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Carol Kocivar On Education

Things I Need To Work On For The New Year.

Hello, Nice to Meet you.

The other day I was introduced to someone I had never met before. At least, I thought I had never met her. So I said what I always say,” Hi, nice to meet you.”

She laughed and said we had sat next to each other at a meeting. Busted again.

I am terrible at remembering names. Ah…in my semi state of embarrassment, I quickly tried to use a mental trick. People always say that you can remember better if you put it to music. So now she is “I dream of _______ with the dark brown hair.” I still don’t need to use this mnemonic for my husband but if I did it would be “Terry Terry bo berry, Fee-fi-mo-merry. Terry!”


If it is an entirely HUGE parking facility, I take a picture of the car and the number so I can find it. Yes, I really do. But starting next year, I am using my phone’s find my car map which magically will help.”

I know I parked the car somewhere

Photo: driversed.com

I am terrible with cars. I can’t tell one car from the other.

I have a friend who picks me up regularly to go swimming. Same car. Every time. Is it blue? Black? Electric? Thank goodness she has the common sense to park in front of my house so I have a clue..

This car disability gets even worse in large parking lots. I have my tricks. It is not a coincidence that I always FOLLOW my friend or my husband back to where they parked the car.

Goodness, what if I am alone in a strange place? If it is an entirely HUGE parking facility, I take a picture of the car and the number so I can find it. Yes, I really do. But starting next year, I am using my phone’s find my car map which magically will help. (Sort of reassuring that I am not the only one with this problem.)

Read a Good Book Lately?

On My Bookshelf

I am a book club drop out. I tried, I really tried. But I flunked Book Club 101. I like the food and the social aspect but I am totally unable to have a serious discussion analyzing the nuances of a book with others. Could it be I was an English major? Could my failure to buy the book in time have anything to do with this. Hardly likely.

But this does not stop me from reading new books and even sharing books with friends. My most recent strategy: I listen carefully to what book friends recommend and immediately reserve it ON THE SPOT using the LIBBY app on my phone. This clever APP connects to the public library. Throughout the year I get these wonderful notices that the book I reserved is now ready to download—for free.

One other trick. Look at the window of BOOKSHOP West Portal. They always have great recommendations. Then pop in and buy one. Nice to support our local bookstore!

One More Thing to Work on For the New Year.

Don’t forget to say thanks. Sometimes we are too busy, too impatient. Too Too Too.

I remember once losing it completely at an airport after a multi-hour delay. The first words out of my mouth fell far short of “Thanks for trying to sort this out.”

To those folks who serve you at Peets. Thanks! To the instructor at the Y. Thanks.

Let’s try to restore more civility to a world torn apart.

Oh….. Thanks for reading this!

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2019

Quid Pro Quo and Other Things I Learned in School

I can remember my mother urging me to learn Latin when I was in high school. Latin! It would help me with my bona fides. Not to mention I might graduate cum laude. Etc. etc.

Thanks, mom, for the nudge.

My two years of high school Latin have come in handy in recent days. One of my favorite Latin phrases is Quid Pro Quo. A favor for a favor.

As in …. You dig up dirt on my political rival and I will give you what you want.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

Now that’s not the original Latin version. It’s the modern American translation when the Quid and the Quo turn out to be something Really Big. Like when the White House releases a summary of a telephone conversation with a foreign government and a US diplomat interprets what happened as withholding security assistance in exchange for investigating a political rival.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s sort of like saying, “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s like the acting White House chief of staff saying the President withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate the 2016 election and then walks back the statement.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

It’s like the president suggesting to China that they investigate a political rival during trade negotiations.

Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo.

Here is another timely Latin word: Emolument.

It is from Emolumentum meaning profit or gain. Our Constitution prohibits the President from profiting from his office. This is such a big deal they put it in twice.

• “The Foreign Emoluments Clause “[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (art. I, § 9, cl. 8)

• “The Domestic Emoluments Clause “The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” (art. II, § 1, cl. 7)

The word “emolument” originally was used to describe payments for grinding corn— from the Latin Emolere meaning “grind out.” I am not touching that definition.

Now ask yourself:

What if the United States asked the G7 to meet at the President’s hotel resort for a summit. What if the US air force increased stop-over flights to Scotland and folks on those planes just happen to stay at the President’s resort.

Emoluments. Emoluments.

Now there are other Latin phrases we also can put to good use these days.

Ad nauseum. This would be an unending repetition of the Quid (Blankety Blank!) Pro Quo and Emoluments.

Mea Culpa. Not likely to be part of this national debate but it is a nice little phrase for kids to learn so they can use it when they grow up. “I’m sorry. It was my fault.”

Impeach. Impeachcomes from the Latinimpedicare, meaning “catch, entangle.”

And why are people considering this?

Pro Bono—for the public good.

One moreLatin phrase:

Qui tacet consentire videtur. He who is silent appears to consent.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2019

Don’t Be Juuled.

Here is a short quiz that tests your analytical abilities.


Imagine a company whose mission is “to improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes”. Now guess who owns a big stake in this company?

A. Healthy California

B. One of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products.

If you guessed “Healthy California”, you’ve been Juuled.

Ready for another one?

Now imagine a campaign promising to “stop youth vaping” in San Francisco—with ads like this:

Who is a major funder?

A. Healthy California

B. A vaping company whose stockholders include some of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products?

If you picked “Healthy California”, you’ve been Juuled—again.

Do you see a pattern here?

Now we come to the serious part. There really is a measure on the San Francisco ballot on vaping.

And guess who is pouring millions of dollars into the YES campaign? That San Francisco based vaping company owned in large part by big tobacco.

While lots of funding is coming from Juul, you wouldn’t know it from reading the proponent’s argument in the ballot pamphlet.

Who signed the proponents’ ballot argument? Not Juul. It is signed by that well known organization, the “Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, Including Neighborhood Grocers”, a committee created to support Prop. C.

Hmmm. Wonder why.

You need to read the footnotes in the ballot pamphlet to find out what is really happening.

Paid Argument IN FAVOR of Proposition C

Over and over it says:disclaimer

So just one more question:

How would you vote if you were knew:

Proposition C is funded by Juul

Proposition C is opposed by the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, San Francisco-Marin Medical Society, Mayor London Breed.

Don’t be Juuled. Here is my vote:


Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2019

Some Things Never Change

I am about to go visit my grandson to celebrate a 5th birthday! That means finding just the right present for the smartest, cutest, most adorable little boy. (Oops, excuse me. My grandma thoughts just squirted out on the printed page.)

Let me start again. That means finding just the right present for a five year old. For fun, I did a web search on what is popular with the 5 year old crowd. Yes, people can still make a meal out of articles like “The Best Gifts for 5-Year-Olds, According to Child Psychologists.”

What’s a bit fascinating is that these lists are not much different from the list I made for my children when they were five years old. In fact, I still have the gazillion legos I gave to my kids years ago, and the books I couldn’t part with when the children grew up and left for homes of their own.


Once I make up my mind on a present, I support our local stores. Sorry Amazon, I don’t shop on line.”

I still keep a supply of these in our back room: board games, jump ropes, rubber balls, soccer balls, basketballs.

Anything that I ever bought that required electronics, batteries, or slime has disappeared. I take that as a message not to repeat expensive mistakes.

I am leaning towards my most favorite gift of all: New crayons and markers along with a nice pad of paper where all the creativity can find a safe home.

And it’s not just because I want to use the new markers. (Well, there is a little truth to that….)

What I like best about this kind of present is that it’s something I can do with my grandson. We can go outside and look at nature and try to create what we see. We can talk about his favorite colors and favorite activities and capture that in a picture. We can use this to talk about feelings and what they might look like. Or superpowers or friendships or what it looks like to be nice to someone.

Once I make up my mind on a present, I support our local stores. Sorry Amazon, I don’t shop on line.

That means a trip to Growing Up Arts and Crafts in West Portal—where I bought these same things for my kids years ago. I look at all the marker and crayon possibilities. I run my fingers over the drawing pads to judge the quality of the paper.

To top off my shopping, I head to the children’s section of Bookshop West Portal, our local independent book store. I wedge myself between antsy three year olds and let my eyes travel through the selections on trains and buses and anything that moves—but mostly trains.

I can’t let a birthday go by without at least one book to snuggle up with.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

September 2019

Schools and Money: Some Basics

There is a loud chorus of advocates calling for more money for schools. And rightly so. Even with the largest education budget in the history, local schools are struggling to keep afloat. The reasons are many.

California is Expensive

Just in case you haven’t noticed, it is VERY expensive to live in California. That means our education dollars don’t go as far as dollars spent in less expensive states.

Let’s do the math. If you have $300,000 dollars in your budget for teachers, how many can you hire? If the going rate is $50,000, then you hire 6. Or maybe you hire 4 teachers and also hire a librarian and a counselor.

But what if it costs $100,000 for each teacher including benefits? Then you can only hire 3. No librarian and no counselor.

That’s happening in lots of schools. Most of our education dollars pay for people.

As a result, we have among the largest class sizes, the fewest nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, arts teachers, special education teachers and on and on.

Adjusted for cost of living, per pupil spending is among the lowest in the nation.


...we have among the largest class sizes, the fewest nurses, counselors, librarians, social workers, arts teachers, special education teachers and on and on. ”

There are other cost pressures, too.

One of them is pensions. California teachers don’t get social security. Instead, school districts, the state and the teachers pay into a plan to help teachers in retirement. Years ago, that worked out just fine as pension investments grew, and the number of teachers paying into the pension supported the teachers who were retiring.

No longer. (Remember the stock market collapse and near zero interest rates? And oh yes, retired teachers are living longer.)

To keep the system from going bust, California had to re-calculate how to pay for retired teachers and other staff to make up for these shortfalls. That means local school districts now pay a lot more money to support these pensions. The chart below from the California Legislative Analyst shows how much this has grown. In just 7 years, those costs have gone from about $3 billion to nearly $10 billion. BILLION.

This means that despite schools getting more money, education expenses are growing in this area at a faster clip. The result: less money for other important education investments.

A Perspective on Teacher Costs

Teacher weekly pay is LESS than workers with comparable education. Nationally, teachers on average earn 21.4 % less than comparable college grads. What about California where we pay teachers a bit more because of the high cost of living? The gap is still large: 16.5% Charts shows a steady decline in weekly pay over 40 years.

So, what about health care and pensions? Don’t they move teacher compensation to a number above other professionals? Nope. Below is one more chart that shows you the numbers. Even when you take account of those benefits, total compensation is still much less.

“Benefits” refers to the employer costs for health and life insurance, retirement plans, and payroll taxes.

The economics of low teacher pay.

There is a bit of an economic equation going on here. If you can’t pay teachers comparable wages, teaching becomes a less attractive career option. Put bluntly: We have a severe teacher shortage. High quality teachers are the key strategy for student success.

The Debate Over Education Funding

We will hear lots more about education funding in the coming year as a 2020 election looms.

One initiative has qualified for the ballot, the Schools and Communities First proposal that will reform Proposition 13 and raise about $4 billion dollars for schools per year.

Also, in the works, but not yet fleshed out, is an initiative for “Full and Fair Funding” to bring California school funding from the basement to the top 10 states.

I predict someone will argue, “We don’t need any more money. We are spending more than ever before on education!”

When that happens, you’ve now got some data that explains why “more money than ever before” is an empty argument. California still lags the nation in supporting our schools and our children. More to come.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

JULY 2019

You are what you … READ.

Here is a quick quiz. Which of the following books have you shared with your children?

• Where the Wild Things Are

• The Cat in the Hat

• The Very Hungry Caterpillar

• Little House on the Prairie

Chances are you have read all of these best sellers. In fact, they are on the New York Public Libraries list of 100 Great Children’s Books.


Do the children and families in our books reflect the broad diversity of our community? Our state? Our world? Do they help our children understand the common human values that can transcend today’s fractured and divided world?”

Now here is another list. Which of these books have your shared with your children?

• Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix

• Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag

• United States v. Jackie Robinson

• ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market

These books are recommended by the librarians of SFUSD and the San Francisco Public Library and reflect the diverse world in which our children live. I have to confess I have read ALL of the books on the first list and NONE of the books on the second list. My bet is I am not alone.

I recently heard California Teacher of the Year Rosie Reid make what I think is an important observation about reading. While our schools are moving to more diverse reading selections, it is important to embrace this at home.

In many ways, we are what we read.

Whether it is the grit of The Little Engine that Could, to books that show how girls can grow up to be anything they want to be, we help shape their future with every book we read.

This can, and should, be intentional. Do the children and families in our books reflect the broad diversity of our community? Our state? Our world? Do they help our children understand the common human values that can transcend today’s fractured and divided world?

Here is a gentle suggestion. Instead of picking up that well-loved book you want to share with your children, add a few new titles to your reading menu.

There are loads of ways to get started.

Your local bookstore can give you lots of suggestions. (This is my plug for my local book store: Bookshop West Portal.)

Try the summer reading list from the San Francisco Public Library with tips from Pre-K to 12th grade. SFUSD Reading List (PDF)

The San Francisco Public Library, in partnership with Soar with Reading, has installed vending machines that dispense brand new, free books for kids age 0–14. New book titles will be available every 2 weeks throughout the summer. Visit the library, choose some books, and build your own library at home with great books to keep forever. 

Learn even more through Summer Stride. This is the San Francisco Library’s annual summer learning, reading and exploration program for all ages and abilities with over 1,000 free events.

Pick up a Summer Stride Guide, packed full of our summer programs, at any branch library or the Main Library,

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

JUNE 2019

What’s Happening to Charter Schools?

Since 1992, when charter schools were first created in California, the laws have been revised and updated many times. This year’s legislative debate over charter schools has sparked lots of emotion, with hundreds of advocates clogging the capitol to speak for and against new charter school rules.

