Overflow of students causes opening of new elementary school

Ella Cook

The Cove School in Corte Madera opened its doors to 360 elementary school students for the first time this fall.

Monday, Sept. 8 marked the first day of classes for the brand new public elementary school located in east Corte Madera, which was created to compensate for the growing enrollment at Neil Cummins Elementary School.

Students work in a classroom at the Cove School in Corte Madera. The school opened September 8th of this year.

The school, currently open to kindergarten through fourth grade, is comprised mainly of students living in east Corte Madera, although approximately 100 kids come from other parts of Marin, such as Larkspur and Kentfield.

According to superintendent Valerie Pitts, the district decided to open the Cove School because the enrollment at Neil Cummins has been steadily increasing over the past ten  years.

By next year, the The Cove plans to expand in order to accommodate 100 more students, increasing the population from 360 to 460 students. The school’s projected growth stems from their plan to incorporate fifth grade into the school that Pitts referred to as the “phase-in plan.”

All the funding for the campus came from a school facilities bond.

“When we decided we needed a new school, we couldn’t just move into it because the buildings were too old, and to modernize and update it to new state standards would have cost just as much as building a new school,” Pitts said. “We had the blessing of being able to design from the ground up, but there are some things that we wanted to do that we simply couldn’t do because of cost.”

Some of the teachers who work at the Cove volunteered to leave Neil Cummins for the new school, while others came from different schools in the district. The district also hired a few new teachers as well.

The process of developing a mission statement and guiding principals started just over a year ago. A board of 10 to 12 people, including at least one teacher from each grade level, parents, and specialists were assembled.

Teachers Trish Hart and Kris Lerohl share a collaborative classroom for fourth grade students.
Teachers Trish Hart and Kris Lerohl share a collaborative classroom for fourth grade students.

The process to start the school started nearly nine years ago: the first few years were spent developing a plan, and five years ago, that plan was proposed to and approved by the board.

Pitts also said that San Clemente, the last elementary school in this space run by the Larkspur-Corte Madera school district, closed in the early 80’s. After San Clemente closed, the district leased the space out to the French school, which closed recently, before construction of the Cove began.

Each grade levels’ classrooms are connected with dividing walls in order to promote more collaboration and visibility.

According to Pitts, parts of the campus were modeled after the Google and Zynga headquarters, both located in the Bay Area.

Many classrooms are equipped with different types of seating to fit various students’ needs, including stools that are meant to wobble around.

“There are very few times in our classrooms where kids are all sitting in rows listening to the teacher,” Pitts said.

The Cove also integrates technology into the classroom, including large television monitors to replace traditional whiteboards and to display student art work.

“We wanted a space where we could show student work, but we didn’t want to necessarily have bulletin boards,” Pitts said.

This year, teachers Kris Lerhol and Trish Hart will teach a fourth grade class of 47 students known as the collaborative class.

Lerhol and Hart taught in a collaborative classroom together for two years at Neil Cummins.

The collaborative classroom is designed to be similar to the space in a house. The classroom is split up into spaces commonly found in a home, including a kitchen, den, and lounge area.

Pitts said that the collaborative classroom adds flexibility, enabling one teacher to prepare an activity while the other teacher works with the students.

The school is still building another wing, which is scheduled to begin construction in the springtime.