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UPDATE: Opposition Mounts to Proposed Cut of Tam Union District Program; Option Added to Keep It

Thousands have signed a petition to oppose the termination of the 2-year-old Team program, which mixes experiential outings like backpacking and community service with academics.

UPDATE: The Tam Union High School District posted its staff report (attached at right) on Friday afternoon for the proposed elimination of the Team program. Facing an ourpouring of opposition to the proposal, another option has been added that recommends keeping the program and finding ways to bring its principles to programs that reach more students. The report indicates that budget cuts must offset keeping the program and expanding its principles.

A campaign in opposition to the proposed termination of a popular alternative education program within the Tamalpais Union High School District has garnered nearly 2,700 signatures on a Change.org petition and nearly 3,500 Facebook members in less than five days.

When the district board takes up the matter on Feb. 6, it will likely face an outpouring of opposition that has galvanized quickly and broadly since Chuck Ford, who has overseen the program for the past 21 of its 22 years in existence, found out about Tam Union Superintendent Laurie Kimbrel’s recommendation to kill the program Friday afternoon.

Ford said he left his Lagunitas home Saturday morning at 9 a.m. and returned at 1 p.m. During that time, one of his students had set up a Save the Team Program page on Facebook, garnering more than 850 members in a few hours.

“From time to time, the rapidity of this stuff just takes my breath away,” Ford said.

Tam High senior Emily Rostek, a Team program and one of the students behind the opposition campaign, said the effort reached a critical mass in a flash on Saturday morning.

“Right now the Internet is such a great place to rally people,” she said.

Kimbrel is set to recommend to the Tam Union board at its Feb. 6 meeting to cut the Team program, a one-year academic and experiential learning program open to juniors in the district. The program, which operates through Tamiscal High in Larkspur, focuses on community service, career exploration, wilderness adventure in places like Joshua Tree National Park and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and ropes course leadership. It gets up to 100 applicants per year for 24 slots.

Kimbrel argues that the amount being spent on the program each year – $260,000 for staff and supplies alone – is disproportionate to the low number of students – 24 – who go through it annually. She is proposing to distribute the program's funding to the district’s three large high schools – Tamalpais, Drake and Redwood – for their respective principals to develop their own experiential programs that reach a much larger portion of the district’s more than 3,500 students.

“We want to figure out some ways to have experiential, personalized learning based in problem solving that students find relevant and engaging and how could we expand it so that it could reach hundreds of students,” Kimbrel said.

Kimbrel also says the program doesn’t reach enough of a diverse array of students, both ethnically and in terms of academic performance. She says records from the past six years indicate that only one African-American and three Hispanic students have gone through the program. She blames in part the fact that the program is held at Tamiscal, forcing students from other schools to travel to Larkspur.

“This is a program that is mostly reaching white, high-achieving students,” Kimbrel said.

Ford, 66, disputes those numbers, saying he counts 17 non-white students over the past six years. He also said district administrators aren’t factoring in the program’s ability to reach students who achieve decent grades but are, as he put it, “disaffected,” in addition to those getting poor grades.

Ford is retiring at the end of the 2012-2013 school year anbd has been working with Team program co-manager Nikole Denton on a post-retirement transition plan. Ford's retirement triggered the re-evaluation of the Team program, district officials said.

“This was a natural time to have this discussion,” said Cindy McCauley, a longtime Tam High parent and a member of the Tam Union District board.

Because of that timing, and since the district is in the midst of an evaluation of all of its alternative education programs, Ford said he wasn’t surprised by Kimbrel’s recommendation. But that doesn’t mean he agrees with it.

“It was sad and dispiriting,” he said. “To throw it away just seems horribly short-sighted. I’ve had more than 200 emails from former students (in recent days), almost all saying that it changed their life for the better.”

Rostek said she was one of those students, and that the Team program, particularly a class on wilderness medicine and the outdoor exercises that complemented it, heightened her focus.

“When I got to Team, everything clicked,” she said. “It was all hands-on learning. I learned a lot more than I ever would from any textbook.”

In addition to the outpouring via the online campaigns, Rostek and her classmates made flyers and posted them all over the Tam Union campuses and surrounding areas.

Kimbrel said she was not surprised by the energized opposition, crediting the strong feelings of Team program’s approximately 500 alums and their families for it, as well as the ease for campaigns like this one to go viral online. Kimbrel said her daughter, a junior at Redwood, signed the Change.org petition with the quick press of a button on her phone at dinner.

“It’s really easy now to get thousands of names on something,” she said. “We have to take that for what it is.”

