The community engagement process is about to commence for the Next Steps Advisory Committee around the issue of increasing enrollment in the district and its impact on school capacity and equity.
The San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District committee began meeting in March and enlisted the help of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center and consultant Tish Busselle in June to coordinate hosting meetings to gather feedback on ways to alleviate the lack of facilities in the district, with potential town halls, focus groups, community forums, attending pre-existing events and other strategies. The first community meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 19 with County Superintendent Anne Campbell’s office.
“It’s important everyone has a say in how we move forward,” said school board Trustee Ed Coady, who is on the committee. “I’m really excited because we’re going to have a chance to really engage a lot of people across all sorts of backgrounds. It’s a great opportunity to bring the communities of San Mateo and Foster City together.”
Overcrowding remains a concern, as each year approximately 250 more students join the district’s elementary and middle schools. With this overcrowding, Coady said it will be really important to try to provide all children with a diverse student body that’s similar to the ethnic makeup of the state of California.
“The school district really must make every effort to have the schools mirror the same makeup,” he said. “We’re going to have to come to the voters and say, ‘we need your help as a community. We’re probably going to have to build more schools or look for ways to accommodate those students without impacting equity.’ We want to make sure as we’re accommodating the growth, the resources in our district are equitably balanced.”
During a November 2013 $130 million bond measure campaign, Superintendent Cynthia 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. The measure 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.
In terms of the upcoming meetings, there will be a presentation to the Montessori Task Force Aug. 20, the leadership team of the district Sept. 4, the Foster City Lions Club Sept. 9, the San Mateo United Homeowners Association Sept. 9, the San Mateo City Manager’s Office Sept. 10, Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, and the Foster City Parks and Recreation Department. Other meetings are planned this fall.
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, 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.
Busselle is also developing a survey of the public to gather information on the impact of capacity and possible solutions. The online Survey Monkey questionnaire would include open-ended questions about solutions. Committee member Mark Hudak expressed concern that the open-ended questions could yield the district a ton of information to sort through that might not actually be useful. Coady noted it could become a Herculean task to sort through so many answers, so cutting the questions down might help. Other committee members, like Trustee Audrey Ng, suggested limiting word count on answers.
“We could limit the characters like on Twitter,” she said.
The surveys are important to have though, as last time the district went out for a bond measure, people felt like they did not have their voices heard, she added.
On another note, the committee will be filming a video that will be posted on the district’s website at the end of August. The video will work to educate the public about some of the impacts of overcrowding, Coady said.
“Not everyone has seen the impacts of this growing enrollment, but everyone has seen the new apartments and high-density housing,” he said. “The mission is to get people to realize just how much of an impact that’s making to our schools.”
Engagement meetings run through October.
The Next Steps Advisory Committee next meets 5:30 p.m. Aug. 25 in the district office board room, 1170 Chess Drive, Foster City.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105