Meeting recap: change

richardLast night was Superintendent Carranza’s last Board meeting, and Board members and senior staff wished him well. However you feel about the end of the Carranza era in San Francisco, I think listening to this recording from the meeting is a good way to achieve closure: Board, staff and then the Superintendent himself all spoke about the accomplishments of the past seven years since Richard arrived in San Francisco.

Many of us will miss Richard, and even as I deeply appreciate what he accomplished for our students with disabilities in particular (when was the last time you heard a Superintendent talk about students with disabilities with the same passion Richard did in his remarks in the clip above?) I am looking to the future. Change can bring unease and anxiety, but it also always brings opportunity. So that’s where I am: looking forward to the future.

Two resolutions on last night’s agenda: one to make sure that San Francisco schools are gender-inclusive, asking for single-stall rest rooms to be made available at every school to accommodate transgender students and staff; the other clarifying rules for district employees and their rights for political expression during the school day and in the course of their work with students.

We also heard public comment from parents at several schools who are dissatisfied with the teacher assigned to their children’s classrooms. Without commenting on these specific situations,  I really think these kinds of issues are some of the most difficult issues that we deal with on the Board. Of course no one wants an ineffective or problem teacher in the classroom. And as an employer that is experiencing a severe shortage of individuals trained to be teachers, of course the district wants to support the people we already have and help them improve if they are struggling. The school district also must comply with employee privacy and due process rights when there is a problem. It’s very, very difficult to balance all of these imperatives, and sometimes administrators can’t be as forthcoming about everything that is going on to address an issue with a particular teacher or student. Patience, positive and proactive communication, and persistence are the best strategies to use in such situations.

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6 responses to “Meeting recap: change

  1. My son had several Teach for America teachers. All were excellent, and in some cases better than his tenured teachers. I was disappointed when BOE did not support proposal for more TFA teachers. When one does the math, it is clear that there would be fewer vacancies if BOE accepted proposal.

  2. Theresa V. Morales

    What exactly is the general process for removing an incompetent teacher? I have seen administrators who RARELY even visit classrooms. In fact, I have repeatedly watched incompetent teachers “earn” tenure when they simply should not have. I am wondering what the district can do to free administrators from some of their other duties so that they actually have time to focus some attention on daily walk-throughs, completing the paperwork for questionable teachers, etc. Is the paperwork process straightforward and self-explanatory or an endless process that seems impossible to navigate? I am wondering what the problem is and why so few admin actually attempt it..

    And, yes, absolutely, wages have to increase. Creating housing is just one solution, but creating teacher housing is not enough. Wages should increase.

    And working conditions, yes. Elementary school teachers need more prep time. Why is it that a high school teacher teaching AP receives an EXTRA additional prep period, but elementary school teachers receive so little?

    It is strange that teachers in many private schools–who have much more homogenous student populations–tend to have about 70-100 minutes of daily prep time in the middle of their workday, but SFUSD teachers do not.
    They are supposed to be productive after school, for example. When you are working with children all day long (and hopefully being kind, patient, and as attentive and encouraging as possible), you are depleted at 2:30 or 3:30 and it can be impossible to be highly productive. Would you take a surgeon who just completed a taxing, multi-hour surgery and say “Great! Now that that’s done, you can immediately begin to prepare for tomorrow’s surgery!” No, you wouldn’t do that for obvious reasons and the best charters and privates don’t do this either because, built-in to their daily operations and management, there is an understanding of human behavior and the exhausting nature of working with children. When it’s done right, we should be nurturing, supportive, kind, attentive, physically active, frequently circulating, etc! And most SFUSD elementary school teachers that I know barely have time to chew their food properly during lunch, so please don’t tell me that 30 minutes to eat is supposed to counteract the rigors of the schedule.

    Why is it that SFUSD doesn’t give them more prep time? Is it because elementary schools are female dominated and therefore they are expected to tolerate more self-sacrifice? I have no idea. Are we just supposed to blame the union for failing to achieve this or does the school board and district leadership have a moral and institutional responsibility to avoid exploiting elementary teachers in this way?

  3. Regarding clarifying the rules of employee rights for political expression in the course of work with students: What rights do teachers have to indoctrinate students with their political beliefs? Would parents have anything to say about that?

