Federal report praises S.F. charter school’s academic achievement

Students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and different learning levels are reaching impressive levels of academic achievement at San Francisco’s Gateway High School, according to the federal government, which touted the charter and seven others nationwide in a new publication released this month.

Gateway High, which opened in 1998 as one of the district’s first charter schools, is a small high school with about 450 students, compared with some district high schools that have enrollments of 1,000 or more. With a lower student-to-teacher ratio than most district high schools, which is about 22-to-1, Gateway High promotes itself as a school where students are able to get personal attention and intensive academic support.

The charter school, which moved this year to the Western Addition, was praised for its success in closing the academic achievement gap. Gateway’s scores on state standardized tests for subgroups that have traditionally struggled academically are higher than those overall in San Francisco’s public high schools.

While only 16 percent of African-American 10th-graders districtwide scored proficient or above on the English language portion of the state test last year, 47 percent of Gateway’s African-American students passed the proficiency bar, for example. Gateway, which has slightly more learning-disabled students than the district average, also had more of the academically challenged 10th-graders — 29 percent versus 7 percent districtwide — reach proficiency on the English language portion of the state test last year.

David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education said schools such as Gateway should serve as “role models for other schools to follow.”

Gateway High’s Assistant Principal Angela Grimes started at the charter school this year after working for 18 years in Oakland’s public schools as a middle school science teacher.

“We have a very heterogeneous school population, with students of different skill levels, economic backgrounds and cultural backgrounds,” Grimes said. “I’ve taught small classes and large classes and you can tell the difference. At every level, having more teacher-student contact is very important.”

In addition to small class sizes, each student is assigned an adviser, and each adviser only works with about 10 students, Grimes said.

“We keep track of the kids’ grades, what they’re doing in school, how they’re participating or not participating,” Grimes said. “We spearhead anything that has to happen for that student.”

Gateway’s academic program is also built upon the work of Mel Levine, an internationally known researcher in neurodevelopment who is known for his “All Kinds of Minds” approach to students with learning differences.

“Gateway has demonstrated out-of-the-box thinking in reaching certain segments of the student population,” San Francisco Unified School District’s interim superintendent, Gwen Chan, said. “I’ve always been very impressed with their vision.”

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