Vote to Retain JROTC Split Along Racial Lines
By Max Millard
In a stormy, late-night session June 27, the San Francisco Board of Education decided by a single vote to retain the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in the City's public schools. The deciding vote came from Keith Jackson, the newest and youngest board member. Steve Phillips, the only other black on the seven-person board, was co-sponsor of a resolution to phase out JROTC and develop alternative programs.
The meeting drew a crowd of about 400 to Everett Middle School on Church Street, and nearly 100 of them spoke for or against the resolution. It soon became clear that the issue had a sharp racial split. The large majority of blacks in attendance were in favor of continuing JROTC, while most whites, Asians and Hispanics were against it. The program, which provides military-style training and education by retired officers, has been in the San Francisco public schools since 1919. It accepts about 1,100 students per year, at a $600,000 cost to the City. Recently the pressure to abolish it has grown, mainly because of the military's ban on homosexuals.
Most blacks at the meeting said they viewed the anti-gay discrimination as a separate issue that had little to do with the JROTC's benefits.
Naomi Gray echoed the feelings of many by saying, "Gay people are sacrificing children's programs for their political reasons. The children did not create this political situation and should not suffer as a result. It seems that this question should be decided by federal judges and not this board."
Comer Marshall, another supporter, argued that JROTC itself "is not discriminatory. It has been very successful and has provided the students structure and discipline. The program has turned out leaders and teachers. The opponents have not provided a viable alternative."
After several white speakers described JROTC as a recruitment program for the military, Reverend Edgar Boyd, representing a group of black ministers, said that charge didn't bother him. "I served two years in the military and I don't think it damaged me. I think I gained from it. It provides for respect through rigor, honor through humility."
Gwendolyn Westbrook, President of the Black Leadership Forum of San Francisco, agreed. "It disciplines the kids," she said. "We need to deal with the violence in schools -- and I'll bet the kids bringing guns to school are not the ones in the JROTC program.... It's a volunteer program. They don't have to enroll. Everybody is not sports-minded. This is an alternative to that. Yes, it teaches them about guns, but so what? If they're going to learn, it's better to learn the right way than the wrong way."
Byron McQuarters, however, asked: "Why are we allowing our youth during their crucial, formative, and questioning years, to learn life's most valuable lessons from the military arm of our government... which promotes discrimination and persecution of some of our American citizens, simply because of their sexual identity?"
Kwame Somburu, former chairman of Afro-Americans Against the War in Vietnam who now works with special education students at Balboa High School, had even harsher words. "It has been sickening to me to see some of the youngsters at Balboa in JROTC, who are at third- to fifth-grade academic skill level. The kids don't understand what they're doing. JROTC is a con job, conning youngsters and their parents into thinking it is a way to get money for college. They lure them into the military. This is indoctrination, not education."
Dozens of students attended the meeting, and many of them spoke. They were as divided as the rest of the audience about JROTC's relative merits and flaws. Some expressed rage at hazing incidents involving JROTC students, while others praised the program. Said Brandy Radford, a petite, 15-year-old junior at Balboa High, now in her third year of JROTC: "It has taught me things that gym class wouldn't attempt to do. You learn how to conduct yourself right, you learn responsibility and leadership training, and the truth about our country. I plan to go to the Air Force Academy in Colorado. They will give me a JROTC scholarship."
The consensus of most black speakers was that despite the valid criticisms of JROTC, it was still better than no program at all. Carolyn Oliver, a counselor at San Francisco County Jail, said the program is needed because "years ago they had all types of things they could do after school. Now they don't have anything. But when they hit the streets, people complain. I've seen them in their uniforms, and they really take pride in them. The program gives young people a lot of confidence and self-esteem."
Kids Teach Their Parents at First Annual Speak Out
By Max Millard
Abortion. Drugs. Gangs. Rap music. Community violence. Question: In what forum were these subjects recently discussed? If you answered Oprah or Geraldo, nice try. In fact, they were among the topics chosen by public school students age 11 to 19 in the first annual Youth Debate & Speak Out, held July 29 in the Bayview District.
