It's back to school this week for Palo Alto students, and on four of Palo Alto's 17 campuses -- Addison, Fairmeadow and Ohlone elementary schools and Gunn High School -- new principals will greet the children and teens.
Also new to Palo Alto this fall is Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee -- who officially took the helm of the school district Aug. 1 -- as well as about 80 teachers.
McGee has said his top priorities will be to "communicate frequently and clearly, ensure all students have ample opportunities and equal access to experience high-quality teaching" and "balance site autonomy with the cohesive focus on district best practices and our shared mission and vision."
In meetings with principals and administrators last week, he used selections from Amanda Ripley's 2013 best-seller, "The Smartest Kids in the World," as a starting point for discussion. The book explores how Finland, South Korea and Poland transformed their public school systems to become some of the world's top performers.
After reading selections from the book, principals and others "shared facts, opinions and perceptions of the qualities of exemplary world-class schools and systems," McGee said in an Aug. 8 memo to the district's Board of Education.
On two Palo Alto campuses, students next week will occupy major new classroom buildings.
After 16 months of construction, Duveneck Elementary School opens a two-story, eight-classroom building for fourth- and fifth-graders as well as a new library for the school.
At Palo Alto High School, journalism and photography students will occupy a new, 23,000-square-foot Media Arts Building. The school also opens a new, two-story, 27-classroom building for the math and social-studies departments.
But Paly students also will encounter a construction zone and severely curtailed parking, with work beginning on a new Performing Arts Center on the Embarcadero Road side of campus and -- later in the school year -- on a new Athletic Center on the Churchill Avenue side of campus.
Monday morning, Principal Kim Diorio deployed staff members to direct -- and redirect -- students entering campus around the large construction zone on the Embarcadero side.
Assistant football coach A.J. Castillo stood on the Town & Country side of the Embarcadero traffic light, asking students not to cross there but to go back to the bike path along the railroad tracks and enter campus from a gate there.
Diorio stood at the vehicle entrance to Paly on Embarcadero, waving to cars as they entered campus. She was accompanied by traffic officials from the City of Palo Alto as well as several school board members.
Other staff members stood at intersections inside the Paly parking lot directing cars.
Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said opening day had gone smoothly but another test would come Tuesday when arrival times are not staggered, as they were on Monday.
Gunn High School, which opened a new gym as well as a two-story classroom building last year, this fall inaugurates the "Miranda Drop-Off," a paved driveway that offers new vehicle access to campus from Miranda Avenue near Arastradero Road.
School officials predict increased enrollment this fall but will not conduct an official head count until several weeks into the school year when things settle down.
Last year's count, taken in September on the 14th day of school, was 12,483, including 38 students at a district-run school at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital as well as 43 students in the Alta Vista and Middle College alternative high school programs. Total enrollment last fall represented an increase of 87 students from the previous year.
The ethnic breakdown of Palo Alto students reported last fall was 46.4 percent Caucasian, 39.3 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 2.8 percent African-American and 0.5 percent "other."
The staggered school start dates next week -- Monday for the high schools and Tuesday for the rest -- as well as at the beginning of second semester in January 2015 will contribute to more evenly balanced semesters for high school courses. It will also give teachers student-free "work days" when they most need them, district spokeswoman Tabitha-Kappeler Hurley said.
"Elementary teachers benefit from the additional workday at the beginning of the year in order to set up classes," Kappeler-Hurley said. "Having a workday at the beginning of second semester (Jan. 5) for high school teachers allows first-semester grades to be processed and posted in a more timely way and new semester classes set up in (online platforms) Schoology and Infinite Campus."
McGee comes to Palo Alto from the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, a startup private school he led for the past year. For the six years prior to that, he headed the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a state-sponsored "teaching and learning laboratory" and boarding school for Illinois students.
He replaces Kevin Skelly, who resigned June 30 after serving as superintendent in Palo Alto since 2007.