly, is the point. Civics has essentially been a little AWOL in our school reform efforts.

What is civics? Well, it is teaching our children how to be responsible citizens in a democracy.

As Thomas Jefferson said:“The qualifications for self government are not innate.They are the result of habit and training.”

For too many kids and too many parents, the old song “ Don’t know much about history…” is all too accurate.

A recent report by the California Task Force on K12 Civic Learning finds that “by nearly every measure—news readership, voting, political engagement, philanthropy, volunteering, church attendance—civic engagement has been declining since the end of World War Il.”

Civics is more than that class in 12th grade. It is about our values as a nation and our values in our communities. Learning these values cannot wait until the last year of school. It must start at home and in kindergarten.

Civic Values

Demonstrate concern for the rights and well-being of others

Tolerate, appreciate and seek out a variety of perspectives

Have a sense of civic duty at local, state, national and global levels

Be aware of the power to act and be predisposed to take action to change things for the better.

We have reached a bit of a crisis—in voting and civic knowledge as well as living those civic values.

The United States recently ranked 139th in voter participation of 172 democracies around the world.

Less than half of eligible young people ages 18-24 voted in the 2012 elections.

Just 13 percent of high school seniors showed a solid understanding of U.S. History

In California, less than 50 percent of high school seniors surveyed viewed active involvement in state and local issues as their responsibility*

To address this, the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning is calling for the revitalization of civics-- starting in kindergarten.

What would a great civics education include?

Take a look on the web site: www.cde.ca.gov/eo/in/documents/cltffinalreport.pdf

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

September 2014

Happy Summer Reading

It is that perfect summer evening in San Francisco.

You sit by the fireplace—warmed by faux fire (well… real fire, faux logs) and you are:

Catching up on current events on your ipad. (AKA watching the latest cat, dog, dolphin perform impossible feats on YouTube. How about that woman singing lullabies to an elephant?)


Engrossed in your favorite book.

What a choice!

When I have not chosen that animal option, I love finding out what other people have on the bookstand—especially those who appear to have absolutely no time whatsoever to read.

Count me as a bit of a book voyeur. Book TV was made for me. And Book TV on YouTube…heaven.

So what are folks reading?

I just read that Hillary Clinton thinks The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal is one of the best books she has read. All I can say is “great minds”… that was my absolute favorite book this year.

Just for political balance, let me add that I just finished Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance. It was worth every penny I paid for it at the West Portal Book Store.

Barack Obama’s favorites include Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Moby Dick, Gilead and Self-Reliance (Emerson.) In his spare time he also reads the Bible, Shakespeare’s tragedies, and Lincoln’s collected writings. So much for light reading.

Rand Paul seems to favor Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. That was the book so many of my college friends read… how many years ago… and I, of course, just shrugged and never opened it.

I know your next question. Forget about what those politicos are reading, what is on your bookstand?

This is for real. I just spent hours cleaning out old books, donating them to the library,

and here is what really is on my bookstand:

Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits (Note: The funniest book I have ever read is Dave Barry Does Japan.)

National Geographic Expeditions – pictures of thousands of places I may never see.

Months of Real Simple with 34 time saving tips if your hair takes too long.

Oprah helping me de-clutter my life. (She could start with my bookstand.)

A Guide to England through a Cat’s Eyes by Pat Albeck

Poems about Cats—a very special book given to me by my son.

If you would like just a few more choices of a more substantive nature, the best is yet to come.

Ta Daa. Here are some samples from The Lowell High School summer reading list:


The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Little Brother

The Road

The Iliad

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Native Speaker

Oedipus Rex

A Prayer for Owen Meany

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Happy Summer Reading….

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

July/August 2014

When will they ever learn????

The answer: Thirty million

Want to know the question?

That is how many more words a child from a higher income family will hear by the age of three than a child living in a poor family.

Translate that into education jargon and you can call it the achievement gap.

According to the US Department of Education National Center of Education statistics (I know, quite a mouthful), reading to a young child is an important indicator of how well that child is prepared for school.

With a rebounding economy, investing in early learning makes a lot of sense. Research shows that every dollar invested in high-quality early learning programs can save $7 later on.”

So take a look at this finding on how often a child is read to 3 or more times a week:

About 95 percent of children whose mothers had at least a bachelor's degree

86 percent of children whose mothers had some college education.

74 percent of children whose mothers had a high school diploma or equivalent but no further education,

56 percent of children whose mothers had less than a high school diploma."

That word gap...that gap in opportunity —-starts way before the bell rings for the first day in kindergarten.

Calling an elementary school "bad" because some kids are two years behind is a little like blaming a doctor because everyone who visits is sick.

The learning years between birth and five are critical.

Yet, ironically, investments to support early learning continue to take the back seat to funding for prisons and social services in the state budget.

Between 2008 and 2012, cuts to childcare and development programs in California totaled nearly $1 billion.

According to Early Edge California, that meant denying access to nearly 110,000 children.

Straight up— kids who don't do well in school end up needing more social services.

Can't read by third grade? A huge predictor of who will end up in jail.

There are now lots of initiatives that shine a light on this.

First Five California provides kits for new parents on the importance of early learning.

Too Small to Fail provides information of talking, reading and singing to young children.

Reading Rockets provides family learning tools.

But PR campaigns alone are not enough.

With a rebounding economy, investing in early learning makes a lot of sense. Research shows that every dollar invested in high-quality early learning programs can save $7 later on.

Yet, despite lots of public support to help our youngest children, they are still wrangling in Sacramento over relatively minor early learning investments for our kids.

When will they ever learn?

You can find more information about the importance of early learning at ED100, a new free web resource to build informed leaders.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

June 2014

Ed100— How The Education System REALLY Works.

For the past few months, my husband has asked me late in the evening, "Are you still working on that new web site?" And the answer was always, "Yes. Still more to do."

This new free online instructional course is for parents (and anyone else) who want to help improve our local schools. It is designed to help you learn how the education system really works so you can make a difference.”

Well…at last, it is ready for launch and I want to share it with you.

It is www.Ed100.org.

And it is a little bit of a labor of love written to help people make sense of the complex world of education. We are living in a time of rapidly changing education policy. From new tests to new standards to new funding. It is a world where lots of people claim to have the silver bullet that will help improve our schools.

Ed100 tries to pull all of this together in short lessons. It gives you an overview of the major issues and also takes you to the research on many sides of issues—left, right and center.

This new free online instructional course is for parents (and anyone else) who want to help improve our local schools. It is designed to help you learn how the education system really works so you can make a difference.

The lessons include links to deeper explanations, resources, research and organizations.

To help reinforce the fact that these ideas are connected, they are organized into ten chapters unified by this sentence:

1 Education is…

2 …Students…

3 …and Teachers…

4 …spending Time…

5 …in Places for Learning

6 …with the Right Stuff…

7 …in a System…

8 …with Resources…

9 …for Success…

10 (…So Now What?)

Here are some highlights:

Plainly-Worded Lessons. No jargon. No partisan slant. It is written by education experts who know Sacramento and local schools (including yours truly.)

Learn At Your Own Pace. Read at any time…even at 2 am in your pajamas. Get the information you need when you need it.

Dig Deeper. Each lesson includes links to more information and introduces you to informed commentators with varying perspectives.

Track Your Progress. Check off each lesson. Earn a certificate of completion.

Get Social. Interactive on-line discussion boards.

LCAP Parent Checklist template. A great tool to help you discover what your school really needs so you can give informed input on your LCAP.

Strengthen Your PTA. Create informed leaders. Use Ed100 at a PTA meeting to discuss critical education issues. Email lessons to your members. Create a PTA Ed100 book club.

The Writers

Jeff Camp, who chairs Full Circle Fund's Education Circle, is the major writer. Camp is a parent, a philanthropist, and a former manager with Microsoft Corporation in the US and Japan. He served on the California Governor's Committee on Education Excellence. He is also a songwriter and an astrocytoma survivor.

Also contributing to the development are Mary Perry, education consultant and former deputy director of EdSource for nearly 20 years, and Carol Kocivar, (hey, that's me), past president of the California State PTA.

Now if this is the first time you have heard of ED100, don't worry that somehow you missed the memo. You, my friends, are among the first to learn about this. It just went live this month.

Please take a test drive on ED100.org.

Share information with friends. Take part in the conversation to help all of us work together to improve our schools.


May 2014

I Took the Test

First of all, let me tell you that any test that has the word “SMARTER” in its name is just begging me to try. (I mean, who wouldn’t want to be smarter?)

So this week I went on-line and took a sample SMARTER BALANCED test. That is the test that is being rolled out this spring for students in grades 3 through 12 as a sort of practice run for the new Common Core academic standards.

The education world is buzzing about this change. In California, it is a little bit of a triple whammy. They are changing the education standards. They are changing the way kids are tested and they are changing who decides how money is spent so more decisions are made locally.”

I took the test right after I finished a soccer game so I could simulate in some way what it feels like to be a fourth grader.

Yes, I know, I have graduated from high school. I have graduated from college. I have graduated from law school. And you ask me why I took the fourth grade level test.

(Refer back to the title of the test. Let me be perfectly honest. I wanted to see if I was a smart as or smarter than a fourth grader.)

I hadn’t taken a real test in years. Ooops—except for renewing my driver’s license earlier this year. I studied for days, even listening to the driver’s manual on my iPhone. So you know I am a little bit obsessive.

I had heard it was not a simple fill-in-the-bubbles test. It would ask me to think. So fourth grade seemed like a good place to start.

I am still recovering from my experience years ago when my son was in fourth grade. He would come home with the Problem of the Week. We did finally figure out how many times we would have to go to the ice cream store to get a double scoop with 31 different combinations of flavors. I think I gained 5 pounds figuring that one out.


