As we approach the start of a new school year, a summer spent in reflection has given me and the South San Francisco Unified School District staff the opportunity to continue working collaboratively with our board and various stakeholders to determine new ways to move our district forward and ensure equitable outcomes for all students.
This year, it is my hope and vision that we continue to develop into an even stronger and more courageous district where every educator in the district continues to contribute positively to the overall enhancement and growth of our district and where we are all determined to exemplify excellence and address challenges and obstacles as opportunities. My vision is that every educator maintains an unwavering focus on equity, removing barriers for students and providing them with whatever they need to ensure their success. I envision a district that has the strength to hold itself accountable for creating an even more positive culture by conscientiously examining our actions, behaviors and words to influence others positively.
For us to make this a reality for our children, the educational health of our organization is a key lever. To become a high-performing, highly skilled district, we have to think about our work, sometimes, through a different lens.
This summer, upon reflection, I came up with the parallels of our work to that of doctors, hence, our theme this year in SSFUSD. Doctors generally get into the field because they want to provide a service to patients that will help their overall quality of life. Similarly, I believe most educators get into this profession because of a sincere desire to help improve the educational lives of our students, and teaching is a direct and influential way to help shape students’ lives. In education, much is asked and expected of us as we are leading and caring for precious lives. As we embark upon a new year, it is imperative that we come into it with positive attitudes, a problem-solving lens and a willingness to invest fully in our students and their learning.
The parallels with which we can draw between doctors and educators are vast. Doctors strive to improve or maintain the health of their patients and prevent illness. As educators, we, too, work toward a similar purpose. Our students come to us with varying educational health backgrounds. Some are in great academic shape. They are socially and emotionally adept, happy and well-nourished; they have a great support system and high levels of family engagement. These are our “patients” who may not need as many resources within the school because they already have access. Educators, like doctors, provide annual maintenance, preventative screenings and small doses of educational adjustments to maintain an overall healthy, academically sound body.
Patients, unfortunately, are not always in the best health when they visit the doctor; similarly, some students also come to school with gaps in their academic health. Thus, educators, replicating some practices by doctors, evaluate, ask questions, request additional tests and dig deeper for information to determine the best ways to help our students reach maximum proficiency. They collaborate, they observe and they consult. All of these are practices which we strive to cultivate and do in the district.
This is the type of culture we seek to promote for all students and staff. Not only do we desire to create a culture of academic, social and emotional excellence, but also a culture of kindness, care, compassion and empathy, which are equally important values.
Like doctors who take a Hippocratic oath, SSFUSD chooses to adopt our own oath and be a district that heals, helps and improves the educational lives of all its students and staff.
Dr. Shawnterra Moore Thomas is the superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District. She is a member of the Association for California School Administrators and the California Association for African American Superintendents and Administrators. She and her family live in San Bruno.