Sofia Fojas: “Worker Protection Is Needed Now More Than Ever.”

Photo by Dee Rogers.

By Beth Zare

Sofia Fojas is in her 25th year as an educator. Currently the Supervisor for Cultural Equity and Social Justice in the Arts for San Francisco Unified School District in the Visual and Performing Arts Department, Ms. Fojas directs programs in the arts with the goal of increasing participation for underserved students. She has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership at the California State University East Bay in Hayward. Ms. Fojas is currently the Board Chair Elect for the California Alliance for Arts Education. Before joining SFUSD, Sofia taught instrumental music for 15 years in San Jose Unified School District. She is a Local 6 Member and continues to play violin and viola professionally.

How did you pick the violin? 
My mother wanted to play the violin
when she was young so in 4th grade when I had to pick an instrument that is what I chose. I grew up in San Jose and of all my student colleagues I was the only one who kept playing music beyond middle school.

Did you always know you wanted to be a musician? 
I was in youth orchestras and Louis Swift (former member of Local 153) was my private violin teacher but in high school I had to choose between orchestra and English 2 Honors so I gave it up in school. On a lark I took my violin with me to the University of Hawaii even though music wasn’t my major. I ended up gigging, playing shows with Dionne Warwick and the like. (And, because I took music classes, the music department paid my way through school!)

How did you become a teacher? 
I came back to California in 1993 and I wanted to teach music in public
schools but I didn’t know how. So here I was with an anthropology degree working in a picture framing shop and gigging on the side. A colleague from the Stockton Symphony said she had been out for 6 weeks and asked if I would step in and teach her middle school orchestra. I told her I’d never taught before and she said, “Don’t worry, they’ll never know it. Just stay one step ahead of the kids.” Thus began my teaching career.

Did you come from a pro-union family?
Both my parents were immigrants so I didn’t think much about union membership but it never
occurred to me not to be in the union. Being a teacher is like working in a closed shop-you have to be a member of the union. I got really involved in union work when I was teaching at SJ High. After 8 years I left and started training as an administrator.

Mariachi class at Mission HS (2015).

What is your take on the teacher strikes across the country? 
It does directly affect all of us in the teaching profession. There’s such an opportunity for labor to organize right now nationally but we’re in little pockets and have a real need to unify. In SFUSD our teachers have dual agency, California Teachers Association (CTA) and American Federation-Teachers (AFT), so they get to draw on both. When I got here, the union leadership’s focus was aimed at classroom teachers with the itinerant certificated staff often overlooked. I organized the department’s union members and started talking about working conditions of the itinerant teachers and language itinerant-specific language eventually made it into the contract.

Why are you so passionate about Labor? 
AFM and IATSE (stagehands) are interesting to me because they are the intersection of where the arts and labor come together. CreateCA has a public will campaign to raise the visibility arts education in the public schools. I want to include the trades because that link between of the labor and arts is vital for youth workforce development. I think we should include trades in the conversation about arts education because worker protection is needed now more than ever.