If there is one thing I’ve learned in my decades of leadership, it is this: listen first.
Over the past several months, I have visited 57 schools. I convened seven community forums. I pored over years of student test scores. And, I attended countless meetings.
I asked the community to talk about the San Francisco Unified School District’s strengths, challenges and opportunities.
I took a good look at SFUSD’s governance team, organizational capacity, data analysis, community engagement and operations and finance.
As previously reported in the San Francisco Examiner, I just shared my initial observations from what I call my 90-day listening and learning tour.
Designed to ensure that I engaged in a thoughtful, proactive, strategic beginning to lead SFUSD, I want to share a bit about what I’ve learned so far.
WHAT I LEARNED
SFUSD has a strong collective vision, values and a strategic plan that articulates the most important actions that must be happening in the classroom, school and district level.
On the whole parents love their children’s teachers and the wide variety of arts and other enrichment programs.
There is rich data available for teachers, parents and administrators to monitor student growth.
And, while California continues to underfund its public schools, the SFUSD team has navigated the fluctuating revenue streams with aplomb.
But there are several places where we fall short. I don’t have the column space to go into the details here, so I’ll choose one area.
WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT
Can you imagine waking up each day and saying, “I’m going to do everything today”? It’s likely you’ll end your day exhausted not having accomplished the most important things.
If there was ever an organization where people would tell you everything is important, it would be public education.
Our mission is clear: We are about providing each and every student the quality instruction and equitable support required to thrive in the 21st century. This is no small task.
By most measures, we’re getting better and better. The SFUSD is doing a good job. But, as one of my favorite authors Jim Collins says, “Good can be the enemy of the great.”
The gap between groups that have been achieving at lower levels and groups achieving at higher levels has not significantly narrowed.
I have learned that our community is deeply committed to closing the opportunity gap for African American students.
In spite of many efforts, we are still not producing the outcomes for African American students that will ensure their ability to thrive in the 21st century. We must change that.
In the next few months, we will share a more detailed proposal of what more we must do.
Don’t worry, I have no plans to stop listening and learning.
I will continue to visit schools every week. I aim to visit every one of our PreK – 12 schools before the end of the school year.
I also plan to continue to ensure that all voices, not just those who traditionally avail themselves to collaboration with the school system, are heard and engaged in the process of continuous improvement.
Meanwhile, I invite you to read my 90-day report online at www.sfusd.edu.
Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.