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$3 Million Grant to Launch Network of Charter Schools in Northern California

Nonprofit Charter School Management Organization Will Oversee Five New Schools in the Bay Area

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Marie Groark
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: 206.709.3400

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a $3 million investment in a creative partnership with Envision Schools, a nonprofit charter management organization, to create new small schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. The schools will target disadvantaged and minority students in low-income urban areas. The five schools funded by this grant will open in the Bay Area by 2006.  

Envision aims to transform the public education system by creating strong, high-performing charter schools that prepare students for college or successful careers. It will secure and oversee the public charter for each new school, and will ultimately possess final responsibility for all aspects of each school’s operations.
“This investment allows us to reach thousands of students who are not finding success in traditional large urban high schools,” said Daniel McLaughlin, president and CEO of Envision Schools. “At strong, small charter schools, we will offer students a rigorous, high-quality education in a personalized, supportive environment and send them on to a successful future.”

At a time when a solid education is more important than ever, just over half of African-American and Hispanic students in California graduate from high school. In the Oakland Unified School District, the statistics are even grimmer: Just 43 percent of the students graduate, according to the Manhattan Institute. A study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that the lowest graduation rates in the country are concentrated in high schools of 900 or more students with a high percentage of non-white students. In big, impersonal high schools, it’s easy for students to get lost.

“When we signal to our young people that the failing high school down the block is their only choice, we are telling them that their future isn’t our concern,” said Tom Vander Ark, executive director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education program.  “We must expand educational options so all students can choose a high-quality high school that will prepare them for today’s demanding economy.” 

Each new Envision high school will encapsulate the critical design elements that have been the focus of the foundation’s education investment strategy. Successful high schools are rigorous, focused, supportive and small – usually no more than 400 students each. They set high expectations for all students, engage students with a captivating curriculum and nurture them with strong adult relationships.

By serving as a charter management organization, Envision will be able to closely monitor the implementation of the schools and ensure that they closely follow the Envision educational model.  Envision also will provide services to the network of schools, including finding facilities, analyzing data and training teachers and other professionals. The nonprofit will provide economies of scale by running such central-staff functions as payroll and human resources.

Envision will open its first public charter school in the fall of 2003: the Marin School of Arts and Technology in Novato, Calif. Funding for this school is not part of this grant. City Arts & Tech High School (CAT), the first new school funded by this grant, will open in San Francisco in the fall of 2004.  Envision has created partnerships with WestEd, a leading education research and development organization, San Francisco State University, and the Stanford School Redesign Network in support of CAT.
The initiative builds on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s nationwide effort to improve graduation rates, particularly among African Americans and Hispanics, by making high schools stronger and smaller. The foundation has committed more than $450 million to that end. The foundation’s grant will cover the majority of the cost of developing the network of schools, but a portion of the costs will come from other foundations.

Envision Schools is a nonprofit that develops and sustains small, innovative, high-performing public high schools serving diverse student bodies. Based on a nationally recognized and award-winning model for secondary education, Envision Schools is dedicated to helping students achieve personal and academic success.

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