San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews will retire from his position later this year, the district announced Wednesday morning.
“With a heavy heart, I want to share the news that I plan to retire from SFUSD on June 30, 2021,” Matthews said in a statement. “I am eternally grateful to the community and the school board for allowing me to have had the opportunity to serve the community that raised me and made me who I am.”
The announcement comes on the heels of an excruciating year for SFUSD.
Students have been out of the classroom for 12 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to severe learning loss and deep inequities; the teachers union and school district have been locked in a months-long battle over how to go about reopening; and many members of the parent community have expressed growing dissatisfaction as they struggled to balance their own responsibilities and at-home instruction.
“Though it saddens me to leave at a time when our district is already experiencing so many destabilizing hardships brought on by this pandemic, after much reflection, I believe this is the right time,” Matthews said in a statement.
Matthews, a San Francisco native and SFUSD graduate who got his doctorate at San Francisco State University and started teaching in the Bayview, was appointed as superintendent in 2017 to replace Richard Carranza, who left for a job in Houston. He had previously served as the state-appointed superintendent of the Inglewood Unified School District and as principal of Thomas Edison Charter Academy in the Mission District, among other positions.
In announcing his retirement Wednesday, Matthews reiterated his commitment to executing the plan unveiled last week to bring some students back to in-person learning, providing distance learning options for students who are ineligible to return or who choose to stay at home and planning for the summer and fall.
“I am not going to discuss my decision in more detail at this time as I want to support our sustained focus on this challenging task,” he said in a statement, although he hinted that he has not always been in agreement with the current Board of Education.
“There are many new commissioners on the San Francisco Board of Education and I want them to have the opportunity to select a new superintendent who is aligned with their approach,” Matthews said.
Board President Gabriela Lopez said commissioners would work with Matthews to create a transition plan and deliver additional information about his replacement “shortly.”
“He has been a steadfast and focused partner as we have prioritized the safe reopening of schools during the pandemic,” Lopez said of Matthews in a statement. “We are fortunate to have worked with an educator who is a native of San Francisco and proud alumni of our public schools.”
Matthews’ retirement is only the latest challenge for a board that already faces a budding recall effort against several of its members and a push to place a charter amendment on the ballot that would eliminate the elected board altogether and replace it with an appointed body. The board has clashed with Matthews’ administration on some issues, including a school lunch contract with Revolution Foods, and notably rejected his recommendation over the summer to hire an outside consultant to help guide the reopening process.
Meredith Dodson, an organizer of the parent group Decreasing the Distance, which has advocated for reopening schools, said that Matthews has been a “strong advocate for what’s best for students, all students, yet he didn’t have the full support he needed during a most trying year to implement his vision and goals.”
“From his request last summer to hire the (fully-funded) consultant to help get an in-person learning plan in place, to pushing for reopening plan for our students without clear and urgent directives from the Board,” Dodson said, “As much as parents have been frustrated with him, I actually think he was one of the few people really pushing for reopening and getting kids the most number of days and hours of in-person learning.”
The Campaign for Better San Francisco Schools, the group organizing the charter amendment, cited Matthews’ retirement as further evidence of the need for change, citing “a consistent and clear lack of support from the Board of Education behind Superintendent Matthews, particularly during the course of this pandemic.”
“The retirement of Superintendent Matthews further highlights that San Francisco needs a better system for choosing the members of our school board so that our schools can be better managed,” the group’s co-chairs, Patrick Wolf and Jennifer Butterfoss, said in a statement.
Staff writer Sara Gaiser contributed to this report.