Candidate Name: Matt Alexander
Phone Number: 415-347-9268
Web site: www.mattalexandersf.org
Name of Campaign Manager: n/a
How much do you expect to spend in this contest: $25-30,000
Major Endorsements: United Educators of San Francisco
SF Tenants Union
Coleman Action Fund
Board of Education: Mark Sanchez, Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga
Supervisors: Sandra Fewer, Gordon Mar, Dean Preston, Matt Haney, Norman Yee, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton David Campos
Incumbent Board Member whose votes most reflect your values: Gabriela Lopez, Alison Collins, Faauuga Moliga
Incumbent whose votes least reflect your values: Rachel Norton
1. What is your stance on resuming in-person classes in the time of
COVID? Would you prioritize particular grades or students? What
would be the main basis on which you make this decision? (e.g.,
would it be based on your gut feelings, or whose advice would
you listen to?)
Remote education is hard on everyone. It especially does not work well for younger children, students with special needs, and others who need extra support from schools. For families who live in SROs or in a single room in a house, or for homeless youth, it is nearly impossible.
Families with resources are already making their own arrangements to support in-person learning, including “pandemic pods” where parents hire tutors for small groups of children. This is a form of Disaster Capitalism in slow motion, as parents with privilege abandon the public schools, leaving everyone else behind.
It's important to follow public safety guidelines, and at the same time, we simply must find in-person solutions for younger children, students with special needs, and students in SROs and other overcrowded living situations--or we are abandoning them to a year without learning. The City's Department of Public Health has approved the learning hubs as a starting point, but they will only serve a few thousand children. SFUSD should support the development of equitable in-person cohorts of children and work with public health officials to ensure that they are implemented safely.
2. Why are you running for school board?
Let me say up front that I'm not interested in using the Board of Education as a springboard for other office: I'm not a politician, but an educator and an organizer. I have 20 years of experience working in San Francisco public schools, including as a teacher at Balboa High School and as co-founder and principal of June Jordan School for Equity. I know how important public schools are as fundamental democratic institutions in our city.
I'm running for Board of Education because SFUSD has a compelling vision of high-quality learning, but it's not yet a reality for all children: especially Black students, Latinx students, Pacific Islander students, Native/Indigenous students, students with learning differences, as well as Chinese and Filipino immigrant youth.
I have a track record of leading innovation, facilitating democratic decision-making, and organizing for real change. I deeply understand and value the experiences and voices of the people who do the work in schools, including teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students themselves. I know the strengths and challenges of the bureaucratic system they work in.
If I'm elected, it will be the first time the Board of Education has both an educator majority and a parent majority at the same time in the history of SFUSD. We will have one of the most diverse and strongest Boards ever, and we will fight to make SFUSD's excellent vision a reality for all.
It may seem daunting to take on this challenge in the midst of a global pandemic and the biggest economic crisis in our lifetimes. But I believe this is precisely the moment when real change is possible: Now is the time to think big and be bold, so we can provide the best public education for the future of our children and our city.
3. How are you currently involved in the SFUSD -- or how were you
involved in the past?
I have 20 years of experience working in SF public schools. Here are some highlights:
I started teaching social studies at Balboa High School in 1996. I became an elected member of the school's Union Building Committee and later the UESF Executive Board.
In the late 1990s, I began organizing with other educators, parents, and youth in a multiracial, grassroots effort around creating better school options, which eventually resulted in the founding of June Jordan School for Equity.
After June Jordan School for Equity opened in 2003, I taught there and later became principal. Our student body at JJSE was more than 80% low-income and nearly 30% special education students, and Black and Latinx and special needs students graduated and were accepted to college at rates exceeding most other schools in SFUSD.
JJSE is one of the most innovative schools in the district. Just to give a few examples: Students graduate through a portfolio assessment process, staff use a democratic decision-making process, discipline is done though restorative justice, and teachers get paid time to do parent conferences (a rarity at the high school level) so that families can be included as partners in their children's education.
In 2016, I organized with other educators to increase classroom spending from 41% to 54% of SFUSD's budget - and we need to do even more, because San Francisco still spends the lowest percentage of our budget on classroom instruction of any large district in the state.
