New S.F. schools chief begins unenviable job

Sandwiched between two inductions — one official, one for public display — San Francisco’s new schools superintendent, Carlos Garcia, spent his first day on the job meeting hundreds of people.

In the next few weeks, he said, he plans to set goals, outline priorities and work with the school board and district staff.

“People don’t care what you do in your office,” Garcia said after Mayor Gavin Newsom swore him in before a crowd of people at City Hall. “One commitment I give to San Francisco is, in all my decisions, the children will always come first.”

A teaching veteran, Garcia signed a three-year contract with the San Francisco Unified School District last month that includes a $255,000 annual salary, a $30,000 signing bonus and other perks, including stipends for a home and vehicle.

Garcia, who is from Los Angeles and was principal of San Francisco’s Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991, officially took over for interim Superintendent Gwen Chan on Monday.

In a school district facing some difficult and often acrimonious issues, Garcia realizes he has a lot to learn: School assignment, declining enrollment, teacher-contract negotiations and an achievement gap are all weighing heavily on the cash-strapped district, which passed a $362 million budget for 2007-08 last month.

Garcia said his first priority will be to close the achievement gap between San Francisco’s white and Asian students and those who are African-American and Hispanic — populations Newsom said The City has failed.

At an all-day retreat Saturday, Garcia and the seven board members plan to review the district’s mission and policies, decide how to work together, and set a handful of goals and priorities.

The board did not have a retreat with former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman until three years into her tenure.

“That put everybody at a disadvantage,” board President Mark Sanchez said.

One of the biggest issues facing the district deals with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding race and school assignment.

The court voted 5-4 to restrict using race to integrate schools, except under special circumstances involving individual students.

San Francisco has not used race to integrate schools since the mid-1990s. For the last two years, however, the district has been reviewing whether it should bring race back into the equation. District General Counsel Miguel Marquez said talks would resume in the new school year.

On Monday, Garcia said he was disappointed with the ruling.

“It’s a ruling that is not up to date in this modern-day society,” he said, adding that the district is “waiting for the smoke to clear” before making any decisions on its own policy.

arocha@examiner.com


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