News

Palo Alto school board to discuss enrollment

Other agenda items include Smarter Balanced test results, board goals

As a committee continues its work to assess and creatively address the Palo Alto school district's enrollment challenges, this year's enrollment numbers have been released, showing a decline at the elementary level and growth at the secondary level.

Total enrollment for the 2015-16 year now sits at 5,514 — 171 fewer students than last year, according to a staff report to be presented to the school board on Tuesday night.

There has been an overall decline in students across Palo Alto's elementary sites, with the largest decreases at Barron Park, Walter Hays, Fairmeadow and Escondido elementary schools. The average class size for K-5 is down slightly from last year (22.3 to 21.8).

Kindergarten enrollment is also down, which staff wrote is a result of the first few years of the state's new kindergarten-age law. Total kindergarten through fifth-grade growth is projected to be stable over the next five years, according to the staff report.

The phenomenon of overflows in Palo Alto — students who have to attend other schools within their cluster because of a lack of space at their neighborhood school — has been a topic of much discussion in the enrollment management committee, which began its work last spring and is expected to make recommendations to the board in December.

Only 1.2 percent of elementary students were overflowed this school year — down from 2.4 percent in 2014-15 and 2.6 percent in 2013-14, according to staff. Out of the 64 students who were overflowed, slightly more than half were overflowed within their cluster.

The highest concentration of overflows were in second and fourth grade, and students who attend school in the city's southern cluster were more likely to be placed outside of their cluster, staff wrote.

The enrollment committee on Monday night discussed what member Todd Collins described as "chronic overflow" at Escondido, Palo Verde and El Carmelo in particular. These schools represent more than 50 percent of all overflow, and it's a problem that is "not going away," Collins said.

Palo Alto's three middle schools grew slightly this year by 61 students total, and are currently at or very near capacity, staff wrote. Jordan this year has enrolled the most students — 1,130 — compared to 1,112 at JLS and 749 at Terman. Class sizes have also increased at all three middle schools. Additional growth this year and next has been accommodated with relocatable classrooms, according to staff.

Staff expects growth at the middle schools to continue for one more year as the current fifth-grade class, which is larger than usual, flows into the middle schools, and then to taper off.

High school enrollment is also slightly up, by 66 students — below the district's projection of 110 students. Palo Alto High is slightly larger than Gunn this year with 1,979 students compared to Gunn's 1,886.

The high schools are expected to have the most growth during the next five years, but are not at capacity and "can accommodate the projected growth," the staff report reads.

However, according to the enrollment management committee, Palo Alto's high schools are about 11 percent larger on average than comparable Bay Area high schools. ("Comparable" is defined as schools with similar socioeconomic demographics and/or similar academic reputations.)

During focus group interviews the committee conducted with students, parents, staff and administrators at the secondary level, members heard four common themes. One was the importance of social-emotional connectedness, particularly through teacher-student interaction. Another was that different students have different learning needs, and students who are not self-starters or who don't fall into the track toward a four-year college can get lost, particularly in high school

"In this big school, you basically have to be an advocate for yourself," one student said in a focus group.

The focus groups also reported a desire to produce better-prepared students and an existing culture within the district that makes it difficult to respond innovatively to new demands, like enrollment growth.

The enrollment committee is still far from issuing its final recommendations, but its members have discussed ideas including opening a new secondary school (which could either be a comprehensive, traditional school or an innovative or choice school), creating new choice programs and/or expanding existing ones that are oversubscribed and developing more "school within a school" programs like the Social Justice Pathway at Paly.

Another issue coming down the pipeline that will affect Palo Alto Unified's enrollment – though not as significantly as the committee originally thought — is new Stanford University housing currently under construction on upper California Avenue that is expected to bring in about 110 new students.

The enrollment committee will be discussing its elementary-specific research, survey results and proposals at a public board study session on Monday, Oct. 5, 6-9 p.m., at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. The committee hopes to schedule another board study session this fall to discuss secondary issues separately.

In other business this Tuesday, the school board will hear a report on the district's first-ever Smarter Balanced test results, which were released earlier this month.

A staff report notes that most students are "doing very well at every grade level," yet participation rates for the new assessment were low. Black and Latino students, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students also did not meet standards, compared to white and Asian students in both English language arts and mathematics, at significantly higher percentages.