In 2017, in the wake of President Trump's election, I worked with a student of mine, Maria Zaragoza, to organize youth from high schools across SFUSD. They pushed the Board of Education to pass the Undocumented, Unafraid, and United Students Resolution, which significantly strengthened the school district's protections and practical support for our undocumented students.
In 2018, I joined Faith in Action Bay Area as the San Francisco Lead Organizer and introduced a youth organizing program. That fall, I worked with students from 7 SFUSD high schools to lead a public campaign to secure the release of a Daly City dad from ICE detention and to stop the eviction of a SFUSD family in the Bayview. I continue to support SFUSD youth to learn community organizing skills and lead people-powered campaigns for justice.
4. How do you feel about the current school assignment system?
Would you make changes, and if so, which ones?
I agree with the Board of Education's 2018 decision to re-design the SFUSD school assignment system for elementary schools, because our current system is not sufficiently transparent or equitable and is not producing integrated schools.
I have seen the three initial concepts that district staff have created, and am not yet convinced that any of them meets our goals. I would like to see more detail and have more communication with parents about the process.
A key question is how much choice families will have. School choice certainly has benefits, such as allowing families to find a school that meets a child's individual needs. But it also gives more power to those parents who have more time and greater access to information. And racist ideas about student groups can influence enrollment patterns; such factors must be mitigated in any truly just choice system.
At the end of the day, if the role of our assignment system is to manage inconsistent school quality, we have already lost the battle. Most parents' priority is a safe, high-quality elementary school near their home--and our job is to make sure that ALL of our schools meet this standard. An enrollment system can help counter neighborhood segregation and create more diverse schools, but it cannot make schools better: That is the job of the educators and the district supporting them.
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?
Yes, this is a continuing problem. The SF Public Press ran a great story on it back in 2014, but not much has changed since. One obvious solution would be to pool PTA funds district-wide and then redistribute them equally on a per student basis.
We also need to consider a complete overhaul of SFUSD's budgeting system, with the following goals:
1. Allocate much more funding to schools and classrooms district-wide. Currently SFUSD only spends 54% of its budget on classroom instruction, the lowest of any large district in California.
2. Target funding much more intensively to schools serving low-income students. SFUSD's Weighted Student Formula and Multi-Tiered System of Supports are designed to direct resources to high-need schools, but the actual additional resources provided are not significant.
3. Charge school budgets actual teacher salaries rather than average salaries. Currently, SFUSD exacerbates inequity by using a budgeting practice where schools are charged the average cost of a teacher district-wide, rather than the actual cost of each school's teachers. This means that southeast schools with newer, lower-paid teachers are receiving much less funding than westside schools with more experienced, higher-paid teachers--and publicly available budget figures overstate the funding that southeast schools actually receive.
4. Re-design the budgeting process starting with what classrooms and schools need. SFUSD needs to re-think its entire budgeting process, starting with an analysis of what would be needed in each classroom and each school so that every student has a real opportunity to achieve the goals laid out in Vision 2025. This includes both classroom-based resources as well as wrap-around support services using a Community School model.
6. Are you familiar with the case of Williams et al. v State of
California? Do you believe that all schools in the SFUSD are
currently in compliance with Williams?
Yes, I'm very familiar with the Williams case. Eli Williams, the lead plaintiff, was a Samoan young man who attended Luther Burbank Middle School and then Balboa High School when I was teaching at Balboa in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Some of the depositions in the Williams case were taken from Balboa students from when I worked there; they spoke the truth about the old, torn-up textbooks and rats that ran the hallways.
No, all SFUSD schools are not in compliance. The Williams inspections and complaint procedure initially resulted in some improvements in facilities conditions, better access to materials, and fewer teacher vacancies--but over the years fewer and fewer people seemed aware of the Williams case, and inspections became a bureaucratic routine. Six years ago when I was principal at June Jordan School for Equity, some of our teachers and students submitted a Williams facilities complaint because during weeks of warm weather temperatures in classrooms were routinely above 100 degrees for most of the day. SFUSD administrative staff told us that this situation did not rise to the level of an "urgent threat to health or safety of students or staff" as required by Williams. Ironically, June Jordan School is located on the former campus of Luther Burbank Middle School, the site of the original Williams complaint.
