Nonprofit wants school renamed

A San Francisco nonprofit that helped open a public school three years ago has asked the district to stop using its name on the middle school so it can open a competing charter school in The City.

Tonight, San Francisco’s school board will vote on whether to approve the charter school application.

For two decades, Aim High has operated a popular summer school program that serves low-income students. In 2003, in collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, it opened a full-time middle school based on its summer program, Aim High Academy. The district funded the creation of the new, small school with grant money from the Bill Gates Foundation that has since run out.

Key features of the school included an environmental education program, one-on-one personalized teaching and an interdisciplinary, standards-based curriculum.

The Aim High nonprofit, however, became frustrated over the lack of control they had over the school that bore the organization’s name. According to Aim High Executive Director Alec Lee, the governing board made a “difficult decision” to withdraw support from the existing Aim High Academy, which had 233 students last year, and open a charter school.

“We played a role in opening it and supporting it [Aim High Academy], but it was always a district school,” Lee said. “We also came to the realization that we had the organizational capacity to do a charter school.”

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, but they still have to administer state standardized tests.

The district will now exclusively run the school formerly called Aim High Academy, which will continue this year with a new name and location. During its first three years, Aim High Academy’s students, half of whom were African-American, one-fourth Latino and largely low-income, according to last year’s school population data, improved test scores in small increments.

Board of Education President Norman Yee said that in light of a recently passed board resolution declaring more support for small schools, such as Aim High Academy, he was “a little disappointed that they weren’t willing to work it out” with the school district.

beslinger@examiner.com

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