Today’s lunch featured guest speaker Brian Schmaedick, Principal of Rosemary School. Brian thanked the club for its consistent support of the school, one of the most impacted and disadvantaged in our area. He was especially grateful to the Rotarians who participated in Read Across America on March 3, reading Dr. Seuss books to first and second graders.
Brian recalled attending Rotary meetings with his father in Eugene, Oregon, beginning in 1978. He began his career in business management and real estate, but a stint in the Peace Corps introduced him to public service and social services. After many years in the education field, he is in his second year as Principal at Rosemary.
Some facts from Brian about Rosemary School:
- The school teaches 510 students, from kindergarden to 4th grade.
- There is a preschool on site with separate administration.
- There are 25 teachers and 45 total staff with an annual budget of $2.5-3M.
- The general boundaries for the school are Payne, Winchester, Campbell Ave., and Highway 17.
- The Campbell/San José city limits is literally in the school driveway, but most students come from San José.
Rosemary is one of most improved elementary schools in Santa Clara County over the past few years. The school’s API score has risen from 675 to 835 since 2006. (California schools get a “quality” rating for an API over 800.) But the school is still not where the administration would like it to be.
Under Brian’s leadership and that of his predecessor, Rosemary has developed a model collaboration program for teachers as well as innovative intervention programs that serve over 200 students reading below grade level. These students spend one hour each day in targeted instruction. Rosemary is currently being considered for recognition as a California Distinguished School, but it is “a paradox in many ways.”
Over 50 families with kindergarden-age students within the school’s boundaries choose a school other than Rosemary. This amounts to around 250 kids per year who leave the Rosemary neighborhood to go to school. While Rosemary likely could not accommodate all of those students, the school would traditionally have a waiting list.
Rosemary staff and teachers are, to paraphrase Jim Stockdale, confronting the most brutal facts of their current reality:
- 90% of Rosemary students live below poverty line.
- 88% of students are Latino, and 83% have English as a second language.
- 85% of students live in high density housing around the school.
- The school is in a “high mobility” area — 23 students moved out since January 1st of this year, and 25 new students have moved in, the equivalent of a whole classroom turning over in just two months.
- The school experiences 50% turnover of students between kindergarden and 2nd grade.
Despite great wealth and resources surrounding the school, the student population is in great need. Low-income students, like those at Rosemary, face a number of obstacles in their education, a situation that Brian says “should make us uncomfortable as a society”:
- Low-income students miss 30% more school due to health problems
- 50% of low income students have vision problems.
- Low-income students are 3 times more likely to have untreated cavities than other students.
- A recent on-site clinic found 18 students with urgent dental needs.
- The stress of low-income life impairs working memory.
- Low-income students have heard 13M words before kindergarden. That number jumps to 26M for middle-income students and more than 40M for high-income students.
While dealing with students suffering from “learned helplessness”, Rosemary’s leadership remains “absolutely committed to the success of every child.” The staff has established a wellness committee, and the school is currently partnering with outside nonprofits to augment their instructional programming and extracurricular activities to keep kids in school and off the streets:
- PlayWorks organizes games and activities every two weeks.
- A grant from Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools has funded a “rethink your drink” campaign to keep kids away from sugary drinks.
- BAWSI runs a weekly after school program for 65 girls in grades 2-4.
- Rosemary offers insurance enrollment events for local parents, and the Indian Health Center provides on-campus dental care
- The school also offers year-round parenting and ESL classes.
How can Rotarians help? According to Brian, the first step is not to oversimplify public school problems in the context of budgets and API scores. A 980 API school is not much different from an 835. They also need financial support that the school district simply can’t provide:
- $15,000 to augment a PlayWorks grant from El Camino Hospital
- $1,000 each to provide opportunities for field trips to parks, universities, etc.
- $50,000 per year to put a parent liaison in the school 5 days a week
- $500-700 for a teacher appreciation event
Brian’s final missive to our club: “We don’t give up. We don’t use excuses. But we don’t hide from them.” We’re proud to continue our support of Brian and Rosemary School as they serve our neediest children.