This week, San Francisco voters chose three new school commissioners, three women of color who are a breath of fresh air for the Board of Education. Jane Kim, Hydra Mendoza and Kim-Shree Maufas are optimistic, talented and full of energy.
The question, though, is exactly where their progressive values will lead them as they join two other progressive members of the board and begin to exercise their influence as commissioners.
As a parent, I want the Board of Education to focus on improving schools for young people like my daughters who go to school here in San Francisco. As a progressive, I want them to focus particularly on better serving disadvantaged young people—those who really need the schools to help them launch their lives in promising directions.
With this in mind, I have five suggestions for the new progressive majority and all of the commissioners. By following these suggestions and attaching real goals to measure progress, the board could lead the way and show that it’s serious about making a difference for young people and families in
1. Launch a citywide campaign to dramatically increase the college-ready graduation rate for disadvantaged youth.
Send a kid to college, and chances are that you end poverty in his or her family forever.
The new progressive majority on the board should make it its first priority to rally the city around a campaign to double the college-ready graduation rate – up to 40% or more – for African American and Hispanic students over the next eight years. The board should hold an annual event to share progress and challenge every citizen, business and nonprofit organization that cares about our city’s future to get involved in the campaign.
2. Look at charter schools as a model.
Looking for ideas about how to double the college-ready graduation rate for underserved students? Look no further than some of the charter schools right here in
Gateway High School enrolls African American and Hispanic students at similar rates as the district as a whole and prepares an impressive 69% of them for college.
San Francisco is home to some of the leading charter school operators in the state, including Envision
The new board should view these publicly funded schools not as competitors to public schools, but rather as allies in our common quest to serve students well. It should explore what might be achieved by bringing more of these schools to
Of course, charters aren’t the only source of good ideas; district schools like Thurgood Marshall and Galileo have made great progress over the past few years and the board should study what they are doing right, too.
3. Get the right principals in place.
Great schools take great principals. Great principals take personal responsibility for school success, know how to lead teaching and learning, recruit and develop great teachers, and build strong school communities. There is no substitute for effective leadership.
While we have some great principals in
The San Francisco School Alliance has brokered an alliance with UC Berkeley to help the district train and support new principals. The new progressive majority should pay close attention.
The board should track and publicly report progress toward the goal of getting a great principal in each school every year.
4. Recruit, retain and develop great teachers.
Of course, it’s ultimately the teachers who make the difference for students. Great teachers know their subject matter, engage their students in learning, communicate well with parents and collaborate to strengthen instruction across the school.
The new progressive majority needs to lead the way to improve teacher recruitment, retention and professional development. Teacher professional development has been gutted in recent years, under the pressure of budget cuts. The San Francisco Education Fund and other community allies stand ready to help rebuild a strong teacher professional development program.
Recognizing that we can’t get to where we want to go without great teachers, the progressives should lead the board to develop a plan to address this issue. And again, every year, the board should track and publicly report progress toward this objective.
5. Partner closely with the city.
Schools can’t do it all alone, especially for our most disadvantaged students.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, city Supervisors and city voters know this; that’s why they worked together to pass legislation that provides city funding for schools to support arts, sports libraries, and music, among other areas.
In addition, Mayor Newsom has done more than his predecessors to reach out and help schools where he can. For example, he’s enlisted the help of the Department of Public Health to put health clinics in some of the schools that need it most.
The new progressive majority should put politics aside and reach out to Mayor Newsom and work with him to take the city-schools partnership even farther.
Of course the new Board of Education will be confronted with many other important issues, including finding a new superintendent, deciding which schools to close, revising the student assignment system and making tough budget choices. All these issues matter.
But the true progressives will stand up and see the forest for the trees. They’ll resist the temptation to grandstand on issues peripheral to student academic success, and they’ll rally the city to achieve the real prize: doubling the college-ready graduation rate for disadvantaged students. With their leadership, we can make this happen and change the future for thousands of kids in our city.