Come Jan. 8, the San Francisco school board will have two freshman members.
Matt Alexander, a former San Francisco Unified School District principal, and Kevine Boggess, education policy director for the nonprofit Coleman Advocates, will join the board as first-time electeds. Voters also re-elected Board member Jenny Lam, education adviser to Mayor London Breed, and Board President Mark Sanchez, a teacher.
“It just seems like a really strong team,” Alexander said. “I think we all kind of like each other and respect each other. I’m super excited about the board.”
The two fathers will join the board as SFUSD begins another semester of distance learning after plans to bring an initial round of priority students back in-person suffered a setback Friday. A date of Jan. 25 had been set, but was called off after the district and labor unions failed to reach an agreement over working conditions as coronavirus cases surge.
While Alexander thinks the reopening plans could have shaped up earlier, he felt things were moving in the right direction before the Friday announcement. In the meantime, the district should continue evolving distance learning while looking at improvements in areas like language access and an accessible phone line for assistance, he said.
Boggess, a San Francisco native and SFUSD graduate, wants to continue repairing the relationship with families as well as work better with nonprofits. Reopening plans and the rollout of changes to Lowell High School’s admissions process have increased tensions with SFUSD for many families.
“I think we’ve reached a point where there’s so little trust and confidence in the district, to the point where people second and third guess,” Boggess said. “It feels slow to us, I think, on the outside because we need to feel like we know what’s going to happen so we can prepare ourselves.”
Alexander is also hoping to shift the district’s culture so it listens more to input from school site leaders, rather than presenting them with a final decision. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to principals, for example, when they learned in November they would be required to work from school buildings, he said.
They are both thinking about how to stem learning loss and catch students up. Boggess sees a need for individualized learning plans, including mental health care and child care, for all students at this time, given the isolated nature of schooling and different learning environments.
“The way we budget for public education isn’t really for individual learning. It really puts us at a disadvantage,” Boggess said. “The learning experience is so different for each student and each family because of personal things in their homes, how they learn, their teachers, and how they’re able to connect with their students.”
Looking forward, Boggess wants year-round availability for students to make up grades or get ahead on some courses. Being flexible in grading could inadvertently penalize students applying to colleges who may not trust the grading, he noted.
Alexander sees a chance to switch to a performance-based assessment, which is how June Jordan School For Equity, the high school he helped found and lead, evaluated students, using projects rather than tests.
“That’s an intensification of an ongoing problem,” Alexander said. “It’s clear that the standard systems are not going to work right now. I do think it’s an opportunity to push on those things.”
Alexander has also been vocal about pushing for fairer school funding. San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition J, a parcel tax expected to bring $48 million to the district, while California voters rejected property tax-overhaul Proposition 15.
But a structural deficit remains, with SFUSD facing a $169.7 million deficit for the next two fiscal years and reopening costs up to $44.8 million. Alexander feels that, if needed, there’s a lot of room to cut from the central office rather than schools themselves.
“I think that’s a missed priority that needs to change,” Alexander said. “I’m concerned about the cuts, obviously, but I think we can do it without touching people who work in schools.”
Other issues board will soon address include: implementation of a recently approved new student assignment system; renaming schools with racist links; the widening achievement gap; developing a safe school infrastructure without police, and more.
Once Boggess and Alexander take office, the board will have just one veteran member, Sanchez, who has served a full term. Members Faauuga Moliga, Alison Collins,and Gabriela Lopez were elected in 2018, while Breed appointed Lam in 2019.
Boggess and Alexander will replace members Stevon Cook and Rachel Norton, who both declined to run for re-election.
Board member Alison Collins said she would miss Cook’s flexibility and would continue his work to implement Black studies. She previously praised Norton for standing up to inappropriate comments directed at board members of color and added that Norton was skilled in moving conversations forward productively.
But Collins is excited by Alexander’s extensive experience as a high school principal and parent, and his knowledge about college preparation. Boggess, who has helped Collins write resolutions including those seeking to remove police from schools, has deep city roots and is well aware of needs in the southeast neighborhoods.
“It’s just more of us who know what the pulse is,” Collins said. “I’m super excited.”