7. What is your position on JROTC in the public schools?
I do not support JROTC on school campuses. I do not understand why SFUSD is still spending nearly $1 million a year to fund JROTC. I respect the right of young people to enter the military, but I do not think our public schools should be funding or sponsoring military recruitment.
8. Would you support district elections for school board members?
Yes. In a citywide election, elite political clubs have too much influence and it's virtually impossible to spend time connecting with voters and really thinking with people about our public schools. District elections for supervisor have led to more voice for voters, a more democratic process, and more progressive elected officials. We should do the same for SFUSD and CCSF boards--and by the way, we should expand public financing to include school board and CCSF elections too.
9. Did you support the 2016 Proposition A school bond? Do you think
funds were spent wisely?
Yes, I supported the 2016 Prop A bond. To my understanding, much of the $744 million in approved funds have not yet been spent. Yet the new school planned for Mission Bay, which was supposed to open in 2023, is apparently being delayed, with funding pushed to a future bond. While it's true that SFUSD has many facilities needs and priorities can change, I believe we need more transparency and community input on how hundreds of millions of public dollars are being spent.
10. What is your stance on allowing noncitizen parents, guardians and
caretakers of students to vote in school board elections? Did you
take a public position on previous ballot initiatives on the
I enthusiastically supported the proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections. However, I would not recommend that any non-citizens take advantage of San Francisco's new law while Trump is president. Under federal immigration law, voting by a non-citizen (even a legal permanent resident) is an immediately deportable offense, and the burden of proof is on the voter to prove that they voted legally. Moreover, the SF Department of Elections says that any information provided to them by non-citizen voters may be obtained by ICE. Until federal law and enforcement practices change, most voting by non-citizens is dangerous to them.
Nevertheless, I am proud that my volunteer campaign team includes undocumented and other non-citizen leaders, who are engaging in the democratic political process and building political power without voting themselves. We are doing outreach among non-citizen SFUSD parents; it is essential for their voices to be heard especially since they have been unjustly denied the right to vote.
11. What are your thoughts on the various non-profit organizations
that partner and/or contract with SFUSD?
San Francisco has many fantastic nonprofit organizations that provide excellent services to SFUSD students. There are two main areas of improvement I would recommend:
1. For non-profit organizations that partner with SFUSD, we need to do a better job of coordination and communication at the school site level, so that our students receive the support services they need. (Nonprofit partners report that coordination is currently inconsistent, depending on the school.)
2. We need to ensure that core district services are not being contracted out in an effort to undermine living wages and a unionized workforce. We could require that all nonprofit organizations with more than 25 employees who work with SFUSD should have their workers unionized.
12. Would you strengthen the voice of the elected student
representatives, so that they could introduce legislation and vote
Yes. I have a long track record of supporting youth voice and leadership. For example, in the wake of President Trump's election, my former student Maria Zaragoza was one of the student representatives to the SFUSD School Board. Although she did not have formal voting rights, I supported her to lead an organizing effort with youth from high schools across SFUSD to push the Board of Education to pass the Undocumented, Unafraid, and United Students Resolution, which significantly strengthend the school district's protections and practical support for our undocumented students. I see no reason why the student delegates should not be able to formally introduce policy and vote on it.
13. How do you see the role of the School Board in comparison to the
role of the superintendent?
It's important for a governing board to have a positive working relationship with the superintendent, and at the same time to act as the elected representatives of the public and hold the superintendent accountable. The role of the school board is to set policy, and the role of the superintendent is to run the district and implement policy.
14. Do you think that SFUSD currently serves the transportation needs
of its students? Would you make changes to the current system?
No. SFUSD currently spends over $30 million a year to transport only 3500 students. By comparison, Buffalo, NY public schools hires the same private company--First Student--at a cost of $47 million to transport 29,000 students. Rather than addressing this huge cost disparity, SFUSD has moved toward adding smaller contracts with non-unionized companies and smaller vehicles, raising concerns about safety and treatment of workers. I believe we need a comprehensive audit of why our transportation costs are so high and a plan for providing transportation at a reasonable cost with well-trained, unionized drivers.
15. Would you ensure that all San Francisco students have access to a
public pre-K program? If so, how?
Yes. Increasing investment in early childhood education is one of my priorities because it's a key strategy for closing the opportunity gap.
