Rooftop is part of SFUSD
San Francisco Unified School District. Photo by Jennifer Cortez.

Ten years ago this month, your humble narrator’s former colleague, Peter Jamison, wrote a scathing exposé on the video game outfit Zynga, creators of the inane “Farmville” time-waster. 

A decade down the road, that video game probably seems like a particularly ill-conceived memory, as does the tax-laden red carpet this city laid at the feet of such companies. But one line from that story does feel relevant now. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus reportedly gave his subordinates the succinct marching orders of, “I don’t fucking want innovation.” 

And, lo, he didn’t get it. 

One month ago, Mission Local wrote about how the San Francisco Unified School District crushed nascent efforts of personnel at Rooftop School cooperating with parents’ attempts to form so-called “pandemic pods” — even if the district employees’ underlying goals were to ensure those pods be equitable and not undermine the public school system. 

Those goals, in fact, were met. 

But Rooftop principal Nancy Bui was castigated by her district superiors, and her actions triggered the threat of an Unfair Labor Practices complaint from the teachers’ union. 

Via a public records request, we have obtained numerous emails between Bui, assistant superintendent Jason Hannon, and various United Educators union officials that underlie this situation. These are not entirely pleasant conversations. And, if one chooses to tumble down this rabbit hole, there are any number of carrots to be unearthed. 

Hannon, at one point, appears to question why Bui would contravene district policies regarding pods that actually hadn’t been stated or codified at the time of her actions — but then notes that the policy the district is formulating would lead “to brick-and-mortar school settings in small learning communities along similar lines of thinking as the ‘pods.’” 

That is: The district is moving toward a policy similar to the policy it markedly does not endorse and the principal was in error for abetting. 

The union’s claim that Bui’s actions potentially constituted an unfair labor practice — that teachers would be mandated to minister to pods without some manner of contract negotiations — is never borne out within the many emails we obtained. Our calls to the district and union asking if this claim was, in fact, valid were not answered. Bui denied it, repeatedly, in the emails. And, in the end, the Unfair Labor Practices complaint was never filed. 

Regardless, Bui was made to sever ties with parents forming pods or, it seems, even talk about them. Hannon, in subsequent emails to union leaders, asks them to report back if they have any information about Bui continuing to do so — “so I may follow up immediately.” 

An administrator seeking compromising information on his subordinate from the union feels a bit unusual. But the school district rebuffing bottom-up attempts at innovation? That doesn’t feel so unusual at all. 

Because, in this matter, the district didn’t want innovation.

When Craig Kilborn hosted The Daily Show, the term “fake news” meant something else. But semantics matter, and the meanings of words can change, rapidly, and take on sinister tones. 

And that’s definitely the case for “pods.” 

As we noted last month, “pod” is just the Centers for Disease Control’s preferred nomenclature for a small group; it merely implies a handful of students in an educational setting. 

But, buffeted by heavy media coverage of privileged, largely white parents forming their own de-facto schools in backyards or garages and perhaps even poaching public school teachers to lead them, the term became a loaded one. Among forces that have long hoped to weaken the public school system, “pandemic pods” — or, more problematically, “microschools” — have been a perverse blessing

This was not the goal of Bianca Rowden Quince and Gail Cornwall, the Rooftop parents who initiated the formation of that school’s students into pods. They wanted to stave off an exodus from the district and provide support for students within the school’s existing framework — while also creating a potential stepping stone for an eventual return to in-person instruction. They appealed to Bui to help divide up the pods equitably, and Bui agreed. 

Rooftop, located on two campuses not so far from Twin Peaks, has more than its share of pushy, white, well-off parents. But one-third of its students are also qualify for subsidized lunches. Bui’s allotments — of all the children in the school — ensured that the pods would be equitable by race, gender, and economics. 

Cornwall says that many students who may otherwise never have socialized are now learning together and seeing one another in physically distant in-person meetings (none of the pods, to her knowledge, meet in person for educational purposes). She further stresses that Bui’s actions “did function to stop many parents from going the microschools route, from coming together and hiring a teacher.”

After Bui assigned families to pods, it would have been quite a bit more awkward for a parent to buck this assignment, withdraw from the public school system, and head out on their own — especially if the perception was that they would rather not have non-privileged, non-white children in their cohort. 

It’s hard not to see this as a positive outcome. But union fears that teachers would be expected to work with pods — which Bui vehemently and repeatedly denied in the emails — appear to have spelled doom for district involvement, regardless. The specter of “microschools” may have played a role as well. Bui last month complained in an email that Hannon continually and inaccurately used this term to describe the situation at Rooftop, potentially stoking union fears. 

“‘Microschools’ on a national level has meant an exercise in White privilege and the dismantling of public education by forming exclusive, homogeneous, and predominantly White groupings,” she wrote in an Aug. 5 email. “Rooftop pods, in contrast, are about inclusion and diversity, and are intended to keep students enrolled in SFUSD.”

And, again, that appears to have happened. But both the district and the union moved, expediently, to curtail involvement with this program, perhaps due to negative reactions based upon what it wasn’t rather than what it was. 

This is our first pandemic, so everything is, again, a bit unusual. But an SFUSD principal being innovative and proactive — and having her wings clipped — is not unusual. 

“This is the district being lazy,” sums up a former longtime principal. “It would take a lot of work to get structures like those at Rooftop off the ground — especially if this became the expectation and every school community was looking for this.” 

Rooftop is, again, a school with more privileged families than many. But, the former SFUSD principal continued, “this could have been a way to get more resources to students whose families don’t have as much.” 

The notion that a program that can’t be duplicated well at every school should not be attempted at any school is not one the district holds itself to in all facets, incidentally. The city’s grotesque inequities are plainly revealed by the fund-raising disparities at Parent-Teacher Associations from one school to the next. But the district hasn’t yet proposed pooling the money and divvying it up equitably.