The board will also vote on its 2015-16 goals, which are to address personalized learning, consistency, data-driven instruction, closing the achievement gap, enrollment management and "safe and welcoming schools."

Other agenda items include a discussion of the reporting structure for new general counsel, proposed changes to procedures for the board's policy review committee and approval of the 2015-16 budget.

The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Questions
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Despite the low test scores for students with disabilities, none of the goals specifically address improving success for disabled students. Is it covered under minority students, or the "all" students listed in the goals?

This article says PAUSD reported zero referrals to law enforcement in 2013/2014, but that's not the case. Police School Resource Officer were used at Jordan Middle School per Palo Alto Weekly and at Addison Elementary with disabled. Palo Alto Weekly reported some of it. Are there records or reports?
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 29, 2015 at 3:30 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Questions - does the involvement of a resource officer count as a law enforcement referral, or does it only count when there is an official call to the police dept?


5 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2015 at 4:41 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"showing a decline at the elementary level and growth at the secondary level."

Probably a combination of a number of factors - the Echo Boomers are almost through secondary education and high school and frankly, with the rise in housing prices, many families with younger children can't afford Palo Alto.

With birth rates dropping since 2007 (reference: CDC), makes you wonder what all that outcry about overloading PAUSD was all about.

Maybe it will be the 70s and 80s again in Palo Alto. The Ossificationists will get what they want.


11 people like this
Posted by Experienced
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 29, 2015 at 7:00 pm

"an existing culture within the district that makes it difficult to "_______

Fill in the blank there.

This district is so controlling. But if the problem is overenrollment, they should just keep doing what they're doing: Staff being effectively so evil to families they consider undesirable or deserving of retaliation, that people leave the district. The district just needs to double down on that, they could lose twice as many next year.

[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Changing demographic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 29, 2015 at 8:31 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 29, 2015 at 8:51 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Questions
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 29, 2015 at 9:22 pm

@ Slow Down - Good questions. There was also police involvement from school 911 calls, and threats to elementary children to call the police.
The deep problem is that neither the Palo Alto Police Department and Palo Alto Unified School District kept records of police interactions with children, nor reported it to families after it occurred. Families and advocates learned of the police interactions through other sources, such as when the Palo Alto Weekly provided so much detailed information advocates and families put the pieces together. The fact that the School Resource Officer is a sworn police officer only became widely known when the Palo Alto Weekly published the information.


10 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 29, 2015 at 11:01 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 7:24 am

It concerns me that there is this feeling that elementary enrollment is slowing down. It may be that that is the case, but I suspect it is a temporary slowdown.

There are so many housing projects that it is evident to me that we are going to continue having more families move into the area. Likewise, all the houses presently occupied by seniors are likely to turn over into houses occupied by families within the next ten years or so.

I feel that the one demographic which may change is the empty nester household. Is there any evidence that once a family have reached college age that the parents decide to move out, or do they stay in Palo Alto? If empty nesters decide to stay here that may make a difference to whether they are moving out when their kids have outgrown PAUSD. Has anyone studied this?


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Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2015 at 8:06 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"There are so many housing projects"

How many housing projects do we have right?


5 people like this
Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 30, 2015 at 8:24 am

To get a real handle on potential "growth" in students, the District should interview Realtors - they are the ones actually showing and selling the homes and could help give them an idea of potential growth. The decision on closing Buena Vista will also have an affect on enrollment, over 100 students live there.

@resident - very anecdotally, it seems like about 1/3 of empty nesters sell their homes after their youngest leaves for college.

@stay-at-home-mom - I think the comment about Asian was about people moving here for the schools that already have children, so "birth rate" is not a factor.


3 people like this
Posted by Experienced
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

[Post removed.]


11 people like this
Posted by Stay-at-home Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 11:44 am

[Portion removed.]

I have a child with LD and we helped him through tutors and nurturing and now he is at a reputable university. Sure, life should be fair, but it's not! Some people need to try harder than others. PAUSD should not be blamed. Parents need to support their children in any way that they can. School districts are going to help the majority - that's life - the majority always wins. It's healthier for children to be around positive thinking than anger. More anger will intensify the feelings of inadequacy for the disabled student.