The education world is buzzing about this change. In California, it is a little bit of a triple whammy. They are changing the education standards. They are changing the way kids are tested and they are changing who decides how money is spent so more decisions are made locally.

The test I took was a sample. Want to take it too?

Here is the link.

So that is the first big deal. This is a test you take on the computer. Not more number two pencils. Not only do you need to know the substance, it sure helps to be able to do some simple navigation in the web page. (Thankfully, I know I passed this part of the test.)

I took the math and the English Language arts sample.

My takeaway: It does make you think—both in math and language arts.

The math problems required a lot more than simple calculations.

You had to figure out things like if you are going to buy a desk and it is going to look like an “L” when it is set up, how many square feet is it going to take.

Then there were questions to show not only your understanding of geometric shapes but also sequential calculations.

The English language arts required reading and listening comprehension. Wow, the computer talks to you!

You had to read a story and then type in an ending that you make up. To keep you on your toes, you must look for supporting information to justify a conclusion you drew from the text.

I know. I know. You want me to tell you if I passed! Let’s just say I am glad I started at the fourth grade.

Next week….high school!

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2014

Great Entertainment from SF Students on the Calendar for March

You might not realize it but one of the best parts of living West of Twin Peaks is theatre.

I know what you are thinking…run that by me one more time.

One of the best parts of living West of Twin Peaks is theatre and art and music brought to you by the many talented students at our local high schools.

Lowell High School and Ruth Asawa School of the Arts provide great community and great entertainment.

Lucky for us, these distinguished and award-winning schools have events coming up within the next few weeks.

So mark your calendars and get ready for some fun!

February 27 - March 8

Thurs/Fri • 7:30 pm • Sat 2 pm & 7:30 pm

Ruth Asawa SF School of the Arts

Monty Python’s SPAMALOT

Dan Kryston Memorial Theater

555 Portola Drive

Catch their great commercial on YouTube

Sunday, Mar 9 at 4 pm


Community Music Center

544 Capp St.

Mar 13-14-15 | 7:30 pm / March 16 | 2 pm

Ronald Dahl’s WILLY WONKA

Lowell High School

1101 Eucalyptus Drive

Thur - Mar 13 at 5:30 pm.

Open business hours the following week.


Art Gallery

Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

555 Portola Drive

Opening Night Event: Thursday, Mar 13

& Friday, Mar 14 at 7:30 pm


Dan Kryston Memorial Theater

Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

555 Portola Drive

Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Instrumental Music


Dan Kryston Memorial Theater

Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts

555 Portola Drive

Fri 3/21, 3/28, 4/11 • 8 pm 
Sat • 3/22, 4/12 • 8 pm 
Thu • 3/27, 4/10 • 8 pm



Southside Theater at Fort Mason Center

Building D, Third Floor,

Tip: You can buy your tickets online for many of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts performances. A good idea to do this ahead of time so you can make sure you have a seat. For more information, go to:

http://www.sfsota.org/sota.cfm and then click on “SOTA SHOWS” to check times and purchase tickets.

Have fun!

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2014

School SMARTS Parent Academies Come to San Francisco

The sign in the classroom at Visitacion Valley Elementary School in San Francisco says

"Congratulations Parents!" If you look really carefully you can see— written in the handwriting of children—small hearts and rainbows and smiles.

Engaging parents in their schools and providing them with the skills to help their children is even more important this year, as the state moves decisions on education to local communities through the new Local Control Funding Formula. Research shows that parent engagement in schools increases a child's chances of success across all socio economic groups.”

Proud children saying "thank you" to their parents for graduating from the first School SMARTS parent academy in San Francisco.

And proud parents receiving graduation certificates for completing a 7-week program created by the California State PTA.

The School SMARTS programs is designed to give elementary school parents the big picture of how the education system works and the skills and resources to support student success.

Several more San Francisco elementary schools, including Hillcrest, Alvarado, Sunnyside, and Paul Revere, are scheduled to provide the SMARTS parent academies this semester

The California State PTA developed this award-winning program to meet the needs of new parents, many of whom don't speak English and are new to California's education system.

The Parent Academy sessions include lessons on communicating effectively, diverse learning, styles, advocating for a quality education, and how important parent involvement is for children and for schools. The academies and materials are in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Arabic.

Each session includes an art activity, which builds a sense of community and underscores the importance of a complete education that includes the arts.

Though still offered as a pilot program this year, parents in nearly 50 elementary schools in 11 school districts in California are scheduled to participate.

Engaging parents in their schools and providing them with the skills to help their children is even more important this year, as the state moves decisions on education to local communities through the new Local Control Funding Formula.

Research shows that parent engagement in schools increases a child's chances of success across all socio economic groups.

Find more information about the School SMARTS program—with pictures of parents and the arts projects.

The program is generously supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2014

Game Changer

Sorry if it looks like there is a little sweat along the edges of this column. I know. I know. I should not say sweat. Maybe there is a glow along the edges.

Whatever you call it…it is a reflection of a little life change on my part.

I used to be champion of too much sitting. But an intriguing headline changed all that.

Sitting Is The Lethal Equivalent Of Smoking.

There is a great info graphic at http://visual.ly/sitting-killing-you that gives you all the frightening statistics. (Below is an abbreviated version).

Sitting increases your risk of death by up to 40 per cent. Now this is not just the occasional sit down. It is sitting up to six hours a day—even if you exercise. It should come as no surprise that people with sitting jobs have twice the rate of cardiovascular disease as those with jobs that keep them active.

And now the obvious: Sitting makes you fat.

So I read the headline…filed it away in my “information is interesting” folder. Then two things happened:

First,someone took video of me running in a tee shirt and shorts.

Warning—if you are over 50, do this kind of thing sparingly. I instantly recognized the finding of the study as I jiggled along on the film. Sitting makes you fat.

Second, I got one of those gadgets that sets exercise goals and measures your day-to-day output and used it. (The “and used it” is the important part.)

For me…compulsive, competitive and a little pudgy, this gave me the daily motivation to not only exercise but to reach a goal every day.

Now there are a few lifestyle changes that go along with this.

It takes a lot longer to write a column since I get up every five minutes to walk around my computer.

You can read your email in a prone position—not sitting—as in “Why are you still in bed?”

You can double dip by combining conference calls with the morning walk. (This is why they invented the “mute” button.)

You finish the day off by dancing in the moonlight.

Sorry if this is a little short. Just checked my numbers and have to get up and take another walk to the gym.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2013

Put That Number 2 Pencil Away

California is transitioning to a new way to test kids.

That number 2 pencil? Gone the way of the telex, the LP and — last gasp — the landline.

It will be replaced by a new computer- based assessment aligned to the state’s new Common Core academic standards. (“Aligned”— don’t you just love that word?)

This change was not without drama.

The new testing system is what they call 'computer adaptive'. It can look at the student’s answers and modify questions going forward: Make them easier or more difficult depending on a student’s response level”

The issue: Should California continue to use the STAR test, aligned (there we go again) to the old California standards, or drop STAR testing during the transition to this new system?

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, threatened Sacramento with a loss of federal funds if the STAR test was not continued.

“If California moves forward with a plan that fails to assess all its students, as required by federal law, the Department will be forced to take action, which could include withholding funds from the state,” Duncan said.

Despite the threat, the new testing system passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson hailed the change:

“Faced with the choice of preparing California’s children for the future or continuing to cling to outdated policies of the past, our state’s leaders worked together and made the right choice for our students. These new assessments represent a challenge for our education system—but a lifetime of opportunity for students.”

Most of the STAR tests are suspended this year as the state prepares for the new computerized tests in 2014-2015.

The new testing system is what they call “computer adaptive.” It can look at the student’s answers and modify questions going forward: Make them easier or more difficult depending on a student’s response level. This allows a more precise measurement of skills and knowledge.

School districts will field test the new assessments this year. Half of the students will take math and the other half take English-language arts.

The California State PTA supported this new law, AB484, calling it “a sensible step in the transition to a new assessment system that will align future testing with the Common Core State Standards and foster high quality teaching and learning in California’s classrooms.”

Suspending most STAR tests this year will provide opportunities for more California students to participate in field-tests.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2013

So What Is All This Stuff About Common Core?

One of the big changes in how our children are taught is the new Common Core standards. Put simply, standards describe what students should know and be able to do.

The big idea of Common Core is contained in the name: Common and Core.

Standards are expectations of what students should know and be able to do. They do NOT define how teachers should teach. They also target what is essential ... our educational expectations were a mile wide and an inch deep.”


For years and years, education standards varied state by state. A child in the third grade in Texas and a child in the third grade in New York and a child in the third grade in California had different educational expectations. And when a family moved….well…you guessed it…there was a problem.

Since 2010, 45 states have adopted essentially the same standards for English and math. This provides consistency, especially if students change schools or move to a different state.


There are certain learning goals that all that children should strive to meet. Core standards set clear and consistent expectations for parents, teachers and students. And equally important, these standards change what we expect of our students as we move to a global economy that stresses critical thinking and higher-level skills.

What they are not.

Standards are expectations of what students should know and be able to do. They do NOT define how teachers should teach.

They also target what is essential—moving away from the concern that our educational expectations were a mile wide and an inch deep.

Taking a Look at some Standards

While there has been growing political conversation from both the left and the right on this change, one of the best ways to get a feel for Common Core is to actually take a look at what this means for our kids. The Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy have a bunch of components: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Let's take a look at the continuum in one area:

Reading Standards for Literature: Key Ideas and Details

Kindergarten- With prompting, ask and answer questions about key details in text.

Grade two: Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why and how and demonstrate a key understanding of details in a text.

Grade 5: Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly, and when drawing inferences from the text.

Grade 8: Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports, and analysis of what the text says explicitly, as well as inferences drawn from the text.

