by Juliana Birnbaum Fox
Carlos García was chosen as the next superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District on June 12, in a 6 -1 vote by the Board of Education.
“We chose Mr. García because of his past experience with San Francisco, his strong track record as a superintendent and his understanding of the challenges that our district faces,” said Board President Mark Sanchez.
At a press conference on June 13, ten officials welcomed García, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, seven board members and two supervisors. Board member Eric Mar called him a “street fighter,” someone who will challenge students and fight inequity.
Board member Jane Kim recalled what someone from his former district in Las Vegas said about him: “If you don’t want change, you don’t want Carlos.”
Teacher Julio Soto, who was a student at Horace Mann when García was principal, welcomed him back to the Mission. García has said that he feels he is “coming home,” and is excited to work in such a progressive district.
García emphasized that he will seek the advice of parents, students, and teachers when addressing challenges rather than try to solve problems alone. He said people are likely to see him in the Mission District, in Chinatown and in Hunters Point talking to people.
“I want you to know,” he said in a voice fierce with emotion, “I don’t work for adults, I work for the children, and the children will be first when it comes to make decisions.”
Living up to his reputation for speaking his mind on controversial topics, García said he strongly supports bringing race back as a factor in the student assignment system.
The position that race can help integrate schools is shared by the majority of the school board’s seven members, though a ruling on the legality of using race to assign schools is pending in the federal Supreme Court.
“I believe our schools should be good for every student, not only for some,” he stated. San Francisco faces declining enrollment in its schools for a number of reasons, but an estimated 30 percent of children go to private schools, compared with the national average of 10 percent. García wants to attract more of these students to quality public schools.
García was born in Chicago, but his family returned to Mexico soon afterwards. Five years later, they moved to California, he started kindergarten as an English learner. He began his career in education in 1975 and has served as both a teacher and principal in Californian cities including San Francisco, Watsonville, Ontario, and La Puente. He was principal of Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991 and is largely credited for its later success. He served as Superintendent at Sanger Unified School District from 1994 to 1997, in Fresno from 1997 to 2000, and in Las Vegas from 2000 – 2005. During the last two years, he served as vice-president of McGraw-Hill Publishers, a controversial position due to the fact that the corporate educational publishing house has a reputation for putting profits first.
García’s employment contract as San Francisco’s superintendent includes a $255,000 salary and host of other benefits, though his return to public education from corporate leadership will probably cost him a pay cut. The Board hopes that willingness to take on the challenging role is a reflection of his passion and commitment. In fact, there are a number of incentives in the contract to lure him to stay on in the position—the national average tenure for a superintendent is only 3.1 years. García will officially start work on July 16.