Artwork in the halls of Horace Mann. Photograph by Garrett McAuliffe

Two longtime Mission District schools — one struggling middle school and one elementary school in good shape — will merge over the summer to become a K-8 by fall of this year, according to school officials.

Carlos Garcia, San Francisco’s superintendent of schools, made a visit to the Mission last Monday to let the schools know. First he stopped by Buena Vista Elementary, then Horace Mann Middle School. Their dreams, he said, were about to come true. Sort of.

Buena Vista Elementary has been trying to expand into a K-8 school for more than a decade. The school is dual-immersion, meaning that some courses are taught in English and some in Spanish. “The time has come,” says Buena Vista principal Larry E. Alegre, “for the Mission to have a good K-8 immersion program.”

Horace Mann also recently petitioned for the same thing. “We wanted to expand into a K-8,” says Horace Mann principal Mark Sanchez. “There have been massive surveys of kids that show that kids feel safer in them. And they do better in testing.”

The students do better in K-8’s for a simple reason, according to Sanchez. “Basically, they’ve all grown up together. A community is built. Older kids can mentor younger ones. And the older kids are more likely to feel responsible towards younger kids in a K-8, because the younger kids are often their siblings.”

Middle schools, he says, were developed in this country mostly as a way to classify and sort kids before sending them to vocational, general education or AP schools. He is not a fan.

“I have trepidations,” he says about the consolidation. “But I really do think K-8 is superior.”

But having ideals about being a K-8 is one thing; smushing two very independent schools together before the start of the next school year is another.

Buena Vista generally reaches its progress goals under No Child Left Behind, and had an API score of 776 in 2010, an increase from 738 in 2009. The state target is 800, but the average reached 776. Horace Mann reported strong progress this year, with an API of 654, compared to 623 in 2009. Late last spring it was ranked as one of the state’s low-performing schools and is one of 10 in San Francisco, including six in the Mission District. Buena Vista was not among the list of struggling schools.

Buena Vista’s enrollment was 375 students in Grades K to 5 last school, year compared to Horace Mann’s student body of 236 for grades 6 to 8.

Horace Mann currently has two parallel tracks: one dual immersion, where students take classes in both English and Spanish, and one general education.The general education track at Horace Mann will be one of the casualties of the merger, and Sanchez is sad to see it go. Dual-immersion programs are highly competitive in the San Francisco school system, and Buena Vista is no exception. Its relatively high rankings in the neighborhood have been attributed to the efforts of the sort of engaged, dedicated parents attracted to a competitive program. In recent years, Horace Mann has not been especially competitive. Kids wind up there for reasons like this: Their parents didn’t bother to fill out the school choice paperwork.

Sanchez doesn’t want to see those kids go. “We’re a STAR school,” he says, in reference to a state program that gives extra funding to schools with low test scores. “We have lots of funding. We have three counselors. We have a full-time social worker. The onus is on us as a community to preserve the diversity of this school.”

Which means, he says, sitting down and coming up with a plan to go door-to-door to the communities that Horace Mann’s students have come from in the last decade — housing projects like Valencia Gardens and Bernal Dwellings — and pitch the parents there on the virtues of the dual-immersion program.

And there is the matter of staff. “They have secretaries,” says Sanchez. “We have secretaries. Will we need four secretaries? No. They have custodians. We have custodians. Will we need five custodians? There will be seniority issues. There will be drama.”

And the rooms. The Metropolitan High Charter School, placed — somewhat controversially — in Horace Mann’s building last year, will be leaving. But it was only using 13 rooms in the school; Buena Vista is using 19 at its current location. “There won’t be a lot of drama there,” says Sanchez. “There will be negotiating.”

Meanwhile, Buena Vista is preparing to leave a freshly renovated building after enduring a solid year of construction. “For us in general to want to make a change after this,” says Alegre, “that shows some resolve.” He adds, somewhat regretfully, “The building looks really good right now. I hope they put another public school in there.”

The whole process will be helped somewhat by the fact that all of the teachers will be able to keep their jobs. And the fact that Horace Mann’s assistant principal, Adelina Aramburo, was once principal of Buena Vista, and was one of the original founders of the dual-immersion program there.

