Tag Archives: Cobb

What a night!

Well, I have to hand it to Commissioner Kim, who led her first meeting as the newly-elected Board President. (Commissioner Mendoza was elected VP). The agenda was incredibly long, but somehow we adjourned just after 10:30 p.m.

Still, tonight was one of those meetings that felt full of drama. The meeting opened with the annual tasks of electing new Board leadership and re-adopting the Board rules, then the awards and commendations we do at every meeting. There were a large number of people waiting to speak on the district’s Ethnic Studies pilot program, and another large group waiting to talk about the Superintendent’s recommendation regarding the locations of the General Education and Montessori programs at Cobb Elementary.

The Ethnic Studies group went first, discussing the importance of including Ethnic Studies as a 9th grade social studies course. The proposal for the pilot would create the two-semester class at five high schools; many students came to tell us they found the proposed class to be more relevant to their experience than other history courses they had taken. Teachers also stressed the importance of connecting history to the actual life experiences of our students. The underlying idea behind the pilot would be to empower students who come from marginalized groups, and address the lack of a 9th grade history course, and lackluster scores in the 10th grade California Standards Test in World History. It has a community service component and a course of study that examines the role of race, ethnicity and culture in history.  The Superintendent told us he is still examining the plans for the pilot and will bring us a proposal in the coming months, one that aligns the $300,000 proposed cost with our strategic plan and our new A-G graduation requirements.

But the big news of the night was the fate of the Cobb General Education and Montessori programs. Families in both programs have been in agony in recent months, uncertain whether their school would survive what best resembles a contentious divorce. Originally, the district placed the Montessori program at Cobb in an effort to offer an innovative curriculum to the school’s predominantly African-American students. But the program never caught on with the Cobb families, perhaps because it wasn’t what they wanted or perhaps because the engagement of the African American community was flawed.  The issue came to a head when the district’s Program Placement committee approved a plan to expand the Pre-K Montessori program into a full Pre-K through 5th grade program — a plan which called for phasing out the General Education program at Cobb.

At that point, the General Education teachers cried foul. While there were attempts to inform and engage the broader Cobb community about the Montessori plans, in retrospect those attempts were not enough, and mixed messages were sent. The community organized around the General Education program, and the rest is history.

There was no ideal solution before the Board tonight. Over the past few months, I’ve been convinced by the robust community support that we should give the Cobb General Ed program more of a chance.  And yet I’ve remained a strong supporter of Montessori and our efforts to bring a high-quality program to our public schools.  Still, the divisions between the two communities were so deep, and so bitter, it became increasingly clear that they could not co-exist on the same campus. And in any event, Cobb is scheduled for construction next year, so it physically would not have space for both programs.

What made the decision worse was a long-overdue fiscal analysis of the costs of both programs. While Cobb GE is currently under-enrolled, a relatively small increase in enrollment would keep the school fiscally viable. Montessori, on the other hand, costs more money to operate because the model requires more adults in the classroom than a traditional program — a fact that Board members realized we were not clear on until now.  In addition, moving either program would cost the district additional money.

In the end, the Board voted 6-1 to keep Cobb’s General Education program where it is and move Montessori, on a temporary basis, to the district’s Jackson St. property six blocks away (at an estimated cost of $235,000). There was discussion of “fiscal irresponsibility” by opening up a new school, but any solution that involved moving a program would have cost us money — and there was no other site the staff could identify that would be able to accommodate seven classrooms on the ground floor (required under fire codes for students younger than 7 years old).  In any event, part of the point of keeping the Montessori program is that it is wildly popular, with a long waiting list. If it ends up boosting overall enrollment in the district, we will probably come close to recouping those costs.  On the other hand, if we continue to hem and haw every year about where the program should be located, that would take away from its popularity.

Still, I’m hoping we learned something about planning and community engagement from this experience.  We shouldn’t just plop programs down in schools that didn’t ask for them or participate in the program placement decisions. And district staff needs to be much clearer with each other and with the Board about the potential costs of new programs.

There is, however, much to be happy about. The Cobb GE community should be proud of the strong advocacy they did for their program, and I look forward to seeing them take it to the next level. And the Montessori parents can breathe easier, looking forward to a fresh start in a new site next year. Hopefully, we will be able to craft a longer-term solution before June so that this program, too, has a sense that its future is secure.


