Op-Ed: Let’s Stop Families from Leaving San Francisco

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I’ve spent my entire life in San Francisco, am raising my family in the Western Addition, with an art studio located at the Pacific Felt Factory on 20th Street.  I love my City. My biggest complaint is seeing families relocate from my hometown for their children’s education.  Parents aren’t “anti-public schools”, they’re “anti-San Francisco public schools”.  And who can blame them?  Over the past year schools all over the country, and in the Bay Area, worked day and night to safely get students back into the classroom.  Meanwhile the San Francisco Unified School District board made national news for renaming schools, changing admissions policies, and firing consultants.

San Francisco Unified was among the last large school system in the country to bring students back after campuses were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Elementary and pre- schools reopened on a rolling basis in April, with less than half of the District’s roughly 52,000 students in classrooms at all this year. The Board of Education still doesn’t have a plan for the upcoming academic year. This is absolutely unacceptable.  

I speak to parent after parent who has chosen private or parochial schools for their children.  They know how important in-person school is, how magical teachers are during circle time, how critical it is to know the rules of the playground, to let another year go to waste.  As a parent, I know education is the most important thing I can give my children.  Kids and their education, matter.  We need a Board of Education that acts like it.  

San Francisco has one of the highest “opt out” rates of any urban public school system in the country.  Since the 1970s the number of students enrolled in SFUSD has halved. Families either pay an extremely high price for private or parochial schools or leave the City for public schools around the Bay Area.  

It’s time to change the way our schools are being led.  Public schools need parents and families from all over San Francisco, and we need a school board that meets the needs of these families.  It’s time to establish a clear set of skills our board members should possess.  It’s time to look at successful school districts in other major cities and rewrite our playbook.  It’s time for us to re-engage in SFUSD, regardless of whether you have a child in the public school system or not.  Our City and our students deserve a Board of Education that’s focused on its students, not on ridiculous side projects. 

The Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools has proposed a charter amendment to reform the Board of Education by making it an appointed body. Instead of electing yet another board that lacks the skills to successfully lead a school district, it’d allow the mayor and Board of Supervisors to select people with the right skills and focus. The charter amendment also proposes ways to create the transparency and accountability we need to make sure the Board of Education focuses on great schools instead of petty politics. 

By supporting the charter amendment, we’re taking the first step toward a better public school system.  Don’t we all want families to stay in San Francisco?  Let’s give them a reason to, and a reason for their children to stay here to raise their families.