At the school board's first meeting of 2016, Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee will give his recommendations for how to proceed on at-times controversial enrollment proposals issued by a committee he created last year.
The final report of the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) will also be presented Tuesday night. Neither the group of 11 district parents, which split into subcommittees focused on elementary and secondary schools, nor McGee is recommending that new schools open, despite draft recommendations that pointed to the need.
McGee is recommending that the board approve the creation of an "inclusive, professionally facilitated" task force that would begin in February to "develop a comprehensive plan and proposed model for a PK-12 campus" that could take advantage of Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto as well as the adjacent district-owned sites at 525 San Antonio Road and 4120 Middlefield Road (Greendell School), McGee wrote in a report for Tuesday night's school board meeting.
This would be a hybrid school functioning as both a choice program and a neighborhood school, McGee wrote, and the task force's work would include "an assessment of the community desirability, determination of financial feasibility, details of environmental impact, and potential educational ramifications for present and future PAUSD students."
McGee suggests that the district assign a current administrator to serve as the task force's part-time project leader. At the enrollment committee's final meeting on Jan. 4, McGee said that several current secondary principals have indicated interest in taking on this position.
McGee is also proposing that the board support innovation at the district's existing middle and high schools. The board, he wrote, should "encourage, empower and incentivize the secondary schools principals, leadership teams, faculty and staff to design, develop, implement and evaluate innovative programs, services and supports that will increase student connectedness and authentic engagement, provide additional student choice, and enhance and deepen student learning."
These recommendations are aligned with the secondary subcommittee's recommendation to both explore the launch of a new school and improve current middle and high schools.
The secondary subcommittee's final recommendations have shifted since its first public presentation, from its bold and very popular initial idea to open a starkly different kind of secondary school in Palo Alto, to the same concept of a design task force. The task force would be made up of more diverse members, including educators and students rather than just parents, and take the baton from the subcommittee in evaluating next steps for the district.
The secondary subcommittee identified five "areas of focus" for the task force: "our middle schools are too big;" "our high schools are too big;" "our schools need to offer new learning pathways;" "our students crave more teacher + student engagement;" and "our agreement with the City specifies we work on Cubberley together, and soon."
The task force should evaluate several proposals the secondary subcommittee put on the table, from opening an innovative secondary school(s) at Cubberley or a fourth middle school to implementing school-within-a-school programs "more systemically" at the existing middle and high schools, the secondary group recommends.
"The creation of new secondary school is necessary but not sufficient," the secondary group's final report states. "We recommend a 'both/and' approach."
Ideas the secondary subcommittee says it does not favor include opening a new secondary school but not at Cubberley; expanding existing choice programs rather than starting new ones; and investing resources only on the current schools rather than spending it on a new school.
The secondary subcommittee's report does not address the status of an application its members co-wrote and submitted in November to a national education-reform competition without disclosing it to the public or board.
At the elementary level, McGee has made recommendations that address three primary issues identified by that subcommittee: where to place approximately 150 new elementary students set to enroll in Palo Alto Unified in 2017 from families moving into a new Stanford University housing development; how to cut down on the overflow of students to schools outside of their neighborhoods, the vast majority of which are in the southeast quadrant of the district; and how to provide more capacity and access to popular choice programs like Mandarin immersion at Ohlone Elementary.
McGee is recommending that the district assign the new Stanford-housing students to Nixon Elementary School as well as identify locations at Nixon for up to three portables, and plan on placing one or two on site beginning in the 2017-18 academic year. Nixon is the closest neighborhood school to the new Stanford housing project, with Escondido Elementary 0.2 miles farther away.
Also, aligned with the elementary subcommittee, McGee is proposing that the district implement a neighborhood preference option for existing choice programs. Neighborhood preference "provides a balance and prevents displacement," the elementary subcommittee's final report states.
The elementary subcommittee was not able to come to a consensus on recommending for or against the opening of a new school.
Three members of the elementary subcommittee, including former Palo Alto school board member Diane Reklis, penned a "minority report" that suggests the district does, in fact, need an additional elementary school. So for its final report on Tuesday, the elementary subcommittee prepared a set of next steps on each of the three primary issues it identified Stanford housing, overflows and choice program capacity and access depending on how the board elects to move forward.
The elementary subcommittee's only unanimous proposals are to implement neighborhood preference for all the choice programs and to redraw attendance area boundaries in the district's southeast quadrant and for Escondido in order to allow more students to attend their neighborhood school.
The entire Enrollment Management Advisory Committee first began its work almost a year ago, working for 10 months to answer perpetual questions in the district about growing enrollment and the capacity of the schools. The group conducted focus groups, surveys, research, data analysis, held meetings with site principals and presented their work in three previous board meetings this fall.
Though McGee had promised several town hall meetings to discuss EMAC's recommendations with the public, there will only be one next Wednesday, Jan. 20, 7-8:30 p.m. The meeting will also be streamed online via a webinar.
McGee is requesting board action at its next meeting on Jan. 26.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss the district's process for renaming facilities in light of a community petition to rename Jordan Middle School. The petition, started by a Jordan parent appalled when he discovered the school's namesake's participation in the eugenics movement, has garnered support from community members and school groups in recent weeks.
The board "will discuss the process for naming facilities and determine whether to have an action item at a future meeting that would establish a citizen advisory committee to consider renaming Jordan or other facilities," a staff report states.
The board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.