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Galileo High still reeling from ‘unjust’ transfer of longtime staff member

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Susan Kitchell was a school nurse at Galileo High for six years before her reassignment. (Photo courtesy United Educators of San Francisco)

Wounds are still raw at Galileo Academy for Science and Technology, where teachers in June complained of an oppressive administrative regime that led to the reassignment of former Principal Michael Reimer a month later.

In a show of support for the school, 18 Galileo teachers on Tuesday pleaded for the reinstatement of the high school’s nurse, Susan Kitchell, at the first Board of Education meeting of the 2017-18 school year. Kitchell was transferred out of the school in June per Reimer’s request, her former colleagues alleged.

“Galileo has a whole new administration — that’s a great place to start but that doesn’t heal all of the wounds. There’s still a lot of work to do,” said former Galileo teacher Jennifer Wong.

Wong said she left the district to teach in San Mateo in response to Reimer’s administration. “It might be too late to do right by me, but it’s not too late to do right by Susan,” she said.
Three days into the new school year, Kitchell’s position at Galileo remains vacant, leaving more than 1,900 of its students without a full-time nurse.

“I definitely want to make sure that we get a nurse in there,” said Board of Education President Shamann Walton, adding that he was concerned about the vacancy.

SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe said the district is in the process of hiring for the position.

Both Blythe and Walton said they were unable to comment on Kitchell’s transfer because it is a personnel matter. Kitchell is a member of the district’s School Health Programs; the department’s director also declined to comment.

Kitchell, who has spent six years serving Galileo’s students and more than two decades as a nurse with the San Francisco Unified School District, was reassigned to Hilltop High School. Multiple teachers denounced the transfer as a retaliatory ousting initiated by Reimer, for her involvement in The City’s teachers union.

“My work has been lauded and applauded even by the very people who have made the decision to transfer me from Galileo,” Kitchell said on Tuesday to the education commissioners. “I’m worried that this transfer is related to my role [with the union].”

Kitchell is the Union Building Representative for United Educators of San Francisco, a role that required her to assist in conflict mediation between teachers and the administration at Galileo.

“We elected her to represent us about concerns,” said Galileo teacher Jacqueline Peters. “She had to have a meeting with [Reimer] once a month and often, it was on things the staff and faculty didn’t think was fair or working well at the school.”

On Tuesday, many of Kitchell’s former colleagues decried her sudden reassignment as guided by politics, and not her ability to do the job.

“[Kitchell] was removed unjustly by a vindictive leadership,” said Vicky Ung, a social studies teacher. “They targeted her as her role as union rep, and not her actual role as school nurse.”

In fact, the 64-year-old nurse was a voice and resource to students and teachers alike. When a female student reported being sexually assaulted by another student last year, Kitchell stepped in.

“We were at wits end with what to do about the fact that she was being told [by the principal] that she couldn’t go to certain events because the boy who sexually assaulted her was going to be there,” said Curtis Chin, a science teacher. “The person we thought of to help us with this situation was Susan.”

In a separate incident, Chin said that Kitchell offered medical and emotional support after he collapsed while teaching. “I made it through the day,” he said.

Kitchell wasn’t the only Galileo employee allegedly targeted by Reimer’s administration. The school’s 72-year-old secretary, Bettie Grinnell, was threatened with an internal transfer on June 13.

Grinnell, a 45-year Galileo employee, called her near-transfer a clear example of discriminatory practices “against older staff” exercised by the school’s former administration.

“I was targeted because I’m a female and 72,” Grinnell said. “I came back because the superintendent thought I should be here.”

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