Some 70 staffers at Everett Middle School sent a “desperate plea for help” in March to the San Francisco Unified School District that outlined frequent outbreaks of disorder and violence on campus — and begged for reinforcements ASAP for a staff stretched beyond its capacity.
“This past year has seen multiple major incidents at Everett involving guns, knives, pepper spray, intruders on campus, and multiple violent fights almost every day,” reads the letter, sent to top SFUSD officials, including Superintendent Vincent Matthews, with the subject line “Requesting onsite support ASAP at Everett Middle School.”
“The recent shooting at the Safeway on the corner of Market St. and Church St. included our students and could have ended with a much worse outcome,” the letter continued. “Our site administration has frequently needed to call the SFPD to assist with student arrival and dismissal, often due to the possibility of violence from outsiders against our students. Multiple staff have also been attacked and even injured by students this year, some with pepper spray that resulted in student expulsion.”
That March 10 letter came more than six weeks before a pair of Mission Local articles chronicling the tumultuous and violent conditions at Everett, including a pair of on-the-record allegations from former teachers that they were assaulted by students. And it came more than seven weeks before an Everett student was beaten severely enough during an on-campus fight that he was hospitalized with “life-threatening injuries.”
Just how thoroughly the district has addressed the situation that induced a clear and heated SOS from the school’s beleaguered staffers remains a point of contention. When asked about its actions at the school, the district sent a 1,000-word statement. Among other steps, the district emphasized that it had hired an additional security guard, worked to increase substitute coverage, implemented a no-cell-phone policy, increased the “Social Emotional lessons,” and secured private funds for “a reimagined and restructured outdoor space.”
Numerous parents, however, have told Mission Local that they have not noticed these policy changes. They added that their queries to the district or site administration have not been addressed, or that the responses they did receive have been banal, defensive or lacked detail. And the district hasn’t begun to quell staff’s fears and concerns.
“I think it’s impossible for anyone to claim that the district’s response to our staff’s demand for immediate onsite support at Everett has been anywhere near enough,” said Cris Garza, a literacy coach and the school’s union building representative.
“To claim otherwise is merely an attempt to minimize the media fallout and continue to avoid solving the very real crises we’ve been experiencing on a daily basis. This is not to say that they have done nothing — some district staff have been sent here for limited amounts of time and it’s been quite helpful to have them with us. But I think it’s fair to say that their response to our plea for help has been inadequate at best, and complicit at worst,” Garza said.
By late March, Han Phung, the SFUSD assistant superintendent of middle schools had visited Everett and shared with teachers an initial plan to address issues on-site. Among other steps, the plan called for more on-campus presence from central office personnel and for Street Violence Intervention Program (SVIP) personnel to be on campus daily.
While rotating SVIP personnel do visit the school, sources within the district tell Mission Local that, as of last week, the permanent on-site SVIP worker mentioned in Phung’s letter had not yet been hired.
For district officials who’ve been pushing for more interventions at Everett and communicating with the SFUSD higher-ups ostensibly overseeing this school, it was an exasperating moment.
“People are willing to help,” said a district source familiar with the situation. “It’s frustrating.”
When Mission Local published its initial story on Everett on April 21, “We had been talking about this for a while. These complaints had been coming for a long time,” they continued. “This story didn’t need to happen, because these things didn’t need to still be true.”
Fifty-three Everett staffers signed a public letter on April 29 criticizing Mission Local’s article about the chaotic and violent conditions at their school.
They described the story as “clickbait” and “gossip.”
Forty-nine of these teachers also signed the March letter to the district, in which conditions at the school were described in more incendiary terms than in our articles — and in which they stated that “we now find ourselves questioning our ability to even keep our students and staff safe during the school day and are writing to you in a desperate plea for help.”
Respectfully to the staffers, who have been through a lot, the real problem here is not the coverage.
Simply put, the claims that the conditions at Everett are being overblown — that similar articles could be written about any San Francisco middle school — feel diversionary and do not ring true.
The March 10 plea from Everett staffers noted that eight teachers had resigned mid-year (a tally that has only grown). Even a privately funded health and wellness grant Everett received, which was supposed to provide extra workers, has apparently not provided the extra workers.
There simply aren’t enough adults in the building to do education the way education was done prior to the pandemic. This is the root cause of nearly all of Everett’s problems. And this is not a unique situation.
Staff at other schools serving junior high-aged kids told Mission Local of administrators pulled out of their offices and forced to cover dozens of classes in the course of a week — in the cafeteria — with nary a sub to call. We were told of upticks in fighting and unpleasant behavior, with young people texting “blims” — disappearing text messages with a title derived from “subliminal” — to coordinate gatherings that may devolve into brawls.
Children now in sixth grade haven’t been in a classroom since fourth grade. “They do goofy things,” summed up a veteran administrator. “Their social development has been interrupted.”
So, that’s all true. But, so far as we can tell, three score and 10 staffers at other schools aren’t writing detailed pleas to the central office for intervention. So far as we can tell, teachers aren’t being beaten at other schools.
Every school is suffering, but Everett is suffering more. And that should come as a surprise to nobody. Just as a tsunami is more of a problem for people on the coast than for people in the hills, the privations of the pandemic are going to be most damaging at a “tier 3” school like Everett.
“Tier 3” is the district’s designation for a school serving the most needy and vulnerable students: 20 percent of Everett’s students require special education support, 44 percent are English learners, 62 percent are “socio-economically disadvantaged,” 30 percent met grade level standards in 2019.
The pain is not spread evenly across the district, nor even within Everett: Much of the violence and chaos is most keenly affecting the school’s Latinx students, and Everett is 70 percent Latinx. The fight this month that put a boy in the hospital was described to Mission Local by Cheeko Wells, a Violence Intervention Program supervisor, as a confrontation that spiraled out of control between a “newcomer Latino kid and an Americanized Latino kid.”
(Wells told Mission Local that the victim suffered from head trauma, and the fight may have deliberately taken place in a stairwell corner out of view of school cameras. Internal emails between Everett administrators show seven students were suspended for between two and five days).
The hardest-up schools are suffering the most, and the hardest-up students at the hardest-up schools have it worst of all. This, again, should not come as a surprise.
And this is why the district owes it to Everett to prioritize its needs. If SFUSD is going to group high-need students into high-need schools, it must address those needs. The consequences of the failure to do so are now on full display.
The district owes it to Everett teachers and families to lay out a coherent plan and carry it out. And no plan will succeed without an adequate number of adults in the building.
And, here, there are challenges. The failure to address problems at Everett, and those problems coming into full public view, have made it harder to convince staffers to come work here.
It was announced on Thursday that Matt Wayne will be the new superintendent, and the district’s top-three higher-ups will be new next year. Everett will have a new principal and, Mission Local has learned, an assistant principal is also resigning and must be replaced. The risk of this school becoming an orphan is real. As is the risk of an even more acute staffing shortage at the onset of the next school year.
“To keep our students safe, we need the exact same thing we demanded in March: onsite support from district management and it needs to happen all day and every day,” says Garza. “The only response that makes a difference in this scenario is having more competent adults in our building — and only the district can provide those adults.”
Whatever happens, the district’s actions will continue to be on full display. We are watching now.