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Consideration of third high school paused

Original post made on Sep 12, 2007

Members of Palo Alto's new High School Task Force don't feel qualified to look at whether the district should re-open a third high school == the core reason the group was formed.

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Comments (32)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2007 at 9:44 am

Here's an idea for the money. How about they finish the job of installing the elementary school portables they put in over the summer? The third grade classroom they set up literally adjacent to JLS classrooms (for Fairmeadow students), still has no phone line (safety issue), no internet access (for teacher access to her email or any other purpose), no outdoor lights, and several other missing and unfinished issues (broken door, broken/wrong running water situation, etc.).

AND the classroom is still obstructed from view of the main campus by two large storage units between it and the campus proper, and the front door of that room sits about 4 feet away from an always open gate through which people (parents, strangers, JLS students) move freely on and off Fairmeadow campus all day long. Well, since the teacher has no way to contact anyone, I guess her and her students are out of luck should a stranger decide to wander in. Let alone if her some of those students decide to wander out...

Oh, AND, they are going to have to tunnel through the blacktop on the campus to bring internet access to that room. How much will that cost? Did the brilliant District Staff include that in the 'level one/level two' cost/benefit analysis?

Well, anyway - good to see that getting this done right isn't going to be an issue of MONEY for the district.

The district staff under the former superintendent did some really amazingly shoddy work in planning and executing this modular situation. Lets see if the current superintendent (a) can solve problems left to him by the former superintendent and her laxidasical staff and (b)will get some competent staff.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2007 at 11:31 am

Bloody hell.

So, let's see--20 to 30 percent of the kids aren't suited to a regular high school? One in four kids? Unh-unh. That's a high school failing its mission and blaming the victim.

Can't handle the third high-school question? Well, how about disbanding and getting some people who CAN competently address the question. I don't think outsourcing kids to miniprograms is going to compensate for the growth.

Can we PLEASE get a board with a backbone?

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 12, 2007 at 11:43 am

Apparently therew are 2 threads on the same topic. I posted in the other thread, in complete agreement with Ohlone Par:

Here's a radical thought: assemble a task force that is actually qualified to look at the issue of reopening the third high school, rather than changing the focus of the group. Or maybe as well as having the curriculum guidance group.

There are a bunch of children not being served in elementary school as well -- the ones who are quiet, well behaved and birght, but not completely self-instructing. Maybe we could include them for consideration.

If there's all this money, why do we need a bond?

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Posted by A Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 12, 2007 at 11:54 am

Have to agree with OhlonePar on this one. The taskforce members don't feel qualified to look at the issue of the third HS, they feel more qualified to look at school curriculum, then why did they sign up for this taskforce. The description from the PAUSD website on the High School Task Force is very clear:

"The task force will explore alternatives to prepare high school students for the future in a rapidly changing world. The focus of the High School Task Force (HSTF), as directed by the Board, will be to focus on the three main options - expanding our current high school sites, opening a third comprehensive high school, or developing a specialty school."

The only issue for the task force should have been "do we or don't we". Then based on the outcome from that question the same or a different task force should have been created to discuss the additional programs (which I do think is valid and necessary).

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2007 at 11:56 am

Once again the BoE sees fit to fail to act. All that is really happening is delaying the problem for five years of so until the situation gets bad. Then it will cost even more money and time will be more crucial. If we need to get Cubberly re-opened, now is the time to give notice and start making plans, not when the need arises.

This sounds just like putting your head in the sand and waiting for the problem to go away, or alternatively until there is another BoE in place. We need to get a BoE willing to act in the present, not the future. It appears we have some spare money, lets use it for investing in future infrastructure rather than petty insignificant designer ideas.

I hope all the candidates for BoE have meaty comments on this rather than delaying tactical platitudes.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2007 at 12:23 pm

Not only that - but where the heck are they going to PUT all the students that are going to receive the new and improved programming this task force has appointed itself to study?

