Equity was the main point of discussion at the latest meeting of San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District’s Next Steps Advisory Committee that’s focusing on solutions to overcrowded facilities.
The enrollment problem, according to demographers, has grown each year and the failure of last year’s $130 million bond measure targeted at alleviating these concerns has necessitated a need to explore other routes to solving the problem, according to district officials. This year, enrollment hit about 11,706 students, up 511 from the 2011-12 school year. Measure P would have allowed Knolls in San Mateo to reopen for the 2016-17 school year. Bowditch Middle School in Foster City would have expanded. These were recommendations of the Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding Relief. In addition to the overcrowding, the district is exploring if increasing enrollment affects capacity and equity.
“Somewhere near the heart of equity discussion is how are we treating socioeconomically disadvantaged students?” asked committee member Mark Hudak. “How fair is busing?”
Superintendent Cynthia Simms presented the district’s 1975 cultural pluralism policy that states the district recognizes the fact there are many cultures, value systems and lifestyles that should be accepted as long as they do not encroach upon the rights of others. It states the district should tackle handling conflicts due to differences in race, cultures, value systems and lifestyles. It also encourages schools to explore many acceptable cultures, value systems and lifestyles.
“For me, I know it’s difficult to measure something like this,” said committee member Gloria Brown. “I’m wondering how diverse the faculty and administration are. … I’m struck this was developed in 1975. Did anyone take this on to look to see if something needed to be changed?”
Meanwhile, Hudak said he sent his daughter to public school so she could be around a diverse population of children and he does feel that with cultural fairs and family trees the district does make an effort to support cultural diversity.
The group explored if magnet schools help address the equity issue. Part of the magnets’ purpose is to reduce socioeconomic imbalance within the district, while providing innovative methods of instruction. Evaluation criteria includes attracting a significant number of students from outside the geographic area, having a socioeconomic profile similar to that of the district and making the magnets equally accessible to all district students. There are various magnets in the district — North Shoreview Montessori, Bayside STEM Academy, Fiesta Gardens Spanish-English Immersion, George Hall Accelerated/Project-Based Learning, Horrall Visual and Performing Arts and Technology Integration, Parkside Montessori Program at Parkside Elementary, San Mateo Park Math and Science, Borel and Sunnybrae’s International Baccalaureate program.
“I don’t think they are [equally accessible],” said committee member Larry Lowenthal. “If we only have busing to one school, they’re not equally available to all students.”
It’s folly to think the district can solve socioeconomic imbalances with magnet schools, Hudak said. Since magnet acceptance is based on a lottery, the district can’t say it’s making a difference on diversity if a certain number of the seats are designated for socioeconomically disadvantaged students, such as those from North Central San Mateo.
“We shouldn’t kid ourselves that another magnet school will solve the equity problem,” he said. “It’s not capable of doing that.”
The magnets are so full they can’t really help out with the purpose of addressing inequalities, committee member Daniela Relaford agreed.
Meanwhile, Audrey Ng, board vice president and committee member, explained that there limitations to how many students can attend the magnets because of a wait list.
“It’s not so long we can have an entirely new school though,” she said.
Audience member and North Shoreview Montessori parent Jennifer Clark said magnet schools can’t be the only intervention to addressing equity.
“It’s about parent choice,” she said. “I wouldn’t suggest a mandate creating a school with a concentration of challenged students. There’s obviously no easy answer. I really agree that equity is when each student has what they need to succeed.”
On the other side of things, committee member Evelia Chairez said she wasn’t even aware of the Montessori programming in the district until the committee went on a school site tour on April 7, visiting North Shoreview, Horrall, Audubon, Bowditch and Brewer Island schools.
“So I wonder how many others don’t know about it,” she said.
The next meeting will be 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 28 at the district office, 1170 Chess Drive in Foster City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105
NOTE TO READERS: This article has been changed. The district changed the date of the next meeting since the school will be on spring break April 21.