Grades 11-12: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly, as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves maters uncertain.

The California Department of Education provides a full list of standards in both English/language arts as well as math if you would like to take a closer look.


For parents who want a slimmed-down version with suggestions on how to help your child, you can find these on the California State pTA web site:


Carol Kocivar is former president of the California parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2013

California’s New School Funding Formula-What’s it all about?


Not only LCFF, but also LCAP and support for ELL and new rules by the SBE.

Whoa... What did she just say?

Sorry... That was a little “education speak” for a new way we fund California schools. Please... don’t stop reading. I will NOT continue in this obscure code. I promise.

But what I will do is try to simplify one of the most significant changes in how we fund our schools. Really.

School districts will now get to decide, with input from their local communities, how to use a lot of the money under a new system called the Local Control Funding Formula.”

Starting this year, California school districts will get their money in a whole new package.

California used to send money to local school districts with detailed restrictions.

The folks in Sacramento would tell the local school districts:

“You have to spend so much money in this category and so much in that. School safety and grade level counseling. Programs for X and programs for Y.” Maybe even the square root of X and Y. (Just kidding.) More than 50 different programs.

P.S.: “You also have to fill out all this paperwork to prove you did what we told you to do.”

Not any more.

School districts will now get to decide, with input from their local communities, how to use a lot of the money under a new system called the Local Control Funding Formula.

(Let me be particularly clear about the phrase “a lot of the money.” This does not mean that schools get a lot of money. Far from it. In fact, California is still almost dead last in how it funds our schools. It means school boards now make a lot more decisions on how to spend it. Got it?

Here are the BIG ideas in this new way we fund our schools.

More money goes for kids with greater needs. This is a big deal because school districts with more English language learners, low-income students and foster children get more money. Even more money goes to school districts with 55 percent or more of students with higher educational needs.

Spending decisions are shiftedfrom the state legislature to local school boards

There is more flexibility by local communities on how money can be spent. (While most of the spending restrictions are gone, not all are. Schools still are required to dedicate money in some areas, for example: special education, child nutrition, and transportation.)

Funding plans are tied to student performance.

More parent and community engagement is required.

LCFF is a huge philosophical shift in two very important areas.

Getting rid of a lot of categorical fundingCategorical funding had grown into a cottage industry in Sacramento. The idea behind restricting spending to specific categories is well intentioned. It is to eliminate inequities and ensure that ALL students throughout the state have opportunities, particularly those hardest to educate. Spending used to be targeted, for example, for physical education, counseling, libraries, gifted and talented education, high school class size reduction…

The system was complex. There were serious questions about program overlaps, whether the needs of students were met, and if the administrative time and overhead was money well spent.

The underlying premise of the new funding formula is that local communities know their student needs better than Sacramento – that decisions on how the money is spent should be controlled locally.

As LCFF rolls out, an essential question is still relevant: Do ALL children receive a high quality comprehensive education that includes the arts, physical education, civics, science, technology, engineering, and math?

More money for kids with higher needsFor years, policy makers have struggled with how to provide additional instruction and programs to students who don’t speak English, or who live in poverty or in foster care. LCFF recognizes that some children cost more to educate.

Now, instead of allocating funding based on just a head count of the children in schools, it also counts the needs of those students. This is the right thing to do.

But we need to be clear: It does not solve the on-going lack of funding for education in California.

What does LCFF mean for you?Now that additional funding decisions are to be made locally, it is more important for families and communities to be involved.

In the past decade, the most critical decisions that school boards made involved cuts:

Shorter school year

No summer school,

Fewer teachers and bigger classes

Cutting arts and music and counselors and nurses and librarians

School boards now need to know what parents and the community want and value at their schools. They must develop Local Control and Accountability Plans. On-the-ground guidance and insight from school communities is critical.

This is the time for PTAs and parent groups to play an essential role in helping parents understand how school funding has changed, how budgets are developed, and how decisions are made by school boards.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

Legislative Analyst Overview of LCFF

California State PTA: School Finance

Translation of terms in first sentence:
LCFF Local Control Funding Formula
LCAP Local Control and Accountability Plan
ELL English Language Learner

SBE State Board of Education

September 2013

Summer Matters:

Closing the Achievement Gap

For many, many children, the old song celebrating the beginning of summer --- "School is out oh happy days!" -- may not mean happy days in their future.
Unless...unless...we decide to do something pretty simple and straightforward that will help our low-income students.
There is a lot of education mumbo jumbo about strategies to change the paradigm with reflective pedagogy that resonates with students.
I am not going there.
Let's start with a strikingly simple idea.
If we help children learn during the summer, they will do better in school. Period.
Here is why:
Most students lose about 2.6 months of math skills over the summer. Learning loss in reading varies across socioeconomic status.
Low-income students lose about two months of reading achievement during the summer. Middle-income students make slight gains in reading.
Summer learning loss is cumulative. It accounts for more than one-half of the achievement gap between lower and higher-income students.
By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged kids are nearly three grade equivalents behind more affluent students in reading
The bottom line:
"Unequal access to summer learning and enrichment opportunities is a significant factor in the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers." 
Students who have five or six weeks of quality learning opportunities make significant gains in reading and math.
So what does that mean? What is a quality learning experience? 
• Being exposed to new adventures, skills and ideas.

• Doing a mix of activities like reading, writing, math, science, and arts in ways that are fun and engaging.

• Getting better at doing something they care about.

• Working with their friends on group projects.

• Getting nutritious food, physical activity and time outdoors.

• Having enough time --at least a month-- to benefit from these experiences.

In the whole swirl of ideas to help our children do better in school, let's pay attention to this simple one: SUMMER MATTERS.
That's why delegates at the California State PTA annual convention last week adopted a new resolution taking a strong stand against summer learning loss.
Download a new report with all the research:  
Summer Matters: How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success
Join the California State PTA and organizations throughout California in our efforts to ensure that all children have the opportunities they need to succeed.
*Executive Summary: Summer Matters: How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success
Song Lyrics: JERRY KELLER  "Here Comes Summer"

June 2013


How do you thank a teacher?

Let me count some ways.

The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week—a special time to say “thank you” to all who have helped our children this school year.

I really like the “Thanks a Latte” idea—the coffee gift card and the “Thanks for Helping Me Grow” flower pot. ”

It should come as no surprise that this special week of celebration was started by the PTA — The Parent TEACHER Association.

And the PTA has lots of ideas for parents and community members.

Here are some high tech suggestions and some with a more personal touch:

High Tech

“Thank You” has gone digital.

Well, at least the ideas on how to thank a teacher. The National PTA has created a Pinterest page. And wow, lot’s of great pictures and suggestions:

I really like the “Thanks a Latte” idea—the coffee gift card and the “Thanks for Helping Me Grow” flower pot.

And then there is the “Great Tea-cher Wreath” made out of—yes, you guessed it—tea bags.

Personal Touch

Looking for some ideas for your school community?

• Create and display posters, banners, and fliers in your school.

• Work with students on projects to do together to honor teachers.

• Brainstorm with your principal. How can you honor all your staff throughout the year?

• Contact area business and community groups and invite them to join you.

• Plant a tree or flowers on the school property.

• Provide a brunch.

• Wash cars or windshields.

• Design a resource file for teachers with names of parents and family members who can use their expertise to help teachers on projects and activities

• Call in to radio talk shows early and tell the host or hostess what your PTA is doing for teacher appreciation.

• Nominate a teacher for the PTA Teachers-Making A Difference Award.


National PTA has created customizable recognition tools for you and your child to use to make your teacher feel special: You can find lots more of ideas at on the National PTA website: www.PTA.org and search for PTA Teacher Appreciation Week

Or just do it the old-fashioned way. Write a Thank You note.

What are your ideas for honoring a teacher?

Carol Kocivar is President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

May 2013

Finding arts in California schools is like reading “Where’s Waldo”


Last week, I took my smartphone out at a formal legislative meeting in Sacramento and invited folks to listen to the ”sound of music” in California public schools.

After a few moments of people straining to hear, I flipped my phone on again.

All they heard was the ”sound of silence.”

When you cut more than $20 billion dollars out of our California schools, and don’t require the arts as part of a quality education, that’s what a lot of kids get — nothing!
It wasn’t always that way. Arts once flourished in California public schools.”


That was the point.

In too many schools, too many children don’t have music education. They also don’t have quality visual arts or dance or drama.

When you cut more than $20 billion dollars out of our California schools, and don’t require the arts as part of a quality education, that’s what a lot of kids get — nothing!

It wasn’t always that way. Arts once flourished in California public schools.

Parents, teachers and communities knew arts education was important. It’s what helps keep kids in schools. It’s what helps create community. It’s what helps teach the value of hard work and responsibility.

But most important, arts education is how children learn.

There are lots of folks out there selling (yes, I said “selling”) the latest and greatest school reform theories to close the achievement gap.

Psst…let me give you a clue.

If you are looking to close the achievement gap, if you are looking to reduce truancy, if you are looking to increase graduation rates and creativity, I have a four-letter word for you: ARTS!

We truly are living in the world that Einstein only envisioned, where imagination in many ways is more important that knowledge.

And, the arts are the key to imagination and the skills our children will need for jobs for which we have not even yet thought.

I ask you to join me in celebrating March as Arts Education Month…and April and May and June and every month of the year.

Join California State PTA in our efforts to make sure that every child has a quality education that includes the arts.

Join the PTA SMARTS network to speak out for the arts in every school.

Want some more research and resources?

Just click capta.org/sections/programs-smarts/index.cfm

Carol Kocivar is President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2013


Now Here is Real Education Reform

It is no mystery that early childhood education is important.

Research supports it. Economics supports it. Parents support it.

