The school was half the size it is today, with 400 kids who were mostly Somali, part of a sudden infusion of Africans in the mostly white Longfellow neighborhood.
No one from Longfellow sent their kids to Sanford. Instead, as busloads of kids from outside the neighborhood rolled in each morning, busloads of Longfellow kids rolled out. It was as if a color-coded invisible fence had been placed around the school.
That changed with Val Ausland. Nine years ago, her oldest son was finishing up fifth grade at Dowling Elementary and needed a middle school. Sanford’s reputation as a “tough school with lots of fights” kept neighborhood families away for years, Ausland says. But she wasn’t ready to believe the hype.
Instead, Ausland, a beaming woman with a reputation as a volunteer extraordinaire, investigated it herself. A conversation with the principal convinced her that Sanford was trying to change for the better, and that she and her neighbors could help.