School board majority against opening new high school in Palo Alto

Community split over investing in new innovative school or to support existing secondary schools

A majority of the Palo Alto school board — three members — stated unequivocally Tuesday night that they don't support even the exploration of a potential new high school in the district, and would rather see resources used for reforms at the existing secondary schools.

Board members Melissa Baten Caswell, Ken Dauber and Vice President Terry Godfrey said they don't believe the district needs a third high school. But President Heidi Emberling and trustee Camille Townsend supported Superintendent Max McGee's recommendation to create a task force that, among other efforts, would look into the possibility of using Cubberley Community Center on Middlefield Road and two neighboring district sites to open a campus for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, or some subset of that.

This recommendation was one of several that came out of McGee's Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC), which presented its own final report and recommendations at the prior school board meeting.

The community discussion over EMAC's proposals — which began several months ago with the idea of opening an innovative, small 6-12 school at the Cubberley site and evolved into creating a task force that would evaluate the need for a new school or schools while also taking a hard look at how to improve the current secondary schools — seems to have roughly split into two camps.

Some people believe the district is uniquely positioned to respond to a "drumbeat" from within the community to do something so different and innovative at the secondary-school level that it would have to be done at a new site. Others believe doing so would irreversibly take away much-needed effort and resources to change the existing high schools.

"We don't need and shouldn't pursue a new high school — that is, a new high-school building," Dauber said. "What I think we do need, based on listening to our student board representative, reading the Paly Voice, listening to community members, is we need new high schools."

Palo Alto High School's student board representative, Emma Cole, told the board earlier in the evening, "Class size is important, but I still think that what's more important is improving the schools that we have right now."

Funds would better be better put to use at Paly and Gunn High School, she said. (Student news outlet the Paly Voice expressed a similar opinion in an editorial published this week.)

"I think we need to put millions of dollars behind helping ideas that are already being formed" at the existing high schools, Baten Caswell echoed.

Baten Caswell and Godfrey suggested that instead of convening a task force charged with what Baten Caswell described as "swallowing the ocean," the district should parse out the decisions in front of it. Any effort to reform Paly and Gunn should be led by the schools themselves, with help from the district or community, she said. Dauber supported this idea.

Short-term ways to reduce crowding at the middle schools and reduce class sizes throughout the district could also be done now by staff, rather than a community task force, Baten Caswell and Godfrey said. Another team could be created to do the planning work the district is obligated to with the city for the Cubberley site.

Townsend, on the other hand, said if the board doesn't respond to a "drumbeat" for a third high school, "then shame on us."

She also requested further information about capacity at the high schools — are they too big right now, and can they accommodate projected enrollment coming down the pipeline?

A concrete answer to this question that everyone agrees on has remained elusive with different answers from different camps. Some have said the schools were built under the 2008 Strong Schools Bond to accommodate 2,300 students each, while others say that their current sizes, just under 2,000 students, are too large.

The answer also differs at each high school, the Paly and Gunn principals told the board earlier in the day during a separate presentation of their schools' Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) reports (annual documents that outline site goals for the year).

"We do not have enough classrooms at Gunn," Principal Denise Herrmann said. She mentioned potentially converting staff office space into classrooms if need be.

The Paly campus, however, will have a total of 41 new classrooms once its facility improvement projects — a new library, performing arts center, athletic facility and science addition — are completed, Principal Kim Diorio wrote to the board in an email after the SPSA meeting. There's also a relatively new 27-classroom building and the two-story Media Arts Center.

Diorio wrote to the board: "Please know that for Paly, we believe we can handle the enrollment growth."

According to the district's demographer, DecisionInsite, Paly and Gunn will grow as they absorb larger middle school classes moving through the district. An argument against stalling long-term action on the high schools and instead addressing short-term crowding at the middle schools is that the current size of the middle schools will in several years simply be transferred to the high schools.

DecisionInsite estimates that total high school enrollment will peak at 4,481 in 2020 and then start to go down and stabilize.

The enrollment committee's secondary subcommittee gave similar estimates in an October report. It estimated 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.

The committee's recommendations have roused many in the community to action. A total of 19 community members, mostly parents, spoke their piece for an hour to the board on Tuesday night.

Parent Karen Ambrose Hickey described how her son, a new ninth-grader in the district, reacted to a question on a survey distributed by enrollment group in the fall about creating different educational experiences for younger students in the district.

