San Francisco School Board meeting March 2021

Keeping Perspective On School Board Reform

Welcome to my special newsletter about ways to change the school board and get involved. This is update 8.

Perspective is the theme of this update. As the school board descends into ever-more chaos and controversy, we must keep perspective on why the call to replace and reform the school board was raised in the first place.

This newsletter covers the following reasons:

  • All the decisions that hindered the ability to safely reopen schools.
  • A profoundly flawed school renaming process that took priority over getting kids back in classrooms.
  • The end of merit-based admissions to Lowell High School, which was rushed with little community input and ignored the pleas from low and middle-income families who relied on Lowell because they can’t afford the academic experience offered by private schools.

You can also find a school board recall update and timeline at the end of the newsletter.

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Thanks for your support,
Joel Engardio

KEY PERSPECTIVES:

1. Anti-Asian tweets are a valid reason for resignation and recall. So are the decisions that hindered the safe reopening of schools.
Much outrage is rightfully focused on the tweets by school board commissioner Alison Collins that disparaged Asian Americans with racist remarks. They resurfaced from 2016 to cause a political earthquake in 2021. Nearly every elected official in San Francisco has called for Collins to resign and she was censored by her colleagues.

It’s also important to remember how the school board had failed parents long before the Collins tweets were exposed.

The greatest indictment against the school board is that it neglected its core job: Getting students safely back into classrooms to avoid the harmful learning loss and mental health stress of being isolated at home on Zoom for more than a year.

We cannot forget the fateful decision in June 2020 to not hire a consultant to plan for school reopening. Superintendent Vincent Matthews begged for the hire, even telling the school board that rejecting the contract would be a “body blow.”

Reopening specialists were in short supply because every school district in the nation faced the same problem. But our school board refused to hire the consultant because they had previously done work for charter schools. Watch a compilation video of the remarks commissioners made when rejecting the consultant.

Our school board chose to put ideology over the needs of students. They promised to create a plan on their own. But the Chronicle reported all the ways they had procrastinated and flunked the task. Our school board didn’t bother to start planning to reopen schools in earnest until faced with lawsuits, recalls, and protests from frustrated and exhausted parents.

We must remember which school board commissioners voted against hiring a consultant to create a plan for reopening schools:

  • Alison Collins
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Faauuga Moliga
  • Jenny Lam

2. Renaming schools took priority over reopening schools.
The woes of San Francisco’s school board became national news when a profoundly flawed school renaming process was revealed. It became a source of embarrassment and mockery.

Yet our school board voted to double down on a process that relied on cursory Wikipedia searches, historical inaccuracies, and didn’t know whether Roosevelt Middle School referred to Teddy or FDR (they found reasons to remove both presidents). Only after intense public pressure did the school board announce it would “pause” the renaming until it could reopen the schools.

We must remember which school board commissioners voted to rename schools with a flawed process before making any plans to reopen schools:

  • Alison Collins
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Faauuga Moliga
  • Jenny Lam
  • Mark Sanchez
  • Matt Alexander

3. Dismantling a top high school in the nation was more important than reopening high schools.
Lowell High School is San Francisco’s only academically merit-based high school and its student population is majority Asian. As one of the best-ranked schools in the nation, Lowell is a popular option for families who can’t afford private school. More than one-third of Lowell students belong to low-income families.

Yet our school board dismantled merit-based admissions at Lowell in a rushed process with little community input. The stated goal was to increase diversity of the student population and address a culture problem. A study by Families for San Francisco used school district data to show that Lowell is not the only high school with a demographic imbalance. Others are worse and Lowell falls in the middle. The same can be said for Lowell’s culture/climate scores on district-wide student surveys.

Rather than dismantle Lowell, many parents ask why not create more high schools with high academic standards?

We must remember which school board commissioners voted against the low-income families who rely on Lowell:

  • Alison Collins
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Faauuga Moliga
  • Mark Sanchez
  • Matt Alexander

SEE THE BIG PICTURE
Families for San Francisco released a study that analyzed every action and inaction by the school board in the past year of distance learning to show how we ended up in the current mess.

These are the main takeaways:

  • The school board did not understand the magnitude of the challenge to reopen schools.
  • The school board failed to deliver a plan.
  • The school board’s priorities are out of sync with what families need.

TAKE ACTION
Fixing the school board is going to take four actions in the following order:

  1. Decreasing the Distance: This parent-led group is focused on the immediate need of safely reopening all public schools full time. Join their advocacy work. Read a profile about one of their “super mom” founders.
  2. Recall SF School Board: Next, we need to recall the school board members who have failed their core responsibilities in so many ways. The recall effort is run by parents Autumn Looijen and Siva Raj. Read about their background in my previous newsletter and watch an inspiring profile video. And be sure to sign up to get a recall petition emailed to you when it is ready for signing in early April.
  3. Better SF Public Schools: After the recall, we need to structurally change how the school board is formed so we don’t end up in the same situation again. This political action committee is run by parents Patrick Wolff and Jennifer Butterfoss. They are working to amend our city’s constitution with an initiative on the June 2022 ballot that would make the school board an appointed body with certain qualifications for running schools. Read their excellent research paper that makes the case for an appointed school board.
  4. Friends of Lowell Foundation: If your children aspired to attend Lowell High School, join this group to restore Lowell as an academic and merit-based public high school and to boost academic preparation for all San Francisco public school students.

SCHOOL BOARD RECALL UPDATE

  • Petitions for signing should be available around April 1. Sign up to get a petition emailed to you when it is ready.
  • Donations for the recall are now being accepted. They are capped at $99 each to ensure the campaign remains a grassroots effort. Click here to donate.
  • Volunteers are needed. Fill out this form to let organizers know what kinds of activities you can help with.

RECALL TIMELINE
Green arrow shows where we are.

COMMUNICATION LINKS
It’s important that we can find and share information in a central place on social media. Join these groups:

Facebook

Nextdoor

Do you have friends who would like this newsletter? Ask them to sign up here.

NOTE: This newsletter and previous updates are also published as blog posts. Click to read and share on social media:

Update 8 (Perspective on why school board reform called for in first place)
Update 7 (Q&A with Decreasing the Distance leader Meredith Dodson)
Update 6 (Charter amendment launches to appoint versus elect school board)
Update 5 (Recall helpers 7,000 and growing, recall timeline)
Update 4 (Recall launches, find out who is behind it)
Update 3 (Where is the recall? What are the options?)
Update 2 (Lowell becomes lottery, school board says gay dad not diverse enough)
Update 1 (City Attorney lawsuit)
First Edition (How do you recall the school board? Process and hurdles)

Originally published at https://www.engardio.com on March 27, 2021.

Originally published at https://www.engardio.com on March 27, 2021.

Forward-thinking + pragmatic Democrat, civil liberties advocate, award-winning journalist, Westside SF homeowner. My local views at www.engardio.com/issues