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