"This survey asked if he wanted his younger sibling to have a richer school experience," Ambrose Hickey said. "He looked at me and said, 'What about me?'"

"I'm here to say I think Palo Alto should be innovative, but I also think that there are flashes of brilliance in our schools now, and we should be capitalizing on those and really investing in our current students," she said.

Todd Collins, chair of the EMAC elementary subcommittee, quoted Teddy Roosevelt to remind the board and McGee to balance the exciting "moonshot" of a new school with the "less glamorous" work of improving the existing schools: "Let's keep our eyes on the stars, but our feet on the ground."

Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association, said the teachers she's heard from are "more interested in investing in our current schools."

"The use of Cubberley as a new school site will take away $5.5 million in rental income each year from our district's general fund," she said. "It would also cost about $3.5 million each year to operate a new school, which I actually think is a low estimate. That is a minimum of $9 million coming from the general fund each year. I'm just curious as to what programs and staffing will be affected by the loss of income to our general fund?"

Others spoke in support of McGee's and EMAC's recommendation, pointing to a task force and potential new school as a long-awaited road to much-needed improvements. For some, the district desperately needs "an independent environment where experimentation can happen without pressure and inertia from the traditional structures that exist in the current secondary schools," said Christine Rose, the parent of two children who have attended both district and private schools.

"From my perspective, there's been a longstanding need for project-oriented, teamwork-oriented, experiential learning at the secondary level that we have yet to achieve at our current structures," said Sara Woodham, parent and co-chair of Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS). "It's a departure from how we teach and how we do school in the main here in Palo Alto."

At the SPSA meetings earlier in the day, Diorio and Herrmann spoke to innovations currently being nurtured and expanded at their schools, from several Gunn teachers testing out standards-based grading to new STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) "pathways" under consideration at Paly.

The district's new Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program, which began as a pilot program this year, has also been a resounding success for students at both schools, the principals said. Classrooms at both schools are applying design thinking, using blended learning and integrating technology in new ways.

McGee reiterated his desire to create one comprehensive task force to look at all of the issues on the table. He said he can "fine-tune" his recommendation, though, and return to the board for action at its next meeting, on Feb. 9.

The board did approve one of McGee's other enrollment-related recommendations on Tuesday night, to place new elementary students coming into the district over the next several years via new Stanford University housing at Nixon Elementary School. The recommendation also commits the district to placing up to three portables at Nixon to accommodate the influx of students, an action that Dauber said is unnecessary and "premature."

The board approved the recommendation 4-1, with Dauber dissenting.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct inaccurate information that stated new students coming into the district from Stanford University housing would be assigned to Addison Elementary School. They will be assigned to Nixon Elementary School.

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8 people like this
Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2016 at 9:42 am

Hi Elena,
Please fix the location of new students in the Stanford Rectangle. They will go to Nixon, not Addison.

35 people like this
Posted by Bethany
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 9:45 am

The Board meeting last night was highly disturbing.

Firstly, a majority of the Board – for reasons unexplained Terry Godfrey changed her mind from the meeting 2 weeks ago – agreed to prevent a new task force from investigating a new high school. Remember, the choice in front of them was NOT to make an immediate decision on a 3rd high school, but rather simply to authorize the formation of a task force to investigate the feasibility of a new high school as part of re-envisioning the Cubberley (which the District and the City of Palo Alto have to do anyway).

The fact that Melissa, Ken and Terry blatantly disregarded the desires of a large segment of Palo Alto parents to even INVESTIGATE the possibility of a new high school was galling. Especially when they were shown, earlier that day, District staff analysis that Gunn could not possibly accommodate the expected surge of students, and that only a small fraction of the $200M spent on Paly and Gunn was to expand the number of classrooms.

Secondly, they continued down the path of wanting a new middle school, and they asked that it primarily be done via District staff, WITHOUT input from parents and the broader community. Let’s be realistic everyone: by the time we arrive at any remedies for our middle schools, the worst of the problem will be behind us, and we will be faced with the year 2020-21 peak in our high schools. Why is the Board so short-sighted as to only work on problems when they appear immediately in front of them? Why can’t they think about longer term problems? It like steering a car by staring only at the road 10 feet in front of you.

I can guarantee you two things (and you read it first here):

(a) doing broad scale innovation within our existing high schools is a complete fantasy . . . our community will see little noticeable change in Paly or Gunn in 5 years, the resistance to change is too strong

(b) our two high schools will be super-crowded by 2020 and there will be mad scramble to deal with the issue, just like we are doing with our middle schools now.

