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Black student achievement focus of SFUSD superintendent’s first three months in office

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SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews chats with students during a tour of his alma mater, Herbert Hoover Middle School on May 2. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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The San Francisco Unified School District must develop detailed strategies to address black student outcomes and mend an achievement gap that “has remained at the same level for decades,” according to its new superintendent Vincent Matthews.

During his first three months on the job, Matthews toured 57 campuses — more than one-fourth of the district’s schools — to hear from educators, city and district leaders, students, parents and other key stakeholders, and shared his initial findings and recommendations in a 90-day plan presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

Matthews concluded that the district is data-driven, financially responsible, offers a variety of programs to students from career pathways to arts and athletics, operates effective teacher recruitment programs and is governed by a school board that “works well as a unit” and prioritizes students’ well being.

Among a slew of recommendations made by Matthews were increasing support for school site leaders, increasing equity-focused professional development for educators, improving lines of communication with parents and creating district-wide “customer service standards.”

While Matthews concluded that overall student achievement has remained “stable,” he zeroed in on gaping disparities among black students that he said are “systemic” and span decades.

He said such barriers to equity for black students exist in both historically underserved schools and schools that, while high performing, also have the highest achievement gaps in the district.

A total of 20 schools fall into one of the two categories and, combined, serve almost half of the SFUSD’s black students enrolled in grades K-8. At all of these schools, Matthews highlighted equity barriers, such as high poverty rates and teacher turnover.

“We have racial and ethnic segregation, [and] as a system we are trying to overcome explicit bias and systemic oppression,” he said. “And at those schools, we usually have new or inexperienced teachers or leaders.”

At historically underserved schools with the highest black student populations, more than 70 percent of students are eligible for the reduced lunch program, less than 30 percent are proficient in English and math, and teacher retention averages about six years, compared with the districtwide average of 12 years.

At the high achievement gap schools, the achievement gap between black students and the highest achieving racial groups was at least 50 percent.

Black community leaders who attended the hearing commended Matthews for highlighting the issue, but said the report detailed nothing new.

“The data that the superintendent has presented you, I’ve known that for 50 years,” said NAACP President Rev. Amos Brown, who called on the school board to declare a state of emergency regarding black student achievement.

Matthews recommended pouring additional resources into these 20 schools before expanding resources to black students and other underserved groups at other schools.

Board of Education Commissioner Stevon Cook called Matthews’ leadership “honest about the condition that we are in.”

Matthews is expected to present a detailed plan for the district’s identified growth areas by February. The full 90-day report can be viewed on the district’s website.

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