These intense disagreements have an important political context. The future of charter schools was a big issue in the 2018 election for both the offices of Superintendent of Public Instruction and Governor.


…growth of charter schools adds to the financial strains facing school districts. Taken together, the election and the strikes have intensified the rhetoric about charter school policy.”

Charter school advocates spent millions supporting candidates that lost. The candidates that won, Tony Thurmond and Gavin Newsom, were strongly supported by the teachers’ unions. An additional political element in the debate is the impact of the teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland. Part of their message was to draw attention to the fact that growth of charter schools adds to the financial strains facing school districts. Taken together, the election and the strikes have intensified the rhetoric about charter school policy.

Elections Count

California’s prior Governor, Jerry Brown, was a big supporter of charter schools and resisted attempts to put more restrictions on these schools. Governor Newsom has a different perspective. He started his term with two swift actions: a charter school task force and an accountability bill.

He requested Superintendent Thurmond convene a group of experts to closely examine the impact of charter school growth on district budgets. He also signed SB 126 which requires board members of charter schools, an entity that manages a charter school, and a school district have similar accountability, transparency, and conflict of interest policies.

Charter School Law Needs Fixing: People Disagree on how

A multitude of reports, from the Little Hoover Commission to the California County Superintendents to the California School Boards Association identify dysfunction in the system and make differing recommendations to fix this. Now we have four major bills in the legislature with suggested fixes. These bills look at charter school caps, moratoriums, and increasing the power of local school districts to decide whether to permit them. There is a clear contrast in each side’s view of changes.

Proponents say: A concerned group of lawmakers, educators, administrators, civil right organizations and classified personnel have come together to address many of the issues surrounding California charter schools by fixing the laws governing charter schools that have negatively impacted students attending neighborhood public schools.

These common-sense measures will empower local communities to decide whether charter schools are the right choice for their students. Placing decision-making powers back in the hands of local communities will mean more accountability and better outcomes for all of our students. The California Teachers Assn. and California Federation of Teachers

Opponents say: “Organizations hostile to charter schools are running a package of legislation that would fundamentally gut the charter schools act. These bills would create an effective moratorium on charter public schools by removing appeal rights, severely limiting new schools, and allowing school districts to close successful schools that are serving hundreds of thousands of students statewide for any reason. Charter schools are not the problem, we are part of the solution.” The California Charter School Association

A Closer Look at the Proposed Legislation

AB 1505 gives more power to local school districts to decide whether to grant a charter school.

AB 1506 establishes a cap on the number of charter schools at the state/local level.

AB 1507 deletes the authority of a charter school to locate outside the jurisdiction or geographic boundaries of the chartering school district.

SB 756 creates a moratorium on new charter schools to provide time to reconsider whether our regulatory framework for charter schools is working and reflective of our values. It would ask the Legislative Analyst’s office to evaluate the effects. The charter school moratorium would be enacted only if the changes to the law reflected in the bills above are not adopted.

What’s Next?

These bills will be debated in the Assembly and the Senate and if passed will then go to the Governor for his final decision. During that time, the Charter School Task Force will present its report. Watch to see if the report influences the final language in the bills.

Children’s advocate Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

MAY 2019

California’s 100 Best Public High Schools!

Every year lists come out touting the 100 “best” high schools in California. Be wary. Any time someone creates a list of the “best”, it’s good to ask a basic question. In this case, that question is: the “best” at what?”

• The best at getting kids into elite colleges?

• The best at educating kids who are poor?

• Educating kids with special needs?

• Educating kids whose parents went to college?

• The best at educating affluent students?

Let’s Look at the top schools

The chart below drills down to look at the “best” schools on two major lists. I call them School A and School B. That’s right. These lists chose very different schools. (The schools go nameless because these lists should not confer bragging rights.)


Both schools show academic excellence. No quibbling that the kids do very well. But each list uses different selection criteria. This makes a big difference in which schools are picked as “best”.

List A scores 60 per cent for academics and 10 per cent for diversity.

List B factors in the percentages of economically disadvantaged students – who tend to score lower – identifying schools performing better than expectations.

Compare these schools. Now, ask yourself: What are these schools “best” at?

The data is from the 2017-2018 Account-

ability Report Cards for each school.

We are Number One!

So, what did you see? First off, it’s pretty clear these number one “best” schools don’t come close to reflecting the diversity of students in California schools. They represent a thin slice of schools that include very few English Learners, low income students or children with special needs. In other words, their demographics reflect students with the fewest learning challenges.

School A appears to be best at educating mostly affluent white and Asian students fluent in English with very few disabilities.

School B appears to be best at educating both affluent and low-income students who are mostly Asian and Hispanic and are fluent in English with very few disabilities.

Looking Lower on the Lists

Here are some other high schools in San Francisco lower down on the lists. I call them schools C, D, E, F, and G. (They are real schools. My kids went to one of them.)

Let’s compare how they ranked on the lists. Is there a correlation between the lists? Bottom line: Not much. The pattern though is that List B gives significantly higher rankings to schools with larger numbers of low-income students who do well. These schools more closely reflect the diversity of students in California.

The income data is from the 2017-2018 Accountability Reports for each school.

What did we learn?

First, look carefully at how schools are measured. This goes beyond great test scores and graduation rates and teachers. Who are they teaching? Are the best schools:

• Those that primarily educate wealthy students with no significant learning challenges?

• Those that help both affluent and low-income students succeed?

Or are some of the best schools omitted from these lists because the metrics simply don’t pick up their success? For example, what if a school is great at helping kids who have suffered trauma? What if a school is great at helping kids with special needs?

A Better way to measure success

One key indicator of success is improving performance over time. How well does it move the needle? It’s clear that affluent students start out with a head start. Is a school the “best” because it maintains that lead? (e.g., strong academics, but the school meets just the minimum expectations of a year’s worth of improvement every year.)

What if a school shows greater student growth but the academic results are not as high? (For example, a school with lots of low-income kids with student performance that grows significantly— more than a year each year.)

Which school is more successful?

For a good picture of performance over time, look at California’s School Dashboard. Not only does it look at growth, but it also looks to see how each group of students is progressing. It has done away with the WE ARE NUMBER ONE! mentality

What good are these lists?

These lists certainly measure strong academic success. But they also infer, even if it unintentionally, that a school not ranked high enough on the list is not really very good. Yes, they include multiple factors in coming up with a number, but in the end, they still equate a school with a single number.

How can you use this information? The next time someone tells you how well their school did on one of these lists, first, congratulate the students, teachers and parents. It takes a lot of work to achieve the academic excellence reflected on these lists. But then, you might take a moment to discuss what these lists really measure and what they leave out.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2019

Should Your School Start Later?

I can say with scientific accuracy that teenagers stay up late and struggle to get out of bed in the morning. While my research was limited to the two kids in my house over a six-year period, it is corroborated by every parent with teenagers I know. Argh. So why do some high schools start at 7:30 in the morning?


As children progress into their teenage years ... These changes reflect a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to later sleep onset and later morning awakening, with teenagers typically struggling to fall asleep before 11 pm.

It turns out there is a lot of real scientific study on teenage sleep. When kids reach puberty, their bodies are wired differently. The folks at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the sleep they need.

According to The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “As children progress into their teenage years, they experience delayed patterns of melatonin secretion and a slower buildup of homeostatic sleep pressure during wakefulness. These changes reflect a delayed circadian rhythm that contributes to later sleep onset and later morning awakening, with teenagers typically struggling to fall asleep before 11 pm.”

That’s real science.

The AASM recommends that teenagers 13 to 18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health…” They cite studies that show that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to:

• Be overweight.

• Not engage in daily physical activity.

• Suffer from symptoms of depression.

• Engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs.

• Perform poorly in school.

Sleep Deprivation is an Epidemic

Stanford Medicine calls this sleep deprivation an epidemic. “It increases the likelihood teens will suffer myriad negative consequences, including an inability to concentrate, poor grades, drowsy-driving incidents, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide and even suicide attempts.” Now that’s not good news.

If you snooze you ... win

Many school districts individually have moved to later start times, most recently Seattle, which found an improvement in grades and a reduction in tardiness and absences.

Will California Change Middle and High School Start Times?

One of the big debates in the legislature this year is whether California be the first state in the nation to follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and require later school start times for middle and high school.

Last year, an attempt to move middle and high school start times to no earlier than 8:30 failed. The legislature said “Yes” but the Governor said, “No.” The bill died.

The debate

The battle over later school start times pits groups—who normally work together— against each other.

Supporters A long list of medical experts and children’s advocates support a statewide rule that middle and high school start times of no earlier than 8:30. They rely on overwhelming research that finds later school start times support the health, safety and academic success of students—big time. Their contention is that this science applies to kids wherever they live, not sorted by school district. They argue the health risks of sleep deprivation are like other statewide risks such as lead in the water or sugary drinks. You would not leave each local community to individually decide these risks

Opposition Those opposed—the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Association—say these kinds of decisions should be made by local communities—not by a statewide law. For them, it is not a disagreement about the science but about local control. Their argument is that changing start times is complicated, involving bus schedules and teaching time and local community needs and athletics and a host of other issues, including money.

Governor Brown’s opposition to the proposed law was not a surprise. His signature education reform, the Local Control Funding Formula was all about —you guessed it— local control.

In returning the bill unsigned, the Governor said:

“This is a one-size-fits-all approach that is opposed by teachers and school boards. Several schools have already moved to later start times. Others prefer beginning the school day earlier. These are the types of decisions best handled in the local community.”.

Senator Anthony Portantino, author of the bill, characterized last year’s defeat as “Science lost to the status quo” and vowed to bring it back. Thanking a long list of supporters, including the California PTA, the Start School Later coalition, the California Federation of Teachers, California Police Chiefs Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, he said:

“They put the best interest of our children at the forefront of this public policy and public health crisis. They embraced 3 decades of health science and hard data that unequivocally substantiates the need for this.”

This year, the bill, SB 328, is back. A new governor and newly elected legislators will get a chance to decide the issue again.

What do you think?

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2019

A Middle School Success Story

I think it’s time for a good news story. This one is about a San Francisco public middle school. Over the past four years, a strong principal and dedicated staff have helped a troubled urban middle school move toward success.

When Principal Michael Essien started in 2014 at Martin Luther King Middle school, the school had serious behavior and academic issues. Large numbers of students were sent out of class because of inappropriate behavior. Four years later, test scores are up and teacher referrals are dramatically down.




the principal saw that many teachers did not have the skills to address aggressive behavior. Teachers had to develop the skills to support students who show up in class with trauma.”

What happened?

They looked closely at the data about student behavior. They responded with professional development and administrative support. They provided more opportunities for student engagement. They expanded the curriculum to include arts integration. And they put the students at the center of decisions.

Shifting the Conversation

According to Principal Essien, they asked an important question:

“What are the adults doing that is producing this behavior in the kids? If we change our behavior, it will change what is happening with the children.”

After reviewing the data, the principal saw that many teachers did not have the skills to address aggressive behavior. Teachers had to develop the skills to support students who show up in class with trauma. They also had to change the relationship between students and teachers.

The school made a number of changes:

Teachers received deep instruction on how to handle conflict. With new skills, teachers are now responsible for understanding a child’s escalation pattern. Whenever possible, teachers know how to intervene before things get out of hand.

The teacher does not send kids out of the classroom. A support team is available to come to the class and help the student get engaged in the lesson.

The school now uses the PAX good behavior games to increase student voice and reduce teacher bias. This game is designed to reinforce good behavior and develop self-control. (The video below shows the game in action.)

The school also now gives students chances to discuss and solve conflict. They even can create a power point to explain how to get to better behavior, e.g. “How not to be tardy.”

Changing Instruction

Along with changing the culture of the school, instruction was shifted to emphasize student engagement and critical thinking. More student projects. More sharing of personal experiences. More use of student expertise.

Strong arts integration was added to the other core curriculum. Listen to an interview by Carol that explains how this works.

Principal Essien says with a smile, “Kids are taking over my school site. It is their school site.“

And there is good reason to smile. Not only has behavior improved, so has academics.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2019

Did we learn anything from a tumultuous year?

I just spent the last 20 minutes snuggled next to a four-year-old singing The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round And then we practiced reading the words , Shhh! Shhh! Shhh!


I don't mean you finally figured out how to take the kids to soccer practice and also have dinner ready. If you have, please contact me off-line.”

My bet is that everyone needs a bit of a cuddle as we wind down this year. And a bit of time to reflect. And hope.

Here is the reflection part:

What did we learn this year about ourselves and about our country?

I don't mean you finally figured out how to take the kids to soccer practice and also have dinner ready. If you have, please contact me off-line.

What did we learn (or fail to learn) this year?

Below is my list.

It may sound remarkably familiar to what we teach our children. But this year for certain, I discovered a lot of folks forgot what they learned as kids.

If you have difficulty, included are some helpful hints.

Tell the Truth. Young children know the difference between truth and lies. Easy peasy. Too many adults have a hard time with this.

Tip: It's easier to tell the truth than remember the lies.

Tip: Repeating a lie again and again does not make it true...even if it is on Twitter. The hidden agenda is to repeat it so often that people take lies for fact.

Be nice to others. That's kindergarten 101. Ok, for those lucky enough to go have gone to pre-school, that's THE lesson.

Tip: Calling people names is not nice.

Tip: Using your power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker is not being nice. It is being a bully.

Take Care of Children. This is the most basic responsibility we teach and model for our children.

Tip: Removing children from their mothers is not taking care of children.

Tip: Removing children from their mothers is not taking care of children.

(I just thought this one was worth repeating.)

Science is real. Contrary to the belief of some, a scientific theory is not a guess. It is an explanation of the natural world that can be repeatedly tested and verified in accordance with the scientific method.

Tip: Hot dry wood can burn out of control.

