Town Square

MI -- What can Palo Altans learn from the experience?

Original post made by Alexis Hamilton on Jan 10, 2007

What can we as palo alto citizens learn from the MI experience? My most pressing question is how can we create a better "review process" that ensures a fresh supply of ideas and energy. This MI debate was so painful that we have burned out our most precious civic resources--Our Citizen thinkers and idea makers ...not to mention the toll that was levied on our PASUD staff and elected officials. For me one take away is that more information earlier in the MI approval process could have helped us circumvent what had become the MI crisis. As an early support of MI who developed reservations as the drama unfolded, I only wish I had done a better job figuring out a way to open the lines of communication between MI and the greater school community -- If only I could have designed a communication process that could have established a debate that was less acromonious and more productive. If only we could have fed this into the MI process before the armed camps were established. What does it take to get people engaged and interested before the fire is too hot to handle? Let's come up with a "review process" that doesn't burn out our best minds and our most exciting thinkers.


Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2007 at 3:22 pm



None of this debacle needed to take place, if such a straightforward approach would have been taken. Don't listen to those who say it isn't possible. It is difficult, but not as difficult as what we just went through. Bullis Charter is now at Egan in Los Altos.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2007 at 3:37 pm

I think John's response kind of sums up why the MI discussion became such a problem. John, you come off as "my way of the highway" here--there's no flexibility here. Did you hear nothing about the practical issues regarding charter schools--i.e. they have to open to everyone, but as a basic-aid district, PAUSD won't be getting money for those students? At a time when PAUSD faces skyrocketing enrollments, that's not going to fly.

The board wasn't saying no to MI on principle, but because it has to put other issues first. So, what are some ways to work within those constraints? Me, I'd start with getting a good summer immersion program set up. The board is open to middle school immersion. If it were me, I'd see if I could get immersion camps for younger kids.

Posted by Observer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 4:33 pm

What have we learned:
1. Sound strategic planning process is the foundation. Not only strategic planning process, but a resulting document that is clear and understandable and can be applied to later decision making.

As part of this we need to take a deeper dive into the benchmark study and see how that can be leveraged to improve our district.

2. Need a K-12 World Language Strategy that is in alignment with an up to date strategic plan.

3. Need to have a transparent funding process. The district needs to work out some policies about how program studies will be funded (if the program deemed to be a good fit to the strategic prioirities, they should be funded by the district.) They need to define requirements for full disclosure. It didn't do any body any good that the donors would not disclose themselves, particularly not helpful to PACE because it just cast more doubt on the process than was necessary.

4. Need a BETTER Choice program guideline document. The document is an outline for a study, but does not really dileneate clear decision making criteria for implementing/expanding choice programs. Some of the 'questions' should be changed to statements to clarify if they are truly requirements, nice to haves, or if they are just guidance for the study team in development of a report.
There needs to be more requirement for data, more opportunity and mechanisms for community feedback/input, more ability to evaluate competing programs together.

5. Need closure not only on the elementary site decisions, but we also need closure on the middle and high school site issues. Great cost implications are lurking.

6. The board needs to grow a backbone on more issues, and not default to aksing for 'more staff study' as a way to avoid or delay a decision. Prolonging this decision for a year (and coming back to some of the exact same issues that were being raised on day one) was SO counterproductive and SO painful for this entire district. A strong strategic plan will HELP guide them in their decision making!

7. Board's job is to help the staff focus on top priorities. The quality of the Staff's work is directly reflective on the board for not doing a good job of priority setting.

7. Need a Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent we can trust. Hopefully we'll have those soon.

Posted by Wolf, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 10, 2007 at 4:41 pm

It's kind of funny seeing MI opponents calling MI as "my way or the highway" since that is exactly what the anti-MI crowd was doing -- unless it is FLES for everyone (or immersion for everyone, or whatever for everyone) then it is the highway.

Well, if the MI people have any resources left, I would take the highway, i.e. the charter path. Yes, it is hard and long, but no reason not to allow for more choices in Palo Alto. As to the "open for everyone" anti-charter argument... well, wasn't MI already open for everyone to apply? That was no problem for MI, but didn't satisfy the rest. Now they try to scare MI supporters with it. What a hoot!

But I do wait to hear the whining that charters are talking precious community resources for the benefit of the few, as if those same "few" were not paying their taxes like e everyone else.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2007 at 5:10 pm

Quite the contrary. I'd love to see MI go the charter path.

