Parents at Bryant Elementary mostly asked for two things on Monday night: to get rid of Alicia González, the school’s principal, and to hold on to six teachers.
After more than two hours of heartfelt public comment, the answer was still no.
“We keep hearing, ‘Can we keep the teachers?’” said Sandra Lee Fewer, a San Francisco Unified School District commissioner. “We want to make this very clear: No. Other schools are losing teachers, too. Unlike them, Bryant will be gaining money.”
Under the terms of the federal SIG (School Improvement Grant) that Bryant’s low test scores have qualified it for, the school will get $1.5 million if, and only if, it gets rid of half of its current teaching staff.
To that end, explained Tom Ruiz, SFUSD executive director for labor relations, the teachers at Bryant were first asked which of them would like to leave. After that, they were all given a job description of what it would be like now as a teacher working in a “superintendent zone.”
After that particular incident, Ruiz related, four people agreed to quit. Another teacher was fired to bring the number of teachers up to the mandated five, which caused another teacher to resign, which brought the number up to six — well over half of Bryant’s teaching staff.
It’s not as though Bryant can’t do with the money. One of the parents who came up to the microphone complained that her children were in a class that didn’t even have pencils. “I have a kid who has a learning disability and they haven’t improved,” said another. “My kid is going to fifth grade and I don’t think that he is ready to go.”
“Why isn’t,” asked one mother, “this school mixed with other cultures? There are four kids here from other cultures.”
But the parents of the students at Bryant, which has gone through five principals in the last seven years, also spoke about problems that increased funding alone would be unlikely to fix.
Numerous parents complained about incorrigible discipline problems. “Whenever my son gets hurt, the teachers never inform me about it,” said one woman. “My son has to tell me himself. The teachers should notice.”
“For me it hasn’t been a good principal,” said another woman, stepping up to the microphone. “They are mistreating me and making me feel worthless.”
Principal González did have a few supporters in the crowd. “I feel very humbled,” said a gray-haired man, walking up to the microphone with an aluminum cane. “I cannot imagine what kind of job it is to be a teacher. The first time I came here, a kid was kicking a teacher and saying bad words that I wouldn’t even say. I would say that is not a teacher’s job, but a parent’s job.”
The principal needed a chance to go through due process, said Hydra Mendoza, SFUSD board president. It has not been a year for popular announcements for Mendoza, and she used the same implacable cheerfulness that she used to tell Buena Vista Elementary last month that it might not be able to keep its principal, Larry Alegre. “You need to be patient.”
“We’ll get back to you around May 15 about the status of the leadership of your school,” Mendoza said. More encouraging news than what Buena Vista was given, which was that they wouldn’t learn until mid-July. But still the crowd was on edge. Many parents began their questions and comments in English, then slipped into Spanish as they grew progressively more upset.
The evening ended almost three hours after it began, with an exhortation by the board to the parents to join school committees, and to congratulate themselves for showing up.
“Those of you who have been sitting here for over two hours?” said Vice President Norman Yee. “You care. Everybody here came for our children. This will only help our children. Our community. Our everything.”