The district “didn’t trust the parents were doing something good and innovative that they should troubleshoot,” says another former longtime principal. “Instead they just shut it down.” The district, by default, “goes into CYA mode [Cover Your Ass]. They are acting out of fear instead of thinking creatively.” 

When asked for comment, Hannon sent the following: 

My number one priority is to support students and families by way of supporting my site leaders.  I was notified by the teachers union of concerns regarding the formation of pods and microschools.  Naturally, I informed my site leaders of these concerns, with the goal of working with my site leaders so they may address these concerns with their staff in support of students and families and resolve them at the site level.

Per district policy and keeping in line with the labor agreements we are bound to, and in an effort to bring a resolution between my site leaders and their staff, I instructed my site leaders to consult with me (supervisor) prior to engaging any further in this matter.  The Unfair Labor Practice charge was ultimately not filed against my site leaders.

I appreciate that this situation highlighted the challenges my site leaders face in balancing the needs of students, families, staff while upholding district policies and labor agreements.  I believe our collective partnership will continue to work in service of our kids and vision for equity and social justice.

The emails received by Mission Local in response to our public records request include one on July 24, in which Bui was told by Hannon that “I would strongly encourage you to reconsider making any public statements about this issue,” after she told the New York Times that the inequities associated with “pods” and “microschools” are “the antithesis of what Rooftop is all about, which is inclusion and diversity.” 

Bui wrote last week that neither Hannon nor the district had responded to her request for “guidance” on how to address Mission Local’s questions, so she declined to speak at this time. 

Downtown view from Mission High School. May 9, 2020 around noon. Photo by Kerim Harmanci.

Zynga’s Mark Pincus didn’t desire innovation. And Zynga, while extant, is no longer the force it was 10 years ago; like so many San Francisco businesses, its real value turned out to be in the property it owned

The San Francisco Unified School District owns plenty of property, too. But land wealth is not a route to success here. We don’t need quality farm video games, but we do need quality public schools. 

The District has, commendably, done a hell of a lot to maximize the possibilities of distance learning. It has, commendably, put many laptops into many kids’ hands. But distance learning is an inherently limited proposition and the district has done considerably less to address the needs of working parents attempting to earn a living while a kid sits in front of a computer (full disclosure: It me). 

The hubs (née “learning hubs”) aimed at accommodating the children of the city’s neediest families were largely a brainchild of the Recreation and Park Department and Department of Children, Youth and their Families. The School District’s major contribution here, it seems, was to request the term “learning” be removed.

Parochial schools have had plans in place to get kids back in the building as soon as the Department of Public Health allows it. If this goes smoothly, and if the hubs go smoothly, the district will be left answering questions about when public school parents might expect the same. 

The district’s disavowal of even an advisory role regarding parent-formed pods, then, does not bode well. Parents, meanwhile, were excited to hear about nascent plans for outdoor learning in McLaren Park during a recent Board of Education meeting — but that plan appears to have gone up in smoke even before our air quality went up in smoke. 

With our kids’ future on the line, failure is not an option at the San Francisco Unified School District. 

But, without innovation, neither is success.  

Support Mission Local.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

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47 Comments

  1. Rings true to me– truth today is very valuable. I’m a SFUSD bilingual Sub. Change is to ‘crats what sharks are to surfers. Just another day in paradise while the Latino, Black and poor White students struggle.

  2. With the constant tug of war between the respective school districts in this country and the various unions that represent teachers and staff, the children wind up falling into the cracks of a bureaucrat wasteland.

    And you wonder why parents are looking for another alternative to the public school monopoly that is more concerned CYA then to find ways to give the children the education they deserve.

  3. Last year we participated in a health fair at Zynga as vendors. We were warned via email that any food at the event was strictly for Zynga employees, not any vendors. We have done many of these events at companies all over S.F. and have never been told that food for the event was off limits to the vendors manning the booths for hours on end, but ok, we complied just like all of the other vendors there. What really pissed off all of us was at the end of the event they threw the mountains of prepackaged food into the garbage right in front of us. It was just a shitty thing for Zynga to do.

    1. Wow!… Not only are they rich, but incredibly stingy and petty. And wasteful! It turns out. I hope all these shitty tech moves or of SF. They’ve done nothing but destroy everything that made SF interesting.

  4. There is a glaring absence in this article: the voice of a teacher. I am not (currently) a teacher, and I have not worked for SFUSD, but I can say with experience that it doesn’t usually work out well for parents to go to administrators and leave teachers out of the conversation. This article makes no mention of whether the parents engaged the teachers at Rooftop, did this happen? The role of the union is to make sure that their members’ are included in conversations that impact their working conditions. And, when parents go to administrators and leave out the teachers, well, therein lies the problem. So, yea, the union jumped in and pushed the district to pump the brakes. Sounds clearly like the problem wasn’t the idea, it was the method. Pods could be great. (Learning) hubs could be great. And, talk to teachers about them. They’ll have very well informed opinions.

    1. Teachers were absent in the engagement of pods because all of this surfaced over the summer. There was a very tight timeline where a call needed to be made or else the privileged families at Rooftop would have taken off and formed microschools. The principal can do what she can to have people voluntarily show up at a meeting or have discussion with parents, but that’s just not possible when people aren’t working. If the District supported this idea, then the principal’s next step would be to engage with her staff. Sounds like no one even heard her out. They told her NO right away, and then tried to silence her innovation because of the CYA mentality. From what I know about Ms. Bui, she is very hands on at her school, and she would have included the teacher voice if she had blessing from the district. She respects her staff and empowers them to in every decision that is made. She got a gag order and was bullied into silence. This is not okay, but like the reporter says…are any of us really surprised?

    2. The plan was developed by the PTA. While no teacher is individually cited in the article (not a surprise, given the union’s opinion on the subject), it’s safe to say the P did not work without any communications with the T with whom they share an A.

