Addressing the Elephant

The job of any board is to guarantee the best education possible is provided to all students, equally and fairly, reflecting and imparting the values of the community they serve.

Within our district, the current achievement gap is a fundamental concern and central point of conversation in this election. Closing that gap is both a near term focus and ensuring it never reopens must be part of our long term plan.

I’ve looked at the numbers with Tara Seekins, head of school at Willow Creek, and she knows it’s a serious and persistent issue. David Finnane, principal of Bayside MLK, was well aware of the challenge before taking what he hopes will be a long term post. I know it’s on the radar for Terena Mares, our interim superintendent originally assigned in an oversight capacity, and, of course, it is well known by Mary Jane Burke, our county superintendent. No doubt it is also filed away with the State Attorney General’s office as part of their ongoing investigation of our district.

It’s well known that one school is delivering better results for members of our biggest student population. Just in case you aren’t sure what I mean…

Bayside MLK is doing a better job of educating economically disadvantaged African American students than Willow Creek.

If that’s a surprise or seems like it just can’t be true, don’t take my word for it… here’s the data:

Bayside MLK outperforms Willow Creek in teaching English to African American students for both 2017 and 2018.

For 2018, Bayside MLK has a 10% lead in the Good or Great categories for English (22% to 12%).

Bayside MLK outperforms Willow Creek in teaching Math to African American students for both 2017 and 2018.

For 2018, Bayside MLK has a 32% lead in the Good or Great categories for Math (32% to zero at Willow Creek).

If you’d like to see the breakdown for other student groups, please review the data here:

Data for Bayside MLK   —   Data for Willow Creek

The bottom line is that while both schools should improve, Bayside MLK is better than Willow Creek at serving a very large student group in our district. We need to ensure that whatever program best serves our students is supported and expanded.

Today, for a critical group of students in our district, that better program is Bayside MLK. And there is a very good chance that this election results in shutting that school down.

How is that providing the best possible education to all students in the district?

Yes, Bayside MLK is facing a lot of challenges and has fought uphill in the past two years to win back several programs that had been lost or reduced by board approved actions since 2009. Whether or not each individual action our board has taken over the past ten years were conscious and strategic in nature or unconscious and financially driven is up to each of us to consider, for history to frame, and, potentially, for the state Attorney General to decide.

What do I mean by strategic? The reward for Bayside’s back to back Distinguished School awards in 2007 and 2008, making them one of the top 50 programs in the state, was to begin dismantling their programs in 2009, the same year that Bill Ziegler, a Willow Creek founder, began his eight year stretch on the board. It wasn’t broke… but he and the board certainly fixed it.

What do I mean by financially driven? It is plausible from a business minded perspective that a Willow Creek majority board saw gains at their school as more predictable than investing in the challenging, unfamiliar environment of Bayside MLK, as evidenced by the roughly $1 million in additional funds currently allocated to our ‘independent’ charter school that has accumulated over the course of a decade.

I do not believe that education is a business to be run efficiently quarter to quarter, seeking short term returns on investment. Rather, it is a service to be provided generously decade to decade and an obligation of the community to ensure it reflects their values. Long-term vision and planning from our board should not allow for some to become more at the expense of others becoming less.

Unfortunately, that has become the reality in our deeply divided district. We are now under financial, cultural, and legal strain while our students are failing to be adequately prepared for high school. After a long run of Willow Creek majority boards, kicked off in 2009, we are failing our students in the short term and risking our district all together in the long term.

For Willow Creek leadership and the three Willow Creek aligned candidates to deny any level of responsibility in Bayside MLK’s current challenges seems negligent to the facts, often swept aside as a ‘false narrative.’ Call me crazy, but when you resort to using the phrase ‘false narrative’ repeatedly, it just sounds… false.

To shut Bayside MLK down as a result of those challenges, claiming that Willow Creek as a single school solution is the answer to our achievement gap has two major flaws. First, charter schools legally can’t guarantee seats to all local kids. Second, Marin City kids of color perform better at BMLK than Willow Creek. Both of those are just facts, not narratives.

The way I see it, Ida (four years on district board), Bonnie (20+ years family legal services), and myself (concerned parent of a future public school kid) all want a multi-school solution that guarantees a seat for all local kids, supports the programs that best serve all students, and strengthens the district as a whole.

Conversely, Josh (six years on district board), Jen (co-president of the Willow Creek parent’s association), and Kurt (president of the Willow Creek board) want a single school solution that can’t guarantee a seat for all local kids, shuts down the program that best serves many students, and potentially threatens the district by amplifying the AG investigation.

Several folks, before and during this campaign, shared a quote from Bill Ziegler, a Willow Creek founder and member of the first Willow Creek majority board elected in November 2008, along the lines of “If you think we’re sending our kids to your school, you must be smoking something.” That cut runs deep, and it’s still very raw a decade after he took his seat on the board, which he held until just two years ago.

Many have also told me the real issue underneath all of this is that Sausalito won’t send kids to Marin City. That may have been true when Willow Creek was founded almost 20 years ago, it was obviously true when one of their founders took his seat on the board a decade ago, and it may still be the opinion of some Sausalito residents and parents today, but it is not true for everyone and it doesn’t mean we stop trying to do better and be better for all of our students.

Many people have hinted at or outright asked me about racism within our district. That is absolutely the elephant in the room and we, during this election, have to address it.

To say that racism is not a factor in our district would be a failure to move the conversation forward by not giving credence and truth to the experiences that have shaped our district for decades and still sway many families and decisions today.

We are at our most divided nationally right now, and on a local level we should be able to do better. Shutting down Bayside MLK after actively decreasing its ability to educate our kids over the past decade is not progress, it will not bring our communities together, and it will not best prepare all our kids for Tam and beyond.

We need to work together, find a solution that fits the budget, and restructure our district to serve every student, guaranteed. It’s time to work towards reclaiming statewide recognition for both schools, preparing all students for success at Tam, and bring our communities together to give all families a voice while giving all kids the education they deserve.

When adults fight, kids lose.

Education is a right, not a fight.

We can do better. Right?

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