Key Issues and Priorities

Fifteen years ago I walked into my first classroom as a teacher, at a community center called Green Street, in a low-income neighborhood where I lived.

Like many first-time teachers I was nervous. But the students — Tatzi, Eric, Jada, Terry B., Terry W. and others — welcomed me. They shared their dreams and the daily challenges they faced. And, as middle school students, they showed me how fast kids grow, and how urgent it can be to connect a young person with hope, opportunity and support.

Now, as a mom, I’m seeing how fast my two sons grow and change. My oldest son, Ewan, is in public pre-K and starts kindergarten in August. His younger brother, Julian, will start preschool next year. As San Franciscans we’ve experienced what many before us already know — families approach kindergarten and they leave the city. The ones who stay have been told since pregnancy that our public schools will fail them. Even worse is the situation of friends and neighbors who feel trapped in a system that is biased against their children, because of race, ability, or individual needs.

The status quo of San Francisco’s education system is unacceptable.

Nearly one in three students opts out of our public schools, dividing our resources and perpetuating an inherently unequal system. To restore trust in our public schools we need a school board that has experience working in education, ability to think critically about policy and budget issues, and a proven track record of building resources through public and private partnerships. 

As your representative, I will listen to the community and stay open to new ideas.  Listening to stakeholders helped me build enrollment at Green Street when I was promoted from after-school teacher to assistant director. It helped me revitalize SOMArts, a large San Francisco arts and culture center, as the executive director. In my current role at the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, it helps me prevent nonprofit displacement and help organizations thrive in underserved communities.

Listening has informed my priorities for San Francisco’s Unified School District, and as your Board of Education representative I will continue to listen and advocate for all students. 

My key priorities as a member of San Francisco's Board of Education are:

Helping Every Student Reach Their Full Potential

Important efforts are already underway and most candidates (myself included) are actively participating in:
  • Proposition G - this initiative, on the ballot June 5th, will help pay teachers and paraeducators a competitive wage, making a difference for all schools but especially under-enrolled schools that face some of the highest turnover and have to spend the most time recruiting, orienting and supporting new teachers. Last year SFUSD hired over 500 educators. When teachers stay longer, they are better positioned to know about and leverage resources beyond SFUSD, such as neighborhood arts and technology offerings, free tutoring programs and family support services. Vote “G” for “Great Schools” in June.
  • Affordable Housing for Educators - another effort aimed at helping students by reducing teacher turnover is below-market educator housing at the Francis Scott Key Annex. I've been an active community participant in activation of this underutilized SFUSD site for years, getting neighbors involved to help build momentum. 
  • Middle Grades Redesign - with the proposed Middle Grades Redesign we have an opportunity to support teacher collaboration, enrichment and diversity of learning opportunities ranging from college readiness support to advanced math. SFUSD is just beginning to broadly engage parents of elementary age students.

Building Resources by Building Enrollment

Building enrollment builds diversity of offerings, decreases the per-pupil cost of administration, and supports innovation … it is a cornerstone to closing the achievement gap. To build enrollment, we must:
  • Improve service standards. San Francisco has some of the most distinguished, innovative and high-performing schools in the country and daily interactions within and outside of the classroom should reflect that. Nurses, janitors, cafeteria workers and administrators all have the power to make students (and parents) feel seen, heard and valued. By communicating in a positive and professional manner, our schools impute the qualities that will attract students and entice families to be more involved. SFUSD has begun this process and should evaluate its success.
  • Modernize communications. SFUSD’s communications are still paper-heavy and rely on one’s ability to call the school at certain times of day that may not be possible for working parents. Low-income and underserved communities are more likely to be smartphone dependent, but SFUSD’s website is not mobile-responsive. Board meetings use an app that is even harder to navigate and are inconsistent with th making it tough for families to share information about upcoming decisions that may impact their child’s education.

Supporting Neighborhood Schools

Families should be able to access an elementary school close to their home. Increases to teacher wages and after-school program resources have begun to address critical needs in under-resourced schools throughout the city. Now’s the time to build on that momentum by:
  • Helping hidden gems shine. As the saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” But there is great variability on how schools provide information to prospective families. SFUSD should view the school tour and discovery process through the lens of its new service standards and also consider how to market each school and the district as a whole to highlight successes and challenge assumptions.
  • Leveraging nonprofit resources Educators should have easy access to community partners who can connect the dots between student needs and nonprofit services and resources. Sharing knowledge is easier when there is more cross-pollination among kids, educators, caregivers and nonprofits within a community or neighborhood.

Partnering for Career Pathways 

SFUSD should be proactive about anticipating areas of job growth and pursuing new partnerships to pair students with opportunities for economic mobility. We can do this by focusing on:
  • Exposing, encouraging and equipping students with skills for 21st century careers. From Pre-K through 12 students should be exposed to an array of career opportunities, encouraged to pursue their dreams and equipped with both hard and soft skills that will serve them in professional settings. The SFUSD board should continue to work with the Mayor’s Education Advisor, and that individual should share their plan for engaging the private sector in these efforts and aligning corporate volunteerism and philanthropic investments with workforce development.
  • Preparing students for successful applications to Lowell and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. SFUSD policies and practices should set all students up for successful auditions and entry to a high school of their choice. A common assumption is that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education sets kids up for economic success, but there are many paths to meaningful careers including a culturally relevant, high-quality arts education. As a school board member I will promote the role of arts in career development and will be proactive about monitoring the relationship between STEM and arts access and equitable high school admissions.

Planning for the Future 

Long-term planning is difficult when resources are stretched thin, but necessary in order to act on opportunities and limit the necessity of new taxes and fees. As a school board member, I would focus on:
  • Surplus Property & Facilities - Kids deserve safe schools, and aging facilities impact families when they have to shift classrooms, or even locations. I will advocate for a thoughtful, transparent planning process around SFUSD’s underutilized properties and future needs. My experience running multiple large facilities, overseeing building improvements and reviewing renovation and acquisition plans for dozens of nonprofits gives me a depth of knowledge to support the Board’s Building, Grounds and Services Committee.

Recently, someone asked me what I’m most optimistic about when it comes to our schools, and by a long shot, it's the people. Yesterday I spoke with Georgie, a mom on MUNI who helped other parents in her son's class access free MUNI for youth. Last month I met Passionate, a student who helped her mom’s business set up online delivery. Our public schools are filled with intelligent, innovative, resourceful people and every day I’m inspired by students, school workers, educators and parents who show up and step up for our schools.

If you’ve read this far, you are someone who is stepping up by getting informed about the November school board election. You can vote for three candidates and I hope you will sign up, support, and volunteer for my campaign.

Thank you for reading! Nothing about us is for us, without us — if you have an idea or perspective to share, please write to me at lex@lexleifheit.com or follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.