S.F. board is slated to approve creation of small schools panel

Less than a year after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation halted its funding of the San Francisco Unified School District’s small schools program, Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan and the school board are aiming to revive it.

The district’s seven small schools offer students smaller classes and more individual attention at campuses with fewer than 400 students.

“[The program] sort of lost its way in the last few years; it fell by the wayside,” Board President Norman Yee said. “There was no staff focused on it.”

The former superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, was more focused on other initiatives such as creating dream schools, Yee said.

Dream schools — which originated at troubled schools with low test scores — are rigorous academies requiring students to wear uniforms, stay longer hours and attend classes on weekends.

The small schools are designed to keep youngsters from falling through the cracks as they might at a larger institution.

Pamela Coxson said her son, soon to be in the seventh grade, received the individualized attention he needed by enrolling at Aim High Academy last year.

“I know he’s getting a good education,” Coxson said. “His classes were with 25 students.”

A resolution considered at Tuesday night’s school board meeting calls for the creation of a task force to support the small schools program. Still, the plan offers no financial assistance.

In October, the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation withdrew its grant funding for the program after two years and $2.5 million.

That money was supposed to serve as a catalyst rather than a continual funding source, Gates foundation spokeswoman Marie Groark said.

School Board member Mark Sanchez said he thinks the foundation halted its support because the district failed to provide the required written policies and guidelines for the small schools program.

One reason for that failure was the lack of support from Ackerman, school board Vice President Sarah Lipson said.

“Now that we have support of [Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan], our chances are greater,” Lipson said.

Sanchez agreed, adding that the district will be in a position to return to the Gates foundation and ask for funding at a later date, once the task force is in place.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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