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Rancho to Draw In More Neighborhood Kids ... You OK With That?

Trustees unanimously vote on scenario that changes enrollment boundaries for all eight elementary schools in Novato.

One of Novato's stickiest and most contentious civic issues could be on the way to a settlement.

After a year of studies, discussion and debate, the took a step toward turning the lottery-entry into a neighborhood school Tuesday. But it will be gradual.

The district board of trustees voted unanimously to approve a scenario that allows some students from the Rancho neighborhood direct enrollment into the school and the rest of the student body to enroll via the long-established lottery system. It was part of a larger decision to change the boundaries of all eight elementary schools in the district.

"Overall when I look at the situation, I think it's the right thing to do," said trustee Derek Knell of the Rancho situation just before the vote "... I think we have to get this done. I think that 90 percent of us agree that we've just got to get this done."

Trustee Tom Cooper said the research was thoughtful and it was healthy for the district to revise the school boundaries. "That said," he added, "I think we'll be revisiting this on a yearly basis."

Rancho, the highest-achieving elementary school in the city and always among the best in Marin County, is the only non-charter school in the district that does not have traditional geographic boundaries from which to draw its students, resulting in a student body from all over town. It was a "back to basics" school from the 1970s to the early 2000s but now, by state law, teaches the same curriculum as the other elementary schools in Novato. A lottery system is used to determine who is accepted each year.

The community seemed divided in its support for Rancho's enrollment setup. Supporters pointed to the awesome academic results and the fairness of the lottery system, which is open to all. Detractors said there was no reason to have a lottery and that the socioeconomic and racial makeup of the student body was not as balanced as it could be.

So how do you feel about the Rancho decision? More than a year ago, Novato Patch drew a record amount of reader comments (just more than 200) on a story titled " Only the topic of affordable housing quotas has rivaled the Rancho conundrum in the past year or so.

Let us know your feelings about the trustee's decision by adding a comment below.

For another story about the issue, check this piece by the .