  5. The root of this was and is the Board of Education. Commissioner Collins’ twitter and facebook feed is filled with hostile commentary towards anybody who breathes the word “pod” and she was in a very public argument with DCYF and DPH on twitter over the summer. For years the BoE has played a role in squashing innovation and refusing to engage with families, see Superintendent Haney and how working with Richard Carranza they were instrumental in removing eighth grade algebra and honors classes for all sfusd students. The pandemic has laid bare the incompetence of the board and how they love to grandstand but not do anything to improve the lot of all students under their purview. I hope this pandemic has made everyone aware how important the BoE is to our city’s future and to pay attention to the candidates and their positions and not vote blindly for union endorsed candidates.

  6. Joe,

    “SFUSD, where dreams are smothered in their cribs.”

    I wrote that about 20 years or so ago.

    Expect Principal Bui to be gone very soon.

    My own final exit was decided at a closed session of the School Board to which I was not invited.

    Presiding Officer was Chief General Counsel Louise Renne.

    Her second was David Campos who followed her there from the City Attorney’s Office.

    He then succeeded her on the Police Commission.

    Hey, I like David lots.

    I’m friends with lots of people who hate me.

    Even my 6 ex-wives.

    Loved the news video with the kids showing the brass plug marking the McAteer campus as center of SF.

    There’s something special about this town and that spot is the center.

    Did you know that when the Glomar Explorer finished their round-the-world core sample to confirm continental drift that (they succeeded by the way) …

    The samples were consistent expect for San Francisco.

    The part of the shelf out at the Farallon Islands and inland from SF are a different mix of earth from San Francisco.

    Geologist say it is because the peninsula containing the City was an outlying sein in the primordial pool.

    Anyway, there is where Good Meets Evil?

    Across the road from Rooftop is the Juvenile Detention Center.

    Rooftop itself housed an SFPD/SFUSD program called: ‘Wilderness Program’.

    They took the toughest kids in the City (including mine, I taught Severely Emotionally Disturbed Middle Schoolers) …

    Ran them thru the ‘Ropes Course’ in Balboa Park at the old County Jail and took em to the hills to camp.

    Hell of a positive adventure.

    Director was Walt Scott.

    In my 2 years at Potrero Hill Middle School (OJ went there) …

    my students covered the graffiti with murals.

    Another teacher (John Vanderhees) registered the students to vote.

    I formed a Student Hall Monitor program with orange vests and ticket clip boards to clear halls.

    District under Wally Rojas wiped it all out.

    In fact, when I went to get a confirmation of my service so’s I could list ‘Special Ed Teacher’ as a ballot designation?

    They told me …

    “Unfortunately, your records were destroyed in a fire.”

    Yeah, that’s some outfit.

    Go Giants!

    h.

    Over 300 of 600 students joined.

    We formed a student court and drafted student jurors, judges and attorneys.

    As in Ms. Bui’s case, District and Union hated it.

    1. @h.brown! “Expect Principal Bui to be gone very soon.” NO. We should not allow that happen. SFUSD has a hard enough time getting any competent Administrators period, so no way should anyone EXPECT something so outrageous to take place. I would EXPECT her district superior Jason Hannon to be gone very soon. What a corrupt piece of work. We should all do public records request and get all his emails. Who else is he throwing under the bus? He’s getting paid hard earn tax dollars to support his principals, and he spends his time belittling and bullying them into submission? Someone need to investigate this guy more. HE NEEDS TO GO.

      EXPECT JASON HANNON TO BE REMOVED. He should start writing his resignation letter ASAP.

      1. I’m an Aptos staff member where district superior, school site inferior Jason Hannon was a principal. Not surprised at all that anything this guy touches falls apart. He is arrogant, a horrible listener, and uses education cliches in every conversation. Talk to him and you’ll walk away thinking to yourself, what the hell did he even say? Did he even answer a single question? No, it’s always a no. He thinks if he strings words some fancy schmantzy words together people will think he means well and will fix what’s broken. I mean he sounded good. Isn’t that what counts? No, quite the opposite. He’s all smoke and mirrors. All fake talk, no action. Check how things went down right after he left Aptos: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/heatherknight/article/Lord-of-the-Flies-Attacks-bullying-chaos-15055098.php That’s right, Lord of the freaking flies. Whatever things he put in place (which was zero) fell apart and everyone left behind didn’t know what hit them. Ask around the District. This guy shot up the ladder after a few short years as principal of Aptos. He has no business telling any principal what to do when he barely did their job and was HORRIBLE AT IT. Got promoted twice in one year. Geez, wonder what happened there? We got people of color doing the same job for a decade and don’t get promoted, and here we got know it all White guy zipping through the corporate ladder. Sounds like to get promoted in SFUSD, you need to collude with the union, throw your own people under the bus, and do whatever it takes to bring down the credibility of the people you’re being PAID to support. Investigate this scumbag and end the corruption. How does someone with so little experience even get to this level? No wonder he’s failed miserably at his job. So sick of this pattern of cronyism. Jason Hannon needs to go!! If I had to meet with him, I’d turn off my Zoom camera off and put up a picture of the middle finger!!

      2. Teacher Voice,

        I never bet over a dollar cause I’m poor.

        But, I’ll bet you that dollar Principal Bui is gone withing the next year.

        How you gonna stop it?

        Real powers are only concerned about District property.

        Did you know that Feinstein’s hubbie, Dick Blum brokered the sale of 100 million in SFUSD property couple of years ago?

        About 20 years ago she got him control of 2,000 Smart Cart concessions at airports.

        He promptly ran the thing into the ground and drove out investors other than ‘Trustees’ who took it for
        pennies on the dollar.

        She got him the contract to sell 6 billion in USPS property exclusively at guaranteed 6% commission.

        What did ‘Deep throat’ say?

        “Follow the money.”

        Giants losing with best pitcher on mound.

        Go Niners!

        h.

  7. There are significant inequities between schools that cannot be fixed – or even challenged – by one school’s innovative practice regarding pods. Rooftop is one of those schools that underscore the inequities between schools: it’s a high-demand, ostensibly “better” school than one that does not have “more than its share of pushy, white, well-off parents” as Rooftop does according to the article. Sure “one-third of its students are also qualify [sic] for subsidized lunches,” but at some schools virtually – if not actually – all of the students qualify for free lunch.