Tip: Ice melts when it gets too warm.

Tip: Oceans and rivers rise when there is more water.

What's Next?

I am betting everyone has learned something important this past year? What have you learned? What are you going to do about it?

Before I commit to a New Year's resolution on this, I've got one more book to finish with the four-year-old: The Little Engine that Could.

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2018


My daughter just told me about something I really MUST have for my phone. It is a setting that tells you if you have been overdosing on screen time. With great reluctance I got it. And then I threw my phone into a corner and walked away for at least 5 minutes.

She is right. I am addicted. My husband is right. I am addicted. But a little google search — yes, I did check—shows that my use may be excessive for the norms in my family but FAR less than the average adult.

How in the world does the average adult spend 10 hours and 39 minutes each day on smartphones, computers, video games, radios, tablets and TVs?

I mean, you really must try hard.


First, like most people, I get all my news online. I check in every single morning. (Please give me a break here. I am not so addicted that I keep the phone next to my bed. I carefully get up, go get the phone, and then read it in bed for just a FEW minutes.)”

Alexa, turn on the TV. Siri, how many ounces are there in four quarts? Transit, what is the fastest way to get downtown from here? Zillow, how much is that house worth? Apple Home, shut the garage door.

When my kids were young, I realized they are smarter than I am. It comes as no surprise that my daughter is very rigid on screen time with her kids. (I am ordered to keep my phone away from any meal where kids are present.) That, of course, seems to mean every meal.

And she has already told the kids they are NOT getting their own phones. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Nothing as far as I can tell, at least as long as she is the one who pays the bills. Ah…the ghost of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. They created the ADDICTIONS but were stingy with screen time for kids.

TV also is almost verboten. She got that growing up. We rarely let the kids watch TV. In fact, the only TV we let them watch when they were young were programs in Japanese. They were going to a bilingual school and I chalked that up as educational. Do you think it was a bit confusing when the kids in Little House on the Prairie spoke Japanese but lived in Wisconsin? I am not sure when they discovered there actually is TV in English.

So, what is it that is eating up all my time?

First, like most people, I get all my news online. I check in every single morning. (Please give me a break here. I am not so addicted that I keep the phone next to my bed. I carefully get up, go get the phone, and then read it in bed for just a FEW minutes.)

Don't even ask me how many news emails I get. Let me just say this: In an effort to be well-informed, I do subscribe to left, right and center news.

And it takes time to delete all the political emails asking to give money, phone bank, sign a petition. The ones that tell me "DON'T PANIC! The ones that start with I-N-C-R-E-D-I_B-L-E!

But now that I have that new setting on my phone, I am going to be MUCH BETTER.

Can anyone tell me where I threw my phone? Ahh…thank goodness, there is an App for that!

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2018

Do You Believe Her?

I was standing in line at Walgreens the other day and a woman I don’t know asked, “Do you believe her?” That’s it. “Do you believe her?”

The next day we were at dinner at a great neighborhood Chinese restaurant. Before we could even open our menus, a rule was proclaimed: “This is a politics free meal!”

Well…almost. Someone slipped in the “T” word but after a few minutes of animated discussion we did shift to asking about the kids.

It used to be there were things you didn’t discuss in polite conversation or in a first meeting.

Sex. Politics. Money.

It looks like all the rules have been thrown out the window. Everything is now on the table.

(In our case, along with Mongolian beef and green onion pancakes.)

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

I would argue that an open passionate discussion about our very public morality play is a good thing. This is more than a soap opera.

Behind all the headlines and the smears and the intimidations, we are grappling with some basic questions about what kind of country we want and what we can do to shape it toward a more perfect union.

We are on the cusp of the future of our democracy. (Hmmm. I hope that is the right word. Ok, I just looked it up. Pretty close.)

cusp meaning:

• the dividing line between two very different things:

• at or during a time of transition, as the moment of or just before a major change or event

What to do? Yes, let’s talk about it. But let’s get beyond the gossip.

This is about our better angels. It is about how we care for children and the elderly. It is about how we protect free speech and the right to vote. It is about the poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free. This is about respect for the rule of law.

An election is coming up. Get informed. Get engaged. Vote.

Oh…in answer to the woman in the drug store: “Yes. I believe her.”

Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2018

My President

Season 3, episode 1

Maybe it is a bit of escapism, but I find myself watching a lot of the President on TV. Politics 24/7...but on my terms.

I am not talking about being glued to FOX news...though I do have the App on my phone when I want to indulge in Fake News. (Hey, I call San Francisco my home.)

Almost every evening, I choose MY OWN political leader.

It started years ago. From 2004 to 2008, President Josiah Bartlet of West Wing was my political choice. Then I moved on to a new TV President. No one is in office forever.

Repeat that five times just so we remember.

1. No one is in office forever.

2. No one is in office forever.

3. No one is in office forever.

4. No one is in office forever.

5. No one is in office forever.

Ah... that felt good.

After that was President Fitzgerald Grant in Scandal. His term eerily had a great Fixer and a computer hacker and a stolen election. Does truth follow fiction? (You might want to check CNN in real time to find out.)

Right now, President Tom Kirkman in Designated Survivor is my leader of choice. No lies...a quiet and humble presidential persona. I feel so good when his moral compass leads our country back from the brink of disaster.

I even have my own Secretary of State, Elizabeth McCord, in Madam Secretary. My goodness, she is aspiring to be the first woman president. No bets on how that will turn out.

Yes, it is pure escapism.

But sometimes I just want to choose my own President. This is a democracy, isn't it?

Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

Sept 2018

Are We Educating Children for Citizenship?

We frequently measure schools by how well children do in math and English and science. But schools serve another function we must not ignore — preparing children to become responsible citizens in a democracy.

We are living through a time when the direction of our democracy is debated almost daily. Are we preparing children to understand today's issues?

• What is the role of the press in a democracy?

• What are the powers of the courts, the legislature, and the president?

• How does freedom of religion connect with freedom from discrimination?

• How can the right to bear arms be reconciled with the safety of children?


Before the recent election, did you discuss any issues on the ballot with your children? Elections affect them, too. Was there a parcel tax or a bond issue to support your schools? Did you take your children with you to vote? On the day of election, did you wear the "I voted" sticker to show your kids you went to the polls and were proud of it? You did vote, right? Have you spent any time with the kids talking about the issues of the day? ”

Are we flunking democracy?

Here is the question of the day: Are we flunking democracy? Note that I did not ask "Are our schools flunking democracy?" The question is whether we are flunking democracy. When it comes to teaching each new generation about our roles as citizens, both schools and parents play an important role.

So how are we doing?

Civic knowledge. The results of the Nation's Report Card 2014 test of civic knowledge are not reassuring. Most 8th grade students did not meet proficiency levels. About half of students who sign up for the AP US Government exam bomb it, with a score of 1 or 2 out of 5.

Civic participation. The United States trails most developed nations in voter turnout. In California's recent gubernatorial primary election, voter turnout was terrible. Only about one in four voted, with large variations by county.

Civility. The tone of the national dialog about civic choices has become toxic, threatening our ability to work together as citizens for the common good.

Turning This Around

The decline in civics education has not gone unnoticed. There is now a national effort to re-invigorate civic learning. (Timely? Yes!)

Done right, civic education is not just about passing a test on the Constitution in the 12th grade. It is about learning through experience how to help improve our communities, how to analyze problems, and how to work with others for the common good.

For a look at this in practice, think about how students in Parkland reacted to the horrific shooting on their campus. They modeled real civics in action. It was not serendipity. Florida has one of the most comprehensive Civics education programs in the nation, according to a state profile by the Education Commission of the States. This includes "being able to identify how students can help improve their school and community (grade 1), evaluating the importance of civic responsibilities in American democracy (grade 5) and analyzing public policy solutions or courses of action to resolve a local, state, or federal issue (high school)".

How Are We Doing in California?

California has doubled down on improving civics education, starting in kindergarten. Leaving this vital function of education to a single class at the end of high school just doesn't cut it.

California's new History-Social Science/Civics framework changes how civics should be taught, with a huge emphasis on active learning. Yes, content is important. But so is analysis, debate, the ability to tell fake news from real news, and providing opportunities to identify problems and create solutions.

Several additional initiatives are underway to improve civic education. The Civic Learning Awards at elementary and secondary schools celebrate civic learning and identify successful models. Civic Learning Partnerships join the courts, schools and business in developing a civic learning plan for local communities. Check here to see what is happening where you live and how to start one in your community.

The Student Votes Campaign encourages students to register and vote.

Parents Play an Essential Role.

Dare I ask?

Before the recent election, did you discuss any issues on the ballot with your children? Elections affect them, too. Was there a parcel tax or a bond issue to support your schools? Did you take your children with you to vote? On the day of election, did you wear the "I voted" sticker to show your kids you went to the polls and were proud of it? You did vote, right? Have you spent any time with the kids talking about the issues of the day?

You are the role model for your children. Research confirms that your involvement has a significant impact. If kids know you value something it will rub off on them.

What Is YOUR School Doing to Improve Civic Learning?

You also play an important role in keeping an eye on what is happening at your school.

Your PTA can help jump start a discussion on civic education. Work with your principal to set up an event to help your school community understand what's happening at your school. What are the activities? How are children learning?

Below are some questions you can use from the ECS Guidebook of Six Proven Practices of Effective Civics Education.

Tips to Start the Conversation

1. Are students participating in school governance?

2. What opportunities are available for service learning? That means a learning experience that is linked to a classroom lesson. For example, a recycling program linked to environmental studies or a school garden linked to a science curriculum.

3. Do students participate in simulated voting, trials, legislative deliberation, or diplomacy?

4. Are there discussions of current events and issues that affect students' lives?

5. Are there extracurricular activities that give students a chance to get involved and work together toward a common goal?

6. Does classroom instruction combine formal lessons with illustrations and discussions that link the lessons to what is happening in today's world?

I Dare Ya?

Can You Pass the Test for New Citizens?

While good citizenship is about a lot more than passing a test, knowing about our history and our constitution is important. New citizens have to pass a test. Can you?

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

This article also appears in Ed100, an online web resource that helps parents learn more about education. I encourage you to go to www.Ed100.org and sign up.

You will get timely updates on important education issues. And your PTA could win $1,000! For every lesson you read—and answer an easy question correctly about what you learned--your PTA is entered into a drawing

July 2018

Big Tobacco doth protest too much

Sometimes Big Tobacco doth protest too much. This time it’s a multi-million-dollar campaign called NO on Prop. E. It is trying to convince folks that Proposition E on the June ballot is about prohibition and banning adult choices.

For those who are still sorting out your June ballot, Proposition E amends the San Francisco health code to prohibit retailers from selling flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

When I started getting BIG slick mailers that say, “Stop the Prohibition Proposition,” it made me take a closer look to find out what is going on. A footnote says the mailer is from my friends at R.J Reynolds Tobacco.


“Tobacco use kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, motor vehicles, homicide, illegal drugs and suicide COMBINED.”

So, I dug through all those mailers. Yes, I went through my trash and found the other side of the argument:

That mailer says:

“Big Tobacco is targeting our kids with candy flavored products to get them hooked.”

This mailer is not signed by the tobacco industry. It’s signed by the American Cancer Society and Heart Association and Lung Assn. and California Medical Assn. and Kaiser and Blue Shield, to name of few.

So why is this such a big issue?

According to the language of the Yes on E ordinance:

81 per cent of youth who have ever used a tobacco product report that the first product they ever used was flavored.

The financial cost of tobacco use in San Francisco alone amounts to $380 million per year in direct health care expenses and lost productivity.

The Center for Disease Control reports a more than 800 per cent increase in electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2015. These are sold in thousands of flavors.

If you have a moment, google “flavored tobacco and vapes” just for fun. Hey big fella, you want an adult choice of choo choo crunch or cotton candy or bubble gum or tooth fairy puff?

The California Department of Public Health web site, Flavors Hook Kids , spells out the problem:

“Flavors mask the harsh taste of tobacco, making it easier for kids to get hooked on nicotine.”

It also has some words of warning:

“Tobacco use kills more Americans than AIDS, alcohol, motor vehicles, homicide, illegal drugs and suicide COMBINED.”

Want more?

According to the US Surgeon General:

“No matter how it’s delivered, nicotine is harmful for youth and young adults. E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine as well as other chemicals that are known to damage health.”

So, there you have it.

The No on E side says,

“Let’s not forget the dangers of Prop E, which would ban adult choices and harm many of our local, community markets and retailers.”

The Yes on E side says,

“The research and evidence is clear: flavored tobacco products have a profound adverse impact on public health, resulting in more smoking and subsequently more death and disease from tobacco use.”

Sorry Big Tobacco.

Your money and slick ad campaign are on the wrong side of this one. The danger of a ban on “adult choice“ is not in the same league as more death and disease from tobacco use.

I am voting YES on E. I hope you will, too.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

June 2018

Have you Thanked a Teacher Today?

Thank You!

These two words alone may not solve the teacher shortage, but they can make a big difference to the teachers in your school.

Saying "Thank you" may not solve the public policy debate over how to recruit and retain amazing teachers.

Saying "Thank you" doesn't address the issues of pay or pensions or benefits.

But for the teachers who work every day in our schools to help our children, "thank you" can make a world of difference.

Sometimes we forget that little things really count. It's personal relationships that bring us together for the common good.

How to Thank a Teacher

You can do it with a smple handwritten note.

(That really is my favorite.)

I remember the day I wrote my first "thank you" note to a teacher.

My daughter was just completing kindergarten. I wanted her teacher to know my daughter looked forward to going to school almost every day.

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

Her teacher made a point of stopping me at school to let me know how much she appreciated the note.

More Ways to Say Thank You

Teacher appreciation week officially falls on the week of the second Wednesday of May. The California State PTA website has more ideas for how to say "Thank you."

