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The Santa Barbara Unified School District is backpedaling an abrupt decision to end a beloved program at La Cumbre Junior High after an impassioned group of parents fired back at the announcement.
Core Knowledge is a humanities enrichment program structured like a “school within a school.” According to the flyers given to new parents on January 8, students in the program take a two-period core which covers state standards for social studies and English Language Arts (ELA), and the third enrichment period focuses on additional humanities topics and deeper learning so students are able to pursue honors and AP coursework in high school.
“The principal was boasting about the program [on Jan. 8],” said Tyler Tomblin, a dad of an incoming 7th grader. Tomblin said Core Knowledge was a major factor in the decision to enroll his 6th-grade son at La Cumbre. “Then one week later, he just pulled the rug out from under us.”
The outrage began when Principal Bradley Brock sent out a letter to the thrilled parents informing them that the program would be phasing out and not accepting new students for the 2020/2021 year. The letter was sent just seven days after the Core Knowledge open house.
Brock’s letter referenced data from an eight-week evaluation, though when he was asked to reveal the details of the evaluation and the referenced data, he did not. Instead, he announced that the district would be keeping the program.
“We greatly appreciate and take to heart the feedback we have received from families who are passionate supporters of the Core Knowledge program at La Cumbre Junior High,” Brock said. “In consultation with a variety of stakeholders and in consideration of the input we have received, we have decided to keep it in place as we continue to work with staff to address concerns regarding the structural inequities we have identified.”
He cited school-wide schedule challenges as the structural inequity. Brock, who has been in his principal role less than one year, replaced the late Jo Ann Caines, who introduced the Core Knowledge program to La Cumbre in 2003.
The initial announcement that it would be phased out of La Cumbre came two days before the intradistrict transfer deadline for parents to switch — sparking panic for parents who had selected that school because of the program — and instilling doubt in the evaluation and decision-making process.
“I’m baffled that they timed the announcement for when it’s most likely to harm La Cumbre enrollment for next year. I’m baffled that the district again and again proposes changes to school programs without including parents from the get-go,” said Kate Parker, a former Santa Barbara school board member of 12 years and a parent of a former Core Knowledge student.
“Most of all, I’m baffled that the school and district suddenly aren’t supporting a program that makes a difference, that truly helps ‘at promise’ students realize their promise,” said Parker.
Parker said that Core Knowledge has been the most open-access ELA honors program in the district. She said that it has the highest percentage of Latino students, the highest percentage of Reclassified Fluent English Proficient students, and the highest number of low-income students — both Latino and white.
When asked about how he would replace the program in a district and state with a high achievement gap, Brock cited data that the Core Knowledge program isn’t necessarily helping or hurting the achievement gap.
“Of La Cumbre’s 467 students, about 120 (25%) are enrolled in the Core Knowledge program,” Brock said. “The fact that La Cumbre has the highest number of at-promise students meeting or exceeding standards in both ELA and Math, otherwise known as ‘the La Cumbre effect,’ is a credit to our entire staff and to the hard work and dedication of students in every classroom.”
While Brock didn’t have a clear answer to how the program would be replaced because he reversed the decision, he didn’t have an answer at all when it came to his claim in his initial letter that “the state adoption of Common Core in 2013 nullified the curricular justification for Core Knowledge.”
While Common Core is a set of national learning standards, the Core Knowledge program is a curriculum and instructional delivery method. The Independent asked Brock about the apparent conflation of the terms over email, but he didn’t respond to the question.
A group of some 50 parents planned to attend the school board meeting Tuesday to protest Core Knowledge’s dismantling. But with the new announcement, the fire may have already been put out.