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Several months ago I wrote an article on how well our four Foster City schools were doing when it came to API test scores. All four of our schools scored at or near the top of all San Mateo County schools. The current scores were recently announced and, again, our four schools did very well.
The good news is that our children are doing well in school. The not so good news is that our success is creating a large demand for families to move into Foster City which means that our schools are impacted by an influx of new students. Of course, our properties maintain their strong values as well.
The San Mateo/Foster City School District recognized that problem of overcrowding and has been doing its best to overcome this issue. One way the District decided to solve this dilemma was to create a Citizen’s Committee of Foster City residents, parents and business owners. It was created to explore different ideas on how to solve this overcrowding problem. The committee was to bring their recommendation to the School District Board for their consideration and approval. The School Board then would decide if this recommendation could alleviate the overcrowding problem. The committee that Superintendent Simms put together is called the Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding RElief or SCORE.
This committee of thirteen interested and concerned citizens has met almost every week for the past ten weeks discussing and exploring as many options that could be uncovered to try and solve this overcrowding issue. The ideas, a full thirty of them, ranged from the outrageous to the sublime. But the members of the committee showed respect and restraint when discussing each idea. The committee members come from different points of view but they all realize that they needed to come together to solve this community problem. I applaud them for their effort, concern and congeniality.
After discussing all options, they condensed them down to about ten. Some of the options were simply to build a new school to accommodate the ever growing school age population. The stumbling block to that idea was to find a suitable location. Was it parks, shopping centers or wetlands? No one seemed to be able to answer the location question. They looked at adding buildings or floors to existing facilities. They even talked about making all schools in town into year round programs. No option was ignored, but each was looked at from a Pro and Con perspective. The committee members were all aware of potential problems with each idea and looked at them from a practical perspective.
The committee was led by a most experienced moderator named Geoff Ball who kept this group of highly motivated members on the singular path to find the solution. Also assisting was Steve Newsome, a land use expert, who has worked with many school districts advising them about the legal requirements for building or redesigning schools.
After ten grueling weeks and close to thirty hours of discussion consensus was finally reached. Actually a fairly simple solution was reached. By moving the fifth graders from each of the three elementary schools, classrooms would be freed up for the influx of kindergartners in the next two to three years.
The fifth graders, as suggested by the SCORE group, would move to the Bowditch Campus. However, this suggestion would be a costly option. The plan would cost $65 million that would be funded with a bond issue. It would also require Bowditch to be demolished and a new school built. The recommendation created by the committee proposed that the new school be designed to house fifth and sixth graders on one side of the new school and seventh and eighth graders on the other side. They would share a common gym but each side would have their own library, classrooms, labs and LGIs so that there would be considerable separation between the younger and older groups.
Proposing to build on the Bowditch campus has many advantages. Of course, it would serve the primary purpose of the SCORE committee and that was to find space for the new kindergartners. Second, it would provide all Foster City kids with a state-of-the-art school. The third reason would be the fact that new land does not need to be purchased since the School District already owns the Bowditch campus. This means no parks will be affected as well as the initial thought of trying to use the Charter Square property as the location for the new school. The plan to rebuild Bowditch also will provide more outdoor space for lunches and recess times. Finally, the property values in Foster City will increase significantly because a new school is in town.
This option was presented to the School Board on the 2nd of August for consideration and then to the City Council on Monday the 6th of August as an information item. According to Superintendent Simms, this document will be presented to the public for additional input sometime in the near future.
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