I'd love to see them attempt to draw children away from their prized PAUSD education into an experimental start up run by a small few.

I'd love to see PAUSD hand the charter their 'per pupil' spending, and let them create their own Staff, their own Board, fund their own cost over rides, find their own qualified, certified biliterate teachers.

I'd love to see them convince their constituents that attrition is no big deal, that student performance is at or above what they could receive in PAUSD.

I'd love to see them run themselves under the complete transparency and financial disclosure required by the open meeting laws (Brown act., Ed code, etc.)

I will enjoy it, and I'll gladly watch it unfold. Heck, I'll even come to your board meetings and kindergarten parent information nights. If you're open by 2008, I might even sign my dislexic attention disorder, speech impaired, young five kid up for your lottery.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2007 at 5:30 pm


I assume you have been to some Bullis Charter School meetings. Correct?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2007 at 6:02 pm


I didn't call MI "my way or the highway" I said a specific post sounded that way. Those who opposed MI weren't doing it for one reason--there were multiple reasons. There was the FLES crowd; there was the neighborhood schools crowd, there was the no-more-choice-schools crowd. Me, I'm of the why-should-MI-usurp-Ohlone's-own-waitlist? Which makes me a latecomer.

As long as you dismiss rather than deal with the objections to MI, I think MI supporters will fail to persuade the larger PA community.

I think, unfortunately, at this point a lot of damage has been done

Posted by PA resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 10, 2007 at 6:12 pm

This following is from the California Department of Education website at: Web Link

"What is the residency requirement for pupils in a charter school?

A pupil must be a resident of California in order to enroll in a charter school. A charter school may not restrict its enrollment on the basis of residency of the pupil's parents within the state. However, for nonclassroom-based charter schools, pupils must be a resident of the county in which the charter is authorized, or of an adjacent county."

This issue was mentioned before - that applicants to charter schools can come from anywhere in the state. Seems like this could be a serious funding issue for a basic aid district.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2007 at 7:07 pm

My point about charter school funding is not to "scare" off MI supporters, just to point out why a charter school's unlikely to get approved in basic-aid PAUSD and why.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2007 at 8:34 pm

I think charter schools are a good approach for choice programs. The charter naysayers are throwing up all sorts of scare tactics.

Have any of you naysayers actually asked the Bullis
Charter School group how they overcame these seemingly impossible hurdles. I can assure you that they did it, and in fairly short order.

If all the energy spent whining about MI were put into forming a choice charter school, this thing might already be hsitory. And there would be smiles all around!

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 10, 2007 at 9:24 pm

From what I've read, an MI charter school was the first notion of Grace Mah and her PACE colleagues. Apparently, it didn't seem feasible at the time.

As I recall, Bullis charter came about in response to the closing of Los Altos Hills one elementary school. I think the longterm plan is to get it into that former site? Given the furor over the school closing, the Bullis charter school was a relatively easy way out for the Los Altos school board. I also have some vague recollection of someone donating $2 million to get it going.

Why, by the way, do you think I'd need scare tactics? There are just some basic realities--but whatever floats your boat. Seriously.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 10, 2007 at 9:46 pm

From the Bullis Charter School website:

"Bullis Charter school is a public K-6th Grade Charter school open to anyone in California with enrollment preferences given to Los Altos School District residents. "

Either Bullis is breaking the law, or there is a clause that allows preference for local kids.

Now, OhlonePar, either "they have to open to everyone" or they have filters for locals. Which is it? I call your statement a scare tactic, unless you clarify the actual legal situation.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2007 at 12:50 pm

And PAUSD would be compensated for enrollment from non PAUSD residents from the students home school district.

And the fact that students from outside PAUSD could enroll, would make it all that much harder to get in for the PAUSD parents who bear the brunt of the fight... All in all, I see this as a very significant undertaking, very risky, and a not at all likely scenario.

Additionally, the board was already brought, and opposed a charter school for MI, so there would likely be another big, and time consuming battle for PACE. Not that they don't want to fight the battle, but I doubt it would come to fruition IN TIME for some of the biggest most driving supporters of MI (like Grace and Nico) who want the program to start in 2007/2008 (ASAP). Plus, they would face a probability that after refusal by PAUSD board, they still lose in a bid with the county, state, etc. Its a significant risk.

