Students, parents upset over loss of North Bay Innovation

Students, parents upset over loss of North Bay Innovation

An uber-personalized, advanced and experimental program at Novato High School was “abruptly”canceled this week for the 2019-20 school year, leaving almost 80 students and their parents scrambling to find comparable alternatives for next year.

By Keri Brenner  |  Marin Independent Journal

“If NBI’s shut down, it will be a really hard time to adjust to the normal curriculum,” said Nathan Haskins, 15, a sophomore, who was pursuing computer programming, a 3-D design plan and other high-tech projects. “It really doesn’t suit me as well as the current NBI curriculum.”

NBI, or North Bay Innovation, has its own software platform, five dedicated teachers and an independent study class called Personalized Learning Time or PLT. Started in the fall of 2017 with the idea of offering “radical personalization” for academic programs, NBI has been deemed unsustainable due to complex scheduling issues, difficulty with the software platform, lack of planning time for teachers and troubles communicating with all students individually on an ongoing basis, said Novato High School Principal Mark Brewer.

“It’s a loss for them (the NBI students),” Brewer said. “I totally get it.” He and counselor Anna McGee are working with students one-on-one and in small groups to discuss options. NBI students are also invited to a schoolwide meeting Feb. 28 to talk about courses, clubs and electives for next year.

“I want all our students to have great options,” Brewer said. “As principal, I want to create a culture where all our students feel cared for.”

Students and parents are not convinced.

“(NBI) is the reason I came to NHS,” said Seline Yildiz, 16, a sophomore. “I wanted to go to Terra Linda (High School in San Rafael).” She changed her mind after her brother told her about the plans for North Bay Innovation.

“It sounded way more advanced, and way more fun, than the traditional high school,” she said. “He was right.”

Yildiz said she will miss the close bonds formed with teachers and fellow students in NBI.

“The NBI student cohort has become a family,” said Kiley Haskins, Nathan’s mother, one of several NBI parents to protest the cancellation at the Novato Unified School District board of trustees meeting on Tuesday.

She and other parents pleaded with the trustees to rescind the decision to cut the program. (Testimony starts at about 48 minutes into the meeting video, which is posted at Novato Community Television’s YouTube channel.)

Haskins told the NUSD board there’s been a “lack of transparency, a lack of resources to support teachers and a refusal to accept help from parents” from the district administration.

“I hope you will investigate this abrupt decision,” Haskins told the board. “The justification for doing this is not based on numbers and is not supported by teachers and by data.”

Haskins said NBI, which focused on “project-based learning,” has been “a game-changer for our son. He has excelled in his studies and is constantly being challenged by his amazing teachers every day.”

NBI parent Maggie Hohle had similar thoughts Friday in an email:

“Although my child has a 504 plan (for specialized education) to address his processing speed, the NBI program, with its emphasis on mastering the material, the option to take tests multiple times, and the availability of multiple modes of learning that material, requires no extra accommodations for my child,” she said. “For the first time, he is thoroughly engaged in his learning, and has taken complete control of the process. And he has straight A’s for the very first time in his life.

“If the NBI program is pulled out from under him, I’m afraid his morale will sink and he will be forced to find another program, one that surely will not fit him as well as this one does.”

Ren Yildiz, Seline’s mother, told the board that her daughter felt “safe” in the NBI program and did not want to join the general Novato High School student population.

“She asked me if she could go to Terra Linda High School,’” Yildiz said. She said NBI was a “great experience” for Seline.

“She’s not coming home crying because she was bullied; she wants to go to school,” Yildiz said. “She is learning by doing all the projects. That has enabled her to be more successful, more trusting in herself. She feels heard by her teachers, she feels secure, she feels safe — and she’s learning a lot.”

Brewer said he “understands the disappointment” felt by parents and teachers and is working with NBI lead teacher Glenn Corey to see if they can offer a section of the personalized learning classes for NBI students who want to continue special projects started in NBI or to keep a connection with a favorite teacher. Other options for continuing with the NBI teachers will include Saturday “academy” classes and 40-minute teacher office hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

In addition, NBI students could opt to select advanced placement classes at Novato High School, electives with the popular Marin School of the Arts at the high school or concurrent classes at College of Marin. Brewer said at least two NBI students will be transferring to San Marin High School in Novato in order to enroll in the school’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)  program.

Brewer said all five NBI teachers, who are already teaching some classes in the main student population, will remain on staff. The learning management software for NBI, Summit Learning Platform, was free, so the district is not losing money on that. Students and teachers will be switching over to the main school software platform, Aeries.

“It’s been a difficult marriage, a hard system to implement,” Brewer said of Summit Learning Platform. “It was really designed for small charter schools, and not a comprehensive high school.”

Scheduling students in North Bay Innovation was so difficult that new schedules were being produced on a regular basis. Although students were promised they could co-enroll with NBI and the Marin School of the Arts, the scheduling became so difficult that the school canceled the MSA co-enrollment for the current school year.

The decision to cut North Bay Innovation is not budget-related, Brewer said. The program’s future is separate from ongoing budget concerns being addressed by Novato Unified School District.

Those district-wide budget questions will be open for public discussion at a community meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the NUSD board room, 1015 Seventh St. For information on the current NUSD budget situation, see a video and background history posted on the district website.

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