SF Green Party School Board Endorsement Questionnaire 2018
Due Date: Friday, Aug 24
Candidate Name: Alison Collins
Phone Number: 415-370-2581
Name of Campaign Manager: Kaylah Williams
Signed voluntary spending limit: Yes, $500
Major Endorsements: UESF, SEIU, League of Pissed-Off Voters
Incumbent Board Member whose votes most reflect your values: Shamann Walton, Matt Haney, Stevon Cook, Mark Sanchez, Hydra Mendoza
Incumbent whose votes least reflect your values: Emily Murase
1. How are you currently involved in the SFUSD -- or how were you involved in the past?
I am a 20+ year educator in as a former SFUSD English teacher, youth leadership program manager, and instructional coach. I am also a 10+ year parent organizer and parent leader in our district. Because of my work in schools and central office, I was able to leverage my knowledge and network in support of families across the district. I started the SF Families Union to educate families and advocate in solidarity across schools. We have had many successes, from raining almost $2 million dollars for a school redesign at Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary in the Bayview to convening parent workshops on race and school choice, to pushing back on on charter expansion. I am endorsed by 5 members of the current Board of Education and 7 members of the Board of Supervisors (many of whom served on the Board of Education) precisely because I have a strong track record improving our public education system.
2. Why are you running for school board?
Education is the great equalizer. We cannot have true equity in our country, if all children don't have access to high quality education. I am personally invested in this belief, because my family history is an example of the power of education. My mom grew up in public housing. My father's parents were not allowed to go to high school because of Jim Crow, and yet because of the investments of time and compassion from their parents and public school teachers, they both were able to become the first in their families to go to college and both became the first in their families to achieve a Doctorate level of education.
I am grateful for my parents educational legacy. I became a teacher because all children deserve the rich opportunities my parents had. I know my father's experience has not been the case for every child. Many children, especially those from marginalized communities attend schools that are overlooked and under-resourced. Previous generations made an investment in my parents and in me. I am personally committed to ensuring all children get the educational opportunities that me and my parents have had.
I'm running for SF School Board to be able to pay forward the investment previous generations made in me and my parents. SFUSD has many great schools, yet there are significant inequities. For the 20+ years I've lived in San Francisco, I have successfully advocated for safe schools, access to strong academic programs for every child, and increased communication with families. Now, I want to ensure our district keeps its promises because every child deserves a great experience in SFUSD schools.
3. How do you feel about the current school assignment system? Would you make changes, and if so, which ones?
Enrollment has been a constant concern. Our "choice" system is complicated, increases segregation, and is not accessible for families who are monolingual non-English, or lack the ability to visit multiple schools. Many families lack information about excellent yet under-enrolled schools. And at highly requested sites, it is almost impossible for neighborhood families to gain enrollment.
These issues are complicated. Decisions regarding choice vs. neighborhood schools must be made by the most impacted communities through a deliberate process. We also need to have some real conversations about integrating our schools. I will commit to having this important conversation and believe our district could explore something similar to Berkeley's 'limited choice' model of several neighborhood schools. While we consider options, we can make enrollment more welcoming by improving "customer service" at Education Placement Center (EPC). We can increase and decentralize enrollment events so families have more opportunities to get questions answered. Finally, we will invest in more culturally equipped staffing in the EPC office.
4. How can we redistribute the more experienced and higher paid teachers throughout the city? What do you think the school district needs to do to attract and improve the retention of good teachers who are willing to work in socially stressed schools?
We must do all that we can to support our educators, especially educators who have more high needs students in one classroom. If elected, I will increase professional development and push-in support for educators in high-needs schools. As an former educator, I know separate is not equal and labeling kids does not lead to positive educational outcomes. Schools teachers and students need more support through smaller math class sizes and push in support with paraeducators. Another large factor in our low teacher retention rate is the cost of housing. As a Board of Education member, I will do everything in my power to increase affordable housing for educators.
