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SF schools learn from Mayor Lee’s example

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Mayor Ed Lee visits with second grade students at Bryant Elementary School in the Mission on August 15, 2016 during their first day of school. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)
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Last week, San Francisco lost a great leader when Mayor Ed Lee passed away. I have been moved by the many tributes, including one by the editors of this paper, to our late mayor. I, too, want to take a moment to honor his legacy.

But before I mention some of the many contributions Mayor Lee made to our public schools, I want to share something personal: how it felt to work with Ed Lee.

When I returned to my hometown of San Francisco to lead our public schools, the mayor made me feel welcome and offered to meet with me whenever the need arose. I remember the first time I visited with him. He had a giant Mickey Mouse in his office. Lee told me, “If Mickey is in your office, you can’t help but smile.”

I soon discovered that he was just as considerate and thoughtful to everyone, from young third-graders to top CEOs. Of the many things he will be remembered for, I offer this as one of the important ones: Mayor Lee made me and countless others feel respected and valued.

STRENGTH OF COLLABORATION

That same respect was evident in how the mayor partnered with the San Francisco Unified School District. Though he was tasked with making progress in many areas in his day-to-day responsibilities — public safety, civil rights, economic development and environmental justice, to name a few — Lee always gave his full attention when the topic of public schools came up. He listened to staff and families share their experiences, asked thoughtful questions, then stood beside school leaders in our collective efforts to transform learning.

Our common goal was to give our students, especially those furthest from opportunity, a greater chance of staying and thriving in San Francisco.

Mayor Lee and I co-chaired the Our Children Our Families Council, a 42-member advisory body charged with promoting coordination, increasing accessibility and enhancing the effectiveness of programs and services for children, youth, and families — especially those with the greatest needs.

Mayor Lee also brokered the relationship between Salesforce.org and the SFUSD, providing $26.7 million in funding for the Mayor’s STEM Middle Grades Leadership Initiative over the past five years. Focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, this initiative has dramatically improved learning opportunities throughout our schools, especially our middle schools and K-8s.

Recognizing the challenges facing many of our city’s African-American families, Mayor Lee co-led a coordinated approach, called My Brother and Sister’s Keeper, to support African-American students and their families. Now, more of our African American students are participating in career internships and matched with mentors.

Mayor Lee was always ready to seize new opportunities to support our youth and demonstrated this repeatedly throughout the years. He insisted that we are stronger when we work together, yet also took brave stands when faced with threats to the values many of us in San Francisco share.

Thank you, Mayor Lee. I’ve learned so much from you in our journey together to strengthen San Francisco’s public schools.

Vincent Matthews is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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