Political Notebook: Quartet of out candidates runs for SF school board
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Two transgender candidates, one a bisexual married father, a gay man, and a lesbian married mother have all pulled papers to run for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Education next year.
If either Martin Rawlings-Fein or Mia Satya wins, they would become the first transgender elected leader in the city. Rawlings-Fein would also be the first bisexual man to win elective office in San Francisco.
Should Phil Kim, who came up short in his school board bid last year, be elected, he would be the only LGBT Asian-American currently holding public office in the city. And if Sarah Thompson-Peer wins a seat, she would be the first lesbian to hold elective office in San Francisco since 2008.
The quartet faces daunting challenges, however, should they remain in the race. (The filing deadline is next summer.) Fourteen people, so far, have indicated they plan to seek one of the three seats on the seven-member oversight body that will be on the ballot next November.
At least one will be an open seat. Rather than seek re-election, Shamann Walton, currently the board's president, is running for District 10 supervisor. Emily Murase, Ph.D., has pulled papers to seek re-election, while Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell, the board's vice president, has yet to do so.
Until this year, it had been eight years since the board, which oversees the San Francisco Unified School District, had a member on it from the LGBT community. Gay school board member Mark Sanchez was elected to the school board last November. Having previously won a seat on the board years ago, he had stepped down from the body at the start of 2009, as he ran unsuccessfully the year before for supervisor rather than seek re-election to his seat on the education board.
Prior to Sanchez's victory, several out candidates, including transgender educator Jamie Rafaela Wolfe, had fallen short in their bids to be elected to the school board. The down-ballot race usually attracts little notice outside of school circles and hardly any media attention.
Because of the historic nature of their candidacies, Rawlings-Fein and Satya have garnered some press coverage, particularly due to transgender candidates making history across the country earlier this month by winning their races in Palm Springs, California; Minneapolis; Virginia; and Pennsylvania.
While they both acknowledge their election would mark another political milestone for the city's LGBT community, it is not the sole reason Rawlings-Fein or Satya entered the race. Having experienced bullying at school and indifference from her teachers and school administrators growing up in rural Texas, Satya wants to be a voice on the school board for any student struggling in the city's schools.
"I am running not just for transgender youth but for all youth. They all deserve an equal shot for success," said Satya, 27, an employment specialist at the LGBT Community Center, at her campaign kick-off event November 15 held at the LGBT-owned nightclub The Stud. "We need people at the table who are passionate about equity and social justice. Just having a face at the table will not fix our issues. We need people who give a damn."
In a phone interview this week, Rawlings-Fein, 40, also said his candidacy is centered on being an advocate for not only students but also their parents. One of his top priorities would be addressing the much-maligned school assignment system the district uses to place students in the city's schools.
"I am excited there are two transgender people running for school board. It is important, but we cannot forget this is about our children, the city's kids," said Rawlings-Fein, an education technology specialist at UCSF's radiology department. "We have to, like, really bring it home this isn't about being transgender. It is about being a parent and about being a part of the fabric of our community."
He and his wife, Shelli Fein, who works for the children's agency First 5 San Francisco, are raising two public school students, Sadie Rawlings-Fein, 12, and Matthew Rawlings-Fein, 6, in the city's Outer Sunset district. He had planned to run for school board in 2012 but decided not to in order to focus on his own health needs at the time.
Since then he has gained even more experience with education issues, having been active in parent leadership roles at his kids' schools. Two years ago he led their Jewish supplementary school during a transitional period, serving as the interim director of education. The Rawlings-Feins are members of the primarily LGBT Congregation Sha'ar Zahav in the Castro.
"This is a natural extension of being involved with the PTA. It is important for parents to get involved and be engaged," said Rawlings-Fein of running for school board.
Satya, a former youth commissioner for the city, has spent the last decade focused on issues impacting both LGBT and straight youth. She was a program assistant at the LGBT youth agency the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center, and later the director of youth engagement at TAYSF, the city's program for transitional age youth coming out of the foster care system.
She also served as vice chair of the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families Oversight and Advisory Committee, advocating for city funding to be directed to the public schools. More recently Satya was appointed to the school district's Quality Teacher Education Act Oversight Committee.
As a member of the school board, Satya would focus on improving the graduation rates for Latino and African-American students, ensure the schools are teaching LGBT history as well as ethnic studies, and push the district to prepare those students who don't want to attend college to enter today's workforce.
While the school district is making strides, Satya said there is still "a lot of work to do."
Thompson-Peer and her wife, Katie Thompson-Peer, both 36, moved to San Francisco in 2012 and soon thereafter Sarah gave birth to their son, Evan, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, as Katie was also born in the city but grew up in Berkeley. As Sarah Thompson-Peer notes on her campaign site, she "is trying to be an informed parent" as the couple prepares for the 2018-2019 school enrollment process as they will send their son off to kindergarten in the fall.
Raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and then taught elementary school in the Baltimore City Public School System through the Teach for America program. She then earned her law degree from the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston and worked as an attorney focused on family law matters until relocating to the Bay Area. Her wife is a post-doctoral fellow at UCSF.
On the board of the LGBT-focused Our Family Coalition, Thompson-Peer this June was named to the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families Oversight and Advisory Committee. Desegregating the city's schools will be a top priority for her if elected to the school board.
"I am one of those people who was horrified by Donald Trump's election. I had thought about running for office for a long time," said Thompson-Peer, who works two jobs providing caregiving and walking dogs. "I had been a teacher before and have a law background, it seemed like a good fit to run for school board and a place I could do a lot of good."
Making sure the district is educating all of it students will be another top concern for her if elected.
"In a city with the resources San Francisco has access to, there is no excuse to have 'failing schools.' I want to make sure all students are being educated," she said. "And if they are not being educated equally, then we need to be listening to those communities to address the discrepancies."
Kim did not respond to an interview request. He is manager of K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maker (STEM) Education and the project manager of Research, Evaluation, and Partnerships for Personalized Learning Initiatives at KIPP Bay Area Schools, the operator of a number of charter schools. He began with the company as a seventh grade life science teacher.
On his campaign website Kim states that his having a teaching credential sets him apart from the other candidates in the race.
"I am not a seasoned 'politician' - and, quite frankly, I am fine with that," wrote Kim. "I started my run for school board because I felt compelled to bring a teacher's voice and a fresh perspective to our district. Though I am new to local politics, I can say that my personal and professional experience in public education uniquely qualifies me for this position."
Political Notes, the notebook's online companion, will return Monday, December 4.
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