San Francisco is a hotbed of innovation, technology, and startups – a land of seemingly never-ending opportunity. Within the city depicted on TV shows and in magazines sits a school district that is one of the most diverse in the nation, and faces some of the most persistent opportunity gaps.
In San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), education is a social justice issue. For more than a decade, SFUSD has focused relentlessly on surfacing equity and the role that systemic oppression plays in the education landscape.
SFUSD is a relatively small district when compared to other major urban centers. It has about 55,000 students, in nearly 140 schools (compare that to New York City, the largest in the country, with 1.1 million students). The student body is comprised of:
● 35% Asian
● 27% Latino
● 14% White
● 7% African American
● 4% Filipino
● 4% Multiracial
● 24% English Language Learners
Despite the District’s small size and willingness to openly address equity and access, San Francisco remains a place where race too often dictates a child’s chance for success.
District data from 2016-2017 show that 74 percent of African American students, 61 percent of Latino students, and 65 percent of Pacific Islander students did not meet state assessment standards in at least one subject area. But for white and Asian students, those numbers shrink to 14 percent 16 percent respectively.
Students watch their neighborhoods continue to change, as housing prices drive out families and young people move in. Students also notice the changes in their schools: because of teacher turnover, the District hires over 700 new teachers each year (with a total teacher force of 3,600). Schools with higher percentages of students from low-income communities face much higher rates of teacher turnover.
“Students are aware of the haves and the have-nots,” said Jennifer Steiner, director of the Office of Professional Learning and Leadership at SFUSD and the primary liaison with NYU Steinhardt’s Teacher Residency Program. “At the same time, they’re also aware of what San Francisco has to offer – they see the tech companies outside their doors. They know there’s real opportunity.”
The situation is urgent and the gaps are far-reaching. But this is not viewed as an impossible challenge. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Steiner speaks optimistically: “We are located in the epicenter of technological advancement. We can create the next Google executives, and the next generation of folks who are our presidents and entrepreneurs. We have the tools to change this.”
The new superintendent, Dr. Vincent Mathews, has a laser-like focus on interrupting the legacy of underserving marginalized populations. Though it’s not just top down; everyone at SFUSD works to close the gaps. “We must believe, as educators, that we can change the narrative,” says Steiner. “This is not about saving kids. We want educators who believe that our kids are the next generation of scholars, leaders, and change-makers.”
This starts with a clear district-wide definition of systemic oppression and equity, combined with supports for all teachers. Every new teacher is given the opportunity to examine their biases and understand how these impact their viewpoints. “We’re coaching each other and learning together as adults, all in service of supporting students.”
From innovative methods of instruction, to building student agency and capacity to lead, to forming true partnerships with historically underserved communities, SFUSD is undeniably one of the most exciting places to become an educator. There’s an opportunity to make real and lasting change.
“If you’re the kind of person who wants to work in an urban environment where everyone believes that those who need more, get more – the students who need more time, get more time; the schools that need more resources, get more resources – then SFUSD is for you,” Steiner says with every ounce of conviction.
Learn how NYU Steinhardt’s Teacher Residency prepares you to become a teacher in high-need urban areas like San Francisco.