Launching one -- or even two -- new elementary schools in Palo Alto was at the heart of discussion this week as the Board of Education pondered enrollment data for the current school year.
Board members asked Superintendent Kevin Skelly to prepare by December a "conceptual comparison" of opening a 13th elementary school at the old Garland Elementary School campus at 870 N. California Ave. versus the Greendell campus at 4120 Middlefield Road.
Skelly also is scouting for possible venues for the opening of a fourth middle school. In addition, he told the board Tuesday, Oct. 9, "Not only should we plan for a 13th elementary school, but we should also think about a 14th elementary school."
This fall's enrollment growth was dampened somewhat by a new law, which is gradually shifting the kindergarten birthday cutoff from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1.
But board members agreed that the overall growth trend appears unmistakable.
Total K-12 enrollment went from 12,286 to 12,396 -- a 1 percent growth rate compared to the 2 percent seen in recent years.
"We can discuss the annual numbers, but I've come to believe the trend is very stable, and it's time to shift our attention to the noise of annual movement to the trends -- and to build our solutions around the trends -- rather than hope to have that magic breakthrough that will suddenly make the future more certain and clear," board member Barb Mitchell said.
The district has grown by more than 2,200 students in 10 years -- enough for two-and-a-half elementary schools, half of a middle school and a quarter of a high school, board member Dana Tom said.
"That growth has been remarkably steady over the last 20 years," Tom said.
The district has coped with recent growth by adding classrooms at existing schools and slightly loosening the lid on class size.
The average elementary classroom has grown from 20.3 students to 22.3 students in the past four years.
The last time an entire school was launched was 12 years ago with the re-opening of Terman as the third middle school.
But board members will discuss "next steps" on facilities planning -- including the conceptual comparison of Garland and Greendell -- at board study sessions scheduled for Oct. 25 and Dec. 18.
Officials have not explicitly ruled out other district-owned sites -- including Cubberley Community Center, newly acquired property at 525 San Antonio Road and the old Fremont Hills site currently leased to Pinewood School in Los Altos -- as possible expansion venues.
But Mitchell and others specifically asked that the Garland/Greendell comparison be prepared for the Dec. 18 study session.
Ethnicity data contained in the fall enrollment report reflected trends that have been apparent in recent years: a decline in Caucasian enrollment from 54.2 percent six years ago to 48.8 percent this year; an increase in Asian enrollment from 29.9 percent six years ago to 37.1 percent this year; a growth of Hispanic enrollment from 9 percent six years ago to 10.5 percent this year; and a decline in African-American enrollment from 3.7 percent six years ago to 3 percent this year.