Yet until President Obama’s call to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America, other less data-driven reform agendas have dominated the airwaves.

Because early childhood education is about lowering the drop-out rates, about more children going to college and less children winding up in prison, about providing needed skills for employment, and about growing our economy”

It is time to change that conversation, because early childhood education is critical to the success of our children.


Because early childhood education is about lowering the drop-out rates, about more children going to college and less children winding up in prison, about providing needed skills for employment, and about growing our economy.

According to Linda Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford, high quality pre-school programs — the kind that have teachers with degrees in early childhood education, and small class sizes, and hands-on learning, and parent outreach and education — provide those kinds of results.

Yet during this Great Recession, funding for our youngest students has been cut.

California’s independent legislative analyst reports that “since 2008-09, the State’s childcare and development system has experienced notable reductions.

Overall funding has decreased by $985 million (31 percent).

About one-quarter of slots have been eliminated (110,000 slots).”

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson welcomes the call for making early learning a national priority: “We know that there are significant benefits to helping children start school excited and ready to learn—and that those benefits last the rest of their lives,” says Torlakson.

What can we do to help our children?

Let our elected officials know that this kind of reform is vital.

Let’s start early—for all children. This is where our investment needs to begin.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2013

Ah Ah Ah Ah Stayin Alive


Have you reached that point in life when—before a birthday or holiday—you talk with your kids about presents?

It happened to me this year.

My son and I were talking and I knew exactly what I wanted. You see, he bought himself this little electronic gizmo that he wears on his wrist. It measures his steps, it measures his calories, it measures how much “fuel” he uses as the day progresses.

The boy works out everyday, does weights, runs and looks—well—like I want to look—totally fit. I was suffering from youth envy.

So I thought: If I get that gizmo, somehow someway I will regain that level of fitness. Notice the use of the word “regain.””

So I thought: If I get that gizmo, somehow someway I will regain that level of fitness. Notice the use of the word “regain.”


I had just finished reading all those articles that sitting in front of a computer is today’s lethal equivalent of smoking. So I decided to take action.

Get the Gizmo. Trade in the time that it takes to get through those 500 emails with a walk in the park or a jog to the gym. Monitor my time continually throughout the day to make sure I am hitting my electronic goal.

I have two traits to fess up to: Technology compulsion and competitiveness.

Just to be sure that this was the right Gizmo, I spent a few hours on the internet looking at reviews and then maybe a little more time looking at Apps to complement the Gizmo. Yes. I downloaded a workout App to use at the same time with the Gizmo.

So now I have it and it has changed my life.

Now I not only check my email every few minutes, I check the Gizmo to see how much energy I have burned. I purposely set time aside each day so I can reach my Gizmo goal.

And I get the optimum use of my technology.

When I leave the house, I set my workout App to measure my mileage and chart the route by GPS. I set the time splits so I know how fast (umm—or slow—) it takes for each mile.

I check the Gizmo on my arm and compare the App data with the Gizmo data.

I have even learned Gizmo tricks—or how to trick the Gizmo.

Since it is on my wrist, I realized it does not keep track of the moments I might be in Spinning Class or on a bicycle. So I attach the Gizmo to my shoes so each revolution is captured—no kidding.

(Do NOT even think that I am shackled to this thing.)

Now there are hidden benefits to the Gizmo and the App that young fit people may not even realize. For example, if you want to go for a run and forgot whether you have been there before, just check your App.

If my family suspects I have lost track of time, they can log on to “find my phone” and discover where I am, and, let’s say, I can’t remember my exact route, check the App and see a map!….Endless possibilities.

Now, my favorite thing is what happens at about 9 pm. That is the magic moment when you do your final check to see if you reached your energy output goal. Many options if you are just short of the target.

Take a walk after dinner or…my personal favorite…turn on the music and dance.

Oh, if I have not emailed you back, you are in my inbox somewhere. Will check after the music stops.

You can hear the real Ah Ah Ah Ah Stayin Alive on YouTube:


Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2013

Top Ten Wishes for the New Year


1. My mom continues to beat me in every online game we play.

Almost every evening, my mom and I play a few games of Words with Friends — scrabble online for those uninitiated. She lives in Hawaii and I play on my phone from almost any destination. Don’t give her a “Q” and an “I”. She will trounce you. My mom just turned 94 and knows how to spell more words than I could ever hope to know. Not only do I wish for her to continue to beat me, but also hope that she will be able to use all 7 letters at once for an out of the ballpark score that she can boast about for years.

2. WiFi at Ocean Beach.

Don’t tell anyone—but the greatest walk in the world is minutes away from my house— below a cliff at Ocean Beach. Terry and I sneak away, crawl down the cliff and see dolphins (if we are lucky) and pelicans and seagulls and plover and fields and fields of ice plant. My camera is full of pictures but would love to share the experience in real time with the kids.

3. The end of time zones

Let’s see, if it is 10 o’clock in San Francisco it is 1 in the afternoon on the East Coast so we can’t talk because of my granddaughter’s naptime. And when I finally think of checking in again at my dinnertime, it is way past bedtime for that 3 year old. Yes…it is too fantastic that we all can do Facetime or ichat or Skype…. but now if we can only conquer time zones.

4. Bionic powers for our pick-up soccer games.

A group of women in San Francisco have been playing pick-up soccer every Tuesday morning since their kids were in elementary and middle school. Rules now include not touching or getting within a foot of each other as well as designated sideline runners for those who really want to avoid any contact. Hoping for bionic powers for each and every player.

5. Time to Read a Book

This may sound a little odd from one of the early adopters of technology but I am making a commitment to read a book. (For those who can remember what a book is —think VCR, phonograph, Polaroid, videotapes, land line phone. Yes. There still are books ….)

6. A California that finally does commit to investing in a quality education for every child.

We are not there yet. California is still languishing near the bottom of the nation in education funding.

The good news is that voters want to support our schools. However, the vote this November did NOT commit significant funding to move California out of that dubious distinction of having one of the largest economies in the world that fails to adequately invest in its schools.

Parents and teachers and administrators need to continue to let the general public know what is really happening. The lottery did not solve the school-funding crisis and neither did the vote in November.

7. Ignore the title of “Top Ten” and put as number one good health and good health care for everyone.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2012

Pop Quiz on Prop. 38

Decisions in the voting booth should not be like the dreaded pop quiz.

“Gee… I wish I had spent a little more time studying this so I know the answer.”

This November, the children of California are counting on you to have done your homework. You will be deciding on the education and future of an entire generation of children.

The California State Parent Teacher Association helped write and supports Proposition 38 because California needs to start to restore education programs at every public school.

Now—let’s pretend you are getting ready to decide how to vote. 

Here is some information about Prop 38. 


Read the following information copied from Prop. 38 and then answer a few short questions.

e) “Educational program” means expenditures for the following purposes at a K–12 schoolsite, approved at a public hearing by the governing board of the LEA with jurisdiction over the school, to improve the pupils’ academic performance, graduation rates, and vocational, career, college, and life readiness:

(1) Instruction in the arts, physical education, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, history, civics, financial literacy, English and foreign languages, and technical, vocational, or career education.

(2) Smaller class sizes.

(3) More counselors, librarians, school nurses, and other support staff at the schoolsite.

(4) Extended learning time through longer school days or longer school years, summer school, preschool, after school enrichment programs, and tutoring.

(5) Additional social and academic support for English language learners, low-income pupils, and pupils with special needs.

(6) Alternative education models that build pupils’ capacity for critical thinking and creativity.

(7) More communication and engagement with parents as true partners with schools in helping all children succeed.

Here are the questions:

1. Does Proposition 38 tell you what the money can be spent on at our schools?

2.  Can Proposition 38 be used to pay for extended learning time?

3.  Can Proposition 38 be used to pay for smaller class sizes?

Answer: Yes for all questions.

Find out what your school will receive at www.prop38forlocalschools.org/restore.

You can find out more about the initiative on the California Secretary of State web site: http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/propositions/38/

November 2012

Parents Must Be Role Models In Our Democracy

Fault Lines in Our Democracy, a recent study from Educational Testing Service, shows that “weak civics knowledge among young people is linked to less voting, less volunteering and greater distrust in government.”

For those who are civics challenged, this has nothing to do with whether you drive a Honda or whether you get lost on your way to the polls.

It is about our democracy and how we participate in important decisions. And it also is about how we educate our children.

Before I tell you how well our kids did on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in civics, let’s see how well you do:

Below are some of the issues our students were asked to know:

1. What is the main source of government funding?

2. What is the purpose of the constitution?

3. Identify a right protected by the first amendment.

4. What is the role of the Supreme Court?

5. Identify the meaning of a Supreme Court decision

6. Identify the effect of foreign policy on other nations.

Piece of cake? Not so much?

The questions above that are in bold italics are the Piece of Cake questions. If you got those right, you hit “basic” knowledge.

To be proficient, a 4th grader should know the purpose of the constitution, an eighth grader should know the role of the Supreme Court and a 12th grader should know the effect of foreign policy on other nations.*

Did you beat the kids?

According to the report, only 27 percent of fourth graders, 22 percent of eighth graders and 24 percent of 12th graders were proficient on the 2010 NAEP assessment.

The report also found that if you are young, less educated and in a lower-income group, you are less likely to vote.

These findings have big implications for our democracy and for how we make decisions about the future of our state and our nation.

So what can we do? Parents can be role models.

The report found:

“Parents… can boost the civic participation of their children. In fact, recent analysis by the Center for Labor Market Studies has shown that the home may be a much more important influence than the schools. In the 2010 election, 18- to 19-year-olds were much more likely to vote if a parent voted (32 percent versus 4 percent). This large difference held across both gender and racial/ethnic groups. These data support the notion that good civic behavior is learned in the home, as well as in school.”

