A troubled school in the Portola neighborhood has parents and teachers pointing fingers at administrators, but community organizations and San Francisco Unified School District officials say the school is making slow strides.
Martin Luther King Academic Middle School has seen its fair share of troubles. According to a report in The Bay Citizen, 149 police calls for service were made to the school last school year, including 13 batteries and 12 fights. Half of the school’s 525 students are Asian, with most of the remainder being Hispanic or black students.
Dozens of parents and teachers turned out at the school Tuesday afternoon to air their grievances about a potentially harmful environment for teachers and students, which they say is created by the administration.
“Some schools develop a protocol that if a student insults a teacher there is a known punishment and all teachers, students and security are on board,” said Allan Brill of the United Educators of San Francisco, the teachers union. “But the first thing this administration did was do away with that protocol.”
Brill said violent outbursts at the school are exacerbated by strife between teachers and administrators. Principal Natalie Eberhard was appointed as the school’s top administrator last fall. A similar protest was held at the school in May to criticize administrators and shed light on complaints that the school violated rules requiring safe and healthy work environments.
District officials acknowledged that suspensions have increased at the school and said they agree strong leadership is needed.
“The district has clear expectations for student behavior set forth in the student handbook, and the principal has enforced the appropriate consequences for misbehavior,” the district said in a statement. “In the case of MLK, student suspensions did increase as the administration began greater enforcement of expectations for student behavior. In some instances, parents of students who have been given consequences have been upset about these and other consequences and have in turn challenged the principal on the matter.”
The district said the school’s counseling department was restructured to better serve needs of the students.
The Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and an onlooker at Tuesday’s protest, criticized the group’s message and said teachers and the community should look for ways to help students and not quarrel with the principal.
“Working collaboratively with parents, community, administration and students is the only way to solve the problem,” Brown said. “These children are underserved by their family and community, they’re not ready to learn. And then on the other hand we’ve got teachers and administrators looking the other way rather than disciplining them.”