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.