Here are some suggestions:

Register to vote. Information on how to do this.

Find out how your local school supports civics education.

Support community efforts to register and encourage eligible young people to vote.

California State PTA believes civics learning should be a priority in school reform.

We helped write Proposition 38 on the ballot in November to support a comprehensive education for all our children. This specifically supports funding for civics and history in our schools.

You can find more resources to support civics education on the California State PTA website.2 With an important election coming up, we encourage you to use these resources in your school and community, including MY VOTE.

* Source: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Civics 2010. (NCES 2011-466), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, 2011.

October 2012

38 is GREAT

If you have a smartphone near you or are by a computer, please take a minute to check something out. The California State PTA helped write and is supporting an initiative on the November ballot, Proposition 38, to fund our schools.

It will generate $10-$11 billion dollars each year for 12 years. This money can be used to start to restore the programs and services that have been cut out of our public schools.

How will it help our local schools?

You can find an estimate just by going to the “Yes on 38” web site. Check out “The Numbers.” You can find a calculator that estimates what your school will receive when this passes. Just type in the name of your school.

The Numbers show how the funding for our schools increases over the 12-year life of Proposition 38.

My kids attended Clarendon Elementary School. According to the calculator, here is what that school will be getting when Proposition 38 passes:

Year Funding

2013-2014 $436,907

2017-2018 $760,021

2023-2024 $1,028,185

Then they attended Herbert Hoover Middle School. According to the calculator, here is what that school will be getting when Proposition 38 passes.

Year Funding

2013-2014 $1,102,980

2017-2018 $1,918,688

2023-2024 $2,595,674

They then attended Lowell High School. According to the calculator, here is what that school will be getting when Proposition 38 passes:

Year Funding

2013-2014 $2,632,316

2017-2018 $4,579,041

2023-2024 $6,194,702

Funding MUST go to every local public school in California based on the number of students at that school. And funding decisions are made locally, after public input.

Proposition 38 starts to restore the California dream of a quality education for all our children.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine…

Imagine a kindergarten class that is small enough for a teacher to meet the individual needs of each young child.

Imagine an elementary school with a librarian….A middle school that teaches art and music….A high school with enough counselors to help our students take the right courses to get into college.

Imagine restoring the instructional time that has been cut from our public schools.

This is what will happen in our local schools when Proposition 38 passes.

And that is why the California State PTA helped write and is supporting Proposition 38.

Parents, families, and voters throughout California believe adequate funding for our schools and access to a complete quality education for all children are urgent priorities.

It is time to STOP engaging parents and communities in heartbreaking decisions on how to cut more out of our schools and to START engaging parents and communities in the important decisions on how we can restore programs and services in every school in California

Proposition 38 generates revenue for this investment through a sliding scale income tax.

The wealthiest taxpayers pay the most, with rates rising 2.2% for individuals on incomes over $2.5 million. At the low end, taxpayers with incomes under $25,000 would pay an annual average of $7.00.

It also significantly and dramatically relieves the budget deficit — $3 billion dollars every year for 4 years and millions more for eight more years — by paying down state bond debt. This money can be used to support higher education and other important programs.

This is the biggest fundraiser in the history of PTA.

Are you in?

Just imagine ... just imagine what we can all accomplish if we work together for California’s children.

What you can do:

1. Find out how much your local school will receive. Go to Yes on 38.

2. Let your friends and neighbors know how this will help our local schools.

3. Join us on Facebook and spread the word.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

September 2012


The Real Me.

I just returned from a conference where they discussed generational differences.

Years ago, someone might have asked, “Do you sleep in pajamas?” (I have no idea what the right answer should be but my answer was always “Yes.”)

The question of today—just to find out what generation you belong to—is: “Do you sleep with your phone?”

Now that is getting personal.

There were people at the conference from all over the country, but I was one of the few from San Francisco. I discovered that by this one question, I had joined the Millennials. I went from a Boomer to a Twenty-Something with the answer of one question. I loved it.

I don’t think they were literally asking if I sleep with my phone. It was more like:

Is the phone charging next to your bed?

(Yes, when I manage to attach it correctly.)

Do you play games on your phone while in bed?

(Yes, indeed I do. I play Words with Friends most evenings with my mother—who I am sure is in her pajamas some of the time.)

Do you watch movies on your phone just before you drift off?

(Yes, but I don’t know if watching Masterpiece Theatre really slips me into the teen to mid-twenties demographics.)

Do you check your emails before getting out of bed in the morning? (Doesn’t everyone?)

Ok…Ok… After all these probing questions, it was revealed I am a true Millennial.

More evidence:

I read the newspaper in the morning—on my phone.

(“News” would be more like it—no paper whatsoever.)

I toss away paper business cards and affinity cards

(Hey, they are scanned and why do I need the paper and plastic any longer?)

There is just one niggling issue that I have to deal with related to my phone.

It happens on the muni in San Francisco. Just like the thousands of others, I board the train, earphones linked to music.

Every once is a while there is some eye contact, some signaling, and a real Millennial stands up and offers me a seat.

Should I ask them if they sleep in pajamas?


July-Aug 2012


When the fog rolls out and the sunny days make their fleeting appearance in San Francisco, I hear the sound of summers gone by.

I grew up in a small town. Let me start over. I grew up near a village with miles and miles of open spaces and a pond across the street.

Summer was little league baseball and visits to the library and hour after hour sitting by a lake hoping a fish would find the bait on the end of the hook dangling in the water.

It was discussions about catfish and bass, of double plays and singles. But most of summer was a time of dreaming with a pile of books from our local library.

It was a special trip—about three miles—to that small village library and the corner where I knew they had all the editions of the Oz Books. No movies. No videos. Just books with wonderfully colored pages and stories that went on and on and on.

This was way before Summer in the City*or Hot Fun in the Summer Time.**

The Beach Boys had not even found their groove.

But imagination and the freedom to read, to find out more and more about a world outside of a little village—that was the summer after summer that I remember.

I was thinking of this as I read the recent reports on summer learning loss and the efforts to make summer count.

New research points out cumulative summer learning loss—especially for low-income students—makes a significant contribution to the achievement gap.

So how does this happen?

Take a student who starts out behind others in kindergarten. Even if that student shows a year’s worth of progress at the end of the school term, that student is still behind. And then if learning is not continued during the summer, that student falls further behind.

Now multiply this by year after year of no summer learning.

“By the end of 5th grade, the cumulative learning loss means that low-income children are more than 3 grade-level equivalents behind their more affluent peers.”

“Middle income and low-income children progress at about the same rates during the school year. But the research found that while middle-income children on average increase their reading level a small amount in the summer, children from low-income families are losing more than 2 months in reading achievement levels. The gap widens every year.”***

This is a BIG DEAL.

Our schools have cut summer school. Our schools have cut instructional days.

Silence on this is not golden. Take a moment and see what you can do to help. Communities throughout California are taking action. Will you join?

The California State PTA has a great set of resources for PTAs: You can find them under Summer Matters on the state education page.


Let’s make sure all our kids have time to read, to dream, to be involved and engaged every summer.

* Lyrics by Lovin Spoonful

** Lyrics by Sly and Family Stone

*** National Summer Learning Association, Research Brief: “Doesn’t Every Child Deserve a Memorable Summer?” www.summerlearning.org


June 2012


Celebrate the Arts in
Our Public Schools

One of the greatest assets of San Francisco is the support of arts education in our public schools. And it you live in the West of Twin Peaks area, you are lucky enough to be close to some wonderful opportunities to experience this in our own backyard.

Here is a quick run down of some “not to miss” events in May.

Young at Art: May 12-20 at the de Young in Golden Gate Park

This 8-day celebration of student creativity in visual, literary, media and performing arts is hosted by the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park from May 12-20, 2012 (closed Monday, May 14, 2012).  Brought to you by the SF Unified School District, this unique San Francisco event displays the talent and artwork of students in schools throughout the City.

The 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge is a theme of many pieces of artwork in the lobby of this year’s festival. Celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge at the de Young Museum on Friday, May 11, 2012 from 5:00 to 8:00 PM!

This is one event I never miss. It includes a comprehensive Visual Arts Exhibition, Student Performances and a “Family Day” Celebration. You can find more info: www.youngatartsf.com/

If you would like to volunteer to help support this event, please call the San Francisco Unified School District’s Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) office at 415-695-2441 and ask to speak with our Volunteer Coordinator, Sylvia Walker. You may also contact email at walkers2@sfusd.edu

Ruth Asawa School of the Arts

555 Portola Drive, SF

Another great resource for families throughout the West of Twin Peaks area is the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, and in May there are many performances to enjoy.

Tickets, times, and more information can be found at: www.sfsota.org/sotaPerformances.cfm

A sampling of coming events:


Monday, May 07, 2012 at4:30 PM and 7:30 PM;

Drama Studio: Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts


Thursday, May 10 at 7:30 pm

$12; Students/Seniors: $5

Spotlight Reception/Perf.: $25

Dan Kryston Memorial Theater: Ruth Asawa School Arts

Student pianists will take you on a musical journey from the mathematical precision of the Baroque era, to the evocative rubato of the Romantics, and the Jazz influence of the modern era. Highlights include Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances”; “Romance” from Arensky’s two-piano Suite Op. 15; Milhaud’s “Boeuf sur la Toit”; Gershwin’s four-hand arrangement of “I’ve Got Rhythm”; and Brubeck’s “Points on Jazz.”


Friday, May 11 & Saturday, May 12 at 7:30 pm Spotlight Reception on Saturday at 6:30 pm $15  Students & Seniors: $10 Spotlight Reception & Show: $25

Saturday’s Spotlight Reception

with author, activist, and Salon.com founder David Talbot, who has been reporting on global and local issues for decades and is a staunch advocate for arts education in the district and beyond.  

