Save John Swett!

Pub date April 25, 2006
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION In seeking to close the John Swett Alternative Elementary School in San Francisco’s Western Addition, the San Francisco Unified School District is making a gargantuan mistake.

We knew from the start of the evaluation process that John Swett didn’t come close to qualifying for closure or merger. By the board’s own criteria, Swett shouldn’t have been a candidate. Yet it remained, inexplicably, on the closure list.

Only now, through our own research and public records requests we made to the school district, has the rationale for the school’s closure become clear: It’s not an educational decision made in the best interests of students. It’s a property decision made in the best interests of administrators. Situated just two blocks from the SFUSD’s headquarters at 555 Franklin St., John Swett has apparently struck some administrators as an attractive target for expanding administrative offices.

Long before the unhappy coincidence of its proximity to SFUSD headquarters potentially doomed its existence, John Swett was rapidly becoming a poster child for public schools in working-class minority communities. It offers the only arts program of its kind in the district and has provided opportunities for cultural enrichment to a population to whom far too many opportunities are routinely denied. Its enrollment of 240 students was quickly approaching the facility’s full 280-student capacity, with a population reflecting the rich, diverse mosaic of San Francisco: 43 percent African American, 31 percent Pacific Islander, 14 percent Latino, and the remainder an integrated mix of whites, Asians, and others. And more curiously, if the issue at Swett was really about enrollment, the district could have looked across the street to reconcile any shortfall: Tenderloin Community School’s population is at 120 percent.

Sup. Chris Daly and I have worked hard to galvanize as much support as possible within City Hall to make the school board’s decision to save the school for students an easy one. We secured passage of an ordinance to provide $660,000 from city funds to gain John Swett a reprieve.

For neighborhoods like the Western Addition and Tenderloin, plagued by the interrelated problems of joblessness, drugs, truancy, and gun violence, the decision seems utterly counterproductive. What good are violence-prevention strategies when they are subverted by actions like shutting down John Swett School?

This battle is about setting the right priorities. It’s time to put the students first. The plain fact is that kids from minority working-class communities need good schools that are already intact more than school bureaucrats need adjacent facilities for themselves or a half-baked plan for something else. An innocent school has been unjustly condemned. Its execution is set to go. There are moments until midnight. Can we save it? SFBG

Ross Mirkarimi

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi represents District 5.