Along with teachers, major construction will greet many Palo Alto students as they head back to school next Thursday, Aug. 16 -- the earliest start to the school year in local history.
The mid-August start reflects a new academic calendar adopted by the school district for 2012-13 and 2013-14.
The object of the hotly debated calendar change was to squeeze in the first semester before the December holidays, hence the early start date. Most public and private high schools in the area already have adopted calendars with pre-winter-break finals in efforts to give students a work-free vacation.
Six of Palo Alto's 17 public school campuses -- both high schools, all three middle schools and Fairmeadow Elementary School -- open the school year with fenced-off hardhat zones as the school district scrambles to modernize facilities and create space for a flood of new students who have come through the doors in recent years.
In addition, portable classrooms have been moved to make way for major construction at Duveneck Elementary School, likely by early 2013. At Ohlone Elementary School, a new, two-story classroom building was completed and occupied last winter.
Funds for the construction come from the $378 million "Strong Schools" facilities bond measure approved in 2008 by more than 77 percent of voters.
Besides adding space on existing campuses, the Board of Education is pondering where to locate entirely new schools. If enrollment trends continue, officials have said a new elementary school and a new middle school will be needed within the next five years. The venues most often discussed are recently acquired district property at 525 San Antonio Road, the old Garland Elementary School campus at 870 N. California Ave., or the old Cubberley High School campus at 4000 Middlefield Road, currently leased to the City of Palo Alto for use as a community center.
District-wide K-12 enrollment -- which stood at 12,286 last fall -- has been on a steady upward trajectory since hitting a post-Baby Boom low of 7,500 in 1989. The official headcount for 2012-13 will be taken a few weeks into the school year.
Palo Alto had three high schools, three middle schools and 22 elementary schools when enrollment hit its historic high of 15,000 in 1968. Today there are two high schools, three middle schools and 12 elementary schools. A 13th elementary campus, Greendell in south Palo Alto, houses preschool and adult-education programs.
Two elementary school campuses, Hoover and Juana Briones, open the school year with new principals. At Hoover, Katy Bimpson replaces Susanne Scott, who retired in June. At Juana Briones, Lisa Hickey replaces Matthew Nagle.
In total, the district employs about 800 full- and part-time teachers.
Construction crews worked overtime on some campuses to make sure academic space would be accessible when teachers return Monday, Aug. 13, to prepare their classrooms for the arrival of students.
Below, a random handful of teachers and administrators shared their thoughts on the coming school year.