Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - November 22, 2013

Guest Opinion: the best elementary school locations for a growing community

by Diane Reklis

There are 25 percent more elementary students in our district today than when I moved here in 1979, yet we have two fewer elementary schools.

The Palo Unified School District plans to reopen at least one elementary school soon. Last year the board appointed the elementary school site location advisory committee to comment on the best location and program for the 13th school. They concluded that the new school should:

* be located on the adjacent sites of the former Peninsula Day Care and Greendell Elementary School, and,

* be a hybrid site serving the needs of both neighborhood children and those who choose a particular program.

The committee provided valuable insight and clarity. Their analysis should be extended to the broader topic of the best locations for all of our elementary schools. I believe their recommendations hold the key to resolving the conflicting desire for more neighborhood spaces for children who live within the current Palo Verde attendance boundaries and for more opportunities for families who desire the Ohlone program.

The ideal neighborhood school is one where most children in the neighborhood attend and where they can safely walk or ride bicycles to get there. When kids go to school near home, traffic is minimized, they can get home in an emergency, and the school becomes a natural hub for family and neighborhood activities. This increases the health and safety of us all. The district provides special education plus several alternative programs (Ohlone "open school," Hoover "back to basics," Spanish immersion and Mandarin immersion) for families who need or want a program other than the one at their neighborhood school.

We once had neighborhood schools within safe walking or biking distance from nearly every home in Palo Alto. Decisions made 30 years ago assigned some students far from home and left some schools with too many students. Reasonable school boundaries allow most students to attend school near home. We must realign our schools with our students.

All our schools are feeling enrollment pressure, but Ohlone and Palo Verde are particularly impacted. Ohlone's campus recently expanded, but this added too much traffic for its quiet neighborhood, and its waiting list is still long. Palo Verde's campus is small with little room to expand and several recent housing developments have made the problem worse. Pin maps of enrolled students indicate that Ohlone's program is especially popular in its current neighborhood and in the Greenmeadow area where it was founded.

If the district opens a 13th elementary school at the expanded Greendell site with a philosophy similar to the current Ohlone and if both of these schools become hybrids with neighborhood and alternative school components, we would solve the current enrollment crisis in south Palo Alto and also reduce traffic. All other plans being discussed increase traffic without solving our basic need for more space.

We must rebuild the community aspects of our city that made this such a wonderful place to live and to bring up families. Schools create opportunities for neighbors of all ages to know and value each other, for older children to help younger ones, for adults to work with teenagers on science fair and community projects, and for children to know and respect the increasing elder population. Strong schools with a neighborhood identity contribute to a strong city.

Data from the U.S. Census indicates that Palo Alto now has more children under 5 than we had in 1970 (when we had 12 more elementary schools) and there is pressure to increase our housing capacity — enrollment will continue to rise. We must locate all our schools and special programs where they best serve our community and plan for future flexibility and growth.

Palo Verde has not had enough space for its assigned students since the last elementary school closure in 1982 (not surprising since its current boundaries once filled the Van Auken, De Anza, Palo Verde and Ross Road schools plus part of Ortega). Students who live between Amarillo and Oregon Expressway must pass the school in their neighborhood and walk an additional mile to get to their assigned school. Every year some families face the possibility of being overflowed to a school that is miles away from their homes. Palo Verde is a wonderful school, but it cannot serve its current neighborhood.

The district currently has two hybrid schools that serve the needs of different populations of students. Escondido has both neighborhood and Spanish-immersion components while Ohlone houses both the "open school" philosophy and the Mandarin-immersion program. Schools with Special Day programs also allow children to interact with students with different needs. Shared sites generate synergy between programs.

The district should open a second school with the Ohlone core values (and a farm to share with the preschool programs on site) at the expanded Greendell site and make both the new school and the current Ohlone into hybrid schools serving students from their immediate neighborhoods plus students entering via the alternative school lottery. The Ohlone program would remain unchanged and Mandarin immersion could remain in place if desired. Families who prefer not to send their children to an "open school" could select a nearby school. Overcrowding at all schools would be relieved, traffic reduced, and our families would have more choice.

Additional hybrid schools would allow us to renew the essence of the small neighborhood schools that we enjoyed in the past while reaping the efficiencies of somewhat larger numbers of students on each campus. The law allows neighborhood schools with alternative school components, but we must build trust among diverse groups.

We need another elementary school in the south and we need to honor both the families who want to attend school in their neighborhood and those who prefer an alternative school. Hybrid schools on both edges of the south that offer a locally popular alternative program and also allow the nearest neighbors to attend would mean everyone wins. Most children could then attend the program of their choice and nearly everyone could walk or ride their bikes to school safely.

Diane Reklis is a former president of the school board and served on the Cubberley Community Advisory Committee.

Comments

Posted by Palo alto parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm

In a nutshell, Ms. Reklis (a Palo Alto icon!) recommends making the new elementary school at Greendell a hybrid school (neighborhood kids combined with a choice program) just as the school district does. What is very curious to me, is that she recommend replicating the Ohlone program at Greendell (very popular with a LONG waiting list) because it is so popular.

Why not move MI (currently at Ohlone) and simply expand the Ohlone program AT Ohlone?


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 22, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Because the MI parents [portion removed] want the perks of the Ohlone community to support their [portion removed] program. Split MI off from Ohlone and it becomes all too clear what a mess MI is. Basically, the MIers will fight it. They've already come and moaned about moving to our spineless school board.

So, basically, no other school wants to deal with the MI contingent, but Ohlone-main parents are known for being community-focused volunteer types who aren't uber-competitive.

But, yes, you're completely right. The logical thing would be transfer the MI program and get Ohlone back on track, though reducing it by half a strand--this would still pick up part of the Ohlone waitlist, but reduce the school to a more manageable size--(four strands). Ohlone's system isn't really ideal for a mixed school just because so much of it is about cross-pollination between classes.


