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San Francisco school board begins search process for new superintendent

The San Francisco Board of Education is launching its search for a new superintendent.

Dr. Vincent Matthews, who has served the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) as superintendent since 2017, plans to retire at the end of the 2021-22 school year.

At a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, district representatives outlined a timeline for the replacement process, which begins with selecting a firm to lead the search for qualified candidates.

Danielle Houck, the district's general counsel, said SFUSD has invited approximately 15 firms to submit proposals.

According to a timeline provided by SFUSD, a final search firm will be selected by Oct. 26.

The chosen firm will be expected to perform recruitment tasks like overseeing candidate interviews, conducting reference checks and developing a transition plan for the new superintendent, according to a Request for Statements of Qualifications (RFQ) issued by SFUSD.

The firm is also expected to conduct a search that generates a diverse pool of qualified candidates.

Superintendent Dr. Vincent Matthews welcomes students on the first day of school on Aug. 16, 2021. | Photo by Sophie Bearman

Beth Kelly, a SFUSD parent, called into public comment to applaud the emphasis on equity, though she urged the district to consider skills like financial literacy.

“It doesn’t state that an essential skill that the superintendent must demonstrate is fiscal understanding or the ability to navigate a fiscal crisis,” said Kelly. “This is the direction the district is headed in.” 

SFUSD faces a structural budget deficit estimated at $112 million for the 2022-23 school year.

Houck countered that the RFQ’s purpose isn’t to serve as a comprehensive job description for the superintendent role, but rather “to put forward the criteria with which the board will select a search firm,” she said.

“With respect to the qualities of the next superintendent, the RFQ—it may touch on that slightly—but that’s not really the purpose of the RFQ,” Houck added.

The RFQ lists five criteria for selecting the search firm, including experience placing superintendents in districts of a similar size to SFUSD, past performance and the recruitment of candidates from “culturally diverse backgrounds and who possess experience working with culturally diverse communities.”

The district is in the process of developing a full job description for the superintendent position. 

The search is likely to be difficult, with many superintendents—citing fatigue from managing school districts during the pandemic—retiring in recent months.

Austin Beutner, former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, left the position at the end of his three-year term despite pleas from school trustees that he extend his contract.

Matthews announced his own plans to retire in March of this year, only to rescind his resignation in April as the school district faced down issues such as an $87 million lawsuit from board member Alison Collins, shuttered classrooms and the looming budget crisis.

He agreed to continue on with the district for another year—with conditions, including that the school board focus exclusively on reopening schools.

“The Board is committed to ensuring the entire process of selecting a new superintendent is transparent and gives the community opportunities to provide input,” Board of Education President Gabriela Lopez said in a statement.

Sophie Bearman can be reached at

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