Shawn Smith

Mele Lau-Smith brings more than 20 years of experience to her new position as ExCEL manager


New manager says communication and collaboration are the keys to success

How did you get involved with the ExCEL Afterschool Program?
While working at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, I met Associate Superintendent Kevin Truitt and learned about the ExCEL Afterschool Program. I was excited about the prospect of working at SFUSD.  I am both a SF public school graduate (Clarendon, Hoover & McAteer!) and a public school parent (West Portal, Hoover and Galileo).  I have been involved on the school site council at my children’s high school for the past six years.  I have a BA in Biology from UC Santa Barbara and a Masters in Public Health from Hunter College in NYC. Social justice and equity is a primary goal for me both in my person and professional work.  I bring 20 years of experience in program administration, contract administration, fiscal compliance and legislative and administrative policy work, youth development and community organizing. It seemed a natural next step for me– so here I am.

What are some of your goals for the program?
We are in the process of developing the internal infrastructure to support the principals, site coordinators and CBOs running the program.  The focus in the last year has been on fiscal and program compliance and I want to finish that process and move into a strategic plan process to shift the focus to quality programs and identify ways in which the Excel Central Office can support the work of the principals, site coordinators and CBOs.  My main goal is to serve the students well and make it a good experience for them—that’s my guiding principal.

What are some of the challenges you have to implement these goals?
Grants have particular requirements that can create obstacles to providing high quality programs. Good systems can streamline administrative procedures and improve efficiency. Good communication and collaboration are essential to develop creative solutions to implement high quality programs that are compliant with grant requirements. State and Federal funds come with a lot of strings attached in how funds are to be used. This can be frustrating, but if you look at it from the glass is half full point of view, it can challenge our creativity and make even better programs that serve the students best. In the end, it is to our advantage to be creative and work within grant requirements so that the funding continues and the program continues to thrive.

What are experiences that you’ve had so far you’d like to share?
I’ve been here two months so I’ve had a lot of “oh that’s interesting” moments. I’ve met great people and been impressed with the dedication, support and overall enthusiasm for making good programs.  My learning curve has been tremendous. I came from one bureaucracy to another one so the language is the same but there are interesting new ways of doing things that I’ve learned.

Are there any words of advice you can offer?
Communication and collaboration are the keys to success especially in implementing quality programs that serve students best.  Since I’m the newbie on the block, I want to know if people have any advice for me. I have a lot to learn from these folks.

What is your personal philosophy?
We are all students and teachers at the same time. Keep an open mind.  We have so much to learn from one another.


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  Student, Family and Community Support DepartmentSan Francisco Unified School District