Peer support available for struggling San Francisco teachers 

In an age when taxpayers are increasingly asking for schoolteachers to be held accountable for a child’s success, the San Francisco Unified School District offers struggling teachers a chance to improve.

The program, known as peer review and assistance, began more than a decade ago. It was expanded in 2006 to include additional teacher mentors and a voluntary program for those who thought they needed it even if they received satisfactory remarks on reviews.

If a teacher is put into peer review and assistance by receiving a poor performance review, the troubled teacher is assigned a coach — who is also a classroom teacher — and given one year to show improvements or face dismissal.

Union contracts make it hard for districts to fire the teachers. However, many teachers who are offered assistance and a plan for improvement instead choose to leave on their own if they don’t show progress.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia said at least 12 teachers have left the district of their own accord since the program was beefed up.

In addition to work on lesson planning, coaches help struggling teachers improve their ability to engage students and help them reflect on their own practices. Much of the coaching is focused on the teaching standards set by the state.

Debra Eslava-Burton, the district’s supervisor for teacher support and development, said as many as 40 teachers can be in the peer review program at a time. All teachers qualifying for peer review and assistance are veterans.

“It’s a changing practice,” Eslava-Burton said of the profession. “If you’re used to being autonomous with 30 students in and a closed door, it’s not that anymore.”

Eslava-Burton said teachers in the program are still in the classroom receiving periodic reviews and up to 150 minutes of one-on-one time with their coaches each week. They’re not given administrative duties.

“We don’t have that luxury,” Eslava-Burton said. “They’re either in classroom and you are doing this work or we don’t have a place for them.”

For those who make it through the entire year and still receive unsatisfactory remarks, the peer assistance and review board can opt to give them another 90 days or recommend them for dismissal.

“The writing’s on the wall then,” Eslava-Burton said. “Some go through to the end, but once they know they didn’t meet exit standards, they choose to resign.”

The exact number of teachers who have been dismissed was not immediately available.

According to Dennis Kelly, president of the San Francisco teacher’s union — United Educators of San Francisco — they too want productive teachers in the classroom, but not unless there are mechanisms in place to ensure teachers can improve before losing their jobs.

“It’s a jarring thing for teacher to be told they’re unsatisfactory,” he said. “People don’t go into teaching to be unsatisfactory, they come in to do the best job for children, but when it doesn’t turn out that way, it’s jarring.”

Stages of peer review and assistance


  • Classroom teacher receives “needs improvement” assessment on performance review
  • Assigned a peer coach for one year
  • Receives up to 150 minutes of one-on-one training a week
  • End-of-year review by coach and Peer Review Panel
  • Teacher returns to classroom; receives another 90-day review
  • If the review still shows improvement is needed, the teacher is recommended for dismissal or leaves on their own

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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