If I were going to write San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom a letter about schools in San Francisco, what would I say?
This crossed my mind last summer when Ryan and I saw the mayor speak at a small open forum. After Newsom's long response to a question about the 49ers, Ryan jumped right in and asked about schools:
"We have two children who are in preschool and we're starting to look for a kindergarten. Many families move out of San Francisco to the suburbs for better schools. But we don't want to move. Can you please comment on your plans for improving schools in San Francisco."
Newsom talked about all he—and the board of education—have done to support schools. He enthusiastically told us about successes at underperforming schools and the district's rising test scores. But what came next was discouraging. Newsom talked about families fleeing the city. He wondered if it was worth putting efforts into attracting middle class families to the city's public schools because they either attend private or leave the city. He explained the city's unique geography; it allows families to live in the suburbs and send their kids to excellent public schools, and then easily commute into the city for work during the week and fun on the weekends. Newsom said that it's difficult to compete with the geography.
I was frustrated. And I remember wanting to write him a letter to simply say something like, "Hey, You're doing a great job—but I think you're wrong. A lot of families do want to stay, including me, and I think you can compete with the geography."
It's true: families leave this city. A 2005 survey by the Public Research Institute at San Francisco State University found that nearly half of parents with preschool-age children planned to leave in the next three years. No wonder San Francisco has the lowest percentage of households with children among the 50 largest cities in the United States. But I think many of us want to stay and we're doing everything possible to raise our families here. I also think many families want to stay but leave because they're scared off by the "supposedly dreadful" schools. They depart before they even step foot into a San Francisco school.
I know Newsom has done a lot for education in this city. As I toured schools, I heard parent guides and principals talk about what Newsom and the board of education had done to improve their schools. I saw pictures of Newsom on school playgrounds with kids gathered round. I've been told he supports Parents for Public Schools. And after his recent re-election, he said that education was going to be one of his top priorities.
What's more, San Francisco is the top-performing large urban school district in the state of California. From what I saw on my tours, the district is full of outstanding schools and up-and-coming ones. With continued support and an extra push, I think SFUSD could be recognized as being one of the top urban districts in the country. And then it wouldn't have to compete with its geography.
I never got around to writing Newsom a letter. But recently I've been thinking about it again. This blog has shown me that a tremendous number of parents want their children to receive their education in San Francisco, and I feel like our mayor should know that.
I'm wondering what you would write in a letter to Gavin Newsom. What would you want to tell him about schools in San Francisco? What have you seen as the successes? What could be done better? What would help stop families from leaving?