Streetwise: Modern School Days

by Frank Dunnigan
June 2018


Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -

As the academic year wraps up, it is time to remember that local schools have changed significantly from the days when many of us were in attendance. A large number of institutions, both public and private, have closed or merged, and many brand-new schools have sprung up. This month we look at some of these changes to the local educational scene.

The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is the seventh largest school district in California, educating over 57,000 students each year in 133 schools--though specific enrollment numbers are sometimes hard to come by. The district includes elementary schools (K-5), alternatively configured schools (K-8), middle schools (Grades 6-8), high schools (Grades 9-12), schools with Transitional Kindergarten (TK), and charter schools.

Public High Schools

Most people are familiar with San Francisco's long-established public high schools: Balboa, Galileo, Lincoln, Lowell, Mission, and Washington. In addition, there are newer ones that have undergone significant changes:

  • J. Eugene McAteer: Established in 1973 to replace Polytechnic High, McAteer began losing enrollment and experiencing a drop in graduation rates by the late 1990s. SFUSD voted in early 2002 to close the thirty-year-old school at the end of that academic year. In 1982, School of the Arts (SOTA) was established on the McAteer campus, separate from the original high school. SOTA relocated when McAteer was under renovation, and in 2010, it returned to Portola Drive as Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts at the McAteer Campus where it shares space with The Academy-San Francisco@McAteer.
  • Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School: Founded in 1981 and named for the Swedish diplomat, the school operates with more than 600 students on the remodeled campus of the former Anza School near Masonic Avenue.
  • Thurgood Marshall Academic High School: Founded in 1994 as a new academic college-prep high school, the campus occupies the former site of Pelton Junior High near Silver Avenue.
  • Woodrow Wilson: Opened in 1964 on Mansell Street, the school was re-purposed as Philip and Sala Burton Academic High School twenty years later and currently serves 1,300 students.

In recent years, SFUSD has also opened several smaller, alternative high schools: Academy, City Arts and Tech, Civic Center Secondary, Downtown, Five Keys Independence, Gateway, Hilltop, Ida B. Wells, Independence, International Studies Academy, June Jordan School for Equity, Leadership, Life Learning Academy, San Francisco Flex Academy, and San Francisco International.

View south above Portola Drive towards not yet open J. McAteer High School (later to become Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and Academy High School.), circa 1972 - Photographer Unknown (Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Public Charter Schools

Some of the district's charter schools--defined as publicly-funded independent schools established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a charter with a local school authority--include the following:

  • Creative Arts/Western Addition: Founded in 1994 as K-3, it expanded to K-8 in 1997, with two classes of students per grade level and is now located downtown at the site of the former Golden Gate Elementary School.
  • Gateway/Western Addition: Gateway High was established in 1998 as a college-prep institution, with a middle school added in 2011. Gateway operates alongside KIPP Academy in the 1913 building that once housed Girls High School and later, Benjamin Franklin Middle School.
  • KIPP Academy/College Prep/Bayview & Western Addition: Part of a national network of 209 public charter middle/high schools that began operating in the 1990s.
  • Mission Preparatory, Mission: Opened in August 2011 with 50 kindergarteners, the school continues to expand each year by one grade level, and at full capacity will serve 450 students in grades K-8.
  • One-Purpose, Bayview: One-Purpose is a TK-3 school serving children from high-poverty neighborhoods, with plans to grow into a TK-12 school.
  • The New School of San Francisco, Potrero Hill: A K-3 school designed by educators, parents, and community leaders in 2015.
  • Thomas Edison Charter Academy (TK-8), Mission/Noe Valley: Operating at the site of the old Edison School, this charter academy was established in 2001 as K-5, expanded to K-8 a few years later, and more recently, added Transitional Kindergarten.

View from corner of O'Farrell Street. [New Girls High School (Scott St) dpwbook5 dpw1438] Since construction in 1913, this school building has been remodeled and changed identity to Benjamin Franklin Middle School and later Gateway/KIPP Academy., Apr 29, 1913 - DPW Horace Chaffee (Courtesy of a Private Collector)

Private Schools

There are 109 private schools in San Francisco, serving 25,643 students. Approximately 50% of these schools have a religious affiliation, most often Jewish, Lutheran, or Roman Catholic. Students of color represent 56% of enrollments. All schools are co-educational except as noted below. Annual tuitions range from about $8,000 to $40,000 per student, with financial aid (AKA sliding-scale/flex-tuition) often covering 25%-40% of students. Today, there are many private schools operating with 100+ students:

