As the school community continues to debate whether the district should open a new elementary, middle or high school or some combination of the three new projections show elementary and middle school enrollment declining while growth at Palo Alto high schools will increase over the next several years.
The school board will discuss at its Tuesday meeting a new report from the district's demographer, DecisionInsite, that covers enrollment through 2025-26 based on this school year's 11th-day enrollment data, the most current birth data for district residents, new housing information and historical enrollment trends.
DecisionInsite predicts that enrollment at Palo Alto's elementary and middle schools will decline by 3 percent during the next five years, while the high schools will grow by 16 percent (an additional 632 students) during the same time period. Overall district enrollment will grow at about 1 percent each year through 2018 before dropping in 2020, according to a report from DecisionInsite.
Kindergarten enrollment which the report calls "often the most significant driver of overall future district-wide enrollment" is estimated to slightly increase during the next 10 years. This comes after a steady decrease during the past three years, according to the report.
On Oct. 5, the school district's Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) elementary subcommittee presented a similar view on elementary enrollment: stable, not growing.
At the district's three middle schools, which board discussions on enrollment growth have pointed to as some of the most overcrowded sites in the system, there will be significant growth for one more year before decreasing, according to the demographer's report. Enrollment growth will peak at 3,118 in 2017 and start to decline as bubbles of smaller K-5 classes move through the system, according to DecisionInsite's report.
Palo Alto and Gunn high schools expect to grow as they absorb larger middle school classes, the report states. DecisionInsite estimates that total high school enrollment will peak at 4,481 in 2020 and then start to go down and stabilize.
EMAC's secondary subcommittee gave similar estimates in an October report. They estimate that the middle school population will grow from the current 2,991 students to 3,094 in 2016, and then stabilize somewhere between 2,500 and 2,800. High school enrollment, the subcommittee estimated, will grow from 3,865 students today to 4,591 in 2020, and then stabilize between 3,900 and 4,200.
EMAC's secondary group offered "optimal" sizes for both the middle and high schools based on academic research and their own analysis: 600 to 900 for middle schools and 1,200 to 1,700 for high schools.
The district is also facing an impending influx of students from new housing developments, particularly University Terrace, a Stanford University complex with single-family homes and condos, some of which expected to be occupied as early as September of 2016.
According to DecisionInsite, the district can expect approximately 179 students from University Terrace, and a total of 664 students from all new housing projects during the next three years. At peak years, this will be about 130 students entering the district, according to the demographer's report.
The board is set to hear EMAC's final recommendations for how to address both elementary and secondary enrollment in the district in January. Preliminary proposals have included creating a design task force that would look at opening a new 6-12 school at Cubberley Community Center and implementing more school-with-a-school programs or "house" systems at the existing middle and high schools; reforms to address elementary-level overflows; to move or potentially open new choice programs at elementary schools, among others.
A sub-set of the elementary subcommittee authored a "minority report" arguing the district does need to open a 13th elementary school, while the broader subcommittee recommended against it.
At the last board discussion on Nov. 10, two board members Terry Godfrey and Ken Dauber asked the the secondary group specifically return with proposals related to Palo Alto's three middle schools.
The EMAC secondary subcommittee wrote in a Dec. 3 open letter to the board that with their enrollment projections, the high schools will be in the "same exact position" five years from now as the middle schools are today. They project that middle school capacity will peak in the fall of 2016, with about 100 to 200 additional students, and the high schools will peak in 2020 with about 700 additional students.
"Said another way, it seems inconsistent and illogical to ignore the high school size/capacity/enrollment problem when there appears to be consensus today to tackle the middle school size/ capacity/enrollment problem, especially when it takes 3-4 years to meaningfully alter school capacity without relying on portables," the letter reads.
In other business Tuesday, the board will vote on a new gender-identity policy, more than two years in the making, that more comprehensively outlines transgender and gender non-conforming students' rights to ensure they are protected at school. Tuesday's board packet includes just more than 30 letters of support for the new policy from parents, teachers, local clergy, youth organization leaders and other community members.
The board will also elect its new president and vice president for 2016. The new president will assume the office immediately following the vote. Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell currently holds the position.
Other agenda items include discussion of a new business-mathematics program at Gunn; a proposed charge and approval process for the board's review policy committee; and the submission of plans to the Division of the State Architect (DSA) for Gunn's Central Building Project.
The Tuesday, Dec. 8, board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.