Along with generally higher enrollment and applicant numbers, private elementary and middle schools in the Mission District are also seeing a sharp increase in the number of neighborhood children who attend their schools.

Historically students have come from all over the city and the Bay Area to attend the private schools in the Mission, and many still do. But there is no doubt that enrollment is up from local families undaunted by tuitions that top $20,000 a year.

At the same time, the neighborhood’s Catholic schools, long full of Latino students, have watched their numbers decline, according to the Archdiocese.

These changes undoubtedly reflect a demographic shift in which tech industry salaries have meant a surge in household income. In 2011, median household income for the 94110 zip code, which includes the Mission as well as Bernal Hill, was $76,963. In 1989, this number was $29,874, according to the U.S. Census. In the 94114 zip code, which includes the Outer Mission, Noe Valley and Castro districts, median income in 1989 was $40,420, a figure that rose almost 200 percent to an estimated $111,815 in 2011.

The new wealth has been a boon to private schools.

This year, 74 percent of the students at Children’s Day School on Dolores between 16th and 17th streets come from the 94110 and 94114 zip codes. In 2008, that number was 40 percent.

“We are seeing more families in this area of town,” said Diane Larrabee, the director of admissions. “That is speculation on my part, but it feels like there are more children around.”

Larrabee is right about the 94114 zip code where the number of children between five and nine years of age grew 44 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 840 children. However, in the 94110 zip code, which has over twice the population, the percentage of children in that same age group decreased by 33 percent to 2,532 children.

Ben Harrison, director of school at Adda Clevenger, thinks the school’s increasing number of Mission residents may have to do with city’s traffic becoming worse.

“There is a trend of students coming from more close-by in recent years,” Harrison said. He figures the percentage of students from the Mission has nearly doubled in the last few years, going from 10 percent to 20 percent.

Since its opening in 1980, Adda Clevenger, located at 180 Fair Oaks Street, has prided itself in being an academically rigorous school with a focus on the arts and personal fitness. The school has seen a slight decline in its general enrollment numbers in the past four years, which Harrison attributes to the school’s implementation of more mainstream processes in determining financial aid. Parents seeing a subsidy, for instance, must now submit their tax returns.

There is no official financial aid office at the school, but students who are considered legacy have traditionally received some aid. Harrison said that this will end almost entirely after this school year and financial aid will no longer exist despite the school’s tightening of its unofficial process.

Adda Clevenger’s $20,952.50 will rise four percent next year to adjust for cost of living. Harrison noted that the school is underpriced considering the amount of hours at which they operate. “This is not our goal. We don’t want to be underpriced,” he said, noting that he does not expect any families to leave when tuition rises.

It appears that there are plenty around who can afford it. In the areas blocked in by Church, Valencia, 23rd and 25th streets as well as Valencia, South Van Ness, 18th and 19th streets, the median income has increased 100 percent, according to data compiled by In only a few small pockets of the Mission has the median income stagnated or decreased. The 24th Street corridor is one of those pockets.

Otherwise, median household incomes are on the rise. Still, some private schools retain a strong subsidy program.

At Children’s Day School, tuition is $25, 400, but 31 percent of its students pay a sliding scale tuition based on their families’ needs. Every family pays at least 10 percent of full tuition, which is $2,540, and 69 percent of its students’ families pay full tuition. While this number has remained fairly constant over many years, according to Larrabee, the school’s overall enrollment has increased significantly since it began to grow into a K-8 school in 1996.

From 1996-2007, the school added one section per grade so that they had a class for each grade by 2007. Since 2007, it has been adding a second section to each grade. In the 2003-2004 school year, 177 students attended the school and that number has now more than doubled, Larabee said.

“We are in growth mode.…We believe we are meeting a demand. We wouldn’t be doing this otherwise,” she said.

Enrollment numbers are also rising at Mission Dolores Academy. The school, in its second year, was formed as the result of a merger of two older private schools in the area: Mission Dolores Elementary and the Megan Furth Academy. The two schools combined because enrollment numbers at Mission Dolores Elementary, which was a member of the Archdiocese, drastically declined through the 2000s and Megan Furth was always very small.

The newly combined school has added 20 new students since it was combined and applications for next year are at an all time high, school officials said.

“Mission schools in general are going this way, said Principal Dan Storz, adding that parents no longer assume Mission schools are inferior.