Dan Kryston Memorial Theater: Ruth Asawa School Arts


Directed by Elvia Marta

Friday, May 18, 2012 at 8:00 PM;

Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 8:00 PM

Advance purchase: Adults: $25; Students/Seniors: $15. At The Door: Adults: $28; Students/Seniors $18.

Palace of Fine Arts, 3301 Lyon St.

30 Years of Dance! is a dance concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and SOTA Dance program, performed by extraordinarily talented students.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Online: Adults: $10; Students/Seniors: $8. At the Door: Adults: $15; Students/Seniors: $10.

Design students showcase their creative style and skills. Dan Kryston Memorial Theater: Ruth Asawa School Arts


May 2012

Investing Early


My kids always used to tease me when I stopped to turn and look at a new baby. It usually started with a smile to the mom or dad and then the question, “How old is your baby?’

It was really a conversation starter just to spend a little more time looking at the miracle.

I still do it—but with a little more knowledge about the public policy implications of how we support new parents and young children.

So when support for early childcare is on the chopping block, it is time for people to speak up.

And when it is time to make decisions on how and when we invest in early education, it is time to speak up.

There are two issues we need to look at right now.

• Proposed cuts in the state budget for early child care

• Investment of ballot initiative revenue in early child care and child development

State Budge Cuts

The proposed state budget would cut more than $500 million from childcare programs statewide, cutting services to as many as 62,000 low-income children. The new cuts would come on top of nearly $700 million in reductions to these programs over the last four years—a 42 percent reduction in state funding.

According to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, “For decades, California has been committed to a simple but powerful idea: Children deserve more than just a safe place to wait while their parents work. They also deserve a chance to learn and to grow. It pains me to say it, but California’s budget crisis has put that commitment to our children in jeopardy.”

It is no mystery that early childhood education is important. We have a growing field of research that tells us that this is where to start providing all our children with the skills they need to succeed.

“If we are to be serious about reducing the dropout rate in this country,” says Madelein Kunin, “we have to begin much earlier. Many low-income children fall behind their classmates as early as kindergarten. If we want to increase the number of high school graduates we have to focus on the years one through five. That’s when critical brain development takes place that often determines whether the young child will grow into a successful, productive adult.”

So what do we do?

First, let’s not be silent. Let your elected officials know this is an important issue.

The California State PTA has written to both the Senate and the Assembly budget committees opposing the Governor’s proposals to reduce childcare and preschool availability and devolve significant programmatic responsibility to the Department of Social Services and ultimately to counties.

Second, when the issue of new revenue for education is discussed, ask an important question:

Does this invest in early childhood education?

And let me give you a clue—if you ask that about the Our Children Our Future Initiative for the November 2012 state ballot, the answer is clear and the answer is “Yes.”

Funding is provided to help prepare disadvantaged young children to succeed in school and in life by raising standards for early childhood education programs and by expanding the number of children who can attend.

Let’s start early—for all children. This is where our investment needs to begin.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2012


PTA Supports “Our Children Our Future” School Funding Initiative

Within moments of each other, two important education news flashes recently hit the internet:

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson: “One Student in Three Attends a School District in Financial Jeopardy”

Our Children Our Future Education Initiative Launches Signature Drive

One sets out the problem. The other sets out the path to a solution.

The state’s First Interim Status Report for fiscal year 2011-12 indicates that 127 districts are either in negative or qualified financial status, totaling 17 more than at this point last year. Combined, nearly 2 million students attend school in a district with serious financial challenges.

“The financial emergency facing our schools remains both wide and deep,” Torlakson said. “The deep cuts made to school funding—and looming uncertainties about the future—are driving school districts to the brink of insolvency. Plain and simple, our schools need new revenues to get back on solid financial ground.”

This is not news to parents throughout California. Anyone who has stepped into a school or has a friend or a neighbor with children in a California public school knows the impact of billions of dollars in cuts to our schools over the last few years. Per-pupil funding in California is 47th in the nation.

And now, in a neighborhood near you, parents are not only getting mad, they are getting organized.

PTA volunteers throughout the state are asking their friends and families to help with a signature drive to qualify Our Children, Our Future: Local School and Early Education Investment and Bond Debt Reduction Act for the November ballot.

Here is what the initiative does:

Raises approximately $10 billion to $11 billion a year in new revenue for local public schools and early childhood programs.

Revenues would be deposited into a newly created California Education Trust Fund.

Money would be allocated 85% for K-12 public schools and 15% for early childhood programs.

Gives local school boards the authority to decide, with community input, how new education funds will be spent at each public school site.

No more than one percent of the K-12 funds may be spent on school-district administration, with the rest going directly to school sites on a per-pupil basis.

The initiative also spells out what the K-12 money can be used for:

Instruction in the arts, physical education, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, history, civics, financial literacy, English and foreign languages, and technical, vocational or career education;

Smaller class sizes;

More counselors, librarians, school nurses and other support staff at the school site;

Extended learning time through longer school days or longer school years, summer school, preschool, after school enrichment programs and tutoring;

Additional social and academic support for English language learners, low income students and students with special needs;

Alternative education models that build students’ capacity for critical thinking and creativity; and

More communication and engagement with parents as true partners with schools in helping all children succeed.

Training, technology, and teaching materials grants will be provided on a per-pupil basis and can be used for professional development activities, new technology, or teaching materials.

Because it will be taking effect as California grapples with one of the worst economic downturns in its history, it will be implemented in two stages.

For the first four years, thirty percent of the funds, about $3 billion, will go to pay school bond and other bond debt-service costs, freeing up a like amount to meet other budget needs critical to the overall well-being of children, families and communities.

How is this paid for?

The initiative raises income tax rates on a sliding scale from four-tenths of one percent to 2.2% on multi-millionaires. It applies to incomes after deductions are taken, and before tax credits are given. The proposed additional tax rates would expire at the end of the tax year 2024.

For more information:

Legislative Analysts Office: www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2011/110816.aspx

Our Children Our Future: www.ourchildrenourfuture2012.com/

March 2012


Happy Birthday San Francisco PTA

Take a deep breath. Make a wish.

And together, let’s try to blow out all the candles.

In case you are counting, that would be 100 candles because this month the San Francisco Parent Teacher Association is 100 years old!

You may not immediately tie progressive San Francisco to what has become a venerable name throughout the world: PTA

But it is that same spirit of innovation, advocacy and hope that our City is known for that created the PTA and continues to drive the PTA.

A little history….

In 1897, the California Home and School Child Study Association was organized in San Francisco. Around the same time, Phoebe Apperson Hearst of San Francisco helped fund a school to train kindergarten teachers and started the first free kindergarten in the United States. * Also in 1897, she co-founded, with Alice McLellan Birney, the National Congress of Mothers, a forerunner of the National Council of Parents and Teachers.

Think back on history. They created this association and a national movement at a time when women did not have the vote, at a time when women were not at the forefront of political advocacy.

• The United States was feeling the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

• Few children’s educations went beyond the 5th grade.

• Children (most often immigrant children) worked in industrial jobs, factories, often doing dangerous work.

• Children had little recreation.

• Millions of children died of childhood diseases.

• What many of us take for granted today was created through consistent hard work, sometimes after years of perseverance, of the Parent Teacher Association:

• Kindergarten classes

• Child labor laws

• A public health service

• Hot lunch programs

• A juvenile justice system

• Mandatory immunization

PTA’s founders Phoebe Apperson Hearst and Alice McLellan Birney, and the founder of Georgia’s Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, Selena Sloan Butler, understood the power of individual action, worked beyond the accepted barriers of their day, and took action to change the world.

In 1897, Mrs. Birney appealed “to all mankind and to all womankind, regardless of race, color, or condition, to recognize that the republic’s greatest work is to save the children.

The republic’s greatest work is to save the children.

The San Francisco PTA has played a role, big and small, is this great effort.

From making sure there are safety cross walks in front of all our schools to advocating for arts education and healthy school food, from supporting grass roots campaigns to fund our schools, to volunteering in our classrooms, parents and teachers in San Francisco have been at the forefront of a community dedicated to improving the lives of children.

Happy Birthday San Francisco PTA. And may you have many more.


For more information about the history of the PTA go to:


*For more history on the work of Phoebe Hearst, go to:


February 2012


Funding, A Complete Curriculum, And Health And Safety Are Top Concerns

Adequate funding for education is the most important policy issue that parents and families want the state to address, according to a recent survey conducted by the California State PTA.

The survey showed that 98.6 percent of respondents think adequate state funding is important or extremely important.

The survey measured the importance PTA volunteers place on 33 different legislative and policy issues related to PTA's major focus areas: education, health, safety and parent involvement.

Nine out of every 10 say adequate funding is extremely important. That was by far the highest response for any single issue in our survey.

On behalf of its more than 900,000 members statewide, California State PTA is calling for a united effort to qualify and pass a ballot measure in November 2012 to begin restoring funding for education programs that have been cut. 

Last year PTA also joined as a plaintiff in a historic lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state's school finance system, and PTA has been active in opposing legislative proposals to make deeper cuts to education funding.

Education, Health, Safety and Parent Involvement

The survey showed parents and families place the highest education priority on ensuring that every student has access to a complete curriculum that includes the arts, STEM  (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as on smaller class sizes, strengthening teacher and administrator effectiveness, and reducing the dropout rate.

Reforms such as common core standards and more choices for parents such as charter schools – while generating interest – were not seen as nearly as critical.

Preventing bullying and cyber-bullying rated extremely highly in the survey, with 95.2 percent saying it is important or extremely important.

In terms of children's health, 94.2 percent rated physical activity and physical education as the most important issue, followed by nutrition and healthy school meals, and preventing alcohol, tobacco and drug use.