    Had Rooftop been able to implement the plan, after pod-time ended for the day students would go their separate ways home. A good number of that 1/3 that qualifies for free lunch, however, would return to much less spacious surroundings than the children of “pushy, white, well-off parents.” Obviously, neither a school nor the district can fundamentally alter the gross inequities in income distribution in San Francisco, but that inequality lasts the whole day even when the kid is in an “equal” pod. With or without pods, wealthier kids will have more space, more resources, paid for lunch, and faster and more reliable internet among other things. The situation is not dissimilar to the private school-public school divide. Regardless of how well a private school might be able to reflect the city’s entire school-age population through recruitment, scholarships, a full-range of academic and emotional supports, free transportation to and from, and strong efforts to repudiate social inequities, the private school will still remain separate and unequal. Anyone who disagrees is welcome to transfer their child to one of the high-need schools in San Francisco.

    I agree it would be great if SFUSD schools had to pool PTA/PTO funds so that there were better cash equity within the district. It’s a discussion I have been a part of for a number of years. Unless it has changed recently, Rosa Parks Elementary has two PTAs – one for each of its programs: the neighborhood general education program and the city-wide Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program. That one school with two distinct educational opportunities has not figured out a way to share resources within a single building suggests there’s not much equity there. The programs are so different in terms of measured academic outcomes (not something I rely on for much) that Rosa Parks as a whole no longer receives additional district support as a Tier-Two school – again, unless it’s changed since the most recent information I have. In a very real sense, the split program model at Rosa Parks undermines equity.

    1. Scott,

      In ‘Gangstah’ classes there was a ‘Continuum of Care’ that as far as I could see was only used by me.

      Rules were that the Feds paid for my salary and gave me the power to move kids up and down the ladder.

      I met with every parent/guardian/kid before the semester began and told them that I’d send their kid home
      (I had the power to suspend) if they so much as cursed me and the kid could not come back w/out their adult.

      Ten such suspensions and I moved them down the ladder.

      Never got anywhere near 10 on any student.

      The parent/Guardians of the worst kids were the most irresponsible and would pull the kids out of the school.

      It worked.

      District never backed me but my school quieted down cause the worst behavers either got in line or were withdrawn.

      The schools that did not do this had out of control kids destroying the education of all students.

      It only takes one or two SED’s to destroy a learning environment in a class.

      5 can destroy it in an entire school.

      SFUSD would not (and, apparently still) … would not stand up to Gangstah parents.

      Thus?

      Any responsible parent will remove their children from such an environment.

      A wise biker buddy appraised the situation when I lost my perch:

      “You aren’t allowed to redecorate your room in Hell.”

      lol

      Giants still alive!

      h.

    2. Hi Scott,

      Some of your information about Rosa Parks is incorrect. The district had at one point reclassified the school as Tier 1 (with the likes of Peabody, Clarendon, New Traditions, etc.) That never should have happened and has now been corrected by the district.

      Our GE program is a STEAM program, with a STEAM lab coordinator on staff. It and the JBBP share the same core curriculum. One is not more rigorous than the other. Unlike some of the other schools in the district with multiple programs, Rosa Parks is very purposeful in integrating the students from all programs. Many of our JBBP students live within walking distance of the school.

      No school has two PTAs. A PTA is an organization that represents the entire school and is a sub-unit of the Second District PTA and the CA PTA. We have many parent groups at the school. The PTCC (Parent Teacher Community Council) of the JBBP funds expenses related to the JBBP because a PTA is not allowed to fund one program. The PTCC also does work related to curricular and professional development of the program. Our PTA and PTCC work together and the parent leaders of both meet with each other regularly. Although both raise money separately, the PTCC works with the PTA to fund things like field trips, classroom supplies, and items for the school (like outdoor tables/benches, poster maker, etc).

      As far as “measured academic outcomes”, you will find that our test scores reflect not which program a kid is in, but their family’s socioeconomic status and race. This is also not a problem unique to Rosa Parks. We have a large achievement gap and are now receiving PITCH funds to help address it. There is a long way to go.

      Are there inequities within Rosa Parks? Yes there are, but there are also many families working very hard with our teachers and administration to try to name and address these inequities.

      I’m curious why you decided to bring up Rosa Parks in the comments on an article about Rooftop. It’s clear from your comments that you are not up-to-date or involved with the Rosa Parks community. Why have you gone out of your way to attack a Title I school (which will be even more firmly a Title I school post-COVID)? Why not attack the much smaller schools who raise many, many more times what Rosa Parks raises each year?

      1. I apologize for making statements about Rosa Parks Elementary School that were incorrect. My information about the school is based on what multiple parents, district staff and a former teacher have told me over the past several years. What I said is as reliable as what I’ve been told and my ability to remember it accurately. I certainly know that situations can change at least as fast as the school year does, and that is why I included the caveat “unless it has changed.” None of what I said is an attack on Rosa Parks – or should be taken as such. What I said, according to you based on out-dated or incorrect information, is that there are significant challenges in “bridging diversity” within and across schools. I stand by that position. Although the Rosa Parks paragraph was not an afterthought, it was not necessary for what I was trying to suggest. It was only intended as an illustration of some of the difficulties we face in the midst of multiple urgent tasks.

        I know dozens of kids (and some of their parents) who attend or graduated from Rosa Parks. Almost all of them are or were JBBP students. I think that says something about curriculum, friendship networks and afterschool/weekend socializing – and possibly parents/guardians. The few GE students I know (an overstatement: we occasionally say hi, but I don’t even know their names) appear not to be part of those friendship circles (outside of school at least). This is not a statement about any of those children, who are a pleasure to have in the neighborhood.

