With nearly a third of San Francisco children attending private school these days, it was no surprise to see thousands of students at the San Francisco High School Fair.
About 2,000 students — and prospective students — packed into the cafeteria at Lick-Wilmerding High School on a recent afternoon to learn more about The City’s many high school options.
“With budget cuts, they want to give their children a better opportunity,” said Nathan Lundy, the associate admissions director for the 116-year-old Lick-Wilmerding. “I’m not knocking public schools; it’s just the reality.”
Lundy said attendance at the fair has grown substantially, from some 200 a decade ago. Most of the 42 high schools represented were private, but there were also two public high schools and a handful of charters. San Francisco has the highest rate of private school attendance of any county in California.
Nervous-looking eighth-graders trailed their parents from booth to booth, as older students with school logos on their polo shirts passed out glossy brochures.
Though most of the prospective students were from The City, families from neighboring counties also were in attendance.
Matt Brocchini of Burlingame said he and his son Nik were looking for a school with strong music and science programs.
“A school where he has options and can do the things he cares about, that he won’t be held back,” the father said.
Brocchini said the family took Nik out of public school after fifth grade, sending him to the private Nueva School in Hillsborough.
“Nik definitely needed to get out of the rote output kind of school into something different,” Brocchini said.
Admissions Director Rachel Skiffer talked up University High School to prospective freshmen.
“It’s a challenging school,” Skiffer said. “It’s a fun school. Kids are really supportive of each other.”
Skiffer said the prep school was about half minority, and students received $2.1 million in financial aid this year. Those numbers surprise some people, she said, because the stereotype of private school as a bastion of white privilege is still common.
“We were founded to be a school for The City,” Skiffer said. “For me, as an educator, it’s important for students to know what all the options are.”
Charlotte Brownstone, 13, was at the fair to explore her options, but she said she was happy with the education she was getting at the public Presidio Middle School and would probably choose a public high school as well.
“We actually could afford private school, but philosophically we support public school,” said her father, Robert Brownstone.
“All schools, whether they’re private or public, they’re going to have pluses and minuses,” said Charlotte’s mother, Laurie Moore. “When I grew up, you didn’t have a choice, which in some ways was easier.”
Bay Area students in kindergarten through 12th grades attend private school at greater rates than anywhere else in the state.
30.1% San Francisco attendance (highest in California)
18.8% Marin County attendance (second most statewide)
16% San Mateo County attendance (third most)
8.5% Statewide attendance
Source: California Department of Education