Stinson preschool in tight space

01/05/2012

Facing increased K-2 enrollment and shifting educational needs, Bolinas-Stinson Unified School District announced this week that it is considering ousting Stinson Beach Preschool from the room it has rented for the past several years. Parents and administrators are concerned that the eviction could leave the preschool with no space in which to operate, and may jeopardize a critical local source of early education.

The school district’s board, which convened on Tuesday, said it plans to draft a letter to the community soliciting solutions, be they spaces for rent, funding assistance or just a bright idea. A special meeting of the board will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 24 at the Bolinas campus to discuss options with the community.

The preschool, which has a current enrollment of 23, is one of two that serves the district; the other is Bolinas Children’s Center, which operates in a space owned by the Bolinas Community Public Utility District.

“No one in the room wants to be in the position where one of our two preschools does not have the space to operate,” said district principal Leo Kostelnik. “The school district and the preschools have always worked very closely together and no one wants to face this issue, but we really also need to consider the needs of the K-2 school.”

Those needs are based primarily on a new instructional approach that promotes breaking students into groups of similar reading and language levels. The effort is meant to better respond to a student’s individual needs, which at least in the Bolinas-Stinson district are growing more diverse as more English as a Second Language (ESL) learners matriculate into classrooms.

“The school is doing really great things but it means they need more space to break kids into appropriate learning groups,” said Christine Cunha, a parent and former treasurer of the Stinson Beach Preschool’s board.

Cunha said there doesn’t appear to be any readily available space to convert into a preschool. Ideas have been thrown around, such as using a local residence or gallery, but there are potential obstacles to both, Cunha said, such as inappropriate bathroom facilities and limited or unsafe outdoor play areas.

Susan Tacherra, who manages the preschool, applauded the district’s new teaching approach, but said she thinks it has not done enough to explore ways to use existing space. She cited the possibility of building a new room or covering vacant outdoor space currently located on school property. “I think there are more creative solutions than terminating our lease,” she said.

The preschool has rented the K-2 space for eight years, initially renewing its lease every three years. Last year, however, the school board elected to transition the lease to an annual renewal.

Tacherra is adamant about not wanting the preschool to move. For her, the proximity to the K-2 school affords untold benefits to both programs, such as staff collaboration and student interaction. The preschool has also invested thousands of dollars towards outfitting the space for its students. “I don’t know what the best answer is, but I’m ready to think outside the box,” she said.

Cunha hopes the community is too. She said the school board has until March 31 to decide whether to renew the preschool’s lease, and that, should no feasible alternative present itself by that time, an eviction would likely follow come  summer.