‘Major’ overhaul looms for middle school

Picking a major and minor can be a conundrum for college students — but soon it could be one facing Bayside Middle School students.

On Thursday, a team of parents and educators at the failing school presented district leaders with a program they hope will turn Bayside around: the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Program — or STEM — a model developed by the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The model would allow students to pick their own “major” and “minor” and take courses focusing on those subjects.

The San Mateo-Foster City School District’s board will decide at their next meeting whether to explore the idea further or go back to the drawing board and figure out a different way to overhaul the school, district spokeswoman Dr. Joan Rosas said.

For five years, the 700-student school has failed to meet state educational standards; by federal law, the school is required to be overhauled, Rosas said.

Bayside’s failings have not been dramatic, Rosas said. She said the school has, in fact, made intermittent progress on their test scores in the last five years, but has failed to improve both math and reading scores two years in a row.

Rosas said the school’s failure cannot be blamed on any single factor, but pointed out that Bayside is the only middle school in the district to have enough low-income students to receive federal funding. Only schools that receive that funding face an overhaul if they don’t live up to state educational standards, she said.

For parents like Maria Tinsay, the reasons for the school’s failure are not as important as what is done about it. Tinsay’s son is a successful fourth-grader at Parkside Elementary School. She said that unless she sees major changes at Bayside, she’ll send her son to a school across town — though she’d prefer him to attend the neighborhood school.

“We live in walking distance of Bayside, so if they can give him a good education, maybe we’ll bring him there,” she said.

If the board approves the program, it would be implemented for sixth-graders starting in fall, Rosas said.

Teacher Mary Bettini-Blank, who worked at Bayside for six years before moving to Burlingame High School last year, said teachers have already been working hard at meeting the state’s standards.

“I can tell you that no one sits on their heels at that school,” she said. “Every single kid and every single teacher is up on their toes trying to make it work.”

kworth@examiner.com

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