Imagine if you had a child, a grandchild, family member, friend or neighbor, who attended a school where year after year they and the vast majority of their classmates were performing below the minimal state standards for children their age. How would you feel knowing that your child, and all these other children will face further challenges and failures in their education, and, quite possibly, in their lives? What would you do? How would you react?
The sad truth is that this a real scenario here in Marin County in the Sausalito Marin City School District at Bayside Elementary /Martin Luther King Jr. Academy. So those questions are also very real. What should we do? How should we react?
As the Marin County Superintendent of Schools, I have watched the Sausalito Marin City School District grapple with difficult issues over many years. At times, my office served in direct support to the district and worked in collaboration through issues of challenge and transition. At moments we have seen the glimmer of progress, but never have the issues been as challenging and deeply-rooted as they are today.
For the past nine months, I have been involved in addressing the needs of the district. This involvement began for several reasons including the felony conviction of the former superintendent. Further research unveiled serious academic challenges for the district that serves 160 students, 85% of whom are in financial need. I asked myself why, in a district considered to be one of the wealthiest in the state, are so many children and their families being let down by our system?
With statutory authority and a moral obligation to support districts in times of significant challenge, my office commissioned the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) to conduct a management review in follow up to its previous study conducted in 2012. As a respected statewide agency commissioned by state law, FCMAT has completed more than 1,000 studies concerning district operations. Their reports and analyses are the starting point for the successful turnaround of troubled districts statewide.
The 2016 FCMAT report confirmed that significant management and operational changes, including the district’s relationship to Willow Creek Academy, an independent charter school in Sausalito, were needed in order to serve Bayside/MLK students at a standard that we would all want for our own children.
The district, and the leadership of the independent charter school, have issued rebuttals to the report. They have made clear their concerns and submitted them to FCMAT. Some school district trustees have made something else very clear — that they simply do not understand that as trustees their responsibility and obligation is to the students who attend their own district school. This is exemplified by their past decision to approve an agreement with the independent charter school that financially favors the charter school at the expense of its own district school.
A candid appraisal of student assessments, reporting measures, and other studies and reports, both past and present, only lead to one conclusion: children are at risk. As a result, I will continue the involvement of my office in this matter.
I will encourage FCMAT’s review of the information provided by the district and charter school; but I will not ignore the compelling needs of the students. I will fully support the implementation of FCMAT’s recommendations for operational and management changes in the district.
I will support the work of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence who, with my full endorsement and urging, decided to make Sausalito Marin City one of its first statewide pilot projects, bringing expertise, resources and fresh perspective to help turn around its under-performing school.
I will continue to ensure that the civil rights of all the children in the district school are upheld and safe-guarded.
And, I will continue to put a focus and spotlight where it belongs – on the children of the district.
Tragically, we have possibly lost many in a generation of students who were let down by their school system and its leaders. Working together we can turn this injustice around. I intend to be part of the process now and into the future. The children deserve no less.