Want to do even more to thank our teachers in San Francisco?

Support Propositions C and G on the June Ballot.

Proposition G: Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District

This will raise around $50 million a year to ensure San Francisco Unified School District can attract and retain quality teachers and staff. It establishes a $298 parcel tax for teacher pay that will adjust with inflation each year for the next 20 years.

Proposition C: Tax on commercial rents to fund childcare and education.
This would generate additional net annual revenue to the City of approximately $146 million. Eighty-five percent of the revenues from the tax would be designated for childcare and early education, and 15% would be available for any public purpose.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

May 2018

Voting for Kids

A chance to do the right thing on the June ballot

We've all heard those awful stories about teacher shortages and low wages and lack of affordable childcare. In some communities, people would wait around for someone else to fix this. Not in San Francisco.

One of the best things about San Francisco is the "we can do it" mindset that allows us to fix real problems at the ballot box. •When you read about teachers taking after-school jobs driving for Uber or working in a bar—you know we have a problem. • When you read about teachers living in their cars or in a hostel—you know we have a problem.

• When your read about our teachers resigning because they just can't afford to live here—you know we have a problem.

• When you read that it costs $12,630 a year to attend UC Berkeley but $20,000 a year to pay for an infant or toddler early eduction and childcare—you know we have a problem.

•When your read that the most critical time in brain development is from birth to 3 and San Francisco has more than 2400 children on the waitlist for quality care and more than 1600 of these children are under the age of 3—you know we have a problem.

This June, San Franciscans have the chance to start to fix this. There are two measures on the ballot that I hope everyone supports. They are about San Francisco values—helping our children and our teachers and our schools.

Proposition G: The Living Wage for Teachers Act of 2018 This will raise around $50 million a year to ensure San Francisco Unified School District can attract and retain quality teachers and staff. It establishes a $298 parcel tax for teacher pay that will adjust with inflation each year for the next 20 years. Campaign Website: yestoteachers.com

Proposition C: Tax on commercial rents to fund childcare and education.
This would generate additional net annual revenue to the City of approximately $146 million. The proposed ordinance would raise the gross receipts tax paid by commercial landlords in San Francisco. Eighty-five percent of the revenues from the tax would be designated for childcare and early education, and 15% would be available for any public purpose. Total tax collections would change over time at the rate of inflation of commercial rents in the City. Campaign website earlyeducattionsf.com

You can go to the San Francisco Department of Elections (http://sfgov.org/elections/measures) to find more details about these measures

Please join with me in helping our children and our teachers and our schools.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2018

Take a look at the Arts in San Francisco Schools—and SMILE!

San Francisco has done something quite amazing. In a little over a decade, it has transformed its schools from arts poor to arts rich. And this did not happen by chance.

Years ago, when budget cuts put the arts on the chopping block, a task force looked at the arts in San Francisco schools—and wept. Here is what we found for elementary schools.

1999-2000 SFUSD Funding for the Arts

Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste

This bleak picture energized parents and communities. In 2004, San Francisco voters passed "The Great Schools Charter Amendment" that targeted City funds for preschool and K-12 public-school enrichment programs. Since that time, city support for these programs — that include the arts and physical education and librarians — has been re-upped.

The Arts Today

Guided by what I think is the best arts master plan in the nation, San Francisco carefully grew the arts in all schools—adding money for teachers and supplies, and artists in residence, and training.

San Francisco's 2016-17 Elementary School Arts —which gathers information about the arts at every elementary school—shows a much prettier picture.

All 72 schools offered two or more arts discipline, 86% offered three or more, while 54% offered all four.

All elementary schools have least one credentialed music, visual arts, dance or drama teacher two or three days a week based on student enrollment.

All elementary schools have at least one artist in residence

All elementary schools have a credentialed instrumental music teacher to teach violin, flute, trumpet and clarinet once a week to participating students during the regular school day.

Instrumental music teachers also teach instruments such as recorders or guitar to entire classrooms in additional to or in lieu of a pull-out program.

The Instrumental Music Program is offered to all fourth and fifth grade students and participation is optional. Instruments are available to all students and some families choose to rent or purchase their instruments.

Find Your School

You can look up your school on the SFUSD Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) web page

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2018

Our Local Ulloa Elementary School one of top schools in the nation

In case you missed it, one of our local elementary schools was just chosen as a National Title I Distinguished School. It's quite the recognition. Only one hundred schools throughout the nation win this.




The National Title I Distinguished Schools award adds to the list of honors for Ulloa, which won National Blue Ribbon in 2011, California Distinguished School in 2008 and 2011, and California Title I Academic Award from 2001 to 2009.”

Ulloa Elementary won for exceptional student performance.

Test scores are significantly higher than the average state and city scores.

Check out the school's scores above:

Ulloa is the only Title 1 School in the Sunset. Many students are low income (60 per cent) and enter school not fluent in English (about 48 per cent). The school features a Chinese bilingual pathway.

The children are predominantly Asian.

It is tucked away on 42 Avenue just off Sloat Blvd. Right next door is the South Sunset playground, which boasts a new turf field and a fully remodeled playground as well as a clubhouse that hosts after-school and sports programs.

I recently had a chance to talk with principal Carol Fong about what happens at Ulloa to support student success.

Here are some highlights:

• The school strategically looks at the needs of the students and parents beyond academics.

This includes special outreach to parents who don't speak English — with parent education nights. Staff is bilingual. Communication is regularly sent home in the parent's language.

• A strong PTA — with parents who are bilingual — helps new parents. School community activities are designed that don't require English fluency to help parents feel welcome

• The school stresses high expectations, emphasizing daily that students need to come ready to learn.

Students feel safe, routines are clear, and students know how to get help outside of the classroom if needed

• Attendance is critical.

The school has a 99.8 per cent attendance rate.

• Staff collaboration in integral and includes weekly grade level meetings and monthly team meetings.

Teachers work as a team and review student work to calibrate expectations for all students.

The National Title I Distinguished Schools award adds to the list of honors for Ulloa, which won National Blue Ribbon in 2011, California Distinguished School in 2008 and 2011, and California Title I Academic Award from 2001 to 2009. 

You can listen to the interview with Principal Carol Fong on KALW 91.7. Click on to Looking at Education with Carol Kocivar kalw.org/programs/looking-education

About Title I:

Title I is the largest federally funded pre-college education program in the United States and provides funding to school districts across the country to aid in the education of economically disadvantaged students. 

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2018

Over and out...

I was just rewinding a phone call I had with my daughter. (If you are under 30, "rewinding" refers to listening again to an audiotape. A tape— you know—made of light plastic—the thing you put in a cassette player.

A Cassette what?)

Let me start again.

I was just thinking back on a conversation I had with my daughter.

No, she didn't text me ahead of time to schedule the call. It was just a call. Serendipity.

I was getting my haircut and my iPhone was in my jacket across the room so I answered it on my iwatch. (Wow. I always feel like Dick Tracy.)

Dick Tracy… You know… The guy in the comics who had this fantastic watch you could talk into. Unbelievable!

Yes... way before Star Wars and ET.

So anyway, I was talking with my daughter. She frequently calls me as she drives her three-year-old home from pre-school.

Voice in the background of phone call:

"Can we look at the animals on the way home? Actually, it sounded more like " Weeee ... animals...Look! Goats..." It's hard to hear my grandson's voice clearly from the back seat of the car but I knew exactly what he was saying.

Daughter: "How many goats do you see?

Grandson: One... two. I see two! Two!

Me to grandson: "What did you do in school today?"

Response from the back seat: Silence.

(I am sure he can't hear me very well either.)

My daughter and I chat for a bit about the upcoming soccer game for the eight year old. I share my memories of coaching her as an eight year old.

Daughter: "We are just pulling up to the house. Got to go and get snacks."

Me: I love you.

Voice from the back seat: "Love you!"

No, I didn't hear my daughter give any prompts.

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

December 2017

The Next Big Thing: Fix Special Education

When the president of the California State Board of Education says special education in California is in deep trouble, it’s time to pay attention.

It’s not that this is new news. The problem has been brewing for years. But there are now some signals that the time may have come for some big changes to special education.

So What’s the Problem?

When kids struggle in school, they need help. Spotting challenges early and intervening with just the right help can make all the difference — but the road can be bumpy. Anyone who has tried to help knows the system can be improved.

Many students with disabilities fall behind in school. They graduate at a much lower rate (٦٠ percent) than students without a disability (78 percent). Falling behind is bad for kids, and bad for California communities. About 70 percent of juveniles arrested are identified as needing special education services.

The achievement levels of California students with disabilities are particularly low — far behind students in other states. A Statewide Special Education Task Force Report does not mince words when it lays out what’s wrong:

“Inadequate services prior to kindergarten;

Financing that often does not meet the needs of students and that is unequally provided throughout the state;

Short-sighted teacher preparation and licensing practices;

Chronically lowered expectations for many students with disabilities;

A failure within schools and classrooms to consistently use the very evidence-based practices that are being used successfully in other parts of the country.”

Add to this a severe shortage of staff to help kids with special needs and you can see why special education is in deep Trouble-with-a-capital-T. According to a ٢٠١٧ survey by the Learning Policy Institute, ٨٨٪ of California school districts are short of special education teachers.

Why Now?

California recently overhauled its education finance system, but special education was intentionally left out of it. Why? Well...it was way too complicated to fix everything in one swoop.

The Task Force recommends a more coherent system. In California, for many years, special education was treated as a separate system — with its own rules and training and approaches — where many children with special needs were excluded from students in general education. The Task Force envisions a system where:

“....all children and students with disabilities are considered general education students first; and all educators, regardless of which students they are assigned to serve, have a collective responsibility to see that all children receive the education and the supports they need….”

Now...this is a huge shift. And a lot of this thinking has to do with early intervention. Listen to Benjamin Franklin, folks:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

The research collected by the Task Force shows that “well-timed and well-executed early intervention reduces the number of students with learning disabilities, by far the largest cohort in the special education ranks, and improves school outcomes for everyone. Those students who benefit from separate and specialized settings, in particular students who are deaf, especially benefit from early intervening services.”

Learn More

Special Needs: Why Not Teach All Kids Alike?

Ed100.org has a lesson on special needs to help you understand how this system works. Go to Lesson 2.7 to learn more.

California Dyslexia Guidelines

In 2017, the California Department of Education released a detailed explanation of dyslexia and how California’s education system supports students. (It’s a long document. Jump to page 81 for practical advice about things you can try at home.)

Statewide Special Education Task Force Report

The Task Force studied the causes of the state’s poor outcomes for students with disabilities. Its report includes specific recommendations.

Special Education Finance in California

This 2016 report from the Public Policy Institute of California recommends changes to how special education is funded. It looks at equity, adequacy, accountability and transparency.

Note: For more articles on how the education system really works, go to www.Ed100.org. Sign up to receive weekly updates.

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

November 2017

It's in the Cards

Everyone has a favorite children's story. Mine is about my daughter when she was about four. You have to know a little bit of family dynamics to fully appreciate this.

My husband LOVES to play card games. There is not a solitaire game he doesn't know. And don't get me started on cribbage. So when the kids were young, he wanted to make sure they could play cards, too.


It's a really good way to teach kids number recognition and simple addition. (And here is a bit of history: playing cards can be traced back to the 9th century in China. The Europeans changed the images on the cards to represent royalty. Remember that factoid.)”

I had no problem. My education rationale? It's a really good way to teach kids number recognition and simple addition. (And here is a bit of history: playing cards can be traced back to the 9th century in China. The Europeans changed the images on the cards to represent royalty. Remember that factoid.)

Anyway...my husband took it upon himself to teach the little ones cards. They would practice putting cards in the right piles, sorted by suit—hearts and clubs and diamonds and spades.

He taught them which cards were more valuable. They could count using kings and queens and jacks. On occasion, they would try to make a house of cards.

I wouldn't say they were card sharks but they sure knew the basics of cards.

We were living overseas at the time. When my daughter was about four we visited London and stayed in a house right near Buckingham Palace. Every time we went anywhere, we pointed out the Palace and told her, "That is where the Queen lives."

We'd go to the park and tell her, "That is where the Queen lives."

We'd go get groceries and point out that huge building and tell her "That is where the Queen lives."

It is hard to know what is going through the head of a young child. She would stare quizzically at the guards—who of course—resembled the playing cards dad had taught her.

Finally, about the 10th time we went past the palace and said, "That's where the Queen lives" she was able to talk about what had been going through her mind.

Pointing at the building, she asked, "Where does the joker live?"

And we knew in a flash that her dad was the best teacher of playing cards in the whole wide world.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2017

Education and Democracy

I like to collect quotes. When I was in high school we read Walden. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” stays imprinted on my brain. Short enough for a tweet … especially in today’s
political climate.

I have been mulling over another quote—author unknown— so maybe I can lay claim to the idea:

“The day we turn our backs on public education is the day democracy dies.”

Let’s pretend.

What if you wanted to weaken our democracy? What would be the first target? It’s the same target that political and aristocratic elites have used throughout history. Control what people think and you are well on your way.


With the White House proposing cuts to the federal education budget and hyping all kinds of ideas on vouchers and school choice and tax incentives to lure kids away from public schools, a bright light needs to shine on what’s happening to public education.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

So how would you undermine public education? You couldn’t just do it all at once. There would be a public outcry. So chip away at it…. slowly, steadily, and methodically.

Starve the system. Pay teachers low wages…cut librarians and counselors and nurses and administrators and arts and music. Don’t teach civics and curtail the humanities. Then argue that since schools are not doing well we should look to other choices.

Divide and conquer. Convince people to split off from the public system. Create choices to make that happen. Virtual schools backed by corporate interests. Vouchers for foster children and children with special needs and low-income students. Take away that common community we know as our public schools.

