FAQs: My statements on recent issues can be found here.
We can do more to make San Francisco Unified School District’s Mission and Vision a reality for each and every one of our students.
My top priorities are to:
- Put our school district on firm financial footing so we can ensure all our students experience a high-quality education.
- Support students academically, physically, and emotionally through the pandemic.
Ensure each and every student experiences an excellent education and thrives in SFUSD, including an acceleration of the closing of our African American achievement/opportunity gap.
1) Put our school district on firm financial footing so we can ensure all our students experience a high-quality education.
The unstable and insufficient budget is one of the top challenges facing SFUSD right now. SFUSD announced a $31.8 million budget cut in the middle of this past school year and is already projecting shortfalls of $75 million in 2021-2022 and $94 million in 2022-2023. Without adequate resources, we cannot serve our students the way they deserve. We need school board members who have experience overseeing large budgets and who understand our complicated school funding system.
We should consider a few approaches to address this and insulate our students from the effects of this economic crisis:
SFUSD needs to regularly review the initiatives and programs it invests in to ensure those programs are having the desired impact. If they aren’t, we should stop doing them and invest more where we do see positive student outcomes. I am excited by the newly announced plan to do zero-based budgeting in SFUSD for 2021-2022 and look forward to us building a budget from the ground up over the coming months, ensuring our spending aligns with priorities. I advocated for the same approach in 2009 as the Bay Area began to feel the effects of the last recession and SFUSD was facing a budget shortfall of $113 million over the following two years. In 2009, SFUSD’s unrestricted general fund was about $400 million. Now it is closer to $700 million (total budget is close to $1 billion). There is not an obvious improvement on student outcomes over that time that matches the budget increase, and I am interested in reviewing whether that additional annual spending is being used in the most effective way.
Please vote for Prop J on the SF ballot, which, if passed, will release the ~$50 million/year from the 2018 Prop G parcel tax that has been held up in litigation over the past two years, and is essential for ensuring our educators are paid a salary closer to a living wage. Additionally, Prop 15 on the CA ballot will close the loophole for commercial businesses’ property tax assessment, resulting in $36 million annually for SFUSD and $411 million annually for the county of San Francisco. But we have to do much more than this. We need to work with our state legislative partners to reduce California’s $65 billion in annual revenue expenditures. These expenditures are primarily in the form of tax credits for very wealthy people and large corporations, and if we reduced them, we would have additional funds available for public education spending since education accounts for about 40% of the state’s general fund budget. There are also administratively-controlled line items we should advocate to change, including one called High Cost Fund B that is an unnecessary giveaway to telecommunications companies. The state should instead use these funds to subsidize school districts’ internet expenses, which have grown exponentially during the pandemic as we support all families to have high-quality internet, and for which SFUSD is currently paying full market rate. Finally, we should get creative with how we lease out SFUSD properties and land, always work to increase enrollment in the district (more students=more funding), and cultivate relationships with more of San Francisco’s philanthropists (there are around 75 billionaires) so they will invest in our schools more, and at deeper levels.
2) Support students academically, physically, and emotionally through the pandemic.
We must prioritize getting students back into our schools as soon as we can safely do so, and provide clear communication with all our stakeholders on where we are in the process, what barriers we need to overcome, and where additional help is needed, as well as set projected timelines indicating which students we’d like to bring back and when. I agree with the subgroups SFUSD is prioritizing for in-person return because they are struggling the most in remote environments: PreK-1st grade, students with moderate to severe disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, foster youth, and students who are not participating in distance learning a large percentage of the time. We must be creative working with city partners, the Department of Public Health, and community organizations to meet our students’, families’ and educators’ needs--relying on data about what is working and not working in school districts across the country and world, and why.
We know that many of our students will be in distance learning for much of the school year due to spacing and safety requirements set by the local and state health departments. So, while we work to open physical spaces for as many students as we can, we must strengthen the distance learning experience for everyone else. Distance learning makes it more difficult to build relationships with teachers and peers; many students feel isolated and rates of depression in teens are rising. It often makes it more difficult to stay engaged in learning. It doesn’t as easily adapt to the different types of learning styles students have. Distance learning also forces educators and students to learn multiple new skills all at once: how to use the technology effectively, how to adapt instructional practices, how to stay connected, etc.
We can improve the distance learning experience by 1) ensuring there is adequate time and space for educators to collaborate and learn from one another about what instructional and relationship-building approaches are most effective with students, but also what will make their own work more manageable, 2) providing lots of opportunity for small group work and 1:1 interactions between peers, and between teachers and students, 3) providing regular opportunities for feedback from students, families, educators, and administrators to we can improve the experience for everyone as we learn new information, 4) continuing to provide supports for families including tech tutorials and more proactive outreach to families whose home language is not English who are often struggling to understand how to support their child, how to use new tech, how to connect with their child’s teachers, etc., 5) focusing on effective and frequent communication with all stakeholders.
As we do this, we must also commit to not go back to business-as-usual when the pandemic ends because there are many students for whom school wasn’t working before. We must do all we can to not let existing disparities widen and for opportunity gaps to grow. We must create a better education system as we move through and out of the pandemic.
3) Ensure each and every student experiences an excellent education and thrives in SFUSD.
