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Magnet Schools May Expand: San Mateo Forster Town Area Committee Advice To Montessori And

Although some support two San Mateo Forster city primary school district task force, to display a large conclusions suggest, steam this program in two campus Montessori and a school district's magnet program will improve the way of programming in a campus, the process also hope to have more input.

The Montessori Task Force formed about nine months ago, while the STEAM Development Team formed about six months ago to study growing more opportunities for students to participate in the crowded Montessori magnet program and for STEAM to develop a K-5 program at Bayside STEM Academy that is currently grades 6-8. This came on the heels of a February decision by the district to bring Parkside Elementary School into a science, technology, engineering, art and math program from a Montessori and traditional school to the dismay of some parents. This would somewhat reverse that decision. The school would continue operating as a STEAM and Montessori into the 2015-16 school year, but would be brought back to Montessori only the following year.

“We have had quite a journey,” said Mary Kay Going, assistant superintendent of educational services. “I’m most excited about the engagement process.”

Going worked with both task forces to come up with solutions to improve the programs. The Montessori group presented a solution to the Board of Trustees Thursday that set up a K-8 program on two nearby campuses, North Shoreview and Parkside with 350-450 students each. The program would be application only, meaning it’s not a neighborhood school. Currently, there are 415 students in the TK-5 program at North Shoreview and 400 students total, between the STEAM and Montessori programs, at Parkside. Enrollment would include a percentage of neighborhood students by lottery and there would be special education classes on both campuses. Hosting a Montessori teacher-training program could also be a huge attraction to the district. A big advantage of Montessori is that it’s least impactful to facilities upgrade requirements, according to a staff report.

“It was not the first option, it was the last option,” said Alyssa Moore, a member of the Montessori Task Force and North Shoreview Montessori parent. “Through due diligence, this is the best option for the Montessori community. We were sensitive to other communities.”

Other North Shoreview Montessori parents are happy with the recommendation, including Mark Henderson, who was part of the Montessori Task Force.

“We came to an unexpected solution that seems to work in a lot of different ways,” he said. “There is some urgency for this since there are 75 kids who want to continue Montessori into the sixth-grade and there’s not enough space.”

Having a space on the east side of Highway 101 close to the wetlands that is part of the science curriculum makes a lot of sense for Montessori programming, noted Phyllis Harrison, principal at North Shoreview Montessori.

Others, like parent Karen Sell, want to make sure magnet schools are still able to balance the equity issues in the district. The district Next Steps Advisory Committee that is exploring overcrowding defined equity as the district providing equal access to maximum opportunities for each district student, along with providing the students community support.

New ways of learning

Meanwhile, on the STEAM side of things, the district worked with the San Mateo County Office of Education at no cost to explore options for the future of STEAM programming. One option is working with the Mastery Design Collaborative to “reimagine” schools to focus on technology use to implement personal learning, rotational learning environments, data-driven planning and other plans. The development team recommends one districtwide program with 800 students on one campus. It would be a neighborhood school located on the current Bayside campus — which currently houses 650 students — and full implementation would take place in 2016-17, according to the staff report.

“Whatever comes we’re going to take care of your kids,” said Bayside math teacher Karen Evans. “With the mastery program, I want to make sure we move forward carefully because it’s only been around for six to eight years and there’s no research to show if it’s effective. We should be talking to them with a critical eye.”

Community input

Some community members are concerned that not all communities were involved in the committees and that the meetings were closed to the public. Going explained the meetings were confidential because the potential decisions were sensitive and could affect various subgroups in the district. Several Bayside parents expressed frustrations about not being included in the process.

“It’s frustrating as a sixth-grade parent at Bayside that this has been going on for nine months and for us, we only heard about this a week ago,” said parent Janet Copeland.

A concern for Bayside physical education teacher Doug Silva was the potential for overcrowding.

Parents from other schools were concerned about their lack of involvement in the process, including Highlands Elementary School parent Nancy Hsieh.

“I see a lack of transparency in the information sharing process,” she said. “Keeping meetings secret goes against board policy. Parents at other schools will be directly impacted. It was a done deal with the Montessori last year.”

Trustee questions

An important thing missing from the recommendations information on the costs of adding space for these programs, said Trustee Chelsea Bonini. For example, she wanted to know the cost per Montessori classroom added.

“My understanding it’s hard to make a real estimate,” Bonini said.

Still, Bonini would like to see an estimate to facilities they need to change to make the movement from campus to campus. One thing that was pointed out was that Parkside would need a larger meeting area.

“That’s a large item that would probably only be accomplished by a bond,” she said.

Meanwhile, trustees like Ed Coady also raised concerns about what the potential impact on traffic would be to schools like Parkside, which already have traffic issues. If the board were to support these proposals, it would need to study the details of implementation on enrollment, curriculum, furniture, facilities and staff, according to the staff report.

Additionally, there were assumptions used to determine capacity for the proposals, including the fact middle schools will start using classrooms for all seven periods to address capacity concerns districtwide. Bayside will continue to enroll students in the Gifted and Talented Education and Mandarin programs. Other assumptions included, no K-4 students will be involuntarily displaced from North Shoreview or Parkside, while all fifth-grade students currently enrolled in a Montessori program will have a place in the sixth-grade at one of the two proposed sites.

There will be a program information meeting to all STEAM and STEM parents 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at Parkside Elementary School, 1685 Eisenhower St. in San Mateo and at North Shoreview Elementary School, 1301 Cypress Ave. in San Mateo, 7 p.m. Nov. 18. The school board has not determined when it will vote on the recommendations, Superintendent Cynthia Simms said.

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