News

It's official: Fletcher Middle School will adopt sustainability focus with choice component next fall

Board unanimously approves plan in an attempt to bolster enrollment

Social studies teacher Nicole Bliss speaks with her seventh grade students at Ellen Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Ellen Fletcher Middle School's plan to adopt a campuswide sustainability theme next fall and allow students from throughout Palo Alto Unified to apply for enrollment received unanimous support from the school board this week.

The board voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve the focus on environmental sustainability, as well as a choice component that would enable Palo Alto middle schoolers who aren't within Fletcher's attendance boundaries to apply to transfer. All students currently zoned for Fletcher would still be assigned to attend the school.

The initiative is an attempt to increase enrollment at Fletcher, which is substantially smaller than the district's other two middle schools. The board originally reviewed the proposal last month.

Board members praised the plan, with Todd Collins saying that he views Fletcher's new model as a potentially important innovation both to manage enrollment and offer families more choices. He added that he has received "unremitting" positive feedback from the community.

"I really think we've hit on something important here and have the potential to … be a real innovator for both our community and California schools generally," Collins said.

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Jesse Ladomirak noted that she's already heard from parents whose high school students want to volunteer to help the sustainability program.

The hope is that Fletcher's new focus will help grow the school, which had 506 students during the 2021-2022 year, according to state data. In comparison, Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School had 996 students and Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School had 821 students.

Fletcher's shrinking size has meant a loss of support staff, as well as certain programs, according to the district staff report included on Tuesday's agenda.

The idea for the sustainability choice program originally came from school staff and the intent is to integrate the theme into all core classes, as well as electives, field trips, clubs and service projects. Students assigned to Fletcher will be able to opt out of certain elements, such as the service projects and electives, but will still participate in the core curriculum.

Collins said on Tuesday that it will be important to clearly communicate how the program works to the community, since it is different from the district's existing choice programs.

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Superintendent Don Austin noted that Fletcher's plan has broadened thinking around what a choice school can be. He added that it's possible that in the future, other schools may want to adopt a theme, with or without a choice component.

When it comes to finances, Fletcher's shift will require the equivalent of one full-time employee, Assistant Superintendent Guillermo Lopez said. The staffing would be split among support for the electives, as well as a part-time teacher dedicated to assisting other teachers and students as the school makes the shift.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza was supportive of the additional staffing as the program rolls out, but noted that the plan should be revisited before it is made permanent, to ensure fairness with other district programs.

Gunn High School student board representative Daniel Pan noted that he went to Fletcher in seventh and eighth grade and was supportive of the sustainability program.

"Listening and seeing all of the details for the plan, it sounds like it will be a very cool thing to implement at Fletcher," Pan said. "I feel like it will definitely benefit the students there."

Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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It's official: Fletcher Middle School will adopt sustainability focus with choice component next fall

Board unanimously approves plan in an attempt to bolster enrollment

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Nov 17, 2022, 9:33 am

Ellen Fletcher Middle School's plan to adopt a campuswide sustainability theme next fall and allow students from throughout Palo Alto Unified to apply for enrollment received unanimous support from the school board this week.

The board voted 5-0 on Tuesday to approve the focus on environmental sustainability, as well as a choice component that would enable Palo Alto middle schoolers who aren't within Fletcher's attendance boundaries to apply to transfer. All students currently zoned for Fletcher would still be assigned to attend the school.

The initiative is an attempt to increase enrollment at Fletcher, which is substantially smaller than the district's other two middle schools. The board originally reviewed the proposal last month.

Board members praised the plan, with Todd Collins saying that he views Fletcher's new model as a potentially important innovation both to manage enrollment and offer families more choices. He added that he has received "unremitting" positive feedback from the community.

"I really think we've hit on something important here and have the potential to … be a real innovator for both our community and California schools generally," Collins said.

Jesse Ladomirak noted that she's already heard from parents whose high school students want to volunteer to help the sustainability program.

The hope is that Fletcher's new focus will help grow the school, which had 506 students during the 2021-2022 year, according to state data. In comparison, Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School had 996 students and Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School had 821 students.

Fletcher's shrinking size has meant a loss of support staff, as well as certain programs, according to the district staff report included on Tuesday's agenda.

The idea for the sustainability choice program originally came from school staff and the intent is to integrate the theme into all core classes, as well as electives, field trips, clubs and service projects. Students assigned to Fletcher will be able to opt out of certain elements, such as the service projects and electives, but will still participate in the core curriculum.

Collins said on Tuesday that it will be important to clearly communicate how the program works to the community, since it is different from the district's existing choice programs.

