I spoke with Gabriela Lopez before and after the February 15 recall election to discuss her thoughts about the recall, her career hopes beyond working on the school board, and to learn a little about what makes her tick.

Before she was president of a normally-innocuous public body which, until recently, was facing a recall making national headlines, Lopez was a teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Originally from Los Angeles, she moved to San Francisco in 2016, then a freshly-minted graduate from UCLA’s Master’s in Education program, and was employed as a fourth-grade teacher at Flynn Elementary School in Bernal Heights. Her repertoire quickly grew however, becoming a representative for the SFUSD teacher’s union, United Educators of San Francisco, a member of the School Site Council, and the Arts Coordinator for Flynn Elementary.

Her involvement with her school and the district at-large inspired her colleagues to suggest that Lopez run for school board. She did, she won, and in 2018 she was sworn in by Mayor London Breed.

She spent nearly four years on the board, but it was her time as president during the pandemic that she is most well-known for now, overseeing a body heavily criticized for its renaming of public schools and shifting admissions at Lowell High School from a merit-based system to a lottery system. Ire among parents, and a considerable amount of out-of-town money, ultimately lead to her recall, with 72% of 175,645 voters, albeit with only 36% of eligible voters going to the polls, giving her the boot along with Allison Collins (76%) and Faauuga Moliga (69%).

For now, Lopez remains board president until the Board of Supervisors confirms Tuesday’s election results, but is also pursuing her broader career goals, including becoming a professor of teacher education, with a focus, she hopes, on helping teachers make learning more engaging for their students. She had just been accepted to Stanford with a full-ride scholarship when I spoke to her again Friday after the recall.

How are you feeling after the recall?

“It’s disappointing that the outcome is trying to paint a picture of where San Francisco stands. This election’s intention was to take advantage of a low voter-turnout, and that’s exactly what happened. Half of the people who came out for the governor’s recall came out for this election, and the people who were motivated to remove us made sure to vote. The results are not a surprise, but I don’t think it’s a reflection of where we are.”

Did the super-majority of votes to recall surprise you?

“Yes and no. I expected there to be less people voting, and the ones voting already wanted us out. So it’s a shock but it’s exactly what they intended for us to do…I cannot agree with this notion that San Francisco’s completely done with the way that the school board of the “left woke” has been operating, because this is a high percentage of a small percentage of people who came out.

Anything else about the results you want to add? 

I do want to add the response that we have been getting…it’s really some hateful racist misogynist stuff in our emails, all over our social media, it’s non-stop…there are people who are happy with the results and are pointing to really racist things and are seeing it as a victory…there are people who are white supremacists and are enjoying this…people are calling me a “Mexican whore,” it’s shining a light on things that people don’t want to be associated with, but is a reality of what Tuesday was.”

Do you think that’s a fair representation of Tuesday and the electorate that recalled the school board?

A part of it, yeah. I believe that there were people who were not happy with our response, but we have to recognize that if you’re feeling like right now is not the right time to talk about racism or racist names or Lowell, I don’t think it will ever be the time.”

What do you want people to remember about your time on the board?

“Two resolutions I am extremely proud of are the Arts Equity Resolution, it completely shifted how we do arts education in the school district, and the Latinx Resolution, which is showing up now in so many ways that helps Latino students get more access to college [and] the creation of the English Language Development course in Ethnic Studies which is huge. What we would see as educators and what parents would tell is if you are an English Language designated student, you don’t get to take classes that help you flourish in other areas. Lots of work happening that first year.”

Will you run for school board again?

I have learned I need to sit with that before I go all-in. I’m reflecting right now. But I know that there are a lot of folks that hope that I do [run], and I just remind everyone that whatever happens, no one person can do it alone. So, we will see.”

Now that the recall is over, I’m curious, how have you been de-stressing lately?

“A couple weeks ago I signed up for a swimming class at [City College]. I don’t know how to and I’ve always wanted to. And it was my effort to learn a new skill and get me moving…I’m also trying to read more. Right now I’m reading a biography of Malcolm X.”

I remember you talking about your hopes to get a PhD, and that you’ve been applying to programs, and I heard you got into Stanford?

“I did! I did get into Stanford. When I heard the news, I was just starting a meeting and I saw the wonderful ‘Congratulations, you got accepted.’ It was a godsend,” Lopez said. “It’s a full-ride, it’s for five years, and I also got accepted into a fellowship for Doctoral Students in Diverse Fields. It’s a shock, I’ve been getting a lot of “Congratulations, I’m sorry” phone calls. It’s interesting how I’m holding a lot of this news in the past week.”

I take it you plan to go to Stanford, then?

*Laughs* I am waiting on [UC Berkeley], and I know that I’ll be able to make that decision as soon as I hear back. But I do know that come fall, I’ll be enrolled in courses and starting my program.

If you attend either Berkeley or Stanford, will you continue to work at USF?

“They have already shared that they can work around my schedule so that I can stay. I don’t think I’ll be able to be as active, but I have no insight around what my day-to-day will be like. I’m going to be connected with current students in the program who can just highlight what that day-to-day is. I’m not someone who doesn’t understand going to school full-time and working full-time, that’s always been my experience, but I’m also getting a stipend in addition to the fellowship and tuition being paid. I’ve never had the opportunity to just go to school, but I don’t think I’m prepared for that. I think I’m going to need something else and USF has just been really wonderful.”

San Francisco Board of Education President, Gabriela Lopez, was recalled from her elected position on Feb. 15, 2022. Photo: Garrett Leahy

What other plans do you have after the recall?

Going to school has always been in the works, to remain working at USF, ultimately, my main goal with school is to become a professor. Staying with the school district, staying connected, helping lend resources and opportunities for research, that is something missing in our work.

Any personal goals you have moving forward?

I told you I’m learning to swim, right? *Chuckles*