The simple solution is to field a slate of new Board members who will be more respectful to community voices. Three spots (out of five) are up for re-election this year. The refusal by this Board to allow a follow-on task force to even INVESTIGATE the possibility of a new high school should be someone’s campaign slogan.

12 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:13 am

" That is a minimum of $9 million coming from the general fund each year. I'm just curious as to what programs and staffing will be affected by the loss of income to our general fund?""

Um, remember Measure A last year? The one where we had to vote for it or the district would lay off 80 teachers? The one approved the same year we ended up with - tada - a surplus at the end of the year (if you factor in the excessive cost if the special election) almost equal to what was raised by that tax? The superindent and board were floating questions about how to spend all that money, which was more than the $9 M Baldwin mentions here.

Cubberley is dilapidated. If the district wants to use it for rental income, they should tear it down and put simething else there to ensure a greater income. If they don't plan to ever use it as a school, they should have let foothill build their campus there.

14 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:18 am

< the idea of opening an innovative, small 6-12 school at the Cubberley site ...>

I hope this has gone away. 10-12 year old 6th-7th graders do not belong on the same campus as high schoolers.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:21 am

There's a lot of politics going on here. I hate politics when they take over from common sense.

I have often written about my views on mega high schools, how they affect the culture, the traffic, etc.

Another perspective on all this is that we are not being innovative at all. Churchill is PAUSD owned land and could be used much better to educate children rather than as office space. The work that is done at Churchill could feasibly be done at any leased office space anywhere around town.

Additionally, we have no use of videoing classes, conferencing classes, certain "lecture" style classes taking place on both campuses with a lecturer/teacher at Churchill. We are well behind on innovative use of technology to teach at least some part of classes on a live feed from a central location.

6 people like this
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 10:53 am

Good choice by the BOE - What our high schools need -


19 people like this
Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:03 am

The smaller class size comment has come up quite a bit in the last few weeks. I hope people realize that you cannot lower class size without adding more classrooms.

Gunn has already stated that they do not have capacity for over 100 kids when the bubble hits in 2020. They will have to add portables to the parking lot or increase classroom utilization, which sounds good in theory, but doesn't work well in reality. Imagine a Spanish teacher having to use three different classrooms. Or the History teacher who has a lesson ready for all 6 classes, but has a science teacher coming in during the middle of the day and changing the room layout. And understand that if Gunn can't lower class size, then neither can Paly, even if they have the space!

Be very aware that there will be no class-size reduction in the current high schools for at least the next ten years.

3 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:18 am

Nothing ever changes. BOE closed schools and sold off land in the 70s due to declining enrollment. Now, planning takes even longer and will not come to useful fruition until the "bubble" has graduated.

9 people like this
Posted by bond watcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:21 am

I don't understand how Gunn does not have enough classrooms: "'We do not have enough classrooms at Gunn,' Principal Denise Herrmann said. She mentioned potentially converting staff office space into classrooms if need be."

Gunn just built two new buildings that together house 35 or so new classrooms.

When Principal Herrmann started a little over a year ago, she approved another building that will add 5 more classrooms and a not-yet-built Wellness Center, which could be used for classrooms if need be too. The board was told that this building will fulfill the need for classrooms.
Web Link
Web Link
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Web Link

Gunn is built to accommodate 2,300 students
Gunn's enrollment at the projected peak in 2020: less than that at 2,250 students

2. If it is because more classrooms will be needed if class sizes shrink, can't flexible scheduling, more blended classes and left over bond money be put toward adding classrooms to solve this at Gunn?

It sounds like a problem that may resolve itself before a new school could be constructed anyway.

18 people like this
Posted by JvG
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:22 am

Gunn can do what Paly did. Go up. Create 2 story classrooms. Paly was over 2000 in 1979-1980 the year that Cubberly closed. It was crowded, but tolerable. I agree with Melissa, Terry, and Ken. Focus on what we have now.

Paly '83
Parent of Paly '15 and '16

2 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:38 am

@jvg - I think we want to aim higher for our high school students than "crowded but tolerable."

16 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:53 am

I would think "crowded but tolerable" would be exactly what we would want as an enrollment bubble passes through the district. Every Kinder class since 2010 has been smaller than the one before, no exceptions, so shrinking enrollment is inevitable. Birth counts county, region, and state wide are down, so shrinking Kinder classes are likely to continue for at least 5 more years.

