Dear El Tecolote readers:
MLVS would like to take this opportunity to respond to Gabriela Aleman’s article in El Tecolote on June 1st 2017, entitled “Student gives inside account of MLVS’s recent struggles”. Unfortunately, MLVS was not asked to comment on the concerns expressed here before the article went to press.
At any institution, there will be students and/or employees who have a complaint that needs response, and MLVS is no different. MLVS stands by the quality of its education. In our Professional Cooking program, students learn everything from safety and sanitation, knife skills, pasta and pizza from scratch, meat and seafood options, sauces, breads, salads, and more. While we are proud of the work that we do, and of our faculty and staff, there is always opportunity to improve. We will be following up on the student’s concerns expressed in El Tecolote’s article by meeting with students directly, and also administering anonymous surveys to all students so that they may express their concerns or suggestions for improvement. Retaliation is not in our vocabulary, and students’ concerns are honored and taken seriously at all times. We invite anyone to visit the school during our regular operating hours to view our programs firsthand.
The budget for all of our programs is based on reimbursements from City contracts that do not necessarily cover the cost of running each program. In fact, MLVS makes significant in-kind contributions to the culinary program to increase the food supply budget, as well as other areas. While the budget includes food supplies for practical use in the kitchen, there is not a budget for large portions of food for each student to eat full meals, but we try to include this as a perk in the program as often as possible, to the extent that sometimes students are able to take food home. Unfortunately, MLVS is not always able to add on extra, because we continue to run on a shoestring budget, to which any other small nonprofit institution can attest. This is not a for-profit institution, but rather one that works hard to make ends meet within its limited means to continue our mission of providing quality education for free to the neighborhood’s and city’s most underserved populations.
Regarding the MLVS Public Board meeting on May 18 (not May 11, as the article states): This public meeting was posted in the building for students, staff, and the public prior to the meeting, and all were welcome. MLVS believes there was a miscommunication between Chef Instructor Raul Garcia and the students. Chef Raul simply didn’t need help that day to set up 50 chairs for a public meeting, and pay additional wages to do so. (Students are paid staff for special events.) “Just a community meeting” was a statement referring to the lack of preparation required, and at no point was meant to imply that students were not welcome. It was anticipated that students would have attended, as the signs were posted, but we also understand that many MLVS students are often busy in the evening with jobs or family obligations. After the meeting, the Director visited all classrooms to speak with the students about what had occurred in the meeting, and invited any concerns to be expressed to her, the board, or other staff. We will continue to involve students to keep them in the loop by talking to classes directly as well as posting, and ensuring that they are an active part of decision making. MLVS’ community is, first and foremost, its students.
The practice of preparing for catered events was implemented as an opportunity to offer on-the-job training / internships onsite, when it is in-line with the curriculum. This has manifested in some conflicts between the curriculum and catered events, and we have since ceased this practice. While the transition was happening, a few classes were canceled out of necessity, but again, this practice is no longer being implemented. Material has been adjusted to make up this time and ensure that all skill sets and modules are covered in their entirety. For any student who feels that has not been accomplished, we will happily offer extra class or tutoring time to make up for it.
English classes are offered at 8am every day prior to the culinary-specific lecture and in-kitchen practical. Students who do not attend on time are unable to take advantage of this class, but this class is offered consistently every day.
While it is true that we do some commissary kitchen rentals, tenant activities are not to interfere with class operations. The Administration will continue to monitor this closely moving forward, but the intent is that students have access to the necessary equipment for that day’s lesson, regardless of shared use of space. Having additional activities in the kitchen, we believe, can enhance student learning by giving them real-life experience of what it is like to work in a fully operational, large team kitchen. Extra equipment for side projects may not be available during these times, but this should not interfere with the curriculum.
MLVS and its staff work hard to provide students with a quality education, at little or no cost to qualifying low income students, through grants with the City and County of San Francisco, under the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families, and the Human Services Agency. These funds are a blend of local and federal funding passed through the City, and the school occasionally receives EDD money directly from the state for Individual Training Accounts. MLVS is in excellent standing with these funding agencies, and has consistently been meeting or exceeding enrollment, completion, and job placement goals over the past three years.
As a government contractor, MLVS is monitored regularly. MLVS is licensed by the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education, and did recently update enrollment agreements to bring itself into compliance with legislative updates and changes. The recent changes implement updated textbooks; faculty have recently reviewed curriculum and selected material that is more relevant and accessible than previous materials. Not all training contracts cover the cost of textbooks, unfortunately. As a courtesy, MLVS provides copies of handouts and curriculum should a student be unable to purchase textbooks.
If a student needs assistance with purchasing books, MLVS endeavors to either subsidize students in need, or help locate discounted and/or used books. This is covered during orientation. Copies are also provided, as already mentioned. In response to this current concern, MLVS will survey the students to ensure that those still in need of a textbook are able to have access to one.
Students are provided with a knife set at the conclusion of the program, as an incentive to complete and be successful. At program start, students are each assigned one uniform; additional uniforms were offered at the start of the program, but students opted for additional small wares (peelers, scissors, an assigned knife for use in class) instead. Students may purchase a second uniform by request. The reference to fighting for uniforms at City Hall is not accurate, to the institution’s knowledge.
MLVS is constantly looking to improve itself and takes this as an opportunity to communicate better and grow with our students. Thank you for taking the time to read our response, and please consider visiting us and engaging with students in their classroom experience(s). To learn more about MLVS, check out www.mlvs.org, where you will also find opportunities to support the students in our programs through a tax deductible contribution.
Interim Executive Director
Story by: Natalie Hopner, Interim Executive Director