Guest Opinion: SFUSD management seeks to fire beloved queer mentor and math teacher

  • by John Lisovsky
  • Friday February 18, 2022
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The San Francisco Board of Education is set to vote Tuesday on whether to terminate Francisco Middle School teacher Penny Loftesness. Photo: Courtesy Penny Loftesness
The San Francisco Board of Education is set to vote Tuesday on whether to terminate Francisco Middle School teacher Penny Loftesness. Photo: Courtesy Penny Loftesness

The national teacher shortage has not spared San Francisco, which is seeing extreme difficulty filling teaching positions. "Hard to fill" subject areas, including math, face greater challenges still. It therefore surprised me to learn that a math colleague and queer mentor who teaches with me at Francisco Middle School, Penny Loftesness, had been informed by management that they will recommend to the school board that she be "non-reelected," that is, prohibited from working in SFUSD for two years. This process has nothing to do with budgetary constraints or layoffs due to lack of funding; the Education Code lets districts "non-reelect" (that is, fire) first- and second-year teachers without giving cause. Only public pressure on the Board of Education can put the brakes on this anti-math, anti-student, anti-LGBTQ recommendation by district management.

Loftesness is a warm and supportive colleague, and parents have mentioned her impactful teaching to me in meetings about our shared students. Zoom teaching was excruciatingly difficult for everyone, but parents were witness to Loftesness' efforts at maximizing engagement as we all struggled to teach and learn via iPads and Chromebooks. Parents have shared with me how impressed they were with her teaching and mentorship of their children, both online and since we've reopened schools. When polled last spring, 75% of her seventh graders indicated they wanted Loftesness to transition with them and remain their math teacher in eighth grade. Management would seem to have backed this up with their evaluations: all three formal evaluations declared her satisfactory or highly satisfactory in her teaching.

Loftesness' iconic contribution to Francisco, however, has been our Rainbow Rams lunchtime club, by far the most successful space for queer middle schoolers I've ever witnessed and perhaps the most popular club on campus. A queer parent of queer children and a foster mom besides, Loftesness' skill at creating a safe and warm space for kids has been transformative for our school. One of the bright spots I've seen in the last several years has been the increased number of trans and genderqueer middle schoolers coming out and identifying with new pronouns. Loftesness has been a vanguard for this progress, and her impact on queer students' well-being and mental health can't be overstated.

Firing Loftesness is a direct attack on the LGBTQ students of Francisco Middle School. It has no documented basis in performance deficiency. And it exacerbates our math teacher shortage in the worst way possible, by removing a teacher already beloved by students and parents. Is it retaliation for participating in the union? As the district gave no cause for her non-reelection, no one knows.

The school board must vote to ratify the decision of management at its February 22 meeting. Only public pressure will stop this disastrous decision by management. If you support retaining excellent math teachers and transformative queer mentors in our middle schools, email the school board and superintendent your support of retaining my beloved colleague, Penny Loftesness: matthewsv@sfusd.edu, alisonmcollins@sfusd.edu, gabrielalopez@sfusd.edu, mattalexander@sfusd.edu, jennylam@sfusd.edu, kevineboggess@sfusd.edu, marksanchez@sfusd.edu.

John Lisovsky has taught English, literacy, and associated elective classes for seven years, including six at Francisco Middle School.

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