The issue is CAPACITY - and they want to come up with new programming alternatives for closing the achievement gap.

Worthy goal - but not goal that THIS particular task force was asked to address. If the board (FINALLY - 4 YEARS LATER) thinks closing the achievment gap is important, then FORM AN ACHIEVMENT GAP TASK FORCE!

We need a group of people to look at the HIGH SCHOOL CAPACITY PROBLEM!

And there are COSTS to running this district like a series of private schools. Someone is eventually going to need to look at the costs of housing the high school students and ADD THAT to the cost of these fabulous new programs they want to develop. Who's going to do that - or are we going to be asked to approve BONDS to approve new programs, then later, BONDs to (WOOPS) open a new high school???

If these administrators on the task force are not qualified to talk about costs and capacity issues, but are only qualified to talk about curriculum, then the board appointed the WRONG TASK FORCE.

C'mon Skelly, so far, not so good.

BOE - PLEASE! You need to appoint an appropriately staffed task force for the job at hand - perhaps it includes both a discussion on programming AND facilities/capacity issues. But it certainly doesn't EXCLUDE a discussion on facilities/capacity issues!

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Posted by amazed
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2007 at 1:04 pm

The current BOE is a huge joke and some of the incumbents want to run again and will probably get in. Are we really that devoid of talent in this district?

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Posted by natasha
a resident of Meadow Park
on Sep 12, 2007 at 1:25 pm

"Let's call it additional, rather than alternative," Board President Camille Townsend suggested. "This is a case where enrollment growth leads to better educational opportunities for students."

Let's call it what it is, actually: an alternative focus that completely derails the discussion the task force was formed to have.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2007 at 2:12 pm

So, lets get this straight. The long awaited High School Task Force took the liberty of reassigning itself as a task force for Closing the Achievement Gap.

And our new superintendent encourages it.

And our current BOE (who's been around long enough to know very well that enrollment growht is our big burning issue) is passively going along with it, with barely a blink.

And Townsend is going so far as to find ways to SPIN the derailment with new vocabulary terms (as if improving what we call the thing makes it better).

The fact that Townsend is behind this (and is inexplicably touchy about the term 'alternative' programs in association with this brand new task force - should be a GIGANTIC red flag. Townsend has an agenda, and she's quietly working it.

Would someone please explain how it is that our high school task force is being hijacked for exploration (feasibility study?) of more choice programs?

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Posted by Paying Attention
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 12, 2007 at 4:04 pm


Read up on it..I am actually completely delighted with the result. I wish the AAAG had thought of asking for at the very least a partial revision of its function also, to look at programmatic changes that could be done to ease the increasing enrollment.

And, no, I am a member of neither group.

This group, and the Board, and the new Super, are not saying that they AREN'T going to look at building a whole new high school for 1,800 students, they are just not going to do it right now because the projected numbers don't warrant a whole entire new huge high school.

What the numbers DO warrant is looking at a way to deal with an additional possible 800-900 students ( if I remember what I read correctly). So, there are many creative ways to look at this. One is to develop a specialty "sub" high school which will siphon off interested students into a different site, students with different goals from those most have. Nobody has decided that there won't be an additional site for the additional kids, they just aren't looking at a huge site.. For example, what if there are a number of kids who are completely certain that they don't want to become PhD physicists, and instead want to go into, auto mechanics, licensed vocational nurses, medical technicians, plumbing, carpentry, etc. I have no idea how many, if any, PA kids have these goals, but what if there are many, and it would be best for them to have their last couple years in a prep school for acceptance into post-high school apprenticeships or programs with scholarships? I don't know, just sayin'..

Or, what if there will be about 900 kids in our high schools who are certain they are heading into heavy duty math/science fields, and could do their last 2 years in a high school with a heavy emphasis on the maths and sciences?

Or, what if there would be about 900 kids in our district who are struggling academically/socially in our larger high schools, at risk for whatever reason, but would thrive in a smaller environment.

