The removal of San Francisco Community School principal Nora Houseman has raised concerns among parents and staff, who believe the district violated its own policy. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The removal of San Francisco Community School principal Nora Houseman has raised concerns among parents and staff, who believe the district violated its own policy. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Legitimacy of SF principal’s ouster questioned by parents, school staff

The beloved principal of a small public school in the Excelsior will not return in the fall after the school district reportedly investigated her for undisclosed allegations that were later found to be unsubstantiated, according to school sources.

Dozens of parents and staff went before the Board of Education on Tuesday calling for Nora Houseman to reclaim her position as principal of San Francisco Community School, an alternative K-8 with a focus on restorative justice that serves fewer than 300 students a year.

The school district reportedly ousted Houseman from her position after a two-month investigation found the “malicious allegations” to be false, according to school staff members who did not want to be named.

“There were allegations meant to attack her personally and professionally and they’re not true,” said one teacher who requested anonymity. “They were found [to be] completely without merit.”

The San Francisco Unified School District declined to comment on personnel matters.

At the board meeting, community members claimed the SFUSD violated a district policy when administrators removed Houseman, who had no choice but to leave and wants to return to the school, according to parents and staff.

SFC is a Small School by Design, meaning the school community selects its leader and the school district cannot under policy remove that person unless the leader is ineffective or wants to be moved, according to district policy.

The superintendent could also remove a principal under that policy by collaborating with the particular School Site Council, a process which SFC staffers say was not done.

Patrick Swillinger, a resource specialist at SFC, was one of the speakers at the board meeting who said Houseman is a prized leader with the support of the community.

“This final decision to remove Nora reflects a flawed process,” Swillinger said. “It reflects a desire to find an easy solution for a complicated situation.”

As the investigation unfolded, staff and families were left in the dark as to the nature of the allegations and the reason their principal had taken an unexpected leave of absence in April.

“We’ve never been told the truth,” the unnamed teacher told the San Francisco Examiner. “That’s what’s alarming about the district’s communication about this whole situation. There’s been so much hiding, and knowing Nora … she would just lay it on the table if she could.”

In an email obtained by the Examiner, SFUSD Assistant Superintendent Jeannie Pon wrote to school staff and families on April 7 that Houseman went on personal leave until further notice.

However, a review of the school board agenda for the month Houseman went on leave appears to indicate otherwise. Houseman’s leave is listed April 26 as a “leave of absence” rather than “personal,” which is in other instances recorded under a different section of the agenda.

According to another school staffer, Houseman was placed on administrative leave during the investigation.

Then about a week after the last day of school, Pon said in another email to the community that Houseman would not return.

“There has been harm done,” Laura Schmidt-Nojima, an instructional reform facilitator, said at the board meeting. “We held it together the last two months of school. All the graduations happened but it was really, really, really difficult.”

Pon acknowledged Houseman’s “leadership and commitment” during her tenure and said the school district will collaborate with staff and families in choosing a new leader.

“We will adhere to the Small School by Design Board Policy and the leadership selection process as outlined in the policy,” Pon said.

Houseman was a teacher at SFC for four years and principal for another four. An online petition to reinstate her as principal has garnered 23 signatures from staff, while other petitions for the community have another 150.educationNora HousemanPatrick Swillinger SchoolSan Francisco CommunitySan Francisco Unified School DistrictSFUSD

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