An Open Letter to The San Francisco School Board From A Lowell Alum

I graduated from Lowell High School in 1973.  Back in my day, if you were a student striving in academics, your two choices for high school were either Lowell or attend private school. The remaining schools in the City had a reputation for poor academics and violent environments. 

Getting accepted into Lowell High School was extremely competitive. To be considered, first and foremost you needed to have strong grades. It was also required students take an aptitude test and have a proven track record of participating in extracurricular school activities.  You had to compete for your spot with students who were equally deserving.  

If you were lucky enough to get into Lowell High School, you learned exactly why Lowell was considered one of the country’s top high schools.  The school’s property was nothing to write home about and overall, the teachers were good but not outstanding.  

What made Lowell unique was the competitive culture it curated among its students. Always pushing us to be the very best – of the very best– we could be. Every single student was driven to excellence so that each of them would qualify for top universities. 

Lowell has seen some outstanding graduates, including co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, William Hewlett, actress Carol Channing, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.  It was true that some of the wealthiest families in the city’s kids went to Lowell but so did many others that did not come from suitable means.  

Fast forward to the school environment in San Francisco today, and it looks very different. Over the years, new private schools were introduced and stripped away many of Lowell’s more affluent student base.  Today, more than 50% of their students receive a lunch subsidy.  The school mainly supports students coming from impoverished households and underserved areas – but who still strive for academic excellence. The latest attacks on Lowell High School make no sense to me. How could it be considered an elitist and racist school when the opposite is reality.  

For years, competing schools have complained Lowell takes strong students away from other institutions, having a knock-on effect on surrounding schools that want to raise their academic bars. Another argument told is that average students will lose the opportunity to grow if they are not challenged by smarter students in their class. In my experience, when average students learn alongside above-average students, the above-average students are more likely to be brought down in their studies, rather than raise others up.  

That is why it is vital to save Lowell High School – both its name and academic enrollment.  Frankly, I never paid much attention to who Lowell was, but I know what Lowell means when someone asks me where I went to high school. It was (and still is) such an honor to say I went to Lowell because people understand what Lowell represents in education. 

In an attempt to make everyone equal, our City has failed to remember the reality of the competitive world we live in. And when it comes to education, some study hard and want to achieve greatness, while others simply don’t.  Instead of destroying a pathway to excellence like Lowell has offered students who want it, maybe we should spend more time understanding how to support students who under-perform academically and create a pathway to achieve their own success. Schools used to offer woodworking and blacksmith classes. Maybe, for those who are not interested in going to college, we can educate and train these students to have a successful career in the trades– achieving stable high income and great benefits to raise a family. 

The bottom line is lowering admission standards creates mediocrity. It’s important not to pander to activists who want everyone to be “equal” when in reality, human nature makes us each unique. It’s time for common sense to prevail. Lowell’s admission standards must be maintained. Don’t destroy Lowell. Instead, concentrate on building programs for students in our schools so they too can achieve their own greatness. 

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