What's new on Palo Alto campuses this fall?

District welcomes a new superintendent, four principals, 80 teachers and numerous freshly constructed buildings

It's back to school this week for Palo Alto students, and on four of Palo Alto's 17 campuses -- Addison, Fairmeadow and Ohlone elementary schools and Gunn High School -- new principals will greet the children and teens.

Also new to Palo Alto this fall is Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee -- who officially took the helm of the school district Aug. 1 -- as well as about 80 teachers.

McGee has said his top priorities will be to "communicate frequently and clearly, ensure all students have ample opportunities and equal access to experience high-quality teaching" and "balance site autonomy with the cohesive focus on district best practices and our shared mission and vision."

In meetings with principals and administrators last week, he used selections from Amanda Ripley's 2013 best-seller, "The Smartest Kids in the World," as a starting point for discussion. The book explores how Finland, South Korea and Poland transformed their public school systems to become some of the world's top performers.

After reading selections from the book, principals and others "shared facts, opinions and perceptions of the qualities of exemplary world-class schools and systems," McGee said in an Aug. 8 memo to the district's Board of Education.

On two Palo Alto campuses, students next week will occupy major new classroom buildings.

After 16 months of construction, Duveneck Elementary School opens a two-story, eight-classroom building for fourth- and fifth-graders as well as a new library for the school.

At Palo Alto High School, journalism and photography students will occupy a new, 23,000-square-foot Media Arts Building. The school also opens a new, two-story, 27-classroom building for the math and social-studies departments.

But Paly students also will encounter a construction zone and severely curtailed parking, with work beginning on a new Performing Arts Center on the Embarcadero Road side of campus and -- later in the school year -- on a new Athletic Center on the Churchill Avenue side of campus.

Monday morning, Principal Kim Diorio deployed staff members to direct -- and redirect -- students entering campus around the large construction zone on the Embarcadero side.

Assistant football coach A.J. Castillo stood on the Town & Country side of the Embarcadero traffic light, asking students not to cross there but to go back to the bike path along the railroad tracks and enter campus from a gate there.

Diorio stood at the vehicle entrance to Paly on Embarcadero, waving to cars as they entered campus. She was accompanied by traffic officials from the City of Palo Alto as well as several school board members.

Other staff members stood at intersections inside the Paly parking lot directing cars.

Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said opening day had gone smoothly but another test would come Tuesday when arrival times are not staggered, as they were on Monday.

Gunn High School, which opened a new gym as well as a two-story classroom building last year, this fall inaugurates the "Miranda Drop-Off," a paved driveway that offers new vehicle access to campus from Miranda Avenue near Arastradero Road.

School officials predict increased enrollment this fall but will not conduct an official head count until several weeks into the school year when things settle down.

Last year's count, taken in September on the 14th day of school, was 12,483, including 38 students at a district-run school at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital as well as 43 students in the Alta Vista and Middle College alternative high school programs. Total enrollment last fall represented an increase of 87 students from the previous year.

The ethnic breakdown of Palo Alto students reported last fall was 46.4 percent Caucasian, 39.3 percent Asian, 11 percent Hispanic, 2.8 percent African-American and 0.5 percent "other."

The staggered school start dates next week -- Monday for the high schools and Tuesday for the rest -- as well as at the beginning of second semester in January 2015 will contribute to more evenly balanced semesters for high school courses. It will also give teachers student-free "work days" when they most need them, district spokeswoman Tabitha-Kappeler Hurley said.

"Elementary teachers benefit from the additional workday at the beginning of the year in order to set up classes," Kappeler-Hurley said. "Having a workday at the beginning of second semester (Jan. 5) for high school teachers allows first-semester grades to be processed and posted in a more timely way and new semester classes set up in (online platforms) Schoology and Infinite Campus."

McGee comes to Palo Alto from the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science, a startup private school he led for the past year. For the six years prior to that, he headed the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a state-sponsored "teaching and learning laboratory" and boarding school for Illinois students.

He replaces Kevin Skelly, who resigned June 30 after serving as superintendent in Palo Alto since 2007.

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Like this comment
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 15, 2014 at 1:17 pm

I would like to see our district address security concerns I our campuses. Many parents and teachers are uncomfortable with the lack of security measures in place to protect our students from Columbine or New Town tragedy. Is this conversation happening? I would like to know that is one of the " new things on campus this year".

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 15, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Last I looked, the calendar says August. Fall doesn't officially start until late September.

Perhaps it is time to remember that school gets out mid Spring and returns mid Summer.

We may be nearing the start of the new school year, but Fall is still a long stretch ahead.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2014 at 8:57 am

Students, have lots of fun at school and you'll be sure to do all right, You'll make new friends and learn a lot, explore, make mistakes and learn from it. There are many opportunities later on life, with many repeats, if needed, but only one K-12. Enjoy Yourself.

Without the support of a great team of teachers, specialists, support staff, a successful school year would not be possible. Please help our kids dream, explore, learn, and still be kids. We appreciate your tireless effort!

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2014 at 11:22 am

There are two routes for dropping off students at Paly and they'll both be under construction at the same time. Fing brilliant.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2014 at 12:17 pm


Unless your student is on crutches, there is absolutely no need to drop them off on the Paly campus. They can walk (at least part way) or use their bike.

If you must drive them part of the way, let them walk from a convenient off campus location, near one of the entrances, preferably on a quiet street so as not to disrupt traffic.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm

For any Paly students reading this or parents reading this, there is more information on the Getting to Paly page of the school web site about the changes mentioned.
Web Link

Text is below, but follow the link to see the maps for drivers as well as students who walk or bike:

"Hey Vikings – you will see more construction than ever this school year as we continue to improve our beloved Paly campus. Due to construction happening along the edges of campus, changes to some of our entrances and exits have been made. Student safety is our top priority, so please take a minute to read the important information below and if needed, modify your route into campus.

biking, walking, carpooling,
shuttles or buses 

It is important to use
 commute, as
 the school
times. Please click below for detailed information on your preferred method of transportation."

Links to:
**Access and Circulation Map/Info, August 2014**

Biking and Walking to Paly
Taking Shuttles or Buses to Paly
Driving to Paly

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

@Resident: you must not be familiar with what Alma&Churchill is like during the morning drop off. That's from prior experience; because of all the construction it's going to be magnitudes worse this year, and having my kid in that frenzy is a downright unattractive. i.e. clearly less safe than before.

Why not use the El Camino entrance? Because getting there requires crossing the tracks, and both Oregon Expressway and Embarcadero are parking lots in the morning. That's it for routes to Paly, besides a parachute.

Not to forget that years of construction are diminishing the educational experience ...

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Midtown Parent

Yes, very familiar with Alma/Churchill in the morning commute. The problem is all the parents from South Palo Alto driving their kids to school and turning left.

My hint, turn right onto Coleridge and drop off student on the quiet street for a ten minute walk. If you are nervous then teach your student how to cross the street using the light at Churchill with the mega number of students crossing.

Paly is a mega sized school approaching 2,000 students with only 3 entrances. If all parents decided it was safer to drive their kids to school, traffic would be a nightmare.

Thanks to all the independent students who bike and walk to keep the traffic from being any worse.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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