Divert public money to support non-public education and private businesses. Tax credits and tax incentives for scholarship granting organizations. Tax deductions for private and religious schools and home schooling. Allow for-profit organizations to manage publicly funded schools.

Diminish the power of teacher unions. Make it easy for teachers to abandon unions; create education jobs that are not protected by collective bargaining.

Take decisions away from local communities. Support new schools created at the state level rather than by a local school district.

Create model laws for states to pass to make it easy to implement these kinds of changes.

As time goes by, each incremental change may lead to abandoning America’s commitment to a quality public education for all our children. Chip, chip, chip away until public education withers, and with it our democracy.

With the White House proposing cuts to the federal education budget and hyping all kinds of ideas on vouchers and school choice and tax incentives to lure kids away from public schools, a bright light needs to shine on what’s happening to public education.

Are these changes merely serendipity or is there more to the story?

You can dig a little deeper into this murky world that is changing public education. Note: I did not say, “attempting to change.” I said, “changing.”

Bill Moyers probes “The United States of Alec.”

“A report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of — ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council

“A Smart ALEC Threatens Public Education”

“Coordinated efforts to introduce model legislation aimed at defunding and dismantling public schools is the signature work of this conservative organization.” “http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/03/01/kappan_underwood.html

“Alec exposed”

A report on how ALEC bills would” privatize public education, crush teacher’s unions, and push American universities to the right.”


An even more detailed and disturbing look at what is happening is the controversial book “Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America” by Nancy MacLean. Praised and pilloried, it traces the history of this movement and links it to what is happening today.

There are a lot of good people working hard trying to improve our schools—many with smart. innovative ideas. But a word of caution: Each small change may be well intentioned. But in the totality, is it strengthening public education or chipping away at its foundations?

“The day we turn our backs on public education is the day democracy dies.”

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

September 2017

Thinking about Summer Reading

I am in the middle of a book called Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. When I grabbed it at the Book Shop West Portal, I assumed it had something to do with education. Any book with “thinking” in the title certainly must have something to do with how we learn. And if you read the small print, the author is a winner of the Nobel Prize in economics. I bought it anyway.


Fast decisions are frequently based on emotion and intuitionand personal experience. Slow decisions are based on data and analysis. Fast decisions are easier. They don’t take as much effort

I call it one of my sandwich books.

I read a few chapters...slowly... because it makes you think...a lot. Then I slip in a quick read, say a mystery by Lisa Scottoline, and then go back to Thinking, Fast and Slow.

The last book I slipped in as a break from Thinking was The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis. It’s a fascinating story of two Israeli psychologists whose work wins the Nobel Prize in economics for investigating how we think.

I must of had brain freeze.

Undoing Project

It took a reference at the very end of the book for me to realize this was the real life story of my sandwich book. I tell you this because this is the perfect combination of books to read. First, read Michael Lewis’ book with the personal story. Meet the people... get emotionally involved. Then read Thinking.

So what’s it about? Anyone remember “Plastics” from The Graduate? Or “Stella” from Streetcar named Desire? Or “PhoneHome” from ET?

The one word from Thinking is heuristics. Yes, I had to look it up. This is a short cut way of solving a complicated problem. And lots of times our conclusions are just plain wrong. And all kinds of people make these mistakes.

It’s how we think and make decisions. Fast decisions are frequently based on emotion and intuition and personal experience. Slow decisions are based on data and analysis. Fast decisions are easier. They don’t take as much effort. And very often, a personal experience trumps data as we jump to a conclusion. And even if we are wrong, we are convinced we are right.

Whoa. Heavy duty. Well… just a little.

But this decision-making plays out not just abstractly but in business as well as public policy. Trump vs. Clinton comes to mind. In this election, competing political styles--emotion vs. data --slugged it out for our votes.

Thinking helps you understand how your mind works. How it can be manipulated.

What factors influence our decisions. How experts can be fooled. It reminds us that we need to be vigilant in balancing our fast and slow thinking.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

July / August 2017

Congratulation Graduates!

One of the best times of the year is graduation—that celebration of hopes and dreams. A time for reflection and a few wise words.

Funny, prophetic, inspiring, or just heartfelt, graduation speeches give us a bit of a "time-out" to consider advice for a new generation.

Good News in California

The good news in California is that more and more students get a chance to hear those speeches. High school graduation rates are up, for the seventh year in a row. 83.2 percent of students graduated with their class in 2016. The state's graduation rate has increased 8.5 percentage points since the class of 2010 posted a 74.7 percent rate.   

And the percentage of students who meet the college minimum course requirements is also up, from about 38 % in 2011-12 to over 43% in 2015-15.

A Few Wise Words

Sometimes the ideas and words of graduation speeches last longer than just a few moments. Here are a few to share…

"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Steve Jobs Stanford 2005

"You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are….All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough."

Anna Quindlen Villanova 2000

"The most important words that have helped me in life when things have gone right or when things have gone wrong are 'accept responsibility.'

Billie Jean King University of Massachusetts

"Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else's path unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that."

Ellen DeGeneres Tulane University 2009

Congratulations to this year's graduates and the moms and dads and educators and others who helped our students reach this milestone!

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

June 2017

Should The School Day Start Later In California?

A big debate is brewing over what time school should start—especially for middle and high school students. This pits the importance of sleep to the health and academic success of our children against the complications of running a school district.

What's the Research?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later. Why?

They say the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. The Academy urges school start times that allow students to achieve optimal levels of sleep (8.5–9.5 hours).

The Center for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association agree schools should start later. A CDC study found that adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to:

• Be overweight.

• Not engage in daily physical activity.

• Suffer from depressive symptoms.

• Engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs.

• Perform poorly in school.

• Students who get about 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night can improve their health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life."

Would this increase graduation rates?

A recent study found that "attendance and graduation rates significantly improved in schools with delayed start times of 8:30 am or later." The study noted, "School officials need to take special notice that this investigation also raises questions about whether later start times are a mechanism for closing the achievement gap due to improved graduation rates."

Why isn't this a "no brainer" for schools?

Running schools and school districts is complicated. There are lots of moving parts: Bus transportation, employee contracts, coordinating opening times with elementary schools and neighboring districts, after and before school programs, school athletic schedules, breakfast programs, parent, staff and student work schedules….

The California Proposal

A bill is pending in the California legislature proposing to change school start time for middle and high schools to 8:30. SB 328 by Senator Anthony Portantino has started the discussion. According to the Senator, "The vast majority of middle and high schools in California begin at times that are contrary to the sleep-health-needs and developmental norms of adolescents."

What do you think about starting middle and high school at 8:30? How would you address the challenges that school districts and schools face?

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

May 2017

Should We Cut After-School Programs?

For most parents, the answer is a no-brainer. Cut after school programs? No way. We need more after school support—not less. Yet in both California and in Washington, after school programs are in danger.

Let's take a look…

Nearly half of California schools get government funding for before and after-school school programs. The money comes from a combination of sources:

• California's After School and Education Safety (ASES) program

• Federally funded 21st Century Learning Centers

These programs target low-income students and also include local community contributions.

Here's the problem:

Funding for California's After School and Safety program has not kept pace with costs. In 2002, California voters approved Proposition 49 to provide after school education and enrichment programs for children kindergarten through 9th grade. This is the proposal supported by Arnold Schwarzenegger that propelled him into California politics. Fast forward to today. Funding for ASES programs has been stagnant for a decade. Minimum wage increases and state mandated paid sick leave have raised operating costs.

So what happens?

To stay open, after school programs reduce their hours and cut academic activities.

A 2016 report from the Partnership of Children and Youth projects that during that year, programs "will have to operate with annual deficits of $10,000 - 15,000 or more per program site. " There are also estimates that if funding remains flat some programs may be forced to close.

Efforts are underway in Sacramento to increase funding. Citing the possibility that 67,000 students could potentially lose access to after school programs, Senator Leyva has introduced SB 78 to protect these programs.

Cuts in Federal Money

At the federal level, the President proposes to cut $1.2 billion from after school and summer programs, which serve nearly 1.6 million children, mostly poor. While the White House may claim that these programs don't work, there is lots of research that finds that well run after school programs work. They support learning and provide a safe place for children after school. Looking for more data? Google Fifteen Years of Evaluation of 21st Century Community Learning Centers: A Driver for Program Quality and Capacity in the Field.

For today's families, whose workday does not end at 3 pm, after school programs are increasingly essential.

Should we cut after-school programs? Ask a parent. The answer is a no-brainer. No way. We need more after school support—not less.

You can find more information about the importance of After School Programs at www.Ed100.org.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

April 2017

Vouchers: The Right Choice?

President Trump is rekindling debate about whether school vouchers are a good strategy to improve the education of low-income students. California's voters soundly rejected school voucher proposals twice. With billions potentially at stake, now is a good time to review the voucher concept.


… students in voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana scored lower on reading and math tests than similar students who remained in public schools.”

What are they? Do they work? Are there better options?

If you have limited time, here's the spoiler: Yes, there are lots of better options than vouchers to help low income students.

What are school vouchers?Vouchers are government-funded coupons good toward payment of tuition at a private school, usually including religious schools. If you trace the origin of the word "vouch" to the 1690s, a voucher was a "receipt for a business transaction."

Starting in the 1950s, economist Milton Friedman argued that market forces could help create better and more efficient schools. He suggested that students get vouchers toward payment for their education at any school, including private schools. The idea found favor with free market proponents, religious school leaders and think tanks.

Vouchers also found favor with segregationists. The timing of Friedman's proposal coincided with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which required desegregation of public schools. The desegregation order triggered a wave of white flight to private schools, which were not subject to the ruling. To thwart the law, some southern states began issuing tax-funded tuition vouchers, which were accepted at private segregated schools.

School Choice Options Although there is lively popular support for the general idea of school choice, voucher programs are a very minor mechanism for providing it. Most private school students attend a school affiliated with a religion. Most state constitutions, including California's, prohibit the use of taxpayers' money to support religious-affiliated schools. Voucher programs only exist in fifteen US States and Washington, D.C. Instead of vouchers, most states and districts have opted to deliver school choice through non-sectarian public charter schools, magnet schools, and district-wide open enrollment lotteries

Are voucher programs successful? Setting all of that aside, is there evidence that voucher programs deliver stronger educational outcomes for students than regular schools or charter schools?

The short answer is no.

There have been many studies of voucher programs, most of them sponsored by religious orders or other pro-voucher organizations with a clear bias. Early small-scale experimental programs seemed to suggest almost miraculous results, but those findings have not survived broader examination.

In 2011, the Center for Education Policy released a ten-year study of voucher outcomes, concluding "vouchers have had no clear positive effect on student academic achievement, and mixed outcomes for students overall"

In 2015 the National Bureau for Economic Research followed up with a study of similar breadth. While allowing that there have been cases where vouchers have made a positive difference for some students, the authors also noted evidence of negative effects. "A perhaps surprisingly large proportion of the most rigorous studies suggest that being awarded a voucher has an effect that is statistically indistinguishable from zero."

Do voucher programs hurt? Sometimes. A study by the Brookings Institute, On the Negative Effects on Vouchers, found that students in voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana scored lower on reading and math tests than similar students who remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. Studies in Ohio also indicate negative effects.

With these kinds of results, there is little sense in investing in programs that do not move the needle on student success.

What Works?

Money: Evidence is piling up that in schools we get what we pay for. A 2016 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that sustained increases in spending in low-income school districts were associated with increased student achievement. How much improvement? According to the study, "The implied effect of school resources on educational achievement is large."

Strategies to use money wisely: A 2016 international PISA study points to strategies that have been shown to improve educational outcomes:

Rigorous and consistent standards in all classrooms.

Investing in high quality teachers and school leaders.

Providing additional resources to support at-risk students and low performing schools.

Providing early education, after school support, health and counselors.

On-going analysis of what works and what needs to be improved--focusing on high need students.

Additional research shows that giving kids a well-rounded education that includes the arts, physical education, and summer school are also successful strategies.

The Bottom Line Vouchers should not be high on the list of strategies for systemic educational improvement. If a voucher movement leads to less money for public schools, it could do real harm.

Read Ed100.org to learn more about education.

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

March 2017

Flush with Cash

In his inaugural address, President Trump said that America's public schools are "flush with cash". Let's take a look at what "flush with cash" really looks like.


The President has enrolled his son, Barron, at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, a private school in New York City. How does it compare with an average California public school?”

The President has enrolled his son, Barron, at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, a private school in New York City. How does it compare with an average California public school?

Seriously? Which school is "flush with cash"? Based on this data, it certainly is not a California public school. On a cost-adjusted basis, our school system consistently ranks among America's most poorly funded.

Shouldn't all children have the opportunity for a tremendous public education? For more information about education, visit Ed100.org

Carol Kocivar lives in the Westside. kocivar@westsideobserver.com

February 2017

Trump That…

Ijust spent the last couple of weeks trying to decide on just the right presents for the grandkids, ages 2 and 6.

We are flying to visit them on the east coast and I am a true believer in carry-on luggage. That includes the presents. I would rather deliver them personally than have the nice folks from Fed EX drop them off.

Nothing big. Nothing fragile. Nothing heavy. Nothing with a million parts that requires you to Google "How do you put this together?"

Nothing that requires batteries or screw drivers or has little bits that get lost like the second sock in the dryer. And sorry Apple and Android and Facebook and Instagram, nothing with a screen of any kind.


How did we shop? The old fashioned way. We took out the Wish Book, the Montgomery Ward catalogue, and flipped through pages of flannel shirts, wool socks, musical instruments and holiday toys."

So what am I looking for? I guess I want to help capture the spirit of the holidays.

When I was a little girl we lived in the country. We did not have Malls or Shopping Centers. The closest store was miles away and its staples were bread and milk. How did we shop? The old fashioned way. We took out the Wish Book, the Montgomery Ward catalogue, and flipped through pages of flannel shirts, wool socks, musical instruments and holiday toys.

