With enrollment exploding and facilities waning, the San Mateo-Foster City School Elementary District is trying to figure out how to accommodate more students into the Montessori program while parents want to ensure the program stays in place.
Last year parent opposition to the transformation of Parkside Elementary School into a science, technology, engineering, art and math program school initially caused the district to backpedal on its decision to change the school which currently operates Montessori and traditional schools. The district did decide to move forward by approving a single STEAM magnet theme at its Thursday, Feb. 8 meeting.
It also approved convening a planning group at the end of February to look into providing more opportunities for Montessori instruction for K-8 students in the 2015-16 school year. One option the district is looking at is having the Montessori program on one campus, as it is currently at Parkside and North Shoreview elementary schools, Trustee Ed Coady said.
“We’re continuing conversations with both communities,” said Trustee Chelsea Bonini. “We’re hopeful those conversations will continue in a good way and the growth issue discussions have been going on.”
Some fear the district is attempting to phase out the Montessori program by trying to shift the program to the almost at capacity North Shoreview, behind their backs.
“I don’t want to see the program go away,” said community member Rick Nava. “They’re going after a STEAM grant on the pretext they’d bring a bigger Montessori program. I don’t trust they’ll do that.”
This is not the case, Coady said.
“I’m a Montessori graduate, so I’m a big fan of it and would like to see more Montessori availability in the district,” he said. “We want there to be more students [in the program], not fewer.”
A North Shoreview parent, who chose to withhold their name, noted the decision to move Parkside to a STEAM program was rash, done with poor planning and hasn’t involved North Shoreview stakeholders. The plan at the meeting seemed to be to combine the two Montessori programs, the source said.
“By making the decision for Parkside, they affected a separate school,” the parent said. “It’s a capacity problem [for North Shoreview] and they made guarantees for certain students to have placement into Montessori programs. It’s going to disrupt a high testing school.”
In 2013, North Shoreview’s Academic Performance Index was 888, while Parkside’s was 785. The API is a numeric index that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000. A recent district survey of Parkside parents and teachers found 57 percent of families preferred the Montessori program, while 25 percent preferred STEAM, 10 percent wanted the middle school-geared STEM, 5 percent wanted an ecology program, 2 percent wanted a world studies program and 0 percent wanted another program.
“I wanted it to be Montessori,” said Parkside parent Jennifer Trizuto. “I’m happy they have decided to keep the number of seats for Montessori and grow the program; it’s the second best option. I’m not sure they completely understand the picture.”
Others are relieved the district came up with a solution.
“We are glad that they finally chose a single option that will benefit every child in the school and not just a select few — 25 percent or less,” said a San Mateo resident whose family has been in the area for more than 100 years. “Though the damage is done, parents between the groups hate each other and the funny part is the loud mouth parents blabbing about this have no stake in this anymore, their kids are not in the program or affected by it. ... Reality check here, but the middle schools, high schools and real world is not a Montessori world so it is like your is child learning one way while the rest of the world does it another.”
In terms of expanding the Montessori programming, a district presentation states it would want to guarantee all current Parkside Montessori children have a Montessori placement during the planning year, 2014-15 and during the implementation year, 2015-16. Parkside teachers who are Montessori certified would have first transfer rights, while the Montessori planning committee would have representation from both current Montessori schools. The district has been grappling with growing enrollment and how to accommodate new students. The district’s school board had placed Measure P on the ballot last summer to rebuild and expand Bowditch Middle School to add Foster City fifth-graders and reopen Knolls Elementary School to 1,050 students in San Mateo for the 2016-17 school year. It would have cost property owners $19 per $100,000 assessed property value. The measure aimed to help the district’s issues with overcrowding. For the past five years, district enrollment has grown from 1,703 students from 10,079 to 11,782. It didn’t receive the necessary votes to pass though.
“I am disappointed by the vote, but I respect that the majority of our voters want a different solution to the increasing student enrollment facing our schools and to the funding of the classroom technology required to ensure student access to 21st century learning strategies,” Cynthia Simms, superintendent of the district, said in an official statement back in November 2013. “Following a review of the final voting results, and consultation with key school district and community leaders, I will present a plan for our Board of Trustees’ consideration on next steps to engage the varied constituencies of the district and ways to address these challenges together.”
The superintendent recently announced a group of San Mateo and Foster City community leaders and residents with differing points of view will be convened by the superintendent to: engage the varied external and internal communities within the San Mateo-Foster City School District to generate other options for addressing school capacity and equity challenges created by increasing student enrollment; review all options generated through community engagement for benefits, costs, and impacts on students, staff, families and affected communities;prioritize options and provide opportunities for further community engagement; and recommend best options for addressing long-term school capacity needs and equity challenges to the superintendent.
The school board next meets Thursday, Feb. 20.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105