Linda Davis is known throughout the San Francisco Unified School District as the woman who led the “district through this time of change” after several months of uncertainty in 1978 (Phillips and Wynns). Davis was a natural leader and influenced others to break down racial stereotypes. As the first woman to lead schools in the San Francisco Unified School District and the first African American superintendent, she worked to improve learning for all children, regardless of race.
Prior to her work in the San Francisco school district, Davis served in a variety of educational roles in Pasadena, California. She served as a teacher, administrator, and assistant superintendent, and was a key advocate for education on many statewide commissions. An SFGate article commended Davis’ nearly four decades of experience (Asimov). Through her influential work in classrooms and administrative positions, Davis’ efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
Linda Davis’ first role in the San Francisco Unified School District came when she was chosen for deputy superintendent in 1986 by the San Francisco superintendent at the time, Ramon Cortines. Cortines was formerly the superintendent of Pasadena Unified School District, where Davis was his colleague (“Schools’ Chief Makes Staff Changes”). Starting in her first year as deputy superintendent, Davis would prove her driven passion. In an SF Progress article, she stated that “classroom teachers and principals are the key players in public education. It is they, not district administrators . . . who know best how to upgrade classroom instruction” (Borsuk). She put forth her and Cortines’ plan to have the teachers attend training workshops and to be provided with updated textbooks and equipment. Davis made it a point that some schools in the district have more resources than others and to combat this disparity, she planned to visit other campus’ teachers and principals to learn about their resource needs (Borsuk).
Two years later in 1988, the San Francisco Examiner wrote an article about a parole officer’s effort to establish a high school with heavy security to prevent students from being affected by a drug dealing problem. With Linda Davis as deputy school superintendent, she took a controversial stance on the issue. Her ideology was “separating problem students from other students contradicts traditional educational philosophies” (Salter). Her attitude is that students who are struggling need to be among well-rounded students to learn from example.
Linda Davis served as Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.
As a prominent leader within the San Francisco Unified School District, Davis was extremely involved in all aspects of education and wanted to create a more equitable system. “In the SFUSD,” she said, “some schools have had more resources than others. That is going to change” (Borsuk). Davis prioritized spending her time among students and on site at schools, rather than at the school district offices. She explained that “you cannot evaluate curriculum effectiveness by sitting behind a desk” (Borsuk).
In 1999, then superintendent, Dr. Waldemar Rojas, announced his surprise relocation to Dallas. Because of Davis’ thirteen years of experience as deputy superintendent, the SFUSD knew she was the only qualified person for the job of interim superintendent. Several board members granted support for Davis, claiming that she possesses the personal and professional integrity that the district needed (Asimov). In another article written by SFGate, the SFUSD described her as someone who is “intimately familiar with the needs of the district and all of the players in our diverse education community” (Phillips and Wynns). Throughout Davis’ years in the district she held a profound passion for education and educational reform.
Because of her outstanding work as interim superintendent, many staff and others in the educational community urged her to accept the permanent position as the first woman on the school board. A staff writer for SFGate noted that she was also pushed to accept this job because of her widely admired educational expertise, her calm manner and her ability to communicate with parents and teachers alike (Asimov).
Davis’ positive influence in education policy continues to live on as a reminder of her social activism. Linda Davis was, and continues to be, a changemaker in the San Francisco community.
— Althea Pyle and Zoe Foster
Asimov, Nanette. “S.F. School Board Picks Deputy Chief as Interim Boss / Linda Davis to Hold Job during Search.” SFGate. 5 May 1999.
Borsuk, Dan. “Curriculum Chief Lays Responsibility on Principals, Teachers.” SF Progress. 27 Aug 1986, p. A5.
Phillips, Steve, and Jill Wynns. “Why Search? S.F. Schools Need Linda Davis.” SFGate. 1 Oct 1999.
Salter, Stephanie. “Reform School?” SF Examiner. 10 Mar 1988.
“Schools’ Chief Makes Staff Changes.” SF Examiner. 8 Jul 1986.