Recently we were hosting a young teacher who had come to visit JJSE. After spending a few minutes in several classes, she turned to us and said, “Wow, this school is really special. It feels different from all of the other high schools I’ve seen.” We smiled because we get this reaction from visitors all the time. JJSE is indeed a special place, and we hope that this website will give you some sense of how we do things.
One thing that is unique is that we are a school for social justice. Words like justice and equity get thrown around a lot here in the Bay Area, and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what people mean by them.
To us, social justice means first seeing our social-cultural context. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S., and one of the most unequal. Many working class families, especially African-Americans, are being driven out of the city by gentrification, and only 13 percent of San Franciscans are children, the lowest percentage of any major city in the country. And San Francisco represents a broader trend: Nationwide, the child poverty rate has increased from 12% in the 1970s to over 20% today. One in 100 American adults is incarcerated (2.3 million people)—the highest rate and number in the world. And public policy supports these trends: In California, spending on prisons has skyrocketed for decades while public school spending languishes at 49th in the nation.
Here at JJSE, we think social justice means acknowledging the oppression inherent in this context, and making the deliberate choice to be part of the solution. We believe that providing students a free first rate education grounded in universal values is one of the most important ways that this inequality can be addressed.
What does this look like in a school? For one thing, it means remembering that we are teachers and educators. Many public and charter schools today have become incredibly bureaucratized and over-run by programs designed to “deliver” content or “intervene” upon students. But the art of teaching is not a new thing. Since the days of Socrates, human societies have been teaching their youth to think and analyze, to challenge assumptions and the status quo, and to solve problems and create new ideas. Following this lineage, we aim to create a community and learning environment where young people can develop themselves as intellectuals and full human beings.
Social justice also means knowing that our primary job is not to teach math or social studies or English or science (although we do that really well). It is first and foremost to teach children, to raise good people. At June Jordan, we are proud that we serve majority low-income students and have the second highest 4-year college eligibility rate among SFUSD high schools (after Lowell). But that’s not what matters most. What really matters is our RICH values, respect, integrity, courage, and humility—because if you are a bully or a racist or misogynist, all the book learning and test scores in the world won’t help you make the world a better place.
And social justice means partnering with families in these efforts, honoring the communities we serve, and building on the strengths of working-class and low-income people, and people of color, as we strive to create a humanizing space in a world and a city that are all too often defined by lack of opportunity, oppression, and inequality.
Those are some of the values underlying our efforts. We encourage you to explore our website, or even better, come visit the school in person, so that you can see how these beliefs help create a school that feels a little different. And while you’re here, give us your feedback and help us do better, and lend a hand to the work.
- Jessica Wei Huang