Updated 5:00 p.m.
I escaped from my work at Patch to attend the first of today's two parent meetings about the phasing out of Discovery Program, a multi-age educational option that serves about a third of the school's population.
The multipurpose room was packed, considering it was a 2 p.m. meeting, so I imagine the 7 p.m. meeting will be even better attended — though it's not my choice of a fun Friday night activity.
The room was pretty somber and quiet as Principal Jon Vranesh, in his first year at the school, and a panel of Discovery and traditional teachers faced the audience.
All told, my take away is that this decision has been a few years in the making and is being driven primarily by two things: the creeping increase over the past three years in elementary class sizes from 20-to-1 at the lower grades to an expected 30-to-1 the coming two years and a loss of Discovery teachers, either from layoffs or regular attrition/retirements.
While the letter sent home by Vranesh understandably attempted to put a positive spin on the change (let's unify the school, etc.) the teachers there Friday afternoon were quite honest in saying that if they could maintain the integrity of the more than 30-year-old program with smaller class sizes they would continue it.
"To do Discovery right, now, is very hard," said Discovery teacher Michelle Williams. "There is not the staffing for it."
And that makes me incredibly sad — that something the teachers and school community ultimately believe in and have supported for so long has to fall by the wayside because of California's screwed up education funding system.
Worse is the thought of what that teacher-to-student ratio means for every elementary school in the city and across the state.
As a volunteer art teacher in my children's classrooms the past three years, I've seen firsthand the challenges of teaching little children packed into small spaces. I cannot imagine how they're going to do this.
While the general consensus among parents has been that academically Discovery these days really isn't so different from the mainstream classes — thanks to all the pressures of state-mandated standards-based testing — it certainly has had a special feel, with an emphasis on teamwork, grouping children with the same teacher for two years and mixing children of different ages.
In a description from one of the Discovery teachers, it's described this way:
The families really get to know the teacher and the teacher gets to know student (and family) and a bond is created. Inherent in the multi-age program a "learner/leader" relationship is created ... Students in the lower grade can enrich their learning by attending to the material designed for the higher grade, while the students in the higher grade can profit from opportunities to review the material designed for the lower grade... The classroom is child-centered and theme-based, with integrated curricula where possible. Multi-age classrooms develop into "families" with emphasis on caring, cooperation, and collaboration.
This approach has worked incredibly well for one of my kids; not so well for the other, so it was nice to have that choice based on each child's learning style. And of course all classrooms at the school always shared the core values of caring, cooperation and collaboration.
Parents at Friday's meeting lamented the potential loss of Discovery traditions such as older-to-younger student mentoring.
The staff explained that they hope to take the best of the entire school's practices — whether traditional or Discovery — and meld them into one.
Don't get me wrong. I do believe they can do it. I'm just sad they're being forced to.
Tonight's meeting is at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room.