Drew School keeps it real

“We value the individual voice,” says David Frankenberg, Head of School at Drew School.


When learning extends beyond the classroom, it becomes real,” says David Frankenberg, who aims to make learning real for every student at the Drew School campus at 2901 California Street.

Now settled into his second year as Head of School, Frankenberg brings an international background to the job that underlies his passion for extending learning beyond the schoolroom.

His parents, Jewish citizens of Germany, emigrated to Argentina — which had an open immigration policy at the time — during the turbulent years leading up to World War II. Frankenberg was born in the Netherlands, where his father’s job first took the family, but he grew up speaking Spanish in Argentina. He finished high school in Hong Kong before coming to the U.S. to attend Wesleyan University. His educational career includes several years of teaching and administration in Argentina, followed by 15 years in independent schools in the U.S. as a teacher, dean of students, debate coach and department head. Along the way he earned a masters in educational leadership from Harvard University.

Frankenberg, his wife and two young children were especially happy their move to the Bay Area brought them near his sister and her family, who had already settled here.

“I like San Francisco,” Frankenberg says. “It just agrees with me in some way.”

Between classes, Drew School students hang out in the courtyard of the urban campus.

Drew’s wide-ranging curriculum also agrees with him. Experiential electives range from “American Power and the News” to “Endangered California” to “Identity Studies” and “Yoga and Mindfulness.” There’s also a global awareness curriculum, senior projects and summer travel programs to extend learning beyond the classroom walls.

DEALL Week — Drew Education for Active Lifelong Learning — is a time when students make connections between what they’re learning and how it applies in the real world by heading out for adventures and community service in the Bay Area, or on international trips to study ecology or culture.

“It’s a way of becoming social entrepreneurs — having an impact on the community,” Frankenberg says.

He cites two favorite examples: One student had a passion for designing video games. After an urban studies class about housing problems, he found a vacant lot in Oakland and designed a housing project for the site. He later made a presentation to a group of housing activists. Another student recently did a high-level internship on jet propulsion and found himself explaining calculus to a group of aerospace engineers.

“280 Day: Awareness into Action” brings the outside community into the classrooms. A wide assortment of speakers and workshop leaders offers sessions on a long list of issues, and students create their own day with classes of their choice. It’s possible to walk the halls on 280 Day and find students working with community volunteers, talking about modern day sex education,  sand art or human trafficking, while others are out in the sunshine taking a cram course on urban gardening.

Drew School has been at the corner of California and Broderick for more than a century.

Drew’s annual Writers Festival brings together contemporary published writers with aspiring writers among the student body.

San Francisco author and teacher Donna Levin — whose most recent novel about a mother, her autistic son and a murder, There’s More Than One Way Home, received critical acclaim — has affirmative words for her high school alma mater: “Drew was the place where I first learned to love to learn, for the sake of learning alone,” she says.

Perennial best-selling author Anne Lamott says: “I had the most incredible three years at Drew, graduating in 1971. My classes had between three and about 15 kids — bright, unique teenagers. Some of us, like me, were unusually artistic and sensitive, and maybe a bit odd in my case, and hadn’t felt at home before Drew. Drew spritzed us back to intellectual life.”

Lamott, whose wise and witty writing often draws from her own personal struggles, says she had found a 2000-student public school in Marin difficult emotionally and “always felt that Drew fished me out and saved me.”

With a current student body of 280 freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, Drew School has been part of the community since it was established at the corner of California and Broderick in 1911, three years after its founding by Bay Area educator John Sheehan Drew.

“First and foremost, we value the individual voice and individual discovery,” says Frankenberg. “Drew is committed to offering the opportunity for a kid to develop a personal moral compass, to creating an educational program that resists the facile notion of success.”