Dear San Francisco Voter,
These are the most common questions I’m being asked by community members - I hope having this information here helps you make an informed decision this November. I’ll be updating this a few times, so check back for more information. Please reach out if your questions aren’t answered here.
Q: Why are you running for Board of Education?
A: As a special education advocate, former foster parent and mother of four African American children, the issues of social justice, equity, and inclusion are very personal to me. I have been an active member in school site and district level governance for more than 16 years. I've been a PTA and SSC member and leader at eight schools. However, it was my experience working to get services for my own children that transformed me from an active parent into a parent activist.
I have chaired the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education (CAC) and am a member of the African American Parent Advisory Committee (AAPAC), the Charter School Oversight Committee, the LCAP Task Force, and the Equity Studies Task Force. I am a founding member of the Joint Advisory Alignment Committee, in which the leadership teams from the parent advisory committees (CAC, AAPAC, District English Learners Advisory Committee, Parent Advisory Council, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Parent Advisory Council, and leaders from Early Ed, Indian and Migrant Education, and Foster Youth Services) work together to elevate and amplify our common goals: inclusion and support all students.
I am a collaborative partner who works to improve outcomes for our most vulnerable students and, in some cases, hold the district accountable when we’re not not providing the support our students need. I spend my days fighting alongside families to help students succeed in school. Every day, I see how our schools marginalize people who think and learn differently. Education is a civil right - we can do better! Now more than ever, we need someone on our board who understands special education and the impact it has throughout our district.
I am an outside-the-box thinker who brings creative thinking to difficult problems. I’ve spent the past ten years attending Board of Education meetings and committee meetings, participating in committees and working groups, and presenting to the Board. Now it’s time to take my work to the next level: Instead of commenting on the policies and practices, I am ready to develop budgets that prioritize programs that improve outcomes for all students and help everyone reach their potential.
Q: What are your top priorities?
A: My top 3 priorities are:
- Support SFUSD staff: fix the payroll and benefits systems; fill staff vacancies; invest in professional development
- Bring our reading curriculum and how we teach reading into the 21st century
- Create a budget that’s a reflection of our values: increase decision making accountability and transparency; ensure our budget reflects the needs of our students
Priority #1, hands down, must be to fix our payroll and benefits systems. All educators and staff deserve to be paid! They deserve restitution for any expenses related to SFUSD errors. All central office resources should be focused on this issue. It should be an item on every board meeting agenda until all issues are resolved. Short term, we should be leveraging every city agency and partner who could provide support and expertise in this area.
We are spending a lot of money to implement our current reading curriculum, yet less than half of SFUSD students are proficient readers; what instructional practices do we need to shift to ensure that all students are proficient and joyful readers by third grade? If we had the effective resources and programs to teach all children to read in the general education classroom, we would prevent many referrals to special education and we wouldn’t need as many Tier 2 and 3 literacy supports. How amazing would it be to have these highly trained personnel available to support social emotional learning and other areas of need as well?
Before COVID-19, our education system was underfunded and impacted. Now, our students are facing serious challenges. Our educators have just faced one of the hardest years ever to be in the field. We need to meet our students’ and teachers’ basic social emotional needs before any learning can happen. Now more than ever, it’s important to prioritize the mental and physical health of students and teachers. We need to work to re-engage students. That means hiring more social workers, nurses, school counselors, and school psychologists. Many schools are collaborating with agencies and bringing resources into their public schools. I’d like to see more of these partnerships to support students and their families. With new grants, extending the community school model into additional SFUSD sites brings supports and services to the school, and then the needs of the student as a whole can be taken into consideration and allow students to more fully engage in learning.
Q: SFUSD releases an annual Opportunity Gap Report. What is your assessment of the 21-22 report and what priorities you will set to close this gap?
A: The June 2022 Student Performance Analysis highlighted many disheartening discrepancies between student groups. However, many focal populations were omitted from the report. Data was disaggregated by four racial and ethnic subgroups only. Data is missing for students receiving free or reduced price lunch, students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, students receiving special education services, Native American and Pacific Islander students, and more.
A consistent theme in the data is the large discrepancy between White and Asian student outcomes and African American and Latinx student outcomes. We can and must do more to close this opportunity gap.