As for programmatic changes..have we explored how to adapt to increasing numbers of kids through having staggered days on campuses, using computers for some "at home" class-time, or any other creative ideas for campus/technology uses?

All this to say that I wouldn't be so quick to condemn this just because it isn't aiming for the expected outcome immediately.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2007 at 8:04 pm

The headline says it all

"Consideration of third high school paused"

More accurately it should say "Consideration of third high school PAUSD".

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2007 at 9:25 am

All the things you mentioned were all part of the realm of possibilities under the umbrella of a potentially 3rd new high school. Nothing new in what you are saying - its all part of the task forces original intent. And so if they come up with a program 800-900 kids - voila - a third new high school (or do you tuck them in to more portables, perhaps on the football field??

Well, sure, that is indeed one of the possibilities. What are the pros and cons to protables, construction on existing campuses, finding a new site, etc??? Well this task force isn't even going there - all they want to do is study programming! Nice easy punt.

They said they aren't qualified to study the 3rd new high school issues?

All well and good for them to study closing the achievment gap - they need to do it in the context of the issues, costs, capacities, and alternatives for physical location issues.

Otherwise you have another MI debacle on your hands. Jumping the gun with approval for some wonderful pie in the sky new educational program, with everyone standing around saying 'we have no idea where to put this in three years - we don't even want to STUDY where to put this in three years.' Lets just put our heads in the sand - or avoid the hard discussoin, so we can ram this down peoples throats in whatever way we see fit on the opening day of school three years from now. It all HAS to be studied together.

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Posted by Paying Attention
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 13, 2007 at 9:30 am

I understand what you are saying, and agree if there isn't any study of facilities happening before the final approval of new programs. But the way I read the article tells me that there IS another facility specific study group going to you read something different?

Am I actually not paying enough attention after all? :)

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2007 at 10:52 am

I don't know Paying Attention, I think you and I are reading this completely differently. I don't see anything about a separate group to begin a facilities study. Where do you see that?

I see a couple very clear comments from Skelly that says they'll talk about curriculum, but they won't talk about facilities, costs, etc.

Skelly says the discussion on third high school can be tabled for 5-7 years..
"Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he is satisfied with the change in emphasis. He said discussion of a third high school may not be necessary for five to seven years."

"The reason for the shift is that group members are more qualified to discuss improving Palo Alto's existing high schools than to examine developing a third, Laurence said.
"A third high school means talking about leases, property deals with Foothills or De Anza colleges, and all of a sudden you had a bunch of educators looking at a number of factors that were out of our area of expertise," Laurence explained on behalf of the task force."

It just sounds like they lopped off a large chunk of the problem (physcial site, and cost issues), and let it just slip away for some future BOE, some future task force (not named, not underway now), some future Superintendent? to deal with when capacity problems really come to a head.

How the heck to they think we're going to approve a facilities BOND if they have no concept of a comprehensive long term facilities plan?

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 13, 2007 at 10:58 am

I am confident Dr. Skelly will put together a comprehensive long term facilities plan. All this says is that the current members of the HS task force do not have the necessary skills to make the long term plan, but do have the skills to help in the shorter term.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2007 at 11:10 am

As far as I am aware, this task force was made up of parents, teachers and educators. This group was put together by someone at Churchill who should have been able to do this task.

The AAAG was a similar group of people and were certainly educated enough with data and other information to gain the necessary skills to understand the situation. They felt that a 13th elementary school was needed and had good reasoning for this. They also discussed the need for a potential new middle school and high school.

If one group was able to discuss the situation and discuss this having been educated enough, why wasn't the same said of the high school task force. From my understanding they have met once in the spring and were meant to be doing most of their work in the fall. Is this something they can decide from just one meeting? The AAAG met many times before reaching its conclusions, maybe the hstf haven't discussed and been taught enough yet.