I think its probably a much more likely and feasible scenario that MI supporters would look to a district that needs to attract enrollment (such as Mt. View) to install the MI program in their district, and then get an interdistrict transfer. It would be a much easier road to hoe for the MI supporters, and a much more feasible and likely scenario, and it seems much more reasonable expectation for the MI supporters who would like to get their kids enrolled before its too late.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Bullis didn't start that way--the preference was instituted later and there was quite a bit of flack about it. Note that it's still open.

I think Parent is right by the way--a district that needs to attract students would be more likely to okay MI.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2007 at 3:01 pm

Bullis was a public school that converted to a charter school. In this case preferential treatment can be given to the kids within the Bullis school boundary - not all LA district kids, just those in the Bullis boundary, i.e., LAH (this is according to the Dept. of Education website re: charter schools). I doubt there is a scintilla of chance that PAUSD would consider converting one of our current schools into a charter school. But even if something occurred like converting one school, then opening a 13th school, seems like you would only be able to give priority to kids from the converted school's boundary over anyone in the state.

It's a different set of rules for starting a new charter school as opposed to converting an existing public school. For one thing, seems that in this case the school-make-up is more restrictive as stated in the following text:

"In addition, the school's charter must include a description of the school's means for achieving a racial and ethnic balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general population residing in the district." I don't know how this would mesh with the current request that MI be 80:20. Maybe it's a perfect fit, I just don't know.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Sorry, I meant 50:50 or whatever the breakdown of Mandarin to English speakers is proposed. I got this confused with the amount of time spoken Mandarin versus English (80:20).

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2007 at 5:23 pm

Thanks PA Resident for the explanation.

I think Grace Mah was once quoted as saying that a PACE survey showed that it looked like the interest levels would create about an 80:20 split--East Asian: everybody else. The district, I think, is about 20-27 percent Asian right now? But that includes Indians and other non-Chinese ethnicities.

So, assuming that native Mandarin speakers are of Chinese descent, it sounds like a bit of a balancing act. Maybe it's part of why the original idea for a charter school was dropped.

I could, of course, have all these numbers wrong--it's all off my memory.

Posted by Another View, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2007 at 5:32 pm

How's this from what I take away from reading about this knock-out, drag-out fight over adding one single, relatively small academic program to your school system:
You guys are really screwed up!

Posted by Another Observer, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 12, 2007 at 9:29 pm


If you don't have an accurate quote for the numbers and admit, "I could, of course, have all these numbers wrong--it's all off my memory.", then DON'T CITE THEM. It's irresponsible.

Alternative programs only serve a MINORITY of the student population - whether it's a bigger (Ohlone) or smaller (MI) absolute number. For some parents, it only matters that THEIR children are in an alternative program and don't want to jeopardize their status quo. If choices are going to be offered to students and there is high interest in MI, it deserves the same chance as the other alternative programs currently out there.

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 12, 2007 at 10:28 pm

My, my, Another Observer, touchy aren't we? Last time I checked this wasn't a peer-reviewed journal. It's a talk forum. I don't assume things are written in stone here, do you?

Your reasoning is flawed. MI has had the same chance as other alternative programs--it was studied and considered. Right now, the board, having balanced it against the district's other priorities, thinks it doesn't make the cut.

I mean if someone wanted a choice program based on the teachings of Islam in the PAUSD do you think it should be instituted just because other choice programs exist?

There's a slippery slope fallacy going on here--some MI proponents think they're somehow *entitled* to a choice program because other ones exist. "They have theirs, I should have mine." Which shows a sort of basic misunderstanding of what public education is.

The MI proponents failed to show two things--that PAUSD would benefit from a fourth choice program (remember, the other choice programs came at a time of declining enrollments, not overcrowding) and that MI wouldn't hurt the neighborhood schools.

Even now, many of the pro-MI crowd treat the rest of us as the enemy--or eveil step-parents depriving you of the latest cool toy. You don't make me feel like you care one iota for the good of the district as a whole.

Posted by Kat, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 13, 2007 at 6:55 am

PA Resident: "Bullis was a public school that converted to a charter school. In this case preferential treatment can be given to the kids within the Bullis school boundary - not all LA district kids, just those in the Bullis boundary."

This isn't correct. Bullis Charter School was founded by parents who were furious that the Los Altos School District closed Bullis Elementary School, the one remaining public school within Los Altos Hills borders, shortly after passage of a new parcel tax which was strongly endorsed by Hills voters.