The Mission Dolores Academy tuition of $5,000 a year is comparatively low to the other independent schools in the Mission. Most of its students come from the Mission.

Adda Clevenger, Children’s Day School and Mission Dolores Academy send the majority of their students to private or Catholic schools for high school.

Not only are enrollment numbers up at established private schools, entirely new schools are being established in the Mission. One such school is Brightworks School, which opened in the 2011-2012 school year in a warehouse space at 1960 Bryant Street.

Brightworks, an experimental education school, established itself in the Mission because of the neighborhood’s centrally located position in the city. About seven of the 32 children who currently attend the school live in the Mission.

Two thirds of its student body pays the school’s $23,000 a year tuition bill. They have a small financial aid program that they hope to expand.

Brightworks wants to grow slowly, according to Justine Macauley, program coordinator at Brightworks, to eventually enroll 80 students. But the school is expanding more rapidly than they had originally intended.

“The plan is to have six kids in every age group from ages 6-9, but [those numbers] aren’t staying strictly at that,” Macauley said.

Cathy Hunter, the head of the San Francisco Friends School, said she has seen an increase in Spanish-speaking students from the Mission. She attributed this to the Friends Community Scholarship program that targets children from the neighborhood and the Tenderloin. They are also working on building their Spanish program.

The Friends School, established in 2002 on Quaker values and situated at 250 Valencia Street, has not accepted more English-speaking students from the Mission, despite the increase in the general English-speaking population here, she said.

“We’ve been in this neighborhood for five years and have obviously seen the change in the neighborhood, but we have not seen that change represented in the school,” Hunter said.

Parochial schools have much lower tuition and have traditionally served the immigrant community. Early on that meant the children of Irish and German immigrants, but since the 1960s that population has increasingly been Latino.

That population, however, is declining. The 2010 Census showed there were 6,670 less Latino residents in the Mission, a 22 percent decrease from the 2000 Census.

Overall, enrollment in the city’s Catholic schools has dropped sharply from 2001 to 2011, but there has been a recent turnaround, according to the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

In the 2002-2003 school year, St. Charles Borromeo School, the oldest Catholic school in the neighborhood, had 310 students. This year, it has 170 students. Principal Sister Nelia Pernecia said this trend has to do with the economic crisis and families no longer being able to pay for school.

Maureen Huntington, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said the decline followed the general drop of fewer families in San Francisco, a number that diminished again after the dot-com bust of 2001 and the economic recession of 2008.

“The economy is getting better,” Huntington said. “Families are more secure in their jobs and financial resources [now]. They are more optimistic.

Schools in the Mission still draw from the community,” she continued, referring to the growing number of Latino families sending their kids to Catholic school.

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Andra Cernavskis is a student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. She is Canadian by birth but grew up in New Jersey and then San Francisco's Miraloma neighborhood. She has also spent time in Toronto, Buffalo, and Montreal. The Mission is one of her favorite neighborhoods, and she is thrilled to be back reporting in San Francisco.

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  1. St Charles School needs to be more inclusive, & start catering to the new, educated, white collar professionals moving/buying into the neighborhood.

  2. Well, duh. There have been teachers from the Mission spouting racism in the comments section of this site previously. Why would you want your kid to hear that at school? Let alone the risk of being involved in gang related violence.

    1. As long as SF adopts an allocation system for students that is all but race-based bussing in name, it is a reasonable expectation that parents whose children do not get into their local school because of this allocation system will continue to take steps to mitigate that, either by attending private school or by moving out of the city.

      Both of my children attend private school in SF, and it was the best decision we ever made. Too bad we cannot get a partial rebate on our property tax though, which is why I am a big supporter of a voucher system for education.

  3. Your article about more Mission children attending private schools was both informative and interesting. You did, however, completely overlook Synergy School at 25th and Valencia, clearly in the heart of the Mission. We have been at this location with 190 students for almost 15 years and have been educating children for over 40 years. We have a very diverse student body and staff. Why not follow up and include us in the future?
    Thanks from Joan Pettijohn
    Director of Finance and Operations at Synergy

    1. Hi Joan,

      I am the author of this article. I attempted to contact Synergy many times while writing this article. I spoke to a few people who said they would get back to me, and they never did, and I was not able to get ahold of them again. I would have loved to have included Synergy and made the attempt do to just that.


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