SFUSD owns a good deal of land in San Francisco. A distressing amount of this land is surface parking lots. Do you think this is a good use of this land? Would building housing on these lots be a better use? How important is this issue to you?
Best use of land and space are critical issues to our schools and our city. We should review all underutilized parcels now owned by the SFUSD to assess which would be appropriate for workforce housing, which could be packaged with adjoining parcels, which could be better purposed, which could be traded or sold and which should be retained for existing purposes. While this has been done before, it is essential to ensure this analysis is up to date.
I have experience coordinating agencies for planning and development from my HUD “affirmatively furthering fair housing” work and understand the transformational impact of housing and amenities in key areas. At HUD, my staff and I reviewed how HUD money was spent to make sure development and investments made by jurisdictions achieved the goal of increasing integration and providing important resources and assets across all communities.
I would call on each supervisor to identify an underutilized parcel in each district for workforce housing as well. Affordable and accessible housing must be a city priority with the School District at the table. Finally, with regard to surface parking lots, there may be instances in which they may be the best use. I would seek out the input from community stakeholders on these and other questions. We have to look at the short-term crises and long-term needs of our communities. At HUD, I addressed short-term community opposition by emphasizing the longer-term possibilities and needs.
More and more students attending our public schools suffer from homelessness. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?
Homelessness affects virtually every school and every community in San Francisco. I support the initiative at Buena Vista/Horace Mann to provide evening shelter to students and community. The SFUSD should explore more fully utilizing its properties for this purpose by addressing security, safety and code compliance concerns. The schools can be better positioned to provide vital services to students and their families such as on-site laundry facilities, better nutrition programs, job training and recovery programs. The primary role of our schools is to teach young people but school sites often serve as community centers, safe spaces, and news/information/training hubs to educate parents and community members on practical skills, job readiness, English and naturalization, emergency planning, public safety and myriad subjects and concerns.
Homelessness and hunger are directly related to student classroom performance. Thus, we need more counselors, social workers and paraeducators to help classroom teachers identify and assist students in need. I’m for more professional development resources and time for teacher-to-teacher instructional collaboration.
When we improve educational outcomes and prepare students for higher education and jobs, we reduce risk of homelessness. (We also have an impact on the criminal justice system and make jobs of police, DAs and public defenders easier.) Schools should do their education jobs well and contribute to larger societal aims.
More and more teachers struggle with the cost of housing. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?
It is unconscionable that, every day, one-third of our SFUSD educators have to commute up to 90 minutes from out of town BEFORE they start their classes in front of the classroom. They can’t be the teachers they trained or want to be under those circumstances. The out of reach cost of housing in San Francisco is one of the forces driving teachers to work in suburban school districts. (So is higher teacher pay elsewhere.) There are many things that can be done to make teachers’ jobs more attractive (e.g., tuition subsidies for advanced training at USF, SF State; more relevant professional development; smaller class size; paraeducators that supplement their educational activities), but unless they can afford to live here, we are hard pressed to retain diverse and qualified teachers. Development decisions are largely outside the purview of school boards but I would use the state and national networks I have developed on housing matters when I was President Obama’s HUD assistant secretary for fair housing to advocate for state and federal support for teacher housing in Sacramento, in front of federal agencies and in Congress.
As stated in the other responses, I will prioritize working with district supervisors to find underutilized parcels for housing purposes. When I was Dean at USF, we were able to secure from the Archdiocese what had previously been a convent for nuns in the Inner Sunset. We modernized it into vital law student housing. I am open to all ideas.
Getting children to and from public schools is a problem for many parents. A major finding from the SF CTA Child Transportation Study was that “most parents drive their children to school and afterschool programs.” Do you see this as a problem? What solutions do you think the school district could pursue to address this? Please feel free to discuss school busses, shuttles, protected bike lanes, etc.
There are some transit related solutions as you have described. Some can be handled by the School District and others by city agencies. The School District should be at the table in transit discussions. But the real game changer is having quality, neighborhood schools. Today, young children may have to catch multiple busses or take multiple modes of daily transportation in order to get to school. We can reduce that by changing and simplifying the enrollment process to more highly prioritize proximity to home as a factor in school site selection. It requires engaging parents and strengthening curricular offerings. There are numerous deficiencies with the existing enrollment procedure.
