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Publication Date: Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Student performance turns corner at Atherton's Selby Lane School Student performance turns corner at Atherton's Selby Lane School (November 19, 2003)

By David Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer

After three steps backward, students at Atherton's Selby Lane School recovered some lost ground with a leap forward in their performance on standardized tests required by the state.

Recently published test results for the 2002-03 school year show Selby Lane, after three years of not meeting its goal, going well beyond it this year. The state had given Selby a mark to hit of 5 percent -- 11 points -- above its current number, but the school shot ahead 65 points, or 29 percent.

The annual tests are used in a formula to calculate a school's academic performance index, which the state uses to rank schools, to identify those in need of attention and to set goals.

Selby's index rose from 575 to 640. The index is measured on a scale from 200 to 1,000, with 800 being the statewide performance target.

"It's a welcome change," said Christopher Bohl, a trustee on the Redwood City district school board, which operates the school.

But this is just the beginning, he said. "We're committed to making Selby the best school we possibly can," Mr. Bohl said. "We're not interested in just stabilizing the school. We're interested in having a really great school."

A great public elementary school may also attract students from the school's upscale Atherton neighborhood, where private schooling is popular. Volunteerism at Selby Lane by Atherton residents is on the rise, Mr. Bohl said, with 12 residents currently helping 12 students with their reading.

Atherton kids scarce

While Selby Lane is located in Atherton and serves about one quarter of its homes, only four or five of the school's 685 students live in Atherton, Mr. Bohl said. The remainder live in the county's lower-income North Fair Oaks area.

Sixty-seven percent of Selby's students have poor English-language skills and come from homes in which English is not the primary language, he said.

With its recent history of not meeting its goals, Selby Lane earned the label of an under-performing school by the state and federal governments. With its achievement this year, Selby Lane needs one more year of meeting its goal to have the designation removed.

"We're a high-performing under-performing school," said Principal Bernie Vidales, the school's sixth principal in five years. Mr. Vidales took over in July, coming from Redwood City's Hawes School, where he was principal for six years and where performance rose steadily during his tenure.

Selby Lane's achievement makes it eligible for a cash award, but the awards weren't funded for the 2003-04 school year, according to a state report. The students did not go unrewarded. The PTA bought everyone ice cream, Mr. Vidales said.

Raising standards

Beginning in August 2004, Selby Lane will initiate the respected International Baccalaureate program for interested students, starting with the sixth grade and continuing with seventh and eighth grades in succeeding years, Mr. Bohl said.

As teachers are trained, the program will work its way through to the lower grades, he said.

"The program will be the most challenging academic program offered at the school," Mr. Bohl said, adding that he expects it to raise the school's performance overall.

Atherton volunteers

One intent of the International Baccalaureate program would be to attract Atherton students to the school, said Mr. Bohl.

The school's "really gotten excited" by a rising interest in volunteerism on the part of Atherton residents, he said. Atherton residents have offered the school advice on finances, public relations and making community contacts as well as help with reviewing plans.

A group of Atherton residents is planning to start an education foundation in January, said Jerry Carlson, who said he's interested in Selby Lane's potential as a neighborhood school.

"There was nothing like that a year ago," Mr. Bohl said. "There was no interest, no volunteers. There was nothing."

Project Read, a tutoring program sponsored by the Redwood City Public Library, is hoping to train 50 reading tutors from Atherton for Selby Lane students by the end of next year, said program coordinator Pam Patek.

For information on becoming a reading tutor at Selby Lane, call 780-7077.


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