Back in the '70s, San Mateo's North Central neighborhood had two neighborhood schools, Lawrence Elementary and Turnbull Middle School. Both schools were eventually shut but not because of poor performance. Lawrence was located between 3rd and 4th avenues east of the railroad tracks. The neighborhood was becoming increasingly commercial and traffic heavy. The school was deemed vulnerable in an earthquake and in any major flooding from Crystal Springs Dam. Turnbull middle school was one of the best. But it was shut because enrollment was shrinking and the school district, after Proposition 13, couldn't afford to keep all existing schools open.
During these years, the North Central neighborhood was primarily black. In the late '60s, the board decided to integrate the schools in a one way busing strategy. North Central students would be bused out of the area to other schools in the district. This was the right thing to do at the time. Students bused out of their home neighborhood might receive a better education and all students would benefit from integrating the schools. When Lawrence closed, the number of students bused to other schools in the district increased. It was often difficult for these students. A group of parents asked for their neighborhood school back. If that wasn't possible they wanted a significant number of their students going to any one school. Otherwise their children felt isolated. By the late '70s and early '80s, some educators were beginning to question whether busing minority children to other schools improved their academic performance if a quality education could be provided in their neighborhood.
Today, many of the original black families have left. North Central is primarily Latino. The neighborhood children have different and often more challenging needs. Many of them speak only Spanish at home and when they begin school. Their parents don't speak English. While Lawrence was torn down, the Turnbull site remains. For a while, as College Park, it became a neighborhood kindergarten to five school. But test scores were poor under No Child Left Behind. The district decided to turn College Park into a magnet Mandarin immersion school. The neighborhood children who did not apply were bused to other schools in the district but not to Foster City.
Today, the former middle school site houses two sections: First, four preschool classes and four private Mandarin preschool classes; and two, a magnet Mandarin immersion program open to all district students. Only about 35 percent of neighborhood children attend the Mandarin program while the four public preschool classes are filled with North Central children.
It's impressive what the district has done with the site. Construction is still in progress on the Mandarin magnet which now houses 400 students but expects to add 50 next year and another 50 the following year. The former Turnbull middle school classrooms and library are still in place but they have been completely renovated and brought up to date. Meanwhile, the preschool is housed in portables and modular classrooms on the eastern side.
Would Turnbull as a neighborhood school better serve the students, the parents and the district? There is no simple answer but many pros and cons. Some studies have shown that the students bused out of North Central did better on standardized tests than their neighbors who remained at the old College Park. Those who remained spoke mostly Spanish to each other and little English at school even though instruction was in English. Those who were bused to other schools benefited from being in an English- speaking environment.
On the other hand, busing outside the neighborhood is still difficult for students. A neighborhood North Central school with extensive resources concentrated on site could be successful. Such as longer school days, smaller student teacher ratios, extensive pre-school and Saturday school