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Education and its discontents: Survey quantifies public frustration with local schools

From the outcry over reopening plans and access to personal protective equipment to the school board recall election, evidence abounds that San Franciscans of all stripes are generally unhappy with the state of public education in the city. Now, an education consulting firm hired to help the San Francisco Unified School District find a new superintendent has quantified the discontentment of parents, students, teachers—and even some administrators.

Results of a recent survey, which the consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates presented at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, appeared to indicate a lack of confidence in the district. The questionnaire polled nearly 2,000 administrators, staff, community members, students and their families. It contained just one statement with which more than half of the respondents “strongly agreed” or “agreed”: “Technology is integrated into the classroom.”

Most respondents were neutral or did not agree with the remaining 19 statements—including, “There is transparent communication from the district,” and “The district makes decisions based on information from data and research.” Only 17% of respondents agreed with those two statements. Just 14% of respondents agreed with this statement: “The district is heading in the right direction.” 

The survey was meant to measure perceptions and satisfaction among four categories—vision and values; teaching and learning; community engagement; and management—and is part of the search firm’s candidate-selection process. Outgoing Superintendent Vince Matthews is set to retire at the end of this school year.

The survey also asked participants about the district’s strengths, challenges and their priorities when searching for a new superintendent. The process continues on Thursday night when the board will give its input on the desired characteristics of a new superintendent before applications are due Feb. 18.

At Tuesday’s meeting, lead search consultant Hank Gmitro said survey respondents were most concerned about the district’s ability to develop and execute educational improvements at San Francisco schools, and a lack of clear communication to the school community. 

“One of the main challenges that people see is a clearly defined set of learning expectations for all students and a clearly defined plan for achieving those results,” Gmitro said.