Here in San Francisco, we are deeply committed to creating a top-tier education system that provides everyone with the opportunities and resources needed for success — both while attending schools in the San Francisco Unified School District and after graduating. Everyone means everyone. This past week, approximately 4,000 students graduated from The City’s public schools. They comprise San Francisco’s 86.5 percent graduation rate, which sits 3.3 percent higher than the state average. They are more academically qualified and better prepared than any class before them.
Yet, before we celebrate, let’s consider two more facts: The graduation rate for Latino students in San Francisco is 11.6 percent lower than The City’s average, and for African-American students it is 15.4 percent lower. African-American and Latino students in San Francisco are significantly less likely to graduate from high school than their white and Asian classmates. To that extent, we have been working tirelessly to support both populations.
Our ultimate goal is getting graduation rates as close to 100 percent as humanly possible. San Francisco must now prioritize a second goal in getting graduation rates for Latino and African-American students up to The City’s average. We cannot be a city that provides opportunities for some students, but not all.
We have made huge strides in recent years thanks to restorative strategies that provide students with structured support rather than discipline; improved and expanded job training programs; as well as coding and computer science classes that prepare students for the 21st century job market. We have created an African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative, which also includes resources and a dedicated team to support our black students. We are working hard on accelerated language programs and increased support for our Latino students and all English Learners, as well as developing career pipeline programs in the schools that guarantee students graduate from the SFUSD ready for higher education or ready to work at a living wage.
We need dynamic ideas and need to see them through, but we must also find ways to rebalance our existing programs and make sure that all students have access to the basics. As a city, we should be immensely proud of our graduates, of their accomplishments and of the legacy of success we are creating within the SFUSD. But we should not see our work as community members, parents, teachers, administrators and advocates as finished.
Let’s consider this graduation season a less-than subtle reminder, as fewer Latino and African-American students cross graduation stages and collect diplomas across our city, that we need to recommit to lifting up our Latino and African-American students. Not by taking resources away from other students, but by ensuring that every single student, regardless of race, ethnicity and background, has access to the resources they need to succeed, including opportunities for growth; properly outfitted classrooms and school facilities; a structured support system; and teachers who are qualified, passionate and deeply invested.
If we begin to invest in our Latino and African-American students in the weeks leading up to graduation or even during their senior years, we are far too late. It must begin when every student first steps into any San Francisco public school.
This pushes us toward equity. This is how we succeed as educators, as advocates and as a city.
Shamann Walton is president of the San Francisco Board of Education.