I believe engaged households, which conversationally / stereotypically map to socioeconomic status, are massive contributing factors to an overall education. I also believe that curriculums and pedagogical approach to education tend to cater towards one or the other type of household. These decisions are often integral in long term vision and strategic planning.
The elected board for our district establishes the vision for Bayside MLK. The appointed board for Willow Creek establishes the vision for our publicly funded independent charter school.
In our district, I believe that Willow Creek caters toward an engaged household and struggles to educate kids without that support at home. BMLK is similar, in that they struggle to educate kids without a high level of support at home, but I believe they are actively designing for the reality of their kids and that specialization is reflected in higher test scores among our most disadvantaged.
In a single school system, I believe the same basic truth holds. There is an overarching curricular and pedagogical orientation that will either specialize toward the dominant need of the student population or the belief systems, stated goals, or other ‘mission driven’ point of view of that school’s leadership. This is true of private christian schools, montessori academies, and charter schools just as it is for traditional public schools of all stripe.
When there are two very distinct and very different populations in that single school, one with a highly engaged household and one without, the overarching paradigm seems ill fit to best serve both. One population will become the exception, getting different treatment, special line items in the budget, and in general viewed as the outlier within the broader context of “normal” students.
All students deserve to feel like if not outright be the norm in their school or, at the very least, at some point during the day – every day – of their young lives. Not every kid gets to enjoy that feeling growing up, and that results in myriad challenges.
In our current two school system, we are developing curricular strategies that serve two fundamentally different student populations. My hypothesis is that a single campus for lower school would provide immense cost savings on shared resources, massive social benefits of a combining all students in non-core classes, and then provide two core curriculum options that are generally derived from our current two programs.
My hypothesis continues to call for the “traditional” model to focus on stability by having two year classrooms (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) while the “charter” model focuses on specialization (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Everything else is shared – before/after school care, art, music, PE, food service, etc – and thus maximizes savings on redundancies at two campuses while also maximizing social interactions across the student body.
By keeping a traditional core curriculum, we can guarantee every local kid a seat in school. If our only option is a charter school, we may have a capacity problem that leads to lottery assigned seating for local kids. That is not a risk I am willing to take.
If a student, according to testing, guidance counselors, parental request, or otherwise, seems a better fit for one core curriculum or the other… great! It’s a fluid transition between the two and the social implications are greatly reduced if not eliminated since the shared classes and resources provide for continuity of social groups.
If, over time, one curriculum proves both dominant by headcount (as WC does today) and effective for all students (as BMLK does today with specific student populations), then we could evaluate when and how to merge them from a pedagogical and curricular point of view.
The middle school side of things is a bit trickier due to current low headcount, but in general should follow the same principle.
Instead of two separated cores, I’d have common homerooms for all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders (three homerooms, all students) and then subject matter experts teaching their subject at multiple levels. Students would have the social net of their homeroom and skill matched challenge of their subject matter skill level.
The core subjects that foot to state testing should likely follow a curricular and pedagogical style resembling or matching Tam, since preparing for Tam is a primary goal of our district.
Further, I’d like to see a service orientation at the middle school that better connects our students with the myriad nonprofits in southern Marin. This includes the many in Marin City – Bridge the Gap, Performing Stars, and Freedom School to name a few – alongside the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Bay Model, Marine Mammal Center, and NatureBridge.
By cultivating a service orientation we can both prepare our students to be better citizens of the community and attract students from around the county as a magnet program with unique opportunities.
So, does this qualify as a one school plan? Yes and no. I think many are calling for “one school” to mean all kids come together. This accomplishes that. Others mean “one school” as in one principal, one approach to learning, one style of teaching. I do not believe that approach is the best for our students or our district at the moment.
Approaching the reunification of our students in a stepwise approach allows for softer transitions and iterative adjustments as we go.
Students, teachers, parents and community members should lead this effort rather than any predetermined, top-down plan. The board and staff should provide guidelines, structure, and set overall timelines and targets along the way.
Together, we can build the best district for all students.