Touring a number of schools on the first day of classes Monday, Carlos Garcia was greeted heartily by parents, teachers and principals, some shaking his hands, some actually hugging him.
As the superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District, Garcia had some massive hurdles to overcome when he was hired to lead the district last summer. Former superintendent Arlene Ackerman departed with the reputation of having polarized the district. Schools’ leaders said black and Hispanic students were falling further behind.
“We needed someone who was a unifying force, someone who could speak to the positives about public education and yet have a clear understanding of the extreme challenges we have, in terms of the achievement gap [between white and Asian students and Latino and black students],” said Mark Sanchez, chair of the Board of Education.
By all accounts, the district received it — in spades.
Throughout The City, leaders credit Garcia with accomplishing two of the major goals he set for his first year on the job: convincing voters in a tough budget year to approve Proposition A, a $198 parcel tax to boost teacher salaries, and creating the strategic plan, a five-year plan that Garcia hopes will close the achievement gap, which has been a growing problem for The City.
They also credit him with taking the time to visit every school in his first year and to getting to know each principal and many teachers.
“I like seeing him come out here and talk to the community,” said Rudy Corpuz, executive director of United Playaz, a group that works with at-risk youth. “We need more of that.”
However, while most say Garcia has done a lot to lay the groundwork for positive change in San Francisco schools, the coming year will show whether that change can happen.
“It’s very early to make a judgment about his time in San Francisco,” said Dennis Kelly, president of the teachers’ union. “But our concern is that [the strategic plan] shouldn’t be a lot of additional work for the teachers.”
Jill Wynns, the longest-serving member of the Board of Education and an Ackerman supporter, agreed that Garcia must get down to brass tacks when rolling out the plan and how it will help students.
“He’s had a good honeymoon, but it's still a honeymoon,” Wynns said.
As for Garcia, the former superintendent for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, he said he's proud of his first-year accomplishments. However, he’s hoping this year he will be able to tackle literacy and mathematics, programs he didn’t get to as quickly as he wanted.
“Last year was a great year, but you can always say you could have done more,” Garcia said.
Garcia's report card
Schools leaders weigh in on the achievements of Carlos Garcia, hired last summer as superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District
School leader Grade
Lorraine Woodruff-Long (parent leader): A
Mark Sanchez (board of education chair): A
Dennis Kelly (president of teachers' union)*: A
Year one goals accomplished?
Help get Prop. A passed: Yes
Develop and approve the strategic plan: Yes
Hire assistant superintendent: Yes
Hire superintendent of academics: Yes
Kick off new K-3 literacy programs: No
Kick off new mathematics program: No
Year two goals
Roll out the strategic plan
Revamp district’s school-assignment system
Start K-3 literacy programs
Start new mathematics program
* Kelly gave an incomplete grade on Garcia’s ability to close the achievement gap