The Debate & Speak Out gave the youths a rare chance to sound off to adults in a public arena. The four-hour event drew 26 competitors to the All Hallows Community Center at 1601 Lane Street, where they debated, rapped, recited poetry, and delivered speeches before a panel of judges and a crowd of parents and friends. It was sponsored by Infusion-One, a community organization that serves mainly African American youths.
Gaylon Logan, the executive director, said one purpose of the Speak Out was "to provide a forum where adults can listen and learn from unrecognized teachers -- the youths." A single parent who has lived in Bayview-Hunters Point for most of his life, he founded Infusion-One in January 1994, after spending four years as an elementary student advisor in the San Francisco Unified School District.
"I became frustrated with the way things were being done. I decided to leave the district and start Infusion-One," said Logan. He founded it to be a bridge between the school and the family, to confront the real-life problems facing youths and community members. Its guiding philosophy is that the only way to create positive change is by stimulating activity in the community.
Infusion-One, which has year-round activities, reaches out especially to students who have been suspended, expelled, and prematurely graduated from public schools. If they cannot learn to redirect their energy positively, believes Logan, they become "statistics in our streets, jails and morgues."
The Speak Out was co-organized by Linda Brooks-Burton, head librarian at the Bayview-Anna E. Waden Library. After she and Logan got the word out about the event, they put on three training sessions, to coach the speakers on posture, delivery, and eye contact. The six judges, all people employed in youth programs, awarded points for originality, presentation, effectiveness, quality of argument, persuasiveness, and best use of argument time.
One group of four students debated the topic "Drugs: Are they the leading problem in the black community?" Passing the microphone back and forth, they showed a considerable range of views.
"I don't think drugs are the problem, because the drugs don't tell you, `Come smoke me,'" said one boy. Another responded, "When you're on crack, it does tell you to come and smoke me. Because your mind is being controlled."
When someone replied that money, not drugs, are the source of violence, his opponent countered: "Dope fiends would do anything for it. They would shoot a person. They would sell their kids. It's not the money, because people don't smoke money and die. They smoke drugs."
Deneisha David, 17, who hopes for a career in the media, got one of the warmest receptions of the day for her uplifting essay on black pride. A senior at Lowell High School, she delivered her speech masterfully, getting waves of applause throughout, and a standing ovation at the finish. She was one of three first-prize winners, along with two 14-year-olds, Vincent Berry and Gilbert Cook. They each won $50 and a computer.
After the event, some parents told Logan that they wished more adults had been present "to hear what the kids had to say." Commented Logan: "We need to listen more to our children, because they are the future, and they will give us an accurate picture of what we can expect."
Infusion-One is looking for more adults to serve as volunteers and mentors for its programs. The Speak Out & Debate was part of a series of monthly public events. The next one is scheduled for Saturday August 26, when mayoral candidate Willie Brown has agreed to attend a workshop in the Bayview to meet with students and community leaders to discuss "the future of youth in our city."
For more information about Infusion-One, call (415) 675-0251.
* * *
No One But Us
By Deneisha David, age 17
Black male -- gang banger, drug dealer, uneducated, pimp, prostitute, hustler, menace to society. These are the ways the media portrays our youth. The sad part is that, although we only see black youth portrayed negatively in the public eye, the "bad apples" only make up five percent of our youth. We tend to let the negative minority overshadow the positive majority.
And it's not just one or two positive people out there. Look around you. Look at all the people who could have been somewhere else, but instead are here to voice their opinions and concerns, and to listen and see, to be proud of our rich culture, to be proud of our youth.
That is what we need. We need someone to believe in us. And by coming here today we've taken the first step in the right direction, a direction toward truth and light. And we know where truth and light are. Being labeled as the "lost generation" is discouraging to anyone -- "lost," meaning "without hope of being found." With such a negative connotation, could you really expect to get a positive result? We've lost hope in one another.
Our parents have come from a different generation -- a generation where an entire neighborhood raises a child. We need to go back there. For parents are ultimately responsible for their own kids. But each and every one of us has an obligation to that child, to themselves, to prevent any more souls from straying from God's eye.