  4. I totally agree with Michael. I have worked as a teacher in a SFUSD public school for 18 years. Every year in recent memory we have gotten to the beginning of the school year with between 1 and 3 jobs unfilled (currently we are looking for 2 teachers!).
    The very basic economic principle of “supply and demand” comes into play here at a level very easy to understand: the larger the pool of applicants for any given position, the more likely it is that administrators will be able to choose a superior applicant from among the pool. If the number of empty positions is greater than the number of highly qualified applicants interested in the job, however, it stands to reason that some positions will HAVE to be filled with less qualified applicants.
    “yogamama” brings up a point about the role of the union that is certainly worth considering, but only in cases where there is a robust applicant pool from which to select new teachers to replace the “tenured, incompetent” teachers that the union is fighting to retain. As it stands, firing a veteran teacher because their work is not found to be satisfactory would leave a vacancy for which there are currently no qualified applicants, meaning that a school would be forced to place an unqualified teacher in the classroom. How “bad” does a veteran teacher have to be to make this an attractive choice? (As an aside, let’s be honest: there’s nothing magical about teachers. As a group we are neither particularly competent or incompetent. The spectrum of competence mirrors what you would find in any other profession, unionized or non-unionized.)
    How can we increase that applicant pool, then, and create the possibility of attracting highly qualified teachers to fill vacancies (and maybe even have the luxury of creating more vacancies by “getting rid of incompetent teachers”)? A very basic understanding of economics would again suggest that the high demand for teachers relative to the supply would dictate raising wages and/or benefits and/or work conditions. A higher salary (especially in a city where the very high cost of living continues to go up), job security, and robust health and retirement benefits for teachers and their families would certainly be good strategies for attracting more highly qualified applicants to the district. Guess what: these are the exact things that the union is working for! Think about it – how many highly qualified applicants would want to go for a job that requires 1-2 years of graduate level coursework, up to a year of unpaid labor as a student teacher, only to know that you could lose your job at any time because of a personality conflict with a supervisor?
    Having said all that, I must add that I am in favor of revisiting the ways that tenure and job security are structured by our unions. Currently, employers have 2 years to make a guess about whether a brand new teacher is going to develop into an accomplished teacher before they get tenure and a much stronger level of job security. I would be interested in exploring the merits of a contract that does something more like ensuring employment for 3 years (during which time the teacher can choose to resign at any point without penalty), followed by a 2-year evaluation period with tenure awarded after 5 years (I’ll admit to pulling those numbers out of a hat, but I think it’s a reasonable hat!). During those initial 3 years, new teachers should get robust support from mentor teachers (including co-teaching for at least part of the day) and coaches, and during the 2-year probationary period teachers receiving unsatisfactory evaluations should have access to more support and coaching if they are determined to stay in the profession. Why this change? The first two years of teaching can be chaotic with an incredibly steep learning curve, and often newer teachers are given teaching assignments that are among the most challenging in the whole school. It’s hard for the teacher to know or for supervisors to evaluate what kind of teacher this person will be once they’ve gotten closer to the 10,000 hours said to be necessary for mastery of any skill.

  5. Michael Dunn

    Teacher shortages is a huge problem. At my son’s school they lost 3 of the 4 third grade teachers due most likely to dissatisfaction with the school’s admin SFUSD still had more than 30 unfilled teaching positions on opening day. What are the chances that my son’s school was able to replace all of those 3rd grade teachers (let alone one) with a skilled and experienced teacher?

    This brings up the biggest issue: Compensation. Why would a teacher choose to work in SFUSD which, according to the SF Chron, is one of the lowest paid districts in the state relative to cost of living (http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Higher-paying-jobs-than-SF-teacher-City-baker-7890594.php). They could work in San Mateo County, Marin County or parts of Contra Costa County and make 25-40% more for doing the exact same work.

    If we truly care about having good quality teachers in every classroom in SF we need to get more money to the district and/or reallocate existing funds so that teachers can be paid enough so they can afford to live in SF and send their own kids to SF schools.

  6. Hi Rachel,
    Thanks, as always, for your insight and transparency.
    Quality classroom teachers may be a bigger problem now that there is a teacher shortage but it is not a new problem.
    I agree, in theory, with everything you have said about privacy, due process, and providing support. In theory, I also agree with patience, positive and proactive communication, and persistence. In practice, in this district, in my experience, these practices (all of them combined) have not resulted in improved teaching or moving/counseling challenged individuals out of the classroom. To me this points to flawed implementation of supports. However, I have heard loud and clear that it is actually the work of my union. The union that “supports” me should not also be standing up for non-quality teaching. It is demeaning to my profession to have a union that defends people who are not doing their job.