This includes, but is not limited to ensuring we are looking at SFUSD surplus property as an option for future housing development. Unfortunately, SFUSD surplus property is limited and will become increasingly so if charters claim more real estate using Prop 39. That said, we must look at all opportunities including other surplus city property and private development sites. I have recently put together a professional work group to brainstorm and problem solve the dire shortage of affordable and middle income housing in San Francisco, which includes land use attorneys, affordable housing developers, for-profit developers, architects and political consultants. We are also evaluating recent local and state policy to replicate more district and City efforts to create educator housing at Francis Scott Key Annex. We live in a rich city, and a rich state, and we have a responsibility and a lot of opportunities to ensure that we fully fund our schools and housing. In order to gain and retain our teacher we must invest in our more educator affordable housing.
5. Some of our schools receive significant funding from parent fundraising. Are you concerned about the inequality in fundraising between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods, and if so, what ideas do you have to make things more equitable?
Funding inequity is a significant concern for me. I co-founded the San Francisco Families Union, which focuses on issues of inequity. One of our initiatives has been to get more dollars for public schools from the companies benefitting from the Mid-Market Tax Break (aka "Twitter Tax Break"). Last year we were successful in getting money from Facebook and Twitter to fund local school funding gaps like reading specialists and academic and socio-emotional supports. Another avenue I would like to explore is shared PTA funding, which some school districts do, including nearby Albany.
6. What is your position on JROTC in the public schools?
I believe that JROTC should be allowed in our public school system.
7. Would you support district elections for school board members?
Honestly, I've never considered this. It could help the Board of Education look more like our neighborhoods. One challenge would be increasing the number of seats on the Board to an 11-seats which feels large. Additionally, I do think the Board of Education should be focused on meeting the needs of our entire public education system, citywide. It is an interesting idea, which I would be open to discussing. Nonetheless, I don't see any issue we are currently facing that would be in any way impacted by the change.
8. What do you think of the public comment policy at school board meetings? How (if at all) would you change it?
I think it is an imperfect system. Board Meetings must allow for public comment. And sometimes that means people are limited to speaking times. Even so, meetings can get pretty long. What I'd change is when it happens. Public comment should happen as close to the beginning as possible so more families can participate. And, while this is not related to public comment specifically, I believe the district should offer child care for families as it did in the past.
9. What is your stance on allowing non-citizen parents, guardians and caretakers of students to vote in school board elections?
I am all for it. In order to do this in a meaningful way. We need to ensure families are well educated about their rights and the risks they take in voting. It is really important to me that as many families can vote safely, vote. My daughters' school, Francisco has the highest percentage of English Language Learner parents of any school in the district. I think they should have a voice in who runs their children's' schools.
10. In what ways would you work to increase teacher input in administrative decision-making? How would you work to increase the voice of school site councils (parents, students and staff), in administrative decision-making?
I have been a School Site Council member since my children were in kindergarten. I worked with my principal to ensure our School Site Council reflected the demographics of our school. I am also an founding member of our African American Parent Advisory Council and have worked as a district volunteer on helping more families participate in the decision-making process in their schools and at the district level. We should also be asking if schools have functioning English Language Advisory Councils (ELAC) as are required by CA Ed Code to ensure immigrant and mono-lingual non-English speaking families have a voice in budgeting and decision-making at their schools. This will be a top priority for me.
11. Would you strengthen the voice of the elected student representatives, so that they could introduce legislation and vote on measures?
During my time working as a peer educator, I recruited youth leaders and supported them in developing and implementing peer education and anti-violence programs in schools. I worked with students on a pregnancy prevention education, rape prevention awareness (for all genders), homophobia, etc. I continued to support young women as an English teacher and school improvement coach. I pledge to continue to strengthen youth voices on the Board of Education.
Additionally, I have supported my own daughter in running for office in her school. When we first go to Francisco Middle School our school was non-compliant with the district requirement to have student members on our School Site Council. She wanted to participate in elections, but elections were held online over the weeked, which prohibited many low-income and immigrant students from participating in voting. I contacted the State and Federal Programs administrator at SFUSD central office and he worked with our staff to ensure students had a more equitable process. My daughter now serves as SSC student representative at her school.
