With the student population in the Mountain View Whisman School District growing faster than expected, school officials decided there is no longer room for Parent, Child, Teacher (PACT) at Castro. In late August, the program will move to its own spruced-up campus adjacent to the district office. But teachers say it will be hard to leave Castro's cultural and economic diversity.
"We are very sad," said kindergarten teacher and PACT co-founder Bonnie Malouf. "We have made some good friends at Castro."
Malouf helped start PACT nearly 13 years ago with a group of parents who wanted a program "that was more progressive than mainstream," she said. In PACT, teachers adapt the curriculum to each individual child and use hands-on material to challenge students. Parents must volunteer a minimum of two hours a week, allowing students to work in smaller groups.
"It starts with the kids, not the curriculum," parent Andy Fenselau said. "It's not a teach-to-the-test mentality. You can get this by paying a lot of money or by parent participation."
On standardized tests last year, PACT students scored between Huff and Bubb students, the two highest performing schools in the district. PACT's scores were not officially recorded by the sate, but the school tabulated its own scores, and teachers say that as a group white students in the program exceeded state standards. Within the program, English language learners, low-income and Latino subgroups — three widely overlapping categories — posted scores similar to their counterparts elsewhere in the district, falling behind on English language arts.
The now-defunct Mountain View School District started PACT as a pilot program at Slater School in 1996. After Slater closed down in 2005, PACT moved to Castro, where it has been ever since. There are currently 200 students in the program and over 100 interested families with incoming kindergarteners.
The program's new site will have portables facing a quad. PACT parents said they will not hire a librarian and will pick up hot lunches to help reduce district costs.
Teachers and parents say Castro has become an integral part of PACT, and it will not be easy to leave. Nearly 25 percent of PACT students are Spanish speakers from the Castro neighborhood.
The program eventually formed a bridge committee to include Latino parents, and the committee sold tamales last year to help parents raise the suggested $200 donation from each family to enroll in the program. Working parents are able to volunteer on the weekends or in the evenings.
"PACT is all colors. We celebrate diversity," Bartlett said. "One of the misconceptions is we are only available for parents who don't work."
Despite the newfound connections between program and campus, administrators say the overcrowding — both within the program and at Castro generally — forced the district's hand.
"Do you think the district would be giving PACT its own site without any reason in this economy?" Malouf said.
In an informal bridge committee survey, 50 percent of the Latino families said they will move with PACT, 25 percent said they were unsure and the remainder said they would stay at Castro.
Many of these parents are concerned they will not have transportation to the new site, or that they will not receive free or reduced-price lunches or after-school care there. But district staff and PACT parents say they're working to make sure that all these programs are available on the new campus.