letter to the editor

Letter to the Editor: Re-Center Public Education

Editor:

Sometime during this pandemic, this San Francisco Board of Education (SFBoE) has completely forgotten its main job is public education. Tragically, students are losing and especially the students who need education the most. 

Public education fundamentally is an opportunity for all families, all parents, to provide better, more fulfilling lives for their children. Central to that goal is learning; subject matter learning, critical skills, social and emotional learning. I believe in the aspirations of the school district’s Vision 2025, where every student can compete and thrive.

In the meantime, we have this SFBoE. The Superintendent Search Committee had this to say about Vision 2025:

“While Vision 2025 was cited as defining the right vision, almost everyone who referenced that strength followed it up with the viewpoint that the District does not have a strategic, operational plan for implementing that vision and deploying the needed organizational and instructional changes to achieve goals in Vision 2025.”

The doors that open by learning to read literally open up a path of opportunity after opportunity. How is that no longer a priority? There are schools here in the City where 10% of the 3rd graders are not at reading level. And this SFBoE always chases one performative cause after another.

My heart aches as I see each day, each month, each Board meeting, each school year slip away. And the outcomes only continue downward.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I remember learning to read with Miss Pope in the temporary classroom of Argonne Elementary. I remember all those colorful picture books like “Where the Wild Things Are.” Those books with the big Gold Caldecott and Newbery Medal Stickers on the front.

I wasn’t born winning any genetic or financial lottery. My father was an immigrant who crossed the Pacific as a teenager. My mother grew up poor in Stockton and went to public schools. Neither were star students.

Reading was good to know, but math was just different to me. I remember routinely finishing my 4th grade multiplication math assignments before my teacher Ms. Cavaglia. I aced Algebra in 7th Grade with Ms. Rueda in Presidio Middle School.

I missed the memo that Merit is racist. Merit is not racist in other school districts, in private schools. Merit is not racist in the workplace. I know there are opportunity gaps. I believe completely in equity. This is not either/or.

So yes, I signed on as one of the original signatories of the recall School Board petitions. I did collect signatures in farmer’s markets on weekends. I did such efforts with sincere hope that this SFBoE would get the message that they needed to focus right away.

Instead we know what we got. But as it all transpired, I kept asking myself why. Why are outcomes ignored? Why is there such talk about equity, money for equity, but the opposite of improvements? Why are these commissioners ignoring the job of public education?

So I dug. I went to a few meetings. I looked through the BoardDocs attachments. I was flummoxed. Things were so much worse than seen from afar. And nobody could see the whole picture – no parent, no teacher and nobody in the media.

I put my flourishing career in real estate on ice. I did records requests. I went to meetings of every single Board committee, every single advisory committee. four per week, oftentimes through dinner and until 10:30 p.m. 

I asked questions. I gave scathingly harsh and true public comments. No bond oversight for three years? No audits? Budgeting that ignored parent and teacher input? How is this possible?

And then I started a newsletter in July of last year. My initial subscribers waded through all my dense work to see all the problems I laid bare. This SFBoE completely lost its way. It broke State laws. It lost lawsuit after lawsuit. It didn’t follow its own Board Policies. It pit group against group with all kinds of false framing.

I loved my experience in public schools so so much. I miss my teachers and counselors. I remember all those life lessons in sports, in the after-school clubs.

We have an incredible opportunity to right this School District. To return centering public education. Let’s all Vote Yes on A, B, and C and Recall these three Commissioners. Let’s do this vote on Tuesday, Feb. 15 for the 49,000+ students.

Laurance Lee

Laurance Lee is a Richmond District native and a K-12 product of San Francisco public schools. He is a small-business owner and editor of a newsletter doing deep dives on the Board of Education: https://eyessfboe.substack.com

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