Superintendent Don Austin noted that Fletcher's plan has broadened thinking around what a choice school can be. He added that it's possible that in the future, other schools may want to adopt a theme, with or without a choice component.

When it comes to finances, Fletcher's shift will require the equivalent of one full-time employee, Assistant Superintendent Guillermo Lopez said. The staffing would be split among support for the electives, as well as a part-time teacher dedicated to assisting other teachers and students as the school makes the shift.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza was supportive of the additional staffing as the program rolls out, but noted that the plan should be revisited before it is made permanent, to ensure fairness with other district programs.

Gunn High School student board representative Daniel Pan noted that he went to Fletcher in seventh and eighth grade and was supportive of the sustainability program.

"Listening and seeing all of the details for the plan, it sounds like it will be a very cool thing to implement at Fletcher," Pan said. "I feel like it will definitely benefit the students there."

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 17, 2022 at 5:41 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 17, 2022 at 5:41 pm

Was traffic ever brought into this discussion?

The trouble with these programs is that it turns schools into destination commuter schools and more than likely kids will not be biking or walking. The likelihood of anyone joining this program from outside that school boundary is that it will mean being driven to and from school.


Retired PAUSD Teacher
Registered user
another community
on Nov 18, 2022 at 8:38 am
Retired PAUSD Teacher, another community
Registered user
on Nov 18, 2022 at 8:38 am

It's official. Alignment is dead, but it was just another political expedient for Mr. Austin anyhow. Let's hope this current "innovation" is not the same thing since it is a major shift that requires a long-term commitment going well beyond headline grabbing. Teachers that did not play the previous "alignment game" because it hampered creativity, academic freedom, and the ability to adjust to different student needs, were regularly vilified and targeted by administration for not being "team players". Clearly that cannot be the case with the Fletcher program since there is no set curriculum at the moment.

Building an attractive and successful new school is not an overnight proposition, and the way 25 Churchill gravitates to trends and fads, then ditches them, is cause for concern. Do Mr. Austin and the board have the necessary staying power on this one? Will they support teachers and staff through the growing pains? The 25 Churchill track record is not good in these regards, often leaving students, parents, teachers, and staff holding the bag. The "standards based grading" implementation is a great example.

Hopefully the mindset of PAUSD leadership is changing as well. Time will tell if all of this is for real, or just another gimmick.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 21, 2022 at 4:33 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2022 at 4:33 pm

Board of Education,

Choice schools draw students from all over the city, and longer school commutes push families into cars. What are you going to do to keep students who walk and bike to PAUSD schools in the vicinity of Fletcher (including neighborhood kids who currently walk and bike to Fletcher) safe from the risk factors of additional auto trips this change will generate?

Every one of you said you supported Safe Routes to School when you ran for office. What is your plan to keep school commutes safe and to work with your partners in the PTA and at the City of Palo Alto to minimize the congestion and safety impacts that your unilateral decision will create? Have you consulted with them? Have you talked with neighborhoods near Fletcher?

Please do not allow Sup. Austin to dump the project with its traffic impacts on the neighborhoods and the city as you recently did with Cubberley, Palo Verde, and Hoover projects. Consideration of the whole healthy child and community needs seems not to be a consideration in your facilities decision-making.

Further, a strong emphasis on Safe Routes to School and daily reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG)emissions generated by school commutes would be consistent with a Sustainability program. What support will PAUSD give to its Safe Routes to School partners at the city and PTAs to mitigate the auto congestion, safety and emissions impacts of PAUSD's unilateral decision for Fletcher?











Retired PAUSD Teacher
Registered user
another community
on Nov 27, 2022 at 9:36 am
Retired PAUSD Teacher, another community
Registered user
on Nov 27, 2022 at 9:36 am

In July of 2021, due to declining enrollment, I was told that I would be teaching a course I had not taught in decades. When I asked for some paid time to get prepared for opening day in August, I was told point blank by my site administrator that PAUSD does not pay teachers to prepare curriculum. I did my best anyhow, but nonetheless was soon officially reprimanded by the same administrator for “unwillingness to teach state standards” and “doing a disservice to all of my students” in that class. The sin: I decided that in lieu of the Roman Empire unit, I would give my 7th grade students a primer on the U.S. Constitution so that they could see the influence Roman governance had on our Founding Fathers. Doing so comported with state standards and filled a gap that all three middle school social studies departments had previously recognized. It did not matter, however, because the other 7th grade teachers were not doing the same exact thing at the time.

This begs these questions:

1. Now that Fletcher will be re-writing the curriculum wholesale, will teachers be paid for their extra efforts?

If my principal was being truthful with me, then the answer is no.

