San Francisco school board members have voted not to renew the contract of the district’s long time chief academic officer in charge of instruction, citing a need to do more to address gaps in equity and social justice concerns.
Brent Stephens, a former principal with middle and K-8 schools in California and Massachusetts, was hired by the San Francisco Unified School District in 2010, and served as assistant superintendent with elementary schools before assuming his current post.
In February, the board voted 4-3 against renewing Stephen’s contract, with Commissioner Mark Sanchez and new board members Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga and Gabriela Lopez backing the move to replace him. In a subsequent vote earlier this month, the board voted to allow Stephens to resign.
As chief academic officer, Stephens is responsible for leading curriculum and instruction for the district, “working in partnership with schools and other departments to support great learning and teaching,” according to SFSUD’s website.
“Historically, there has been a lot that hasn’t been implemented in our district that we say we [are doing]— we have a lot of resources that aren’t up to date, aren’t culturally relevant, that haven’t been revised in many years after having these conversations,” said Lopez.
In recent years, efforts have been focused around implementing a Common Core Math curriculum, which incorporates technology and focuses on meaningful interactions and experiences in the students’ learning process. However other priorities such as restorative justice practices and implicit bias training mandated for educators have not been fully resourced or implemented, according to several commissioners.
While some of the district’s so-called “bright spot” schools are excelling in areas such as reducing absenteeism rates, equity gaps are causing others to flail, said Collins, who added that not every school has “the resources to execute a vision of social justice and equity” for every student.
“We are definitely doing unique things in our city as far as policy but want to make sure that we are realizing that promise for every single school — not just some schools that have exceptional leaders or extra resources because they have the parents that can raise the money,” said Collins.
“Coming [from the perspective of] an educator in the district, my position is ‘students first,’” said Lopez, who joined the board in January. “When I see the amount of money being put toward the administration in our district and how separate it is from the classroom, it’s very concerning.”
Stephens is expected to resign when his contract expires on July 1. The hiring process for a replacement for the position will begin in the coming weeks, according to Lopez, who added that she would like to see the position filled by somebody “who has shown commitment to relationship building in their community.”
“One thing I am looking forward to seeing is looking at the amount of people who do good work in our district, but not seeking out administrative positions,” she said. “We have so many community leaders that go above and beyond in their work making as much as I’m making as an educator in the classroom — if we talk about diversity that’s what we need to seeing in our leadership too.”
Stephens did not respond to requests for comment by press time.