News

Teachers, principals look to new academic year

Major construction to greet students next week in earliest-ever school start

Along with teachers, major construction will greet many Palo Alto students as they head back to school next Thursday, Aug. 16 -- the earliest start to the school year in local history.

The mid-August start reflects a new academic calendar adopted by the school district for 2012-13 and 2013-14.

The object of the hotly debated calendar change was to squeeze in the first semester before the December holidays, hence the early start date. Most public and private high schools in the area already have adopted calendars with pre-winter-break finals in efforts to give students a work-free vacation.

Six of Palo Alto's 17 public school campuses -- both high schools, all three middle schools and Fairmeadow Elementary School -- open the school year with fenced-off hardhat zones as the school district scrambles to modernize facilities and create space for a flood of new students who have come through the doors in recent years.

In addition, portable classrooms have been moved to make way for major construction at Duveneck Elementary School, likely by early 2013. At Ohlone Elementary School, a new, two-story classroom building was completed and occupied last winter.

Funds for the construction come from the $378 million "Strong Schools" facilities bond measure approved in 2008 by more than 77 percent of voters.

Besides adding space on existing campuses, the Board of Education is pondering where to locate entirely new schools. If enrollment trends continue, officials have said a new elementary school and a new middle school will be needed within the next five years. The venues most often discussed are recently acquired district property at 525 San Antonio Road, the old Garland Elementary School campus at 870 N. California Ave., or the old Cubberley High School campus at 4000 Middlefield Road, currently leased to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center.

District-wide K-12 enrollment -- which stood at 12,286 last fall -- has been on a steady upward trajectory since hitting a post-Baby Boom low of 7,500 in 1989. The official headcount for 2012-13 will be taken a few weeks into the school year.

Palo Alto had three high schools, three middle schools and 22 elementary schools when enrollment hit its historic high of 15,000 in 1968. Today there are two high schools, three middle schools and 12 elementary schools. A 13th elementary campus, Greendell in south Palo Alto, houses preschool and adult-education programs.

Two elementary school campuses, Hoover and Juana Briones, open the school year with new principals. At Hoover, Katy Bimpson replaces Susanne Scott, who retired in June. At Juana Briones, Lisa Hickey replaces Matthew Nagle.

In total, the district employs about 800 full- and part-time teachers.

Construction crews worked overtime on some campuses to make sure academic space would be accessible when teachers return Monday, Aug. 13, to prepare their classrooms for the arrival of students.

Below, a random handful of teachers and administrators shared their thoughts on the coming school year.

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Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

Not only construction at many schools, but there seems to be road construction all over town which is going to make school commutes more difficult for drivers and those on bikes too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

Yes, PG&E major pipeline work; PA Art Center; new Mitchell Park library and community center - I wish there could be incentives given for (accurate) completed work ahead of schedule...it seems to stretch out over a very long time. Commercial construction seems to move along so much quicker (not necessarily in Palo Alto - that's not what I mean...)
Let's all remember tiny kids will be walking to school next week -
Parents, please instruct your kids on proper biking - I have had many kids, especially middle-school aged, cut across residential streets like mine without looking and even very careful drivers like myself are concerned with the potential for accidents.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by avram
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:21 am

Wasn't the calendar adopted during one of those meetings that was tainted by private communication between the Superintendent and Board members in violation of the open meetings requirements? Also, I never heard the Board or Superintendent discuss potential consequences of breaking the trust implicit in the calendar. What happens when teachers defy the schedule and give finals whenever they want, or assign work to be turned in immediately after the Winter break, as has been the case for years now? How can a student be expected to turn in a project or assignment those first few days after break and expect to have a work free holiday? Strangely, this calendar does not take into account the train wreck of asking students to take finals in the middle of preparing college applications. Also left unresolved is the unexplained decision not to monitor whether students attend the tutorial period, which schools count as instructional time.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by katie
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Avram, I agree with all of your comments. I am a district teacher and I find it unconscionable that some of my colleagues defied policy and were not censured. Also, despite the uproar surrounding the calendar change, I feel strongly that the calendar change is taking the easy way out, i.e., it's easier to do this than formally discipline teachers or shift the paradigm to try something progressive like moving to trimesters.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by avram
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

katie--thank you for your comments. You are so right. Changing the calendar is something the Board and Superintendent can "do." It is much harder to change behavior. I wish you a pleasant and productive school year.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

The City of Palo Alto reviews every new housing develpoment and concluded that there will not be enough new students to trigger any school construction impacts nor traffic impacts that require mitigation. No impact from each project and no cummulative impact from the sum total of all the projects. How can that conclusion be reconciled with the construction happening at all the school sites listed in this article?

Burt, Espinosa, Klein, Scharf and Shepherd represent the developers and landowners, not the people who live and work here. They are advancing their own political and egotistical aspirations at our expense. They give us higher tax bills, fewer services, more congestion and overcrowding.


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