What I Learn at SFUSD Board of Education Meetings

by Robin Dutton-Cookston, PPS-SF Director of Communications

I’ll be honest with you. I’m a johnny-come-lately at the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education meetings.

A long time self-avowed (sometimes annoying) PTA mom, public school activist, a sometimes-focused-on-education blogger, I thought I knew all about schools in San Francisco.

Turns out, like most people who think they know everything, I was mistaken.

Even with all my sassy blogging and standing on street corners with signs and working the school car washes until I felt personally responsible for the California drought, I never actually attended a Board of Education meeting until I began my job at Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

Now I go to Board of Ed (as we in the business call them) meetings all the time. I tag along with our brilliant director of policy, and try to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. Because with every meeting I attend I realize how much I still have to learn about our public schools.

And I learn SO MUCH.

You should go, too. You might learn a few things about San Francisco public schools.

Recently I learned...

  • To renew my appreciation for San Francisco history and civil rights. In our day-to-day grind as parents in the City, it’s easy to forget some of the fascinating legacies we inherit in our school system. For example, I learned that Spring Valley Elementary School is the oldest still-running public school in California. I also learned that Gordon Lau Elementary School was founded because Chinese students were forced to segregate away from the, then-all-white, Spring Valley. Originally called the “Oriental School,” Gordon Lau was renamed in the 90s in honor of the first Chinese American to serve on the SF City Council.
  • To marvel at the hearts and minds of community partners who enable public school students to be their best selves. Did you know that the California Academy of Sciences is a community leader in hiring special needs students from SFUSD high schools? And did you know that the Academy recently brought a group of their student workers to speak at a Board of Ed meeting about their gratitude for all they have learned? It was heartwarming to say the least.
  • To understand that SFUSD has a firm commitment to making sure parents are aware of their rights. Our SFUSD Board of Education has made it explicit that if families are displaced due to legal eviction, they do not have to leave their public schools. As a parent whose family was displaced due to a legal eviction several years ago, I can personally say that I would wish that stress on no one, and I am thankful that families do not have to add school placement to their urgent list of worries in such a frightful situation.

I learn something new at every Board of Ed meeting. And I eagerly look forward to taking my turn to help push out notes by live Tweeting the meetings via our PPS-SF #BoardWatch program.

My participation at Board of Education meetings helps me to perform better in my role as director of communications at PPS-SF. I network with other involved parents and community members, and I try to understand the complexity underlying high-level decisions that impact thousands of students.

On a personal note, my attendance at Board of Ed meetings help me to make informed decisions as a public school parent. Because when it comes down to it, isn’t that we all want to do? To make the best choices for our families?

I hope to see you soon at an upcoming SFUSD Board of Education meeting. And I hope that you will let me know what you learn.

Robin Dutton-Cookston is the director of communications for Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco. A parent of three, Robin likes to read, write, and pretend to exercise in the four minutes of free time she gets every couple of days.