I don't remember what we bought. It really does not matter. What I remember is the time we all sat together in the kitchen—dreaming. I remember licking the side of the bowls from the cakes and cookies we made only a few times of the year. I remember the warmth of the room.


My gifts are small this year.

Cookie cutters in the shapes of stars and snowflakes. Measuring spoons and cups in holiday colors. Big and small spatulas—just the right size for a six year old and a two year old. A gingerbread cookie mix. And yes, a gingerbread house and train set.

Gifts of time and imagination and warmth—something we all need a little bit more of this year.

Wishing you and yours good health and good heart throughout the year.

Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

December 2016 / January 2017

Giving Thanks— Again and Again

When I think of Thanksgiving, besides turkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing, the music of life lilts through my memories. Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving reminds me of passing time.

I grew up in a small village. Just before Thanksgiving, we raked up all the leaves in our driveway into big piles to make room for family visitors.

"The falling leaves drift by the window. The autumn leaves of red and gold."

And every Thanksgiving, my grandmother played Autumn Leaves on the piano. I was enthralled. (How was I to know that it was Johnny Mercer, not Grandma Bessie, who wrote those haunting lyrics.)

To every thing there is a season…

You may think of Ecclesiastes when you hear:

"A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…"

Me? I hear music. I hear the great hit of the 60's by the Byrds. They swept Ecclesiastes into a catchy tune and simplified the lyrics:

"A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap"

It was quite the discovery for college "know-it-alls" that these timeless lyrics did not spring from the heart of a rock and roll band.

I hope you hear the music, too.

May your Thanksgiving reflect the joy of the newest family members and the memories of those we still see in faded photographs.

Carol Kocivar is a Westside children's advocate. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

November 2016

Vote Yes on Prop V: The Soda Tax

Last week, I received another one of those slick political mailers urging a "NO" vote on a "grocery" tax. It wasn't from the butchers or the bakers or the suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables. Major funding came from the American Beverage Association California PAC, which opposes a Soda Tax on the ballot in San Francisco.


The next time you get one of those mailers or see an ad on TV, think of it as a reminder:
The beverage industry is afraid, very afraid…"

I am totally offended by this campaign. Here's why:

One of the great health risks our children and families face is drinking too many sugary beverages.

According to the University of California, San Francisco, "sugar-sweetened beverages are not only the single largest source of added sugar in our diets, but also the source with the strongest link to the leading chronic diseases in America: diabetes, heart disease and dental caries."

Diabetes, heart disease, dental cavities. These are simple medical terms that everyone has heard of.

But let me make this real. Soda Kid


A recent report by Dr. Dean Shillinger, Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, tells the story:

• "It is not an understatement to say that now, in every doctor's office in America, there is a largely invisible war being waged against DM2. (Type 2 Diabetes). To place this war in metaphor, we have calculated, based on US war veteran's data and CDC statistics, that in the 10-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan, 1,572 soldiers lost a limb in combat. In that same time period, approximately 730,000 US residents (and over 70,000 Californians) lost a limb to DM2, a nearly 500-fold difference.

• "Most shocking of all is the recent observation that DM2, once known as "adult-onset diabetes" or, more colloquially, "Grandmas' disease, is affecting younger and younger people. Twenty-five years ago, diagnosing a child with DM2 was virtually unheard of…"

• "In neighborhoods with large concentrations of minority populations with low educational attainment, hospitalization for uncontrolled diabetes and its consequences (amputation, kidney failure, etc.) are 4 to 8 times higher than in other neighborhoods."

• "People with diagnosed diabetes, on average had medical expenditures approximately 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes. For the cost categories analyzed, care for people diagnosed with diabetes consumed more than 1 in 5 health care dollars in the US, and more than half of that expenditure was directly attributable to diabetes."

Had enough? Well, I have.

This is a big deal not only for the physical but also the fiscal health of our city. Below is an estimate of the costs to the City in 2013 from the budget analyst for sugar- sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Estimated costs to the city is in the lower right column: $37,257,853.

So what can we do?

On the ballot in November is Prop. V. This imposes a tax of one cent per ounce on the distribution of sugary beverages in San Francisco. The idea: Increase the cost of sugary drinks to encourage people to make healthier beverage choices.

The beverage companies understand this simple math. If people buy fewer sugary drinks, those companies lose money. Period. Bottom Line. But opposing a public health effort on these grounds is not a wining argument.

So… spend millions to change the conversation.

Why not call it a grocery tax—that might sound convincing.

Why not say you are trying to help small business owners instead of the business of BIG SODA?

Why not say politicians want to tax our groceries? Really?

Why not say we have priorities that are more important? (More important than amputations and kidney failure?)

This is a health crisis we can't ignore. The next time you get one of those mailers or see an ad on TV, think of it as a reminder:

The beverage industry is afraid, very afraid that they are going to lose lots of money if we pass this effort to improve the health of our community.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in this column are my own. I am not speaking for any organization in which I am a member.

Carol Kocivar is Carol Kocivar is a children's advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

October 2016

A Quick Look At The Teacher Shortage.

Put this under the list of "I wish it weren't so."

Schools in California are opening without enough teachers. This has been brewing for years. There are lots reasons why this is happening. Here are the most important:

Compared to other college graduates, teachers are not paid enough.

During the great recession, thousands and thousands of teachers lost their jobs.


The teacher shortage is not just because not enough people want to become teachers. A huge factor is that not enough people continue as teachers. (And yes, there is a cadre of older teachers who are retiring.)”

What was once a stable middle class job is no longer stable. And even more important, it is not "viewed" as stable.

The national education discourse has focused on blaming teachers, not improving an underfunded system. And now, the teacher pipeline is running dry.

Let's take a closer look.

Teacher Pay

Source Economic Policy Institute

A recent study from Economic Policy Institute finds that the teacher pay gap is even wider than ever.

This is a big deal. College graduates, particularly women college graduates, now have job options that pay more.

But… what about benefits? Teachers get both wages and benefits. Don't those make up the difference? The short answer is "No."

The Economic Policy Institute study finds that "although teachers on average enjoy better benefits packages than similar workers, benefits only mitigate part of the wage gap. Including benefits, teachers are still left with a record-high 11.1 percent compensation gap compared to similar workers."

Teacher Job Loss and Fewer New Teachers

The great recession not only resulted in lots of teachers losing their jobs, it created a very real sense of job insecurity. Between 2007 and 2010, there was a drop of 11 percent in California's teacher force. That is a lot of pink slips.

The pay gap, job insecurity (and yes, teacher bashing), means fewer and fewer people enroll in California's teacher preparation courses.

Will this be changing fast?

Based on a recent ACT survey of incoming college students, the news is not so good. They found:

"Interest among ACT-tested graduates in becoming educators continues to decline at an alarming rate.

Students interested in education have lower-than-average achievement levels, particularly in STEM areas.

Interest in pursuing an education career is low among males.

In general, there is a lack of diversity among students interested in education."

An Underfunded System

The teacher shortage is not just because not enough people want to become teachers. A huge factor is that not enough people continue as teachers. (And yes, there is a cadre of older teachers who are retiring.)

Teachers need training and support, especially in high need areas such as math, science and special education. Alas, over the past years, this too has been the victim of an underfunded system. California is a high cost state. Per student funding, when adjusted for cost of living, still remains near the bottom of the nation. Unfortunately, this translates into the largest class sizes in the nation, as well as under-prepared and under supported teachers in too many classrooms.

The good news is that we can do something about this. (Hint: Support more funding and teacher preparation and training in our public schools.)

For more information on the teacher shortage, and strategies on how to address this, read Ed100.org and The Learning Policy Institute's Brief on Addressing California's Emerging Teacher shortage.

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

September 2016

Summer Learning: The Next BIG Ed Reform?

It's that time of the year when schools and libraries start rolling out summer reading lists. And for good reason. A ton of research tells us that summer learning is a big deal.

Summer Learning and the Achievement Gap

Without summer learning, kids fall behind — especially poor kids. A study by John Hopkins University finds that lack of summer learning contributes substantially to the achievement gap between low and higher income students.

Beyond Reading Lists

Summer reading lists are GREAT. You can find some of my favorites at the bottom of this post. But there is now significant evidence that more needs to be done.

Is "summer vacation" — as we know it — a good idea? Is there actually someone at home during the summer to take care of the kids? For too many families, the answer is "no". A recent article in the New York Times, "The Families That Can't Afford Summer", highlights these challenges and the growing need to support low cost summer learning opportunities.

Is Your School District Investing in Summer?

The Partnership for Children and Youth provides a guidebook for parents on how to advocate for high-quality summer learning programs. They also identify school districts that invest in summer learning. Good News. San Francisco is one of them!

California's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) provides school districts with significant flexibility in how to invest in students, especially students in poverty, learning English, or in Foster care. If summer learning options aren't available through your school district, that represents a budget choice.

Summer Reading Lists

No, I did not forget.

The American Library Association provides lists by age group, starting birth-preschool.

Reading Rockets not only has reading lists but also provides summer reading tips. You'll receive 3-4 text messages each week, all summer long.

GreatSchools provides a massive list in 18 categories.

School Districts also team up with their local libraries to create local lists. Ask a librarian for advice!

Don't Forget Your Public Library

This year the program is called "Summer Stride" and it runs through August 14th at all San Francisco libraries. Here are the details:

Summer readers of all ages can choose between the 2016 Reading Ranger Badge or the 2016 library tote bag as their finishing prize for Summer Stride.

All ages will be eligible to receive the prize after completing 15 hours of reading, listening, or learning! Both prizes feature artwork by Christian Robinson.

Grownups Need Summer Reading, Too.

Check out www.Ed100.org —This is a free on-line course that helps you understand California's education system.

Tip: A great resource for parents as you get ready for the next school year.

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

July 2016

Helping Our Youngest Children

One of the great challenges in education is "How can we close the achievement gap?" But let's ask a different and probably more important question: "Can we avoid the gap in the first place?"

There are never magic answers in education... but based on research, early learning comes pretty close. An ounce of prevention is worth about half a pound of cure. It appears the public is starting to understand this.


…amazing advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics that now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains. Early learning goes way beyond Pre-K.”


amazing advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics that now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains. Early learning goes way beyond Pre-K

Public Support for Early Education

A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California indicates an overwhelming majority (68%) of Californians see pre-school as important to K-12 success.

Despite this base of public support, we are not meeting the needs of many low-income children.

During the deep recession, about 110,000 child care and early care education slots—25 percent of the services previously available—were eliminated. While some funding has been restored, a new policy brief, Unmet Need for Preschool Services in California: Statewide and Local Analysis, finds that many children still do not have access to early childhood education programs.

More than 33,000 California 4 year olds from low-income families are not enrolled in any of the publicly funded school readiness programs for which they are eligible.

Approximately 137,000 3 year olds are not enrolled.

Birth to Three: The Critical years

There have been amazing advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and genomics that now give us a much better understanding of how early experiences are built into our bodies and brains. Early learning goes way beyond Pre-K.

New Efforts to Support Early Learning

The Right Start Commission's new report, Rebuilding the California Dream, is part of a high-powered advocacy effort to create a child-centered system that nurtures every child from the beginning of life.

Governor Brown is proposing a block grant (to be revised based on community input) for early childhood education, but without new funding.)

The California Legislative Analyst recommends full-day preschool for all low-income working families.

The Assembly Education Committee passed the Quality Early Education and Development Act (AB 2660 – McCarty), which requires the California Department of Education to develop a multi-year plan for a pre-kindergarten system.

The Learning Policy Institute just published The Building Blocks of High-Quality Early Childhood Education Programs, which identifies 10 important elements of high-quality early childhood education programs.

The rub, of course, in all these discussions is linking good research, public will, and additional resources.

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

June 2016

What Happens After School Matters

There is a new survey by the Partnership for Children & Youth that deserves our attention. It finds that lack of funding may cause poor children to lose quality after-school programs.

This is a big deal.

After-school programs are not only a critical resource for working parents, they are an important strategy for closing the achievement gap and keeping our children safe in the afternoon hours.


California's After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program supports over 4,000 elementary and middle schools offering after-school and summer programs to more than 400,000 students daily. These programs operate at high poverty schools, those with an average of over 80% of students participating in the free and reduced-price meals program.

Research (a good thing) shows that after-school programs improve school attendance, English fluency, academic success, crime prevention, improved health and nutrition, and social-emotional skill development.

They are also cost-effective, with $2 to $9 dollars saved for every $1 invested.

The Problem

While the costs have increased, funding for ASES has remained the same for a decade. The survey found that 92% of ASES-funded respondents have been negatively impacted by the stagnant ASES funding.

29% are very likely to close in the next 2 years without an increase to the ASES daily rate.

35% are now serving fewer kids, a 46% increase from last year's survey.

64% have reduced staff hours, a 28% increase from last year's survey

More than 86% find it more difficult to attract and retain qualified staff (unable to offer competitive pay).

Legislative Proposals

There are several bills pending in the legislature that try to address this issue:

Assembly Bill 2663 proposes to increase funding by $73 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year to raise the daily ASES funding formula from $7.50 to $8.50 per student.

Assembly Bill 1567 would waive fees and give priority access to state-funded afterschool programs for children who are homeless, and those in the foster care system.

Find out more…

Ed100.org takes a closer look at after school programs. Changes in the structure of the American family and workforce have made after-school hours a critical issue for parents and school district leaders.

You can find this at in Lesson 4.7: ed100.org/time/afterschool

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

May 2016

A Quick Peak at the New Education Law:

Every Students Succeeds Act

One of my favorite quotes about education concerns pigs. That's right. Pigs.

"Just weighing a pig doesn't fatten it."

