Monday marked the first day of school for bustling crowds of kindergarten students and parents, both excited and a little bit anxious, and the first day for Gabriela Mistral Elementary, the Mountain View Whisman district's newest school.
Mistral Elementary is home to the district's Dual Immersion choice program, which teaches students in both English and Spanish until they are fluent in both languages. The program used to be part of Castro School, and continues to share the campus with Castro's traditional elementary school program.
What does Dual Immersion look like? Marcela Simoes de Carvalho, the principal of the new school, gave parents a pretty good example that morning as she seamlessly switched between English to Spanish, explaining her role and naming the new leadership on the Parent Teacher Association. Most of the PTA speakers didn't need a translator -- they did it themselves.
As far as the first day of school goes, Carvalho said it was a pretty easy transition, thanks in part to a parent and staff-attended picnic last Friday afternoon, where class lists were posted and students could meet their new teachers.
"It's been pretty smooth. We've had strong support from staff with the nuts-and-bolts pieces and a lot of PTA messaging," Carvalho said.
It turns out there's an app for that. The Mistral Elementary PTA, as well as the PTA at Bubb Elementary, is using a new app called Konstella, which is used to send announcements, messages, sign-up sheets and event notices to parents. Carvalho said it can also be used for classroom-specific information for parents, like when assignments are due or details about upcoming potlucks.
Students heading into their first year at both Castro and Mistral Elementary are going to see a lot of change at their campus over the next five years. The next major phase of school construction for the Measure G school bond funds includes turning the campus into what it has become on an administrative level -- a dual campus for two distinct schools.
The $43 million plan calls for the current classrooms on the west end of the campus to be modernized for Mistral Elementary, and new, two-story buildings on the east side of the campus for Castro Elementary. Both schools will share both a new multi-use building and a new library.
The Dual Immersion program was split off from the school late last year when the board decided that the language choice program and the traditional school had entirely different needs. Castro Elementary has a high concentration of socio-economically disadvantaged students and English-language learners, and district and school staff agreed the split would make it easier to get to the root of the students' needs and narrow the district's achievement gap.
Families from both schools were able to attend the Community Resource Fair, where 20 agencies and organizations including Community Services Agency and the Community Health Awareness Council staked out behind the Castro Elementary cafeteria. There, parents could sign up for social services and academic programs right on the first day of school. Castro Principal Theresa Lambert said the event was well-attended and helped to empower families with access to the services that are available to the community.
Carvalho isn't the only new principal in town. Significant staffing changes over the last year brought new administrators at several schools, and major changes in the district office.
Earlier this year, Rebecca Westover was selected to head the district's parent participation school, Stevenson PACT, after former Principal Tyler Graff resigned to lead an alternative school in San Francisco. Steve Chesley also took over as principal of Landels Elementary this year after former Principal Carmen Mizell was selected to be the district's new director of special education, and Ryan Santiago, a former teacher, is now principal of Theuerkauf Elementary.
Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph has been working with district staff and getting up to speed following the June departure of Interim Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who led the district through challenging district-wide issues related to school boundaries and facilities plans for six months. The district also has a new chief business officer in Robert Clark, who previously worked in administrative roles at Alameda Unified School District.