About two months ago, the chief scientist at Twitter decided he wanted his daughter to go to a school that encouraged her nightly desire to conduct science experiments on the kitchen counter, a fun place where art and math flourished in small classes.
He couldn't find that school, so the scientist decided to create one.
And with his daughter heading to first grade in the fall, Abdur Chowdhury wanted that school now.
With six other founding families, Chowdhury found a building, hired a head of school, brought in teachers and started looking for students to attend Alta Vista School, which opens Sept. 7.
"It's much like starting a startup," Chowdhury said. He added that the old adage about such endeavors at times has applied to the school: If anyone knew how hard it would be, they would never do it.
Especially in the middle of a recession.
His boss, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, became a cheerleader.
"The entrepreneurial spirit kicked in," Stone said.
But this colorful, high-tech school with its own Twitter feed doesn't come cheap.
Tuition is $18,000 for a year of kindergarten and $20,000 a year for all other grades.
Ten percent of the school's operating budget will cover scholarships for students who can't afford the price tag.
It's an arguably gutsy move to start a pricey private school at a time of high unemployment and a sour economy. People looking for cheaper options are fleeing private schools.
Over the past decade, the number of private schools in California has dropped from 4,123 to 3,309, with enrollment down nearly 125,000 students, according to the state Department of Education. San Francisco had about 120 private schools 10 years ago and now has fewer than 100.
Chowdhury isn't worried.
"Education is not the way I think we should make money," he said, adding that the founding families kicked in cash and supporters are raising money. "I'm more worried about making sure everyone has a good time learning."
The school will open in just over a month in the former Waldorf school classrooms at the Greek Orthodox Annunciation Cathedral in the Mission District.
There will be two classrooms to start, one a mixed junior kindergarten/kindergarten and a first grade - each with about 10 to 12 students. Eventually, the founders hope the school will add classrooms through the eighth grade, with class size ranging from 18 to 20 students.
Math, science and art will be an integral part of the school "every day in everything we do," said Head of School Ed Walters, who Chowdhury recruited from his daughter's former school in the city, Marin Day Schools.
An "adventure coordinator" will incorporate curriculum into field trips across the city.
The plan is to have a school with all those things - smaller class sizes, field trips, art every day, science experiments, Spanish language immersion on the playground - Chowdhury and the other families had hoped to find in their local public schools.
They looked and despite volunteering and donating to city schools, they decided to forge their own way.
"I don't know if I have enough energy to move that mountain," he said of the needs at the public school near his Potrero Hill home.
But the scientist and his Twitter boss haven't turned their backs on public schools. Education, be that building a new school or helping to prop up public schools, is a big part of Twitter, Stone said, including support for nonprofit programs like DonorsChoose.org and Room to Read.
That is good for the community and it's good for business, Stone said.
"Education is a great thing for Twitter to align with," Stone said. "If you can't read, you can't tweet."
For more information about the school, go to altavistaschoolsf.org or twitter.com/altavistaschool.
E-mail Jill Tucker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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