Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA – March 25, 2015

by George J Elbaum Gateway High School is a small (450 students) charter school which focuses on small class size, high academic standards, and a close student-to-faculty relationship, as well as a strong partnership with its students’ families and community.  Considering the unusual demographics of the student body, which reflect the diversity of San Francisco, the results are truly amazing:

  • More than 75% are students of color
  • More than 40% are the first in their family to attend college
  • More than 25% have a diagnosed learning disability
  • 45% fall below the poverty line
  • Yet more than 96% have gone to college, double the California average!

This success is reflected in Gateway being currently one of seven schools featured on the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works website, being named one of Newsweek’s 2010 Best Public High Schools (only 6% of all public schools in the U.S. are so named), and being designated as a California Distinguished School and a 21st Century School of Distinction. What accounts for this amazing success?  The major factor is undoubtedly Gateway’s special support programs for students aimed at its mission “to send 100% of our students to college.”  Towards that goal: -Each student is paired with a faculty advisor who guides him/her through the school experience and serves as a consistent contact for families. -Gateway’s Learning Center provides support for all students, especially those with learning differences, in the forms of tutorial support, learning strategy instruction, intensive reading instruction, assistive technology, and more. -90% of students utilize Gateway’s after-school tutoring program which offers tutoring in one-on-one and small-group settings to students. -Students who are significantly below grade level in reading participate in Gateway’s intensive reading program. On average, students who complete this program increase their reading by up to four grade levels. Furthermore, from my personal observation another major factor is the relationship between Gateway’s young, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers and the students.  (The teachers spend the equivalent of 23 extra working days each year on their professional growth.) My talk at Gateway for the 10th grade humanities class was organized by humanities teacher Molly Orner, attended by teachers Lauren Slykhous, Stephen Flynn and Paul Heasman, and organized by Katie Cook of the Jewish Family and Children’s Center.

Letters from Students

Several weeks after my talk at Gateway I received a pack of letters from the students and, as has become our habit, my wife Mimi and I read the letters after dinner, excerpted phrases or statements that resonated with us, and these are listed below.

  • What especially stood out to me was “always fight for something, not against something.”
  • Golden Rule, baby 🙂
  • Opening your universe of obligations is really important in making peace.
  • I will remember what you told us about the Polish boy who changed his opinion because of your story, making anti-Semitism decrease one by one.
  • I think what you’re doing is wonderful – you stopped being silent and not only wrote books but you also speak to strangers, like us.
  • I think expression of experiences, however painful, is the only way to heal them.  I have the most profound respect for how you grew from it.
  • I liked what you said about yesterdays and tomorrows – at first, not thinking about them was a method for coping during the Holocaust, but afterwards, when doing what you loved, there were no yesterdays nor tomorrows because you lived life in the moment.
  • One student decorated his/her note with a fanciful drawing of Golden Gate bridge with “Thank” spelled out by its towers & suspension cables, the skyline of San Francisco beneath the bridge, and the bay beneath the skyline with waves, fish, and seaweed spelling out “You”. To this I can only answer: Thank you!

(Please send me first names of #1, #6, and #4 in photos below.  Thank you.)  whole class

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