12. How do you see the role of the School Board in comparison to the role of the superintendent?
The superintendent is in charge of managing the LEAD team who in turn manage district departments and school administrators. The School Board is responsible for setting policy, approving budgets to resource the policy and monitoring how it is policies are implemented. I have been very active in monitoring how our district Board Members set policy and how district administrators implement. As a former teacher and also central office employee, I know how the district is organized and who is responsible for what. I plan to be actively involved in asking questions and asking for feedback from staff, families and students. I plan to work collaboratively with the superintendent to ensure the policies we set at a Board are fully resourced and administrators are accountable to our district mission, values and goals.
13. A portion of SFUSD income is from rental of various properties. What changes should the district make to increase the income from these properties?
I would like to answer this question but am not informed enough to answer. I would need more information. In addition to rental income, we also need to balance out our need for more school space (charters are expanding into our schools due to Prop 39 requests).
14. What should the district do to make its schools more environmentally friendly?
A significant gap in progressive politics is preaching about climate change but not teaching students how to be environmental stewards. Providing recycling and compost bins is great, but students need to learn how and why to care for the planet wherever they go. The district has recently implemented and new science curriculum (which my daughters are now taking.) I look forward to learning more about it this fall.
Aside from students, we should also be looking to ensure that when we renovate schools with bonds we are doing so to increase sustainability.
15. Would you ensure that all San Francisco students have access to a public pre-K program? If so, how?
If elected, I will use my office to lift up our public school success stories. These antidotes will help to fight negative narratives that only reinforce failure especially in black, brown and immigrant communities instead of celebrating our rich history, culture, and contributions. I also look forward to working to increase pre-K enrollment at the recently Prop C passed in the June 2018 election cycle.
16. Do you think Prop 13 needs to be reformed? If so, in what ways? How will you use your position on the Board to advocate for this?
Prop 13 has resulted in huge funding gaps across the state, which in turn has resulted in huge disparities between schools. Schools with less high-needs students often have more affluent families who have a greater ability to make up for resource gaps through fundraising. Some schools make $30,000 a year in fundraising while others make $300,000. This allows some schools to provide art and music programing, which schools serving high-need students may not be able to afford. Ultimately, we need to fully fund public schools by making corporations pay their taxes by fixing loopholes in Prop 13. (Make it Fair!) Additionally, I will continue to look for opportunities and work to fully fund public education PreK-college in San Francisco. This will include working for the ballot initiative to eliminate Prop 13 giveaways to corporations (while maintaining Prop 13's protections for small businesses, & individual homeowners including seniors). We are a rich city and we need to do more to fund high quality early childhood education.
In the meantime, I'm working with Bayview, Tenderloin and SOMA families to rally neighborhood business to help make up for funding differences. We hope to build a model that can be replicated in other parts of the city. San Francisco is a rich city and there is no reason all our public schools could not be fully funded. Finally, I'm encouraged by suggestions offered from families to potentially pool some portion of PTA funds to help school communities that can't make up the difference. This would take significant public will. Nonetheless, there are other cities and districts who could serve as models in doing this.
17. Have you read Diane Ravitch's book, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System?" What lessons should the District take from this work? Whether or not you've read the book, what role do you see for charter schools in the public education system?
I haven't read Ravitch's book but I admire her change of heart from the "No Child Left Behind" and movement the towards a greater public school system. In her blog and when she speaks, she talks about the idea that NCLB became system of measure and punish. Unfortunately, standardized test scores are often used to punish school serving black and brown student.
I appreciate Diane Ravitch's voice regarding school privatization via charter schools I do not agree with and have been actively fighting against the expansion of charter schools in our district. They take vital resources away from public schools serving our most marginalized students. This past fall, after I became aware that the corporate charter school, Innovate, was launching. I reached out to the California NAACP for help. Working with the Close the Gap committee, which includes UESF and SEIU, I enlisted the help of other families to push back on the damaging narratives Innovate was spreading in our communities. We published online information showing the relationship between Innovate and KIPP, Teach for America, the Walton foundation, and Betsy DeVos. We then shared this information with local media outlets. As a result of our work, news articles shifted from blaming and shaming our Bayview schools, to asking critical questions about Innovate's true intentions. My work with the NAACP was mentioned in a post on Diane Ravitch's blog at http://dianeravich.net under the title: "Julian Vasquez Heilig: Why California Should Ban For-Profit Charters and Hold All Charters Accountable"
District parents don't want "new" charter schools; we want investment in current SFUSD schools. I worked with the DCCC to successfully pass a Charter Resolution in support of the NAACP Charter Moratorium this spring, and am currently working with Board of Education Commissioners Mark Sanchez and Stevon Cook to pass a new Board Resolution to hold charters accountable. If elected, I will also work to ensure the current charters play by the same rules and meet the same standards set by the district for our SFUSD schools
