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."