Guest Editorial: Teachers Union Endorse School Board Candidates

by Ken Tray on September 24, 2008

On September 3rd, the United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), the union representing the 6,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, nurses and other school workers in the SFUSD, endorsed Sandra Fewer, Jaynry Mak, Rachel Norton, and Norman Yee for School Board.

In a crowded field, why did we choose these four? Because they represent a broad segment of San Francisco and are unified in their commitment to support students and educators in the classroom. Their talents and skills will help continue a new era of progressive policies in our School district.

Sandra Fewer brings years of experience as the Director of Parent Organizing for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, an influential community organization that focuses on public education, as well as years of service as a site PTA officer.

Jaynry Mak, with her experience as an aide in the offices of Tom Lantos and Fiona Ma, has successfully demonstrated her ability to work with a broad-range of community groups. Her interest in improving the schools for her 2-½ year old is a driving force in her candidacy.

Rachel Norton is a well-respected parent-advocate at both the school and citywide level, who has worked diligently for improved Special Education services in the district. She was incredibly active in helping to pass Proposition A, the June ballot initiative that brings much needed resources to our schools.

Norman Yee, the one incumbent whom we are endorsing, has worked to bring consensus to the board during his tenure, successfully transitioning the district to a new superintendent, and working to bring additional resources to our schools. He also brings many years of experience and expertise in early childhood development.

It doesn’t hurt that each candidate is a parent. Norman Yee’s kids recently graduated from SFUSD schools and one daughter has returned as a teacher. Rachel Norton has two children in the schools, and Jaynry Mak is getting ready to send her son to the public schools. Sandra Fewer has one child still in school and two who have graduated from the SFUSD.

Here’s the thing: A vote for Fewer, Mak, Norton and Yee is not just a vote for four good candidates that will serve the interests of students, educators, and community, but it is a vote for the candidates best suited to keep the district moving in the right direction.

An honest observer of our city’s schools over the past several years would have to admit that tremendous progress has been made. Gone are the autocratic superintendent and the bickering School Board. In their place are a progressive and energized superintendent and a Board that has found success through deliberation and consensus. This year San Francisco was again recognized as the top-performing urban school district in California, a testament to all of the good work from top-to-bottom that is transforming our schools.

This year we also passed Proposition A – a citywide effort that brought teachers, parents, students, and community activists together to pass a first-of-its kind parcel tax to support our teachers, and increase funding for technology. Finally, for the first time in recent memory, this year kindergarten enrollment went up. This is a significant turn from a long-term decline in student population.

But all is not well in our schools. First and foremost, the achievement gap is persistent, and the school assignment system is so broken that we are in danger of reverting back to totally segregated schools. And with the state budget fiasco looking to drag on for years, our schools not only have to do more with less but may be forced to make drastic cuts in the years ahead. To that add a national environment that can be described as nothing less than an assault on our public schools – from NCLB and an over reliance on standardized tests, to the spread of corporate charter schools and voucher programs that continue to undermine public schools. It’s a difficult environment to work in, and one that needs the very best leaders to overcome.

We need a Board that knows how to attract young families into the public schools. But we also need a Board that understands the need to support those families who have not enjoyed the recent successes, and are continuing to fall behind. We also need a Board that can step up to the struggles that our schools will continue to face. Sandra Fewer, Jaynry Mak, Rachel Norton, and Norman Yee are the best qualified to take on these challenges.

Our slate is not rooted in any particular political camp, but they are supported by a union that is informed by a first-hand knowledge of the challenges of the classroom and a mobilized membership that is doing all it can to help improve our schools.

Educators get up early every morning, go out and give their all to the students of San Francisco and have little energy left to play in San Francisco’s political circuit. We are professional educators, not professional politicians. But the challenges of our schools force us to take on a political role, to protect our schools and do the best job we can educating our city’s children.

This is the litmus test to which we put each of the candidates through when we made our endorsements. Each viable candidate was carefully screened, and asked the difficult questions from teachers and paras straight out of the classroom. We then had a democratic debate, and decided as a group that these four were the strongest for our schools.

What we offer is something different: A slate of solid candidates ready to do the work at evening board meetings, to partner with parents and educators, so we get the support we need from greeting the first early morning kid until the last paper graded before going to bed.

The United Educators of San Francisco, representing the 6000 teachers and school workers of San Francisco, has the modest goal of electing a School Board that will nurture our communities’ public schools and support the work of educators in the classroom. Whatever the merits of other candidates, we ask progressives in San Francisco to give their vote to Sandra Fewer, Jaynry Mak, Rachel Norton and incumbent Norman Yee the candidates chosen by San Francisco’s educators.

Ken Tray is the Political Director of United Educators of San Francisco (U.E.S.F.)

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