In June, I was physically unhealthy, taking medication for diabetes, and I was selected to run a large urban school district — perhaps one of the more stressful jobs there is.
I took a hard look at what I was about to take on as the San Francisco Unified School District’s superintendent, and I realized I was setting a terrible example. I made a personal commitment to do what I want all of our children to learn to do — learn about nutrition, eat nutritious meals and get regular exercise.
But the reality of my new job soon set in. The early-morning appointments, the evening meetings, all the weekend community events — being the superintendent can be a 24/7 job. I had the perfect excuse to skip a workout here and there, and to grab whatever snacks were around instead of sticking to healthy meals every day. I’ll admit there were days when it was ridiculously hard to stay on track.
But I kept thinking about what I would say to my own kids if they asked what happened: Did I want to say that it got hard so I gave up? No, I wanted to say that I made a commitment and I stuck with it.
Almost a year later, I am in the best shape of my life, having lost more than 65 pounds, and am completely off the medication. I joke with my colleagues that I have lost the equivalent weight of a small sixth-grader.
And it gets better. Last week, I got to go for a run during the work day with 700 students and all of the staff of Roosevelt Middle School. It was pure joy to be outside running in our beautiful city and sharing my run with the school community. Students got to see their entire school community, including their principal and superintendent, being physically active together. A year ago, that run would have been very difficult for me.
As someone plagued by a family history of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, I used to think that it was my genetic destiny to suffer from these conditions. Now, with the joy of the Roosevelt 5-kilometer run to remember and the Bay to Breakers 12-kilometer to look forward to, I hope I am demonstrating to our youths that family genetics don’t have to be the only determinant of who you become. I know that’s not true.
I also know that access to healthy food and physical activity are fundamental to academic success — they are intertwined.
This year, we introduced fresher, locally made school meals in our schools and more kids are eating them. Thousands of our students ride their bikes or walk to school every day. Dance teachers have classes jumping to the beat all year long. Our schoolyard gardens are bursting with veggies for kids to harvest and eat. Just a few weeks ago, some of our teachers took time to learn how to play tennis so they could teach their students.
We pride ourselves in instilling in our students a desire for lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is possible only when you live a healthy and long life.
I look around and see adults in our schools setting a good example of healthy living, and I’m proud to be among them.
Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.