Bo-Stin kids cram campus for one year

09/06/2012

Increasing enrollment at Bolinas-Stinson Union School District, combined with the decision to extend a lease to a preschool, has triggered a classroom and student shuffle and left some parents frustrated over crowded accommodations and the temporary loss of a program.

Several parents continued to voice their concerns at the district’s board of trustees meeting on Tuesday. Others have written letters to the board, District Superintendent Larry Enos and Interim Bolinas Principal Elaine Doss mirroring those complaints.

Third-grade mother Karen Buckenmeyer wrote in an August 27 letter to the board: “It is completely unacceptable that we continue to cut off our children’s potential at the knees.”

In June, the district finalized a plan to separate what was formerly a joint first and second grade class, and transfer the older students to the Bolinas campus. The second graders took the fifth-grade classroom, and those students moved to the music room. The music class then practiced and stored their instruments in the multi-purpose Quesada building.

The Quesada building has long been used for indoor physical education during inclement winter weather, as well as a variety of extracurricular activities—including assemblies, plays, ballroom dancing and conga lessons. “How in the world can you hold a proper PE class in a space that size?” Ms. Buckenmeyer asked in her letter.

Keiki Fujita, a mother of fifth and seventh graders, first heard about the Quesada issue from other parents. In a letter sent to the board, Fujita argued that the loss of ballroom dancing classes removed a valuable avenue for middle-school etiquette and socialization.

She also described a “domino effect” of lost programs, and proposed moving a mobile classroom onto campus or erecting a yurt. She also claimed in an interview that board agendas are “not written in plain language.”

Still, according to Mr. Enos, the district resolved the space issue in June.

For eight years, the Stinson Beach preschool, which follows the Montessori tradition, operated at the Stinson campus with a planned lease expiration for last June. Relatively low enrollment numbers allowed for the preschool to easily coexist on campus with a combined first and second grade class. Mr. Enos began discussions with the preschool about the future of their classroom space in December 2011. Meanwhile, first and second grade enrollment began to rise.

A January 3, 2012 district administration report to the board recommended that the school end its lease with the preschool and reclaim its classroom space. On January 11, the board distributed a letter to parents outlining the overcrowding issues.

The board also held a special January 23 meeting to address the problem, distributing information cards to attending parents and community members asking, “How can the district best meet the needs of its primary-aged students while continuing to facilitate the healthy existence of preschools in its communities?”

Based on input from the cards, Mr. Enos began in February to investigate several options to solve the overcrowding problem, the details of which the board made available to the public. Then-Principal Leo Kostelnik wrote a letter to parents outlining the issues surrounding campus facilities, and presented a report to the board detailing facility changes on both campuses.  

Mr. Kostelnik recommended allowing the preschool lease to expire. But after preschool staff failed to secure an alternative site, the board voted to keep them on campus for only one more year. The board held a special May 23 meeting outlining four options to deal with the overcrowding and preschool issues, and committed to the current plan shortly thereafter.

“The vast majority of parents supported the plan,” Mr. Enos said in an interview, and teachers completed the move by the end of June.     

Though ballroom dancing has been reinstated in the Quesada building, the superintendent concedes the decision to cancel it “may have been premature, but no student is going to be deprived of an experience previous children had.” He said the board studied the mobile classroom and yurt ideas, but found them to be “cost-prohibitive.”

By law, classrooms require water hookups and fire sprinklers and must conform to accessibility standards created by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He described the Quesada issue as resolved.

“I’m not necessarily surprised,” he admits. “I wish [the parents] would be less reactionary and allow us to problem-solve. We have to share space in a new way. The staff has worked really hard and the district can’t be faulted.”

Other parents remained adamant about building a new gymnasium and science lab as soon as possible.

“With 111 students, in a district as small as ours, there are a lot of facilities we don’t have,” Mr. Enos said. He also stressed that the board is exploring general obligation bond options to finance new buildings and added, “Facilities improvement discussions will be held.”

He reiterated to those present at Tuesday’s board meeting: “[The staff] exhaust themselves. We do a really good job. We’re going to be just fine.”