Middle school teacher staffing is testing the SFUSD

by on January 30, 2023

What the Williams Complaint Means

The recent Williams complaint about teacher staffing at Marina middle school reveals a number of concerns, some seen in other schools in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) in prior years. The allegations may not be the full story, but teacher vacancies and gaps in student discipline definitely do not make a stable environment for student learning. District and school administrators have responded with words that tried to reassure the public, but direct answers were lacking.

Friday, February 3rd is the main deadline for school enrollment, so the timing of the news may affect parents’ considerations for their children’s schools next school year. Yet, the concerns have been ongoing for several months. The San Francisco Examiner reported that several staff and educators at Marina middle school brought up incidents over the fall, including a student bringing a loaded air gun to school in October 2022. The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the Williams complaint listing multiple fall teacher vacancies including in a Mandarin dual immersion class and two Special Education positions.

The Williams complaint procedure was created in 2004 by an agreement between the State of California and a group representing a class action lawsuit started by a student at Balboa High School, San Francisco. Should parents or other groups find the schools were not providing all students equal access to teachers, instruction materials, or safe schools, they may complain to the school principal. The principal and/or school district have 30 working days to resolve valid complaints.

Multiple Williams complaints were filed by families at the Buena Vista Horace Mann Kindergarten through 8th grade school last year about deficiencies in the school facilities, as described in Medium posts by parent Erika McDonald.

The items mentioned around Marina middle school do take some time to find resolution, especially with hundreds of vacancies across the school district, and a relatively new school Superintendent, Matt Wayne. Action on the teacher vacancies will be required within thirty business days from the submission date of January 23rd. And the Examiner is looking into possible undocumented school suspensions. As time passes, the students and teachers following the rules are the ones most affected.

Multiple concerns do bring the spotlight of inadequate response by leadership. Co-principals Amanda Barnett and Katherine Brown were recently promoted as the prior principal, Virginia Daws, left in October 2022. Student discipline and teacher vacancies do often involve the school district, given state and local laws and regulations.

Are teacher vacancies related to inadequate response to student disruptions? When a school like Marina has so many vacancies, one can imagine that things are harder to address. An anonymous teacher said to the Examiner reporter, “Troubled students need resources and many of our human resources have left the building.”

For a school district which says it is for restorative justice, it is failing in execution. Cassandra Curiel, the president of the teachers union, the United Educators of San Francisco, said restorative justice training likely stopped around the beginning of the pandemic and such trainers may have been assigned to teach in classrooms. District spokesperson Laura Dudnick says restorative justice training materials are available online.

Each year, SFUSD families, students, and staff fill out surveys on a school’s Social-Emotional and Culture Climate Report. For the 2021-2022 school year, families (28 respondents) gave a 95% favorable rating on school safety and a 73% favorable rating on Climate of Support for Academic Learning. Staff (41 respondents) were significantly less positive, with only 38% giving a favorable rating on school safety and 55% favorable rating on Climate of Support for Academic Learning. Such results were 31% and 30%, respectively, less favorable than such responses for all middle schools.

For the 2020-2021 school year, 43 staff respondents gave Marina a 65% favorable rating on school safety and 62% favorable response for Climate of Support of Academic Learning. Such results are posted on the Marina school section of the district website. In short, staff were worried, more worried last year than the prior year.

Middle school safety concerns were covered in prior years at Everett, Aptos and A.P. Giannini. Last year, students returned to in-person learning, and such a transition was noticeably tough nationwide. Staff favorability rating of school safety was low at many middle schools: 15% at Visitacion Valley Middle School, 34% at Aptos, 6% at Everett, 36% at Willie L Brown Jr.

How this school district administration handles student discipline and school staffing at middle schools remains to be seen. The needs are now at Marina and many middle schools.

Filed under: Labor & Education