Reforming the enrollment process will also help stem the tide of losing students to private schools which happens far too often. Bringing students back into the public schools from private school enrollment will also reduce cross-town traffic. At USF (where I have been Dean), we set up bike lockers and took steps to improve bike security. School commute safety measures can be the catalyst for other initiatives such as creating well-established and well-marked walk and bike routes, encouraging parents to meet other parents along a walk route and giving teachers an opportunity to interact with parents.
Finally, I would consider changing the school start times and perhaps adjusting them when we go through Daylight Savings Time and back to make it easier to walk during daylight.
YIMBYs care deeply about integration and healing the wounds of redlining and exclusionary zoning. These policies deliberately result in segregated schools. SFUSD has a lottery assignment system designed to fix this segregation problem in our housing, but it has not resulted in vastly more integrated schools. What do you see as solutions to this complex problem?
I led the Obama Administration efforts to ensure that federal dollars, HUD and non-HUD, were spent to increase integration and that HUD recipients had a plan to determine the extent of segregation and effective strategies to address it. Schools are a symptom, not a cause of the underlying problem. We need to address the effects of poor planning, exclusionary lending and zoning policies and related barriers to fair housing. Once we commit to plan future housing and services in a way to promote integration, we can provide less focus onto increasing integration through the enrollment lottery process. Currently, Latino and African American students suffer tremendous opportunity and achievement gaps as measured by percentage of students attaining grade level in English and language arts. I support the African American Achievement & Leadership Initiative (AAALI) and am the only candidate to call for a Latino Education Initiative for the 26% of our students who are lagging behind whether they are in schools with highly concentrated minority population or more integrated schools. Focusing on elevating the quality of the schools with more diverse and fully trained and supported teachers and engaged parents is a better solution for integration than relying on the lottery. Again, this approach depends upon city leadership (with SFUSD) on overall city and neighborhood planning to address inequities and segregation. I will use my HUD experience to achieve this.
There are serious geographic equity issues with our schools. Additionally, as some districts are growing their housing supply, adding more and more children, the lack of quality schools everywhere is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. How do you plan on addressing the issue of access to quality schools in every district and opening more schools?
Following from my response to the previous question, we need elected officials who are not using the School Board as a stepping stone to the next job and officials who can weigh and balance short-term and long-term benefits to proposed policies. I can be that kind of School Board member and use the experience I have gained in federal positions appointed by the President to look at the long-term. We are a changing city in many ways. I support considering school construction not only because we are undergoing historic population change in the Southeast, Parkmerced, Downtown, Treasure Island but we will be facing future shifts in the next 40 years. Quality schools must have the amenities necessary to teach students born in the digital age. All our SFUSD students were born in the 21st century. Reliance on 20th century classrooms and building layouts and structures may not well serve their learning methods or potential. School site issues can’t simply satisfy how SF looks today but how education and our city will look in 2060. I will provide long-term vision and examine the best practices of other cities and school districts to make sure what we have and what we decide we need are well thought out and cost effective.
Is there anything else you think our members should know about your candidacy? Links, references, endorsements, etc?
I am an independent voice for parents and students currently not heard or considered. Preparing for this campaign, I was advised against talking about certain issues because they were the “third rail” of School Board politics. Yet, when I saw parents and voters in every neighborhood, these were the very issues about which they expressed frustration with our schools. Parents with means were able to leave the District. Equally frustrated parents who could not afford to leave remained in our schools. We have to do better and that starts by listening and learning from the people and being unafraid to try new ways to solve previously untouched challenges. As a civil rights leader and educator, I care deeply about public education fulfilling its mission to educate and elevate all students into self-sufficiency, ready for the jobs and diverse experiences of the rest of this century. We have short-changed middle school students by denying them 8th grade Algebra. We don’t close the achievement gap by lowering the academic ceiling. We close it by providing the foundation for excellence. Beyond my educational experience, I have the public leadership on education, housing and civil rights to be a leader on the new School Board from day one. There is hardly a greater duty that the local public sector has than to educate the next generation of society. I ask for your support and involvement so we can achieve together. See My Website: JohnForSF.com Thank you very much.