Students walk through the courtyard at KIPP San Francisco College Preparatory school in the Bayview. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

Act with urgency to support our students

I’ve been fighting to get my kids a good education for seven years, and it’s not easy in this city. For the past two years, I’ve been working with a group of parents to advocate for all the kids in San Francisco to get a good public education as a volunteer parent leader with Innovate Public Schools. Last month, Alison Collins and Arienne Adamcikova published an opinion piece criticizing Innovate.
My parent group and I are very frustrated and disappointed that Collins, along with her group, SF Families Union, is attacking our organization of low-income families and trying to undermine our intentions to work with our district. Our children are attending schools in San Francisco, and it is our right as parents to ensure fair and equal access to a quality education.

Readers might wonder what exactly Innovate did that got Collins so angry.

In October, Innovate published a research report on how San Francisco public schools, both district and charter, are doing for low-income black and Latino students. In November, as the NAACP called for a state of emergency for black students; the superintendent released his own report showing there are massive gaps across both academic and socioemotional indicators for African-American students and that this has been the case for over 25 years. The district identified 10 schools with the widest achievement gaps. Innovate shared this information on social media and in hundreds of conversations with parents and community members.

That is to say, Innovate told us the truth.

This reality is not news to low-income families. Innovate’s report simply supports our truth and the one we have lived firsthand: We don’t have enough good schools right now and we’re going to have to fight to get our children the excellent public education they deserve.
I got involved with Innovate because, right now, parents like me don’t have good public schools in our neighborhoods. We have few or no options, and our kids can’t wait.

What most offends me about Collins and Adamcikova’s claims is that they basically say there isn’t a crisis in education, but rather that Innovate has been working to create one — and even manipulate parents like me to believe this. No doubt, San Francisco public schools are doing great with their children and many other affluent children, but they are failing many low-income children of color, and that is unacceptable. The SF Families Union is impressed with small improvements over the course of 30 years — they are so patient for solutions when it comes to other people’s children.
The achievement gap is not just something you read about in a newspaper. It is a reality for me and thousands of other parents. When we look around at the options for our kids in San Francisco, it’s easy to feel hopeless and stuck. Too many of our children aren’t going to survive in this new economy. But instead of giving up, we are speaking up, organizing and working for better public schools.

When we do this, what do we get? Attacks and insults and lies, claiming our parent leaders are paid (we are volunteers), claiming the data we release is wrong (it’s all from the state, and the district’s own reports mirror our data), claiming our organization is about hurting public schools when Innovate is all about supporting and improving public schools. In fact, Innovate supports districts around the Bay Area to improve their low-performing schools.

We believe in the potential of children and we believe in the power of public schools. Every single child in California deserves to have a world-class public school. All children can achieve, succeed and thrive with the right support, even those who face poverty, homelessness and trauma, who are learning English or who just had the bad luck of being born with darker skin in a racist society.

Apparently, Collins thinks it’s easier to attack Innovate than to take on the bigger problem: the deep level of work we need to do to close the achievement gap for low-income kids. It’s also an easy way to steer the conversation away from talking about some things that aren’t often said in polite company. For instance, the fact that San Francisco has one of the highest rates of families enrolling in private schools in the country with 30 percent of families opting out of the public system. No one wrote about that, but when low-income families like mine supported a charter public school to open in the Bayview, we were accused of privatizing schools.
We love our children and simply want a great education for them. For us, it’s not about traditional district schools versus charter schools. It’s about doing what’s best for our children, just as other parents in San Francisco seek to do.

Geraldine Anderson is a proud, single, working mother of three children educated in both public charter and traditional district schools. She is a volunteer parent leader with Innovate Public Schools in the Bayview.

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