Tam Union District Board President John Wright emphasized that Kimbrel’s recommendation, which will be available on the district’s website Friday afternoon, is just that. 

“No final action has been taken,” he said.

“We haven’t even talked about it yet as a board,” McCauley added. “That’s the part that people don’t seem to understand.”

Neither Wright nor McCauley said they’d decided yet on how to vote on the recommendation on Feb. 6, but both noted the district’s interest in reaching more students with the kind of experiential learning that the Team program offers. Wright, a 12-year veteran of the board, said the program has shifted away from its original intent to reach at-risk students.

“This is a very special program that serves very few kids,” Wright said. “Over time, it’s turned into more of an enrichment program for kids who are not necessarily at-risk. It’s turned into sort of an elitist program. We want to be able to serve more kids, plain and simple.”

The 411: The Tamalpais Union High School District board meets to consider the fate of the Team program at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Redwood High, 395 Doherty Dr. in Larkspur. The staff report will be attached to this article when it becomes available Friday afternoon.

Emily Deng January 30, 2013 at 07:38 AM
Not only is the Peace Corps a two-year program only available for bachelor's degree-holding applicants, the Team Program is an educational program where high school students take courses in English, History, Math, etc. with the unique benefits of volunteer and internship experience. Education is still the main priority, not attempting to help third-world communities.
MV Resident January 30, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Look at the recent OpEd piece in the IJ. The Tam principal announced on Monday that he's no longer there and the parents had no idea who was running the school! No email from the superintendent with assurances of any consistency of programs. Late the next day they sent out a terse email about an interim principal. Still no acknowledgement of anyone's concerns, no thanks to the departing principal. I don't care what her issues are with the past principal - she could have shown a little class and said something nice.... This superintendent and board just don't respect the parents or community. When are those focus groups for the new principal being held? Who's invited? Again-no communication. My guess is they don't really care what the Tam community wants.
Scaramouche January 30, 2013 at 03:20 PM
Career Educator from Outside the District The comments of the Superintendent are revealing. She derisively dismisses thousands of opponents of her recommended action, a huge number in a small district, by deriding the use of the internet, even though that is now common practice for organizing (see last election!). She has no patience with those who challenge her. It's a character flaw. Her daughter evidently knows better. The charge that this program is elitist is absurd. Most of the students are trying to escape the elitist environments of other high schools, especially Redwood. This is an opportunity for this board to create more programs like this rather than killing the one that is best meeting the needs of the many outlier students of the district. Let's see if they have truly heard parents, teachers, and kids. If not, people should mount a recall campaign.
McKgirl January 30, 2013 at 03:34 PM
So true!
McKgirl January 30, 2013 at 03:51 PM
Not everyone learns in the same way. Not everyone excels in a classroom setting. These students aren't taking a year off of school, they are learn experientially. The demographics Kimbrel talks about are the demographics of the Tam district. The district is slowly taking any alternatives away from the students. By the time my kindergartener gets to high school there will be nothing left for her. It's the elementary and middle school parents that really need to get involved. To think that they can use the budget from one 24 student program, a program that changes lives, to give 3,500 students the same experience is absolutely absurd and unrealistic. These types of alternative learning programs are vital to our district and our children. What's next? San Andreas?? Leave the struggling kids in the class room, don't give them any opportunities to turn things around, everyone "deserves" the same education. RIDICULOUS! And yes, this did go from a "this program is cut," to "we're considering it" very rapidly. They thought they could get away with a closed door vote without anyone noticing, thank goodness they didn't.
Scaramouche January 30, 2013 at 05:24 PM
From Scaramouche This will be a real test. Will they rubber stamp a decision made with no prior consultation, or demonstrate their responsiveness to their constituents? If they fail the test, they should be recalled. Please note too that some members of the Board are up for re-election in 2013.
Magoo January 30, 2013 at 06:59 PM
No wonder they want all this parcel tax money to benefit a very small number of students. They can join the ROTC, clean up rubbish on the streets and road on the weekend, volunteer with the Forestry Dept during the summer, and attend one of those national eadership seminars.
Redwood January 30, 2013 at 08:03 PM
That is the dismissive attitude we have been dealing with for the last 3-4 years. This administration makes decisions and gets them pushed through the Board, without real and HONEST input from the stakeholders. Hopefully this will be the issue that mobilizes us to wake up and fight back.
jd lee January 30, 2013 at 11:08 PM