        A few years ago I stopped by a book sale at RP. I asked about the sale and was told the money was specifically being raised by the PTA for the JBBP. Again, that was a while back, and I only got that information from people who were volunteering. I know that different schools have different populations of families with different needs. I do not regret having bought some books at the sale, even if the money had less than full and equal benefit for the school as a whole. I do not think there is anything “wrong” with diverse populations at a school having activities and fund-raising projects that are independent. Schools desperately need supports and organizations such as ELAC, AAPAC and other targeted groups and programs. They need those as much as they need teachers, a library, student hobby and affinity groups, and extracurricular and after-school programs. To say that is one thing. To figure out how to make them successful in a myriad ways is more complicated.

        My dismissal of measured academic outcomes is precisely because they only tell us what we already know. I should correct that: they only tell us what some of us recognize. English learners, refugees, students and families with multigenerational trauma, those living in poverty, and those whose home life is abusive, dangerous or just plain sucks take tests with all of those things present. Kids are whole persons in a context, not robots or AI machines. Their test scores have nothing to do with personal failure or teachers unions or bad schools or the lies that reinforce structured inequality.

        Again, I apologize for mischaracterizing Rosa Parks. I am happy to recognize my mistakes and would prefer to use everyone’s mistakes as the basis for better conversations. The prolonged Covid-19 emergency has fundamentally changed community dialogue, district and individual school priorities and my ability to stay current on really pretty much anything.

        1. Scott, you have no reason to apologize.

          Rosa Parks has two organizations raising money for the school, with one of them raising money primarily (almost exclusively) for its language program? A program that attracts more advantaged families? That’s a big problem and you were right to point to it as an example of the challenges we all face in achieving an equitable public school system.

          Having two pots of money, with one pot devoted to funding activities or expenses specific to a special program that attracts more advantaged families, is inherently inequitable. I bet the parents at RP have all the best intentions, but this type of structural inequity will always trump good intentions.

          I’m a parent at Flynn Elementary, a school with an English track (GE) and a Spanish track (dual language immersion program). I’m sure we have many of the same challenges that Rosa Parks does, especially with regards to our city-wide immersion program running alongside our neighborhood-preference GE program. But we have one organization in the school that raises money from parents and the community (our PTA) and we bend over backwards to make sure we spend the money in an equitable way, never favoring one program over the other. I cannot imagine that being possible if there was a separate group raising money specifically for our immersion program.

          I’m actively involved in our PTA, I’m not aware of any 2nd District or CAPTA rules that say that money can’t be spent on a specific program in our school. I suspect that the problem is that PTA spending needs to be equitable and not favor a specific program over any other. To me Rosa Parks’ PTCC appears to be a work-around to that rule (if that is indeed the rule).

          I understand RP Parent’s disappointment at having Rosa Parks be called out in this discussion, and like I said I bet the parent community has the best intentions there. And maybe I’m way off on the way these two groups actually work together, and that the split in funding is for some arcane tax or staffing rule. It might also just be an historical artifact of the fact that the JBBP program (and probably the PTCC) was started a long time before moving to Rosa Parks (which it only did in 2006). But based on what’s written above I see a big red flag with those two pots of money being spent differently.

          Folks wanting another example of how hard this all is should check out the challenges Starr King has faced / is facing. This article from last year appears to carry a strong bias from a former parent but highlights a very similar funding challenge/debate: https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/10/24/segregation-wealth-and-education-the-politics-of-liberal-san-franciscos-separate-but-equal/.

        2. Scott and all,

          When Richard Burton first met Liz Taylor on the set of ‘Cleopatra’ his opening line to her was:

          “Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a very pretty girl?”

          Always loved that one.

          Well, you’re a very good writer by this old man’s judgement ant thank you.

          I worked with kids for 40 years and my experience from driving a bus to coaching to teaching was that your boss was usually an incompetent who had failed at your job.

          Yeah.

          At SFUSD I noted that people got out of university tops in their class and then came down to the battlefield of reality and the kids ate their lunch.

          So, they ran back to the last place they’d excelled.

          College.

          They got degrees in counselling and administration cause they were scared poopless of the kids.

          Pretty soon, there’s a glut of people with advanced degrees gained in their flights from the classrooms and they bonded and moved up the ladder together.

          So, basically what I’m proposing is that the top administrators cannot stand watching young teachers come in who are better with the kids and have all kinds of new ideas.

          Jealousy?

          Oh yeah.

          Something like that.

          Go Giants!

          h.

  8. The thing I wish I understood better is what it is that the teachers union wants. Press coverage, both here and elsewhere, inevitably frames the discussion as “reasonable-sounding plan x can’t happen because it’s opposed by the union (or there’s an implicit threat of being opposed by the union),” which makes the union sound intrastringent. It would be nice to have a better understanding of what it is that the teachers are proposing, and what is standing in the way of those proposals moving forward.

    1. My thoughts, too. I’m scratching hard on why we have to assume “hubs” is bad for the teachers/union.

  9. This is very on brand for Rooftop and SFUSD. In watching another debacle there, now years ago, there is always one uniting factor. SFUSD does not have enough money. All problems flow from that source.

  10. Thank you so much for your reporting!

    My daughters went to Middle School at Rooftop.

    Ms. Bui and her support team are strong, innovative, and considerate administrators. SFUSD has no idea how lucky they are to have them.

    She wasted way too much of valuable work and personal time fighting her superiors when the district should have said, “Great idea! How can we implement across the district? Tell us what you think!”

    The district and BOE like to boast about how great they are, how equitable, how inclusive, how innovative, but formerly committed public school parents like myself (I was also a teacher) bailed out of the district as soon as we had enough financial aid to afford private school or could afford a move away.

    We know so many other SFUSD teachers, administrators, and even PPS-SF staff who have also pulled their kids. You would think SFUSD would take note of this trend.

    I wish the media outside of Mission Local would hold SFUSD to account. SFUSD has way too much power over the mainstream local news content. I wonder if the general SF public even cares about the city’s children, there are so few of them who are of school-age.

    The BOE is also used as a stepping stone to further political careers — a culture that does not lend itself to any kind of meaningful programs for students and families.