The abolitionist Edna Burroughs said: "Tragedy in this problem-solving enterprise is that the Negro is not being taught the tremendous achieving power of his virtues. He is not being taught to glorify what he is. When the Negro learns what manner of man he is spiritually, he will wake up all over. He will rise in the majesty of his own soul. He will glorify the beauty of his own brown skin. He will stop thinking white and go to learning straight and right."
In conclusion, the blame cannot solely rest on the shoulders of the media, or society, or him or her. It's up to all of us. It's not enough to merely detect the problems. We all know they exist. The important part is finding a solution -- a solution that will enable us to say: "Black people -- strong, intelligent, respected, teachers, kings and queens." After all, no one can save us from us but us.
Independently Published Guidebooks Of SF Public Schools Now Available
By Max Millard
The San Francisco-based Publishing 20/20 recently published three guidebooks to assist parents in the selection of schools for their children. The series, entitled Choosing a Public School for Your Child, includes one book each for elementary, middle and high schools in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), offering an independent evaluation of the city's public schools.
Every public school in San Francisco is profiled. The middle and high school books include sections on: academics, building and grounds, test scores, school safety, neighborhood and Muni safety, discipline, staff, student body, extracurricular programs, parent participation, libraries, computers and counseling. In addition, the books rank all schools based on a dozen different factors. In the back of each book is a glossary of the school district's programs and educational buzzwords and terms, as well as a phone directory of the central offices of the SFUSD, the PTA and other organizations.
The books were published in time to assist parents during the school-choice season, when parents submit Optional Enrollment Requests to the school district. The district's schedule for optional enrollment begins November 6 and ends January 5, 1996 for the 1996-97 school year.
Rees says the idea to publish the guidebooks began with his experience. "After I learned about the opportunity to choose a school, I was disappointed to find almost nothing in print comparing the schools. All my information came from my own first-hand observations of schools, and the comments and advice of friends. Given the importance of the decision and the difficulty even experts have in assessing schools, I understood how valuable a factual, independent source of printed information could be."
According to Rees, Publishing 20/20 researchers spent approximately six months interviewing principals and staff, and integrating data from public sources to assemble relevant information about each school. In addition to the sections describing academic offerings, the guidebooks cover more controversial topics, including the condition of school buildings and grounds; school and neighborhood safety, based on police, school and Muni reports; and the degree of difficulty getting into a school via optional enrollment, based on ethnicity.
"Our reporters and editors made every effort to work with District officials," says Rees. "Almost all have been ready, willing and able to provide us with the information we requested ... even if they were initially skeptical of the notion of a guidebook itself. But our point of view is not that of the school district's. This is the strength of the books -- they offer a multifaceted and independent evaluation of our public schools."
The three books, Choosing a Public Elementary School for Your Child in San Francisco, Choosing a Public Middle School for Your Child in San Francisco, and Choosing a Public High School for Your Child in San Francisco are available in local bookstores for $14.95 each. Publishing 20/20 can be contacted by writing to 555 DeHaro Street, Suite 380, San Francisco, CA 94107. The phone number is (415) 487-8190.
School Board Approves Creation of African American Curriculum
By Max Millard
Since January 1995, when Keith Jackson joined Steve Phillips on the San Francisco Board of Edu-cation -- making a total of two African Americans out of the seven members -- the board has taken a quantum leap in its sensitivity toward issues affecting the black community.
The latest evidence of this was shown Tuesday night at the board's meeting at Everett Middle School, where a procession of African American parents, grandparents and activists came to the microphone to speak in support of the Educational Equity Act, authored by Phillips and Jackson. The act, scheduled for a vote that evening, proposed to give "particular attention to the educational needs of African American students."
Among its specifics: "the creation of an African American curriculum and possible immersion school," the establishment of an African American community and parent resource center, and computer access for all students living in public housing.
With the exception of one irate white man in the audience, who attempted to disrupt the proceedings, the mood of the 200-plus attendees was overwhelmingly in favor of the act. After a brief debate, the board voted 5-1 in favor. The lone dissenter, Jill Wynns, pointed out that while she supported the proposal, she objected to its wording, because it seemed to commit the school district to a financial obligation before the budget was finalized.