We can create new innovative programs - in our current buildings, or at 25 Churchill or Garland. Dr. McGee wanted to shoot for the moon at Cubberley - maybe good for him, but bad for us. This is a more sensible path, and one that hopefully will improve the experience sooner and for many more kids.

5 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 12:03 pm

We should change the city motto to "crowded but tolerable" since that seems to describe life here these days. If that's all we can aspire to then that's definitely what we'll get.

5 people like this
Posted by Bring it on
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2016 at 12:19 pm

[Post removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 12:24 pm

If innovation in our schools is important, then how come those pushing this idea have not seen fit to demand a meaningful technology plan that has at least a five year horizon? Having a well-crafted plan would provide the public with some idea of what to expect from the schools, and what the costs for those changes might be.

Sure, this means another committee -- but we would have something more tangible to deal with other than the non-descript word "innovation."

21 people like this
Posted by JvG
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 12:31 pm

For those of us for whom money does not grow trees which includes everyone outside of the .1%, we have to live within a budget and teach our children the same skills. This town has grown very entitled since I moved here in 1968 and it is not making people more happy. More stress. Let's improve what we've got before we build another high school. The influence of private money on our school district is disturbing to me.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2016 at 1:09 pm

To those who think the District offices should close and admin lease space to work offsite needs to remember that any office space is sky high to rent. Doing so isn't feadible or smart.

5 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 27, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Hi, Fellow Onliners,

My hat is off to the Weekly and the ever-industrious Elena Kadvany for posting such a thorough article in such short order. Thank you!

The observation that the community is "roughly split into two camps" on this one seems, er, roughly accurate!--but I think there's agreement on wanting the best social-emotional school climate for our teenagers.

Already in existence to address this, with proposals that deal intelligently with homework and class size, is a community campaign: Save the 2,008.

We're named for the number of students and faculty at Gunn as of last year, and welcome the curious and new members! We're at:


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator

10 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 8:36 pm


The district owns plenty of buildings--they just like playing landlords. They could, however, move district offices to Cubberley--maybe then they'd get around to fixing it up.

7 people like this
Posted by wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:29 am

So the majority of the board believe the solution to Palo Alto's problem is "crowded but tolerable" schools. That says so much about our current board.

1 person likes this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:08 am

Crowded but tolerable schools with excellent teachers and programs inside. To me, that beats spending our time building out another campus that will become available as enrollment begins to steadily decline. I like the idea of using Cubberley as a community asset - community center, district offices, adult ed, teacher and public servant housing.

2 people like this
Posted by about time
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:37 am

"Crowded but tolerable schools with excellent teachers and programs inside. "

Uncrowded schools with pleasant environments to walk and relax with excellent teachers and programs inside and know everyone on campus sounds far better to me.

Going with the status quo because "it's too difficult" to change is part of the problem. Time for board members with some imagination.

2 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

Those new board members will need to have both imagination and very deep pocketbooks. Aside from requiring a new $100M+ bond, the general fund impact of a new high school would eat up the entire budget surplus. So we can't afford raises, or class size reduction, or teacher collaboration/prep time, or housing subsidies, or anything else really. Plus this is the boom time - when the state and property tax revenue bust comes (as it always does), something(s) will have to be cut (like closing an elementary school?).

I prefer to see us spend our $$ on teachers and staff vs. buildings, especially with enrollment now declining.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:46 am

Demographers who don't live in Palo Alto and don't understand PA culture and life, have made mistakes before and will do so again.

If we are building more housing, I strongly suggest that we will have more students. I know that "senior" housing brings in children, starter homes bring in children and grad student housing bring in children. I have driven my kids' friends home to grad student housing where they "live" with an aunt or uncle "guardian". I have done the same for kids who are living with grandparents, while parents get divorced. I have driven high school students to their apartments where they live on their own while parents live elsewhere. There are rule breakers out there, some more blatant than others. I can't see student populations diminishing more than just bubble years caused by perhaps changes in enrollment birthdates, or the occasional hiccup.

2 people like this
Posted by about time
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:58 am

"Studies of school sizes suggest that the ideal high school, defined in terms of effectiveness (i.e., learning), enrolls between 600 and 900 students. In schools smaller than this, students learn less; those in large high schools (especially over 2,100) learn considerably less. Learning is more equitable in very small schools, with equity defined by the relationship between learning and student socioeconomic status (SES)."

