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March 24, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Community can help make underdog school a winner Community can help make underdog school a winner (March 24, 2004)

It's easy to bet on a winning horse. In school districts like Woodside Elementary, Portola Valley and Las Lomitas, it's no wonder that community support, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, comes rolling in each year to bolster programs at stellar schools filled with high-achieving students.

It can be tougher to back an underdog, but ultimately, more gratifying. That's why the launch of the new Selby Lane Education Foundation is such an exciting development, and one that deserves generous support.

Selby Lane School, which serves residents of Redwood City and Atherton, has been struggling in recent years with declining test scores, likely a result of the increasing percentage of students learning English as a second language. Families who could afford to began sending their children to private schools, to the point where now only a handful of Atherton children in the school district attend Selby Lane, which teaches kindergarten through eighth grade.

While the flight of affluent families from struggling public schools is certainly not a unique phenomenon, it is a regrettable one. Children lose the chance to be part of a neighborhood school, parents miss a chance to connect with other parents, and students miss out on the benefits of the time, energy and talents of the full community.

But things are beginning to turn around for Selby Lane, and a renewed interest in the school by Atherton residents can help accelerate the process. Test scores are improving, new tutoring programs are in place, and plans to offer the highly acclaimed International Baccalaureate Organization's curriculum are in the works. A good deal of credit must go to the teachers, school board and new leadership at Selby Lane, as well as parents committed to improving their children's education.

The standing-room-only crowd that turned out for the March 11 community meeting that launched the Selby Education Foundation shows that there is widespread interest in improving the school. Early donations total more than $30,000, and a number of fundraising events are planned, including a May 1 carnival at the school.

While an influx of education foundation dollars will help support these worthy programs, there is no quick fix for a school where so many students face big obstacles on the path to a good education -- when it's a struggle to put food on the table and pay the rent, it can be hard for families to focus on schoolwork. But with a renewed focus on helping children succeed, and a sustained commitment from the whole community, there's a good chance that this underdog school could become the kind of place where everyone in the district, regardless of their means, will want to send their children.

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