Phillips, the board president, and Jackson, the vice president, drew praise for their proposal from a wide spectrum of the community. Pilar Mejía, principal of Cesar Chavez School and a spokesperson for the Latin American Teachers Association, declared that "on behalf of Latino teachers, we support an African American centered program because we know what it's like to maintain our culture and our language in the schools. . . . The only thing missing from the Educational Equity Act is that the district must hire teachers who are qualified to teach an African American centered program." The audience warmly applauded. Song and dance
But the biggest cheers came for another Latino, San Francisco School Superintendent Bill Rojas. He answered the budgetary question by saying: "When one speaks about the budget, this is a song and a dance that we hear all the time: `We can't do it -- we don't have the money.' As a great friend of mine once said. . . it is not so much that we don't have the money, it's just that we don't have the will.
"This year, the governor and the guys in Sacramento will wait until the very last minute, and then send the proposed budget. You're going to pass the school budget again, and you still don't know what it is. Yet we'll be able to start new schools and make other plans, because 99 percent will be as it was projected."
He estimated that the new series of programs would cost $10 million. adding: "We certainly know that these youngsters, in a half-billion-dollar budget, are not going to break us. We also know that the governor has proposed giving more money to education. . . because the economy is better. So we expect a 3 percent overall rise financially." Almost civil
Rojas said that if the board were to wait until July, as Wynns had suggested, "I'm afraid you won't have anything done." He concluded: "This is not just a nice piece of paper. This is something that gets us to a status of being almost civil to our kids."
Another strong backer was Dan Kelly, one of the board's two white members. He said that his only problem with the act was that it didn't go far enough. Whereas it called for "a maximum class size of 25" for kindergarten through 3rd grade, Kelly proposed changing the wording to state: "targeting the reduction of class size to the range of 15-20 students for grades K-3."
Said Kelly: "Those who sat through the many meetings we have had over the inadequacy of our schools, about the consent decree. . . have heard audiences like this one stand up and say: `Where's your commitment to academic excellence for our children?' I think this proposal is part of our commitment to that goal. I propose that this district show that whether our resources are adequate or not, we do everything we can to achieve that goal-." His amendment for reduced class size was included in the final version, which was approved by the full board.
Other provisions of the Educational Equity Act were:
Access to a seventh period for high school and middle school students;
All-day kindergarten classes;
A resource center in conjunction with the IRISE Project, an academic excellence proposal that targets African Americans, co-authored by James Taylor, principal of Martin Luther King Middle School.
Just before the vote was taken, Phillips delivered an eloquent appeal about the need for a specifically African American curriculum.
"We have a Filipino Education Center, a Chinese Education Center, a Mission Education Center that targets Latinos, a Chinese immersion program, a Korean immersion program, and a Spanish immersion program," he said. "African Americans have a culture that's equally worthy of respect and resources. No melting pot
"This is a beautiful, diverse city. That diversity is one of its greatest strengths. I see the proposal in that vein, that spirit -- how we allocate our resources to meet different cultural communities within San Francisco. To those who fear the whole concept of division: I don't subscribe to the melting pot, where all the different colors just blend together. My vision is of a rainbow, where each stripe retains its color and vibrancy and identity when it's placed side by side with the other colors."
Also voting in favor of the act were the board's two Asian American members, Leland Yee and Angie Fa. Carlota del Portillo was absent.
In a follow-up interview, Phillips said that before the Educational Equity Act can be fully implemented, "we have to look at the physical impact of the governor's budget, and sit down with the teacher's unit. We will also have to do some realignment of dollars. We have a few million dollars for resource teachers, who are not in a classroom. They're paid for out of the desegregation consent decree. So we can reallocate those to free up some more money."
The reduction of class size to 15-20 students, he said, is "a goal. That's where we want to go, so we're trying to make a policy statement."
But the bottom line, said Phillips, is that "we plan to put most of it (the Educational Equity Act) in place this fall."
Parents in Uproar Over Dilapidated Conditions at Gloria R. Davis School
By Max Millard
On September 6, 1995, the press was invited to attend the opening day of classes at the Gloria R. Davis Middle School, 1195 Hudson Avenue in Bayview-Hunters Point. An alternative school with an emphasis on science and math, it was touted by the San Francisco Unified School District as a state-of-the-art facility, where everyone wore school uniforms, students were called "scholars," and there was a computer for every child to take home.
