District officials are trying to transform an elementary school in San Mateo by establishing a new vision, identity and even proposing a name change.
In the fall of 2013, the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District hired on Singer Associates to help develop a new focus for the K-5 school, along with new branding. The consultant has recommended focusing on literacy and digital arts. Possible new names for the school include Poplar Elementary and LEAD Elementary. So far, the district has spent $33,560.25 for Singer’s help on the project, according to the district.
“They’re not attracting kids by and large by its current magnet theme,” said Superintendent Cynthia Simms.
The school has even garnered the nickname “Horrible Horrall.” Its name being similar to Laurel Elementary and has been confusing when police are called out to facilities or buses are requested for pickups, said Principal Pattie Dullea.
If the change went forward, the school would dedicate the library to former district superintendent Albion Horrall, whose namesake was given to the school.
“It was named after a wonderful superintendent and I don’t want to diminish that at all,” she said.
The school’s current theme is visual and performing arts with technology integration. Horrall’s key attributes are demonstrated leadership; commitment to innovation; community; dedicated teachers and staff; and diversity. The new program would focus on using computers and technology to facilitate literacy, writing and other creative arts through recording, video production, graphic design, coding and other mediums. It would also include a lunch-hour and after-school enrichment program, an iPad lab, a state-of-the-art library and multi-media facilities, according to a report put together by Singer.
Some of these new resources are already in the process of being rolled out and, according to a Singer survey, 83 percent of Horrall parents thought a tech-centered education would prepare their children for more successful futures.
“All of those things have started,” said Tim Merritt, a third-grade teacher at the school. “It’s just baby steps and could be so much more.”
The staff has done an amazing amount of development and training recently, Dullea said.
Some school board members are a little more skeptical about the plan.
“I think all those things are great, but they’re going on at other schools too,” said Trustee Chelsea Bonini.
With the extra resources, school staff said it will be able to be on par with other schools that have more parent teacher association funding.
The school is also looking at partnering with Silicon Valley tech firms and Cal State East Bay’s education department. Reading Bugs has already partnered with the school, bringing visiting authors to the campus. There would also be dedicated resources such as a digital arts and tech coordinator.
Singer even created a logo with nine symbols, one representing literacy and language and others for digital arts, technology, diversity, creativity, growth, the sum being greater than its parts and the complete package of the school’s offerings.
Trying to become a feeder school to companies like Pixar should be one of Horrall’s goals, said board President Colleen Sullivan.
“You guys right now are taking a leap that other schools are not ready to take,” Sullivan said. “Horrall staff is unbelievable.”
The school hopes to have rebranding completed by this fall, according to a project timeline. Students would get to take part in the naming the school’s mascot, Dullea said.
The topic is tentatively going to be discussed further May 8 in a bigger conversation on magnet schools. A bigger conversation about the philosophy of having magnet schools in the district would be a good idea, said Trustee Lory Lawson.
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