Considering enrolling at Cobb? Here’s a FAQ

In recent weeks there has been a lot of community discussion around whether the district should save or phase out a general education program at Dr. William R. Cobb Elementary School in order to expand a Montessori program at the school (Background is here, here and here). Of course, with the January 8 enrollment deadline approaching, the uncertainty surrounding both programs at this school has created concerns that families who would otherwise request GE or to continue at Montessori for K will be scared away from doing so. In response to my request for guidance for families considering enrolling in either Cobb GE or Cobb Montessori, the Educational Placement Center has created a FAQ:

When will SFUSD make decisions about whether the General Education and Montessori programs will be available next year and their locations? The Board of Education plans to discuss this topic at a general public meeting on January 12 in order to reach a decision about where each program will be placed. 
What happens if I put one of these programs on my application and SFUSD decides to end the program or change the location?  Will I be able to change my application? If one of the Cobb programs is eliminated or re-located in January, the Educational Placement Center will contact the families affected by mail and telephone to inform them and to clarify their options.   Those families will have an opportunity to amend or revise their school or program choices on the enrollment applications prior to conducting the Round 1 assignments so families will not lose the opportunity to fully participate in the Round 1 assignment lottery. 
Must my child have been schooled in a Montessori program previously in order to attend the SFUSD Montessori program? The program is especially designed for multi-aged classrooms starting with children at ages 3 and 4.  Entry at an older age is possible for a few students if there are spaces but this is very limited. The Cobb pre-K Montessori program is reserved for 60% of students who are low-income.  District administrators are in conversation with Montessori experts to determine if there is a way to phase in more new students to the program after pre-school. 
Why didn’t the district resolve these issues earlier? Last winter, it was our understanding that Cobb school community members were united in their desire to have the Montessori program expand, we have since learned that this is not the case and are in the process of carefully weighing other options.

KQED Forum: A tale of two schools

Today, KQED Public Radio’s highly-respected Forum program did a segment on the Cobb Elementary GE-Montessori clash. I had the privilege of being a guest on the program, along with Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker and several parents from each program: Listen here .

It was an interesting experience and I think the discussion was substantive; touching on the many facets of this complex issue.

Meeting recap: SpEd overshadowed by Cobb turmoil

Tonight’s meeting was another long one . . . items get backed up late in the year because of meeting cancellations during the holidays; we had our long-scheduled report from the CAC for Special Education, a great discusion about the group’s longstanding recommendations to the district, and a presentation from Special Education director Clare Davies about inclusive practices in the school district (as a way of commemorating National Inclusive Schools Week). It was gratifying to hear Commissioners request that the Superintendent and staff finally answer the long list of recommendations the CAC has been making for as long as I’ve been paying attention. We need to close the loop – either commit to implementing recommendations, describing how and when we’re going to get there, or definitively say we’re not going to implement particular recommendations, and describe why.

Still, I’m sorry to say that the important discussions of special education and inclusive schools were overshadowed by the big topic of the night: the continuing turmoil at Cobb Elementary School over the fate of the Montessori and General Education programs. Supporters of continuing a General Education (GE) program at Cobb mobilized again to show the school board how strongly they feel about keeping Cobb the way it is; there was also a contingent of families from the Montessori program. GE supporters wore orange stickers; Montessori supporters wore yellow baseball hats with red stickers (“Oh no!” one board member whispered to me when she saw the color-differentiated groupings. “This is supposed to be one school!”).

For the most part, comments were respectful, but anger definitely spilled over. It’s  clear that the GE supporters feel disrespected; and that they view the Montessori program as an alien presence rather than a welcoming or workable option for their students. From the Montessori side, there is clearly bewilderment at the backlash — the Montessori supporters view their program as so good and so necessary that it’s hard for them to understand that the GE families and staff view them as insensitive interlopers.

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Montessori muddle

Tonight we heard public comment from many families whose children are currently enrolled in the general education program at Dr. William R. Cobb Elementary. Families are worried their program will be closed, because the school district is implementing a Montessori program at the same site.

While my ability to talk about the specifics of this situation is limited, there has been no decision to either close the school, move a program, or end a program.

What I can say is that The Montessori program at Cobb was created to fulfill two objectives: implement programs that integrate Pre-K and elementary school programs in a seamless way; and create high-quality programs for African-American children. In several districts across the country (most notably Milwaukee), public Montessori programs have been implemented with very positive results for low-income children and African-American children, and this data was the spark that started the push for a Pre-K through 5th grade public Montessori program. Why locate this program at Cobb? There were existing preschool classrooms, the school was under-enrolled, and the principal was enthusiastic.

I don’t believe anyone saw the Montessori program as a way to marginalize the predominantly African-American families who currently attend the school. The objective (I believe, though I was not on the Board at the time the program was created) was to offer families from the Western Addition a unique and high-quality alternative program; and a program that would afford children a seamless transition from preschool to elementary classrooms. Because our preschool programs are required to reserve 60 percent of their seats for families who are low-income, job-hunting, or unable to afford preschool, the Cobb program was seen as a way to ensure that the least-advantaged families were first in line as we implemented a promising educational approach.

I’m posting a useful FAQ on the Cobb General Ed-Montessori situation that may help answer some of the questions swirling around.