Mountain View Voice

News - August 10, 2012

Local school is a 'hidden gem'

Castro Elementary much improved, but ho-hum reputation persists

by Nick Veronin

Though it is often discounted as one of the lowest performing local schools, Castro Elementary School is a "hidden gem" in the Mountain View Whisman School District, said Castro's principal.

"For so long it has been considered a school that may not be as worthy as other schools," Principal Judy Crates said.

But, Crates points out, Castro is home to the in-demand dual immersion program, which teaches children both Spanish and English from an early age. The school has raised its Academic Performance Index score by 350 points over the past 11 years — moving from a very low 459 to a highly respectable 809 at the conclusion of the 2010-11 school year. The highest possible API score is 1,000.

The school has certainly come a long way since a 2003 audit found that the Castro was "not holding 'high academic expectations for all students.'"

"For Castro, the gain has been incredible," Crates said. "It's been a consistent upward trajectory."

Yet even as Castro has made great progress in the past decade, there is a perception among many living outside of the school's attendance boundaries that Castro is the same school it was back in 2003.

"I'm always on the defensive for Castro," said Jenna Adams a Castro parent, who is active in the Mountain View community.

Adams said that she is constantly encountering parents who consider Castro one of the worst, if not the worst, schools in the Mountain View Whisman School District. "There is so much emphasis on you want to go to Bubb or Huff," she said. "I think that decade-old perception still floats around."

Gaby Young, a parent of several Bubb children, lives on the border between the Castro-Bubb boundary. Young said she has long thought of Castro as a low-performing school. "I'm very surprised," she said, upon hearing that Castro had raised its API into the 800 range. "It's good news."

Much of the credit for the school's turnaround should go to Crates, according to Adams.

When she started her eldest daughter in kindergarten at Castro, Adams said things at the school were very "chaotic." After-school pickup of children was disorganized — a problem Crates helped fix by working with the city of Mountain View. There was also no uniform writing program among all the classrooms when Adams' daughter started at the school, six years ago. Teachers "did their own thing," she said.

All that has changed, and many more improvements have been made to the school, Adams said. Not the least of which is school culture, which values and practices parent participation. "Everybody wants to learn about each other and get along," she said, "and everybody wants everybody else to succeed."

According to Adams, Crates also deserves much of the credit for fostering this attitude.

Crates, who joined the school in the 2008-09 school year, is willing to take some of the credit for the growth. Under her leadership the school's API broke 800, moving from a B to an A, according to California standards.

However, she said she couldn't have done it without her teaching staff and a community that is dedicated to Castro.

"The teaching staff is super dedicated," said Marcela de Carvalho, a third-grade teacher at Castro. Teachers at Castro tend to know every student at the school, she said.

Parents and the community are also played a large role in Castro's improvement, according to de Carvalho, who has been teaching at the school for six years. In that time, there has been a big push for parent involvement at Castro.

The push began when the district's PACT program took up a temporary three-year residence on the Castro campus. Although the PACT program — which stands for "Parent, Child, Teacher" — ultimately moved to Stevenson, it left a lasting, positive mark on Castro, according to de Carvalho. The residual impact of PACT, along with Castro's popular Spanish-English Dual Immersion program has meant that parents are highly involved with the school.

"Whenever you have more parent involvement, kids tend to do better in school," de Carvalho said.

"I tell people proudly that my kids go to Castro," said Nazanin Dashtara, who has put one of her daughters all the way through the school and has another daughter who still attends. Any parents who have misgivings about sending their children to Castro should put those thoughts aside, she said, pointing to the recent 809 API score as proof.

But even beyond the strides Castro has made to improve its API, Dashtara said, the school is strong in other ways. Dashtara, who does not live within Castro's attendance area, decided to send her eldest daughter to the school because of the dual-immersion program. On top of the great education she said her children have received in the Spanish-English program, the community at Castro is one of great warmth and understanding. "It's more than just being bilingual at this point," she said. "It's about being part of another culture and being part of a greater community."

Just as Crates gave credit to her teachers, de Carvalho also gave credit to Crates. "She is an awesome principal," de Carvalho said. "She makes the job of the teacher easier. She runs a tight ship."

Seeing her school's API score's rise so significantly in the time she has been there is "validating" for de Carvalho. She imagines that many Castro families feel the same, even if they may not show it. After all, she said, the school is "the best kept secret" in the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Comments

Posted by Castro Mom, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:06 am

Go Castro Cougars! The school is definitely a hidden gem. My daughter was lucky to have Ms. de Carvalho for two years. She and her other fantastic teachers in the Dual Immersion Program gave her a love of learning and fluent Spanish language skills that will last her lifetime. Incredible for a public school. We feel so lucky!


Posted by Maya , a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 10, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Castro was the only school in the valley that scored perfect score on SAT tests for its whites subgroup. Amazing! Higher than any school in Palo Alto, Los Altos, Cupertino, etc.


