San Francisco's New Schools Chief

The son of a sheet metal worker and a hairdresser, San Francisco's new superintendent Richard Carranza entered the public school system knowing no English and was the first in his family to graduate from college. He now leads a district with a huge "achievement gap" between white, black and Latino students. We'll talk to him about plans for narrowing that gap -- and discuss his vision for improving public education in an era of shrinking budgets.

Host: Dave Iverson
Guests: Richard Carranza, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District

Interview Highlights

The Four Questions Carranza Asks Every School

"Everyone will say, 'We believe the most important thing in a school is what happens in a classroom with a teacher and a student,' but what does that really mean? What it really means is that you have to provide the support to teachers to better their craft; you have to continuously talk about and act upon the right thing. So, how do you know?
Here are four questions that I ask everyone when I visit a school:

What are students learning?
And that really goes to what is the curriculum? Is the curriculum rigorous? Is it aligned to state standards? Is it so rigorous that we're pushing kids? No one rises to low expectations, so are we making students really, really learn?
How do you know kids are learning?
So that goes to this whole issue of assessment. Right, so how do you know how students have mastered a standard? How do you know a student can perform a task that is required?
What do you do when students don’t know? When they haven't mastered that task?
That goes to the whole question of how do you intervene and how do you support [students].
What do you do when the student already knows the material that you’re teaching?
That goes to this whole question of accelerating students. We’re not about some of the critique on reforms efforts is that you dumb down the curriculum—we’re not about dumbing-down the curriculum.

On SFUSD's School Assignment System

"You're always going to have folks that are supportive and folks that say that this just doesn’t work, but you know the facts that we have are that 63 percent of our families got their first choice in this last assignment process. 80 percent got their first, second, or third choice, and 85 percent got one of their choices.
You know, we’ve heard a lot about neighborhood schools and people really want neighborhood schools. Overall, 52 percent of our kindergarteners of this latest round did not choose their attendance-area school anywhere in their first choices. So, we’re going to look at that data, and of course that doesn’t tell us the whole story, but our commitment is to keep on looking, keep on analyzing and keep on engaging the community in this conversation."

On Improving SFUSD Schools in the 'Superintendent Zone'

"In many other communities, when you look at schools that are not performing based on metrics, there’s almost, I would say, a difficult conversation that happens, that we have to do—we have to move teachers, we have to fire people, and we have to fire our way to improving schools.
What we’ve done is taken a different approach in San Francisco. What we’ve said is what are the areas that we know through research, through documented research, that make a difference in student learning? And what we’ve done is put together a plan where we've really focused our meager resources and our professional development and our focus has been on improving the instructional practice in those schools."

What he hopes to achieve for each student

"When a student gets to that precipice where they’re going to graduate, the student has a choice of whether they’re going to go to college, whether they’re going to go into a career, whether they’re going to go do what—the student has a choice. The system, the school district hasn’t decided it for them because we haven’t prepared them or we haven’t offered them the classes that they need to be able to make that kind of a choice.