2. How will the subject wide “sustainability” core strictly align with state standards?

Clearly there must be a lot of leeway in this realm, the type of which has led to disciplinary action in the recent past.

3. Is there more to declining enrollment other than the lack of an engaging curriculum?

4. Why was the previous curriculum not engaging? Does the lack of engagement have anything to do with recent district attempts to homogenize teaching and to neuter teachers that didn’t go along with the alignment push?

5. Is it possible that students and parents are fed up with poor leadership as opposed to the curriculum, thus the decline in enrollment?


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2022 at 12:50 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 27, 2022 at 12:50 pm

I have questions since thinking and reading more of the comments above, in addition to my earlier comment about traffic for this commuter program.

Do parents get to see this curriculum before electing to move their kids into it? Will parents be able to elect to move their kids out of Fletcher if there is not enough regular curriculum classes as opposed to these specialized classes?

Do we know if this will become the woke curriculum? There seem to be many trigger words used without really explaining what these terms mean and how they will be implemented into other subjects?

What will happen when these students graduate Fletcher and move into high school? Will these classes be included in the curriculum of both high schools, just one high school, or completely ignored by high school entry and courses?

Since this is supposedly being done to bolster enrollment, how will this be evaluated after one year, 3years? For example, will more students from say JLS area than Jordan area, make all 3 middle schools very unbalanced in enrollment. In other words, will one middle school be huge, one medium and one small, and perhaps Fletcher be the medium or even the largest? Is the ultimate goal that all three schools should be approximately the same size? Additionally, how will this ultimately affect enrollment at the high schools?

I do think that this idea appears to be rushed through which is something that PAUSD has not done in the past with perhaps taking too long to make decisions, this particular one seems to be lacking in community input. When I think back to say the Mandarin Immersion debates, the process was long and contentious, but at least the community could weigh in and we could get the various views for and against the program. Now we seem to have no idea what this program may teach, how teachers will be prepared to teach it and what materials will be used and how they will differ from what the other schools or regular program uses.


Retired PAUSD Teacher
Registered user
another community
on Nov 28, 2022 at 7:42 am
Retired PAUSD Teacher, another community
Registered user
on Nov 28, 2022 at 7:42 am

@Bystander:

This is why stakeholders should be concerned about real commitment. Mr. Austin loves headline grabbers that make it seem as if he and the folks at 25 Churchill are very busy doing what is best for students. But once the onion is peeled back, often there is very little substance to the so-called initiative. When the dust settles and the cameras disappear, quite often the 25 Churchill engagement drifts too.

Standards based grading is a great example. It sounded good in theory, but the district did a poor job selling and implementing the system. First, leadership thought that assigning numbered grades instead of letter grades would take student focus off of grades. Instead there was confusion and a greater focus on grades. Second, the district ignored the fact that calculating grades the "new way" would take teachers more than twice as long, thus slowing reporting and the updating of grades online. Third, the district felt little need to update grade recording and reporting systems to accommodate SBG. Teachers were forced to convert number grades back to letter grades because the reporting system would not take numbers. Finally, few colleges or universities take transcripts with numbered grades, so the system could not be used at the high schools. At the end of the day students, parents, and teachers were left with a confusing and convoluted system that has shown little to no impact.

Administrators championing the system will argue that it has resulted in fewer D's and F's. But that is not due to SBG, but to the adjusted grading scale and the conversion from numbers to letters:

4 (eliminated by many departments) = Exemplary
3 = Proficient
2= Developing
1= Basic

Three out of four equals 75%, which is now an A or B grade. Two out of four, or 50%, is now a C or B grade. Zeros for missing work have been eliminated as well, thus it is virtually impossible to score a D or an F. Great for admin, not so much for students, parents or teachers.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2022 at 9:19 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 29, 2022 at 9:19 am

Oh, goodie. More traffic. I can spent more time looking out the window to see all the backed up traffic while I decide it's not worth it to try to back out of our driveway safely.

I say this after drivers have collided with our parked cars TWICE and almost destroyed our street tree. Good things all those bollards at EVERY Middlefield intersection have "increased visibility" rather than driver frustration at not being able to bypass turning traffic.

More PA "leadership" --let's hope the Junior Museum and Zoo gets its $1,000,000 dinosaur model set up soon so we can attract even more traffic. After all, it only takes a few backed up cars at poorly timed Middlefield lights to leave cars stuck in the middle of the Embaracedeo and Oregon intersections.

Seriously, how many articles have to be written about the Middlefield mess before any of our highly paid staff get out of their offices to check out what's really happening?


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