The articles that appeared in the mainstream press the next day were overwhelmingly positive, despite a low-keyed admission that the school had a few physical problems to be worked out, such as the lack of a cafeteria, lockers, or proper plumbing facilities. Still, these were depicted as minor issues, to be quickly resolved. One of the school's strengths, it was stressed, was the involvement of many parent volunteers. The Parents Association was given its own room in the school, where the members could meet regularly.
On August 12, 1996, the press was invited back to the school, but this time for another reason -- to get a first-hand look at a building that is far from ready to receive 330 students, nearly double the number of its first year. It still has no cafeteria, no lockers, unpainted walls, a boiler that needs replacing, and inadequate plumbing, along with the added threat of possible asbestos contamination.
Among those who took the walk-through tour were four prominent African Americans: Steve Phillips, president of the San Francisco Board of Education; Keith Jackson, the board's vice president; Gwendolyn Westbrook, president of the Black Leadership Forum; and Diane Mooring, president of the school's Parent Association. Shocked
"When it opened last September, we were shocked," declared Mooring, whose daughter is about to enter her second year at the school. "At that time, we decided as parents that we were going to give the school district the benefit of the doubt that they were going to come through as they had promised."
But after 11 months of inaction, she said, "we feel it's time to expose the school district."
In meetings with Superintendent of Schools Bill Rojas and other school district officials, she said, the parents were promised that there would be running water on the first floor, lockers and a cafeteria by March 1996. The deadline came and passed.
"The school district had the audacity to send used gym lockers from another school, that were beaten up and dirty," said Mooring, her voice ringing with anger. "The parents voted and decided that we weren't going to accept second-hand equipment any longer."
The rehab, she said, finally began in June. "We were told that by August 15, the construction would be finished, except the boys' and girls' bathrooms. Those would be completed by August 28, the day the school opens. Then we found out that we will not have lockers on time. And still no cafeteria."
The parents, said Mooring, began asking themselves: "Did the school district do this because we're in Bayview-Hunters Point? Another question is: Who do we hold accountable for something like this? No one seems to want to address that question." Immediate Action
Phillips and Jackson were so disturbed by what they saw in the walk-through that they introduced a resolution at the August 13 meeting of the Board of Education that the school district "take immediate action to address the full concerns of the parents at Gloria R. Davis Middle School."
With Superintendent Rojas at his usual seat at center stage, the Board of Education postponed the other items on its long agenda that night to discuss the situation at the school. A parade of audience members came to the microphone to speak on the issue.
Gwendolyn Westbrook described the school as being "in horrible shape," with floors "made of scrap material. None of it matches. The tile on the wall is mismatched."
She noted that during the walk-through, she turned on the faucet and saw that the water came out brown. "I think the school needs to be torn completely down," she said. "The kids do not need to be in that school, period."
Charles Walker, a building contractor in Hunters Point, was even more vocal. "Have any of you seen the school?" he demanded of the board. "It's just terrible how you're cheating our people. . . Try putting it in the Sunset, and see what the white people will tell you."
Recalling the asbestos scare at the school, he said, "When they came out and found out there was asbestos, they told the men they don't have to work. Then why are the children playing in it? This isn't something that can be put off to tomorrow. This has to be done today." Hand-Me-Downs
Former Deputy Mayor Rotea Gilford rose to the microphone to tell about growing up poor in East Texas, "where me and my family always got the hand-me-downs. It seems to me that if something is going to be provided to the school, it should be new. . . . I think that the consideration ought to be that we think enough of our children and scholars that we provide them with something they can be proud about."
Mooring scolded Rojas for the school district's grudging attitude toward improvements. "We as parents were willing to paint the woodwork in the classroom," she pointed out. "But we were told that we could not. Subsequently, we found that parents in another school were allowed to. Now it won't be painted until at least the summer of 1997."
She continued: "You may think that we are only concerned about little things, but. . . every one of our scholars subconsciously absorbs the disarray of their surroundings and wonders why they don't deserve to have a better school."
After hearing the speakers, Rojas appeared willing to meet his critics halfway.
