SFUSD supe’s likely departure won’t leave district ‘stunted’ in its progress

The four-year tenure of the San Francisco Unified School District’s top administrator is likely to come to an end next month, when the superintendent is expected to head south in pursuit of a new job.

The governing board of the largest public school system in Texas unanimously voted to name Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, as the sole finalist to lead the Houston Independent School District.

The Houston ISD board still must vote whether to hire Carranza one last time in three weeks, but San Francisco’s school board named an interim superintendent to replace him ahead of the final vote.

Myong Leigh, the SFUSD’s deputy superintendent for policy and operations, is slated to take up the reins of the school district in September once Carranza’s new job is solidified.

Carranza has been superintendent for four years and, prior to succeeding Carlos Garcia in 2012, served as a deputy superintendent for the district.

In an interview with the San Francisco Examiner on Wednesday, Carranza said he was proud of the work he’s done to introduce restorative practices to the classrooms through the Safe and Supportive Schools Policy, shrink the achievement gap among students and bring in philanthropists like Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff to boost technology efforts in the district.

“They’ve made investments where you think an industry would never make an investment,” Carranza said, reffering to the $6 million Salesforce.com donated to the SFUSD in 2015. “How do you put a logo on knowledge?”

In his first year as superintendent, Carranza said he spent about 35 percent of his time talking with the business community.

“We’re creating the future workers of San Francisco and I think that’s an important legacy that I’d like to say I played a small part in,” he said.

The school board found out last Wednesday that the Houston school district had recruited Carranza, and met twice in closed session to discuss his leaving, once Sunday and again Tuesday.

“I was reluctant because I really love the work we’re doing in San Francisco, but decided to go ahead and have a conversation with them,” Carranza said.

Supervisor Norman Yee, who previously chaired the school board, said Carranza had an uncontroversial tenure heading the school district. Unlike his predecessor, Carranza has had a positive relationship with the school board as the superintendent.

“He’s done a very good job for San Francisco and some of the goals that we had set at the Board of Education at the time when I was there,” Yee said. “When he took over, many initiatives were already set in motion in which he was actually a part of creating.”

Lita Blanc, president of the teachers’ union United Educators of San Francisco, said despite the union and Carranza’s recent disagreement over whether to hire teachers from the controversial Teach for America program (which the Board of Education decided not to partake in, but Carranza supported), she supports many of his efforts over the years.

“There was some good policy set in his tenure including the Safe and Supportive Schools policy [and] the inclusion policy for children with special needs,” Blanc said. But “we were always looking for more resources.”

The Board of Education unanimously selected Leigh to become interim superintendent after scrambling for the last week over Carranza’s departure.

Leigh, who doesn’t aspire to become the permanent superintendent, said his main focus will be to keep the district on a stable path while the search is conducted over the next several months.

“We already have the right priorities established underway and it’s critical work and people are going about it in a very effective way,” he said. “I’m intentionally not planning to introduce new priorities or create a lot of disruption or change.”

Leigh has been with the school district for more than 15 years. His likely appointment was met with a “long, standing ovation” when it was announced Wednesday morning before a room of administrators, Board of Education President Matt Haney said.

“The board and our thousands of employees at the district and school levels are prepared to move forward on our initiatives [and] our goals,” Haney said. “I don’t believe that we are going to be stunted in our progress because of this.”

Leigh is most well-known for dealing with the district’s budgets, Haney noted.

In January, Carranza was a candidate to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District, but told the Examiner at the time he was committed to remaining in The City.

The school board is expected to meet soon in public to begin its national search for a permanent replacement for Carranza.

Wearing his usual black suit, the mariachi-playing superintendent took up his guitar Wednesday morning and said farewell to administrators before taking off for Houston, where the school district is 4.5 times as large as San Francisco’s.

“Like Tony Bennett said, I’ll leave my heart in San Francisco, but I’m taking my boots and guitar to Texas,” Carranza said.

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