To prepare for the start of kindergarten, Aniyah Ross practiced walking with her son Josiah Copes to Palo Verde Elementary School's campus on Louis Road in south Palo Alto this summer. Then, she learned that the entire student body would be attending school at a temporary site next to Cubberley Community Center this fall while construction on the Palo Verde campus takes place.
Palo Verde's roughly 400 students are sharing a campus for the school year with Greendell School as well as using portable buildings that were placed in the parking lot in front of Greendell this summer. Greendell hosts the Palo Alto Unified School District's parent education program, special education preschool and kindergarten readiness programs.
On Thursday, the first day of elementary school for Palo Alto Unified, a balloon arch and multicolored "Welcome Back to School" banner greeted families as they walked onto the temporary campus. Teachers and staff were on hand to direct parents and kids to the right classrooms, as they tried to navigate the combined campus.
As Ross dropped Josiah off for his first day of kindergarten, she said that she was excited for her son to start school but that it was strange to be on a different campus.
"It's fine; we're going to make it work," Ross said. "I'm sure they worked hard to make it doable."
While Thursday was the first day of the new academic year for elementary schoolers, for middle and high school students, the year began the previous day.
Palo Verde Principal Annora Lee said in an interview that numerous staff members worked together to prepare all the moving pieces involved in relocating Palo Verde to the Middlefield Road campus. Lee said she's been joking that the move was 10 times more complicated than planning her wedding.
"My biggest commitment, my mission, was making sure wherever we were, it felt 100% Palo Verde," Lee said. "I think we've achieved that."
According to Lee, she also coordinated with Greendell's principal to make sure Palo Verde was respecting their space and that the planning was conducted jointly.
The finished layout has transitional kindergarten through third grade students attending classes in Greendell buildings while fourth and fifth graders, plus the Palo Verde office, are located in the portable buildings.
Some Palo Verde families spoke out last fall in opposition to the idea of moving their school to a temporary campus roughly 1.5 miles away from their usual location. Parents said that the district hadn't adequately sought feedback from the Palo Verde community and particularly objected to the idea of placing classrooms in the parking lot.
Nonetheless, the board unanimously approved moving ahead with the temporary campus last November. By vacating Palo Verde's campus, construction would take one school year rather than two and a half, district staff said. When the construction is finished, Palo Verde will have a new fourth and fifth grade wing as well as a new multipurpose room, Lee said.
The temporary campus will serve not just Palo Verde. Hoover Elementary School is expected to move to the Greendell site for the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years, while its campus is under construction.
To help Palo Verde students get to the temporary campus, the school district is offering morning and afternoon buses. According to Lee, there is a small waitlist for the morning buses, but there was enough space for everyone who signed up to take the afternoon buses. On Thursday morning, staff members were also in the parking lot to direct traffic as parents drove their children to school.
Parents Valeriya and Yessen Toleubek were both pleasantly surprised by the setup of the temporary campus when they dropped their second grader off for the first day of school.
"They did an amazing job," Valeriya Toleubek said. "We love it."
Yessen Toleubek said that parents naturally had concerns but that the result exceeded his expectations.
"It looks organized. Everything flows kind of organically; it doesn't feel like it's a construction site," he said.
For Lee, seeing students and families arriving on campus on Thursday was the reward for many months of preparation.
"It felt so good to me," Lee said. "As educators, once you see the kids, that instantly grounds you."