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OP-ED: Not the whole truth
June 07, 2014, 05:00 AM By Alexander Hyres

Alexander Hyres

In the article, “District explores tweaking magnet policy: San Mateo-Foster City elementary officials think some magnets are simply theme schools” in the June 2 San Mateo Daily Journal, Dr. Cynthia Simms, superintendent of the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District, claimed that the Bayside STEM Academy was not meeting the learning needs of specific students as mandated within the No Child Left Behind law.

According to Dr. Simms, some students within ethnic, linguistic and socioeconomic subgroups are not having their learning needs met due to a lack of focus with Bayside’s instructional programs. She continued by saying that “until there are some changes academically, Bayside won’t be attracting other (students) from outside the neighborhood.” While Dr. Simms did acknowledge that the staff and teachers at Bayside STEM Academy have good intentions, the rest of her claims about the school — some of which lack hard evidence — are misleading and offensive.

Dr. Simms says that changes are necessary to Bayside’s instructional programs to meet the needs of all students. It is true that there are subgroups of Bayside students that struggle to perform well on the standardized tests mandated by NCLB. However, it is also true that Bayside’s Academic Performance Index (API) — a composite score, calculated by the state, of student achievement that draws heavily on standardized test scores — improved by 25 points during the 2012-13 school year. Over the same period, other schools within the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District averaged a two-point gain, while the state average was a one point loss in the API.

Despite those gains in the school’s API, not one of the Bayside teachers would say they are completely satisfied with the instructional programs at the school. Though the school administration and teachers do have a say in the direction and focus of the instructional programs, it is not as if the district office lacks the power to help select and support instructional programs to meet students’ needs. Any perceived lack of focus in Bayside’s instructional program needs to include a constructive conversation about how the district office, led by Dr. Simms, is positively or negatively affecting the school’s instructional programs.

***

Dr. Simms’ assertion that part of the school’s mission is to “attract other students from outside the neighborhood” runs counter to the mission of public schools in the United States and is demeaning to the neighborhood families of Bayside. The Bayside STEM Academy is a Title I public middle school — with a student population composed of the surrounding neighborhood and the district’s Gifted and Talented (GATE) program. While some of the students in the GATE program live outside the school’s neighborhood boundary, Bayside’s primary mission is to serve the public needs for education — specifically the students living within the school’s geographic boundary. A public school in the United States has the responsibility to ready students for their future roles as productive workers and democratic citizens. By saying that the school needs to attract students from outside the neighborhood to meet that responsibility, Dr. Simms is implying that there is something deficient or wrong with the families that call Bayside their neighborhood school. While Dr. Simms comments may be merely the start of a conversation about the role of themed and magnet schools within the district, there should have more foresight into the possible the implications of those comments. The aforementioned implication is irreverent and warrants further explanation from Dr. Simms.

That implication is irreverent and warrants further explanation from Dr. Simms.

Even if Dr. Simms does believe that part of a public school’s mission is to attract families from outside the neighborhood, her claim that Bayside’s academics are not attracting students to the school is questionable. Next year, the school will add over 60 incoming sixth-graders in the GATE cohort — some from outside the neighborhood — more than Bayside has ever had during Dr. Simms’ tenure as superintendent. Moreover, if Dr. Simms believes that part of Bayside’s mission is to attract students from outside the neighborhood, then making misleading and disparaging claims about the school in a public forum makes that endeavor evermore difficult. Though there may be a philosophical difference between Dr. Simms and the teachers about the ability for one to choose his or her public school, it is important to set the record straight about whether Bayside is attracting students from outside the neighborhood. Without citing hard evidence, Dr. Simms’ claim is conjecture.

Instead of continuing this conversation in a public space, the teachers and staff of Bayside STEM Academy seek a personal forum with Dr. Cynthia Simms and district board members to discuss her previous comments and concerns about the school.

Alexander Hyres is an eighth-grade English and U.S. history teacher at Bayside STEM Academy in San Mateo.

 

 

Tags: school, students, simms, bayside, neighborhood, outside,


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