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The will and the skill to improve SF schools

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Vincent Matthews is introduced as the next superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District during a news conference on March 31, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

After several decades away, I am thrilled to be back in San Francisco and to officially begin serving as the superintendent of San Francisco’s public schools.

I grew up in our schools, graduated from McAteer High, attended San Francisco State University and then became a teacher and even a principal in The City.

I learned a lot in San Francisco, and then furthered my knowledge in a few near and far California school districts. Upon returning to the San Francisco Unified School District, my first responsibility is to listen and learn so that I can help us build on the good work that is happening.

What I already know

I may be new to the SFUSD as of 2017, but I’m not new to public education. I know that the school district is one of the top performing urban school systems in the nation, and I also know we have some big challenges. Fortunately, many important steps are clearly outlined in the SFUSD’s existing strategic plan and long-term vision for its students, all of which I have reviewed.

I also know the value of a strong collaborative relationship with The City’s elected representatives, as well as community organizations and businesses. We all play a part in bringing opportunities to our children.

A socially just society understands and values human rights and recognizes the dignity of every human being. We have students who have historically been marginalized by our educational institutions, and it is the job of the adults in the system to ensure that student learning takes place for all. This belief has been the foundation of my entire career.

It is clear that everyone at the SFUSD is committed to closing what we educators call the “opportunity gap.” That’s the space between the opportunities afforded to the children of affluent and well-educated parents and those afforded lower-income children. The progress being made in this area is apparent in the district’s latest news: The SFUSD now has the highest graduation rate in its recorded history, and African-American and Latino students have made great gains.

However, this gap remains in the achievement test scores of African-American and Latino children when compared to other subgroups. While there are many glowing examples of successful Latino and African-American students in our school district, there are still too many who are not being well-served here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just an issue in San Francisco. It’s happening all over our country, but I believe San Francisco has the will and the skill to do better.

What I’m doing now

This is just Day 2 for me as superintendent. Yesterday, I visited two schools and went to a special graduation for our students in the hospitality, tourism and food service high school academies.

Today, I’m headed to two more schools and many more after that. There are so many important things going on in our public schools, and I look forward to sharing more with you here.

I’m not a fan of making assumptions. I like to use data about what is working and what isn’t. So I’ve already begun talking to a lot of people and reading reports, plans and budgets.

In my first month, I’ll be spending a lot of time in our schools, meeting students, parents, teachers and principals as quickly as possible before schools break for summer. Then, I’ll return to my school visits again as soon as schools reopen.

I’m holding several community meetings this month because I want parents to tell me how it’s going for their children. Please come out to share your thoughts with me.

Meet with Superintendent Vincent Matthews

May 11: James Lick Middle School, 1220 Noe St., 6 p.m.

May 17: Galileo Academy, 1150 Francisco St., 6 p.m.

May 18: Presidio Middle School, 450 30th Ave., 6 p.m.

May 22: Burton High School, 400 Mansell St., 6 p.m.

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

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