Novato Unified's superintendent Shalee Cunningham called the district facilities committee recommendation "a compromise"—to move towards a neighborhood school with a smaller boundary of local students—and yet still make room to accept some students who want to attend the high-performing school with intra-district transfers.
"When you're dealing with families, we decided to go about it slower rather than faster, said Cunningham in the special school board meeting Tuesday. "It will be a successful transition."
The recommended "Scenario C" would grandfather all students — allowing them to stay in the school they currently attend — but would not automatically accept those students' siblings entering into kindergarten.
Cunningham said that even with the grandfathering clause, the implementation would take five years to complete. "If we add siblings, it's never-ending," she said.
She added that families with siblings can still apply for admission using the intra-district transfer process.
Cunningham called the plan a hybrid. "It was definitely a compromise," she said.
Trustee Debbie Butler felt the recommendation was going in the right direction but was still supporting a full move to a neighborhood school under "Scenario A."
"I feel that grandfathering is the transition," she said. "It's not about dismantling a school. It's about making it available to the neighborhood around it."
Trustee Derek Knell also had questions about why the district should go with a neighborhood scenario that would not have a cohesive feeder pattern from elementary to middle schools.
The recommendation, prepared by consultant Jack Shreder & Associates and a facilities committee, noted that allowing students to attend the schools closest to their homes took precedence over a cohesive feeder pattern, based on parent feedback.
Cunningham said that having the transition option also had benefits that would allow time for professional development and training of Rancho's teachers to adjust to the needs of the changing demographic that included more English-learning students.
Rancho teacher Sue Spry took offense to that remark in public comments to the board, saying that the teachers at Rancho were qualified to teach English language learners.
Under the recommended scenario, Rancho would move from 80 percent white to 45 percent at the end of five years, said Cunningham.
According to the facility consultant's numbers, the Hispanic population at Rancho would rise from 5.8 percent to 36.2 percent under the proposed boundary.
While Rancho Elementary was the focus of the presentation, Cunningham said that the changed boundaries are taking into account that the district as a whole has declining enrollment. Specifically, was pointed to as a school with significant declining enrollment due to an aging neighborhood population.
Post-meeting, some parents sensed that the school board trustees were moving in the direction of approving the facility committee's recommendation.
Parent Michael McIntyre preferred "Scenario A" to move Rancho to a complete neighborhood school but called the hybrid recommendation "thoughtful and serious."
"It's important to get either option done. We've got a changing demographic," said McIntyre, who has children at Loma Verde. "There's no way to predict what's going to happen with the grandfathering and the intra-district transfers," said McIntyre.
Parent Ross Ingels also favored the complete shift to a neighborhood school as equalizing the school boundaries but sensed the board would vote for the hybrid option.
"It's a compromise and its giving people time to adjust, but it's a short-term view," said Ingels.
School board president Cindi Clinton anticipates that the board will be ready to decide on the recommendation at the next meeting on March 20 after giving parents time to give feedback to the trustees.
For more coverage on the March 13 school board meeting, see this article in the Marin IJ.