Going for that 2,100 numbers and "learn considerably less", Fred?

That "crowded but tolerable" moniker is starting to make even less sense. Keep on working it, who cares what harm it causes, hey? You know, that achievement gap thing that happens in Palo Alto? Remember that? Let alone the effect the size of these schools are having on our kids.

9 people like this
Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:20 am

The bottom line is that School District cannot be trusted.

As "Community" recalled correctly earlier, Measure A was fiercely campaigned by PAUSD as if sky would fall and severe cuts would happen if it fails to pass. Guess what? Merely four months later PAUSD announced they had a huge budget surplus!!!

The district leadership either had knowingly misled Palo Altans, or were completely incompetent in managing district finances.

Either way they have lost credibility. Not only the Board made the correct decision, I'd suggest they should go further and challenge PAUSD to investigate how they could not have seen the surplus coming while campaigning for Measure A? Someone should take the blame. The process must be improved before any future tax initiative commenced.

Palo Altans have been heavily taxed. A new high school will mean yet another extraordinary burden on all of us. It is insane even to contemplate such project.

4 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:23 am

"If we are building more housing, I strongly suggest that we will have more students."

Good news - we are building less housing than we did a decade ago, and less is forecast. This is part of the reason when enrollment in younger grades is shrinking - there are fewer new families moving to Palo Alto than 5-10 years ago. The older kids are aging through the system; fewer younger ones are replacing them. For instance, Hays has 3 Kinder classes vs. 5 fifth grades; this is typical, not unusual.

"Studies of school sizes suggest that the ideal high school, defined in terms of effectiveness (i.e., learning), enrolls between 600 and 900 students."

Not sure what you are quoting, but the analysis done by the EMAC was varied and inconclusive, particularly with respect to higher-SES populations like ours. It is hard to take a study of, say, all schools in North Carolina (urban, rural, high SES, low SES), and apply it to PAUSD (though that particular study said that the relationship between size and performance did not justify building new schools). In fact, there are many high performing schools our size or higher both in similar towns (Edina, MN; New Trier, IL; Greenwich, CT; etc.) and elsewhere (Boston, NY, SF, Dallas, etc.) There is no data that I'm aware of that our school size has effected our performance, either academic or connectedness.

6 people like this
Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:46 am

[Portion removed.]

FYI - Hays has added a 3rd grade bubble class each of the last 4 years, so even if Kinder is going down, young kids are still entering this district!

"Crowded but tolerable" is not how any of us want our kids to experience school. Its also a matter of personal opinion of things are tolerable or not. The two kids who accidentally bump into each other in the hall at Jordan because it's so cramped and end up posturing to fight, is not tolerable! Tell me how that's a safe or productive learning environment.

Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 11:52 am

I assume we all have the same agenda - what's best for our schools and community. That's certainly mine. ;-)

3 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 28, 2016 at 12:34 pm

The big question is why the admin and board refuse to listen to its families. Knowing your families and their needs is so important when you are serving them. I think this whole bunch is making a greater divide between their paid services and the families that need these services. families are reduced to begging and emotional pleas and then are treated as if they are total outsiders or are somehow stupid. I am really surpassed also at how silent most families are, but it seems they do not want retaliation and just put up with all this nonsense. Such a waste of time, money and the way this board and admin acts is scaring the parents and filtering down to kids. More time is spent describing why they can not perform functions rather than just performing functions.

1 person likes this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 1:51 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Why does the district need Offices? Make them Tel-commute using their own broadband and equipment.
Real world private sector workers now are required to furnish their own electronics and connectivity and that is for jobs that pay <$20/hr

13 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 2:10 pm

If crowding is temporary, which it seems to be for high schools and middle schools, I would rather spend money on improving our current schools than building new ones that will be unneeded by the time they are ready. If there was unlimited money that would be different. But there isn't.

Thanks to the board for thinking first of our current schools and students and not being distracted by the shiny new thing.

7 people like this
Posted by data
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 28, 2016 at 4:30 pm

@reality check,

You need to check your reality. The schools are overcrowded now and getting worse! Even keeping them at their current level is too much.
Trying to reduce our overcrowded high schools should be the board #1 priority. Trying random stuff in the hope that it might work when we have the resources to fix the fundamental problem is a joke.

