Schools issue compels S.F. family to ask: Do we stay or go

At a recent first-Friday Shabbat at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El, I caught up with two mom friends as we chased our preschoolers. One shared her family’s plans to move from San Francisco to the East Bay this summer in pursuit of better schools.

As a congregation, we see young families leave the city every year. I identify with them, because my family has struggled with the same question many young families in San Francisco face: Do we stay or do we go?

I began to find answers to that nagging question when I joined the synagogue’s Panim el Panim (Face to Face) committee. Panim el Panim emerged two years ago to address issues deeply relevant to our community. Exploring what kept congregants awake at night, Panim el Panim listened to more than 600 Emanu-El members in face-to-face conversations, neighborhood meetings, surveys and house gatherings. In fact, it was after attending a profoundly moving house meeting that I decided to join the committee.

I came on board Panim el Panim 18 months ago just as public education was identified as our top concern. My participation has allowed me to build meaningful community and to address my family’s hopes for a strong, quality public education for our daughter.

I have worked closely with committee members conducting extensive research to determine how the Emanu-El community can best respond to our congregants’ concerns, and to the call of social justice and tikkun olam (healing of a broken world).

The most compelling opportunity we identified lies in ensuring that the San Francisco Unified School District successfully implements one of its strategic priorities, the classroom adoption of California’s Common Core State Standards by 2014.

To guarantee that students gain these 21st-century skills through 21st-century teaching and learning, we must invest heavily in our public school teachers and families.

On May 31, I will join fellow congregants on the bimah to ask incoming San Francisco Superintendent Richard Carranza to commit to publicly sharing an

implementation plan for the Common Core State Standards. We also will ask for a quarterly “report-out,” or community session with the district, teachers, families and other education stakeholders, to hear about the plan’s progress.

The entire Bay Area community is invited to this meaningful evening, “Investing in Our Families and Public School Teachers,” 7 p.m. Thursday, May 31 at Congregation Emanu-El, 2 Lake St., S.F.

If all goes well, the event will mark the beginning of a community process that will strengthen and sustain all San Francisco public schools and contribute to the well-being of our city. And my family, along with many other young families, will be that much closer to deciding to stay in San Francisco.

Liz Lian Ungar, a member of Congregation Emanu-El, lives in San Francisco with her husband and 3-year-old daughter.