School district adds superintendent for social justice

Anthony Smith, the new deputy superintendent of San Francisco’s public schools, is outspoken, telling a group of principals Thursday morning that “schools have been a place of dehumanizing alienation for our kids.”

The former chief of Emeryville’s tiny school district, Smith was courted by San Francisco, said Superintendent Carlos Garcia, a newcomer this year to The City’s district himself.

A new $180,000 position was created for Smith: the deputy superintendent for instruction, innovation and social justice.

Although people have told Garcia that Smith’s new title is “weird,” he thinks it’s appropriate.

“The biggest social injustice in our planet today is that kids are illiterate and can’t read, or that they don’t have equal access to curriculum or that there’s an achievement gap,” Garcia said.

According to test results released this summer, while the San Francisco Unified School District has seen rising scores over the last five years, the performance of black and Hispanic students continues to lag behind, and in some cases, the rate of improvement is lower than that of the district, despite targeted efforts.

In Emeryville, 67 percent of school-age children are black, while the racial group makes up only 20 percent of the citywide population. Smith became superintendent starting in 2004, after a state takeover of the district had ended.

At a meeting Thursday organized by The City to encourage school partnerships with community-based organizations, Smith said that he was an at-risk teenager until adults he met through his city’s recreation department gave him a chance.

“I’m on probation for shoplifting and they said, ‘Maybe you should run the snack bar,’” said Smith, who is married with two prekindergarten children. “They connected me. And that made a huge difference in my life.”

Smith concluded his talk by echoing Garcia’s call for higher literacy rates.

“Every single third-grader should be able to read, because we know the prison development system is based on the third-grade literacy rate,” he said.

Board Vice President Norman Yee called Smith a strong leader, adding that Garcia is putting together a good team of top administrators.

In addition to Smith, the district has a new chief administrative officer, Deborah Hirsh, from Los Angeles Unified School District, and a new associate superintendent of academics, Francisca Sanchez, from San Bernardino. District veteran Myong Leigh was also promoted to deputy superintendent of policy and operations.

beslinger@examiner.com

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