The Paul Revere School in Bernal Heights is reeling after weeks of allegations against its new principal, with some parents insisting she has instituted “corporal punishment” and strict and unfair policies within the K-8 school. Some parents have said they called the police to complain, but no formal police charges are on file.
A group of 20 parents rallied outside the school more than a week ago on Thursday, demanding the removal of Principal Sheila Sammon, who was hired last year after Paul Revere was designated an underperforming school. A community forum will be held at the school on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 5 p.m., to allow parents to raise concerns to district officials and community members.
Sammon, a soft-spoken 50-year-old woman who chooses her words carefully, denied all of the allegations in an interview with Mission Loc@l, and insisted she has created a safe environment within the Bernal Heights school. She spoke of an incident in September when police were called.
“There were probably 10 staff members and 100 children in the cafeteria during this alleged incident, and the police were able to interview staff and nothing was corroborated,” Sammon said. She did not provide details regarding the exact allegations.
Sammon and Lorraine Orlandi, Paul Revere’s community schools coordinator, said that it’s not clear who phoned the authorities against Sammon.
Orlandi, who has a child in the fourth grade and served two years as president of the parents’ group, said that a small group of parents is exaggerating and being riled up by an outside, “questionable” organization that has never set foot inside the school.
Parents said they had collected 100 signatures in support of Sammon’s removal, according to Phillip Pierce of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the group organizing the protest.
Orlandi said that the Alliance of Californians for Community Involvement “took it upon themselves to solve the problem and riled up emotions.”
Pierce does not have children at the school, but allegations have come from some parents of the more than 400 students enrolled there.
“My kids are coming home crying,” said one parent, Anna Jackson, who has five children attending the school. “They’re really, really scared.”
Jackson said the principal first refused, and now limits, bathroom breaks for students. Jackson said that all five of her children have wet their pants in school.
Jackson also alleged that Sammon took her outrage out on one of her children.
“She picked him up by the shoulders … shook him, and screamed in his face,” Jackson said.
Fran Evans, mother of a 13-year-old, said she feels that the principal treats minority children differently. “She’s always harassing the Afro-Americans and Latino students,” Evans said.
Evans also said that Sammon struck her daughter, leaving a red mark on her face. This could not be independently confirmed.
Sammon refuted all of the charges and said that students have indicated they feel more safe and more cared for by adults than in previous years. She based this on results of a small study involving the middle-schoolers.
She said that, in a school composed of 80 percent minority families, she’s not acting out toward specific groups.
“There’s no distinction between cultural groups or how they are treated based on background.”
Sammon also defended the new policies she has implemented that are unpopular with some parents.
The new bathroom policy doesn’t discourage kids from going to the bathroom, she said, but rather encourages them to go only during designated breaks, so as not to distract other students.
She added that the school changed this policy for first-graders earlier this year when it wasn’t working at that grade level. Sammon attributed Jackson’s claims of chronic pant-wetting to “occasional bathroom accidents” that all students have, and said they weren’t related to her policy.
According to a protest flyer, parents condemn “abusive punishments on children such as silent lunches in the basement … demerits for bathroom trips and … intimidation to parents if they voice any concerns.”
As for silent lunches, where students are required to reflect in silence during lunchtime about their behavior, “It’s not a dungeon,” insisted Petey Barma, a reading coach and staff member for three years.
“Having a quiet lunch after acting up four times in one day doesn’t seem awful,” Barma said. “If my son were in trouble four times in one day, I guess something would need to be done.”
Some parents also complained about access to the school.
“The principal has shut out parents from being in the school,” said Jackson, referring to the policy that parents are no longer allowed to walk their kids into class.
But Sammon and other staff members said that parental presence can be a distraction in classrooms when they linger too long or are late dropping off their children.
King Kaufman, a father of two children in the school, speculated that Sammon’s policies have to do with her strict adherence to improving test scores since the school received a Federal School Improvement Grant.
Paul Revere will get $5.5 million over three years to improve performance. Six other schools in the Mission District are getting the grants, and there have been no complaints about difficulties with their administrators.
Kaufman said Sammon has traded a sense of community for higher test scores.
“The current principal is a dedicated foot soldier in the testing regime,” he said.
Barma, the reading coach, disagreed. “The school was threatened to close down. I don’t think any principal in the district has a choice but to focus on end results,” she said.
“Personally, I find it refreshing to have high academic standards,” she added. Parents of children attending other Mission schools have also stressed that their children must test as well as those at other schools in the district.
Sammon said that Paul Revere, historically an underperforming school, needed the academic discipline she brought to it last year. For the first time in years, this year Paul Revere met its Academic Performance Index targets within all student groups.
“I do believe Ms. Sammon is the best princpal I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been here,” said Carol Lopez, a retired third-grade teacher who worked at the school for 24 years.
She conceded that Sammon is different from the last principal, Lance Tagamori, who communicated openly and warmly with parents.
“I could certainly see how parents would be upset,” Lopez said. “[Sammon] is not warm and fuzzy with communication.”
Sammon conceded that she needs to work on collaborating with parents.
“Turning around the school and that pattern of underachievement requires dedication and commitment of entire community,” she said. “I completely recognize the need for bringing people together in a collaborative way and hearing everybody’s voice.”
Barma reflected sadly on how the “Paul Revere drama” is affecting the school’s community.
“It’s a sad place for everybody to be in,” she said. “No one’s winning in this situation.”
So far the school district has not responded to Mission Loc@l’s calls regarding its stance on Sammon’s policies.