Posted by '76 Palo Verde Alum, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Greendell should not be a neighborhood school; it's ideal as a commuter school because of its large parking lot and walking/biking there is dangerous. Ohlone should be a neighborhood school because it's near Palo Verde.

Better yet, revert all schools back to neighborhood schools. People can take it or leave it. Choice schools were only created when enrollment was down. Times have changed. We need to dump the Tinsley/VTP and choice schools and get back to the reality of our overcrowded school district.


Posted by OPar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

We can't just dump Tinsley/VTP.

Getting rid of the choice schools won't fix enrollment issues--the PV area doesn't have enough kids to fill both Ohlone and Palo Verde. Enrollment isn't evenly distributed across the district, the choice schools make it possible to to adjust enrollment accordingly and mean that fewer kids actually get bumped from their neighborhood schools.

Choice schools aren't the problem, per se--the school board's refusal to deal with district growth in a timely manner is. We *have* four possible elementary school sites, enrollment that's close to the baby-boom peak and only one third of the elementary schools we had then.

The district would rather play landlord to private schools than take care of educating its own students. The only reason Greendell's even up for consideration is that the JCC left a chunk of it open.

Remember that big bond issue we had a few years back? With a large chunk of money set aside, supposedly, for retrofitting Green Gables? Instead of getting Green Gables, the board decided to make mega-campuses out of Ohlone, Escondido, Duveneck, etc.


Posted by Too full, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 23, 2013 at 11:13 am

When we first moved here, we were trying to escape the overfilled classrooms of another school district. Now our grandchildren go to school here, and they are in classes just as overfilled as the ones we fled from all those years before! We and our children, have decided to pool resources and put the grandkids in a catholic school because we cannot wait for more schools to be built here.

Be advised that there are more people like us, and that if another school is not built SOON, the PAUSD class population will be lowered artificially by parents removing their children, either by moving elsewhere ( like San Ramon: better schools, better housing), or by enroll long them in private schools.

Kevin Skelly has already damaged the name and image of PAUSD. And caused an artificial lowering of SPU scores by mainstreaming IEP kids.....hasn't the school board had enough?


Posted by iSez, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 23, 2013 at 10:48 pm

iSez is a registered user.

Re posting by Too full: People move to Palo Alto for more than just the schools, and there will be no run on PAUSD to private schools. Not everyone wants their children in Catholic schools. Plus, many of the people who live in Palo Alto work nearby and would not like to commute from the East Bay. Palo Alto has so much to offer that people are willing to pay over a million dollars to live in houses that are 1600sf. Obviously, you don't appreciate Palo Alto as much as you should. There's more to Palo Alto than just a house and a school.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 24, 2013 at 7:17 am

Not buying the overfilled argument if you're talking about classroom size. At least not for K-8.


Posted by Traffic Impact, a resident of Mayfield
on Nov 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Making all the schools neighborhood schools again WILL cut down on traffic. Most kids are biking but if you ever go to Hoover or Ohlone in the morning, there is tons of car traffic. Makes sens to me to move a choice program to a commute oriented location, and keep the schools in the midst of single family homes as neighborhood schools


Posted by Too Full of What?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Nov 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

Too Full,

First of all what evidence do you have that the San Ramon schools are better? How do you know that district does not face similar problems? I haven't seen any reports or stats that San Ramon schools are considered better, but I have heard numerous reports that the schools there are even more like pressure cookers than the ones in PAUSD.

Second, how dare you accuse IEP kids of bringing down STAR scores (you say SPU which I have never heard of and assume you mean STAR scores?)! Although there is a lot I disagree with Skelly about and certainly don't support his mainstreaming idea for all IEP kids, a large number of IEP kids have dyslexia (think Albert Einstein) , aspegers (think Bill Gates), or other disabilities that do not affect intelligence and with accommodations these kids can perform academically just as well or even better than non IEP kids. Would you refuse to allow people who wear glasses to wear their glasses? Same with some IEP kids. If you allow accommodations such as Bookshare or extra time on tests, they can do well. My own dyslexic, IEP kid scored Advanced on the STAR so don't worry about my child lowering your precious test scores! How about educating yourself about IEP students and realize many of them are capable and deserve a chance (and in PAUSD unfortunately many of them are not getting the accommodations or help they need)!


Posted by Rose colored glasses off, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 26, 2013 at 12:51 am

It is currently my experience that classes are overcrowded and both mainstream and IEP students are not getting the education and support they deserve. Teachers must be overburdened since they have no idea who is an IEP student and what their needs are. I've had an experience of no follow-up and lots of promises but the classroom experience has not changed. I've had to pull my child out of classes due to the teachers negative discipline styles of bullying the kids and embarrassing them in order to get them to do what he wants. Teachers too arrogant to teach kids who aren't arriving tutored. I guess the kids who need to learn are the responsibility of someone else. Somewhere the simple act of asking the student what he is struggling with and teaching is lost, even for 11 year olds.


Posted by Lee, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm

Hoover and Ohlone can move to the Greendell location. However why MI is not at Hoover school? [Portion removed.]


Posted by Huh??, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm

It would help many of us if we could have a dictionary with these articles, or if you would write out full names--MI? SPU? STAR? IEP? Etc. I vote, and I have no idea what you're talking about.


Posted by John, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 26, 2013 at 9:00 pm

MI = Mandarin Immersion


Posted by paretn, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm

@too full: by all means move your children to a private school. Since PAUSD is a basic aid district, it only means more money for them. They are not paid per child. They get a certain lump sum based on property taxes. It doesn't matter how many children attend the schools. Your threat to move your children out, unfortunately, is an empty one.


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