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Posted by understood
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 13, 2007 at 3:11 pm

And, like the AAAG report, any recommendation will be ignored. Dr. Skelly appears to understand this already and is letting these groups go their own without wasting any more of the board's time.

Dr. Skelly, I salute you.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2007 at 5:00 pm

Well, understood - you have a good point - the recommendations of the task force will be ignored, like the AAAGs - but you got wrong who's time will/will not be wasted.

The task force was relieved of studying a situation where they would ultimately be ignored - so their time has been spared.

The board members will be required to do their own research to get the truth - which has been the case with every issue over the past year that has required staff report - so the BOE will spend a lot of time studying the issue themselves - but they would have had to do this anyway. So the time saved is probably the task forces time.

I certainly applaud Skelly for recognizing the mismatch between the task and the assembled personnel. But how about correcting the personnel assigned to the task, instead of changing the task? The need for the study hasn't gone away.

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Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 14, 2007 at 9:45 pm

I'm still concerned about plans to help those 20-30% of the students who are not getting their needs met at the high school. Wouldn't it make some sense to explore how we best meet these student's needs before we abandon the decision of a third high school. I'm not sure that the solution is only met through new curriculum. I'm disappointed that the task force is taking a new direction so early in the game.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 15, 2007 at 11:44 am

Ooh, boy, I'm in print this week. It was pretty funny to see part of this thread in the Weekly.

I'd say 800-900 new students--and remember projections have been historically low--does mean looking at reopening Cubberly. Not necessarily doing so, but looking long and hard at what would be involved. We're already looking at at-capacity high schools. I don't think monkeying with the curriculum and outsourcing education is a substitute for addressing the facilities question.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 15, 2007 at 3:35 pm

A number of people have told me that Gunn has 6 unused acres of land. If that's true, there is plenty of room for expansion there, a "school within a school", maybe an IB program?

There are ways to make a large school feel smaller, teams of core classes would work for a large portion of kids, most Freshman and Sophmore are in the same classes except for math and electives, even then the majority are split between 2 math levels.

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Posted by Paying Attention
a resident of Stanford
on Sep 15, 2007 at 4:03 pm

I am not saying that this is or is not a good idea. (The Gunn post above).

But, I like the idea that we start with the premise "We have a growing population", then we DON'T draw an immediate conclusion that we automatically have to have more space, but instead really study ALL the ways we can deal with a growing population.

Who knows, we might still have to take back another space for a third high school, but I really like that we are going to actually try to think about other ways also.

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Posted by Palo alto mom
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 16, 2007 at 10:19 am

Not that I'm an advocate for large schools, but PAUSD has been able to provide a rich variety of electives to high school students which would be financially prohibitive in a smaller school. Adding a "school within a school" to an existing campus would allow students to participate in the electives, athletic teams, etc. already available.

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Posted by v
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 17, 2007 at 2:32 pm

I agree with the decision to NOT contemplate opening another high school.

While I understand the district needs to plan for growth, a third high school could potentially compromise the top notch education Gunn and Paly impart. This, unless the third school gets seeded by the fantastic staff that gunn and paly boast.

Also, I can't imagine that a new school will be up and running at the same levels as the exisiting one's till at least 5+ years of its inception. For some of us, who's children will be going to High school then, it will be a time of uncertainities, questions and changes till the third school reaches the same quality as the other two.

Finally, many of us incurred a significant cost to buy a house in Palo Alto. I fear that should some parents be rezoned into the third "new" high school, it could mean lost real estate value for our homes as they would fall outside gunn/paly schools.

I would rather that Gunn and Paly be extended - new buildings and teachers - or perhaps even increase the class size somewhat. I realize that opening a third school is one of the many proposals to tackling growth, however, I encourage you to seek other alternatives keeping some of the abopve factors in mind.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2007 at 3:46 pm

The thing is, we already have a situation where people buy into the Gunn district and then can't get their kids into Gunn.

