by JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
The ‘22-’23 school year has been a rough one, as the first full school year back from the pandemic. The thousands of students that attend San Francisco public schools, are in bad shape as a student body considering that the youth were forced to go to school on a computer for over a year during the historic pandemic, as the district learned how to digitally educate them, while on the job.
Today, Black students are some of the worst performing students in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) academically and add to it that they are being placed in special education classes, suspended and expelled at highly disproportionate rates.
Furthermore, San Francisco school’s are more in a crisis than they have ever been in, considering that the district is operating $30 million over budget, there is a threat that the district may have to close 30-40 schools in the very near future, mental health is at an all time low, campus violence is at an all time high and Black students who are an ever declining minority are feeling the brunt of this pain.
Also, I forgot to mention that Lowell High School is a public high school in the SFUSD system that gets public funds and illegally operates with a merit-based admission policy to limit the number of “undesirables” being educated with the children of San Francisco’s white and Chinese elite. This Jim Crow policy has been going on for years.
The President of the San Francisco Board of Education, Kevine Boggess tapped in to graciously answer the hard questions that I posed to him on behalf of the Black students that attend SFUSD and their parents.
JR Valrey: What do you think about this past ‘22-’23 school year in SFUSD, the first full school year since the covid pandemic?
Kevine Boggess: This school year has been about transforming SFUSD systems and practices to create better outcomes for all students. We understand that our school community is still in a crisis that will be with us for the foreseeable future and we must be very clear on our priorities for improving student outcomes.
We have taken the first few steps to implement our new “Vision, Values, Goals and Guardrails for SFUSD” to address our struggles ensuring all students perform at grade level for literacy and math. Our narrowed focus will allow us to address the long-standing gap in student outcomes and hold SFUSD accountable to families.
JR Valrey: How is the SFUSD going to deal with the federal Covid money that will be drying up in next school year’s budget? How much will be cut?
Kevine Boggess: Coming into the 2022-23 school year, there was about $29 million in Federal Covid Relief funds. Our budget projections for the next school year show our expenses totaling $30 million more than our projected revenue. Our work is determining how to get more support in schools and increase pay for staff while decreasing our overall spending.
Our inability to balance our budget is part of why the state sent us a fiscal advisor team to support us in balancing our budget. I believe we can reorganize the district to ensure every dollar reaches students in the classroom and isn’t wasted. Balancing our budget allows us to put students’ outcomes first.
If we fail to address our structure deficit, we may have to close or merge up 30 or 40 schools across the city. We aren’t at a place where we are planning school closures or mergers and there is no need for that now, but without significant changes to how we operate, that will be our only real option. So we are doing everything we can to balance the budget and put our schools’ communities first.
JR Valrey: How does the district plan to deal with the academic deficit that the pandemic placed a lot of students in?
Kevine Boggess: We’re committed to a new governance model focused on student outcomes and closing gaps in student outcomes. Our plan to improve student outcomes is by concentrating on enhancing Literacy, Math and College readiness outcomes. By making these the primary focus of the School Board, we plan to see to it that students have more academic success and be able to make up for progress that may have been lost over the pandemic or from elsewhere.
JR Valrey: Do you feel like SFUSD will be better prepared if there is another pandemic in the near future?
Kevine Boggess: Yes, we are better prepared than in 2020 and are in a much better place today to deal with a pandemic or crisis. This progress is due to the hard work of SFUSD staff, families and community members, which has put us in a position where we can learn from our mistakes and develop more robust systems and organizational practices.
JR Valrey: Is there a plan for SFUSD’s board of education to deal with the Jim Crow admission policy of the San Francisco public school of Lowell?
Kevine Boggess: Currently, our Superintendent has launched a high school task force that is looking at all of our high schools in the city, intending to bring back a recommendation to the board that reflects what’s in the best educational interests of all of our students and is in alignment with California State law.
JR Valrey: What are your thoughts on how to deal with the excessive amount of fights that the district has been dealing with since post pandemic?
Kevine Boggess: The number of fights and the public visibility of physical violence in our district and our City amongst young people is troubling. It reflects the crisis that all people are in right now that isn’t being given enough support or attention. We don’t have enough people working in our schools and communities to help provide the connection and support that young people and their families need at this moment.
I want to recognize the efforts of Mayor Breed, Chief Scott, the Board Of Supervisions, the Public Defender Manohar Raju, and all the community nonprofits supporting and working to provide more support to our students and our school communities.
JR Valrey: What is being done to address the excessive number of times Black youth are being put in special education classes, suspended and expelled in SFUSD during the school year?
Kevine Boggess: Providing fair treatment for African American Students in SFUSD has always been challenging for the district and the City. We are working to address the way our system negatively targets and harms African American students. We are under state monitoring around our placement and treatment of African American students in special education programs and are working to end the disproportionality that these students face.
Work is happening to address the inequitable outcome and treatment of African American students, families, and staff in SFUSD. Our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI), in partnership with KingMakers of Oakland, offers a Mastering Cultural Identity (MCI) to improve Black student outcomes. I’m hopeful we can build on these successes and integrate best practices in all schools and classrooms.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media. He is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.