Students entering continuation education must be at least sixteen years of age and the majority have completed two years of high school. The SFUSD process of referring students to alternative schools focuses on low-credit juniors and incorporates referral forms that provide background information about the students.
DHS has the capacity to serve 274 students based on a student-to-teacher ratio of 25:1 for twelve general education teachers, and 12:1 for two Special Education teachers who are in the classroom. Our faculty also includes a Resource Specialist Program position with caseload of twenty-eight students who are integrated within, not on top of, our existing student body. In addition, the school funds a full time Resource Specialist position in order to provide adequate case management. On the day of the California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) count for 2017, Downtown’s total student enrollment was 169. Because our enrollment typically increases later in the school year as schools identify students who need an alternative, the district has kept us fully funded even when our counts on CBEDS day are below capacity.
DHS draws its student population from all over San Francisco, but primarily the southeast quadrant of the city. Because of the rapid rate of gentrification in San Francisco, there has been some shifting in the neighborhoods where our students reside. Fewer students than before come from the Mission District, where the working-class Latino residents who have historically characterized the community have been experiencing a tremendous amount of displacement. A larger number than before live in the Excelsior District, a working class neighborhood considered to be the last un- gentrified neighborhood in San Francisco. A significant percentage of our students have always been and continue to be from Bayview Hunters Point, the neighborhood with the lowest median family income, highest unemployment rate, and greatest concentration of public housing in the city. Other students live in parts of the Potrero Hill neighborhood where we are located, one of many San Francisco neighborhoods where wealthy areas border public housing and more impoverished areas. We also serve students from the Tenderloin and South of Market communities. Because DHS serves students from across San Francisco, we are not a community or neighborhood school, and pre-existing tensions among various groups outside of school—between gangs, neighborhoods, or housing projects—sometimes make their way onto campus.
The chart below highlights Downtown’s racial and ethnic representation in comparison to the district’s secondary school enrollment. While many African American and Latino families are being pushed out of San Francisco by the lack of affordable housing, our school continues to serve primarily black and brown students. Our disproportionately high numbers of the demographic groupings that the SFUSD most struggles to serve, as compared with the school district at large, present us with the unique challenge of meeting the needs of the students that the SFUSD most struggles to serve. For example, our percentage of African American students is more than three times that of SFUSD high schools and our percentage of Latinos is almost twice the average, while our percentage of Asian students is approximately one-ninth of other district high schools. Further, the percentage of students receiving Special Education services at DHS is almost two and a half times that of other SFUSD high schools and we have eight times the proportion of foster youth. While the district works to implement large-scale initiatives designed to close the achievement gap, our school is entirely shaped—and driven—by the fact that this chasm has yet to be bridged.
One number in the district data that we question is the percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged youth, which is based on qualification for free or reduced lunch and parent/guardian education level below a high school diploma. DHS qualifies for the Community Eligibility Provision that provides free breakfast and lunch to all students. Most families no longer fill out lunch forms that would designate them as socioeconomically disadvantaged, but in our experience, the vast majority (more than 90%) of our students would qualify as such.
Downtown High School employs twenty-one certificated staff consisting of:
2—Resource Specialist Program Teachers
1—Instructional Coach (part-time)
1—Wellness Center Coordinator
1—School Nurse (part-time)
We employ thirteen classified staff members comprised of:
1— Community Health Outreach Worker (CHOW)
Our program staff is:
1—After School Program Coordinator
At DHS, we work to have a staff that, to the greatest extent possible, reflects the diversity of our students. We consciously outreach to candidates from underrepresented ethnic groups when we have open positions. Experience working with low-income youth of color is a priority in our hiring. It is because of conscious effort that our staff is more diverse than district norms.