Anxious superintendent and the first day of school

San Francisco public school students weren’t the only ones with butterflies in their stomachs on the first day of school Monday morning.

Walking the halls of various campuses, peeking into classrooms to chat with teachers and students, San Francisco’s new schools superintendent, Carlos Garcia, said he also suffered from some first-day jitters.

“I felt just like the kids did; I was kind of anxious to get here,” said Garcia, who took over for interim superintendent Gwen Chan in July. “I just wanted to get to work.”

On Monday, the San Francisco Unified School District awoke from summer break when 55,000 students, armed with new backpacks and school supplies, converged on school campuses throughout The City.

“We’re off to a great start,” Bret Harte Elementary School Principal Vidrale Franklin said while touring the Bayview district campus with Garcia. “We’re excited about the new year.”

The 2007-08 school year will be a new beginning of sorts for San Francisco Unified — one of the largest urban school districts in the state. Although Garcia has only held his position for six weeks, he has already started to take on some of the district’s biggest challenges, including declining enrollment, an oft-criticized school-assignment process and a racial achievement gap between the standardized-test scores of students who are white or Asian and their black and Hispanic peers.

Garcia, who is a former principal of Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission district, toured a handful of schools Monday as part of a promise he made to spend time in classrooms each week.

At Bret Harte Elementary School, Garcia met students who are bucking the achievement-gap trend. The students, of whom 75 percent are black or Hispanic, are performing better than statewide averages on state tests. Garcia has said the achievement gap will be his top priority. He said he plans to implement the best practices of high-performing schools districtwide, which should in turn increase the popularity and desirability of other campuses.

Teachers and students from Raoul Wallenberg High School in the Western Addition were also able to showcase for Garcia a biomedical program that includes weekly internships at Kaiser Permanente. Garcia also toured Jean Parker Elementary School in Chinatown, where most students have limited English-language skills but still perform well on state tests, and the San Francisco Community K-8 School in the Outer Mission, which is one of the district’s small-by-design campuses.

When asked what stood out on the first day of school, Garcia said, “A nurturing environment and people who are excited to be here.”

arocha@examiner.com

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