Susan Stauter, whom I had the honor and pleasure of working with during my tenure as CAO with the San Francisco Unified School District, presented the following at the December 13th, 2016, San Francisco Unified School District board meeting in honor of Commissioner Jill Wynns.
My name is Susan Stauter, I am the former Artistic Director for the San Francisco Unified School District, serving for many years,(24), proudly, on the campus of the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. I left my position as Conservatory Director at the American Conservatory Theater and I am the founder of the Department of Theatre at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.
When, at the request of Ruth Asawa, I returned to public education to work connecting the students of the SFUSD to the arts community of San Francisco, I met a board member named Jill Wynns.
She was something.
She was smart, she did her homework, she listened carefully and she took no prisoners. She was not swayed by friends or foes, and she stood up for students, for parents, and she stood up for the teachers union and the dignity of public school teachers and public schools as the mainstay of our democratic system. She showed up and she fought and she would not be silenced by the many powerful ones, or by too many of those who, having won and enjoyed her support had short memories and did not stand with her when she was in need. I remember, I saw it happen. One day when I was new to the district, a high level administrator, a woman, told me not to be seen talking to Jill Wynns; the boss did not like her.
Palace intrigue the likes of which I had not even seen in the theatre!
And here was this woman, this Jill Wynns, standing up and defending public education from privatization, defending budget choices and questioning others, actually reading the reams and reams of paperwork that crossed her desk and making time to listen to teachers and members of this community.
Like so many others, I watched as other board members at times showed open contempt, shuffling papers, leaving the room and talking while she spoke, and this was in a more civil time when this behavior was an anomaly, not the new norm we now daily endure in public discourse.
I once asked Jill how she could stand it, how she got through it. She told me she had a job to do, that she would not be silenced, and that the thing she hated most was fear, and she had decided long ago not to let fear stand in her way as a woman, as a leader. I remember what I was wearing, this memory is so strong; that conversation stood in my mind from that day to this. Here was a brave woman, a woman who felt the slings and the arrows, every single one of them, but would not be deterred from her sacred duty of public leadership.
Recognized nationally, her opinion sought out by leaders and thinkers, she set a tone of serious discourse, even when those around her did not. She would listen carefully, she took all manner of information onboard, and she respected and showed respect for those who too often did not return the favor.
She set a tone. She is the real deal, and she raised the bar for all the rest of us.
She told it to us straight. Many conversations started with “You are not going to want to hear this, but..” Or, “I hear you, but I disagree, and I must do what I believe is right.” No kidding.
Anybody who ever thought Jill Wynns did anything because somebody else told her to do it was not paying attention.
A few years ago I took the rap for a decision she made that was not popular with a school community. They actually thought I had gotten Jill Wynns to do something, believing that I, or anybody had that sort of magic power.
Jill Wynns stood in her own shoes and she spoke her own thoughts and nobody owned her. To know Jill is to accept the fact that she will do what she believes is right, and damn the torpedoes. It was not always easy; Jill’s world is one bounded by integrity and her own moral compass, and while there is loyal opposition, she does the work and she weighs the elements and I am proud to know her, I am proud to have served while she was on the board, and like so many others, I am waiting to see what’s next for this amazing woman, this leader.
In the theatre often the most important act is the last one, Act III.
The poet said hope is a thing with feathers, but in these low, dishonest times, when the toxic is ‘normalized’ and all manner of public and private evil is enacted daily all round the world, perhaps those feathers, like the ones in Anselm Keifer’s sculptures at SFMOMA, must be made of metal.
We need leaders like Jill Wynns.
We need to honor the wise women who, in other times, were respected, listened to, sitting in the center of campfires drawing circles round the stars from where they oversaw the marrying and the burying and the bringing of new life into the world.
Women of a certain age were not always marginalized, something we have seen ‘normalized’ this past year on every front page and on every television news show.
In these fractious times, the woman who speaks up, who dares raise her voice, is a hysteric, the woman who differs in a meeting is unprofessional, and beware the woman who dares lead….for her the abandonment of friends and colleagues, for her the lone stand of the righteous in a world where short memories too often trump loyalty, where real courage is discounted or mocked; the rolling eyes, the side glance conversations.
Let history judge these woman who continue to voice leadership, let history determine who was there when the going was tough and who came up with the answers.
I am talking about Jill Wynns.
And let a new time come when women like Jill and so many others in this very room tonight, they are in this room right now, are honored, listened to and not asked to disappear for all the wrong reasons, not told they ‘talk too much’, when they are actually most knowledgeable, when they are the very resources that can and must save us from ourselves and lead us into a positive future.
Read the New York Times, today’s edition, (December 14) page 12, about the new head of education whose transactional mentality matches that of all that is headed our way. These are new times, these are times when the wisdom of women like Jill Wynns must be viewed as a civic resource, when silencing the visionary is to lose sight of the road to our very survival.
Lets all take a page out of Jill’s book and speak the truth as we see it. Lets honor those amazing women of a ‘certain age’ who deserve our respect and our thanks, and lets look toward a time when the noxious fumes of cruelty and privatization and transactional thinking no longer dominate our public leadership and discourse in the public schools and in the marketplace.
And on this night lets all say thank you to one of the finest public servants to lead San Francisco in service to the children of the public schools, a hero, a leader, and let us pray in our hearts that she continues to grace us with her considerable gifts, knowledge and love.
A lot of us are cheering you on as you enter Act III, and we need you more than ever.
Thank you, Jill.