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Editorial: SF school board recommendations

by BAR Editorial Board

From left: Mark Sanchez, Jenny Lam, Michelle Parker, and Kevine Boggess. Photos: Courtesy of the candidates
From left: Mark Sanchez, Jenny Lam, Michelle Parker, and Kevine Boggess. Photos: Courtesy of the candidates  

There are four seats up for election in November for members of the San Francisco Board of Education. Two commissioners are not seeking reelection, meaning that voters will select at least two new members. We recommend incumbents Mark Sanchez and Jenny Lam, and candidates Michelle Parker and Kevine Boggess. All eligible candidates were asked to submit written answers to a questionnaire about their background and policy positions.

Sanchez, a gay man, is the only LGBTQ commissioner on the seven-member body. It's important to maintain diversity on the board, and Sanchez, a longtime teacher, has shown himself to be an excellent leader, especially during his current tenure as president and guiding the San Francisco Unified School District through COVID-19. The closure of school facilities this spring forced an abrupt shift to distance learning, creating challenges for teachers, staff, students, and parents. When the new academic year began last month with remote learning, Sanchez and the board were able to provide more resources to teachers and families for the transition. Sanchez noted in his questionnaire that the school district now provides meal distribution, technology, and learning material distribution to students. "We plan to continue in this mode until the relevant science and local health officials confirm it's safe to do otherwise," he wrote. "Then we will likely proceed with an abundance of caution to a phased-in hybrid approach to in-person instruction before a full return to the classroom." He noted that while there wasn't a large number of district students without access to laptops and/or Wi-Fi connectivity in the spring when remote learning started, those who struggled tended to be students from the most vulnerable communities. This school year, he wrote, the district is focusing on these communities by moving more resources to meet their needs.

Lam wrote in her questionnaire that "flexibility is the order of the day" regarding remote learning. "We learned very quickly one size does not fit all," she added. "We are still learning what works and what doesn't with distance learning." She said it's important for students to have a range of opportunities to connect with their teachers, paraeducators, and other school staff, as well as their peers. "I support providing more resources to high-needs schools, which are often where our Black, Brown, and sociologically disadvantaged students attend," she wrote. She is committed to closing the digital divide, providing expanded and extended learning opportunities for students, and supporting the city's efforts to create learning hubs in libraries, rec centers, and community centers.

Parker, a single mom of three children who have all attended SFUSD schools since kindergarten, came up short in her bid for school board two years ago. This time around, she is expanding her endorsements and connections with voters, she wrote in her questionnaire. She has long been a parent leader, advocate, and organizer. She served as co-chair of the SFUSD Parcel Tax Oversight Committee, and that experience should serve her well if elected as the district faces budget shortfalls to make facilities safe for reopening. This includes installing partitions, sinks in classrooms that don't have them, and upgrading ventilation, among many other items. In her response about making school buildings and facilities safe, she suggested that the board should check the voter-approved language from recent school bonds to see if any of the COVID-related building improvements would be an allowable expense. While Parker wrote that it's unlikely that temporary or movable items would qualify, some partitions, ventilation, and sinks might. There may also be funds in the new city budget when it is approved. "Finally," she wrote, "philanthropic donations can be solicited, and we can reasonably hope that wealthy San Franciscans will respond positively ..."

Boggess, the longtime education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, would be a strong addition to the board. At Coleman Advocates he has worked with hundreds of students and parents to improve public schools, and has co-led several local and state campaigns to change education policy and increase school funding. He supports the district's COVID back-to-school plan, and agrees that schools cannot reopen until it is deemed safe to do so. He wrote in his questionnaire that he was impressed by the quick pivot to remote learning that occurred in the spring. "That said, distance learning is simply not as effective as in-person learning in the classroom," he added. He wrote that the district needs to identify individual supports to help each student be successful. Regarding reopening, Boggess wrote that he thinks there will need to be regular testing and public health staff regularly onsite at school campuses, which will cost money.

The candidates were generally in agreement to our question about what defunding the police means to them: reallocate resources from school policing to social service support for students. Sanchez, Lam, board member Alison Collins, and Boggess (in his capacity with Coleman Advocates) co-authored the board's resolution "In Support of Black Lives in SFUSD and the Abolition of Armed Law Enforcement in Schools," which effectively severs the school district's ties with the San Francisco Police Department. The resolution calls on the city to reinvest funds currently used for policing and investing those resources into youth development, mentoring, community-based violence prevention, and other social services. Parker wrote that she supports the district's resolution.

These four candidates all would bring their deep commitment to students, staff, and parents to the SFUSD board. All have a broad range of support, including LGBTQ electeds and organizations.

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