We have the funds, we have the space the board just doesn't have the courage to fix the districts problems.

6 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 5:39 pm

Actually, the EMAC committees own surveys showed that few students or teachers think that the schools are too crowded. Students want the real problems in the schools fixed, starting with too much homework and work pileups. I don't remember hearing any current high school student or high school parent who wants a new school. They want Gunn and Paly to get that time and money.

5 people like this
Posted by Community
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 6:12 pm

@Reality check,
The trouble with that logic is that, currently, the schools aren't too large. That has no bearing on what it will be like with 500-700 more students each high school. Research I've read says things elbow over if the schools get above 2100 students. It's not that it's impossible to get good schools above that, but it's difficult, more expensive per student, and we haven't exactly shown much stomach in this community for winnowing administrators for A players (understatement). We aren't at that 2100 student mark yet. It's extremely poor stewardship to wait for things to get too big before acting, anyway. Some of the current guard promised the community they had a plan when they decided 2500 students with portables was just fine. Where is that plan, Camille? I have notes from when I brought this concern of too-large schools to you, but you approved the expenditures to go there anyway. And Melissa. OK. But where is the plan, why do you speak as if you just heard of this?

The other problem with the logic of making judgments based on surveys of whether our existing not-too-large schools are too large, is that problems like this don't just flip on for everyone like a switch, there's a curve. The most vulnerable are impacted first. So, it doesn't really matter if the majority don't think it's too big if a percentage of our kids are seriously affected, especially if it could be prevented entirely. It's hard to argue that we have an optimal situation for our most vulnerable even now.

That said, innovation could make use of existing educational resources without requiring new schools. How much will it cost? Couldn't we just provide vouchers for a fraction of those costs, and let kids who want or need more custom schooling paths go to outside vendors for part of the day? There are many online resources for some classes, for example. For some kids, not having such a full load on campus could be much better for them. Best of all, no need to open a new school and innovation could start as early as this summer.

5 people like this
Posted by school4all
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 28, 2016 at 6:28 pm

"Learning is more equitable in very small schools, with equity defined by the relationship between learning and student socioeconomic status (SES)."

Says it all really. If we want to address the achievement gap and provide more equitable learning for ALL our students we need to start with the size of our high schools. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it isn't a problem isn't going to solve anything.

How did we even get here? It's astounding that the majority of the board considers it a minor problem.

"crowded but tolerable" is not a model we can ever aspire to.

5 people like this
Posted by JvG
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:29 pm

As the author of the phrase "crowded but tolerable", I really regret writing this phrase. It has been distorted beyond belief. This is the cost of social media.

For the record, I was an introvert at Paly. My 4 friends and I played cards in the amphitheater most days at lunch for 4 years and were disturbed a handful of times. We practically had the whole place to ourselves except during sprit rallies. So, to say it was crowded is not looking at the full picture. And, please remember that Paly is an open campus. Nobody is required to stay on campus during lunch. If you don't like the crowds, go somewhere else.

And, creating a charter school will not address SES issues. It will be a school for the academic and economic elite costing more $/student and will take away some of the most innovative teachers from Paly and Gunn reducing the quality of education at those schools. The 3rd school idea would be more palatable if it were just another neighborhood school like old Cubberly. I am really tired of the future focus of schools in this town. My kid is there now. I'm fine with future plans, but not at the expense of the current generation.

If you have not been a student at Paly or Gunn, it is hard for you to comment without a bias. And, if you are a parent please remember that children, even high school aged children, have a limited perspective on life and their perspective should be taken with a grain of salt. Your kid is not always right.

1 person likes this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 28, 2016 at 7:33 pm

"Learning is more equitable in very small schools, with equity defined by the relationship between learning and student socioeconomic status (SES)."

From Google, it looks like this is from Lee & Smith's 1997 article on High School Size. But note this from the same article's Abstract:

An important finding from the study is that the influence of school size on learning is different in schools that enroll students of varying SES and in schools with differing proportions of minorities. Enrollment size has a stronger effect on learning in schools with lower-SES students and also in schools with high concentrations of minority students. Implications for educational policy are discussed.

Paly has 9% low-SES students; Gunn has 8%. Those are low percentages - for comparison, Cupertino High is 12%; Los Altos High is 15%; Alameda HS is 25%; Lowell SF is 48%. Since PAUSD is unusual, applying broad general studies to it will often lead to the wrong conclusions. Note, btw, that the PAUSD school with the largest SES percentage (Barron Park) is also by far the smallest, at 288 students.