Much to the dismay of the founders, however, the new charter school was NOT placed at the former elementary school site, but instead resides in portables on the Egan Junior High School campus in Los Altos.

This eventually led to Hills residents filing a petition with the county to form a K-8 district in Los Altos Hills, creating a costly and time consuming process for affected school districts, including Palo Alto, which stands to lose revenue along with the LAH students.

Bullis Elementary School will reopen in Sept. of 2008 as a public school in the Los Altos School District, due to enrollment demand.

There is a thread with detailed information on this topic at: Web Link

Posted by Kat, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 13, 2007 at 8:02 am

I also wanted to clarify that Bullis Charter School gives enrollment preference to Los Altos School District students, which includes part of Los Altos Hills.

The BCS website describes the process as follows:

"California Education Code and our charter with the Santa Clara County Office of Education govern the enrollment procedures. Bullis Charter School accepts applications for any student residing in California. If the number of students who wish to attend exceeds the school's capacity, then enrollment is determined by a public random drawing.

If a random drawing is necessary, SCCOE authorized enrollment preferences are applied based on the following hierarchy within each grade level: Siblings of current BCS students that reside within the Los Altos School District have first preference. Other LASD students have the next priority. Siblings of current BCS students that reside out-of-district are given priority after that. Out-of-district students without BCS siblings receive the final priority."

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 13, 2007 at 1:46 pm


Thanks for the clarification. It is very clear that a charter school that would open in Palo Alto would be filled, overwhelmingly, with Palo Alto kids. The notion that kids from Eureka would be commuting down here each day is a scare tactic.

Charter schools were designed with the activist parents in mind. The MI parents could and should lead the way in PA. Once they are successfual (and they would be), we can demand the same thing of the SI parents.

Posted by A.J., a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 19, 2007 at 11:34 pm

I heard second-hand info from a Los Altos friend that Bullis Charter School tried to get into PAUSD, and that there was a fair amount of bitterness that they were rejected. Anyone have any more info on that?

I think the original question is wonderful "What can we learn from this experience?"

I think the upside of this debate is that now we have everyone's attention. Time to get everyone involved in a strategic plan, and how to best set priorities and get the most done for the district as soon as possible. The debate has focused a lot of eyes on the district, people who genuinely want the best for the kids and schools here. As long as we do move forward, we could be a much stronger, better district because of having gone through this debate. And we may yet get MI (in some form, even if it means a summer immersion program supplemented by FLES during the year -- at least it seems to me this is the best compromise to get MI soonest with the least amount of controversy).

Posted by Andrea, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2007 at 8:59 am

I have a new awareness of what Dana Tom characterized as this "stressed" school district. Like peeling back the layers of an onion, it seems that each board meeting reveals yet another new factor which must be considered in the process of making decisions which will impact the district's resources, both in terms of it's facilities and finances. I have come to the conclusion that, because we are a basic aid district, we have some real constraints imposed on us and we need to peel back all the layers for inspection before we start down new paths. Some of the issues which have been revealed to me from attending school board meetings are retirement reserves which have not been funded, unrestored pre Measure A cuts, the upcoming facilities update plans, the new Superintendent and Assoc Supt, the expected enrollment increases, the neighborhood school issues, secondary schools quickly heading towards capacity, and many more. I would like to caution against tunnel vision and urge those who can only see that they really, really want to have some foreign language program to give this district a chance. The board needs to get all of the issues on the table, analyze them in the context of our basic aid status and find a way to continue peeling back the layers until they are confident that can see all the way to the center. At that time they can begin to priortize and build a comprehensive strategic plan. Implementing a foreign language plan at that time may or may not make sense. At least we'll have a better chance that the decisions are well informed and well planned.

Posted by DW, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2007 at 10:16 am

Andrea, I agree. It would be a shame and a big waste to have the same painful debate, same costly and prolonged wheel spinning, and a failed language experiment, due to lack of appropriate planning and prioritization.

Posted by A.J., a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 20, 2007 at 5:47 pm

I agree, too, Andrea. Thanks for saying it so well. I think the great thing about this debate is that focusing so much attention on MI has also brought a lot of people to the conclusion that if we want our bells and whistles, we need to attend to this difficult and unglamorous task of building a comprehensive strategic plan. I'll bet if meetings are advertised right, there will be far more hands and voices to help than there would have been, say, two years ago.