Around this time last year, Shavonne Hines-Foster and Kathya Correa Almanza were elected as San Francisco Unified School District student delegates, just as the unthinkable happened and classes moved online due to a global pandemic.
Then the unthinkable kept happening.
Newly-formed parent groups increased pressure to reopen physical classrooms, criticism mounted of an ongoing school renaming process, and Lowell High School’s longtime test-based admissions policy was eliminated in the face of another racist incident. Most recently, the board stripped Alison Collins of her vice-presidential title and committee assignments over controversial tweets — a move that was countered with an $87 million suit by Collins.
“The craziest things happened,” said Correa Almanza, a senior at June Jordan School for Equity, reflecting on the past year. “We handled it together. I hope the next student delegates can do the same thing because I don’t think it’s going to stop when we leave.”
After all that, four SFUSD students still threw their hats into the ring this year to run for a student delegate seat. Voting ended on Wednesday and winners will be announced on Monday.
The upheaval of the past year has increased the level of student engagement with the district, the delegates said.
“A lot of people tell us we popularized the position,” said Hines-Foster, a senior at Lowell High School. “It didn’t get a lot of recognition and voter turnout in the past. I think a lot of adults are paying more attention since we’ve been on the seat and more students have been more connected.”
The four students running said they felt like more focus should be placed on the needs of students and ensuring a smooth transition to a full in-person school schedule this fall. For candidate Agnes Liang, bringing more attention to smaller, less-resourced school is her main objective.
“The big issues kind of surrounded Lowell,” said Agnes, a junior at Mission High School. “It was more of the subtle issues I wanted to advocate for, like better resources for smaller schools and focus on the focal populations in returning back in person. Someone coming from a smaller school and oftentimes overlooked or underrepresented school, I thought, would be good to represent the voices of a small school.”
Vishal Krishnaiah ran last year and knows he wants to be involved in government positions in the future. His priority is to have students come back for a regular school year, and then push for healthier school lunches and cleaner facilities, as well as anti-racist teaching.
The incoming senior at Lowell feels many decisions from the board on complex issues this past year were made without enough community support, like the change in Lowell admissions and renaming. Krishnaiah also agreed with calls for Collins to resign.
“I’m not exactly happy with everything they do,” Vishal said. “I do really appreciate how they listen to students overall. I hope they would be open to more perspectives about different topics. We as students don’t have one single perspective.”
Joanna Lam, a junior at Lowell, also said the Lowell admissions decision felt rushed, but thought it was a step in the right direction. She wants to prioritize mental health, student wellness, and transparency through events like more Instagram Live sessions with school board members.
“You shouldn’t need to know all of the nuances and intricacies of the Board of Education to understand what’s happening with your children,” Joanna said. “Just witnessing everything going on this year and especially with division in our district…I can’t just sit here in my room and wish for things to get better.”
Joanna, who campaigned for California Senate candidate Jackie Fielder last year, is also an advocate of youth civic engagement and feels keeping students connected to their governing board will establish healthy voting habits.
Agnes, Joanna and Vishal are on the Student Advisory Council, which works with the student delegates to bring issues to the school board. They were able to see how resolutions are developed and passed.
“I am running because I want to help support students in special education classes by funding money for trampolines and other fun stuff they can have that will help improve their mental health!” said Oscar Berry, a ninth-grader at Ruth Asawa School for the Arts, in a statement. “I want to run so I can help promote this issue and ensure that all SFUSD students are treated with equality.”
Student delegate candidates recognized that the politics around the school board got messy and saw how it impacted student delegates. Hines-Foster, in particular, received death threats and was interrupted by adults during public comment. But making sure students are prioritized was a common motivator.
“Politics can get very messy,” Agnes said. “As a person who stands my ground and doesn’t waver when things get hard…it all went back to the students and what the students want and how I could advocate for them and how we could make SFUSD better together. At the end of the day, it’s students over the politics, it’s students over the drama.”
Correa Almanza said that she thinks the candidates this year are well-equipped for the role and would do a great job. She hopes they can build on the work she and Hines-Foster did as delegates and on the student advisory council.
“I had a lot of fears going into this role,” Correa Almanza said. “You’re not representing you, you’re representing 50,000-plus students — that’s such a powerful way to tap into courage.”
Of the students willing to be on the school board, the graduating senior added: “They got guts, for sure.”