The Potrero Residents Education Fund (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 (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 underenrolled 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 on Potrero Hill.
As promised to the BOE, PREFund is committed to helping transform Daniel Webster into a coveted community school through a multi-part plan that includes:
- 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 aim to stem the exodus of children and their families to private or suburban schools, thereby building community and promoting neighborhood stability.
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. We are thrilled that many neighborhood families have chosen DW’s Spanish Immersion program for their children. PKDW preschoolers, exposed to both Spanish and English, will be well prepared for enrollment in DW’s Spanish Immersion program.
Ongoing physical and curricular support represents the final part of PREFund’s effort to help improve the school. 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, dramatically transforming 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 afterschool tutors, play yard facilitators and sports programs, by organizing neighborhood literacy volunteers and by canvassing and marketing on its behalf.
In July of 2009, PREFund became PKDW's operator. PREFund has grown from a group of volunteers operating with a donor-advised fund administered by The San Francisco Foundation to a stand alone 501c3 nonprofit entity, tax i.d. #26-3438302. In addition to operating PKDW, we conduct ongoing fundraising for academic and enrichment activities at DW and plan to support Potrero Hill’s other public schools on a larger scale. The SFUSD considers PREFund’s turnaround efforts a community-based model for supporting public schools. Daniel Webster is on its way to becoming one of the SFUSD’s hidden gems, but in these troubling economic times our public schools need more support than ever. For more information, or to donate, please visit www.prefund.org.