He rejected the notion that the school's water is unsafe, or that traces of asbestos pose a threat. The school, he said, had been "tested and determined to be at a safe level." However, he agreed to hire an "independent industrial hygienist" to do new tests of the water and air "by the middle of next week." He promised that if "there is any safety issue at hand that puts a single child at risk, I'll order that that school be immediately closed. . . . Issues of safety and health are not negotiatiable at all." Cosmetic Things
Brushing aside criticisms that the repair work was proceeding too slowly, Rojas said that "sometimes in three days the change is dramatic. A lot of cosmetic things can be done at the last minute."
Because of the strict time constraints given the speakers at the board meeting, the parents were unable to address another controversial issue about the school -- the bureaucratic barriers faced by teachers who want to transfer to the school.
Mooring, who was elected by the other parents at the school as their representative, described the situation in a letter to Rojas last week:
"Our chosen professors seem to have been spirited away and we want to know why! There even seems to be a delay with contracts for some of our professors from last year. . . . it seems that after we go through the process of interviewing prospective professors to teach our children and choose the ones we feel will best fit within our vision, something happens to the paperwork and the applicants. Three of our chosen applicants have been mysteriously placed at other sites. . . . In each case the chosen professors would call daily to see if they had gotten the job."
In response to the parents' complaints at the August 13 board meeting, Rojas promised that by September 15 -- two and a half weeks after the school's opening -- the remodeling would be complete on the main building, the gymnasium, the exterior painting, the bathrooms, and the library. By that time, he said, the boiler would be replaced, the cafeteria finished, and new lockers brought in. Grumbled
He grumbled slightly about the necessity of purchasing new lockers and furniture. "Some people think they can only work with a new desk," he commented, noting that he still had the old desk of his predecessor. "I'm willing to discuss new desks, new chairs, new books, new computers for the kids," he conceded, adding: "That's an area that you may have to educate me some more on." Also at the meeting, he offered to take a walk-through of the school on August 15.
After that visit, and further consultations with parents and school board members, Rojas told the Sun-Reporter on August 16 that asbestos and lead testing will be completed by approximately August 21, and that if the school doesn't get "a 100 percent clean bill of health from these multiple independent sources," the students will begin the school year at other facilities, such as Visitation Valley School and Potrero Middle School.
The delay in getting a cafeteria, explained Rojas, was largely the fault of the Office of Regulatory Services in Sacramento. "They are regulators, and there's a million rules. They have had the cafeteria plans since at least last May. It looks like they're getting close to sign-off." Thumbs-down
But Rojas' plans to transfer the scholars temporarily to other schools got an overwhelming thumbs-down from the parents at a public meeting on August 18, when they met with members of the board of education at the Martin Luther King Middle School. The parents insisted that sixth and seventh graders not be split up or transferred.
Nor will school district pursue another option it had considered, of temporarily transferring classes to bungalows -- modular classrooms -- at the Earl P. Mills Center, across the street from the school.
Instead, the school's floors will be torn out and replaced. And if the school passes the health inspection, all the other promised improvements will be put into place, and the school will open on September 16. In the meantime, the scholars will remain at home, provided with schoolwork packages to study on their own. Later, they will make up the missing days by attending classes on Saturday.
If the health inspection reveals possible danger, new plans for the school will need to be made. The situation continues to develop on a day-by-day basis.
The Parents Association is seeking more parents and community activists to attend the emergency meetings and to get involved with the Gloria R. Davis School. For more information, call the school at 695-5390.
Parents, Teachers Denounce School District for Interference at Gloria R. Davis School
By Max Millard
The Gloria R. Davis Middle School in Bayview-Hunters Point, hailed as a high-tech, state-of-the-art facility when it opened in September 1995, has several qualities that set it in a class by itself.
With its emphasis on science, math and computers, it is the only alternative middle school in the neighborhood. Close to 45 percent of its students are African American, the maximum allowed under the city's court-ordered desegregation plan. It has a popular and respected African American principal, ReJois Frazier, now in her second year but still with interim status. It has a strong, vocal parents' group. And the school has a widely publicized history of physical neglect by the San Francisco United School District.
