San Francisco Unified School District still learning to pay attention to community

Officials from the San Francisco Unified School District found out this week what happens when they don’t follow their own lesson plan.

You know, like the one that includes community outreach, parent involvement and the push for neighborhood schools.

Just a few days ago, residents in The City’s Inner Sunset neighborhood became alerted to a “proposal” by the school district to relocate a program for troubled youth — students who have gone through the courts for drugs, alcohol and other disciplinary problems — into an abandoned school site on Seventh Avenue near Irving Street, smack in the heart of the community.

A hurried meeting was arranged by officials of the school district, program directors and members of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors, a gathering that went from bad to worse when residents were informed that the proposal, in fact, was a done deal, and that the district planned to expand the school from 30 to 150 students over time.

“The passions are really high in this room because people feel we’re not getting answers, we’re not getting the feedback we want,” said Andrea Jadwin, head of the neighborhood association. “The families here feel that they are being squeezed and the district hasn’t thought out how this might work.”

It didn’t help that district officials acknowledged that they hadn’t involved the neighborhood groups prior to making their decision last month, or that such issues as security, staffing levels or general oversight of the school were still being “worked out.”

For community residents, who include a large number of young parents, it was a matter of getting worked up — following the recent news that a majority of families in the district did not get their preferred schools in the annual lottery process. The Inner Sunset is home to two of the more coveted elementary schools in The City, Clarendon and Alice Fong Yu, yet to hear the parents tell it, they’ve all been shut out of getting their own neighborhood selections.

The backlash against the “at risk” youth school, currently called the Principals Center Collaborative and located in aging bungalows on 43rd Avenue and Judah Street, is not your typical NIMBY fight in San Francisco. The Inner Sunset neighborhood is generally considered a left-leaning extension of the Haight, which is why it was gerrymandered into the liberal boundaries of District 5.

The community is also an education mecca of sorts, being home to UC San Francisco Medical Center, one of the top medical institutions in the United States, and where thousands of students, nurses and researchers parachute into (well, actually many drive, much to the neighbors dismay) each day.

So, if any district might welcome a school using innovative programs to help troubled youths find their footing away from courts, incarceration and truancy, it would probably be the Inner Sunset, a thought voiced by more than one parent.

But that would still require their knowledge and input, two things missing from the school district’s machinations up to this point. The school site already has been a sore spot for the neighborhood, being home in recent years to Gateway and Newcomer high schools, one that moved and one that went away entirely.

Yet the “at risk” part of the new planned school has the community questioning just who is at risk.

“We’ve been a dumping ground for rotating high schools,” one parent said. “We had no say in Gateway, no say in Newcomer and now we have no say here.”

Judging by the level of rancor at the meeting, the district’s plan is likely to be altered. Let that be a lesson.

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