But what’s the name going to be? Sanchez personally thinks “Buena Vista” sounds more lyrical. And Horace Mann is not an exactly uncommon name for schools — there are 26 throughout the country named after the educational reformer, who is remembered (when he is remembered at all) for arguing that children from all social classes should share a common education. But, says Sanchez, Horace Mann is the oldest middle school in San Francisco. The name carries historical weight.

For Larry Alegre, first on the agenda is “getting used to all this happening.” First up means pitching the parents of Buena Vista’s fifth-graders, many of whom are already well into their middle school selection process, to stick with Buena Vista. “All of Buena Vista’s fifth-graders,” he says, “will have a place at Buena Vista at the Horace Mann campus.”

When asked if that was the new name, Alegre replied, “That’s what I’m calling it for now.”

Most important, who’s going to be the principal? Superintendent Garcia hasn’t decided yet.

“That’s his drama,” says Sanchez. “I asked him to make that decision ASAP.”

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. For those of you that THINK Horace Mann is full of gangs, violence etc. Please come by and visit. My name is Vanessa and I am the social worker who will gladly walk you around and introduce to our WONDERFUL community.

    The fact of the matter is that our students matter too and our families voices WILL be heard regarding this matter. It is about access and equity for everyone, including marginalized populations of students. Thank you all for sharing your views- very informative.

  2. That’s Mr. Sanchez to you. But let’s look realistically at “lyrical” Buena Vista: A group of entitled parents (white, latino and other nationalities) who: “I like your food, your music, your dance, your language; I just don’t like your people.” So who do you think likes the drama? as long as the ending comes out favorably for them.

    The proposal by Horace Mann parents was to bring the 5th grade – but the “neighborhood is too dangerous” said Buena Vista. Yet they want to bring Kinder students to this dangerous neighborhood?

    So who are the GANGbangers, the students or the priviliged and thoughtless adults behaving like a GANG of bullies.

    1. BV is over 66% Latino and over 54% socioeconomically disadvantaged, per their SARC. And there are plenty of Latino parents at BV who are fearful of their kids going to Horace Mann.

      1. Yes! Maria, this is exactly what I hear from parents that send their kids to BV. Many of them are throwing applications to other schools due to the merging!
        I would be awesome if the reporter can make an article regarding the parents concerns.

        1. Horace Mann parent concerns, or BVs? Because the concerns would be totally different. HM parents concerns would be, ¿por qué nos van a cerrar la escuela? Dónde van a ir mis niños que estan en el tercer grado? Not, do you have a music program? or How many guns have been brought to school this week or how many gangs do you have on campus?

  3. I think that it is an exciting time for the Mission to finally have a K-8 program. In the past Sanchez has never supported the K-8 expansion while he was on the Board of Ed so I’m afraid that keeping him around will create “drama” as he says. Parents were told that Horace Mann would be phasing there students out and as parents understand basically Buena Vista would be taking over the whole building once these students are phased out. It’s actually I believe the District that creates the drama with their miscommunications.

  4. What do the parents of the K-8 have to say about this????
    what do we know about gang activity, rape and possession of weapons at Horace Mann in last… 7 years???
    Would they keep their kids there or transfer to another school? With that many kids, how’s the drop out is going to be in such a congested area…

    1. This article is very biased in the fact that only the administrators were interviewed, so it has a very pro-K-8 lean. Lydia you are at HM every Wed, you didn’t have time to interview any one else? The fact of the matter is that the voices of the the HM community have been disregarded and the voice of the squeaky, entitled parents unfortunately is being heard. The Horace Mann community is a strong and vibrant one. It’s interesting to read the stuff that the “invaders” are writing. The rapes, and “Gang Activity” on campus, sadly are a reflection of society’s ills. Have any of you that talk shit about HM ever visited?If you don’t feel safe, by all means DON’T COME!! It saddens me how historically the only way that the SFUSD has figured out to improve a struggling school is to destroy one to create a new one. Where will the neighborhood kids who are not in an immersion program go? What fabulous program does the district have to keep the achievement gap for the ELL, African American, and Pacific Islanders, from widening to a deeper and deeper abyss? Truly the City’s schools are just a reflection of business as usual and that we have a school district of the Haves and the Have NOts.