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.
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.
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.