You can weigh the pig all the time but it doesn't make it fatter. The reference, of course, is to the much maligned "test, test, test" theory of educational improvement in "No Child Left Behind" This is commonly called NCLB by those who just can't resist an acronym.


You can weigh the pig all the time but it doesn't make it fatter.”

The point:

Testing by itself does not improve education. Call it high stakes or low stakes or strip steaks or Kansas City steaks, not matter how you slice it, testing does not make our kids smarter.

Well, NCLB has just been replaced by the new Every Student Succeeds Act. Yes, they call it "ESSA", but what can I say?

A little history here…the important role of the federal government in education is to improve the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. Under President Johnson's War on Poverty, the federal government's role increased by giving states extra money to help our most needy students.

The challenge, of course, is how do we spend that money wisely and how do we measure success.

Fast forward to NCLB. The core goal of NCLB was for all students to meet state proficiency targets by the year 2014. Like the students of Lake Woebegone, NCLB envisioned an America "where all the children are above average." (Spoiler Alert: It did not happen.)

The new law takes a different direction.

Instead of an accountability system based on high stakes testing and mission control in Washington DC, states are now given a great deal more flexibility in how to get the job done.

Here is a quick run down of some of the important features of ESSA:

States can set their own goals for student achievement, graduation rates and English language proficiency—with an eye to closing the achievement gaps.

• They can use "multiple measures" to see how they are doing. (This is "code" for saying that high stakes tests no longer rule.)

• They can also look at other indicators of school quality: student and educator engagement, opportunities for advanced coursework, postsecondary readiness, and school climate/safety.

States have to provide help to low performing schools. If things are not going so well, the states –not the federal government—decide the strategies they think will help.)

Schools provide targeted help for students who are falling behind.

States must have challenging academic standards. (It is their choice as to which standards to use.)

A biggie: Teacher evaluations are no longer tied closely to student test scores.

And yes, students still need to take tests in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, but the high stakes use of those tests has been significantly reduced.

The good news:

This new system is starting to look a lot like what California has long championed, with greater local control of education decisions and more parent and community involvement.

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

April 2016

Curtains up! Light the Lights…

Maybe it is local pride but I think San Francisco has the best public school arts programs in the whole state. Hands down. A large part is our thriving arts community — coupled with a vote of our citizens to invest in arts in our public schools.

Lucky for us, we can all enjoy performances in the 'hood.

Here are some events to put on your calendar at nearby Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, 555 Portola Drive.

Note: Please make sure to double check times on the school web site. You can purchase tickets at: sfsota.org/upcoming-events/

Spring musical: Cabaret

March 11-13 and 18-20

8 pm Friday and Saturday. 2 pm Sunday

Check out the local student cast on line: sfsota.org/cabaret/

The most memorable songs in theatre history, including Cabaret,Willkommen, and Maybe this time. Winner of 12 tony awards and 8 academy awards.

Chamber music

Thursday, march 24, 2016

7:30pm 9:00pm

Instrumental music, piano, band, orchestra.

Shorts - a festival of 10 minute plays

Wednesday, March 23.Friday, March 25

4:30pm 6:00pm

Creative writing

Friday, April 8, 2016

7:30pm 9:00p

Musical theatre

Saturday, April 9, 2016

7:30pm 9:00pm

Junior Senior Visual Art Show

Thursday, April 14, 2016

5:30pm 7:30pm

World Music

Friday, April 15 and Saturday April 16

7:30pm 9:00pm

Im Variety Show

Thursday, April 21, 2016

7:30pm 8:30pm

Opera Scenes

Friday, April 22, and Saturday, April 23

7:30pm 9:30pm

Theatre - The Conference Of The Birds

April 23,24,25, 26, 27

Asawa Sota Outdoor Stage

6th Annual Tech Fashion Show

Friday, April 29, 2016

7:30pm 9:30pm


Saturday, April 30, 2016

7:30pm 9:30pm

Check Web Site For Times: sfsota.Org/Upcoming

March 2016

The Checklist No School Should Be Without.

How do YOU think your school district should spend its money?



• Smaller classes?

• More counselors?

• Summer school?

• Arts and PE?

My bet is that not many parents at your school tell the school district how they think it should spend education dollars.

But here’s the deal: School districts are now required to find out what parents, students, and community members think as they create their budgets.

For the past year, I have been working on a web resource called Ed100 (www.Ed100.org) to help parents and school communities understand education issues. I want to let you in on a great feature. (Yes, I said “great” just because I like it sooo much.) It is the Parent Checklist. You can use it to identify what you have at your school and what you need to make it even better.

Starting this semester, all school districts start to create budgets for next year. The Parent Checklist can help you do YOUR homework so that when it is time for community input, you know the issues.

You can find the Parent Checklist just by doing a quick Google search. (Hint: type in “Ed100 Parent Checklist”.) The checklist can be downloaded and shared with your parents and community members.

It asks all the important questions AND it is written just for parents—NO thick legalese or education jargon. What issues you should look at?

• How much money does your school actually get?

• Is there time for quality instruction for all students?

• Does your school provide a broad curriculum for ALL students?

• How well are students doing?

• Are families engaged at your school?

• Do students feel safe and supported?

The checklist even links to lessons in Ed100, in English or in Spanish, in case you need more information.

Checklist Sample:

Take a look at the issues covered in the section on Basic School Services.

Does Your School Have…

Current Status

What Needs to Be Done?
At your school
At your district

Fully Credentialed Teachers

Check your School Accountability Report Card (SARC) Background: Ed100 lesson 3.2


Staff Professional Development

Check your School Accountability Report Card

Ask your school or district leadership

Instructional materials and instruction aligned to Common Core Standards

Background: Ed100 chapter 6

Safe Facilities

Check your SARC

Background: Ed100 lesson 5.9

Access to a library and librarian

Background: Ed100 lesson 8.2


Background: Ed100 lesson 2.7

School Nurse

Background: Ed100 lesson 2.3

Does your school have all of these? (With the California teacher shortage and the transition to new education standards, these are particularly important this year.)

Here are some ideas on how to use the Parent Checklist:

1. Share it with your principal and identify issues that are important at your school.

2. Discuss the checklist at your PTA meetings.

3. Involve your School Site Council (SSC), English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC) as well as teachers, staff and service providers.

After getting input from your school community, share the results with your school board and school district administration. (Now that is real parent engagement!)

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

February 2016

My New Boy Friend

Ijust got off the phone with my new boyfriend. (My husband Terry ran off to the gym and I ran to do FACETIME.)

So what if he is only 14 months old.

So what if most of our conversation revolves around pointing to my nose and seeing if he does the same thing.

I am absolutely sure he knows exactly who I am—even though he lives on the East Coast and we live in San Francisco. He blows kisses into the phone every time I call. No further proof needed.

No one I know has been spared the pictures.

Just before I started writing this column I was in the produce market in West Portal. The phone rang. It was HIM! (Of course, I shared the screen shot with the women behind the counter as we paid for milk and tea.)

I have shared his image with so many friends that I now have a statistically valid poll that confirms he is indeed the cutest little boy in the world.

The one thing that is so confusing to me is that I had the same reaction to my daughter’s first child, our granddaughter.

Cute is too bland a description. Luscious. Adorable. With apologies to technology, they are the Apple of my eye.

Hmm. Maybe the word I am searching for is “charismatic.” Does that mean I can’t keep my eyes off them? That’s it. Charismatic. That seems to capture that special bond.

I am very aware that I should refrain from SPOILING the grandkids. I try to be very thoughtful in what I give them. Books, of course, lots of books. I think I have spent more hours in the West Portal Book Store in the children’s section selecting just the right one than the average five year old. Over and over again.

And stickers. I pop a seasonal assortment in the suitcase when I visit. Instructions: share when needed. (Those go right next to the newest set of markers and crayons and paper…the greatest excuse to spend hours creating with the five year old.)

I guess you get the picture. I like being a grandma.

Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season.

Ohh…and take pictures. Sharing is the best part.

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

December 2015

Teachable Moments: Election Day

Bet you don’t think of yourself as a civics teacher.


Parents and families are the first and BEST civics teachers. Ever.

I am not talking about lectures on the separation of powers among the judicial, legislative and executive branches.

I am talking about “teachable” moments.”

• Election Day.

• Dinnertime discussions.

• Helping with a food drive.

• Volunteering at your school.

• Asking kids what they think.

With election-day moments away, here are some tips on how to use those moments. (Note: If you are reading this after Nov. 3, great news: You can start preparing NOW for 2016.

Discuss Election Issues With The Kids.

We are not lacking for hot topics: For the younger kids, how about a discussion about paid parental leave? Should parents have paid time off to help take care of a new baby?

For the older kids, affordable housing, clean energy, neighborhood rentals…these all can be items to talk about.

Let your kids see the political mailers. Compare the messages with them. See what they think.

Share the voter pamphlet. Ask it they would like to help you do your homework for Election Day.

But don’t limit the discussion to deciding how to vote. Encourage children to read about current events. Ask their opinions. Help them think through an issue. Even if they come to a different conclusion than you, this is good preparation for decisions they will have to make in school and life.

Take Your Kids With You To Vote.

Kids are more involved if you are involved. If you are eligible to vote, taking kids to the polling booth models great civic engagement.

Younger kids enjoy wearing stickers. The “I voted” sticker counts. High school students can act as poll workers. Here is where you can find an application1.

Students, teachers and principals also can participate in the My Vote California Student Mock Election. For more information2.

Encourage Your Kids To Help In Their Schools And In The Community

Local communities now have a greater say in deciding how education dollars are spent. This is a new and important area for student involvement. Ask your kids to tell you what they think is important. Encourage them to go to PTA and community meetings and let grownups know their top issues. School districts are now required to ask how we should invest in our schools. Encourage the kids to make their voices heard.

Also, invite students to your PTA meeting to share ideas and suggestions on how to improve your school. One good resource to learn more about education issues is www.ED100.org.

From the YMCA to the SF SPCA to the SF Marin Food Bank, there are volunteer opportunities for kids throughout San Francisco. What are you kids interested in?

Volunteering is one of the best ways for kids to learn about how we can help build a better world.

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

1. sos.ca.gov/elections/s


2. os.ca.gov/elections/studentmockelection.htm

November 2015

So How Well Are They Doing?

Istill have that wooden yardstick attached to the wall in our hallway. At the top are my two kids’ names.

Lines in colored marker show just how tall each was at every birthday celebration.

(Well, almost every birthday.) Some years we cheated a bit and did a mid-year measurement.


Comparing this year’s test scores to those in the past won’t work. They measure different skills.”

They are now grown up.

If I put a yardstick today over the top of each head, it would balance almost perfectly. While they grew in bits and spurts…one a little taller than the other at various times….now they are just about even.

Last month, I did a double check on the yardstick. My grandchildren (almost one and almost six) were visiting. How did they stack up?

We all do a bit of measuring.

Are my kids on track? When do they start to crawl? When do they start to walk? While “ Run Jane Run” probably isn’t the first sentence they will read, I am interested in all these little milestones.

(I put my internet search engine on private browsing so no one will know how many times I visit the Child Development site to see what kids are supposed to do at each age.)

And that brings me to those new assessments in our schools.

What do they mean? How well are our kids doing?

Regardless of your political leanings on testing, it is important to be able to assess in some way if our kids are measuring up.

This past month, California rolled out the results of new assessments based on new education standards: The Common Core.

(There are two NEW things happening at the same time. (1) New Standards – Common Core, and (2) a new assessment, called Smarter Balanced “SBAC”, to measure these standards.)

Schools now have a SBAC report that helps them understand how students are meeting those new standards. Parents receive individual student scores. (You can find the school and district results by pasting this in your browser: 2015 Results for English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics

Guess what? Not every child is above average.

Some kids (and schools) did better than others. A broad generalization but here goes: poor kids did not do as well as kids from higher income backgrounds.

San Francisco again did better than other urban school districts and the state average.

Half of the S.F. students hit proficiency levels.

A couple of things to know:

Tests are just one small measure of student progress.

Our schools and teachers are transitioning to new standards designed to prepare children for college and careers. These emphasize skills in problem solving, communication, and analysis.

Comparing this year’s test scores to those in the past won’t work. They measure different skills.

The first year of a new test is the base line. We need to see how well schools and kids do over time.

Not all kids start at the same place. Poverty, health, and a sense of security play a huge role in how well kids do. Measuring student growth over time is essential.

We have a new yardstick in California. Let’s make sure we keep an eye on what it measures. And yes, just like our kids, growth will probably come in fits and spurts.

I hope that years from now, when all the colorful marks are on this new yardstick, that California will proudly display this on its the wall to show how well our kids have grown.

You can find more detailed information about Common Core standards and Student testing on www.Ed.100.org

9.3 Tests

6.1 Great Expectations: How Do Common Core Standards Work?

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

October 2015

Proposition 13 Reform

‘If it ain’t broke…don’t fix it.’ This is common sense wisdom— seldom heeded.

But let’s flip that around: ‘If it is broke…please, please, fix it.’

That’s what a lot of folks are now thinking about Proposition 13, the tsunami of tax reform that limited the property tax rate in California.


Since 1978, the state budget has paid most of our school expenses through a volatile income tax system — a huge shift from school funding once based primarily on stable local property tax revenues.”

Homeowners love it. Rising property taxes seldom price mom and dad out of their home anymore. (Definitely a good thing.)

But for large corporations and commercial property, loopholes keep their property taxes artificially low. (A good thing? Not so much.)

In fact, since Prop 13 was passed, the burden of total property taxes has shifted significantly. The homeowners’ share statewide has increased from about 55% to 72%, while the commercial, industrial, and agricultural share has decreased from 45% to just 28%.

Simplified…really simplified…. Prop. 13 did two big things:

• It decreased property taxes and made it a lot harder to raise taxes.