During its first academic year, the school was located at 1195 Hudson Avenue, the site of the old Jedediah Smith Elementary School. As a result of poor planning and lack of responsiveness from the school district, it went through the entire year without a cafeteria, lockers, or proper plumbing facilities, despite repeated promises and broken deadlines. Last summer, while the school district was rushing to complete the renovations in time for the second year, unsafe levels of asbestos were discovered, along with possible lead contamination in the water.
After weeks of indecision, the school district finally decided the cleanup could not be completed on time. With much luck, it quickly discovered an unused commercial building at Third Street and Evans Avenue that was available for lease, and could be converted into a temporary school.
More than 200 parents showed up to examine the building, and gave their general approval. It opened on September 16, two weeks after the academic year had begun. The school district is now planning to have the old building ready by next August.
By most accounts, the person most responsible for steering the school smoothly through its series of crises has been Principal ReJois Frazier, a product of Bayview-Hunters Point with a doctorate in education. Acting as a buffer between the rancorous parents' association and the office of Superintendent Bill Rojas, she reportedly enjoys the overwhelming support of the teachers, staff and parents. But early this year, the school district advertised for a permanent principal for the school, and feelings are running high that Frazier is likely to be replaced. Blamed the principal
"Since the story broke about the asbestos and the lead, they have blamed it on the principal, like she's the one who did everything," said Gwendolyn Westbrook, president of San Francisco's Black Leadership Forum, who has been involved with the school since the beginning. "We're trying to stop them from railroading her out of there."
George Palen, a seventh grade teacher at the school, said of Frazier: "She has the highest support from the staff. She's certainly better than any other administrator I have worked for. . . . I can't see a good reason why he won't choose her, but there are obviously reasons out there. . . . I've heard the comment that Rojas would like the principal to be able to control the parents. I think that is inappropriate, and I think that the parents need to be an independent body and speak out for the good of their scholars."
Sixth grade teacher Akiyu Hatano estimated that out of the school's 16 certificated teachers, "I would count 14, maybe 15" who support her. "Of the other staff, I'd say everybody but one or two supports her. . . . The parents support her too. None of them has ever expressed concerns about Dr. Frazier to me."
Carol Ingram, who serves a triple role at the school as a teacher's aide, a parent, and vice president of the parents' association, reported: "I can tell you from a staff point of view and from talking to other principals and other teachers, frankly, except for 135 Van Ness Avenue (headquarters of the school district), I have not been able to find anyone who's had a bad thing to say about ReJois." Not able to cut it
The elected president of the parents' association is Diane Mooring, an abrasive and outspoken critic of the school district. "From the comments that we have heard since last year to the present time, Dr. Frazier has not been able to cut it as the principal of Gloria R. Davis, because the parents are vocal, because of our concerns for our children, and because of the health and safety concerns of 1195 Hudson," Mooring asserted.
"We have always asked: how can anyone control the parents of any school, when the school district talks about parent involvement and parent empowerment? We feel that they're using Dr. Frazier as a scapegoat. We ask the question: Just what has Dr. Frazier done that the superintendent would not place her as the principal of Gloria R. Davis? She's the only person who has the vision for our school and for our scholars."
In a March 3 letter to Superintendent Rojas, Mooring and Ingram wrote: "The selection process for the hiring of principal was tainted considerably" and added, "We know that candidates were told that Gloria R. Davis was in need of a new principal, someone to turn the school around."
The hiring process for principals is handled by the school district's Department of Human Resources, which has a set of written guidelines. Under the guidelines, Human Resources advertises the position, reviews the applications, and then selects a certain number of qualified candidates to be interviewed. The candidates -- 10, in this case -- are first interviewed by a Site Committee, consisting mainly of parents and staff members from the school. The Site Committee then ranks the candidates and recommends their top choices to the Central Office Committee, which is headed by school district officials and includes a neutral observer.
The guidelines state: "The Central Office Committee will interview the candidates referred to it by the Site Committee and recommend at least three (3) to the Superintendent in rank order. The Superintendent will interview the finalists and make a recommendation to the Board of Education."