The huge jump in chronic absenteeism is particularly troubling to me. Root causes of chronic absenteeism can lie in issues that the school district cannot solve on its own. However, the district must be part of the solution. Chronic absenteeism has a direct impact on student performance.
As a member of the SFUSD Attendance Working Group, I spent much of the spring semester of the 2019-2020 school year studying this issue. In engaging with a wide array of stakeholders, we found many systemic issues that needed to be addressed. An overarching theme from parents was the lack of sense of belonging in the schools that their children attend. Many parents reported that district attempts to engage around attendance were actually more alienating than helpful. For example, many families felt vilified by attendance officers rather than supported. We also found a need for more specific interventions such as increased credit recovery programs and a coordinated strategy with SFMTA to ensure that buses run on time at school drop off and pick up times.
The community school model can help address absenteeism by bringing a large range of supports and services to schools. Robust family engagement has been proven to improve outcomes, including attendance.
Q: Why did you oppose the recall?
A: I was against the school board recall because:
- I was very worried that a recall would distract us from the urgent challenges ahead: working together to keep schools open while COVID surges continued to impact our community; bringing much-needed mental health supports into schools; and repairing the harm and learning loss brought on by the pandemic.
- Our district was on the brink of insolvency. The state’s FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team) was perilously close to recommending that SFUSD be placed in receivership due to our structural budget deficit, yet the district was slated to absorb the multi-million dollar cost of the recall.
- The three commissioners were up for reelection in November, mere months away, so why not wait until then instead of wasting all of the resources that were expended on a special election? Holding a special election felt like an end-run around our democratic process.
A lesson I hope we all learned from the recall is intent versus impact. When your words, statements, or actions have the impact of harming another person or community - regardless of your intentions - it is important to apologize and work to repair the harm. Also, lawsuits are not the path to building community and often do much harm under the guise of seeking justice.
Now it’s time for us to find a path forward together. The pandemic was a very tough time for students and their families. Much healing needs to be done. We need to reset our focus on our priorities.
Now is the time to remind ourselves of the work that the school board must do: ensure that each and every student within SFUSD receives the high quality public education that they deserve.
There is so much more that unites us as San Franciscans than divides us. We all want the best outcomes for SFUSD students. We all want to see each and every SFUSD student thrive in our schools. We want to see all students live up to their full potential and leave our district prepared for postsecondary success. We all want each and every student to benefit from the high quality SFUSD education that helps them reach their full potential.
Q: Why is literacy and reading such an important issue for you? Why do you want to change our reading curriculum?
A: There are very few skills as important as reading, and the correlation between the ability to read and success is irrefutable. A student not reading at grade level by the end of third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school. For students from low income families, that number jumps to six times less likely to graduate.
We need a holistic review and complete overhaul of our reading curriculum at the district level. I applaud the work being done at many school sites to address our shortcomings, but our recent literacy audit showed that this effort is scattershot at best. Serious shifts are needed to improve student outcomes, and quickly.
As Commissioner, I will work to implement appropriate supports and interventions at every school so that all students are proficient, joyful readers by third grade. We need early screening tools, a reading curriculum that includes a systemic and sequential structured literacy approach, including decodable texts, and ongoing professional development for staff to appropriately implement this very large shift in instructional practices.
If we had the effective resources and programs to teach all children to read in the general education classroom, we would prevent many referrals to special education and we wouldn’t need as many Tier 2 and 3 literacy supports. How amazing would it be to have these highly trained personnel available to support social emotional learning and other areas of need as well?
The earlier we start this work, the more effective the impact and the sooner each student can realize their full potential.
Q: What are your thoughts on SFUSD’s current math sequence, including 8th grade algebra?
A: The middle school math sequence was redesigned in 2014 by SFUSD teachers to align with common core and to undo decades of inequities in math instruction. Historically, 8th grade algebra classrooms were racially segregated. I appreciate that algebraic concepts are introduced earlier. The focus of math instruction has shifted to complex instruction, growth mindset, meaningful discourse with the instructor and engagement with peers. All of these strategies have been proven to improve outcomes. Being part of a diverse learning environment helps our students develop strong problem solving and collaboration skills. Common core instruction has highlighted the need for more effective reading instruction and earlier reading interventions. Texts are more complex, and even math exercises are predominantly word problems. Therefore children not reading at grade level find difficulty in more subjects.