  11. If not now, when? Time is Now! CYA culture has got to go!!!!

    CYA Culture promotes systemic oppression and racism and does not disrupt white supremacy as SFUSD claims to be committed to tear down.

    CYA is at the heart of white supremacy culture, at the heart of the ways in which upper district leaders and Human Resources operate.

    As a former Employee and Principal of SFUSD I can confidently say this district talks pretty and tip toes. It is afraid of getting into good trouble, holding the mirror up and make the real and hard change that needs to happen to change the narrative for the brown and black children in our city!

    Instead, they are hipocrates, they play dirty and treat loyal, dedicated, hard working, and courageous employees like dirt!

    SFUSD does not stand up to its vision and mission. As individuals move their way further up the system, yes, up, they KA (Kiss ass), look to cover their own asses and promote a culture of fear. They seem to lose their moral compass and sense of compassion and focus purely on compliance. Total loss of humanity and social justice.

    Yes Up, because SFUSD is a hierarchical system, not as innovative and 21st Century like as they claim to be. It is a white supremest, patriarchy that claims to believe in Access, Equity and Social Justice and is the complete opposite based on my experience, the experience of BIPOC students, families, educators and administrators!

    SFUSD is a place where Teachers and administrator’s are encouraged to be equity warriors and radically candid yet they clip the wings of Fearless, Innovative and Student Centered educators and leaders like Principal Bui. Enough is enough! Thank you for putting a spotlight on the bullying culture of SFUSD, and the injustices of a district that needs to refocus its attention of students, and in doing so there is a need to create a culture of collaboration, community and compassion.

  12. This article misses the boat. While equitable pods are important, these were formed and have already been pushing for in-person activities without considering public health issues involved. The pods are rogue because they are undermining public health orders that SFUSD and the union are tracking in their decision making. These pods are pushing families to gather in groups in person. There is never enough money, that’s for sure. If there was then SFUSD could roll out better in-person opportunities. This initiative did not have the kids at heart. It was a publicity stunt from the get go- hence the quote in NY Times, etc. Once again these administrators are fighting it out and the kids are the ones to take the damage. And Bui is no visionary. She is a disaster of a leader. No teacher consultation before rolling out this model, because it was designed to be a statement and not a functional collaboration.

    1. I disagree with you Rooftop Parent. You do not know and are not aware of the behind the scenes workings that an administrator goes through to be responsive and to keep the best interest of students at the fire and heart. I know Principal Bui to be selfless, thoughtful, who has the respect of her students, families , community and colleagues in the greater district, rolls up her serves and works tirelessly for social justice and equity!!!!

    2. Another Rooftop parent and no one in our pod has pushed to meet in person. No one has suggested that we violate public health orders. My pod has had 1 parent zoom and 2 kids zooms where they check in, discuss homework and just visit with each other. Bui is not perfect but she in conscientious and is trying to work within a pretty torturous role.

  13. Thanks for a bigger picture look at an attempt at equitable pods within our district. Getting all members of the community on board will continue to help create pathways that we so need at this time. Thanks to one brave and onboard principal for the effort. Agree with the above posts that getting the teacher voice is instrumental in making work. Our kids still need this kind of support!

  14. “With our kids’ future on the line, failure is not an option at the San Francisco Unified School District. ”

    Failure absolutely is an option and has been an option since SF desegregated it’s schools and white flight from the education system began. Of course, defunding education that those parents weren’t going to take advantage of, followed.

    But it has been decades and as SF schools continue to fail we have to accept the fact that this is not an accident, but a policy. The BOE is a political stepping stone and does not serve the students. And while individual teachers largely do care about their students, the teachers union clearly does not (otherwise why only a 2 hour minimum of synchronous teaching in the MOU?).

    Failure is an option because rich parents who don’t get what they want send their kids to private school and anyone else in this more-dogs-than-kids, Never-neverland city just does care.

    1. So, the very next line is “But, without innovation, neither is success.”

      Nice monologue, but to remove the very next and corresponding point comes off a bit dodgy.

      JE

  15. This is not the first time this year that SFUSD has tried to pull a CYA at Rooftop and tried to stamp out innovation. A longstanding, very high quality afterschool program was told to pack its bags in May without any communication to the parents. This program is one of the main reasons parents keep their kids at Rooftop–otherwise so many would go private. This program works hard for diversity, equity, and socio emotional learning. Rooftop parents and teachers (who love the program for the hard work it puts in to support kids) had to launch a campaign to save it this spring. It is a program that should be replicated across the district (I know because I have worked with many, many afterschool programs). But instead the CYA mentality of the district, threatened to destroy yet another good thing.

  16. I love this article. So well written and so to the point of what is going on. I love it. I’m a mom trying to navigate education at home myself. And seeing someone call out the education system for what it is is great. People who try to make a difference being punished. I really feel our education system is failing our country. It’s all about jumping hoops for grades, privilege, childcare and not enough focus on actual learning. What we are doing isn’t working. Let’s try to see what can be improved. For everyone. Especially those who need it most. Like paying teachers the true value of their work

  17. Verse stay at home unsupervised and left to educate themselves?
    Do you expect the school/neighbors to buy them a home?!

  18. Missing from this article is that Bui also kicked out the long-standing and beloved CASA program from Rooftop this summer with no notice to parents or to CASA staff. In fact, the CASA director found out they were kicked out in an email to parents (her kid goes to Rooftop).

    Bui has a history and pattern of non-collaboration that should be named alongside the decision to go ahead with pods.

    This mirrors the way SFUSD makes decisions: behind closed doors without the involvement of key stakeholders. So Bui is only doing what the district does and got burned cause she didn’t include the district this time. (FYI, the district did not get involved in kicking out CASA and in fact back Bui.)

    This just highlights how dysfunctional the entire education system is and how uncooperative administration is at all levels to truly collaborate to find solutions to our most crucial social problems.