Mrs Sarge March 25, 2012 at 05:44 AM
You are right, there are a lot of involved parents all over Novato but not every parent puts education as a priority in their kids lives. Unfortunately....
Mrs Sarge March 25, 2012 at 05:47 AM
You are 100% right. That however would only apply to the parents who care, some kids have parents that don't really care. Now that is just sad.
Mrs Sarge March 25, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Are you for real? I wouldn't care if my kid went to school with a child who was purple, as long as they were in a good environment, receiving a good education. You are so far off it isn't even funny.
madame fantastica March 25, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Rancho was not a school of "choice" but one of luck. I imagine there are plenty of parents who applied to that lottery due to the appeal of test scores but have found that their kids are thriving at the other schools and have the added bonus of the richness of racial diversity and worldliness. Mixing things up leads to the benefits of alternative approaches, values, inspirations, and experiences. Poor Rancho didn't have those things provided to their students until now, so here's to the beauty of change and the squashing of fear, judgment, elitism, prejudice, and selfishness.
Donna DiGiorgio March 25, 2012 at 07:14 PM
I have been very entertained by the comments made regarding Rancho's 'magnate' school demise. I would like to add some food for thought: why was Rancho so popular that a lottery had to be held? Personally, when my kid left that school for the GATE program at Lynwood, I found that only the GATE parents ran every event for 'community togetherness" even though the PTA meetings (I was president one year) were also held in Spanish. I found these same GATE parents doing all voluteerism at San Jose Middle School....the same group of 10-14 moms/dads. The curriculum can be the same at all schools but when the kids are not taught civility and consequences, what is the point. Another observation: when my kid was at Lynwood, they had the GATE kids 'tutoring' the other children who were not doing so well in school. How did this accelerate the programs for the GATE kids?
Donna DiGiorgio March 25, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Having said all that, what has been done is done. Let's move on, folks.
Tim D March 25, 2012 at 09:04 PM
This comment is so wrong on so many levels & exhibits an incredible ignorance of human psychology and economics -- and a great example of why those Novato parents who support the dismantling of Rancho will, in fact, eventually get exactly what the unintended consequences of their faulty world view will create: a Rancho w/ eroded academics & the parents of most of the higher achieving kids exporting their kids out of NUSD - leaving a decimated Rancho. Hope 'madame fantastica' will be happy then.
Tim D March 25, 2012 at 09:13 PM
madame fantastica is totally oblivious to the overarching concern which will be the departure of the core of Rancho's parents who have made it such a success. It's not about whether a particular subset group is over or under-represented. Anyone fearful of adding their name to any list has no standing here: Novato cannot/should financially supporting any students here illegally. Their parents made the choice to expose their kids to that risk and always have the option to either leave or come back via legal means. Taxpayers can no longer support such illegal activity and need to instead look after the welfare of law-abiding families. Stop pulling the 'race card' as an excuse for too many parents who simply don't provide their kids with the right home environment or support that makes for good students. It's not about money or ethnicity. It is all about putting our kids in learning environments with other students who also want to learn. Period!
madame fantastica March 25, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Oh please, Tim D. Rancho is not being "dismantled". The only thing changing is that it is going from being exclusionary to inclusive. If there is some special magic to Rancho and it's practices, those should remain the same yes? And if the continuing Rancho parents can lead by example and include the new students and their parents with enthusiasm and welcome, there is no reason why the school won't continue to excell. So enough with the doomsday.
John Parnell March 26, 2012 at 12:06 AM
If Rancho's lottery was open to all, how was it "exclusionary"? When I moved to Novato 10 years ago, I was glad that Rancho existed, and hoped to send my kids there someday (if I was lucky enough to have any). Now that I have 2 little ones, I am extremely disappointed that the NUSD has decided to eliminate its best school. I don't understand the desire to dumb down the district. My wife and I both come from a long-line of teachers, and I guess would be considered "concerned parents". My oldest is in pre-school at Good Shepherd. As much as we love it, we never considered sending our kids to private elementary school...until now. Now that Rancho is gone as we have known it, our plans have changed. We will most likely either keep the kids at Good Shepherd, or we will leave Novato. Sending our kids to their neighborhood school is not really an option to us.
madame fantastica March 26, 2012 at 12:39 AM
John, it seems that you assumed you would be one of the lucky ones to win the lottery. What were your plans going to be when you had to very possibly pick your second choice school? That is what I mean by exclusionary. As well intentioned as every involved, concerned parent is, plans don't always work out as we initially planned. So whether Rancho had stayed a lottery school or not, you and your wife would still have been faced with the possibility that your plans might need to change.
madame fantastica March 26, 2012 at 02:10 AM
