School boards in action: 5 questions with Daina Lujan, South San Francisco USD

In the midst of a global pandemic, local educational agency boards have continued working to support programs and initiatives that offer students the academic and social-emotional opportunities they need — no matter which mode of instruction they are in. CSBA’s 5 questions series gives board members a chance to share the accomplishments of their LEAs and their experiences during this challenging time in their own words.

Daina Lujan, board president, South San Francisco USD

What is the most successful initiative your board has spearheaded during the pandemic?

Revision of our equity policy is something the SSFUSD Board of Trustees is deeply proud of. COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities in many ways, but our commitment to equity has strengthened. As such, we have engaged in the process to revise our equity board policy, are assembling an equity task force and will be developing an equity action plan.

What has been your board’s biggest challenge during the pandemic and how are you working to overcome it?

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public feedback has been stronger than ever. Public engagement is at an all-time high, which in many ways is wonderful. It presents challenges with making sense of all the feedback as opinions differ greatly and, even with all the engagement, there are times a few loud voices outweigh the opinion of the community at large. In addition, some members of the public do not have access to virtual meetings and their voices can be lost if alternatives to virtual engagement are not provided.

What is the biggest misconception you’ve heard about school boards/education during the pandemic?

One of the greatest misconceptions is the difference between study sessions and information items [in board meetings] as compared to action items. Several times the board has engaged in study sessions to later receive [complaints] from families and members of the public for not taking action.

What are your hopes for the future of your district both short and long term?

Navigating COVID has been incredibly difficult. Everyone has been challenged to think through things in new ways without traditional access to opportunities to think through things with social groups and friends. Many wish we could go back to normal, but normal as we knew it in February 2020 may not exist and this may not be a bad thing. Some students thrive in virtual learning and in some cases, courses that were only available at one school are now available to every student in the district. It is my hope that we can take the lessons learned through this incredibly challenging time to create an even better new normal in the future.

How long have you been on the school board and why are you passionate about your work?

I have been on the school board for six years and what keeps me going is every student. Our youth are amazing and I want every student to look to the future with hope. I appreciate that at this moment not every student looks to the future with hope, which means, I know my work is not done. Education is an interesting sector where there are some individuals who come to each year with the perspective, “well, we’ve always done it this way,” but as the board considers policy, we have the opportunity to envision new guidance to the way things are done so each student has the opportunity to look to the future with hope.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.