Hmmm... according to the 2012-2013 Tamalpias Union High School District budget, they spend $14,601 per child yet Superintendent Kimbrel states in this article they spend $26,000 for 24 kids... $10,833 per kid. Seems like a very efficient use of resources.
CB January 31, 2013 at 01:01 AM
I'd love to see this program EXPANDED ! It is so well run and the only fault is that they can only take 24 students!
Magoo January 31, 2013 at 02:41 AM
If you read carefully, the cost of $260,000 is just the beginning, for supplies and staff alone. Transportation costs, trips, accomendations, etc. This program sounds, in part, like a vacation.
Magoo January 31, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Let me add that their calculations to come to an amount spent per student includes fixed costs which are there regardless of the number of students, so they should not count in this discussion.
Scaramouche January 31, 2013 at 03:29 AM
Suggestion to "Citizen" if you're really serious about all of this and not just playing the role of a troll. Take a full look at the program. Listen to some of the students. Check out its accomplishments. Dismissive comments "like a vacation" "join the Peace Corps" are really just cheap sarcastic shots and don't help explore the complexities of all of this. It is complex, for the program and the district, and a serous examination is needed, with realistic alternatives. Sarcastic derisive comments aren't helpful.
McKgirl January 31, 2013 at 05:15 AM
The Tam Principal may have left Tam but he wasn't fired, he's just somewhere else. So now the Tam district is paying for TWO principals at Tam High. Now THAT's a great way to conserve money, perhaps that's why she need to pull the plug on TEAM or perhaps she was planning on buying the Board another set of brand new iPads. This same superintendent has killed other very useful programs. She removed the Sophomore core literacy portfolio which was the best and most useful way for teachers to evaluate a student's writing skills before graduation. It was a way to catch the kids who were slipping through the cracks before it was too late. Something the teachers have been working on and developing for over twenty years. She eliminated it with no other plan in place or in the works, nothing has replace it.
Magoo January 31, 2013 at 06:20 AM
Not a vacation? Why don't they go to Fresno, Bakersfield, Ft Ord, Paso Robles, King City, Redding, Red Bluff, Salinas.
Charlie Wormhoudt January 31, 2013 at 06:21 AM
Citizen, if they are fixed costs, they apply across the board, so why wouldn't they be included in this discussion? As far as transportation costs and trips, Team raises much, if not all of its own money for that through used equipment sales and car washes. And accommodations (I assume that is what you meant to say)? If you're talking about the trips Team students take, they are camping and backpacking trips so their accommodations are tents. And the program itself. Alas, a vacation it is not. The curriculum is up to district standards, so if anything Team students work harder than many of their counterparts when combining academics with experience based education. In a way though, it is a sabbatical of sorts—a reprieve from the sterile halls of the meat grinder high schools; a window with a wider frame. If you've never experienced something similar then I am sorry. As for the district's excuse for cutting the program, that they want to spread the savings to the larger schools in the district so that they can then form their own programs in a similar vein, I would like to see those programs begin to be planned, if not implemented, before we go hacking away at the only viable model for them in existence. More likely than not the funds would be recouped in the form of raises and bonuses for administrative salaries.
Ethanos Fordopoulos January 31, 2013 at 10:58 AM
“We want to figure out some ways to have experiential, personalized learning based in problem solving that students find relevant and engaging and how could we expand it so that it could reach hundreds of students,” Kimbrel said. Great idea. Kill a great program because it is successful. She wants to figure out a way to make something similar that will reach more students. Fine. But the district has had 22 years to figure out something better and it still hasn't. Does she have a secret plan? Are there any more success stories in the district that should be extinguished with the pie in the sky idea of making something better.
Ethanos Fordopoulos January 31, 2013 at 11:07 AM
"Kimbrel said she was not surprised by the energized opposition, crediting the strong feelings of Team program’s approximately 500 alums and their families for it, as well as the ease for campaigns like this one to go viral online. Kimbrel said her daughter, a junior at Redwood, signed the Change.org petition with the quick press of a button on her phone at dinner." First off she was surprised at the level of backlash as they walked back their initial decision to terminate the program. Also, great way to dismiss the the view of a few thousand voters, taxpayers and students from the district (not to mention her daughter). Last time I checked the School Board was elected by these same people. And from what I can tell, many of them are extremely angry and equating it with something like clicking a "save the wombat" link highlights her disconnectedness with what is actually going. To the school board. Take a look at the online petition. Look at where the majority of the signatures are coming from. Read the comments. Do you really want that many voters angry at you. No one in the community will remember the endless things you voted on, but trust me, a lot of people will remember the closing of TEAM. It is not something you will be proud of.
Ethanos Fordopoulos January 31, 2013 at 11:14 AM