Parent and family engagement has been a longstanding focus of the PTA.  In this year's survey, parents rated the importance of several specific issues related to parent involvement, noting a particular need for greater involvement at the middle school and high school levels.

The impact of budget cuts

PTA members throughout the state also highlighted the severe impact of budget cuts on their schools. Of those surveyed, 96 percent said that in the past few years state budget cuts have forced their local schools to cut or eliminate programs and services to students.

Hardest hit have been programs and services that provide students with extra support or that help all students receive a well-rounded educational experience.

Summer school topped the list with 33 percent saying it has been eliminated, and another 28 percent saying it has been cut significantly.

Arts education programs have also suffered dramatically, with 22.6 percent reporting they have been eliminated and another 42.7 percent saying they have been cut significantly.

Other programs and services deeply affected by budget cuts include buses and transportation; instructional aides; physical activity and sports programs; Gifted and Talented Education; enrichment programs, such as field trips and assemblies; libraries, librarians and media centers; school nurses and student health centers.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2011


Thank you for all you do…..


I remember the day I wrote my first "thank you" note to a teacher. My daughter was just completing kindergarten. I wanted her teacher, Mrs. McKay, to know my daughter looked forward to going to school almost every day and came home after school to excitedly show me her drawings.

So I wrote a short note thanking her for making my daughter's first year of school such a success.

I loved saying thank you to someone who made such an impact on my daughter's life. And Mrs. McKay made a point of stopping me at school to let me know how much she appreciated the note.

A lesson learned about the importance of "Thank you".

Ever since then, I tried to let my children's teachers know how much I appreciated their work.

You may well ask: "Why am I saying this? It is not teacher appreciation week."

Here is why:

We are living at a time when our teachers—now more than ever—need a note of thanks.

Every year teachers—good teachers—get pink slips and don't know if they will have a job.

We are living in a world where teachers have many more students in their class and less support to help them.

Like that old children's song about "no more pencils and no more books," our teachers are living in a classroom world of "no more" lots of things.

And while they are helping our children learn to read and comforting a struggling child, the political "noise" somehow blames our teachers for the havoc caused by massive budget cuts to education.

Our teachers have furlough days and less support to improve their practice. Yet they are held accountable as if they live in Lake Woebegone during this Great recession.

I don't want to live in a world of "us" versus "them"

I want to live in a world of "us"—A world where "we" can work together.

And let me follow up on my story:

Years later ... and I mean lots of years later ...after my daughter was through high school and even through college, I ran into Mrs. McKay. We looked at each other.

And then she asked, "How's Deane?"

After hundreds and hundreds of students, she looked at me and remembered my daughter's name.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2011


PTA Revolution?

It's just a hunch but I bet when you hear the words "Parent Teacher Association" you don't think of a parent coup or parent revolution.

You might think of the dad helping teachers move books and materials into a new classroom or organizing the school fitness fair.

You might hear about a mom speaking at a school board meeting.

But revolution? Nah.

Well, let me share an insight.

PTA volunteers have been on the front lines for years.

From helping in the classroom to campaigning for a parcel tax or a school bond, PTA members gain the knowledge of how schools work—or don't work—and the leadership skills to make a difference.

And then an amazing thing happens....

PTAs take ordinary people from where they are to where they dream they can be. Making a difference for children. And for our communities

This does not happen by chance.

PTA invests in its members.

Our PTA University trains regional leaders throughout California on how to run their 501(c) (3) not for profit. A legislative conference teaches advocacy skills. A new School Smarts Parent Academy teaches parents how to support their children and their schools. The annual PTA convention provides workshops in leadership, communication, health, and parent engagement for thousands of volunteers. Local council and district PTAs hold training events that provide thousands more with important skills.

It starts out as a parent wanting the best for a child. Then throughout California, it morphs into community organizing, alliance building, and public engagement for public education

From the historic creation of kindergarten nearly a century ago to sponsoring legislation to support arts in the schools, PTA members identify a need and work for change.

They track bills in the legislature and speak up at the state capitol on major policy initiatives.

PTA is a plaintiff in an historic lawsuit to require the legislature to establish a new system of school funding that meets the needs of all students.

It supports healthy foods in our schools, not just through legislation but also through monitoring the salad bar and the vending machine.

It sponsors legislation to protect children from bullying, and partners with community organizations to create toolkits for parents and teachers to use at home and in school.

PTA partners with other organizations that share our commitment to children in order to make our voices even stronger.

It provides resources and training for parents new to the US school system so that they can understand how their schools work and how to help their children succeed.

PTA is the largest and most consistent voice for adequate school funding. The parent who sells gift wrap to pay for school supplies learns pretty quickly the system is broken, and that the best fundraiser of all is a line item in the state budget.

With a more than 100 -year track record, PTA is not a one trick pony or the reform du jour. It builds community-- school by school. We've been carrying on a different sort of revolution for decades: bringing people together to speak with one voice on behalf of all of our children.

The California State PTA has nearly 1 million members throughout the state working on behalf of public schools, children and families. The PTA is the nation's largest and highest profile volunteer association working to improve the education, health and welfare of all children and youth. Find out more at www.capta.org.

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2011


Exercise for the Brain

I can still remember the day I went to visit my daughter's first grade classroom.

I saw an empty desk just outside the open classroom door.

Hmmm. I wonder which child has that spot?

This was about the same time my daughter had gleefully announced to the whole class that her mommy had just turned 14.

40 ... 14.. Close enough. I like that new math. It was going to come in handy one day.

When I entered the class, I saw my daughter standing ...happily talking with some other children.

But... I couldn't find her desk. 

You guessed it. That was her desk outside the room!

Time for a quick conference. 

What was going on?

It turns out my daughter was active..very active 

Her teacher had figured out that if she let her sit by the open door, just outside the room, my daughter could let off a little steam by walking over to the desk to get her work done and then come back into the room. 

I was reminded of this as I spoke recently with Dr. John Ratey, a Harvard professor, who has done some fascinating research on the relationship between exercise and academic achievement.

This is fascinating not only because it helps parents and teachers understand how children learn but because of its implications for how we can improve our schools.

According to Dr. Ratey, exercise is the best way to optimize brain function.

"What we know from our work in neuroscience is that exercise is a very potent energizer of the brain. It stimulates much of the brain function and stimulates brain growth."

And that — he says—translates into better academic performance, fewer suspensions, and fewer absences. 

Does anyone hear some themes that might have an impact on the achievement gap?

According to Dr. Ratey, exercise affects the brain systems and makes the attention system better, the memory system better. It improves motivation and decreases impulsivity, thus decreasing discipline problems.

"It helps better than anything else we know to boost the development of brand new nerve cells every day."

"We have to change the culture of our schools that says the best way to learn is to drill drill drill."

Suggestions for schools from Dr. Ratey:

• Implement 20 minutes of vigorous activity every morning for all students.

• Create brain breaks during the day. For example, give students four to five minutes of exercise by their desks to get their heart rates up and make their brains work harder. (Dance, calisthenics, etc.)

"The big currency we are dealing with is not money but time."

Want more information about exercise, academic performance and healthy lifestyle?

Here are some resources:

PTA Healthy lifestyles pta.org/healthy_lifestyles.asp

Let's Move www.letsmove.gov/

Shape Up SF sfgov3.org/index.aspx?page=1007

John Ratey Spark sparkinglife.org/

September 2011


PTA MOM—Now more than ever….

When my son was a junior in high school, he put a song on my computer that reminds me why I am a PTA volunteer.

Whether it is writing an agenda for a meeting, or calling PTA parents, or just clearing emails, it always makes more sense listening to Eric Clapton singing "If I Could Change the World."

It was my son's subtle way of telling mom, "I understand what you are doing."

This school year, now more than ever, our children need PTA to change their world.

Improving the lives of children has a new urgency. Pundits are now saying that this may be the first generation of children in America to grow up less healthy and less educated than their parents.

Stop right there.

Less healthy and less educated?

We need to write the new script: And it is NOT Waiting for Superman. It is The Power of PTA.

This Great Recession makes the work of PTA in our schools and our communities even more valuable. If there was ever a time for us to speak loudly and clearly for the rights of children, it is now.
Imagine, just imagine, the power of almost one million PTA parents and teachers working to improve the lives of children.

We want our children to be healthy, to live in a safe community, to attend quality schools. We want our children to have the skills they need to support themselves and their families. We want our children to be responsible citizens in a democratic society.

These are the dreams we have for every child. This is not something we leave to chance, or leave for someone else to do. We know as PTA that every day we can improve the lives of children.

We need to remind our elected officials, whether on the school board or the city council or in the California legislature, that meeting the needs of children is the responsibility of all of us. That means investing in children.

Investing in children is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats. It is not an issue of left versus right. It is an issue of right versus wrong.

As we begin a new school year, the planning you do today will pay off in dividends for our children. As Diana Scharf Hunt once said, "Goals are Dreams with Deadlines."

So take a few moments to dream. Imagine.

What can I do each day to improve the lives of children?

How can I change their world?

For resources and ideas on how YOU can be involved, visit the California State PTA web site at www.capta.org Want to contact the district PTA in San Francisco, just email: 2nddist@ sfpta.org
Don't have much time but want to support the cause? You can join the Golden State PTA on line: http://www.capta.org/sections/membership/join-support.cfm

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

July-August 2011

A Pro

Every once in a while I decide I am going to be more efficient. I am going to learn a new skill or learn how to work with people. I am going to learn a new language. And I am going to get organized. Unfortunately, I usually decide to do ALL of these things at once.

You would think I would learn.

Well, I guess I have. I have learned the 7 habits of highly effective multi-taskers.

1. Program a shuffle on your IPhone that includes multiple learning opportunities.

Now this is really fun.

