Several dozen parents and staff from Paul Revere School in Bernal Heights asked the San Francisco school board Tuesday night to support their principal, who has come under fire in recent months.
“I hope you will continue to help us work through our problems,” Carol Lopez, a teacher at Paul Revere for 25 years, urged the board. “We are on our way to being the best we can be and the best we ever have been. Please don’t derail our efforts.”
Earlier this year, a group of parents alleged that Sheila Sammon, the principal hired last year, had instated strict policies that contributed to what they call a hostile environment at the school.
Parents and staff on the other side of the argument approached the school board publicly for the first time on Tuesday, simultaneously supporting Sammon and rejecting misconduct allegations.
“We need consistent leadership, which [Sammon] provides us,” said Jocelyn Corbett, a literacy coach at Paul Revere. “I refuse to dignify outlandish complaints. They’re untrue and without merit.”
The two dozen English- and Spanish-speakers demanded a response from the school board, which has been largely unresponsive amid speculation that the district may fire Sammon. Several parents said that if Sammon is fired, they will find another school.
“We’re on a path to goodness right now. It’s awesome,” said parent Arianne McCarthy. “If you remove [Sammon], we’re looking at a flight.”
Commissioner Rachel Norton defended the board, saying it was acting appropriately and taking the right amount of time to address the issue.
“We have taken it very seriously,” she said. “Every viewpoint is being heard.”
This year, for the first time in years, Paul Revere met its Academic Performance Index targets within all student groups. Some parents and teachers credited Sammon’s academic rigor for this success.
But rising test scores aren’t encouraging to all parents. Since last year, some parents have complained that Sammon has created an atmosphere of intimidation in the K-8 school. In October, the opposition culminated in a protest involving about 20 parents.
These parents criticized strict new policies implemented by Sammon, including new bathroom break rules and a restrictive drop-off policy under which parents are no longer allowed to walk their tardy kids into class.
Other parents alleged abuse. One said she had called the police against Sammon, although school officials said police found no evidence of foul play at the school.
One parent, Jessica Coello, said in Spanish that the fighting simply amounts to personal battles between the principal and the parents.
“The controversy is harming the community,” Coello said.
Some said that community mediations, which started in October, have eased tensions and given voice to parents who felt they weren’t being heard.
If you just give Paul Revere a chance, parent Erika Ehmsen told the school board during her allotted minute of public address, “our school is going to become a powerhouse.”
Sammon also spoke to the board, saying that allegations of abuse have no merit, but parents’ concerns do.
“I have taken their feelings deeply to heart,” the principal said to the board and superintendent Carlos Garcia.
“It is clear to me some parents have not felt valued in our school,” Sammon said. “I’m working better on reaching out to families.”
In October, six parents went to the school board to speak against Sammon, and they have attended most meetings since then. Four showed up on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the principal.
“They’re all lies what these people have said,” said one parent, Grendy Hernandez, who spoke after a string of those in support of Sammon. “I don’t like her rules.”
Another parent, Anna Jackson, told Mission Loc@l before the meeting that parents are still upset about a lack of communication, especially regarding discipline. She and others said parents are not contacted promptly when students are pulled out of class.
“I see [the staff] trying to make it look like they’re helping, but it’s just a bunch of bull,” Jackson said.
Those who support Sammon and her work say that the group organizing the parents who oppose the principal, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is using questionable tactics.
King Kaufman, the father of two Paul Revere students, disagrees. “Initially, the district and school administration was trying to paint the controversy as a few whiny parents and an outside group that is riling them up — which was nonsense.”
Kaufman said he did think mediations were helping, and that he hoped to see the climate improve.
School officials who are trying to prove the necessity of ongoing mediation presented the school board with a survey that was recently sent out to Paul Revere families. More than half the school families — 176 — responded, and 76 percent said they wanted to continue with mediation. Only 2 percent of respondents said they did not.
Commissioner Norton, one of two commissioners who accepted the school’s invitation to visit Paul Revere in October, told Mission Loc@l that she thinks the school is running smoothly.
“I can’t say I saw signs of dysfunction in any classes that I visited. I saw a functioning school.”
Norton said she could not discuss the question of whether to keep Sammon as principal, but that personnel issues like this, which involve contracts, are typically discussed in the spring. That’s after the January deadline to apply to other schools.
“We need to know if we’ll be stuck at Paul Revere with a brand-new principal,” said Cherie Moore, a Paul Revere parent who said she would leave if a new principal is appointed next year.
One of Sammon’s supporters is Thomas Lindsay, the school’s security guard. She is, he says, “doing a great job.”
“I think it’s just really coming together as a community as a staff,” he said. “And just being a family and being on the same page.”