The new San Francisco superintendent of schools knows what it’s like to be an outsider.
As a Spanish-speaking child growing up in a barrio of Los Angeles, Carlos Garcia sold newspapers on street corners and befriended children involved with gangs. He had no choice, he said, “I was part of the community.”
On Wednesday, a day after the San Francisco school board voted 6-1 to hire its new top executive, Garcia gave an impassioned speech to a crowd of more than 150 people, including city leaders, school administrators and teachers, about an issue he holds dear — the achievement gap.
“Public education is the Statue of Liberty,” he said. “How is it possiblethat someone like me got to this position? Our schools need to be good for all of our children, not just some of our children.”
Moments earlier, interim schools chief Gwen Chan passed the torch — one, in fact, made by children at McKinley Elementary School — to Garcia, who served as superintendent of the Clark County School District in Nevada from 2000 to 2005.
The 55-year-old educator arrives at the district as it struggles to find a new school assignment process, suffers from declining enrollment and budget constraints, and has been operating without a permanent leader since embattled Superintendent Arlene Ackerman resigned more than a year ago.
After a six-month-long search, the board hired Garcia on Tuesday night for $255,000 a year. He will take over for Chan on July 16.
Garcia began his career as a high school history teacher in Southern California more than 30 years ago. He moved his way up, taking jobs as vice principal, state and federal programs coordinator and head track coach before signing on to lead San Francisco’s Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991.
Garcia said the Mission district school had a wait list of about 2,000 children by the time he left. He said he is planning to dig deep into the issue of inequity in San Francisco public schools.
“Why aren’t those schools of value, and what can we do immediately to make those schools desirable?” he said.
When peppered with some tough questions regarding gang violence, school choice and union negotiations Wednesday, Garcia responded that he doesn’t have the solutions to every problem.
“I plan to be out in this community everywhere. You’ll see me on a corner in the Mission, in Chinatown, Hunters Point, I’ll be there,” he said.
Hometown: Los Angeles
First job: 1974, student teacher of English-language arts at Ontario High School in Ontario
Current position: Vice president of McGraw-Hill Companies education division
Top education jobs: 1997-2005, superintendent of Clark County, Fresno Unified and Sanger Unified school districts
Offices held: Member of San Mateo County Board of Education (1991), Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce (current) and San Joaquin Valley Goodwill Industries (1998-2000)
San Francisco experience: Principal of Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991
Languages: English, Spanish
Education: Master of Arts in Education, Claremont Graduate School
SFUSD start date: July 16
Annual salary: $255,000
– Source: SFUSD
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