SF school leaders might limit enrollment to city residents at coveted arts school

San Francisco public school leaders are expected to decide tonight whether to restrict enrollment at a prestigious arts school to city residents only.

The proposal comes after years of concern on the Board of Education that many San Francisco students lack access to the small, highly coveted Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts. Renamed in 2010 after sculptor Ruth Asawa, known for designing iconic public fountains in The City, the school offers several hours a day of creative arts – including music, dance and theater – in addition to academic courses.

“There is tremendous artistic talent in San Francisco, and those students should be supported and prepared to apply and gain admission” to the school, said Matt Haney, the board’s vice president and a co-author of the resolution.

The board had previously imposed a 10 percent limit of students from outside San Francisco Unified School District, but that cap was “regularly exceeded,” Haney said. About 14 percent of students currently enrolled live outside The City.

Additionally, just five middle schools in San Francisco provided about 90 percent of applicants for the 2014-15 school year, and this year no students from Chinatown, Civic Center, Fillmore, North Beach, Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, Presidio, Seacliff, South of Market or the Tenderloin applied to the arts school.

“That’s because the district is not reaching out to those students…and not preparing and supporting them to apply and be successful in applying,” said Haney.

Consequently, the resolution calls for the creation of a task force that would include students, faculty and parents from the Asawa community to explore how the district can strengthen arts education in elementary and middle schools, and encourage a more diverse pool of students to apply.

A summer program to enhance the artistic skills of fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders would also be established per the resolution.

Rachel Norton, a board member who co-authored the resolution, emphasized that the board would not involve itself in the audition process for the school, an idea that was floated in the first version of the resolution. Following an outcry from the school community that felt the board was meddling in its audition process, that clause was removed.

Students who currently have applied, been accepted to and attend the school would be allowed to remain enrolled. The changes would take effect starting in the 2016-17 school year.

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