Bill Gates’ foundation awards $6.9M to S.F.-based charter school group

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has showered a San Francisco-based charter school organization with $6.9 million — on top of $3.8 million granted three years ago — so they can continue to open new high schools that replicate its arts-and-technology model.

Envision Schools, an educational nonprofit, opened up its first charter in Marin County in 2003. In San Francisco, it has two campuses: one in San Francisco’s Ingleside district, City Arts and Technology High School, or CAT, which opened in the fall of 2004, and Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School, which opened its doors in Bernal Heights in the fall of 2005. Envision also opened a high school this year in Oakland.

There are plans for four more Bay Area schools, according to Envision CEO Daniel McLaughlin, one in Hayward, one in Oakland and two other locations that have yet to be determined. Five other schools are also on the drawing board for other urban areas in the state, he said.

One of the selling points for Envision schools is a focus on arts and technology, which are incorporated into all of the classes.

“What differentiates us is that we’re achieving very high test scores,”McLaughlin said, “at the same time achieving very high levels of people thinking with creativity.”

The Gates Foundation sees great promise in Envision, spokeswoman Maria Groark said. “We gave them an earlier grant in 2003, and with those dollars, we’ve seen some fantastic results. These are great schools, it’s important that there are more of them.”

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate with less oversight and restrictions than conventional public schools. For example, charter schools do not have to hire union teachers and can create their own curriculum. The schools are held accountable for student achievement on state standardized tests.

beslinger@examiner.com

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