Ten Candidates Vie for Four San Francisco Board of Education Seats

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Ten people are running to fill four seats on the San Francisco Board of Education:  Alida Fisher, small business owner; Paul Kangas, private investigator; Jenny Lam, board incumbent elected last year; Matt Alexander, co-founder of the June Jordan School for Equity; Michelle Parker, who has children in public schools; Kevine Boggess, education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth; Mark Sanchez, an incumbent first elected in 2001; Andrew Douglas Alston, a San Francisco Unified School District teacher; Genevieve Lawrence, a teacher; and Nick Rothman, chair of San Francisco City College’s Automotive, Construction and Custodial Departments. 

Four of the candidates responded to a View query asking why they should be voters’ choice; whether they were satisfied with the Board’s performance preparing for the start of the 2020 academic year; whether online learning can work; how ecology should be taught; what single achievement they’d want to make; and their position on charter schools.

Matt Alexander

Planning was too slow and too centralized. We need to listen to the voices of the people doing the work:  teachers, paraprofessionals, parents and families, and students themselves.

SFUSD should be leading the way with in-person learning solutions for younger children, students with special needs, and students in overcrowded living situations.

I’m proposing a district-wide interdisciplinary, project-based unit on climate change, culminating in a Green New Deal Summit.

SFUSD spends the lowest percentage of any large California district on classroom instruction; only 54 percent of the general fund budget. I would reallocate funds directly to schools and classrooms to increase that to 68 percent, the highest in the state.

The original intent of charter school laws when they were passed 30 years ago was to provide a space for grassroots innovation which would then benefit the public school system. But these laws have been co-opted by corporate entities intent on undermining public education. I believe we need fewer charter schools and am launching a campaign to get charters to relinquish their charters and join SFUSD. 

Kevine Boggess

I have a proven track record of working to serve the best interest for our students, our schools and our families. I’ve worked with hundreds of students and parents to improve our public schools and have co-led local and state campaigns to change education policy and increase school funding. As a graduate of SF public schools and the father of a future public school student, I am committed to a platform that improves our schools and puts our marginalized students and families at the center.

This past spring the school district quickly pivoted to provide a quality education remotely. I was impressed by how quickly educators moved to create meaningful experiences for their students and provide continuity in the midst of chaos. I am pleased that the district is now implementing important lessons learned from the spring semester as school closures continue.

There is simply no substitute for in-person learning. That said, the district must provide individual learning plans to ensure each student can be successful during this period of crisis learning, and should also do that for educators, who’ve had to learn new ways of teaching and connecting with students in a meaningful way. Continued distance learning should include equity measures, including access to technology and Wifi, additional staff to provide learning support and wellness checks, ongoing assessments for special education students, and language access measures to meet the needs of English learner students and families. 

Ecology and environmental sustainability must be an essential part of SFUSD’s curriculum education. It is critical that the next generation understands the history of modern development and the associated ecological cost, not the least of which we are seeing now, with massive wildfires and a pandemic spreading across the globe. If we are committed as a school district to helping address ecological crisis and climate change, these explicit discussions and behavioral change must start in school at an early age, and the district should provide learning opportunities for students to get hands-on experience in addressing these enormous challenges impacting their future. 

Create true accountability from SFUSD to our families and students; that means putting their voices and experiences at the center of decision-making and following through on promises made. Too often I hear from families that their feedback is ignored or dismissed and that must change. We want a school district that students and families are confident is working for them.

I oppose the expansion of charter schools and believe we must keep public schools public. I do support charter schools like Five Keys, where the charter is shared with another public institution which provides learning opportunities and the chance to earn a high school diploma in the County Jail system, filling a need not currently addressed by our public school system. 

Jenny Lam

I am an experienced community organizer and an education leader who has devoted my life to fighting for equity. I volunteer in my children’s schools, have previously served as co-chair of two San Francisco Unified School District committees, have worked as the former state engagement manager at Education Superhighway and director of programs at Chinese for Affirmative Action, and currently serve as Mayor London Breed’s Education Advisor, creating partnerships within and across our public education system.

I am proud that the vote from the Board was reflective of and prioritized the health and safety of our students, educators, and school staff. Furthermore, I am grateful that educators, school site administrators, staff, as well as student, family, and community have been at the table collaborating and working through the reopening plans.

Our educators, school staff, and students have all learned from our own experiences last spring, and from emerging research, about best practices in providing high-quality instruction through distance learning. It can work. But we are working toward a hybrid learning model that will bring us closer to the most ideal learning environment where our students are back in classrooms safely.

Access to nature is essential to students’ wellbeing and their ability to learn and thrive, which is why I support SFUSD’s goal to provide all SFUSD students with free and easily accessible opportunities to explore, learn and play both in nature and on schoolgrounds around San Francisco. I support the addition and implementation of a curriculum that focuses on student empowerment to create a more sustainable world for their community and learning that builds a healthy respect for the earth, and in turn, for oneself. Communities of color and low-income geographies are generally disproportionately affected by environmental calamities. Students must engage more with these topics as many of them are directly affected.

My one achievement I would want during my term would be simply to provide the best education for our students that focuses on uplifting and prioritizing their needs. If we can all do that as a community invested in learning outcomes, we will all be better for it.

Public schools should be fully public. I do not support increasing privatization or expanding charters. I support holding them accountable and I believe every aspect of our system should have the protection of labor rights and provide high quality education for all children and their families. And, to create a level playing field, we need to ensure that our City’s charter schools serve a student population that reflects the great diversity of San Francisco, including students with special needs, students learning English, and students from low-income families. 

Michelle Parker

I have demonstrated my leadership, solutions-oriented approach, experience navigating and unifying people during challenge circumstances, understanding of education finance and policy, and commitment to students and families over the 15 years I’ve been active in the SFUSD community. I will act with integrity and urgency to ensure SFUSD serves each and every student.

I think the board prioritized many important things like making sure students were fed, had access to technology and highspeed internet, and received wellness checks during what was a very trying time. I also think we could tell as far back as April or May that this year would include at least some element of distance learning and planning could have begun earlier so that decisions and details could have been communicated to families and educators earlier, and so that teachers and principals could have started learning and planning together earlier; working families are in survival mode and need more assistance navigating these circumstances.

In-person instruction is preferable, but online learning can be good enough for now if we focus on established pedagogy that effectively engages students in online spaces, if we reallocate resources to increase relationship building between teachers, students and families, and if we are flexible and willing to learn and iterate as we go.

Ecology should be integrated into various subjects across the curriculum K-12, using real world events like wildfires, sea rise, extreme weather, and more to connect with classroom learning. We can also use the city and community as our classrooms, connecting with world class institutions around the city to add interest and relevance to students’ learning experience.

To increase and stabilize SFUSD’s budget through new revenue and also by evaluating the programs and initiatives we invest in to determine whether those investments are improving outcomes for students and should be increased, held steady, or stopped, and to establish that our budget reflects our district’s values.

I do not believe we should expand charter schools in San Francisco, and that we should hold charter schools, and all schools, accountable for improving student outcomes. Some charters serve a purpose that SFUSD can’t or won’t and are important for meeting the needs of some students (e.g. Five Keys Charter and Life Learning Academy). We should also learn why some families choose charter schools rather than non-charter district schools, and then do what we can to build confidence that district schools can and will serve student needs.