In order to fully implement the math sequence and provide opportunities for all students to meet their potential, SFUSD must invest in training teachers to provide differentiated instruction. Providing thoughtful pathways for students to be able to take a wide variety of higher level math classes in high school, including Calculus and Statistics, helps sets our students up for success beyond high school. And, if we want to consider changes to curriculum such as re-introduce algebra into our middle schools, we need to make significant investments in our teacher coaching and credentialing programs. Right now, SFUSD doesn’t have enough credentialed math teachers to offer 8th grade algebra, or the capacity in many middle school schedules.
Every student should have all the programs to help them reach their full potential. The challenge in our current budget and staffing crisis is, how do we find the resources to make this aspirational goal a reality?
Q: What are your thoughts on merit-based versus lottery admission policies?
A: I don’t believe that an enrollment system can ever drive merit or high achievement - it’s the students, educators, resources, programs, and support at a school that impact student success. In 2020, Lowell offered 130 AP classes while Lincoln offered 30. Considering that there were 2700 students at Lowell and 2100 students at Lincoln, this seems like a huge disparity to me. In the same way, students at all high schools should have access to the same arts programming as students at Ruth Asawa SOTA.
The rhetoric around “watering down” Lowell is discouraging to me. More than 2,000 8th graders apply to Lowell each year. Approximately 900 are accepted and 650 end up attending. Does that mean that the 1100 students who don’t get accepted to Lowell aren’t worthy of being there or wouldn’t be able to handle the academic rigor? Absolutely not.
We need to offer more AP and Honors classes at all high schools, more CTE pathways, more clubs and extracurricular activities, and more sports. All high schools should have robust visual and performing arts programs like Ruth Asawa SOTA. Let’s change the narrative and focus from watering down our schools to lifting all students to reach their full potential. And let’s make sure we have the funds from our city, state and federal government to do so!
Q: Why should all SFUSD families care about Special Education and inclusion? Only 12-13% of students have IEPs.
A: As a special education advocate and mother of four students with disabilities and learning differences, I have learned first-hand the impacts of the right supports and services for one child (or lack thereof) on an entire classroom - and even an entire school. 75% of students receiving special education services spend at least half of their day in general education classrooms. That means that every classroom in every school is affected by our ability to provide appropriate resources for students with IEPs.
Education isn’t a zero sum prospect. Many families fear that supporting children with disabilities will take resources away from their child(ren)’s education; in reality, the opposite is true. As John F. Kennedy is quoted as saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Making investments that target a focal population very often has benefits for all of society. This is known as targeted universalism, and has been called the curb cut effect. I encourage everyone to read this blog post about universal design, as these concepts are also completely relevant to our schools and classrooms.
For example, having a ramp at the entrance of a school doesn’t prevent anyone from entering. In fact, the ramp makes it easier for not only students with physical disabilities to enter the school, but also families with younger siblings who are pushing strollers as well as grandparents with canes and walkers. Everyone benefits and no one is harmed or held back. Providing an educator with positive behavior intervention strategies helps that teacher manage his or her entire classroom. This allows more time to be spent on instruction for all students.
Universal Design for Learning takes many forms, but often starts with professional development. All teachers - particularly general education teachers - must have the capacity and skillset to support all learners. Ability awareness and de-escalation trainings should be mandatory for all educators and school staff. Training an educator to differentiate instruction helps that teacher support all students. We need more paraeducators, school psychologists, and related service providers at all schools to support this work. We must reduce caseloads so that special educators have time to collaborate with their general education peers.
Research shows that diversity helps us become more thoughtful and innovative. It helps us become better problem solvers. And for those of us raising kids in San Francisco, it helps prepare our kids for the reality of our city.
Q: Why do you use the term “disability” instead of” special needs”?
A: Because I am following the lead of those within the disability community. A common mantra is “nothing about us without us.” Many advocates prefer to use the term “disabled” rather than “special needs.” I must recognize that I’ve used this term in the past, and am working hard to correct myself and do better as I learn more. This blog post by Rebecca Cokley explains better than I could. I encourage everyone to check it out: https://rebecca-cokley.medium.com/why-special-needs-is-1959e2a6b0e
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