While the historically black Bayview neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of children in San Francisco, public school enrollment plummeted there this past school year to its lowest level in two decades.
The decline is not new. From high teacher turnover at the schools to recent housing developments and the changing demographics of the neighborhood, the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled over at least the past 20 years to enroll students at Bayview schools for a variety of reasons.
The outcome is reflected in school district data reported to the state. Just 1,135 students attended four elementary schools and one high school in the Bayview last school year, whereas 2,365 students went to those same schools in 1996-97.
On the surface, the black population that Bayview schools have served is shrinking.
Census data shows the neighborhood’s population has grown, while black residents are leaving. According to the school district, its black student population has decreased from 10,000 people in 2005 to 4,500 at present.
But perhaps the central factor in the Bayview’s enrollment decline is the way students are assigned to public schools in San Francisco, compared to the court-enforced method of 20 years ago, when students were bussed across The City to integrate campuses.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Board of Education President Matt Haney. “It’s a consequence of most families in the Bayview not choosing to enroll in Bayview schools, which is a deep concern to the school district.”
Under a school assignment system — heavily based on test scores, and one that favors the placement choices of students who live in low-performing neighborhoods like the Bayview — parents in the neighborhood have opted to send their children elsewhere in The City.
“People have the perception of these schools as not being as excellent as they are,” said Veronica Hunnicutt, chairwoman of Mayor Ed Lee’s Hunters Point Shipyard Citizens Advisory Committee and a longtime educator. “They’re not taking the time to really visit these schools.”
In the 2014-15 school year, Malcolm X Academy and George Washington Carver Elementary each had just one parent select them as their first choices for their child to attend kindergarten, according to the school district.
Charles Drew College Preparatory Academy and Bret Harte Elementary both had the parents of five children pick them.
“If families aren’t requesting a school, the school is often under-enrolled,” Gentle Blythe, a spokesperson for the district, said in an email.
Some question whether the revitalization of public housing in the Bayview has contributed to the decline in enrollment, with new residents choosing to send their kids to schools outside of the neighborhood.
Over the last 20 years, Malcolm X Academy has suffered the most significant decline in enrollment of its Bayview counterparts.
Wedged between public housing, the elementary school enrolled 420 students in the 1996-97 school year, but enrollment has fallen every year since 1997-98, dropping to just 85 kids last school year.
Of the enrolled students, none were white, 56 were black and 76 were socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to state records.
Toni Hines, a community organizer with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth who works with the school, pointed to new developments as an issue for schools in her neighborhood of two decades.
Hines counted 10 family members who used to live in the Hunters View public housing near Malcolm X that moved out of The City in recent years as their homes were redeveloped.
With help from Hope SF, a project aimed at revitalizing public housing, some families who lived in Hunters View have been relocated into the new development alongside new tenants in market-rate and affordable units, while others have left even when given the option to return.
“They brought in different income levels of people who do not want to send their kids to Malcolm X,” Hines said.
Blythe, the school district spokesperson, also said parents choose to send their kids to school based on race, ethnicity and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Last school year, Malcolm X, Charles Drew and Carver were made up of primarily black students. Charles Drew is the most requested elementary school in the district for black families, Blythe said.
Two other Bayview schools have also experienced a decline in enrollment.
Thurgood Marshall High School had 849 students two decades ago, but just 444 in the 2015-16 school year; Harte had 401 in 1996-97, compared to 178 last year.
The San Francisco Examiner did not include the 201 students who attended Willie Brown Middle School last school year in the review of Bayview enrollment because the school was just rebuilt after being closed for four years.
During and prior to 2010-11, the school was operated as Willie Brown Academy.
With both iterations of the school included, Bayview enrollment still fell from 2,584 in 1996-97 to 1,336 in 2015-16, with some years increasing over prior years as schools opened and closed.