The Story behind PREFund
How We Got Started
PREFund epitomizes what a community can do when it comes together.
In 2005 when three of five Potrero Hill public schools were slated for closure or merger, parents and neighbors rallied for an intense, six-week grassroots campaign to overturn the closure recommendations from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and its Board of Education (BOE). Despite hundreds of children under age five in Potrero Hill, our neighborhood was faced with the very real possibility that no local elementary school would be able to serve its needs.
We gathered over 600 signatures in support of keeping Daniel Webster Elementary School (DW) open, garnered front-page and broadcast media attention and presented the BOE with a multi-part plan to increase the school’s enrollment. The BOE voted unanimously to keep DW open and commented on our uniqueness – a group of middle income parents passionately committed to helping a historically under-enrolled and underperforming school with a primarily disadvantaged minority population in order to improve it and ultimately integrate the school with our children. Board members with 20 years seniority could not recall a similar phenomenon.
In May 2006, eight of this group of parents and neighbors formalized to become PREFund, an all volunteer organization with a mission to support public education in Potrero Hill. Our first initiative and sole focus was to honor our pledge to the BOE to raise enrollment at Daniel Webster.
Our Plan for Daniel Webster
As promised to the BOE, PREFund helped transform DW into a source of neighborhood pride through a multi-part plan that included:
- establishing a preschool on campus
- securing a magnet program, specifically a Spanish immersion language program
- improving its physical appearance
- augmenting its teaching staff
- underwriting academic and extracurricular enrichment activities
In so doing, we aimed to stem the exodus of middle-income children and their families to private or suburban schools, thereby building community and promoting neighborhood stability. In addition, we would integrate and diversify this historically predominantly minority and socio-economically disadvantaged school population, bringing fresh energy and resources to provide quality education and enrichment for all students.
Our Dual-Campus Preschool - Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster (PKDW) and Potrero Kids 3rd (PK3)
After identifying suitable space on campus and securing a favorable long-term lease from the SFUSD, we raised nearly $500,000 in grants and donations to retrofit three unused portables to create our first preschool campus, Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster (PKDW), with the belief that a welcoming, high quality neighborhood preschool would provide a natural feeder into the adjacent elementary school. PKDW opened in September of 2008 and offers a Spanish bilingual pre-kindergarten program for 32 children, 25% of whom are on scholarship.
In 2011 we were selected from among 15 top-tier applicants across San Francisco to operate a new childcare center in the eastern waterfront’s Dogpatch neighborhood. The center represents a $1.9M investment by Martin Building Company and opened in October, 2012. Potrero Kids 3rd (PK3) serves 69 children, ages 2 and up, and provides a much needed preschool option in San Francisco's eastern neighborhoods.
Spanish Immersion at Daniel Webster
The second part of our plan to increase enrollment at DW was realized in August, 2008 with the establishment of two Spanish immersion kindergarten classes. Magnet programs such as language immersion are key to recruiting and retaining a diverse public school community and are generally awarded to schools showing rising test scores and enrollment.
The SFUSD awarded this program to DW thanks in part to PREFund’s efforts to secure commitments from neighborhood families that they would include a DW immersion program on their kindergarten application, despite the school’s unfavorable history. Many neighborhood families are enrolled in DW’s Spanish immersion program as well as many from other neighborhoods, bringing vitality and diversity to the campus. PKDW preschoolers, exposed to both Spanish and English, are well prepared for enrollment in DW’s Spanish immersion program.
Physical and Programmatic Support at Daniel Webster
Ongoing physical and curricular support represents the final part of PREFund’s effort to help improve Daniel Webster. Based on a PREFund application, DW was selected by Rebuilding Together San Francisco (RTSF) as its 2008 “lead project.” In April, 2008 over 100 corporate volunteers repainted the school’s exterior and renovated existing garden areas. RTSF and its amazing corporate volunteers returned in November, 2008 and April, 2009 and dramatically transformed the school’s physical appearance. Spectacular murals and beautiful gardens now grace DW’s campus, thanks to the combined efforts of RTSF, DW, corporate and community volunteers and PREFund.
Additionally, PREFund supports DW by funding after-school tutors, play yard facilitators, a garden curriculum and sports program, by organizing neighborhood literacy volunteers and by canvassing and marketing on its behalf.
Since 2006, PREFund has grown from a group of volunteers operating as a donor-advised fund administered by The San Francisco Foundation to a stand-alone nonprofit entity and the sole operator of Potrero Kids. We also conduct ongoing fundraising for academic and enrichment activities to support DW and are in the process of widening our focus to support Potrero Hill’s other public schools and organizations that serve children in a larger way.
SFUSD considers PREFund’s turnaround efforts a community-based model for supporting public schools. Daniel Webster is on its way to becoming one of SFUSD’s hidden gems, but in these troubling economic times all of our public schools need more support than ever.