To fund this and other essential initiatives, we must increase revenue from both state and local sources. SFUSD spends about only half of what New York City public schools spend per student. No matter how bad the economy is, we're still living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world; in a time of crisis, we need our city to step up and invest in our public schools. I'm also working with community groups around the state to help pass Schools and Communities First this November, which will bring at least $700 million a year in new revenue to San Francisco and allow us to increase investment in our classrooms, including pre-K.
On a local level, we need to address the fact that San Francisco county allocates only about 30% of property tax revenue to schools and community colleges, compared to around 55% in most California counties. This imbalance is written into state law as a legacy of Prop 13 and needs to be corrected for SFUSD to provide a quality education for all.
16. 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
Yes, it's an excellent book! One of my mentors is Deborah Meier, the founder of Central Park East Secondary School, whom Diane Ravitch credits as one of the key people who convinced Ravitch to renounce her former beliefs in testing, accountability, choice, and markets. SFUSD should remember that “accountability” based on high-stakes testing and standardized curriculum has been tried now for decades: It does not improve schools, and it drives good teachers out of the profession.
Regarding charter schools: I am opposed to charter schools and proposals to privatize public education. The original intent of charter school laws when they were passed 30 years ago was to provide a space for grassroots innovation which would then benefit the public school system. But these laws have been co-opted by corporate entities intent on undermining public education: What happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina shows how charter schools on a large scale can destroy a public school system. For this reason, I will not support efforts to open any more charters in San Francisco. In fact, I am launching a campaign to get charters to relinquish their charters and join SFUSD. That way, their staff will be UESF members, they can share any innovative practices with other district schools, and they can benefit from the depth of expertise within district schools. Joining SFUSD will also ensure that all schools have fair admissions processes and do not push out students with IEPs or other students who may be struggling.
17. What do you think of the current requirements that students take
the SBAC test, and what are your thoughts on standardized testing
Standardized test scores track closely with family wealth (which in turn tracks closely with race), so they do not provide much useful data about the impact of schools or teaching. Yet standardized testing has been over-used and test results have been mis-used for the last two decades across U.S. public schools. Rather than leading to improvements, the focus on testing has led to schools being labelled as "failing"--and in districts with choice enrollment systems such as SFUSD, this in turn has led to declining enrollment and fewer resources at schools with low test scores.
At June Jordan School for Equity, the high school I helped found, we implemented a portfolio-based assessment system as an alternative to standardized tests. All students were required to present and defend a portfolio of their best work at the end of 10th grade and again before graduation, to a committee of peers, family members, teachers, and other school staff. This process provided meaningful public accountability for students and for teachers, while at the same time allowing students with special needs and others who struggled with standardized tests to show their true academic skills.
I served on the steering committee of the California Performance Assessment Collaborative, a group led by State Board of Education Chair Linda Darling-Hammond which is building out systems for implementing more authentic, student-centered assessments statewide. A few SFUSD schools have begun to implement performance assessments, but our district should move much more quickly to become a state leader in this area.
18. How can the public schools better address the needs of Special
Education students and ESL students?
We provide an inconsistent level of service to special education students: Parents with access to resources and attorneys receive more services for their children, while low-income students with high needs are often left behind, and the program as a whole is under-resourced. Also, students with IEPs are among those suffering most under the distance learning due to COVID-19. We can improve outcomes by:
1. Fully funding our special education program with adequate staffing levels of paraprofessionals and teachers in all classrooms and schools
2. Providing prep time for paraprofessionals, and built-in prep time for co-teachers to plan together
3. Re-training all SFUSD staff in inclusive practices (this happened several years ago but is needed again due to staff turnover)
4. Providing support for low-income parents and others who need it, so they can know their rights in the IEP process and can effectively advocate for their children's needs
Students who are learning English too often feel isolated and marginalized in our schools. EL programs sometimes are assigned less-skilled teachers and fewer resources than other classes. Immigrant parents frequently express frustration with a lack of clear communication from schools in their native languages. We can improve outcomes by:
1. School staff building relationships with parents and guardians (which requires staff who speak families' languages)
2. Integrating EL programs into the rest of the school, so students do not feel so socially isolated
3. Providing adequate resources for EL services, including funding and skilled teachers
4. Using existing examples of high-quality EL programs, such as the one at SF International High School, as a model for other schools