Tonight was both a celebration and a farewell — Carlos formally administered the oath of office to Richard Carranza, so officially we have two Superintendents until July 1 (“I’m the spare,” Richard joked after the ceremony). It was wonderful to see Richard assume the office, but many of us (Carlos most of all) got choked up at the realization that tonight was Carlos’ last Board meeting as Superintendent. (He got over it pretty quickly — by the time our marathon meeting wrapped up in the wee hours, Carlos was glad to bring his years in SFUSD to a close; he’ll miss us, but not that much).
Richard listened as Carlos and members of the Board said lots of nice things about him; his daughter sat at the staff table and recorded every word for posterity.
The big news from tonight’s meeting is that the Board unanimously voted to confirm Richard Carranza as the new Superintendent of SFUSD, beginning in July 2012. He will receive a $245,000 annual salary each year for the term of his three year contract.
Richard has never been a Superintendent before, but he has served as Carlos’ deputy for the last two years and has proved himself more than up to the job of Superintendent of SFUSD. He is smart, hardworking and focused on the job at hand; we like that he has school-age children (two lovely and poised daughters) who are attending (and excelling at) SFUSD schools. In his remarks this evening, Richard told a story about a time in his life when he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to college. His father took him to work at his job cutting sheet metal in 112 degree Arizona heat, and told him: “I don’t want you to work like me. Work with your head, not your hands.” That was the lesson that set him on the road to being an educator, Richard said, as his proud family looked on (one thing I learned tonight — Richard is an identical twin, and you would be hard-pressed to tell him from his brother Ruben –four minutes younger — if they dressed and combed their hair alike). Carlos was visibly moved as the Board voted, because having Richard succeed him has long been a dream for him.
The bottom line is that Richard is the right man for the district at this moment. We have made a lot of progress since Carlos arrived, and Richard has proved himself to be a person with the vision, skill and the drive to carry the district to the next level even as he has a deep and first-hand knowledge of where we have been. In addition, I will always be personally grateful to Richard for the way he has championed the special education overhaul.
Other items of note from tonight’s agenda:
- Board members unanimously passed a resolution authored by several student delegates, articulating a broad bathroom access policy for students. Though each school will be able to craft their own specific rules about bathroom access, the new policy makes clear that bathroom access is a right, and students should not have to explain their bodily functions or restrain them at the order of an adult. Bathrooms should remain unlocked during the school day, and students should be allowed to access them as needed as long as that right to access is not abused.
- We also passed updates to the Board’s comprehensive health education policy, and heard a presentation of data about some of the health challenges that still affect our students. The updated policy makes clear that health education is a priority for SFUSD students and requests that the district redouble its effort to be sure all students are receiving the recommended number of lessons each year.
- Large groups from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and Buena Vista Horace Mann each came to discuss their principal leadership (the Harvey Milk group spoke in favor of their current principal while the Buena Vista Horace Mann group spoke in favor of a past administrator taking the soon-to-be vacant principal’s job). We heard from teachers who are affected by the Board’s authorization of layoffs back in February, and were urged to rescind those layoffs as soon as possible. A group of non-English-speaking parents came to advocate for more Transitional Kindergarten sites.
Today SF Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia announced his intention to retire from education after 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent. His five-year tenure in San Francisco has been remarkably smooth for a big-city Superintendent — on average, urban superintendents quit or are fired after 3-1/2 years on the job. I would say Carlos’ major accomplishments are:
- His handling of the district budget. Carlos’ tenure has been marked by unprecedented cuts in California’s funding for education, and still the district has seen achievement rise every year he’s been in the job. Schools like Mission, Everett and Horace Mann — long considered to be the district’s lowest-performing — have new sparkle. It is a credit to Carlos that the district has continued to move forward even in the face of these incredible cuts (I joined the Board 18 months after Carlos took over, and even since then, we’ve been forced to cut close to $150 million — with more to come).
- Refocusing district programs on the achievement gap. Carlos didn’t discover the achievement gap and he didn’t solve it, but he led efforts to tackle the factors that produce the gap head on — a standout is the work he did hammering out the agreement on how to spend the funds raised by the 2008 parcel tax have helped the district retain teachers, pay them more, and offer them additional stipends and professional development for teaching in the most challenging schools.
- Defusing the tension. At the end of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s tenure, it was pretty much all-out war between factions who supported or opposed the controversial Superintendent, and the bitterness persisted between those factions into the tenure of interim Superintendent Gwen Chan. Though the Board was controlled by the anti-Ackerman faction, the decision to hire Carlos in June 2007 was almost unanimous (Commissioner Maufas dissented). By the time Commissioner Fewer and I were seated as the newest members of the Board in January 2009, every Board member had forged a collegial relationship with the Superintendent and the Board began to coalesce. Today, a 4-3 or even 5-2 vote is quite rare. That doesn’t mean the Board doesn’t have policy disagreements, but it does mean that we are able to find common ground and move forward on that.
The thing I’ll miss about Carlos the most is his “life is short, don’t take things too seriously” mentality. He has his priorities straight, which is probably why many people around San Francisco are scratching their heads and saying “Really? But he’s still so young!” At this morning’s announcement, one reporter asked me if the real reason behind his retirement was illness. No — it’s actually a healthy understanding of what is important in life. Carlos has had a great career, and he has a great family and a good pension based on his many years of service in California. He wants to enjoy those things, and who would blame him? “I want to play,” he told me a few months ago, and he’s earned the right to make that decision. I’m grateful to him for the work he’s done in San Francisco, and now it’s time to pass the torch.
I can’t think of any reason NOT to pass the torch to Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza, and indeed the Board has decided to begin negotiations with Mr. Carranza for the district’s top spot. While I am sure there are other qualified and interesting candidates out there, I don’t see why we should spend upwards of $100,000 to search for them (that is what a Superintendent search costs!) when we have a candidate right here who:
- knows the district well;
- has fully bought into Carlos’ philosophy and management style;
- has demonstrated that he can work well with the current board.
In addition, I have studied several districts that have really “moved the needle” on student achievement and the common thread is continuity of leadership. Probably the poster child for that assertion is Montgomery County, Md., which until this past summer was led by Superintendent Jerry Weast. (Read the book “Leading for Equity” if you are really interested in the story of Montgomery County.) If the Board believes we are essentially on the right track (and I believe that a majority of the Board would say we are), then we owe it to students to continue with our current leadership philosophy. Richard represents that.
Finally, on a personal note, Richard has been an absolute champion for the changes we must make in our special education programs. It was Richard, in his first few months in the district, who came to me and said he thought we had to do an external review. He was right, and I continue to be grateful to him for his leadership in reworking special education.