The SFUSD mission statement says: “Every day we provide each and every student the quality instruction and equitable support required to thrive in the 21st century.” We must both accelerate closing the achievement/opportunity gap, as well as provide opportunities for high performing students to increase their achievement.
Accelerate closing the gap
When SFUSD first stated it’s top goal to close the African American Achievement Gap within six years a few years ago, it didn’t lay out a thoughtful plan for how to get there. Some initiatives, such as PITCH schools, have begun in the past couple of years and they are helping, but we are still seeing only pockets of success--however promising those are. For example, ER Taylor Elementary School’s African American students are up 17% year-over-year in meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts, due to shifting the culture to high expectations for all students, supporting data-centered practices, making timely referrals for reading interventions, and implicit bias training. Galileo High School’s African American students are up nearly 25% year-over-year due to investing in relationships and individualized plans with African American students. And their chronic absenteeism rates are down 12%. But we still have an average of 12% of African American SFUSD middle school students meeting or exceeding math standards, with some schools as low as 2%. So, the reality is that we have a long way to go, and it’s our jobs as adults to create the conditions for these students to be successful.
SFUSD needs to make a radical shift to accelerate closing this gap, because our BIPOC students deserve access to a high-quality learning experience now.
We can disrupt the opportunity gaps with persistence, commitment, and dedicated resources (human and financial). We must invest more deeply in our educator staff because high quality instruction makes the biggest in-school impact on academic achievement. We need to review data of all subgroups of students regularly to inform the budgetary and curricular decisions we make. We need to invest in relationship-building so we can also enact qualitative assessments about student needs. I also suggest the following:
- Shift school culture to high expectations for all students
- Make timely referrals for reading and math interventions
- Implicit bias training for all staff, students, and parents/caregivers
- Increase focus on social emotional learning
- Train educators in trauma-informed practices and culturally reflective and responsive instructional practices
- Advocate to city partners to address conditions that affect our students’ abilities to come to school ready to learn: housing insecurity, food insecurity, unemployment, public health, etc.
- Expand early education in partnership with the City, so that all children in San Francisco have access to two years of high-quality, publicly funded preschool before kindergarten and can enter SFUSD school-ready
- Reduce teacher turnover in schools serving large groups of underserved students through support (relevant, high-quality PD; programs like Bayview Ignite; and intense support for new teachers), higher salaries, affordable housing, and recruiting locally
- Recruit and retain teachers of color so our students can see themselves reflected in the adults they see every day
- Invest in community schools models and practices
- Invest in more mental health services, as well as fully implement and resource programs like restorative practices, safe and supportive schools, and the new resolution abolishing law enforcement on school campuses that includes a comprehensive set of directives
Opportunities for high-performing students to increase their achievement
SFUSD’s Mission and Vision webpage states: “It is possible to increase academic achievement of high performing students and accelerate achievement of those currently less academically successful.” If we want to achieve our collective goal to meet the needs of each and every student in SFUSD, we need to also offer opportunities, pathways, and spaces for students who are interested in acceleration and advanced coursework. We must do this in ways that are equitable and ensure there is diverse representation, because we fundamentally know that every student is capable of brilliance and that it is up to the leaders in the education system to create the conditions in our schools that help students thrive and be the best version of themselves. We must expand opportunities.
One example of this that comes up frequently is math.
The way we approached math instruction (including 8th grade algebra) several years ago didn’t work. The course sequence was one size-fits-all. Advanced math courses weren’t representative of our student body (particularly with racial diversity). And many students had to retake algebra and/or weren’t successful in subsequent math courses.
Ensuring all of our students have a stronger foundation in algebra is important. With the new math sequence (algebra in 9th grade instead of 8th), many more students are successfully moving to subsequent math courses. But, before we changed the sequence, there were about 500 students who were successful in 8th grade algebra and beyond. Some students love math and have aspirations to be engineers and other professions requiring Calculus AB or BC to be competitive for college entry, and are ready to accelerate earlier than the standard sequence dictates. Math is a numerical language and we could compare it to other language acquisition. If a student can understand and speak Spanish well, we wouldn’t say they must take Spanish 1 because they are in 9th grade; we allow them to test into a higher level course. If kids are in the wrong class for either language or math, it can have negative consequences for self-esteem, academic growth, healthy risk-taking, and behavior. For math and language, kids need to be supported at their level.
- Strengthen our math instruction in the early grades and provide more math interventions to help all students develop a positive math identity, which will ideally lead to increased interest, ability and participation in math and other STEM subjects throughout K-12.
- Offer opportunities in middle school for students to accelerate in math, including access to algebra before high school. This could mean allowing students identified by student interest and teacher recommendation to participate in the course or to take a course at a nearby high school. We can also work with CCSF to offer options, which helps them with enrollment goals and helps SFUSD with creative options to meet student needs.
- Make sure we offer the same course sequence and opportunities at every SFUSD middle and high school, and expand other rigorous math course offerings like financial literacy, data science and visualization, and statistics, which could decrease typical inequities present in traditional sequences. And we should ensure that counselors receive implicit bias training and consistent messaging about what SFUSD wants available to its students.
- Track longitudinal data on students about what courses they take and what they do next, but also qualitative data about whether or not students had access to the courses they wanted, what colleges they got into, and how those students did in college-level math courses (i.e. did SFUSD properly prepare them for success).