An AP Mandarin course and a class in engineering design are likely to be added to this fall's class selection at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.
The school board Tuesday night reacted favorably to presentations about the new classes, indicating they will vote to approve them at their next meeting April 3.
Gunn teacher Bakari Holmes, who has developed an "engineering pathway" curriculum at the school that he plans to expand over the next several years, said the engineering design course will introduce ninth and tenth graders to the design process, research and analysis processes, global engineering standards and technical documentation.
Holmes's engineering program, so far offered just at Gunn, has received support from Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE), a volunteer-led independent foundation that raises funds for Palo Alto public schools. Holmes's program is aligned with Project Lead the Way, a national organization that has worked with industry and other partners to boost learning in what has become known as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
The Chinese language and culture course will offer advanced Mandarin to students who already have completed three years in the language. This year's enrollment in Mandarin 3 is 22 at Paly and 20 at Gunn.
Paly World Languages Instructional Supervisor Kevin Duffy said the new Chinese course will be offered at both high schools if there is sufficient interest, noting that some "heritage" Mandarin speakers not currently enrolled in Mandarin 3 may come along to join the AP class.
In other business Tuesday, the board discussed a $2.6 million proposal to retrofit many of the older classrooms at Gunn with air conditioning. Students and teachers long have complained of intolerable temperatures in the 45-year-old classrooms.
Funding for the project was freed up because of a $2.2 million state appropriation to help fund Gunn's new Career Technical Education building, the site of Holmes's engineering program, according to Bob Golton, the school district's co-chief business officer.
The board also discussed "schematic designs" for a $17.9 million upgrade project at Jordan Middle School, where construction is anticipated to occur from June 2011 to March 2013.
The project would add a new "N Wing," with six classrooms, offices and restrooms that roughly will parallel the existing "G Wing" of science classrooms in what is now the parking lot off Middlefield Road.
The parking lot and drop-off configuration will be reconfigured, with a net loss of only eight parking spaces, architects said.
Other upgrades to Jordan will include major changes to the existing cafetorium and adjoining rooms, which will become the new home of the music department and displace two of the existing tennis courts. The courts will be relocated to the field, but still leave room for three soccer fields, architects said.
In other business, the board discussed a "conceptual design" for a $9.3 million upgrade to Fairmeadow School, which includes a new, two-story classroom building and a "naturalistic garden area."
San Francisco architect Lisa Gelfand said the design will "solve drainage and circulation issues and make better use of the space so as we add students it doesn't seem like we're getting more crowded -- just getting better use of space."
Construction at Fairmeadow currently is envisioned to run from December 2011 to June 2013.
The board also voted to confer tenure, or "permanent status" on 36 teachers and administrators, including the principals of Jordan Middle School and Nixon Elementary School. The employees are about to complete their second "probationary year" and have been closely observed by their supervisors to assure they meet or exceed a variety of "teaching performance standards."
The board also discussed the likely elimination of 12 full- and part-time staff positions, six of which are currently vacant.
The positions include that of a data processing clerk, a landscaper, a library cataloging assistant, an elementary school clerk and several secretarial slots.
The staff reductions, estimated to save about $410,000, are part of the fallout of a $3.8 million budget-cutting package approved by the board last month.