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?
I agree that a parking lot is among the worst possible uses of land. However, as an SFUSD teacher, I also work with many teachers who have hour plus commutes to their schools. Public transportation is not a viable option for many of these teachers. The inability to park can put additional financial strain and stress on teachers who are already at their limit. More teacher parking permits could be an option.
I have the privilege of walking to school each day because I live in the neighborhood I teach. My school does not have a parking lot. Across the street from my school is an affordable housing complex. The proximity of this housing to the school is a tremendous boon to the students, the teachers, and the school. First, our school Leonard R. Flynn, is highly integrated with a diverse student population. Second, as a teacher I am able to do home visits with families on a regular basis and provide important after school support. Third, the students themselves are able to walk to school and make connections with the community the learn in.
Replacing our school parking lots with affordable housing open to SFUSD families and teachers would be a step forward for our school communities. We just need to be mindful and proactive of the additional strain this would place on teachers with long commutes.
More and more students attending our public schools suffer from homelessness. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?
As a classroom teacher in the Mission I see the effect housing instability has on our students. One recent estimate was that 2500 students are homeless. When students are suffering in this way they cannot reach their full potential. SFUSD has a moral and pedagogical obligation to help these students.
I support the push to place a homeless shelter in Horace Mann Elementary School. On the board I would seek to more opportunities to provide services to homeless youth and families within our schools. I also support the philosophy of making better use of our school spaces to serve the community’s needs.
More and more teachers struggle with the cost of housing. What do you believe the school district should do to address this problem?
The primary short term solution is to increase salaries. Building teacher housing is always positive, but it will never be a complete solution. Teachers should have some measure of choice as to where they want to live within their community. Teacher salaries in SFUSD compare poorly to many surrounding districts. Currently only 40% of the SFUSD budget is dedicated to teacher salaries. The state average is 60% of the budget going towards salaries. I support Mark Sanchez’s call for an audit of the budget to better understand how this discrepancy. My hope is that the audit will allow the district to find ways to shift more resources into teacher salaries and teacher housing.
The long term solution is systemic changes to the way housing is built in San Francisco and statewide. We need to build in a way that is equitable to poor communities. I understand that this is a complex issue and I would seek to YIMBY’s help in further educating myself.
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.
San Francisco’s school assignment system puts a burden on poor families who often need to travel long distances to go to their school of choice. Providing public transportation for free to these families needs to go hand and hand a school assignment system that takes many students out of their neighborhood. In regards to the parents choosing to drive solutions are not obvious. I do know that many families undervalue the schools in their neighborhoods. I want to do more to highlight the value of schools within walking distance of families. This is an issue where I would seek to learn more from YIMBY.
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?
Student assignment is an important tool for desegregation. At this point I view the failure of the system as cause for its reform not its abolishment. The Board of Education has an obligation to ensure that schools are desegregated and all students have equitable access to education opportunities. I support a mix of neighborhood and city wide school preferences.
We can control how families experience the assignment process. Currently, the district’s process creates much unnecessary stress for families. We have to increase the transparency at EPC. We have to shorten the process, allow for parents to apply online, do virtual tours and easily see the program offerings and facilities for each school. Currently, families must make the choice to enroll in public school on the same day that private schools demand non-refundable deposits. We need move notification forward and give families time to make their decision and reduce their panic. These basic customer service strategies can go a long way in improving our student assignment process and could also have a positive impact in how diverse our schools are because families would be more likely to stay within the district.
These ideas are far from a total solution.. There are structural biases at play that are harder to change, but we must still try. SFUSD needs to do more to form relationships with families of all colors and means to understand why the leave. On the board, I would speak directly with these families.
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?
First, I want to clearly state that I believe when standardized test scores are the primary criteria, the quality of a school is often misrepresented. For example, one metric of quality might be the number of bilingual students. Another metric might be parent satisfaction. When we lean so heavily on certain types of data we receive a skewed picture. ESSA allows for new kinds of school report cards that elevate different kinds of data like parent surveys. It is the school district’s obligation to take advantage of ESSA to paint a more complete and accurate picture of our schools.
There are of course schools that lag behind others. Evidence shows that the number one factor in a child’s education is the quality of their teacher. Teacher pay, teacher training, and compelling leadership opportunities for young teachers can go along way towards attracting and retaining bright young teachers. Our young teachers are under leveraged in the district. They feel anonymous and uninspired. We need to change this. I would prioritize teacher quality and push the district to formulate a clear plan to move towards better teacher support and training.
Is there anything else you think our members should know about your candidacy? Links, references, endorsements, etc?
Please see my generic biography or my website www.gabrielalopez.org for more information. I would like to finally highlight that there is no Spanish fluent representation currently on the board. I arrived at schools not speaking English. My parents struggled with communication with my teachers. I understand their experience. That is why I sought a bilingual teaching credential. 25% of our students are Latino in SFUSD. They deserve qualified Spanish fluent representation and I believe I represent that. We can’t build coalitions when such a huge percentage of our SFUSD committee is effectively voiceless. Thank you for your time.