Posted by Mychal Copeland , a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 10, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Agreed! My kids could have gone to Huff but they are at Castro in dual immersion. Great community feel and fantastic teachers. Dr. Crates is inspiring. Thanks for bringing it some well deserved press.


Posted by Former Castro Parent, a resident of another community
on Aug 10, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Both my children went through Castro's Dual Immersion Program. Not only did they get a great education, they are now bilingual as well. There is not a more dedicated group of teachers around. They work to reach every child, and the kids respond wonderfully to such a great atmosphere.


Posted by Another Former Castro Parent, a resident of another community
on Aug 11, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Castro is a truly fantastic school! Our son attended the dual-immersion program as an inter-district transfer. He loved it, we loved the community, and he got a solid bilingual education in an environment that prepared him well for middle school. We can't say enough in praise of the teachers and in particular Dr. Crates who has done so much for the school. Judy's dedication and tireless work to ensure that *all* of the kids at Castro get the support they need to excel is just wonderful!


Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 12, 2012 at 8:18 am

I'm glad Maya P. mentioned the 'best in class' status for Castro non - Economicaly Disadvantaged students vs Los Altos and Palo Alto. The League of Women Voters likes to match MV vs LA schools. Here is an example where our culturally diverse education (DI) wins hands down! Although there are over 40% Economically Disadvantaged students in MVWSD, the percent in Los Altos is "not statistically significant". It is never appropriate to directly compare our schools vs Los Altos (the comparable district is Sunnyvale).
Principal Crates is a factor in this school (I had 9 years experience with her as a principal, and several more working with her as a substitute teacher). The local PTA has really been an important factor in this also! (and kudos to Maya - who has really helped)
S.N. is a candidate for MVWSD Board


Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 12, 2012 at 8:23 am

- oops - educational gobblygook, The standardized tests referred to are the CST (California standardized test or STAR tests) and not the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test - college entrance test).


Posted by Teachers Make the Difference, a resident of another community
on Aug 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

Mr. Nelson:

It's the quality of all the teachers at Castro that are making a difference as well. Most of the teachers speak and teach in more than one language, even in the English only classes. Many teachers are Stanford grads who did their training at Castro, many have masters degrees (tied at the stop with Huff for teachers with advanced degrees--and Ms. de Carvalho with a doctorate and National Board Certified), many have been at Castro for years and have never quit or moved on to the "easier" schools in the district like so many others before them. A third of the teachers are minorities as well--the highest percentage in the district--reflecting the population they teach.


Posted by Kevin McBride, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Though we live in the Bubb school area, we sent our kids to Castro for the Dual Immersion program and are very happy with the results. Great credit goes to Principal Crates and to the teachers (especially Maestra de Carvalho) who have set an expectation for excellence and for contributions from all the students and parents at the school.


Posted by Member, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Great news and congratulations to all in Castro for this turnaround. I'm wondering if the Spanish-speaking population becomes fluent in English or is only the English speaker that learns Spanish?


Posted by Yolanda, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Member:

The Spanish speaking population learns English. Why wouldn't they? The instruction is in English in non-DI classes. And if Spanish speaking kids are not learning sufficient English in DI, they are put back in the English only strand. And just because someone speaks Spanish doesn't mean they can read and write in Spanish. In those cases Spanish-Speaking students become literate in both Spanish and English.


Posted by Randa, a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 16, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Castro has been a "hidden jewel" for a lot longer than this article credits (long before Judy Crates arrived). My daughter started kindergarten there in 1997 the second year of dual immersion program and is now a fluent-speaking university student in Chile. The sad thing is that there is no continuation of the dual immersion experience beyond Castro, into middle school, so kids who want to continue with high-level Spanish have no public school options. We (and several other Castro families) opted for The Girls' Middle School, which offers Spanish for native speakers.


Posted by Charlene, a resident of another community
on Aug 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm

While the Girls Middle school is an option, it is very expensive! My daughter was accepted and was promised a good financial aid package. Come to find out, that fell through and she wasn't going to be able to go. Its fine. Her dad is from Peru, works as a chef at Stanford and one of the students there is teaching her Spanish. I do think you make a very valid point. You can get Spanish class at Crittenden. My daughter goes there, and although she didn't go through DI program, which is awesome, she realizes the need to be bilingual.


Posted by harvardmom, a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 17, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Wow, I had no idea! My son went through the public school system in Mountain View and learned Spanish well, but maybe Castro would have added to his stellar education and opened even more interests and doors for him. Good job, everyone.


Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 31, 2012 at 2:05 pm

this may not get followed but .. thanks TMD, I did not realize all the teacher details. Teachers in MV since the 1970s have been pushing for more minority teacher hiring (Whisman Dist. history in the MV Library history room). BTW there is now follow-on academic Spanish opportunity at the middle school level. In 3 more years these will hit the HS district.
[cudos for the District and Graham for listening and implemting this]


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