For eight years, Katrina Fagaragan has been a teacher on special assignment in the San Francisco Unified School District coaching educators at several campuses. Among other things, she helps prepare materials for classes specializing in early education—a critical support as schools adjust to new educational policies like transitional kindergarten.
But just weeks into the new academic year, Fagaragan was moved to a different role to teach English language development at Everett Middle School, thrusting her into an assignment involving a whole new curriculum she now has to learn as fast as she teaches it.
“I have teachers constantly emailing me with questions, wanting me to come to their class and support them,” Fagaragan said. “I’m unable to—I’m learning for myself. The best way to describe it is: it’s emotionally draining, mentally and emotionally draining.”
Fagaragan is one of at least 91 teachers who are usually on special assignment—a position that plays an important role in professional development and support for credentialed instructors—called into the classroom in the midst of a teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.
Many of the credentialed staff tapped to fill the gap are teachers on special assignment, known as TSAs. They may be reading, math, or science coaches, help people clear their credentials, and ease in new teachers to help keep them in the field.
Scores of TSAs apparently found out about their new assignments less than two days before the school year began. When they can return to their regular positions, or how many more reassignments may come, is unclear.
And that uncertainty only adds to the uneasiness of teachers like Fagaragan.
“It has really caused a lot of anxiety and stress around not knowing,” Fagaragan said. “This is not sustainable and it’s not serving our students and families the way they deserve to be served.”
As of Aug. 18, the school district had reshuffled 80 teachers on special assignment to classrooms on a part-time basis and 11 to teach in classrooms full-time, according to SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick. Credentialed staff reassigned part-time and full-time will receive a stipend of $1,500 and $3,000, respectively, under a new agreement about the emergency staffing plan.
“We greatly appreciate the commitment of our staff to ensure we had a qualified educator in every classroom on the first day of school,” Dudnick told The Standard in an email.
Teacher experience and effectiveness is linked to how students fare academically, studies have shown. Both district and Board of Education leaders have repeatedly emphasized in recent months that they are laser-focused on improving student outcomes.
Anthony Arinwine—a TSA stationed under the district’s personnel department and who served on United Educators of San Francisco’s bargaining team over teacher-on-special-assignment terms—said the nature of the 11th-hour reshuffling has been disruptive and stressful for teachers scrambling to prepare classrooms.
TSAs are looking for better communication on the plan for future assignments, which is expected to happen after a 10-day enrollment count. Salaries, which will soon be up for negotiation to increase for the first time since 2018, also figure into recruitment and stability, Arinwine said.
“It’s never ever been about not wanting to support kids,” he said. “It’s just not having enough clarity and all this uncertainty. [SFUSD] is [between] a rock and a hard place. But I also think that we can be more creative.”
Fagaragan and her family considered leaving the Bay Area due to the cost of living but stayed so she could keep a job she was passionate about. And without that, she said she’s unsure if she will ultimately stay.
Parents, too, have expressed uncertainty over who their child’s teacher will be for the rest of year, Fagaragan added.
That’s why Eric Lewis, a TSA specializing in science curricula currently stationed part-time at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle School, expects to remain there for the rest of the year. At this point, he said it may not make sense for someone else to come in with no relationships with the students now that he’s almost done with the introductory materials.
“Being asked to be either [half], full-time or resign is so incredibly disrespectful,” said Lewis, an SFUSD teacher of 25 years who last taught in a classroom in 2005. “It’s unnerving, this constant unknowing. This is just going to be the new normal at the beginning of the year.”
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