A: Over the summer of 2020, a handful of concerned SFUSD parents, including our founder Meredith W. Dodson, began brainstorming creative solutions to address the unmet learning and well-being needs of the most vulnerable SFUSD families who were hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. As they met with Community Based Organizations, community members, families, and funders, and parent groups like PPS-SF, SFUSD PAC, YMCA, Beacon, and school leaders from some of the highest need schools like Sanchez ES, El Dorado ES, and Visitacion Valley ES, they came up with a list of needs far greater than they could solve on their own, and they found the “I’m not feeling heard” message from families concerning. Equally voiced was a frustration with the vacuum of information and transparency from the Board of Education and SFUSD in a time of great crisis and urgency. It was clear that there was a need for stronger and more inclusive family engagement processes across the district and a means of elevating families as powerful stakeholders in public school education in San Francisco, while respecting existing organizations and structures. So they began to build a parent and teacher collective to reach more people, listen, and advocate for the most pressing needs. All organizing has been done entirely on a volunteer basis by parents, caregivers, teachers and community members interested in this work.
In just a few months, the group grew from 50 parents to more than 4,000, which represents more perspectives and ideas and spans the city, crossing racial and socioeconomic lines. We have members from over 70 schools in SFUSD, including early childhood education, elementary, middle, and high schools. Advocacy for the safe reopening of our schools and an urgent call for transparency from SFUSD was added to our priorities in Fall 2020, in response to concerns from many of the members in our group. Though reopening our public schools full time to all students, with no more Zoom in a Room has become our main focus and will remain our focus until we are successful, we also work on other solutions, such as outdoor education plans, how families can help improve distance learning, equitable fundraising across school sites, and advocating for wrap-around holistic supports for students. We have organized and held several events, including a town hall with doctors on COVID-19 and safe schools, how to develop outdoor learning programs, rallies, Zoom Ins, and a discussion with a state senator and two assemblymembers about the budget and leadership on the reopening process.
A: When you become a member of SF Parents Coalition, you are endorsing our core values of centering the needs of the city’s children. You may choose to be a passive member, or you may choose to get involved in more or less intense action. SF Parents Coalition actively solicits your volunteer help but also respects your personal boundaries. Leadership/other members also reach out to you on a regular basis to get your pulse on what’s happening with your school, and what needs to be improved. We invite you to take on increasing leadership and empower you with the skills, information and resources you need to succeed, throughout the process. We take your feedback seriously.
A: Please sign up for our newsletter and our Facebook group which provides a forum to members to discuss topics relevant to what we’re working on. If you’re not on Facebook, you can also follow us on Twitter. Finally, for some of our non-English speaking families, we translate our newsletters to Spanish.
A: The short answer is: members. SF Parents' leadership team makes decisions and drives our actions and strategies by listening to what our members need--particularly the children--and elevating their voices to decision-makers. We have a group of 20-30 active lead members who are all parents and teachers, and volunteer anywhere from 1-20 hours/week to support this work and contribute ideas regularly. Our volunteer leaders bring important and diverse perspectives, and some are also educators, physicians, scientists, policy advisors, legislators, journalists, and more. We are committed to a community-informed and equity-centered approach to providing and increasing just inclusion that enables all students and their families to contribute and thrive. We also regularly meet with Community Based Organizations, Parent Advisory Committees, community leaders, and parents from different communities across San Francisco to learn how families are struggling the most and what they need--related to SFUSD/school supports--to thrive.
A: Until fall of 2021, we were not funded and did not received any financial compensation or support for our work. SF Parents (formerly Decreasing the Distance) was powered by a fierce and committed team of parent volunteers, most of whom are also working full-time jobs, juggling the demands of distance learning, and navigating this time of crisis as best we can. As of fall 2021, we began accepting donations from members as well as people who want to put children at the center of San Francisco public schools.
A: No, we are not a formal (registered) organization, we are a grassroots parent collective that accepts donations through a well-regarded fiscal sponsor. Our members change diapers, wash dishes, solve Chromebook glitches and oversee bath time during many of our online organization meetings. In the near future, we will be launching a 501c(4) organization in order to weigh in on Board of Education elections.
A: Yes! Our volunteer parent leaders include members of a variety of local unions. Unions exist to ensure the working conditions of their members, and many people have given their lives over the century to guarantee this right; we respect and honor that work. Though our structure and context are different, we are also fighting for the rights of students and parents in a system that often works against those rights. This sometimes means that we will disagree with other groups, including unions, if we don’t believe that they are serving the interests of children and parents. We also look for common ground. We are never against anyone, only always for children and parents, and invite anyone who shares the value to partner in this push.
A: See our equity statement here. Public school is only truly public if it is an equitable experience and system for all families. And reopened schools do not necessarily mean a return to a good experience for all families. Too many students have felt unwelcome and unsafe at San Francisco public schools for too long, and that needs to change; we want to be part of that change. Therefore, SF Parents strives to ensure that we examine all of our decisions and policy positions through the lens of equity, including the outcomes. That said, this work continues to be a journey, and we constantly strive to be better and do better.
A: No. We have fought hard to reopen San Francisco’s public schools because we believe public schools are the cornerstone of a just and functional society. It can be confusing to well-meaning people used to San Francisco’s political landscape to see parents from across the local political spectrum come together to speak up for children's right and need to be in school; but we invite you to see the beauty in common ground on such a basic issue--it is a good thing that so many people care about public schools, to our mind. Get to know us and judge for yourself by attending upcoming events.