And, once the kids are in Gunn or Paly there's an issue of getting the classes they want--in part because of overcrowding.

I don't think Cubberly would automatically be a dramatically inferior high school. Maybe it wouldn't quite have the steller scores of Gunn, but I suspect they'd be good enough.

Just to clarify, I'm not wedded to reopening Cubberly--it's frankly really useful as a community center. A lot of programs could never afford to be in PA otherwise. However, I think it needs to be looked at--particularly with the south Paly housing projects (and ABAG's pressure for more).

Maybe Cubberly should house an IB program. Or maybe one should be built at Gunn if it has six truly usable acres.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2007 at 7:17 pm

I just want to know why they're jumping to conclusion and not studying the issue? What was their decision to completely drop the study of a third school (ie: What would it take? What would be the cost? Where could it go? Where could it NOT go? etc.)

Don't we need to at least understand what we're talking about (or not talking about)??? I don't understand how this district makes decisions.

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Posted by Susan Hong, reporter for the Mountain View Voice
a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2007 at 12:30 pm

In a recent interview I did with Judy Miner, President of Foothill College and member of the Palo Alto High School Task Force, I asked her what she thought of the high school's task force's decision not to open a third comprehensive high school at Cubberely.

"I'm thrilled," she said.

Currently the college has 19,000 students, and Miner wants to see the school expand to 25,000 in five years. She particularly wants to expand the "Middlefield campus," housed in the Cubberley Community Center in Palo Alto. The off-campus site offers a pharmacy tech program and emergency medical training, but the college has a new name in the works as part of a bigger and better school: The Northern California Center for Career Pathways.

"We really need that space and I think there is incredible potential there," Miner said. "What we want to do is develop a new career program that would be housed at Middlefield and provide enough general education coursework, so if a student chose, they could do their entire program at the Middlefield campus."

By the fall of 2008, the Middlefield campus may offer child development programs, she said. Foothill is also working closely with Mountain View and Los Altos high schools to offer more college credit courses.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Thank you Susan for bringing this to our attention.

I feel sure that this is news to most of us here in Palo Alto and it would be good to find out more on these plans.

The fact that we have a HSTF member with a conflict of interest is also worth knowing.

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Posted by Unbelievable.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Yes, such conflict of interest is absolutely incredible. To have someone on a task force who has a desire to not even consider one option for the public school because his/her employer would not be happy is unbelievable.

This is how corrupt towns operate. I used to live in the supposedly most corrupt state in the nation. I naively believed I was moving to the land of transparent and ethical govt.

But the more I learn, the more I get confused about where I live!!

Maybe I will stop trying to fix my accent and just bring what I learned elsewhere to bear here.

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Posted by High school parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2007 at 11:50 pm

Just to clarify, the HSTF has met only twice to date, May 16 and Sept 19. The Sept 11 BOE presentation and recommendation for moving the 3rd high school discussion to the PAUSD Property Committee was made by the HSTF Planning committee - Asst Super Laurence, the 2 high school principals, the dir of secondary ed Cohen and former Paly principal Pearson - not the full task force. None of the HSTF members, including Judy Minor, voted on the change.

Further, fyi, the task force includes not only reps from Foothill, but also Stanford and the City of Palo Alto, as well as parents, teachers and administrators from the 2 high schools and other reps within the district for a total membership of more than 20 people. This task force presents an opportunity to think outside the box to meet the needs of our growing high school population. Foothill currently runs Middle College, an existing program for some of our high school students, so they are PAUSD's educational partner now and a welcome participant at the table.

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Posted by High School parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 24, 2007 at 11:53 pm

PS. OOps - A Gunn and Paly student are also members of the task force.

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Posted by and yet
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2007 at 6:10 am

If that group was not qualified to consider whether to recommend that the property committee further inquire about the feasibility of opening a new third high school, who will be? I thought they were meetingto determine the need, not all the logistics.

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