As someone pointed out at the Board meeting, the Gates Foundation spent $2 billion funding thousands of small high schools during the 2000s based on this belief. In 2009, they reported this: "Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way. … [W]e are trying to raise college-ready graduation rates, and in most cases, we fell short."

5 people like this
Posted by time for change
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 9:34 pm


I was wondering when the "Palo Alto is different" argument would start coming up. Yeah, we're different; try expanding your google search for teen suicides, achievement gap and OCR complaints and you'll see how different Palo Alto is.

Sheesh! "Crowded but tolerable" and now "Palo Alto is different". Great arguments for not dealing with our overcrowded high-schools with this do-nothing board.

19 people like this
Posted by For pete's sake
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:40 pm

No one really thinks the schools are crowded. They are just talking about crowding instrumentally to get their new super-school. It's all a smokescreen. Teachers don't think the schools are crowded. Students don't think the schools are crowded. This is not happening. It never happened. Everyone is all stirred up over a fake argument that was used just to justify the new school.

[Portion removed.]

Now that they know that no additional private money can be spent on their super school they don't really even want it any more. That's why they didn't really show up at the board meeting. They already said above that they are going to run a slate of candidates for school board. If that doesn't work, they will just do a charter. I doubt this is over yet.

[Portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2016 at 8:18 am

If a teacher is ineffective with 20 kids, she,he will not be better with 15 or even 10. No amount of money or charter label can replace a good, well trained, professional that is dedicated to students.

10 people like this
Posted by InnovativeUseOfFunds
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2016 at 9:16 am

If we have extra funds, the most innovative thing they could do is buy out the tenure contracts of the worst teachers.

Then invest in researching and implementing higher standards for hiring.

We can spend money to get better teachers in the schools we have. Today.

(Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if McGee spent as much time enforcing homework policy and Professional Standards policy)

Fix the teachers, not the buildings. It will have a transformative effect on students, culture, and learning outcomes.

Web Link

Web Link

Fix grades 6-8 and you reap huge benefits on the High School years. Research. Good.

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:47 am

It's too bad the issue of capacity - how many kids should you pack into one school before you need another one - has to get wrapped up with the issue of what curriculum to teach. These things are different questions and it ought to be possible to deal with them separately.

Can you put 2,500 or 3,000 kids in one high school? Of course. Is it the healthiest thing for our kids? Different question.

7 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 1, 2016 at 3:10 pm

My children would have attended high school at Cubberley, had there been a high school in our part of town. As it was, they had to commute to an overpopulated high school and cross an unsafe railroad track, also to navigate the treacherous traffic sphincter created by the local bike activist. Cubberley should be developed into a middle school and high school. Paly and Gunn are too crowded, and the commute to them is a traffic nightmare. Overcrowded schools have huge problems, from student anonymity, limited access to varsity sports teams, exclusion from needed curriculum, absurdly unrewarding graduation ceremonies, unnoticed campus drug dealing, unseen student problems, to poor support with the very important college application process. None of these problems can be solved by grafting on poorly conceived patches as problems arise. Our students deserve a quality education in schools that are geographically within reach. Once again, South Palo Alto is being treated as a stepchild in this district. I will be looking for a change as school board elections come up.

1 person likes this
Posted by anon
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 1, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Brace yourselves. The charter school application is no doubt already drafted and ready. I hope we can navigate the divisions caused by this group. [Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by Your take is a free house, don't forget
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2016 at 11:00 pm

My Take -- how did they make it through school? It sounds like they were practically Syrian refugees trying to get to Greece, navigating all those treacherous suburban sidewalks is almost like swimming the Mediterranean.

As for the south side being badly treated, do you even understand that this was a magnet school proposal that would have served the entire city? Almost all the proponents were from the Paly district. [Portion removed.]

3 people like this
Posted by My Take
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2016 at 10:43 am

Your take, yes, the suicides of my children's classmates, friends, and team mates has made me very concerned for their survival.

I don't care at all where an idea comes from, as long as it improves the lives of young people. While I'm in favor of new schools at Cubberley, I don't care for the idea of a specialized high school.

Too bad the school board has rejected a study that might have helped bring about the best outcome for students.

Anyway, your sarcastic disregard for students is duly noted.

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

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