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A Dream Deferred:

How San Francisco schools leave behind the most vulnerable students

Norma and Faustino Valenzuela

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Norma and Faustino Valenzuela’s three children all attended SFUSD schools, but when their son fell two years behind, they switched schools.

“It’s a huge difference – from one school to another. It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s the fault of the system.” – Norma Valenzuela

Norma and her husband, Faustino Valenzuela, have been raising their three children in the Bayview neighborhood since moving here from Mexico 20 years ago.

When their oldest daughter, Ivonne (now 24-years-old), started kindergarten, they simply sent her to the nearest district school, Taylor Elementary.

“It was a good school at that time,” said Norma. “There was a lot of support, and it was in a good state and had dedicated teachers.”

They did the same for their son, Cesar, who now attends Lowell High School.

But things haven’t gone as smoothly for their youngest, Diego, who attended Flynn Elementary from kindergarten up until the middle of 5th grade. While both of her older children benefited from free preschool and tutoring programs, when she went to enroll Diego, they told her that her family’s income no longer qualified.

“Those programs help a ton. My son didn’t have the support to learn to read. We have a low salary and multiple jobs,” said Norma, who works at a Mexican restaurant in the Mission district. “We rely on the school to provide the education.”

The class sizes at Flynn were big – usually about 30 students.

“The teacher just couldn’t handle that many kids,” said Norma. “The schools have gone down a lot because the teachers don’t have support. The teachers turn over a lot. A teacher comes, sees the conditions, is just there for a year and leaves. That makes too much work for the principal, and makes him or her tired and stressed.”

Diego seemed to do fine at first, but he started falling behind in 2nd grade.

The first principal left, and Norma said that took a toll on the school as well.

“The new teachers just want to do one year here, then apply to go somewhere else. The salary is very low for them. The teachers are making a 30 minute commute or an hour on the train. I see their stress.”

Both of the Valenzuelas were active in the school, with Faustino serving on the parent council. To make sure Diego was getting help, Norma started going to his classes.

“I went to the classroom, and the teacher was helpful. With me in the room, they put more attention. I tried to do everything for my kid. I know he’s intelligent,” she said. “But I can’t sit there all the days to make sure my child gets what he needs.”

She started looking for spots at other schools, but they were all full. Through other parents, she heard about KIPP Bayview Academy Charter School and went on a school visit. She liked what she saw. Then she went back on her own, unannounced, and the school still impressed her. So she signed up, and Diego started there in January 2017.

After a few days, Diego’s first reaction was, “It’s a lot of homework!”

“But he did it. He was enthusiastic, doing homework till 10 at night,” Norma said. “By February, he was already more advanced.”

“It’s a huge difference – from one school to another. It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s the fault of the system.”

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