The San Francisco Unified school board has been suddenly and uncharacteristically boring ever since three recalled school board members were removed from their positions and replaced by three highly talented, competent public school moms — none of whom have higher political aspirations. Not surprisingly, the tenor of the meetings has shifted from acrimonious to professional. It is hard to imagine this new board making international headlines.
For the students of California — who have also seen a surge of parents newly engaged in their education — this is also a good thing.
Fox News had a field day with San Francisco’s overwhelmingly successful recall results, which was met here with only eye rolls. This was not a recall about punishing progressive politicians. This was a recall fueled by parents who had been vilified for wondering why every other major urban district except ours could figure out how to reopen after the Covid lockdowns were lifted. It was a recall about the loss of the word “excellence” from our district’s vocabulary. It was a recall about real, objective incompetence and school board actions that caused genuine harm to our students.
The recall would not have been successful if parents had not found one another and formed a new, unique voting block. Parents, only out of desperation, found each other in social media forums in the summer and fall of 2020, eventually forming their own groups to talk about what to do about a school board that not only wasn’t listening but was even actively harassing public school parents online. Connection and community were found through DMs and Messenger and brought into new Facebook groups, and the rest, well, became history. Parents like Siva Raj and Autumn Looijen wondered if a recall might be worth attempting, and a sea of families swelled up behind them. A new understanding about “education politics” sunk in for parents. Without the pandemic, very few of us would have ever come to understand how much the school board actually impacts our children’s education, and why we should care about who is on it.
It’s hard to extrapolate anything about San Francisco to places beyond San Francisco. We are a truly special place (which shade of blue are you today?). But the true lessons must not be forgotten in our own district.
San Francisco Unified has another school board election right around the corner, yet the parent energy that achieved the recall is already waning. Our students need parents to keep paying attention, and the broader city needs to keep listening to public school families for direction on voting for the future of the school board.
The district has a unique opportunity at this moment that it must seize. Though it has been teetering on the brink of state takeover, early signs with this new board show movement towards more effective fiscal management.
Already conversations around equity and excellence going hand-in-hand have returned to the room. In Lowell High School, can we have a merit-based process that also incorporates into its policy mechanisms to increase diversity and sensitivity to the needs of its diverse student body? Yes, if we try, we can.
Can we focus on implementing our long-term vision for the district finally, incorporating a focus on student outcomes into all of our decision-making, rather than passing a dozen or more toothless resolutions per year? Yes, we know other districts more effective than us do, and so can we. Can we rebuild community trust in our district and turn around this steep enrollment decline? Yes, and we must.
The parent movement that ousted the San Francisco school board members is much bigger than San Francisco. It is the key to keeping things moving forward for public school students all over California. School boards shouldn’t be political stepping stones used for higher office aspirations. Serving on a school board should be about one thing only: ensuring excellent and equitable education for its district’s students.
Meredith W. Dodson is a public school parent and executive director of SF Parent Coalition and affiliate SF Parent Action, a broad and diverse network of public school families that advocates for an equitable and thriving San Francisco public school system.
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