Low enrollment resulted in closure of Potrero Hill’s only comprehensive high school, International Studies Academy (ISA), which had been located at 655 De Haro Street, at the end of the last academic year. The campus had experienced declining registrations for several years.
Once serving grades sixth through 12, a phase-out of middle school grades began in 2013, with the dropping of sixth grade and subsequent grades each year thereafter. In 2015/16, enrollment in remaining grades nine to 12 had fallen to 129 students, only 100 of whom were slated to continue at ISA this fall. ISA had chronically high absent rates as well. In 2015, 38 percent of the student body missed at least 10 percent of the academic year, for excused or unexcused reasons.
With enrollment at John O’Connell High School in the Outer Mission also dropping, from 451 to 353 over the previous two years, school officials merged the two schools last summer. According to Gentle Blythe, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) spokesperson, 80 of the ISA students chose to transfer to O’Connell, which is a mile away for the defunct ISA campus. The other 20 were given highest priority in choosing alternative schools. The numbers included 47 students heading into 10th grade, 41 into 11th and a dozen into 12th.
“Both communities recognized the need for larger enrollment numbers to increase access to course offerings and to bring their vision of integrated labs and project-based learning to fruition,” Blythe explained, in an email to the View.
SFUSD School Board vice president Shamann Walton said that O’Connell’s curriculum includes programs in carpentry, technology and culinary arts, in addition to college prep. “O’Connell has been innovative in its approach to high school education,” he said. “In this case, merging was most appropriate, in that the two schools shared a similar demographic.”
ISA’s closing leaves Downtown High School, a continuation school for students deemed at risk of not graduating, as Potero Hill’s only high school. Thurgood Marshall, in Bayview, is the closest to the south; San Francisco International, which serves recent immigrants, is nearest to the west, at 1050 York Street.
Walton feels there’s a need for a middle school on the Hill, and believes the numbers will be there to support it. Walton is familiar with the community, having once worked with children up to 14 years old as director of the Economic Opportunity Council of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill Family Resource Center. He singled out Bayview and Mission Bay as areas where population growth is expected and building booms are already underway.
The Potrero Annex-Terrace housing complexes have produced high numbers of public school students, even compared to other public housing. In 2014, the developments averaged .78 students per unit, and have consistently sent about 450 students to SFUSD schools.
Bayview’s public schools are at their lowest enrollment in 20 years, matching citywide trends. San Francisco’s enrollment decline is related to a dearth of kindergarten-aged children entering the public school system between 2001 and 2008. The numbers have stabilized since then, but as that cohort makes its way through high school enrollments are expected to remain muted.
According to a SFUSD report commissioned last year, by 2020 the number of high school students will increase by from 2,000 to 3,000. The study, conducted by Berkeley-based Lapkoff and Gobalet Demographic Research, also anticipates that the recent building boom will attract between 6,000 to 18,000 students over the next 25 years, depending on whether future homes are “affordable” and “below market-rate.” These types of units typically house more children. Wealthier San Francisco families tend to send their children to private schools; a quarter of the City’s students attend independent schools, a number that remained stable even during the past recession. Private school participation in San Francisco is well above the state average of nine percent.
The future of the ISA building, known as the Enola Maxwell Campus, is unknown. Blythe reported that the campus “has strong potential to house a school site in the future,” and that the SFUSD’s executive leadership team is analyzing options. That team was headed by Superintendent Richard Carranza, who recently resigned to head the Houston, Texas school system. Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh is serving as interim while the school board searches for a replacement.
The SFUSD Department of Technology has occupied the first floor of the Enola Maxwell building for several years. The department, which oversees the integration of technology into classrooms, including training teachers and employees, expanded this year as the school system increased its computer science offerings. The Enrollment Placement Center is also using the site while its 555 Franklin Street offices are being renovated, a process that’s expected to be completed by the end of this year.