Our History

Celebrating the Opening of CAIS in 1981When the doors of Chinese American International School opened on September 12, 1981, in the basement of a University of California Extension Building, four of ten enrolled students showed up for class. Undeterred, founder Carol Ruth Silver, and director Shirley Lee forged ahead. 

CAIS attracted national attention from its inception. Former U.S. Senator Paul Simon handed out diplomas at CAIS’s first graduation in 1987. That same year, CAIS moved to the Presidio, and the U.S. Department of Education designated CAIS as the “national prototype for Chinese language education in elementary schools.”

Between 1992-1994, CAIS added the middle school grades, and its first class of four graduated in 1987. Soon after the middle school was established, Shirley Lee orchestrated the first exchange trip with Shanghai No. 3 Girls’ School. 

In 1997, the school moved into its main campus at 150 Oak Street, with just 200 students including 28 middle school students. In 2010, the Early Childhood Division moved to its new home, The Alice A. Carnes Center, at nearby Waller St.

From 1997-2015, our middle school population grew to 120 students, which led to the middle school moving to the 888 Campus, at the intersection of Gough and Turk Streets. Today, CAIS educates 520 children on three campuses.