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SF education leaders recall Mayor Lee’s commitment to city’s youth

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Mayor Ed Lee, center, visits Bryant Elementary School in the Mission District with Superintendend Richard Carranza, right, during the first day of school on Aug. 15, 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
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Schools throughout the San Francisco Unified School District were ordered to fly their flags at half-staff Tuesday morning in honor of The City’s late mayor, whom the district described as a “cherished member of our school communities.”

Mayor Ed Lee, who led The City as mayor since 2011, died at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital at 1:11 a.m. Tuesday after suffering a heart attack. He was 65.

SEE RELATED: San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee dies at age 65

Hours after his passing, Lee’s education advisor and friend of more than a decade Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell said that his “impact on children and families” could not be fully quantified.

“Education was a space that he loved and that he always felt obligated to,” Mendoza-McDonnell, who served as education advisor to Lee for six years, told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, her voice breaking with tears.

Mendoza McDonnell said she first met Lee 12 years ago while he was working as City Administrator. Mendoza-McDonnell worked with Lee when he transitioned to mayor in 2011, she said.

“He was an advocate for our young people in San Francisco, which included [raising] millions of dollars and building a relationship with the private sector to contribute to the school district and to children in terms of technology, leadership and college readiness,” Mendoza-McDonnell said. “The list goes on.”

Together, Lee and Mendoza-McDonell nurtured a relationship with Salesforce.org that resulted in the tech giant providing $26.7 million in funding for the Mayor’s Middle Grades Leadership Initiative. The deal is the largest private investment in SFUSD’s history, according to the school district.

The initiative focuses on ramping up STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education throughout San Francisco’s middle schools, and to date has brought computer labs, among other things, to a number of middle school campuses.

With the Salesforce funding in its fifth consecutive year, the relationship was a step to ensure that in “a thriving city … everyone — especially our young students — benefit from that prosperity,” Lee said in September.

SFUSD Superintendent Vincent Matthews said that Lee “truly understood what it meant to partner with our school district.”

Matthews said, “Today our children lost both a role model and a leader. As the first Asian-American mayor and the child of working-class immigrants, Mayor Lee connected with many of our students and frequently visited our public schools.”

Mendoza-McDonnell said that Lee always made sure to recognize both teachers and principals for their work. Under his leadership, “thousands of The City’s youth” received access to employment and scholarships, and preschool access and quality increased, she said.

“He wanted to take care of the most vulnerable, and that’s what we have to carry out,” she said. “We have to finish the work that we started.”

A big part of that work will be seeing the Teacher Housing Complex, The City’s first affordable housing development slated to exclusively house teachers and paraeducators in the Sunset District, “come to fruition,” she said.

In an effort to address the rampant displacement of San Francisco’s teachers who are increasingly unable to afford to live and work in The City, Lee dedicated $44 million in city funding toward the project in May.

Mendoza-McDonnell said that her former boss “always treated me as a partner in this work.”

She added that she will remember him for his “sense of humor, his love for the Warriors…and [for] how he was when he was with students.

“Some of the happiest moments [were] when he was with the kids,” she said.

A Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday night is expected to close out in Lee’s honor.

Students of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts’ music department were expected to perform a drumline saluting Lee at 1:20 p.m. on Tuesday, at 555 Portola Drive.

City College of San Francisco Trustee Alex Randolph said he will also be asking the community college to adjourn its Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday in remembrance of Lee.

“He has been a champion for higher education and City College,” Randolph said. “[It’s] a sad day for The City.”

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