After listening to stories about the impact the Team program had on students, parents, teachers and staff, the Tam Union High School board decided not to cut the alternative academic wilderness program.
Superintendent Laurie Kimbrel and Board President John Wright made the announcement Monday in a joint letter to the community (see attached PDF). Kimbrel also posted the letter on her Patch blog.
“As was stated at the Board of Trustees meeting on February 6, the articulate, passionate stories from individuals who have benefited from the program were moving and meaningful to all who read or heard them,” they wrote. “It is reassuring to know that our community is passionate about our educational programs and that civil discourse is alive in the political process.”
Rather than kill the program and distribute the $260,000 budget and learning principles among Tamalpais, Drake and Redwood high schools to develop their own experiential programs, the board decided to take no action, which means the program will remain as is.
“The Team staff has been notified that Team will indeed run next year,” Kimbrel and Wright wrote.
Team operates through Tamiscal High in Larkspur, and focuses on community service, career exploration and 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, and school officials were concerned it wasn’t reaching the majority of the district’s more than 3,500 students — particularly low income and minority students who are at higher academic and emotional risks, Kimbrel said.
In light of these concerns, the board plans to create clear guidelines that determine how students are accepted into the program, and will establish a committee to look at ways to incorporate Team principles into other high school programs.
Establishing acceptance criteria is meant encourage more students to apply to the program, and provide a deeper level of understanding when students are not admitted, said board member Cindy McCauley.
“When kids are not accepted, hopefully with more transparency it will be more clear as to why,” she said.
Board members also supported forming a "programming research and advisory committee" that will look at ways to incorporate Team principles such as experiential learning, leadership, and a high level of personalization and engagement into other programs in the district.
“They’re going to take a hard look at what we have, and see if there are other alternatives out there,” McCauley said.
Kimbrel has said this will also require making cuts elsewhere in the district, but hasn’t mentioned any specifics.
“That would be way down the road,” McCauley said.
The option to keep Team emerged from a community campaign in opposition to the proposed termination of the program that garnered nearly 2,700 signatures on a Change.org petition and nearly 3,500 Facebook members in less than five days. It was followed by emotional stories from many community members about the positive impact Team has had on their lives.
It was not just the large amount of people opposed but the quality of the communication, which was based on “hard facts and information, not just complaining,” that convinced the Tam Union High School District to keep the program, McCauley said.
“After five years on the board, it was some of the most articulate conversations I’ve seen and heard,” she said. “It was very thoughtful and impressive, and moved the board and the superintendent to reconsider.”