Neighbors wary of new juvenile-offender school in Sunset 

The Principal Center Collaborative is a different kind of high school.

Its size and curriculum differ from that of its comprehensive counterparts. Even its students, who largely attend because of a court order, are a far cry from general-education high schools down the street. These qualities are some reasons neighbors in the Inner Sunset are worried of the Principal Center Collaborative’s planned move to a San Francisco Unified School District building on Seventh Avenue near Irving Street.

"A school housing juvenile offenders is stressful and has implied risk," said Al Minvielle, co-president of the Inner Sunset Park Neighbors. "The biggest issue is the total lack of community engagement. We want them to do well, but we want to know someone will be held accountable if they don’t."

District officials, though, say the move is one that will benefit the students and the school. According to Janet Schulze, the district’s assistant superintendent for high schools, the 50 or so students who currently attend the alternative high school located in bungalows at 43rd Avenue and Judah Street already pass through the neighborhood.

"A vast majority take N [Muni train] all the way to 43rd," she said. "But this is about the students and they speak for themselves and they are doing fantastic at this school."

Not only that, but though these students were assigned to this school under court mandate, Schulze said all of the district’s high schools have some students on probation.

Schulze said with the move, the district hopes to expand the school, which will eventually be renamed Big Picture, to reflect the project-based curriculum model that allows students chose their subject of study rather than guided instruction. The school will eventually be a mixture of court-ordered students and those who choose to attend, Schulze said.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, four students from the high school spoke about their experience at Principal Center. All said the learning style was more to help them succeed because it revolves around their interests. One student is researching Honduras, while another is focusing on how to get into college.

Much of the fear, Schulze said, is around the move, but that is not planned to take place until the December semester break, following renovations to the former Newcomer High School site. District officials began outreach to neighbors in March to answer questions and ease tensions.

Community members, though, say outreach has been limited and they’re not getting answers to requests to keep the neighborhood safe, including escorts for students to and from public transportation, security cameras and even if the school will keep its 3-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

"They’re coming in to my neighborhood," Minvielle said. "Here are my concerns if they go the way I’m fearful. I want some recourse if they go that way. If they don’t, then I applaud their success."

Minvielle said part of the hesitation stems from previous run-ins with alternative schools in the Inner Sunset. In 1995, a volunteer teacher with Mark Twain Continuation High School, which was located at 12th Avenue and Lawton Street, was arrested on suspicion of tagging up to 60 homes in the area.

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