• It set a maximum property tax rate of 1 percent based on 1975-76 values and allowed annual increases by the rate of inflation, up to 2 percent. Essentially, property tax is now based on what you pay for the property—not its current market value. Additional increases can only occur upon the change in ownership or completion of new construction.

It required two-thirds votes to increase taxes at the state and local levels.

School Funding Drops

Prop. 13 flipped school funding on its head…and started the long decline in our investment in education in California.

Those decreased property taxes—the ones that kept many grandmas and grandpas from losing their homes... no longer met the needs of our schools. Since 1978, the state budget has paid most of our school expenses through a volatile income tax system — a huge shift from school funding once based primarily on stable local property tax revenues.

Talk about reforming Prop. 13 is not new.

For years, a variety of tweaks and manipulations have tried to address the Prop. 13 generated budget shortfalls in education and public services.

The next funding crisis is on the horizon. The temporary Prop. 30 sales and income taxes will soon expire, creating a loss of billions of dollars in education funding.

There is a new urgency to the conversation

Make it Fair California is the latest reform effort… and this one looks like it has legs.

Their goal: Protect homeowners but close the corporate loopholes.

The coalition proposes reassessing big commercial and industrial property at fair market value—specifically exempting homeowners, renters and owners of agricultural lands. The increased revenues would go to support schools and local services.

A Senate constitutional amendment, SCA 5, by Senators Hancock and Mitchell, seeks to make these changes.

What would the impact be?

A recent study by USC Dornsife researchers estimates that owners of under assessed commercial and industrial properties are avoiding over $9 billion in local property taxes that could be going to support schools, community colleges, and other community services such as public safety, fire protection, libraries, and parks.

This proposed tax reform is one to keep an eye on.

It is timely.

It does not increase taxes on mom and pop.

And it would be up to 99 per centers to decide if they want to increase revenue by taxing the corporations.

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

September 2015

Take the Test!

How much do you know about education?

Let’s take a short quiz.

How well are California’s children doing on the Nation’s Report Card?

☐ Above the national average?

☐ At the national average?

☐ Well below the national average?

What gets more funding in the state budget?

☐ Prisons and corrections?

☐ Schools?

☐ Social Services?

As the economy improves, more people are enrolling in courses to become teachers in California.

☐ True

☐ False

A good strategy to close the achievement gap is to give children who are lagging behind extra remedial classes and cut arts and physical education.

☐ True

☐ False

Common Core and STEM are concepts that are learned in biology.

☐ True

☐ False

BONUS Question

Poor children get more state education dollars than middle and upper income children in California.

☐ True

☐ False

How’d you do?

We all have opinions. No one is short on that score. But how much did you really know?

“How much do you know about education?” is not an idle question. It is a bit more serious.


Because the success of one of the biggest changes in California education policy depends on how well we can answer this question.

Here is what happened: Decisions on how we spend most education dollars are now made in local communities, no longer in Sacramento.

Under a new state policy, called the Local Control Funding Formula or LCFF, school districts get their money from the state— without lots of strings attached.

BUT— there is always a BUT. School districts are now required to get input from parents and community members on how to spend that money.

Every year, your school district should be asking parents and community members how money should be invested in local schools. And they need good answers.

Where do you find them? Check out Ed100.org

Ed100.org is a free online course for parents who want to help improve their local schools. Plainly worded lessons help you explore the education system. No jargon. No partisan slant. Written by education experts who know Sacramento and local schools.


Sorry….but I really am going to ask you to do your homework.

Question 1. Read Lesson 1.1 in www.Ed100.org

California Context: Are California’s Schools Really Behind? (Hint: I would not bet the house on answers 1 and 2.)

Question 2. Read Lesson 8.1 in www.Ed100.org

Spending: Does California Skimp on Education? (Hint: There are a lot more students in school than prisoners in prisons.)

Question 3. Read Lesson 3.2 in www.Ed100.org

Preparation and Certification: How To Make a Teacher. (Hint: Thousands and thousands of education jobs disappeared in the last decade.)

Question 4. Read Lesson 6.8 The Arts in www.Ed100.org. and

Lesson 6.9 PE and Athletics. (Hint: Think about the skills our children need: creativity, innovation, social skills. And think about how young children love to move.)

Question 5. Read Lesson 6.1 in www.Ed100.org

Great Expectations: How Do Common Core Standards Work? and 6.4 STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. (Hint: Core and stem may sound like biology but….)

Bonus Question: Read Lesson 8.5 in www.Ed100.org

Local Control Funding Formula: LCFF Dictates How State Funds Flow to School Districts. (Hint: It is just the opposite of what most people think.)

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

Disclosure: I helped write ED100 to help create informed parents and community leaders who can work together to help our children succeed.

July-August 2015

Summer Learning...or Not

Ironically, one of the best ways to address the achievement gap is not just during the school year but also during the summer.


According to the National Summer Learning Association, more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income children can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.

The graph below, from www.summermatters2you.net, illustrates how children fall behind year after year.graphic

High-quality and engaging summer programs can help close this income-based achievement gap. And note, we are not just talking about “summer school.” High quality summer learning encourages students to be lifelong learners, rather than solely classroom learners.

Here are six signs of a great summer learning program from Summer Matters:

Broadens horizons – Exposes students to new adventures, skills and ideas such as a nature walk, new computer program, museum visit or live performance.

Includes a wide variety of activities – Such as reading, writing, math, science, arts and public service projects – in ways that are fun and engaging.

Helps youth build mastery – By improving something they enjoy and care about, such as creating a neighborhood garden, writing a healthy snacks cookbook or operating a robot.

Fosters cooperative learning – By working with their friends on team projects and group activities such as a neighborhood clean-up, group presentation or canned food drive.

Promotes healthy habits – By providing nutritious food, physical recreation and outdoor activities.

Lasts at least one month – Giving youth enough time to benefit from their summer learning experience.

Summer in the City

There is good news on this front in San Francisco. This summer, an additional $1.8 million supports summer programming. These additional funds, approved by San Francisco voters in November 2014 as part of Proposition C, will help children and youth access high quality summer programs throughout San Francisco.

Resources to check out:

The Department of Children, Youth and Their Families: An extensive list of summer camps and programs: Free, low cost. Offering scholarships and for ages 2 to 5. Every weekday from June 1 to August 14, 2015, anyone under the age of 18 can receive a free lunch and a free snack at over 65 sites throughout San Francisco. www.Dcyf.org

California Academy of Sciences: Science-based youth leadership development programs for Teens. 55 Music Concourse Drive (415) 379-8000 www.calacademy.org

Stonestown Family YMCA: A wide variety of summer camp experiences.

333 Eucalyptus Drive San Francisco, http://www.ymcasf.org/stonestown

SF Public Library: Lots of programs including a Family Pass to enjoy 23 SF attractions from museums to the zoo to swimming pools. Big News is The Mix at SFPL, a youth-designed, teen learning space for ages 13-18 to explore, create and develop digital media and computer skills as well as discover and engage with the Library’s traditional books and materials. In addition to a physical location at the San Francisco Main Library, other youth-focused digital media programs will take place throughout SFPL’s 27 branch libraries in a program called The Mix on the Move.

You can also find calendars of events for activities at our local libraries—story time, pre-school films, teen activities etc. on the www.SFPL.org calendar

de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park: Free Saturday Classes for

children ages 4 through 12; Art After School for children in 1st through 8th grades;

Summer Art Camp for children ages 6–12; Artist Studio for Families with Children. https://deyoung.famsf.org/families

2015 San Francisco Summer Camps! Provides an extensive list of summer camps in arts, sports, academics and specialty camps http://www.sanfranciscosummercamps.org

SF Kids.org: Not only provides lists of summer programs but also a calendar of family events.

Want to find out more about summer learning loss? Check out lesson 4.6 Summer: Time to Learn, or Time to Forget? on www.Ed100.org

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

June 2015

Déjà vu vu vu

Time plays tricks.

The interconnectedness of today and yesterday and even tomorrow are not always apparent in the here and now.

Huh? Example please.

I recently spent a couple of days in Sacramento at a conference on Early Learning. If you are interested in how children learn, it was a sort of “pig in mud” experience.

We all know that getting kids ready for school is something that happens long before that panicked trip to the store to make sure we have all the accouterments for the first day of school.

Backpack. Check.

Notebook. Check.

Vocabulary. Not so fast.

Social skills. Hmmm.

You can’t put a checkmark next to vocabulary development and social skills at the last minute.

The interconnectedness of today and yesterday and even tomorrow are not always apparent in the here and now.

What we know and how we make sure all kids have the support they need takes a large conversation. That really was the purpose of the Sacramento event. Aptly called Stronger Together: Embracing the Whole Child, it brought together a wide range of topics.

(I always say that if I can bring just one really good idea home from a conference, it is worth it. Well, I got more than one.)

When we talk about early learning, it is not just pre-school.

It really starts at the beginning. Some call it Birth to Three.

However you label it, thinking that it is an investment in pre-school alone really misses the boat.

Early learning goes beyond just cognitive development, measured frequently by how many words a child knows by three, or how many words a child knows by five to be ready for kindergarten.

Skills, not just knowledge, are important.

Skills can be acquired: Self-control, Emotional Development, Early Life Abilities.

And yes, it is a lot about relationships.

I urge you—after you finish this column—to take a look at a YouTube video Still Face Experiment with Dr. Edward Tronick. If you ever doubted the importance of supporting emotional development in young children, a quick look at this video will help you understand how important strong on-going relationships can be.

A one-year-old child is playing with mom. Smiling, laughing. Then mom puts on the “still face”. She does not react to the child. Within seconds, the child senses the lack of emotional support. He goes from concern to despair within a minute. And then back to happy with a reassuring smile from mom.

The interconnectedness of today and yesterday and even tomorrow are not always apparent in the here and now.

The time spent supporting a young baby is priceless. Put in economic terms, early investment is much more important that late remediation.

Yes. Time plays tricks.

Think about that one-minute and that one more minute and that one more minute when you were just too busy to spend with a baby.

Think about some public policy issues.

The value of paid family leave.

The value of early health care

The value of maternity support for families.

The interconnectedness of today and yesterday and even tomorrow are not always apparent in the here and now.

You can find more information about Early Learning by visiting “The Water Cooler Conference” web page, co-sponsored by the Advancement Project and the California Department of Education.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside.

May 2015

Is there more money for schools?

Depends on how you are counting.

The headlines say the budget news out of Sacramento looks great for schools. For next year, 2015-16, Governor Brown proposes increasing K-12 education funding by about $7 billion.


That means more money for California schools – doesn’t it?


Back to even is not enough.”

Let’s take a closer look.

Are we really investing MORE in our schools or are we just digging out of an economic hole? Figuring that out is a little like watching the stock market.

Let’s say you bought a stock late in 2007 for $100 per share. Then when the economy crashed, its value dropped by 30 points, to $70. Fast forward to this year, over seven years later. The stock is back up to its original value.

The good news: you have recovered what you lost.

The bad news: no profit and your investment has lost ground to inflation, to say nothing of how the downturn affected the company you invested in. It was forced to cut key personnel, postpone pay raises or reduce salaries, and eliminate some key operations in order to make ends meet.

That is what has happened to school districts in California.

Back to even is not enough.

In the 2007-08 school year, this state’s investment in its schools was at a high point. Yet even then, California lagged most of the nation in what it spent per student and also in student performance on national tests. In addition, the state had used a series of accounting tricks and I.O.U.s to schools to get through previous hard times.

We’re about back to where we were before the great recession.

Based on data from Education Week, school district expenditures per pupil in 2007-08 (adjusted for the cost of living) averaged:

• $8,852 in California;

• $11,223 in the United States; and

• $12,559 in Massachusetts, the state with the highest student performance.

Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are often used to compare student performance among states and in 2007-08 California’s students were far behind most others.

The percentages of students who scored as proficient or above in 8th grade reading were:

• 29% in California;

• 34% in the U.S. as a whole; and

• 48% in Massachusetts.

After 2007-08 the bottom fell out of the state’s funding for K-12 schools. Average school district expenditures per pupil in California had decreased to $8,308 per student by 2011-12, even as the U.S. average went up to $11,735.

Well, now it’s 2015.

Yes, thanks to California’s rebounding economy and Proposition 30, the state is restoring education funding. We’re about back to where we were before the great recession.

There are clouds on the horizon.

Proposition 30 will soon expire, which could mean a net loss to education funding of about $3 billion, depending on the state’s overall economy. That’s a cut of about $500 per student.

In addition, the state is finally addressing teacher pensions. That’s a good thing, but it means school districts will have to pay more into the state’s pension fund.

According to one estimate, that will total $1 billion in 2015-16 and will rise to $3.1 billion per year in additional payments by 2019-20. Those together nearly equal this year’s increases.

What California settles for as “normal” other states would find completely unacceptable.

Other states, including high achievers like Massachusetts, continue to invest more in their schools while California struggles to keep the status quo.

The hard reality, however, is that the conditions we settle for as “normal” in California would be completely unacceptable in most other states.

Is California willing to invest in its children and its future?

It will take state-level decisions to address the question of how much money California is willing to invest in its schools.

Yes, the news is good this year, but the actual amount schools are getting only looks good compared to where we were a few years ago, not compared to what other states provide and what would enable our schools to provide the kind of educational programs our wish list reflects.

The future of our children and the economy of the state depend on how Californians look at the long-term options for strengthening our education investment.

Want to learn more about education funding and other important issues? Check out Ed100.org. Quick short lessons will help you out!

For nearly 20 years, Mary Perry served as deputy director of EdSource. A generation of parent leaders learned the vagaries of education finance from her. She is now an independent education consultant.

Carol Kocivar is former President of the California Parent Teachers Assn. and she lives in the Westside.

April 2015

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.”graphic

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. Kocivar

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 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 shifted from 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 needs For 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