The parents for the Site Committee were chosen by a special election among all the parents, carefully monitored by the school district. Six were elected, including Mooring and Ingram. They were told by Human Resources that no parent from the school would be part of the Central Office Committee.
But one parent who ran for the Site Committee and lost, Craig Martin, was mysteriously named to the Central Office Committee as the parents' representative. Totally outraged
"When everyone on the site committee found out, we were totally outraged," said Mooring.
Asked why he was named to represent the parents after being rejected by the parents themselves, Martin responded, "You'll have to ask the superintendent. I was asked if I would be on it, and I said I would." He admitted to being at odds with the parents' association. "I don't agree that every time you see the superintendent in a meeting, you call him a liar to his face. They take issue with me because I'm not disrespectful to the superintendent."
When Human Resources Director Ligaya Avenida was asked how Martin got appointed, she said the parents' voting was handled by another division of the school district, and "they don't give us all the results of the voting." Cynthia Le Blanc, associate superintendent of Human Resource, who chose Martin, echoed, "I am not aware of any voting." She continued: "In terms of process, persons who serve on the Site Committee should not serve on the Central Office Committee."
Teacher Akiyu Hatano, a member of the Site Committee, noted that "there were two district officials. . . who came and sat through all of the interviews that we did, to make sure that we were absolutely asking all the same questions to all the candidates. . . And I asked, could one of us from the site go as an observer to watch the Central Office Committee interview the second-round candidates? And we were denied that request. . . . Their response was that they already planned on having a neutral observer. But we never had a clear answer on who was in that room and who that observer was." Confidentiality
When Le Blanc was asked by the Sun-Reporter for the name of the neutral observer, she replied: "One of the things that we abide by is confidentiality. It's not good practice to reveal who's on the committee. Once the selection process has been completed, that's another issue. . . . We run a very careful process. We follow our guidelines."
Gail Kaufman, the school district's public relations director, said there was no reason for parents and teachers to be concerned about alleged improprieties, because "all the guidelines have been followed in each and every one of the schools." She stated: "My understanding is that the superintendent has to choose someone who was chosen by the Site Committee." Under further questioning, she emphasized: "`There's no doubt that the process will be followed."
But follow-up calls with Avenida and Le Blanc produced a very different message -- that the Site Committee and the Central Office Committee are only advisory, and have no binding power upon the superintendent.
Avenida said that even a candidate who was ranked near the bottom by the Site Committee would not necessarily be excluded from getting the job.
"It's very unlikely, but I think that person could be interviewed and could be considered, depending on the superintendent's prerogative and what he's looking for," said Avenida. Le Blanc agreed. "That could be a possibility," she said. "The superintendent always holds the prerogative of appointment."
The city's public school principals and site administrators are represented by the United Administrators of San Francisco. The union's executive director, Bill Castellanos, pointed out that "the district guidelines are guidelines, not necessarily rules or regulations. . . . The role of the superintendent is that he has the flexibility to select anybody." Unusual at best
Castellanos noted, "We have been having problems with consistent applications of those guidelines. We are having continuous discussions with the school district." He characterized the method by which Craig Martin was chosen as "unusual at best. Those are the kinds of issues that require us to have ongoing discussions with administration."
On the confidentiality issue, he remarked, "You would think that when you put the Central Office Committee together, that the neutral observer would be identified. A representative of the district should not be considered neutral."
He conceded that such behavior by the school district "isn't identified in our contract as an issue that is grievable. But we have to think seriously in terms of adding it to our contract." That would be difficult, he admitted.
Ingram gave other examples of problems at the school caused by outside forces and said, "There are a lot of little things like this, that are like burrs under the fur of an animal, and you keep trying to pick at them to try to get them out. There are so many things they try to disrupt. . . . I don't understand why there has been so much outside interference in the school."
The Site Committee held its interviews for the permanent principal's job on February 18, and the Central Office Committee two days later. The school district has not announced when the final selection will be made.
Hatano, who was described by Craig Martin as "probably the best teacher in the school," expressed hope and concern that the district would make the right decision. "Morale is quite low, with people worrying about the school community, and worrying about ReJois, and worrying about the children," she said. "And I think it's nothing short of miraculous that we're moving forward as we are, and that the staff is still a coherent team."