New school may migrate to The City

A small high school for new immigrant students, bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, could open its doors in August 2009 if it wins board approval tonight.

Internationals Network for Public Schools, which runs nine college-track schools for English learners in New York and launched a 10th in Oakland last year, applied in January to open a sister school in San Francisco. The nonprofit that runs the educational organization was launched in 2003 and has received more than $13 million in financial support from the Gates foundation.

The San Francisco Unified School District already has one high school for recent immigrants: Newcomer High School, a one-year program for students new to the English language, which enrolled 221 students last fall. However, the district has some 545 high-school-age students who are new to English, according to data from the California Department of Education.

While newcomer schools offer a “crash course” in English, Internationals provides four years of intensive, collaborative education — or more, if students need it, according to Carmelita Reyes, principal at Oakland International High School.

“If you’re a rock-star math student from China, we don’t put you in a different class from someone who struggles in math,” Reyes said. Students help one another with the language as well as the lessons, she said.

SFUSD turned its attention to small schools — learning centers with a student population typically less than 400 — after seeing an influx of charter schools during the past decade, according to school board member Jill Wynns.

“We have a large number of charter schools, given our size,” she said.

Small schools offer many of the same benefits of charters — reduced class size, more individual attention and a community feel — while allowing the district to more directly manage the school, Wynns said.

The concept of small schools appeals to parents, too. Pamela Coxson enrolled her son, Eugene, in Excelsior Middle School two years ago. She has stuck with it despite numerous name and location changes.

“He really knows his teachers, and I like the fact that all kids are in the same classes together, rather than being tracked,” Coxson said. “They don’t get all the [classroom] choices of a big school, but they get good choices.”

Creating a small school specifically for new immigrant students — whose families can feel lost and confused in a new country and school system — makes sense, said Ellie Rossiter, interim director of Parents for Public Schools.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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