    Reforming SFUSD has not worked. It didn’t work under Rojas who embezzled over a million dollars and then fled to Texas. It didn’t work under Ackerman who scammed the system for an overly generous benefit package and then absconded her duty BEFORE her contract was over but still received her entire compensation package. It didn’t work under Carranza who publicly stated he was in it for the long haul and then fled to Houston for 18 months and then fled to NYC (and it doing terribly there).

    On top of this, corruption and embezzlement run rampant throughout SFUSD. In my first year working within SFUSD, Burbank MS had a librarian who stole all the computers purchased for students, a teacher was caught having sex with a student in her car, and the principal stole money. It got worse every subsequent year until Burbank was closed.

    It’s time for a whole reimagining of school and education. This pandemic clearly shows the decades of divestment, corruption, and austerity that undergird all schooling.

    1. Bui didn’t kick out the CASA program. She is new to the district and may not have understand its importance to the school and was just following district procedure. She is in between a rock and a hard place with systemic hurdles. She managed to support the CASA program in the end.

      1. Yes, Bui is new to the district. However, her four year tenure at Rooftop is significant. In the past 14 years, Rooftop has had 9 principals. Nobody has been able to last at Rooftop for more than 1 or 2 years. Rooftop has a very strong reputation in the District, but it is also well known because it is REALLY REALLY HARD. It attracts very entitled and opinionated white parents. It takes a remarkably strong and collaborative person to come in with all the pressures from all sides – a group of veteran teachers (some are even parents at the school), District breathing down your neck, powerful high income parents who think they can buy the school, two campuses, preschool to 8th grade, so much turn over in your own role, and the politics of being the first female and POC leader in over 2 decades at a high profile school. The white guy she replaced said 2 months in that he was going to quit. How is SFUSD supporting its principals? The turn over rate at Rooftop is a reflection of what goes on at other school sites. Why isn’t there more support at the site? Every time something happens, the district goes after the school site and then promotes the corrupt district superior for suppressing the school leader. Bui is going to make mistakes. It’s allowed. She’s human, and she’s got a lot on her plate ALL THE TIME. But what I see every time is a willingness to listen and flexibility. She’s accessible in a way that I’ve never seen with other principals who have come through. She’s established herself, and she continues to fight for equity and work hard every day. She could just coast now, but she doesn’t. The work ethic from this human being should be studied in HR. If you email, call, text, come by her office, she drops everything she is doing and makes you feel like a freaking celebrity. She listens to you. One time I met with her for over 2 hours. The meeting only ended because I had to go to the bathroom, and by the time I came back she had to be in the cafeteria to help the kindergarteners with their lunches. This single interaction alone never ever left me. She puts herself out there and challenges decisions from the district that go against her community’s values. With RBG’s recent passing, I see someone like this as channeling the same principled leadership and being a pioneer against the patriarchy that exists within SFUSD and in our society. I hope everyone at Rooftop parents, Rooftop staff, Rooftop supporters, and anyone reading this article does everything in their power to stop Jason Hannon and every district person who tries to take this humbled principal down. She should be getting awards, not emails from her boss threatening her with complaints from the union that he orchestrated. Completely corrupt. Feels like TRUMP’s school district with this Hannon guy leading a school as progressive and liberal as Rooftop. I’m not voting for Jason Hannon for 2020, and neither should anyone else!

    2. Okay. Let’s use some common sense here. There’s no way the District or Rooftop principal didn’t tell CASA that they weren’t going to be able to provide their services at Rooftop anymore. If you read any of the messages sent from the principal, it’s so clear she didn’t write them herself. She was asked to be a puppet and was in an impossible position. Please do not fall into the trap of pitting CASA against Rooftop or vice versa. They are one and the same. You cannot be pro CASA and then go badmouth Rooftop and its leaders, teachers, and staff. We’re all on the same team. Please do not become misguided and change the conversation. You’re just letting the District get away with creating a civil war while they watch everything precious about Rooftop burn to the ground. Don’t fall for it. Make this for what it is. Lastly, don’t get dirty and badmouth Principal Bui.

  19. It is stories like this that make my blood boil. Here you have a principal that is trying to do what every school district should be doing: focusing on what is best for the kids. Instead SFUSD focuses on what is good for the teachers union. SFUSD’s motto should be “The kids are only for here for 13 years at most, the union is here for forever.” This is why a lot middle class people either send their kids to private school or move to Marin. The result is that SFUSD has a student population that skews towards low income households. The schools that don’t alienate the middle class are good schools, but are still hamstrung by SFUSD.

  20. Kudos for Ms. Bui for getting into some Good Trouble. I’ve been privileged to work under her leadership and ability to navigate the educational waters. I do hope she keeps on keepin on. I didn’t always agreed with every decision she made when I worked for her, but I did not know and trust that EVERY decision she made was made in an effort to do the right thing.

    1. Let me write this more clearly – when working with Nancy I may not have always agreed with every decision she made – I’m one to roll over and through guidelines to achieve goals.. I knew that she would do whatever she could to work with EVERYONE to do the right thing. Never any doubt in my mind that she was a public education servant who endeavored minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day to provide the best possible educational opportunities for the entire school community.

  21. Hey everybody Ms. Sheila Hall here. I work at Rooftop and SFUSD for 10 years. I have been a part of the Rooftop family for 20 years. Most of my family members graduated from Rooftop. My daughter Iyahna Smith went to Rooftop from 4th grade to 8th grade. She had really great teachers like Ms. Joyce Woo, Ms. Sue Mocklin, and a great principal name Jane Bieringer. My daughter also love Ms. Therese Hickey bc she said without the support of Ms. Hickey n Mr. Doug Reed she would have been lost without there support. The Assistant Principal Tiffany Obayashi is good too. Tiffany has been with us the longest, and I think she is the best Assistant Principal we’ve ever had! Tiffany has always been thoughtful, supportive n caring to the community. Tiffany is a great asset to our community n has always been!!

