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March 10, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004

New foundation to boost Selby Lane School New foundation to boost Selby Lane School (March 10, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

A year and a half ago, Atherton residents gathered at a community meeting to bemoan poor academic performance and three years of falling test scores at Selby Lane School. This Thursday, the community is invited to another meeting about the public school -- but this one's likely to have a lot less hand-wringing.

The March 11 meeting is the public launch of the new Selby Education Foundation, which is partnering with the school to support academic and enrichment programs, said Atherton resident Mara McNeal, the foundation's president. The group also wants to draw attention to positive changes at the school -- a commitment to a new curriculum, rising test scores, an energetic new principal, and a clear plan for improving the school, Ms. McNeal said.

"There are lots of exciting things happening at Selby Lane," she said.

Part of the Redwood City School District, the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school serves homes in West Atherton and Lloyden Park, but enrollment of Atherton children over the years dwindled to a mere handful. The majority of students come from low-income areas of Redwood City, and many are recent immigrants who speak little or no English when they start school.

With new programs like the International Baccalaureate Organization's Middle Years program, Ms. McNeal thinks the school can attract back families in the district who have been sending their children to private schools, she said.

"I personally take parents on school tours," said Principal Bernie Vidales. "Beyond what they read about in the papers or see on the state Web site, they see a powerful learning environment for all kids."

As a result, he said several families who would not even consider sending their children to Selby Lane changed their minds.

Selby Lane School is in the process of applying to the International Baccalaureate Organization, and is teaming up with Sequoia High School in Redwood City to provide its curriculum to students in sixth through 10th grade, said Mr. Vidales. The school is applying for certification from the Switzerland-based nonprofit, a process that takes several years, but already he's had parents of prospective sixth-graders interested in enrolling their children because of the program, Mr. Vidales said.

Providing the broad-based International Baccalaureate curriculum will mean hiring art and foreign language teachers, a coordinator, paying membership dues and undergoing regular assessments, he said -- costs the Selby Education Foundation intends to cover.

But even students who don't choose to take the IBO assessments in 10th grade and earn certificates from the program will benefit from the curriculum, Mr. Vidales said.

The school was attracted not just to the curriculum's content, but to its overall strategy, which provides additional challenges to advanced students and additional support to students who are struggling.

"It benefits all kinds of learners," he said.

Sue Harrison, Selby Lane's PTA president and mother of a second- grader, said she can already see a new spark of enthusiasm in the teachers.

Ms. McNeal said the foundation expects to raise several hundred thousand dollars in its first full year of fundraising, and already has received more than $25,000 and attracted Robert and Connie Lurie, its first high-level donors.

A fundraising carnival is set for May 1, and other events are in the works. Education foundations from neighboring school districts, including Woodside, Portola Valley and Las Lomitas, have been helpful to Selby's efforts and generous with sharing their expertise, she said.

The Atherton Civic Interest League, which hosted that first community meeting in October 2002, has been extremely supportive of the creation of the Selby Education Foundation, said Ms. McNeal. More than half the members of the foundation's Board of Directors are Atherton residents, and include Councilman Charles Marsala and Jerry Carlson, the ACIL's chief financial officer.

Now that the foundation is organized, the Selby Foundation's concerted effort to get the community informed and involved have included direct mailers, and plans for outreach campaigns to families of preschoolers, the Latino community and real estate agents.

"(Realtors) are the first contact for people coming into the community, and I think they have outdated information, because the change has been so profound and so rapid," said Ms. McNeal, who is a real estate agent herself.


A community meeting to introduce the new Selby Education Foundation and discuss the improvement plans in place at Selby Lane School is scheduled for 6:30-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 11, at the school's multi-use building, 170 Selby Lane in Atherton. The presenters are Ronald Crates, superintendent of the Redwood City School District, Mara McNeal, president of the Selby Education Foundation, and Bernie Vidales, Selby Lane School's principal. For information call 364-8477. Information about the new foundation is at

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