NEW YORK — One of the first questions I'm asked whenever I meet another native San Franciscan is: What high school did you go to?
It's an innocent question, one that helps people locate me in my hometown city. But it's loaded. My alma mater, International Studies Academy - ISA for short - is too small to have a football team. Since it's only been around since 1990, it's too new to have any legendary alums. And it's always on the verge of closing, a distinction it shares with thousands of other schools predominately serving students of color.
Last year, I should have been at my 10-year high school reunion. I say "should have" because it didn't happen. My high school is a small, alternative school of mostly Latino, black and Asian immigrant students on the outskirts of San Francisco's Mission District.
The school opened in 1990 as one of San Francisco's few charters. It was, by design, focused on global learning and had sister schools in countries like Japan that would host annual student exchanges.
By the time I arrived in 1999, the school had lost its charter and been absorbed completely into the district. By 2006, it was consolidated with a local middle school, part of the district's renewed focus on smaller schools. When the classes are able to raise enough money, they still host annual trips to Cuba, Mexico and France. My time there was arguably the most meaningful of my 12 years of public education.
But since I graduated in 2003, there have been persistent rumors among staff and alumni that it's on the brink of closure.
We're not the only ones. San Francisco's school district has been plagued by under-enrollment in recent years, a side effect of a rapidly gentrifying population. Families with kids are being priced out. In a district with over 160 institutions educating 55,000 students, more than 13 have closed since 2000. Others, like my high school, have been consolidated, but live perpetually on the district's budgetary chopping block due to under-enrollment and low test scores.