Just last week on a two-hour drive to Sacramento, I hit the jackpot. Not only did I hear Tina Turner remind me that I am the BEST, Better than All the rest, but through the magic of shuffle, this was followed by a five minute podcast in Japanese helping me find the ladies room on the second floor of a department store. And then Ricky Martin sang to me in Spanish. Could I ask for more?

2. Create a new calendar that works on your phone and your laptop and the computer at work.

This is really a good thing to do when you are traveling. Before you do this, make sure you download all of your meetings onto your phone. Be really efficient. Eliminate all paper, including your airplane ticket and your hotel reservation. Store it in the cloud. Now update your calendar so everything works soooo smoothly. The multi-tasking involved here is hitting your phone, your laptop, and your head all at the same time.

3. Download one of those simple checklist apps so that you know the best ways to get anything done.

I just did this and discovered a world of possibilities. There is the checklist to make sure I know what to buy at the grocery store. And while I am at it, I can select wardrobe basics. But who knew I could also organize a wedding and work on getting out of debt at the same time.

4. Clean your office.

5. Clean your office.

6. Clean your office.

7. Clean your office.

This is the best opportunity of all, especially if this is your home office.

It can involve washing dishes, shredding highly confidential notes, and finally discovering where you left your stash of secret passwords—all at the same time.

(Are these the old secret passwords or the new secret passwords?)

The most exciting part of steps 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 is that after you have carefully labeled all your binders and even made notes to yourself in a computer folder, someone calls you and asks for that one sheet of paper you just filed.

And you put it……..?

Never mind. I think it is time to cut the grass and find my car keys.

Carol Kocivar feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

June 2011

Cut$ Hurt Kids:

Coming to a School Near YOU!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, take a look at the picture below:

It is a picture of spending on California's schools.graphBW.tif

See those lines that just go down and down and down? It shows how California's per student spending lags the rest of the nation. If the descent was a ski slope, it would be marked with triple black diamonds. Down, straight down.

Looks bad, huh?

Well, to steal from one of my favorite songs, BBBbaby—You ain't seen nothin yet!

The failure of the legislature to put a measure on the ballot to let the people decide if they want to support education and children's services, has school districts scrambling with what they thought was only a doomsday scenario. It is here today.

Unless the Legislature acts quickly, the Governor has said he will present an all-cuts budget in mid-May. This would mean an additional $4 billion to $5 billion reduction to K-12 education and even more drastic cuts to children's services. 

Take Note:

That is in addition to the already $18 billion in cuts our schools have suffered in the last several years. (Take a look at that picture one more time.)

Schools have many budget choices—None of them good:

Shorten the school year

Close school libraries

Crowd more students into each classroom

Lose our counselors, classroom aides, reading specialists and more

Reduce summer school

Reduce transportation

Close schools

End of music, art and drama in our schools

Now, more than ever, your voice is needed to speak up and let our elected officials know that CUT$ HURT KIDS!

Don't just get mad. Get Active.

Join the PTA campaign to support the children of California.

Sign Up for PTA Legislative Alerts. Urge 5 friends to sign up too. http://www.capta.org/sections/advocacy/legislative-alerts.cfm

Make a video, using your phone or camera, about the impacts of the cuts on the children in your school and community and upload it to Facebook.

Wednesday, May 11: Celebrate California Day of the Teacher by letting your child's teachers know you appreciate them and take a moment to send an e-mail or call your elected representatives to tell them you value education.

Friday, May 13: Participate in one of the rallies being held around the state by members of the Education Coalition. 

Remember: Cut$ Hurt Kids: Coming to a School Near YOU!

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

May 2011

Thank a Teacher

I am a little confused.

Let me take that back. I am a lot confused.

In January, I watched the State of the Union message on television. The only part of the speech that everyone agreed on was a statement thanking teachers. Red and Blue and everyone in between, they all stood up and applauded.

And now, just a few months later, I see the way we really thank our teachers.

On March 15, we fired about 20,000 teachers in California. These are the folks who work over the weekend on lesson plans and who correct homework late into the night.

And before we fired them, we decided to have furlough days—a euphemism for cutting their pay and cutting instruction.

And after we cut their salaries, we increased class size. Talk about doing more with less.

And we make sure they have old textbooks.

And here in the technology capital of the world, many teachers can't connect to the internet.

And we have our schools and our teachers measured by an accounting system that will result in almost every school being labeled "failing."

As my mom, a 92 year-old retired public school teacher, would sometimes say, "Thanks a lot!"

We do this at the same time we wring our hands over the global competitiveness of the American economy.

We cut art and music from our schools in spite of research telling us that this is exactly the wrong thing to do.

We do this at the same time we spend almost three times more to keep someone in prison than to keep a child in school. Thanks a lot!

Teacher appreciation week is coming up.

Thank your teacher by advocating for funding for our schools and our children. Tell all of the teachers you know 'We really do care'. For ideas on how to celebrate teacher appreciation week, go to: http://pta.org/TAW_Activity_Ideas.pdf

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2011

X + Y = Success????

We learn lots of lessons when our children are in middle school.

• There is the amnesia lesson: Your child no longer recognizes you in public places.

• There is the 'stylin' lesson: Nothing you wear is ok with your 13 year old. Nothing.

• There is the 'who is right' lesson: Clue—it is never mom.

• Then there is the math lesson: Should your child really take algebra in the 8th grade?

When my kids were attending Herbert Hoover Middle School in San Francisco, they had a really great math teacher—Shirley Huizenga. And as they moved from 7th to 8th grade, we had the math discussion.

Both kids were doing fine in math. No problems. But should they take 8th grade math or go for algebra?

Mrs. Huizenga was not one to push for algebra just for the sake of getting a head start on high school math. No, she carefully assessed each student's math facts and skills and made a recommendation. There is no rush. Let's make sure they have everything down. They can take it in 9th grade.

So my kids did not hop on the algebra train early. And I am here to tell you they did just fine in high school and college math.

So it is with more than just a little bit of personal experience that I have watched the push for all kids to take algebra in middle school — the great gate keeper to their future.

Is the equation 3(2x − 4) = −18 equivalent to 6x−12 =−18?

(I just threw that in to see if you are paying attention.)

A recent report from EdSource on the subject finds that "California's Push for Algebra I in 8th Grade Has Had Mixed Results"

According to the study, "since 2003, California schools have increased by 80% the number of students taking Algebra I in 8th grade. That change has been most dramatic among low-income, African-American and Latino students, many of whom did not previously have access to the course in the middle grades."

And how did they do? The findings:

• "While the state's push to put students into Algebra I in 8th grade has opened up opportunities for many, it has also had some negative consequences."

• "For the state's most prepared math students (as measured by their 7th grade CST scores), placement into Algebra I in grade 8 appears to have served them well, with these students generally (but not always) scoring proficient or higher on the Algebra I CST"

• "Placing all 8th graders into Algebra I, regardless of their preparation, sets up many students to fail."

I told you Mrs.Huzenga was a great teacher.

Read the report for more insight. Go to http://www.edsource.org/ and look for Improving Middle School Math Performance.

And remember: The sum of two binomials is 5x2 −6x. If one of the binomials is 3x2 −2x, what is the other binomial?

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2011


Grim Cubed

By Carol Kocivar©2011

As more grim budget news makes its way into parent meetings and school sites, the reality of what is happening to our schools and our children is finally hitting home.

The casualties: Our children and the future of California

• A shorter school year

• Less instruction for students

• Larger classes

• Fewer counselors

• Fewer librarians

• Cuts in arts and music programs

• Teacher and staff support lay-offs

The budget is presented in numbers—large numbers with lots of zeros.

Education in California has suffered staggering cuts--$18 billion dollars from schools in the last three years.

Another $2 billion in deferrals of funding.

AND-This is then topped by the loss of one time federal money!



I try to picture this. A google search came up with a visual:

"If a billion kids made a human tower, they would stand up past the moon."

If 2/3rds of those children were traveling at the speed of light and one-third were coming at them from the other direction, how cold would it be in Alaska?

No No No. That is another math problem I am not going to tackle right now.

But if a million parents lined up end to end from here to Sacramento, there would be no doubt—regardless of political affiliation—of the real crisis facing our schools and our children.

It is little wonder that a survey of PTA leaders throughout the state identified school funding as the most urgent issue facing our schools

Parents overwhelmingly support the need to advocate for school funding, according to a survey recently released by the California State PTA, which represents nearly 1 million members. (Ahhh. More zeroes.)

Conducted in the fall of 2010, the survey of PTA leaders rated adequate school funding as the highest priority: 97.5 percent said they are interested or extremely interested in PTA continuing to advocate for it.

Respondents were asked to rate the importance of more than 20 policy and legislative issues in education, children's health and safety.

Other major concerns

Complete curriculum that includes arts

In addition to funding, parents also reacted to what they see as a narrowing of the curriculum--with 90.6 percent indicating they are interested or extremely interested in advocating for a more complete curriculum that includes arts education.

Small class size

Eighty-nine percent indicated they are interested or extremely interested in advocating for class-size reduction, especially as school districts have been forced to drastically increase class sizes due to budget cuts.

Highly qualified staff

Other issues of utmost importance to parents included recruiting and retaining qualified teachers and administrators (88 percent are interested or extremely interested), and supporting teacher effectiveness (91 percent are interested or extremely interested).

Budgets reflect our values.

Speak out for the health and education of our children.

Stay tuned as we enter into budget discussions and decide on ballot measures that will decide quite literally the future of California.

You can get more information on the budget and children's issues at:

California State PTA: www.capta.org

EdSource: www.edsource.org

California Budget Project: www.cbp.org

Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2011

Previous Carol Kocivar Columns December 2008-December 2010