5 people like this
Posted by Experienced
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:21 pm

@stay-at-home mom,

I see only one post above mentioning students with disabilities, it was not me, and it was in direct relationship to the article which you clearly did not read all the way through. (search on the word "disabilities")

[Portion removed.] It's actually the law that districts are supposed to accommodate students. There are serious systemic problems that boil down to personalities in our district,I for one do not blame people who speak up when those problems don't just solve themselves.

I personally do not have an LD child, so I will repeat the relevant part of my post so you can read it without inserting any mistaken bias as above:

"This district is so controlling. But if the problem is overenrollment, they should just keep doing what they're doing: Staff being effectively so evil to families they consider undesirable or deserving of retaliation, that people leave the district. The district just needs to double down on that, they could lose twice as many next year."


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 2, 2015 at 3:15 pm

I walked past an elementary school this morning at what I assume was kindergarten pick up time. I was shocked to find that even at that hour there were no parking spaces in the school parking lot and cars waiting.

It struck me that one of the reasons the elementary numbers may not be rising may be due to the fact that if a family can't get their kinder into their neighborhood school, they feel they might as well go private. With all the overflowing of kids to other schools, it may just be a solution that families take on for the elementary years.

Just a thought.


2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 20, 2015 at 10:59 am

Palo Alto school board addressing enrollment should look at the Tinsley Program and the success rate it has had since its implementation.


7 people like this
Posted by Couldn't agree more
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2015 at 9:12 am

I agree with the previous comment. The Tinsleyvsettlement should be evaluated and assessed in terms of numbers of children coming into schools in Palo Alto and their success rates at elementary, middle and high school. The original intent of Tinsley was to give African Americans an equal shot at a good education, it was not for any child at a lower economic level to have access to Palo Alto Education. [Portion removed.] Yes, I may be biased because we didn't get into a choice program, but the Tinsley kids got their allotted spots. Who cares that we pay property taxes for 20 years.........the liberal agenda is very much entrenched here, don't see much hope for changing the status quo.


Like this comment
Posted by Tinsley
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2015 at 11:24 am

Tinsley is not an optional program; it is part of a legal settlement from the 1980s. The settlement, to my knowledge, did not include any term or termination provision. So it is not really up to PAUSD to decide whether the program is effective or if it should be continued. Web Link

Does anyone have any information otherwise?


3 people like this
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 21, 2015 at 11:42 am

The Tinsley Program is open to any minority applicant that lives in the Ravenswood district - income is not a criteria. So in theory (and in practice) an Asian or Indian professional family living in EPA can send their kids to PAUSD even if they are working in the Tech industry making a great income. Not the intent of the Program, but the reality.

As a parent of 2 kids who went through PAUSD and are now in college, almost every one of their fellow students who struggled in school were pulled out of PAUSD and sent to private schools.


3 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 21, 2015 at 11:50 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ Tinsley - Palo Alto will be able to opt out of Tinsley in a few years because minority enrollment in PAUSD will cross the 60 percent threshold. Though that includes the tinsley students, so it might take a few additional years if you exclude them from the count.


2 people like this
Posted by Tinsley
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:42 pm

@Slow Down - that's interesting. By my calculations, excluding VTP students, the district is at 54.4% minority (which includes Asians, per the Settlement Order). The number is rising rapidly though - in 2013 it was 51.1%. At that rate, PAUSD will be over 60% minority in 4 years time. Note that RWC Elementary District was exempted from accepting Tinsley students in 1991 because they surpassed the minority enrollment threshold. So this can happen.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

some good insight on the Tinsley program in which it is a lawsuit in which to provide an opportunity for minorities to have a better opportunity at receiving quality education since every knows RWSD in east palo alto is not the best and has not been in many years. but my concern is that the tinsley program doesnt allow kids to transfer who are over the entry level age. For example if I have a 5th grade kid i dont want my kid to have the best chance at pursuing a quality education but u cant transfer because of the guidelines. yes people who live in palo alto and menlo park particularly talking about the atherton side of menlo park pays a large amount of taxes for school. palo alto is expanding and could allow for me minority kids into schools outside of tinsley program


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