SMCSD presents desegregation plan


(Katharine Owen)

After months of deliberation, the Sausalito Marin City School District (SMCSD) has released a comprehensive plan to desegregate its schools.

Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, in Marin City, serves a majority black population. Willow Creek Academy, a charter school in Sausalito, is plurality white. Desegregation must occur within five years in order to comply with a settlement announced last August by the state attorney general’s office.

The draft plan, which was presented at a board of trustees meeting on March 11, envisions a “PreK-8 Dual Language Science Technology Arts & Research (STAR) Community School that: provides a trauma informed, culturally and linguistically sustaining top tier academic, social and emotional curriculum; attracts and retains highly qualified staff who reflect the diverse identity of our community; ensures a safe and inclusive climate for all.”

The plan is built on several “pillars,” SMCSD superintendent Itoco Garcia said. They include a pre-K program for two- to five-year-olds; a dual-language Spanish program, which will first be implemented in pre-K and expand to every grade by 2027; and an after-school program called People’s Empowerment Arts & Community Engagement, or PEACE.

The plan also outlines a commitment to increase the number of teachers of color who work in the SMCSD, the Tamalpais Union High School District, and the Mill Valley School District. The 10-year commitment was made jointly with institutions including the Marin County Office of Education.

The board of trustees will vote on a finalized plan later this month.

Officials have yet to determine where such a school would be located, but they have considered a range of options, including establishing a pre-K through elementary school on the Willow Creek campus and a middle school on the Bayside MLK campus. Meetings to discuss consolidating the two campuses have fallen through, the Marin Independent Journal reported in February, and a unification plan that would have been presented on March 11 was postponed. One of the primary obstacles is a lawsuit, filed by Willow Creek against the district last March, which argues that the district has illegally diverted funding from the charter school to Bayside MLK.

The plan presented on March 11 also included responses to several anonymous surveys administered by the district. The participants, which included several hundred staff, parents, and students, were asked about different aspects of their education and about the ongoing unification effort. The district said that the survey results were used to help shape the desegregation plan.

However, the responses also point to a process that has exacerbated bitter divisions in the community.

Many parents said they were concerned that unification would lower the quality of education at Willow Creek. Enrollment for next year has already plummeted, perhaps due to similar concerns.

Willow Creek “is a great, thriving school, and should be the model and base for any unification discussion,” one respondent wrote.

Other responses said that the plan was long overdue: “Not unifying is not an option. We need to have more faith! Also, we need to keep a school in Marin City.”

Parents and teachers from both schools voiced their frustration with a process that they saw as opaque or insufficient.

“There has been a lack of communication from the district,” one response said. “The process is seemingly both active and stalled at the same time.”

Read another: “The school district has done nothing to help with the unification at this point other than provide sheets of paper and marker pens and tell parents to go figure it out.”