History of the Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School / Chinese Education Center

History of the Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School / Chinese Education Center

The Chinese Education Center (C.E.C.) was established in 1969 by the San Francisco Unified School District. It’s purpose was to address the needs of non-English proficient, newly-arrived Chinese immigrant students in the Chinatown and North Beach areas. The passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 led to an increase in immigration quotas, especially those that affected Hong Kong. This allowed for a dramatic increase in the number of newcomer Chinese-speaking students into the school district.

The primary goal of the Chinese Education Center was to address the educational, social, and emotional needs of the students to support a more positive transition into the regular school setting at the end of their one-year stay at the Center. Newcomer education included an orientation to the American culture, Intensive English Language Development, and an Experiential Approach to Language Learning that incorporated hands-on classroom activities and experiences like field trips around the city of San Francisco.

The program began with a staff of four teachers in rented classrooms at the Chinese Central High School. As enrollment increased, the school expanded into various rented sites. In 1972, the U.S. Navy gifted the present building at 657 Merchant Street to the school district, specifically to be used for the Chinese Education Center. After extensive renovation, the new school building opened in 1977. Since then, this has been the permanent location for the school.

In September 2018, the Chinese Education Center was officially renamed after San Francisco’s first Asian American mayor, Edwin Lee, and his wife, Anita Lee. Mayor Ed Lee was a very successful and deeply loved Chinese American leader who directed a great deal of support to San Francisco families and schools. He passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in December 2017. He was so endeared by the Chinese Education Center school community that they rallied the San Francisco Board of Education to allow the renaming of the school after the City’s first Chinese American mayor, a son of immigrants, who was a champion for education, students, and families. The Board of Education unanimously approved of the school’s new name, the “Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School” (EALNS) in September 25, 2018.

Today, the school continues to serve Chinese-speaking, newly-arrived immigrant English Language Learners. It is just one of the ways our school district works to mitigate the many pressures and challenges stemming from the harsh adjustment newcomer students and families face in their transition.

Our world’s political landscape has shifted in recent years. Immigrants and refugees are not as welcome because leadership at our Federal level of government has taken an aggressive, isolationistic stand against immigration. Yet, the City of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Unified School District, have continued to stand strong in welcoming and supporting immigrant students and families.

As we prepare to move into the next 50 years of our work with newcomers, the Edwin and Anita Lee Newcomer School community is proud and honored to serve a central role in our school district’s unwavering support for immigrant students and families.


Ribbon cutting ceremony, school renaming, family of Mayor Ed Lee, Anita Lee,

This page was last updated on June 8, 2020