And Tim D, what would your response be to those responsible, engaged, supportive, active, legal parents that applied to Rancho and didn't get in? Tough luck? Sucks for you? Survival of the fittest? It turns out, if a kid didn't get in to Rancho, their parents were not lazy, ignorant, and uninvolved, they simply were not "chosen". How about they did their best within a flawed system and are now continuing to do so at one of the other Novato schools? But hey, me no understand sicology. me no understand ecinomics. me no care about mi kid. me no go to rancho. you lucky. you get kid to learn good. grunt grunt. At least now this divisive debate can be put to rest and Tim D, you can go sign the secret petition and get on that volunteer list to ensure you can still get special treatment since you feel you deserve it so much.
Lynne Wasley March 26, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I’ve had many children (birth, adopted, foster, grandkids) attending a number of our NUSD elementary schools (neighborhood school would be full or a special program was only available elsewhere). I've also worked with our schools as a parent adviser for special needs children, giving me the opportunity to familiarize myself with all of them. Each one impressed me. Rancho never stood out as a better school; in fact, I found its narrower demographics often had it offering less. I realize that for many parents test scores are the end-all, but if you look at the outcome data you’ll see that a school’s scores doesn't constitute educational success for individual students (case in point, one of my older daughters attended low test score schools: Gallinas, Davidson, SRHS - and went on to Harvard) nor are they a measure of life success. Rancho was/is exceptional in that it is a self-selected school whose access is limited to those w/ reliable transportation/time and the opportunity to learn about it from their neighbors/preschool. Though recent efforts were made to create more access equity, this did little to change the demographics of Rancho in that transportation could not be offered. We all know that test scores highly correlate with family income (link is for SAT scores, but elementary scores reflect the same correlation: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/sat-scores-and-family-income/), so it should come as no surprise that Rancho’s scores are high. Cont.
Lynne Wasley March 26, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Also of note is that the academic success (if one measures success by college acceptance) appears to be no different than for those from a similar demographic group who attended another NUSD elementary school. It always saddened me to see a young person doing so well socially/emotionally/academically - including high test scores - in their neighborhood school pulled to attend Rancho when their number 'came up' due to an opening in their grade. And as that child left to an education differentiated only by the demographics of that school and the number of parent volunteers, so too did that very active parent whose availability allowed him/her to volunteer in the classroom, this, in a school with a shortage of parents able to fill this role. I never thought I'd see Rancho move toward being a neighborhood school, but I’m delighted that this has occurred. I hope the Rancho parents (or those who had hoped to win the lottery) now searching for a private school for their child, consider looking again at their neighborhood school. I can almost guarantee that your child will thrive there - and get outstanding test scores as well!
Dexter Kaziff March 26, 2012 at 04:25 PM
John.....Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh...If I can't get what I want, then I'm going to move! When my wife and I moved here 10 years ago we looked at all the schools and decided which school we liked best and then bought a house in that neighborhood. I know, crazy right? Rancho is a good school...but then again so is Lu Sutton and Loma Verde and Pleasant Valley and San Ramon...The attitude you have just displayed is the reason so many people have negative feelings toward Rancho. When people say elitist, that's what they are talking about.
LA March 26, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Wow. Everyone has wasted so much time and effort arguing about who is right (or wrong) even after a decision has been made. The issue of making Rancho a neighborhood school is done. Let's get back to the very real issue of how do we create a successful school model for all of our schools. It benefits our kids and our community. The fact of the matter is, we have several schools in PI right now. It is great to take pride in Novato and our local schools, but we should have NO schools in PI right now. The comment that all of our schools are great is a gloss over of a very real problem. We turn a blind eye to the fact that some of our schools need help. Now that boundaries have been done, where do we go from here? We need people, moving forward and thinking about the future, not staying in the past. We all agree that parent involvement is key, whether it is participating in children's homework, volunteering for a PTA activity or even just providing boundaries for their children (do your homework, go to school, listen to your teacher, etc). Question for anyone - What is your solution to getting uninvolved parents involved in their school community? How do we implement this? You can answer based on your own school needs or in general.
LA March 26, 2012 at 05:04 PM
One more note...From my experience, I know that if parents don't feel like they are part of the school community, they do not feel accountable to the school and are more apt to not participate or care about whether they make a difference to the school. It's one thing if you have one family thinking like that, but what happens if you have 50!
Lynne Wasley March 26, 2012 at 06:07 PM
