Community engagement is the next step for the Next Steps Advisory Committee, which will partner with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center and consultant Tish Busselle, to design a public outreach process around the issue of increasing enrollment in the district and its impact on school capacity and equity.
At its June 23 meeting, the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District committee decided to hire on the group to coordinate hosting what could be a minimum of 40 meetings to gather feedback on ways of alleviating the lack of facilities in the district, with potential town halls, focus groups, community forums, attending pre-existing events and other strategies. Proposed community engagement meeting dates are from August or September to October.
Superintendent Cynthia Simms has noted the engagement process will be very important. During a November 2013 $130 million bond measure campaign, Simms said the district did not actively engage its staff. The effort, Measure P, only received 46.6 percent approval, short of the 55 percent needed for passage.
Measure P would have cost property owners $19 per $100,000 assessed property value. Its aim was to rebuild and expand Bowditch Middle School to add Foster City fifth-graders and reopen Knolls Elementary School in San Mateo for the 2016-17 school year.
Overcrowding remains a concern, as each year approximately 250 more students join the district’s elementary and middle schools. Simms said the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center will be a good fit to help with public outreach about overcrowding issues in the district since the center has worked with community groups and agencies in San Mateo County for more than 20 years,. The center has recently worked with First 5 San Mateo to gather data, suggestions and ideas about how Proposition 10 tobacco tax funding should be allocated throughout San Mateo County. It also worked with the San Bruno Park Elementary School District for strategic planning on a family engagement plan and the city of South San Francisco to gather information for development of a strategic plan around community health issues.
“The Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center is based in San Mateo and knows San Mateo and Foster City very well,” Simms wrote in an email. “Their experience with, and connections to, the variety of communities and agencies throughout the San Mateo-Foster City [Elementary] School District make them an excellent choice to coordinate community engagement strategies for the Next Steps Advisory Committee.”
Meeting one on one, in small group settings, and ultimately in town hall forums, the committee and the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center hope to attract hundreds of stakeholders, such as PTAs, teachers, parents, newspapers, the “No on P” campaign, city staff, unions, environmental groups, politicians such as state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, chambers of commerce in San Mateo and Foster City, church groups, site councils, Realtors, senior citizens and others. The committee intends to ask for stakeholder input in guiding the next steps the district should take to address the school capacity and equity challenge, according to the district. Other engagement strategies the group is looking at are phone surveys, home visits, advertising, ice cream socials, design thinking events, creating a website for Next Steps and other methods.
“A few of the Next Step members seemed to be concerned if they (Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center) had enough staff,” said committee member and Trustee Ed Coady. “They’re talking about attending quite a few meetings and getting input. They really kind of demonstrated they’re up for the task; they’ve done this for other school districts.”
So far, the Next Steps group hasn’t faced any real challenges, he said.
“The problem is real; this is not one of those philosophical or imaginary problems,” he said. “I think we’re making progress because everyone seems to be aware there’s real challenges with equity. The path ahead of us is going to have some really challenging work and we need our entire community to come together.”
Meanwhile, committee member Larry Lowenthal, who was on the Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding Relief that worked to address student capacity challenges in Foster City, said many complaints about the 2013 bond measure surrounded around a lot of people not knowing much about both it and the overcrowding issues.
“The school district is going to hire them (Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center) to essentially get out the word we’re interested in feedback,” he said. “This is totally different than SCORE. We were given task of overcrowding population in Foster City and I still feel it was a great idea, but the whole idea now is to bring this all together so everybody feels they’re getting an equal chance.”
The committee will tour district middle schools on June 28 to observe capacity issues firsthand. The bus leaves at 8 a.m. from the district office, 1170 Chess Drive in Foster City, and is open to the public. Committee meetings are held on the first and fourth Mondays of the month, from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the district office, but will not run in July. Check smfcsd.net for updates, meeting schedules, agendas and highlights of each meeting. The next meeting is Aug. 4.
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