An impassioned group of parents filled Parkside Elementary School's multi-purpose room Monday night to implore the San Mateo-Foster City School District to reconsider plans to phase out Parkside's Montessori program in favor of focusing on the STEM approach.
A one-hour meeting explaining proposed changes to the Parkside curriculum did not sit well with parents, who were denied a chance to voice their opinions on a project that began with a study session in late October.
San Mateo-Foster City School Superintendent Cynthia Simms told the standing-room only crowd of more than 100 that Parkside is "moving to the STEM system."
Simms said the decision was based on teachers' recommendations after she charged the school with the task of developing a "common vision" for Parkside.
Simms said she visited 20 schools in the district, sat in classrooms and listened to teachers.
"Obviously, here, you have a split school," Simms said. "There is strong parent support for the Montessori program and you don't have that, necessarily, with the traditional school. Having one vision was my only concern."
Parkside principal Lori Fukumoto said Simms directed her to consider a one-focus school, and staff began looking for ideas.
"Montessori and STEM floated to the top," Fukumoto said. "The teaching staff recommended going to the STEM model."
The first vote was taken in December and resulted in an 11-11 vote of the credentialed staff, according to Fukumoto.
"In concensus building, people were given the chance to give their gut feeling," Fukumoto said. "On the second vote, they choose STEM or would go along with the majority."
Fukumoto said that vote was taken on Jan. 29. The parents were never notified of the process until receiving an e-mail, or a phone call, on Friday.
The e-mail was sent by Parkside Administrative Assistant Gladys Fonua and read:
"There will be an important meeting regarding program changes at Parkside for the 2014-15 school year on Monday, February 11 in the LGI. Montessori Families-your meeting will begin at 6:00 pm and you may want to stay for the general meeting beginning at 7:00 pm. Traditional Classroom Families-your meeting will begin at 7:00 pm. We look forward to seeing you on Monday."
While the SM-FC School District has not yet approved the decision, it is clear the board used Monday's meeting as a public hearing and can move forward as planned.
Under the Brown Act, Monday's meeting cannot be classified as a public hearing, as no clear agenda was established, even though notice was given 72 hours before the meeting.
Simms was joined by Assistant Superintendents Molly Barton and Susan Totaro, making it appear to be a quorum. There were no Trustee members, however, introduced at the meeting.
"I respect the opinions of teachers, administrators and trustees," said Davin Cole, who has a first-grader enrolled in the Montessori program. "But this was done with zero input from parents. What is the PTA if not for interacting with administrators?"
"I want to cry right now," said another parent. "I moved into this district specifically to participate in the Montessori program. I am infuriated this has been kept a secret."
Another alleged that teachers, also absent from the meeting, were "muzzled," and the shift in policy "shoved down our throats."
Simms and Barton both promised that every question will be answered, and passed out index cards for that purpose.
The next school board meeting, scheduled for Feb. 21, will take up the question of writing a magnet school application. That meeting should provide the public with another chance to comment.