Three new commissioners took their oaths to serve on the San Francisco Board of Education on Monday after a whirlwind election with 19 candidates on the ballot.
Community organizer Alison Collins, teacher Gabriela López, and social worker Faauuga Moliga were sworn in at the Tenderloin Community Center, each bringing their own milestones. Moliga is the first to bring Pacific Islander representation, 28-year-old López is the youngest elected official in San Francisco and first billingual school board member while Collins is bringing decades of public school advocacy to an official capacity.
“We represent much greater than any one of us. This Board [of Education] election was about our core values as San Franciscans,” Collins said to the audience. “The value of keeping the public in public education, the value of making sure that every child feels safe in their school, the value of standing up, speaking truth, and defending our most vulnerable.”
With former school board member Matt Haney taking Jane Kim’s supervisor seat, Mayor London Breed will appoint another commissioner to take his place on the seven-seat board. But as the board transitions to new faces, López faced another obstacle: finding another day job.
Due to conflict of interest, López had to give up her job teaching the same group of 17 students for the past two years at Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School in the Mission, where she lives. Being a public school teacher is part of what made her a compelling candidate but administration closures over the winter break made it difficult to discern if she would be teaching for the rest of the school year.
“I don’t ever want to lose that background and there’s a lot of knowledge that I carry because I’m in that space so to not be in it would almost be going against what I was running on,” López tells SF Weekly.
Fortunately for López, she signed papers to teach with Hayward Unified School District hours before taking her oath in Spanish — another San Francisco first — and begins work on Wednesday. But she was prepared to work at a restaurant or a bar to make ends meet, in addition to driving Lyft on the side. She would have loved to be a substitute teacher but could not afford the inconsistent hours and pay.
During the transition, she thought of another historically young Latina elected from a working-class background. Before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took office, she was open about her financial struggles during the transition of not being able to afford a Washington D.C. apartment on top of her Bronx home until the congressional salary kicked in.
“There are things that are required of her position that working people just don’t have access to,” López says. “Nothing was available that kept me in education that was also flexible enough for me to be within this space fully and I think that just touches on how working people can’t participate in that way.”
For years, there has been talk about making the school board a full-time job like city supervisors, rather than receiving roughly $6,000 annually and working another full-time job. Though López would support the change, she doesn’t expect it to be implemented in her tenure.
As López steps into her new role as school board member, she will also adjust to a brand new school district, students, curriculum, and a classroom she is unable to make her own before school begins. She will also be trading her eight-minute walk to work for an hour-and-twenty-minute commute.
“We do this work because it’s necessary,” López says. “These are all sacrifices that many, many qualified people can’t make for all those reasons I named so it really is an honor.”