October 8, 2020
San Francisco Board of Education
555 Franklin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dear President Sanchez, Commissioners, Superintendent Matthews,
We represent thousands of graduates from San Francisco’s public schools. Over the decades, we’ve given back by mentoring students, volunteering in school cleanups, and donating hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for scholarships and programs not funded by tax dollars. Our foremost objective has always been to help educate the next generation.
But we are concerned the district is undertaking a misguided and costly distraction by proposing to rename at least 45 elementary, middle and high schools. Yes, school names should reflect the community’s values, but the activities of your School Names Advisory Committee (committee) undermine the opportunity for a legitimate conversation about the appropriateness of the schools’ current names and, most critically, raises questions about how you are managing students’ educational needs.
School names have been changed in the past. But this committee is upending tradition and is employing an anti-historical bias. Its members have not consulted professional historians, representatives of the City’s richly diverse ethnic communities, or neighbors living and working adjacent to these schools.
This committee’s one-sided, embarrassing misreading of historical facts does not promote education or shared values. We need an inclusive process that will allow all communities to be heard, use professional historians applying verifiable data, issue a written report why a school name might be changed so the community can make a considered decision, and suspend the current process until everyone can safely return to school sites for the robust and thoughtful conversations you directed in the original Board resolution. Finally, in the midst of the District’s financial difficulties, we wonder where will the District find the estimated $9 million ($150-200,000 per school) needed to make these proposed name changes.
This November, citizens are voting for the school board. You are also asking San Francisco’s voters and the community at large to ratify your financial stewardship. It does not appear you are acting wisely with your foray into name changing and misapplying the public’s money.
COVID-19 has made education more difficult. It also has made it more challenging to have important and long overdue discussions about race and justice. What goes on inside the classroom has a greater impact on education than the name on the outside of a school building. Let’s focus on that and continue to work together to support our children’s education. We think these conversations need to happen and would like to meet with you.
Bill Mustanich, President, Abraham Lincoln High School Alumni Association
John Trasvina, President, Lowell High School Alumni Association
John Rothman, President, George Washington High School Alumni Association
Emily Sanchez Powell, President Emerita, Balboa High School Alumni Association
As a former student of George Washington High school, I am appalled at even a suggestion of changing its’ name. The reason that you are making this change is based upon our judgements of a persons life over 3 centuries ago. Granted the customs of the time required people in servitude to work the plantations and would have not been tolerated over 150 years ago. The United states has always been a country with its’ economy heavily based upon agriculture. Today migrant workers have been elevated to the task that the slaves of the past have had to undertake. Are we in the future going to look back upon the work these individuals are undertaking and make judgements on those that employ them ? Are their actions that criminal of a nature to justify the changes that we will see in the future ? There is also more for a student to learn than by altering history and tarnishing his name, by explaining the courses of time and tolerance.
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Rather than a concern over the quality of the education, the Board focuses its time and resources on name changes and covering murals.
With priorities such as these, the District should eliminate the School Board and redirect those funds to teaching our students reading, writing and arithmetic.
The committee didn’t do any in depth research in choosing 45+ schools to rename and watching the archived meetings it is clear they relied on one person who made assumptions and was often wrong. They didn’t even ask the district for a list of names of the schools, Roosevelt is an example of the flawed process, it was cringe worthy to watch the committee members wonder which Roosevelt when that should be basic knowledge before the process even began, as an aside, it was named after Theodore. Some names should be changed but this committee is not reflecting a democratic process and trying to rush this through so they don’t hear from people who disagree with them.
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Well written, thank you. $9 million can be better spent on things that really matter: Students and Teachers/Staff.
These liberals will destroy themselves and everything about them, look at all the tech companies leaving the area ! Texas is the place to be now, see y’all California and the Bay Area !!!
I have yet to see ANY explanation of why Robert Louis Stevenson’s name has been deemed inappropriate to remain for the 34th Avenue elementary school in the Sunset District. Was it deemed inappropriate to have the author of poetry about swinging, lamp lighting and otherworldly be honored and recognized by having his name posted atop the school? Perhaps my failures in life sixty years after attending R.L. Stevenson Elementary School can be attributed to the school’s name. Or perhaps instead blame should be placed on those who had me attend a high school named after Abraham Lincoln. The horror and abuse of attending these schools cannot be described. For some reason, I ended up surviving childhood–perhaps because my elementary and high school years were buffered by junior high at a school named A.P. Giannini. Time will tell…or not.
My difficulties throughout life can no doubt be attributed to my educational years spent at two schools with apparently inappropriate names: Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School and even more traumatically at Abraham Lincoln High School. Perhaps only the buffering effects of junior high school years spent at the acceptably-named A.P. Giannini Junior School saved me from a fate worse than death. At least it was decided to get rid of the offensive moniker “Junior” attached to Giannini and convert it to a “Middle” school. Thank goodness for the school board’s astute recognition of dangerous names lurking in plain sight atop San Francisco schools. Though I remain confused at the cause of Robert Louis Stevenson’s dismissal; could it be the offense of writing about swinging? Or lamp lighting?
My goodness, I worked for both John Rothman the President of the George Washington High School Alumni Association and Emily Powell the President of the Balboa High School Alumni Association back in the year 1982 helping to raise funds for their Olde Time Vaudeville Show. The well known crooner Tony Martin, who was a San Francisco native, was the featured performer for both shows. Emily showed me a picture of herself taken back in 1946 at about the time that she graduated, wearing her high school sweater, with the letter B on it, a short cheerleading skirt, and had on soap saddle shoes, and I thought to myself WOW what a beautiful looking woman! Indeed she was, but must be over ninety by now. John Rothman, who was then quite young, later went on to become a part time teacher at USF, a radio talk show disc jockey at KGO, and also became an established author. That was almost forty years ago that I was employed by them and they are both still in charge of their respective organizations. I guess one could say that when you are president of a high school alumni association there is a tendency to hold that position for a long, long, time.