To Montessori or Not to Montessori: Is That the Real Question?

School superintendent Cynthia Simms kept her cool as audience members voiced opposition over planned changes.


An impassioned group of parents filled Parkside Elementary School's multi-purpose room Monday night to implore the San Mateo-Foster City School District to reconsider plans to phase out Parkside's Montessori program in favor of focusing on the STEM approach.

A one-hour meeting explaining proposed changes to the Parkside curriculum did not sit well with parents, who were denied a chance to voice their opinions on a project that began with a study session in late October.

San Mateo-Foster City School Superintendent Cynthia Simms told the standing-room only crowd of more than 100 that Parkside is "moving to the STEM system."

Simms said the decision was based on teachers' recommendations after she charged the school with the task of developing a "common vision" for Parkside.

Simms said she visited 20 schools in the district, sat in classrooms and listened to teachers.

"Obviously, here, you have a split school," Simms said. "There is strong parent support for the Montessori program and you don't have that, necessarily, with the traditional school. Having one vision was my only concern."

Parkside principal Lori Fukumoto said Simms directed her to consider a one-focus school, and staff began looking for ideas.

"Montessori and STEM floated to the top," Fukumoto said. "The teaching staff recommended going to the STEM model."

The first vote was taken in December and resulted in an 11-11 vote of the credentialed staff, according to Fukumoto.

"In concensus building, people were given the chance to give their gut feeling," Fukumoto said. "On the second vote, they choose STEM or would go along with the majority."

Fukumoto said that vote was taken on Jan. 29. The parents were never notified of the process until receiving an e-mail, or a phone call, on Friday.

The e-mail was sent by Parkside Administrative Assistant Gladys Fonua and read:

"There will be an important meeting regarding program changes at Parkside for the 2014-15 school year on Monday, February 11 in the LGI.  Montessori Families-your meeting will begin at 6:00 pm and you may want to stay for the general meeting beginning at 7:00 pm.  Traditional Classroom Families-your meeting will begin at 7:00 pm. We look forward to seeing you on Monday."

While the SM-FC School District has not yet approved the decision, it is clear the board used Monday's meeting as a public hearing and can move forward as planned.

Under the Brown Act, Monday's meeting cannot be classified as a public hearing, as no clear agenda was established, even though notice was given 72 hours before the meeting.

Simms was joined by Assistant Superintendents Molly Barton and Susan Totaro, making it appear to be a quorum. There were no Trustee members, however, introduced at the meeting.

"I respect the opinions of teachers, administrators and trustees," said Davin Cole, who has a first-grader enrolled in the Montessori program. "But this was done with zero input from parents. What is the PTA if not for interacting with administrators?"

"I want to cry right now," said another parent. "I moved into this district specifically to participate in the Montessori program. I am infuriated this has been kept a secret."

Another alleged that teachers, also absent from the meeting, were "muzzled," and the shift in policy "shoved down our throats."

Simms and Barton both promised that every question will be answered, and passed out index cards for that purpose.

The next school board meeting, scheduled for Feb. 21, will take up the question of writing a magnet school application. That meeting should provide the public with another chance to comment.

Bren February 14, 2013 at 11:40 PM
To those who were offended by my earlier comments and asked me to do some research, I've read up on the Montessori method, and I will acknowledge that it looks like it may very well be a good alternative to traditional, mainstream schooling. I'm not a parent, though, so my feelings about early childhood education probably aren't very important.
Rick Nava February 15, 2013 at 01:44 AM
Looks like she missing the boat in a lot of areas. • aggressively carrying out a public relations program designed to inform parents and community members about District and school priorities and programs; Good work here • anticipating the information needed by the public and providing such information in timely, understandable and appropriate ways; And here Boy wish I had a PHD then I wouldn't need common sense. What did they think was going to happen? Ho and my spelling and grammer would be better.
mll February 15, 2013 at 05:22 AM
Parkside is a public school and must serve the public. The Parkside Montessori Program never received any "extra funding" except for what the parents did to raise extra funds for the program (the equipment is expensive!). I agree that many years ago, when our kids attended the Parkside Montessori Program, the Montessori parents did double duty and supported both the "school-within-the-school," and Parkside School in general, just as the Montessori parents are currently doing. I'm guessing the thought is that STEM should be available K-8. Bayside Middle School is STEM, and Parkside is a feeder school to Bayside. North Shoreview Montessori also exists and is a terrific place (grandchildren now attend NSM). I'll be sad to see Montessori leave Parkside and happy that Montessori still exists in the School District. I am not familiar with STEM and how it will play out at Parkside, but administration needs to ensure that the families who participate will continue to support the school as much as the Montessori parents do now, for it to succeed. I will be interested in what happens. The Parkside Montessori Parents Group has always been a vocal and energetic group of folks! mll
Steve C February 15, 2013 at 05:05 PM
PLEASE Sign This Petition Today! - Save Parkside Montessori School Program http://tinyurl.com/GoMontessori Thank you for your consideration and for passing this web link for the petition to anyone that you know would help our cause. People seek out our community for the chance of getting into the Monessori program at Parkside.... imagine if the program were school-wide where everyone could attend! Dream It! Do It! Sign It! Enjoy your weekend!
Rick Nava February 15, 2013 at 05:53 PM
Boy, wish I had a PHD then I wouldn't need common sense. What did they think was going to happen? This is a bit harsh on my part. We expected more, inclusion, not to be spoken to as a student. I recall my dad who worked as head of grounds for 38 years always getting pissed off when he was treated like a kid. I understand now. If you take the time to achieve a PHD, you should be heard. It does not mean you can dictate to others and disrespect their input. I have worked with many a PHD which understood that everyone’s input is worthy and the end results are greater. Both programs can co-exist. Some have expressed that STEM is not what they want for their young children. They have a valid point and their voice needs to be heard. This should be a team effort to service the public and their children’s needs and those needs are not all the same. Think of the teachers that were important in your life and what worked for you and didn’t work for other kids in the same type of class. Majority vote by staff should not rule when it comes to our children’s education…….


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