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How Can San Francisco Stay True to its Radical Roots? Make Educators a Priority.

Updated: Aug 29, 2022 19:47
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San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) botched support for its labor force over the last few years. Pink slips, budget audits, board drama, payroll problems, staff shortages and pandemic disputes are just some of the issues that have negatively impacted district employees. However, with new leadership and a new school year underway, this is a pivotal opportunity to improve the culture and climate in the district.

Included below is a letter to school and city officials outlining the issues and proposing solutions. In sharing this letter with a broader audience here, I hope to help Bay Area residents understand how and why supporting city educators is essential to the well-being of everyone in our community. In this era of educator shortage and higher student needs, it’s an important moment to show that we, as a community, value the adults who take care of our children.

It is my sincere hope that SFUSD will prioritize educator well-being, thus spearheading a national movement that shifts the narrative on education in America.

Letter sent 8/8/22

Dear SFUSD Superintendent Wayne, Board of Education members and Mayor Breed,

Thank you for your commitment to collaborate and serve this community in 2022-2023. Your desire to keep the focus on students rings loud and clear, and I’m hopeful that you will work to build a more positive and cohesive climate in our district. However, you have your work cut out for you this year. As a dedicated employee, who is taking a leave of absence, I’m reaching out with some ideas for you to consider as you marinate over your priorities and set goals.

If it’s not clear enough from speaking to staff, reading articles or experiencing firsthand so many of the current challenges we are facing in this district, then please know that educators have lost almost complete faith in district leadership. Moving forward, it’s important to reestablish credibility in order to achieve objectives around student achievement.

The last three years in SFUSD have eliminated our trust in leadership’s decision making. The DNP and Empower is an outrage and staff are calling on the Union to file a lawsuit. The payroll issues that started in January have continued with staff consistently being under or not paid, retirement accounts not receiving accurate amounts and culminating with our July checks being several thousand dollars less than a typical one. Next, the continued board dramatics show how unprepared some board members are as they don’t know enough about communities and education to appropriately speak on behalf of families, teachers and students. Adding to this litany of problems is that Human Resources has been impossible to get ahold of and has required staff to reach out innumerable times to get answers to any type of question. HR feels like a black hole. Finally, how is it that people are being hired for positions in central office before all school sites are fully staffed?

I read Superintendent Wayne’s initial letter and appreciated how he stressed the need to listen and how he acknowledged repeatedly the need to right the wrongs with Empower.  Next, I read about how he and the board met for hours during the summer to establish a student-focused plan that includes benchmarks established in October. However, what seems to be missing is a concrete plan on how to retain your current teachers and recruit new ones. What specifically are you doing to support the adult staff?

The adults (teachers, librarians, social workers, counselors, noon time monitors, custodians, paras, etc….), who care for and are in direct contact with the students, need to feel like they are a priority. As we’ve seen throughout the country, there is an employment crisis on hand in education. Please do something to positively impact this. Your choices this year will have a great impact on the course of education in San Francisco.

With retention and recruitment in mind, here are some recommendations: First, focus on addressing the contract negotiations and work with the union to provide a hefty increase in salaries, and additional retention bonuses. This is the biggest step in building trust and allegiance, and also avoiding an ongoing resignation crisis. Next, figure out a way to solve the Empower nightmare and ensure that outside accountants are combing through staff paystubs and follow up with retirement accounts to ensure accuracy. Additionally, speak with all administrators to focus on building relationships with their school staff and prioritizing listening and collaborating. Identify schools that have high ratings in staff surveys and ask those administrators to share with others how they create positive climates. We can’t stress enough the importance of positive work climates, as cultivated by the administrators. Also, reevaluate the PDs coming from central office and determine what’s essential and optional. Think creatively about Wednesdays and offer time to teachers to work collaboratively. Regarding staffing, be transparent with your data and ensure that school staffing is considered first over central office needs. Also, please ask board members to be fully present in meetings, and to create more opportunities to hear from educators directly. Finally, increase HR staff and ask that everyone responds to their emails within 48 hours and that no mailbox states that it’s full and can’t accept a voice message.

In over 20 years in education, I’ve held various classroom and non-classroom roles. From this experience it’s clear that there is a vast disconnect between school sites and central office, and there’s also a significant disconnect within schools between administrators and teachers. The places with the least disconnect are ones where there is symbiosis between these groups, and that is something that should be strived for as it does exist in certain schools/depts/teams. In this current era of lack of credibility and trust, the best thing you could do for students in SFUSD is to set yourself apart from previous leadership by showing how you decide to support your adult staff.

By prioritizing educators, you’re prioritizing students.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for considering how you can individually make a greater stance of support for the educators in SFUSD. Your decision to lift up SFUSD educators will be greatly appreciated.


Vanessa Hutchinson-Szekely

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