Almost eight months after a contentious recall election ousted three school board members, San Franciscans will once again cast votes on who should serve on the beleaguered SF Board of Education.
Six candidates—a fraction of the typical number—are running for three seats on the November ballot, which will be mailed out Monday. Commissioners Lainie Motamedi, Lisa Weissman-Ward and Ann Hsu were appointed by Mayor London Breed in the aftermath of the February recall, and one of the recalled board members, Gabriela López, jumped into the race at the last minute.
At a debate Thursday at A.P. Giannini Middle School in the Sunset District, all six candidates—Alida Fisher and Karen Fleshman are also running—answered questions around the district’s payroll problems, declining enrollment and gaps in mental health care services. The San Francisco Unified School District, which has a new superintendent at the helm, faces big obstacles under a school board reshaping itself to perform more of an oversight role than actively craft policy.
Below are brief breakdowns on the candidates and some key takeaways from The Standard’s conversations with the candidates and Thursday’s debate. Readers can also check out endorsements of the candidates.
An active SFUSD parent, Fisher serves on various parent advisory boards in the district with an emphasis on special education. The executive director of the Community Alliance for Special Education has long advocated for literacy interventions and more investments in special education staffing and training, which could save the district money on referrals to outside agencies.
“We see a whole lot of kids that need a higher level of support and staff at schools wringing their hands not able to do it,” said Fisher, a third-time school board candidate. “We really, really, really need someone now who knows how to repair the harm, how to rebuild, get past the broken system and pull back to where we were a functioning team that improves outcomes for our kids.”
Weissman-Ward is the associate director of the Stanford Law School Immigrant Rights’ Clinic. On Thursday, she identified her priorities as restoring broken trust, ensuring fiscal accountability and bridging gaps in student outcomes. Some examples include staff retention, better budget analysis and highlighting bright spots to attract families.
“I wanna be our district’s hype woman,” said Weismann-Ward, a biracial SFUSD parent. “In spite of all the enormous challenges we face as a district, I’m feeling really optimistic about the ability to make significant and meaningful changes.”
López, a young Latina educator who was elected to the board of education in 2018 and served as president before being recalled, trains new teachers at the University of San Francisco and is a Ph.D. student at Stanford University.
“That time away really helped me reflect on my first term, everything that happened and ways of navigating things differently,” López told The Standard. “People recognized that the recall wasn’t actually just going to eliminate all the issues they were seeing. If we want learning to happen, students need to feel like they’re cared for and in a learning environment.”
Her priorities include fixing the payroll issues, school safety and eliminating gaps in mental health services. López also wants to work toward the school district accessing more city and state resources, particularly California’s Expanded Learning Opportunities Grant, which would provide funding for after-school programs.
Hsu is a business woman who volunteered on the recall and played a big role in its success. After the mayor appointed her to the board, she became embroiled in her own controversy and faced calls to resign over the summer. The mother of twins is big on gathering data to better evaluate the district, setting achievable goals for student outcomes and making sure to prepare students for careers outside of college.
“What I hear from the community is many, many complaints [that] parts of the system are failing and not serving them,” said Hsu, a Chinese immigrant. “There’s no process and procedure and criteria. I’m just glad people are paying attention. We’ve lacked that in the past.”
Motamedi, a program manager for the National Parks Service who is Iranian American, listed her priorities as student success, rebuilding trust and fiscal responsibility. She is big on transparency, having seen how hard it is to track district funds despite serving on a school district budget oversight committee. She lamented a comprehensive view of high school offerings to attract families.
“We have work to do to ensure all our students succeed,” Motamedi said. “I bring over 20 years of successful experience in nonprofits, business and state government, and as an advocate for our students.”
As a parent in the district, Fleshman said her top three priorities are budget transparency, collaborative decision making on the board and investing in student and educator’s social emotional learning, wellbeing and academics. Donning a "Make Racism Bad Again" cap at the forum, the diversity and equity consultant spoke about the need to prepare students for good careers outside of college, as well as the need to bring back restorative justice.
“I really am deeply committed to educational equity,” Fleshman said. “I felt like our community was badly divided by the recall. The theme of my campaign is unifying San Francisco for San Francisco Unified.”