Editorial: Keeping SF school board on track

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday September 14, 2022
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San Francisco school board Commissioner Lainie Motamedi, left, Commissioner Lisa Weissman-Ward, and candidate Karen Fleshman. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
San Francisco school board Commissioner Lainie Motamedi, left, Commissioner Lisa Weissman-Ward, and candidate Karen Fleshman. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

The San Francisco Board of Education has been the focus of overwhelming negative attention over the past two years. From anger over the slow pace of reopening schools during the ongoing COVID pandemic to controversies over admissions policies at Lowell High School to the historic recall in February that led to the ouster of three commissioners. Now, three seats are up for election on the November 8 ballot as the new board, with three members appointed by Mayor London Breed, seeks to find a productive path forward working with new San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Matt Wayne to overcome budget issues and other matters. Below are the Bay Area Reporter's recommendations.

Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward

Lainie Motamedi and Lisa Weissman-Ward are two of the board members Breed appointed in March following the recall of former board president Gabriela López and Commissioners Faauuga Moliga and Alison Collins. (López is also a candidate, running in an effort to reclaim her seat.) Both Motamedi and Weissman-Ward have been endorsed by the Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, among many others.

In her B.A.R. endorsement questionnaire, Motamedi, an SFUSD parent, stated that her priorities are focusing on student access, fiscal responsibility, and engaging with students, families, educators, and the community at large. She noted that the board approved a balanced budget since she joined it as a member, in addition to hiring Wayne. "I have visited 35+ schools and talked with countless educators and site administrators about their experiences and needs," she wrote. Regarding policies for trans students to make sure they feel safe at school, Motamedi stated that she appreciates the district's partnership with LYRIC, a queer youth organization, and supports Equality California's recommendations to the district to improve staff supports, expansion of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies and practices, and site-based affinity groups. EQCA, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, is in the process of updating its Safe and Supportive Schools report card, she noted, and she is waiting for the group's latest assessment of SFUSD.

Prior to being appointed to the school board, Motamedi completed a four-year term serving as co-chair of the Public Education Enrichment Fund Committee where she advocated for accountability and transparency reform to ensure that San Francisco city funds were utilized for student life as mandated by the city charter.

On the issue of returning Lowell High School to a merit-based admission system, Motamedi stated, "We need transparency regarding what we are offering at all of our high schools and community input into what our students, families, and educators recommend going forward." She and her board colleagues voted 7-0 to direct the superintendent to examine, investigate, and evaluate the district's high school portfolio for the purpose of improving all high school programs. Those recommendations are expected in April.

Weissman-Ward is an attorney who is the associate director of Stanford Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, where she both represents individuals facing deportation and those seeking asylum (and other matters), and teaches and mentors law students. As a parent of two students in the district, she wrote in her questionnaire that she understands "how badly the trust was broken between the school board and the public." She stated that she is focused on student-centered outcomes to rebuild that trust.

Weissman-Ward stated that she is "fiercely committed to supporting policies that support our transgender students to ensure that they are safe at school." The board directs the superintendent, and she stated that she would hold district leaders accountable by ensuring close communication with school site officials, regular auditing of school sites for compliance with relevant policies, soliciting feedback from trans students and their families, and training for educators regarding relevant policies.

On the issue of Lowell High School, Weissman-Ward stated that she, too, voted in June for the creation of a task force to develop community-led recommendations to improve all of the district's high schools, and she voted to return to the criteria-based admissions policy beginning with the 2023-24 academic year. "I believe in creating more, not fewer opportunities for rigorous academic programs," she stated, adding that she wants "meaningful access to high-quality opportunities for all."

Karen Fleshman

Karen Fleshman is a candidate for the school board who is a parent of two district students, a diversity and inclusion educator, and an attorney. She has worked for government agencies and nonprofits helping prepare young people for success in college, careers, and life, she wrote in her endorsement questionnaire. She stated that she has been a "staunch ally" to the LGBTQ community since she was in junior high school (there are no out candidates running this time).

A progressive candidate — she's endorsed by the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club — Fleshman proposes that the school board organize an advisory committee on LGBTQ+ issues (at present there is none, she stated) that could help on matters relating to trans students and their safety at school.

She does not support merit-based admissions at Lowell High School and does not believe the current system will withstand a legal challenge. She believes the School of the Arts' portfolio-based admissions "seems more fair, but I still have concerns about it, and about concentrating resources inequitably among schools," she wrote.

In short, Fleshman wants to see "safe, positive, diverse schools in every neighborhood that all students and educators want to come to," she stated.

We think Motamedi, Weissman-Ward, and Fleshman are each qualified to serve on the Board of Education and would work to make the district better for students, families, and staff. We note that we are not endorsing Breed's other appointed candidate, Ann Hsu, and in fact called for her resignation after she wrote a racist response to an endorsement question for a parent group. Though she has apologized, we don't think the district needs this divisiveness.

Motamedi, Weissman-Ward, and Fleshman also all agreed to appoint qualified LGBTQ parents to the district's various advisory committees, including the Parent Advisory Council. This was an issue last year under the old board when a gay white dad was passed over for a seat on the PAC despite the fact that there were no LGBTQ members on it.

We recommend Motamedi, Weissman-Ward, and Fleshman for the Board of Education.

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