LA, Hope this doesn't sound too defensive... My comment that I was "impressed" with each school wasn't meant to suggest that we don't have much to improve. I've always been an involved classroom parent (as my time allowed - I have to work) and active on school and NUSD district committees, and have also done a lot of advocacy and support for those w/ special needs or at risk for significant mental health or behavioral difficulties, so I'm very aware that we are falling short educating many of our kids. But I don't think my comments (or of those likewise commenting) are necessarily about "living in the past," but rather about hoping that those upset about Rancho’s restructuring might consider other perspectives (not to suggest I have better insight - or know it all, I most definitely don’t!). I agree that parents who don’t "feel a part of the school community” are less apt to "participate,” but as to Rancho parents (I think this is the "50 families" you're referring to), I trust their commitment to their children’s education will continue and they'll play an instrumental role in seeing that a reconfigured Rancho provides well for their and all its students. As to getting parents at other schools involved: better access, communication, reaching out... there is a lot that can be done to ensure more involvement. Specifically, this is for each school to continue working on, though the District should also provide leadership and opportunity.
LA March 26, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Lynne, sorry if you felt I was directing at you (it just happened that my comment fell below yours!). I was just making comments in general about the entire thread and no, you did not sound defensive. I understand that this article was meant to stir up the hornet's nest, but I feel that it is very unproductive. There will be people that are happy with the decision and those that are not. That argument will always be around. I just wanted people to re-focus their attention now to how to put practical ideas into effect that would create a stronger support system to help our kids focus and learn. I totally agree with you that it is a joint effort from parents, the school and support from the District. I also agree that Rancho parents will participate wherever they end up. When I mentioned "50" families, I was not implying Rancho. I was just using it as an example from any school as each school has their own group of uninvolved parents. What are some good ideas that your school has used in reaching out, communicating, etc that can be applied in other schools? When we start sharing ideas about what works (or doesn't work) at our schools, we can help each other out.
LP March 26, 2012 at 07:11 PM
That is a very interesting comment. I have been part of the Lynwood family for the last 11 years. I remember after my first year how far apart the PTA and ELAC families were. It took the effort of the principal and presidents of the PTA & ELAC to bring both groups together. Yes, PTA meetings offer a translator, that way the Spanish speaking parents can join in. I hate to say it, but I have not seen "only the GATE parents" run events. Actually, I was never a GATE parent and ran events. Many other parents who did not have GATE kids have run events over the years. ELAC parents do help as well, and help with the running of our Kermes festival. The GATE parents I have seen have been part of the Lynwood family before GATE. Please don't misinform people that when GATE parents come in they take over, that is misinformation.
Ramon Mercador March 26, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Can't we just keep Rancho White? Ramon Mercador
Margaret March 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
I just wondering why more people aren't focusing more on the positives of the other schools in the district. Maybe when Rancho was founded some of the other local schools were not doing well but now they deserve a second chance. Principals change, teachers change, times change, and funds change. One benefit of being in PI means more funds and programs to help the students. Also, as far as being one in a few to help out at school can be frustrating. I find that it's helpful to find out how the other nationalites at the school view "contributing" to education in their own country. Maybe it's not the same as ours. When you ask people to help in a way that they are comfortable with it's much easier to get volunteers. At the end of the day, this is elementary education. I'm not saying that it's not important. It is very important. But no one is going to ask where you went to 3rd grade during an interview. Let's put it all in perspective. Change is scary but I'm sure that it will all work out for the best. Take another look at your local school. Put your effort into making that school the best that it can be. Help your own child, help others. It's going to be ok.
Tina McMillan March 28, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Yes. This is exactly the point that needs to be addressed. Why did we spend $88,000 on a boundary study when we need to find a more effective means of educating ELL and ED students? Changing Rancho's demographic does nothing to help the students with low test scores. If you take the time to read about this population the problem goes way beyond Novato and is affecting multiple states throughout the country. If you look at options that seem to make the greatest difference they are not neighborhood schools but schools that have an entirely different method of instruction. This would require focusing on the struggling population and changing our approach to education. For some reason the board is not addressing this issue and parents are made to feel that by redistributing students the experience of "fairness" will somehow make everything right. We don't need superficial equity we need solutions that change the approach to educating the struggling demographic.
Tina McMillan March 28, 2012 at 06:22 PM
