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SF public schools protest sharing space with charters

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Community members rally outside Mission Education Center Elementary School to keep KIPP Bay Area, a large charter school network, from taking over space at a school they say is vital to ESL students. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Plans to house charter schools on the campuses of two San Francisco elementary schools that serve high needs students in the Bayview and in Noe Valley have been met with strong opposition from public school administrators, parents and their supporters.

“I’m not interested in having another school co-locate with us,” said Elena Rosen, principal of the Malcolm X Academy at 350 Harbor Road, a preK-5 school currently serving some 100 students in the Bayview.

The school is expected to lose 11 of its classrooms to the New School of San Francisco, a non-profit charter school that is currently housed at 655 DeHaro St. In Noe Valley, the national nonprofit charter network KIPP Bay Area plans to open a new elementary school inside of the Mission Education Center at 1670 Noe St. next year.

“It not only is going to add extra stress to our community, but it’s going to take away the focus which should be on serving our students and families and accelerating their academic achievement,” said Rosen, addressing the Board of Education at a recent hearing.

New School was offered space at Malcolm X in 2016 but declined, and was placed in Potrero Hill instead. At the time, Deputy Superintendent Myong Leigh expressed concerns that attrition to New School from Malcolm X could result in the latter’s closure.

“Each year, their site grows. Last year they needed seven classrooms, this year they need 11,” said Rosen, adding that Malcolm X is still on a “growth trajectory” and is using vacant classrooms to meet the needs of the students it serves, including a majority African American population and many students who have been impacted by poverty and trauma.

“We have a room for art and a wellness center — those rooms look on paper like they are not being used, but we are meeting needs beyond the academic and well into the social and emotional,” said Rosen.

SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe said that the district “continues to focus on supporting the academic achievement at Malcolm X, including funding numerous student support services and providing coaching for teachers at the school.”

To an extent, the district’s hands are tied. State law requires SFUSD to offer space to charter schools that request it and serve at least 80 students.

“[Proposition 39] presents a dilemma regarding facilities use and planning in that districts are required to offer space to charter schools, including those that are authorized by the state rather than local boards of education,” she said, adding that school facilities are limited.

The school district received facilities requests from five charter schools on Nov. 1, according to Blythe.

New School has until May 1 to accept or reject the district’s offer of space — its leadership did not respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, several Malcolm X teachers joined parents, educators and labor union organizers at the Mission Education Center in a protest over the planned opening of a new KIPP campus at that school.

KIPP operates multiple schools the Bay Area, including three in San Francisco, and plans to bring some new 140 students to MEC, which is centered around serving recently arrived, Spanish-speaking immigrants and accepts placements throughout the school year.

The co-location would require MEC to give up six of its 13 classrooms, according to the school’s leadership. One of those rooms is currently used as a school and immigration resource center for parents.

“Right now we receive information about our kids. They have workshops there and they teach us how to [help] our kids in math, and every Wednesday we have a meeting there,” said a mother of two MEC students from El Salvador who gave her name as Rosa. “Right now [MEC] really a big benefit for us. We have an open door to talk about what we are getting and not getting.”

KIPP, in particular, drew the ire of labor organizers and public school advocates who supported MEC families in calling for the charter school to reject the placement offer Thursday.

Alida Fisher, Chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education and a candidate for school board, said that spaces at MEC, Malcolm X and other schools threatened by co-location are also being used for “intervention, behavioral support, tutoring and counseling” for students with IEPs and disabilities.

Allison Collins, a public school advocate who is also a candidate in the school board race, said that low-income and “black and brown” communities are more often targeted for charter school expansion than other communities.

“They are pushing into schools that serve very marginalized communities and into spaces that are giving them those extra services they need, like wellness center, cool down rooms, resource rooms, family rooms,” said Collins. “Other schools don’t have space, [and] the only sites available are spaces in black neighborhoods where schools tend to be under-enrolled because they are under-resourced.”

Citing a number of concerns including competition between public schools and charter schools over state funding, the school board unanimously rejected KIPP’s application to open the elementary school in the Bayview last November. That decision was overturned by the State Board of Education in March.

KIPP spokesperson Maria Krauter said that the proposed elementary school is expected to serve Bayview students, and that the organization was “disappointed with the placement” at MEC.

“We are committed to working collaboratively with any site we are co-located with and hopeful that eventually we will be able to be located in the Bayview, where the majority of our families reside,” said Krauter.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

This story has been corrected to reflect that KIPP is a non-profit and not a for-profit organization.

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