    Now Ms. Bui is here she is an outstanding principal, and a woman with real integrity. She takes care of all of us paras n everyone who support the kids that have challenges. She will bring us lunch, flowers, cards and anything we need. She calls us when we’re having a bad day. We all love her very much. I help out on the bus with the kids from the Bayview, and she’s the only principal that rides the bus many many times. Tiffany joined her on the bus too. They work as a team and work very well together!! Ms. Bui gets up each morning at 4am every time and drove all the way from her house that’s an hour away to meet with me to see the experiences of these kids on the bus. She goes and visits the kids at their houses to say hi and make connection. One time there was two kids in the who had someone in their family killed. Wow did she support this family. She came to the house right away. She went to the funeral. We had two other who experienced death in their family since pandemic happened. Ms. Bui got donations to make sure one person’s daughter got an education fund set up for her to go to college. Her daughter went to Rooftop too and is right now in high school. Another person had her father pass away. And what do you think happened? Ms. Bui and everyone at Rooftop got together and supported this person and took care of them. The teachers, staff, and parents always come together to take care of each other. I see this happen under Ms. Bui’s leadership. She treats us like her family. That’s the kind of community we have at Rooftop. We look out for one another, and we make sure we are all okay, especially right now during all this covid. Ms. Bui expects us all to respect each other and treat each other with kindness. She does it by being fair, kind, thoughtful, and respectful with everyone. She is really caring, and she has my support with anything she does. We like to talk a lot about Rooftop Spirit at Rooftop. It’s about putting other people ahead of you and helping people out because that’s what Jesus would do. Ms. Bui does this and she asks What would Jesus do? every time. People like to ask me how I feel about her, and I have kept my opinion to myself, but this has gone too far. I feel she is being attacked, and I’m not going to allow it. I want everyone to know that I have her back. Everyone is free to feel how they feel, but she can always count on me at Rooftop and my whole family to stand behind her every time. She has even helped my daughter Iyahna, and she wasn’t even her principal, Jane was. Iyahna Smith is behind her too! That’s the kind of person she is. I pray her for her every night, and no matter what happens I will make sure she stays our principal. If you have a problem with her, please email me at HallS1@sfusd.edu, or you can call me at 415 814 2786. I will talk to you about all that she has done at the school, and what a great principal she is. Every school deserves the kind of great principal Rooftop has, the kind of teachers we have, and the types of parents that are at Rooftop. And let’s not forget the best thing about Rooftop the kids! Check us out. Call me if you want to know about Rooftop and send your kids here. I will make sure they are taken care of!! Call me if you have any questions!!

    1. I agree with you 1000% Ms. Sheila Hall

      I to have worked for rooftop for over 6 years and have had both of my children attend Rooftop. My son who has now graduated from High school, benefiting from the SD program (Mr.P and Ms. Zee Zee) that was stripped away from the school leaving all its students at the time (all black boys) forced to go to school that couldn’t even support the IEP’s they had. My daughter who started in kindergarten with Ms.Laurie 1st grade Ms. Smith 2nd Mr. Mayhew 3rd Ms. Whitcomb 4th Ms. Wo and 5th Ms. Kennedy all who have had such impact on her life. Starting off with Ms. Bieringer as the principle who attended every IEP meeting my son every had. Which is something that Ms. Bui does as well. As a parent the support form your child’s school Administrators is extremely important and no child can be successful without it. Since Jane Bieringer left rooftop no one who’s come to take her place has been able to make a change for the better and survive.

      That was until Ms. Bui came along. She has been nothing but supportive when it comes to her staff and her children. She’s has been nothing but a team player when we as staff members come to her with our problems. This past July we lost my daughters father and she was one of the first people from my Rooftop family to reach out to me. Our phone conversation was for at least an hour if not more. She kept asking how could she help and at first I had no way of needing help, thinking I will have to deal with this on my own. Until later in the conversation when I stated how much my daughters father helped with her education tuition, she then came up with the idea of an educational fund for her. She took it up on herself to write a letter and reach out to the Rooftop family for support. I would of never thought of this it was just something that didn’t cross my mind. She was able to get so much support that my daughters tuition is now paid for her junior year. I don’t know how to thank her. Ms. Bui has the kind of heart that we need here at rooftop. I’ve seen her help students get additional support with school work because they needed that extra push. Doing her best to make sure all her students succeed. Being kind, equal, supportive,loving, determined which reminds me of RBG and the change she stood for and the fight she’s willing to put up for what’s right for ALL students. At the end of the day that’s who we do it for. I’m so thankful to be able to work along side Nancy and Tiffany because they will make sure that change will come.

      All the negative comments I’m reading on here is a bunch of crap. Since Jane we’ve never had a principal as involved as Nancy. Which all that’s going on in the world today you all should be thankful for Nancy. I myself have witnessed so much racism right here in the school and for once our leaders are doing something about it. Nancy and Tiffiany has my support 100%

  22. Wow ????!!! I’ve read the whole thing and ALL the comments!!!! I started reading at 3:30 am and just finished reading it at 4:30 am!!! WOW!!! That is all I can say at this time. Hang in there Nancy… many of us stands next or behind you in regards to how you run Rooftop. Personally speaking I admire, respect, and like the way you and Tiffany runs the school now. It is very hard to run a school especially with high, energetic maintenance parents. Don’t let that sway how you manage the school. For 20 years I have never been wrong on how long a principal will stay and this is your 4th year. Be strong and positive. Like Sheila said “ WE GOT YOUR BACK!!!!!”

  23. Granted that I only have the author’s meandering and one-sided information to go on, but it Seems a shame that the principal didn’t make her intentions clear to all involved. Had she reached out to partners in her site union leadership, explained her plan, and asked the union what assurances might be needed in order for them to be supportive, it might have turned out differently. Last summer was hell for teachers, being goaded and chastised by every manner of so-called “expert” for their very well-founded fears of being forced into unsafe situations. It is not a leap to see these fears stirred up by discussions between administrators and parents that cut the teachers out of the conversation. That the ULP charge didn’t manifest is testament to the union doing its job to advocate for its members and protect them. But you can’t beat a proactive collaborative relationship.

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