  • Adda Clevenger School (122 students) is an independent school for the arts, opened in 1980, with Grades 1-8, and TK/K added more recently. The school operates in the former St. James Boys' School building in the Mission.
  • Bay School (346 students) serves students in Grades 9-12, and has been operating in the Presidio since 2004.
  • Brandeis School (400 students) is a K-8 private Jewish day school, founded in 1963 and operating on Brotherhood Way.
  • Cathedral School for Boys (265 students) is a K-8 institution founded in 1957 and affiliated with Grace Cathedral (Episcopal).
  • Children's Day School (440 students) is a pre-K-8 school located on Dolores Street. Opened in 1983, the school has more than doubled in size since then.
  • Chinese-American International School (520 students) opened in 1981, later and now operates as a K-8 at three locations.
  • Cornerstone Academy (924 students) opened as a pre-school on Lawton Street in 1975 and is now a pre-K-8 operating on three campus sites, including the old Simpson Bible College building on Silver Avenue.
  • Drew School (280 students) is an independent, college-prep high school that has been operating at its current site on California Street since 1911, with a significant campus expansion in 2001.
  • French-American International School (1,100 students) is a Pre-K-12 school, founded in 1963, operating in the Civic Center neighborhood.
  • Hamlin School (404 students) is a private K-8 girls' school established by Sarah Dix Hamlin in 1898, with roots going back to 1863.
  • Jewish Community High School (153 students) was founded in 2001 and now operates Grades 9-12 at its Western Addition neighborhood site.
  • Katherine Delmar Burke (402 students) is a private K-8 girls' school in the Sea Cliff neighborhood. Founded in Pacific Heights in 1908, the school included a high school division until 1975.
  • KZV Armenian School (122 students) was established in 1980 as a pre-K-Grade 1 school on Brotherhood Way, with additional grade levels added annually until it became K-8.
  • Lick Wilmerding (490 students)--See http://www.outsidelands.org/streetwise-lick.php
  • Lisa Kampner Hebrew Academy (107 students) opened as a pre-K-3 school in the Richmond District in 1969, later expanding to K-12, and graduating its first high school class in 1980.
  • Live Oak School (266 students) was established in 1971 as a K-5 school and expanded to K-8 in 1992. The school now operates on Potrero Hill.
  • Lycee Francais de San Francisco (1,000 students) was founded in 1967, and operates pre-K-5 at the old St. Agnes School on Ashbury Street (acquired-1996), and grades 6-12 at the former San Francisco Conservatory of Music (acquired-2005) on 19th Avenue.
  • Marin Preparatory Academy (200 students) is a TK-5 school, founded in 2008 and currently operating at the site of the former Most Holy Redeemer School in the Castro.
  • Presidio Hill (200 students) is the oldest K-8 progressive school in California, established in 1918 and operating in Pacific Heights.
  • Presidio Knolls (207 students) was founded in 2008 as a Mandarin-language immersion school, operating at the old St. Joseph School site South-of-Market.
  • San Francisco Day School (396 students) began in 1981 as a private K-2 school and expanded to K-12 after acquiring/remodeling the former Carew & English Mortuary at Golden Gate and Masonic Avenues in 1985.
  • San Francisco Friends School (400 students) is located in the Mission District and began operating in 2002, following traditional Quaker teachings.
  • San Francisco School (275 students) was founded in 1966 as Montessori in the Portola neighborhood, and is now K-8 with two classes at each grade level.
  • Stratford School (300 students) was founded in 1999 and operates as a K-8 school at 3 sites, including the former Corpus Christi and St. Emydius schools.
  • Sterne School (158 students) was established in 1976 for Grades 4-8 students who were not finding success in regular classrooms, and now operates from the former site of St. Mary's School.
  • Town School for Boys (400 students) is a K-8 school in Pacific Heights, founded in 1939, with two classes per grade level.
  • University High School (410 students) is a college-prep school established in the 1970s in Pacific Heights, with numerous expansions over the years.
  • The Urban School (420 students) is a college-prep school, founded in 1966, and operating at two sites in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
  • Waldorf School (462 students) operates as pre-K-12 at two sites: grade school in Pacific Heights and high school on West Portal Avenue at Sloat Boulevard.
  • West Portal Lutheran (500 students) was founded in 1951, with two campus sites today: Grades K-3 at 37th Avenue & Moraga (site acquired in 1974 and later rebuilt) and Grades 4-8 at the original 19th Avenue & Sloat site.
  • Zion Lutheran (153 students) is a K-8 school that has been operating in the Richmond District since 1947.

Children entering Anza Elementary School on first day of class. This school became Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School in 1981., Sep 3, 1952 - San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library

Catholic Schools

Come back next month to read a full updated column on ALL of San Francisco’s Catholic elementary and high schools.

Today, with rising housing costs and a shrinking number of school-age children, it is very likely that many more changes lay ahead for all San Francisco schools.


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Page launched 27 May 2018.

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