Updated 2:34 pm, Monday, January 4, 2016 :: San Francisco’s public schools chief is staying put.Superintendent Richard Carranza said Monday he isn’t going anywhere, despite persistent reports and rumors that he was courted heavily by Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, and was among the top candidates for the job.
“I think Los Angeles is an incredibly important school district in the state of California,” Carranza said in an interview. “They’ve got a lot of good things happening (there).” But he added “I’m just really happy with the work we’re doing in San Francisco.”
Carranza said he’s proud of the success he’s seen in the city, but has more on his to-do list, including a revamp of the always controversial student assignment system.
Still, speculation about his departure was understandable, as the average tenure for a school superintendent is about three years. Carranza has been on the job for three and a half years and has spent a total of seven years in the district.
“It is an extremely political, very very complicated role,” Carranza said. “Unfortunately (a long-term superintendent) is an anomaly, but I think it’s an opportunity (to do more) in San Francisco.”
Carranza said San Francisco is ahead of the curve in ensuring teachers have the training and support to teach the new Common Core standards. That preparation, he said, paid off in above-average test scores for the district.
In addition, the district has worked to make certain students have a safe and supportive place to learn, he said. That has meant paying for higher quality school food, allowing students to eat breakfast in the classroom and providing supper.
Suspensions are down, with policies and procedures in place to help students see and correct bad behavior, rather than kicking them out of school.
Making those kind of changes takes time, Carranza said.
“All of those things don’t happen in one year or two years or three years,” he said.
But Carranza has in a short period made a national name for himself as a young superintendent, bringing a blue-collar, English-learner background, fluency in Spanish and a reputation for playing well with others.
“We recognize he is one of the top superintendents in the country and we also recognize that he gets recruiting calls regularly,” said school board President Emily Murase. “There’s a lot of work to be done and we make a great team, so we’re just happy we can continue with the leadership in the district.”
Carranza’s tenure hasn’t been without tension. He was highly criticized for eliminating algebra classes in middle schools, which some parent saw as an assault on advanced students in the name of equity.
The teachers union vocally opposed the superintendent’s effort to increase the number of Teach for America teachers, recent college graduates who sign up for a two-year stint.
And there could be tough challenges ahead. Schools need more resources, teachers with better pay and training, and more teachers’ aides, said Lita Blanc, president of the United Educators of San Francisco.
“The big issues remain — like the affordability crisis for (teachers’ aides) and teachers,” she said.
“That's going to have to translate into serious dollars next fall when we (renegotiate) on salary.”
Los Angeles officials reportedly pressed hard for Carranza while searching for a leader with a proven record in urban education and an ability to restore trust and respect. The district is replacing Ramon Cortines, a former San Francisco superintendent, who stepped in last year as a temporary replacement for the more controversial and reform-minded John Deasy.
Carranza was listed among the presumed top contenders, along with Fremont Superintendent Jim Morris and Los Angeles Unified Deputy Superintendent Michelle King. District officials said they expect to name a new superintendent this month.
Now that Carranza has officially pulled his name off that list, he is looking at what’s next in San Francisco schools. He said Monday he wants to see suspension rates drop even lower along with other time students spend out of class due to behavior.
And he wants to take a broad look at the student enrollment process. Currently, siblings of students get first priority in school choice, and families living in census tracts where students post the lowest test scores get second priority, ahead of those in a school’s attendance area.
Carranza questioned whether the system is effective given that schools have become less diverse and the process leaves parents guessing where their children will go to school, despite an effort to address both concerns.
“I think it’s time for us to really re-examine our student assignment system,” addressing both the lack of predictability and diversity in schools, he said. “We do want to have predictability for our students and families as well.”