John Sammons started Rancho along with other concerned parents who were stationed at Hamilton Air force Base. He has every right to be disappointed that a school that has been successful for decades is being changed to assuage the feelings of parents that somehow think neighborhood school means better education. Mr. Sammons worked hard to create a back to basics school that would help military families who experience multiple stresses each time they are relocated to a new base. Now the new focus of outrage will be on Pleasant Valley even though the consultants said there was no financially effective way of evening out its demographic because busing is too expensive. Some parents will still feel it is wrong that PV has fewer ED and ELL kids than surrounding neighborhood schools. What a shame that instead of helping ELL and ED students we are spinning our wheels. This is of no benefit to students, parents or teachers. This is a purely superficial change that achieves nothing.
Tina McMillan March 28, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Instead of changing boundaries or demographics what about changing the way we educate ED and ELL? http://www.convergemag.com/edtech/2-Principals-Lead--School-Learning-Revolution.html "When Linda Mikels came to Victorville, Calif.'s Sixth Street Prep School as its new principal, she faced a tough academic challenge. For three straight years, students at the school had been learning less and scoring lower on state tests. The majority of them qualified for a free or reduced lunch and identified themselves as ethnic minorities, mostly Latino. Half of them did not claim English as their mother tongue. The time for change had come. During the first meeting she led, Mikels and her staff decided they would take 100 percent responsibility for children learning; they wouldn't blame parents, students or poverty for a lack of success. She found a research study conducted by The Leadership and Learning Center on schools where more than 90 percent of students were eligible for free and reduced lunches, more than 90 percent were from ethnic minorities and more than 90 percent met or achieved high academic standards. After reviewing the research, Mikels' team set the "big, hairy, audacious goal" of becoming a 90-90-90 school within 10 years. Eight years worth of state assessment data later, the school in Victor Elementary School District has nearly met its goal. And other schools in the Golden State are looking to Sixth Street Prep for help in replicating their success."
Chip Tingle March 28, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Tina - why does one approach exclude the other? Aren't they compatible? Or to take your logic to a further extreme, how about we pool ALL of the most severely struggling students/families we have in Novato into ONE school so that another school(s) can test higher, waive their test score trophies around for the county's real estate agents, and compare coupons for the next BMW as they tell each other which neighborhoods to stay out of. This obviously makes no sense!!! Sorry, but nope.
Tina McMillan March 28, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Chip You have seen the multiple links I have posted on this subject. If you decide to take the time to read them through many are compatible with a school with mixed demographics but none are met by our current system. The non ELL, ED, LD kids in our school district are doing well. It is the population of english language learners, economically disadvantaged and learning disabled that continue to struggle. The boundary study did nothing to address this problem and cost $88,000. If you read the article about the teacher's trying to create a contract with the district you will see how much more NUSD spends on consultants and administrators compared to comparable districts. My statement is that our focus is misplaced and we still haven't addressed the problem of how to educate a struggling population. Read the links.
Chip Tingle March 28, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Tina - I agree, the links you've pointed out are indeed compatible with schools of mixed demographics. That's part of my point. Your argument seems to be a slightly different one than most here on ze patch when addressing changing Rancho to a neighborhood school. To me, the studies are not an argument against making Rancho a neighborhood school, but a good educational philosophy for our entire district to put in place when addressing ELL, ED, LD....including Rancho. I'm saying a good focus would include both your philosophy as evidenced by your links, and making Rancho a neighborhood school. One doesn't exclude the other. I happen to agree with you on many points about NUSD spending, but I'm separating this from what I view as your unique argument for somehow leaving Rancho untouched, unless I'm misunderstanding you here.
Tina McMillan March 29, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Chip Thanks. My feeling is don't change it if it isn't broken. Having lived here for 30 years and worked with children from all NUSD schools I feel the focus on boundaries and Rancho detracted from the real problems. I also support self contained classes for GATE at Lynwood in addition to cluster programs at each neighborhood school. I advocate for more rather than fewer choices. I appreciate your taking the time to understand what I was trying to say. So many discussions on Patch become polarized. It has been painful to watch Rancho become the focus of an argument over which they have no control.
HistoryLover April 11, 2012 at 03:30 PM
"You can't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak." --Abe Lincoln Rancho's scores were the highest in ALL Marin County, and was a draw to families who liked the creative learning environment & staff. Some other NUSD schools are in Program Improvement, meaning test scores are not at standard, so tearing down the 'best' school will make the others look better on paper.Glad I am going private!

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