It was surprising for a superintendent to criticize a district school and then for a teacher from that school to go on the offense — all this in the Daily Journal. In a June 2 article on magnet schools, Cynthia Simms, superintendent of the San Mateo-Foster City School District, said that “subgroups are still struggling at Bayside. Until there are some changes academically, Bayside won’t be attracting others from outside the neighborhood.”
On June 7, Alexander Hynes, an eighth-grade English and U.S. history teacher at Bayside, replied in an op-ed that while there are a group of students who continue to struggle on standardized tests, Bayside students overall increased their standings on the Academic Performance Index by 25 points last year, a major achievement. Other schools in the district averaged a two-point increase.
Bayside houses the district’s middle school gifted program. According to Hynes, Dr. Simms neglected to say that there will be 60 additional students joining the program next year, some of them from other neighborhoods. And if the superintendent wants to attract students from outside the neighborhood, “disparaging remarks about the school in a public forum makes the endeavor more difficult.”
What is this all about? Bayside’s enrollment draws from some of the city lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods. Its API scores are lower than the district’s other middle schools. This has been traditionally so. Many of the families rent rather than own homes. Many are on the move when the economy changes. For some students, Bayside is the first district school they attend without the benefit of the district’s elementary and preschools. In recent decades, many of the students come from families who do not speak or read English. Despite these factors, Bayside has made extraordinary progress. It became a STEM school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and beefed up its curriculum while attracting outstanding teachers and a dynamic principal.
From Dr. Simms’ point of view, she sees a district with haves and have-nots. The best policy is to encourage diversification of the student body via magnet schools, moving the gifted program from affluent to less affluent neighborhoods, etc. The alternatives are busing kids around, changing boundaries or adopting San Francisco’s unpopular system in which students from low economic neighborhoods have preference over neighborhood children in high-achieving schools.
She is also faced with a growing student population in Foster City, primarily middle class, the least economically diverse part of the district. The last school bond to address the need for more space failed and, until a new one passes, my guess the superintendent, like her predecessors, would like more Foster City students to attend San Mateo schools. That’s why a Mandarin immersion program and an elementary gifted program was started at Turnbull, now College Park, in North Central San Mateo. Foster City students receive free busing. Previously, the gifted program was headquartered at Baywood, then Laurel in communities west of El Camino Real. The district’s popular Montessori program started at Meadow Heights, another school west of El Camino Real, moved to Parkside and later on North Shoreview in the neighborhoods east of Highway 101.
Unfortunately, these attempts to move students around to improve achievement and diversification don’t always work. Park School, in San Mateo’s most affluent neighborhood, has suffered declining test scores with the exodus of most neighborhood children. When Peninsula (now Sterling Court independent living for seniors) on El Camino Real was shut, its students were assigned to Park. Then Park experimented with open classrooms. Parents wanted a more traditional school and had the money to go elsewhere. Now Park has walls between classrooms but most neighborhood children are gone. For years, the parents of North Central children have complained about their kids being bused to other district schools.
Last week, a Horrall, Bayside and San Mateo High graduate, told a graduation of Parent Involvement Program (PIP) preschoolers and their families his story. First in English, then Spanish. Ramiro Molina, a PIP pre-school graduate, started working for his father, a gardener, when he was 8 years old. He hated it. Father told him if he didn’t want to be a gardener he should study hard. He did. Now he’s off to a university on a full scholarship. His proud parents were on stage, too. They deserved equal applause. As Ramiro explained “My parents’ support is what got me to where I am now. Give that to your kids and they too will excel in life no matter what their background is. It doesn’t matter where you start ... it matters where you end up.”
PIP is all about making parents participants in their children’s education. Parent participation and preschool are key to success. Maybe more so than diversification.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.