Citing distance learning, equity and budget challenges, Chris Funk said this will be his last year as superintendent of East Side Union High School District.
“I can’t lead in this environment anymore,” Funk said. “I want to help us get through this pandemic and hopefully release some of the pressure allowing new thoughts for solving the deficit to come to fruition. That’s the only reason why I’m stepping down.”
In an email sent to teachers, parents, students and staff Thursday, Funk said he will depart when the school year ends in June.
“Chris Funk will be greatly missed,” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco, who previously served on the ESUHSD board of trustees. “His visionary leadership helped pass a technology bond years ago which now has put the district in a great position to expand Wi-Fi for thousands of families on the East Side of San Jose and allows our students to complete their distance learning. Funk raised the bar for our students and our community.”
Referring to COVID-19 and distance learning, Funk said “we’re just in uncharted territory” with this pandemic. In his nearly nine years serving as superintendent and 30 years in education, Funk said “never have we faced the challenges that we are facing this school year.”
Funk said his focus for the school year is helping the district navigate COVID-19 concerns safely while providing “the very best educational platform.”
Although the district is planning a four-phase approach to returning to the classroom — all distance learning, in-person learning for the most vulnerable and specialty classes, a combination of distance and in-person learning and fully in-person instruction — Funk said phase four may not occur until a vaccine is widely accessible.
Regarding racial equality, Funk recognized the “systemic oppression baked into the public-school system” and the need for social equity. He said the educational system has become one of privilege rather than a right, especially for low-income students of color.
Every student should receive a world-class education regardless of economic, gender or cultural background, he said.
“We are at an inflection point in our nation’s history where the time to tear down the walls of oppression in our public school system is now,” Funk said, “…we will continue to knock down the wall of oppression brick by brick.”
Funk applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom’s directive to include ethnic studies as a graduation requirement, adding any policy or practice that contributes to inequalities of ethnic groups leads to systemic racism.
“When you look at our black and brown kids suspended at a higher rate than other groups, when you see there’s a disproportionality of kids of color in special ed, or graduating,” he said, “that is systemic racism in the public school system.”
Funk said economic uncertainty has hurt the stability of the school district, eroding the trust needed to create more equitable communities in East Side. Fiscal insecurity like potential layoffs, reductions in salary and health benefits for district employees also pose a distraction from creating change, he said.
“The fiscal issue needs to get resolved in order to fully concentrate on the systemic racial issues,” he said. “I hope this announcement provides the opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to solve the fiscal constraints.”
Funk said the lack of agreement between unions and the school district has resulted in not only a structural deficit but ongoing issues with social equity, and led to his resignation.
“The bargaining units refuse to come to the table and use me as their excuse,” he said. “It’s been two, three years of battling this. It’s the elephant in the room regarding battling social injustice issues. Since we’re stuck around that deficit, by me removing myself, that excuse is now removed. I’m hoping that might help bring the unions to the table to solve this.”
Funk said he sees budget cuts as the only other solution, which would gut district safety nets.
He said he is proud of passing an equity policy during his first year and increasing performance measures. He said that under his leadership, district drop-out and suspension rates decreased while graduation rates increased. Students meeting college entrance requirements are the highest they’ve ever been, he said.
Creating an Eastside Alliance with seven feeder districts brought focus, partnership and collaboration, especially around math development, he said. He said he also is proud of helping create the Spartan East Side Promise, a collaboration between the district and San Jose State University, which offers guaranteed admission to qualified students.
Funk said he is excited about closing the digital divide on the East Side through a partnership with the city to expand WIFI to underserved schools, including Overfelt and James Lick high schools.
“I’m proud we have an ongoing revenue stream to support our teachers in imbedding technology in their curriculum,” he said. “Our kids should not have to go to McDonald’s or Starbucks to access Wi-Fi. That’s an infrastructure that is more of a civil right and cities should be offering.”
As Funk is seven years away from retirement, he said he announced his departure now to give him time to find the right fit with another district and the board ample time to find a new superintendent.
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]