18. What do you think of the District's use of standardized tests? How would you change them, if at all?
State-mandated testing as it currently stands is very problematic. The intention of testing is to help show teachers what students know and can do and how effective curriculum is being implemented. Standardized testing is only somewhat useful in this area. For example, it can be helpful for a high school teacher with 15+ students to know which kids may be struggling with basic reading skills. Unfortunately, across the country we have seen how tests are being used in ways that are extremely harmful. Standardized testing has often reinforced a culture of shaming and blaming students of color and the educators who serve them. It has also led to educational redlining via online school rating websites like Niche and GreatSchools. These websites spread misinformation and play into "good school" "bad school" narratives that further segregates our public school system. These tests don't show the quality of education in given in a school, nor do they demonstrate the whether there is quality instruction. They primarily show us family income and education level of students. I believe in assessments when are used properly; when the information gleaned from them is of direct use to students, educators and families. There are other metrics we could be using to evaluate school and instructional quality. Unfortunately, we are required by state law to administer standardized tests and they are not going away soon. I will work with district leaders to insure we do not use standardized tests in inappropriate ways (e.g. for teacher evaluation, or promotion) and will speak out when they are not used to share or blame schools.
19. How can the public schools better address the needs of Special Education students and ESL students?
SFUSD has taken great strides in this regard since I first became an educator. But we still have a long way to go. As an active member of the African American Parent Advisory Council and an organiser of Northside Black Family Dinners (through the SF Families Union), I have been a tireless advocate for Black and Brown students, families and educators.
There is a disconnect between many of the progressive policies we pass to support Black Brown and immigrant scholars, and how we implement them. For example, not all educators have been trained to do restorative practices, or de-escalate a situation with a student. The district often provides one training and doesn't provide the ongoing support, consistent follow up or even enough professional development to ensure new educators know the policies and have the training to implement them. Not all schools have resources to conduct quality professional development to unpack implicit bias or provide culturally responsive instruction.
All of this is challenging work, yet there are many fairly easy steps we could take to make all students feel more welcome in schools. Working with just a small number of Black families we met with site administrators and were able to implement Black History activities at two schools that before had never celebrated it school wide. At Francisco Middle School, educators reported having fun doing Black History Activities and said they noticed an increase in student engagement. We should invest in engaging with immigrant families as well. Many schools lack interpretation and translation services. Or they do not have functioning English Learner Advisory Committee as mandated by state law. These are immediate actionable steps we can take to better engage with English Learner families in support of their children
There are many educators who are invested in culturally competent education who are leading the way in this and other areas (I believe Mission HS has a Black Women's History class)! I want to provide the necessary support for educators to expand this work to more schools including buying diverse books, reducing cultural and language bias, and providing resources and money for professional development along with planning time to make these creative and innovative ideas come true.
20. Please describe how you make your political decisions. What is the main basis for your decision making (e.g., consultation with your constituents, political consultants, colleagues, unions, businesses, donors, or your gut feelings)?
I make my political decision based on three factors my past experiences, gut, and colleagues. My experience coalition building for the past 20 years has given my a unique perspective that I treasure. I rely on on my past triumphs and failures to guide my decisions going forward. Next I look to my colleagues and trusted advisors to help me make a political decision. No one can do this work alone. Every child in the city is affected by the decision made on the Board of Education. Therefore everyone should be granted access to a seat at the table when making this decisions. After looking to my past and advice from the colleagues, ultimately I make my final decision based on my gut. My moral compass is the driving passion for a life in civil service, and so I trust it to continue to lead me in the right direction.
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