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Q&A: Ingleside Resident Alida Fisher Talks School Board Win
Once she joins San Francisco’s school board in January, Fisher has plans to increase academic success for all students.
Alida Fisher’s journey to win a seat on the board overseeing San Francisco’s public schools started with one question: Who wants to pick up that torch and run with it?
It started in 2016 when Commissioner Rachel Norton announced her intention to step down and told a group of special education advocates to consider campaigning to keep a seat at the table to help steer the San Francisco Unified School District.
“Most women have to be asked many, many times before they'll even think about it,” Fisher said. “It took a while but a group of people were like ‘No, it has to be you’ and convinced me to step up.”
It took a couple of tries, but Fisher’s persistence paid off. She surpassed appointed Commissioner Ann Hsu by roughly .6% of the vote in the November 2022 general election.
A mother of four of adopted children and a special ed advocate, she has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years. Before being elected, she sat on the SFUSD’s Local Control and Accountability Plan Task Force and attended nearly every Board of Education meeting over the last few years.
“I go to all of them and spend a lot of time commenting so it'll be nice to sit on the other side of the dais and actually listen to people's comments and be able to affect change and be impactful,” Fisher said.
In the past few years, the school district has been rocked by a successful recall election, a school naming scandal, failure to pay staff and an ongoing struggle to deliver what students need for better learning outcomes.
The Ingleside Light caught up with Fisher about her vision for the school district.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What are you most excited about when it comes to being on the board?
I'm really looking forward to getting in there and doing the work. Meeting after meeting as a special education advocate — as a parent of kids with Individualized Education Plans — I spend a whole lot of time talking about, ‘Hey, what if we could add this? Hey, what if we could do this? What if we could bring in more parents?’ Instead of doing that meeting by meeting by meeting, I'm looking forward to looking at the resources and the allocations from a district standpoint.
What do you hope to bring to the education table?
An understanding of special education, of course, but I'm not just going to be the commissioner for students who have IEPs, I'm going to be the commissioner for everyone. What I really bring to the table is an understanding of the impact that special education has everywhere, because 12% of our kids here in the district have IEPs. That's one in eight kids and of the kids with IEPs 75% of those kids actually spend their day in general ed classrooms. When you're talking about IEPs, when you're talking about kids with disabilities, when you're talking about all this stuff, it impacts every single classroom.
What are your main worries or concerns with the education system currently?
We're very underfunded. Depending on which record you look at, we are one of the most expensive cities to live in in the world with the biggest percent of billionaires and California funds its education either anywhere between 35th or 42nd. To me, budgets are value statements and what we as a state show is we really don't value public education. We spend more per capita on our prisons than we do on our public schools and we wonder why we have so many prisons.
Special education is just as bad. Over the past five years, our special education budget has had to increase by 35% and the state and federal allocations behind that have only increased by 6%. Money doesn't just magically appear to provide the support and services. I think that's a huge problem. We really need to value, as a state, public education.
We're in a huge staffing crisis right now and we have hugely capable teachers out there, hugely capable professionals who would do the work, who just [aren’t] willing to do the work for the pay and I can't blame them. We do need to increase some of our pipelines. We do have some really specific targeted areas where we have shortfalls but we also really need to increase our teacher pay.
Do you have any plans or ideas on how to fix some of these issues?
There's so many areas where we have to work smarter, not harder. Our curriculum is one. Those are the two areas where I'm going to spend a lot of time initially but another big area where we really need to do some work is bringing in more social, emotional and mental health support. When we've got kids in crisis in our schools and mental health is an area where I think we really need to partner with the city, the county and the state to bring more resources in to support our kids.
What else do you want the community to know?
My dad jokes that he votes to cancel my mom out because he's a Republican and she's a Democrat. They've been married 51 years so if they can get past their political differences and respect and love each other and see the humanity, you know, laugh with each other, raise three amazing children together, they can do all that, I think that we can get past our politics here in the city and then focus on the kids and move forward.
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