On a positive note people should go look at the petition on change.org and read the endless number comments. It would be impossible to convey the positive impact the TEAM program has had in a few words. It's a mountain of success. http://www.change.org/petitions/tam-union-school-district-stop-the-discontinuation-of-the-team-program
Scaramouche January 31, 2013 at 05:14 PM
This is the prominent tip of a very large iceberg. What do you do when the leader of an organization has lost the confidence and trust of most of the employees, but the governing board continues to support the leader? If the board was truly tuned in to what is happening in the district, including listening to the school principals, it would make the change that needs to be made. The superintendent is attempting to make changes that are strongly opposed by most teachers and principals, without consultation, and hoping to get these through before the next board election (this year!). She knows that she could lose her support on the board. Apart from the arrogant and autocratic process, the decisions are also substantively poor. Potential board candidates out there...pay attention!
A Day Well Lived January 31, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Citizen, should think about performing Tuesday nights at 142 Throckmorton. His comments are quality comedy. Whereas Seinfeld used to do his "everyday observances" comedy - Citizen can do "taking things out of context and mixing apples and oranges" comedy. It's great stuff. Thank you. Thank you.
Magoo January 31, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Those that are so adamant about this program should form their own PRIVATE school. Then you have have as many participants who want in.
CommunityMember January 31, 2013 at 08:19 PM
Face it: Kimbrel rules by intimidation and the Board supports whatever she does. There's no community input on anything. They don't care what the parents or the students think because they know better than us.
Magoo January 31, 2013 at 08:53 PM
I couldn't do it. I have AA meetings Tuesday nights.
Gail Dolton January 31, 2013 at 09:39 PM
BTW - The students have to fundraise for the trips - the school district doesn't pay these costs.
Kathleen Duich January 31, 2013 at 10:05 PM
Why don't the Patch staff consider enabling comments only to those that are willing to show their names/email address? Anonymous and inflammatory commentary is a hallmark of these site... why not set a standard of transparency for the community? People might be more considerate, thoughtful and kind when they can't hide behind a name that isn't their own.
Michael January 31, 2013 at 11:30 PM
when are we going to end this crap about diversity. Bet the vast majority of students at TAM are white. Is that the white kid's fault? Also sounds like there are multiple versions of the facts here. As always someone is either lying or spinning to suit THEIR view. We need new leadership in our schools. Too many administrators touting the same old learning techniques that simply do not work for many of the students. So many students cheating now because we still insist on judging them on their grades when we know this is not a good indication of whether or not they can actually fit into the real world and be successful. College prep is 100% focused on getting high SAT scores so cheating is encouraged. Any parent of a high schooler is well aware of this and many look the other way as long as their child gets that SAT score and entrance into a good college. A program like TEAM teaches REAL WORLD life skills outside of the traditional teaching methods. Old methods die hard. Hope eht TEAM program prevails.
Scaramouche February 01, 2013 at 06:27 PM
Kathleen: There is significant evidence that the present administration can be punitive to individuals. Teachers have been forbidden to communicate with board members without administration approval. There is some evidence that the Brown act itself may have been violated. In this environment of justifiable distrust, it is understandable that individuals would want to protect their anonymity. This does not, however, justify irresponsible derogatory comments which don't contribute to effective dialogue. Those comments should be flagged as inappropriate and whoever is in charge of this forum, should, as in any good forum, remove them.
Scaramouche February 01, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Afterthought: Transparency should be a goal, but to have that you have to create an environment of trust. That is not characteristic of the TAM district right now.
Ted Brown February 01, 2013 at 11:06 PM
We're so lucky to live in an open society. Bravo for freedom of speech. And I can agree to a strong extent with some of the positions expressed in these comments. I think that there are some critically important questions about the process of decision-making and the source of instructional authority in the Tam District. Yes, my belief is that the Board and the District Office could do a lot more to engage the community, especially its teaching, counseling, and classified corps, in the design and implementation of big changes, some of which I think are inevitably coming down the pike. But there are a few comments here that step over the line. Leave the daughter out of it. And you know exactly what I'm talking about. I know it's tempting, and I know you might think you're trying to score a precise logical or ethical hit here, or you may have not been aware of the impact of your chosen words, but it's a cheap, petty shot. It isn't fair, and it's kind of mean. Knock it off. Believe me--I can relate to this kid. Do the right thing and leave the daughter out of it.

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