Why? The schools.
But we knew our family would be getting a whole lot more than just Palo Alto's excellent public schools. We saw it as a virtuous circle: A school system strongly supported by its community creates more than just quality education – it creates a sense of community that benefits everyone who lives here.
Before coming back to California, we spent four years in Charlotte, North Carolina. It had fine schools and as strong believers in public education we happily sent our daughters to the neighborhood school. But many of our neighbors, concerned by district policies that created the potential for frequent school-boundary changes, opted out. As a result, few of the kids in our neighborhood attended the local public school.
Our daughters may have thrived in their classrooms, but there was no cohesiveness in the fabric of our neighborhood. Many kids lived on our street, but they each headed off in a different direction every morning, and had different schedules through the day. We lived next to each other, but were only loosely connected to one another, without the ties that bound us into a community.
In contrast, we have found in Palo Alto that the links forged by shared schools make it easier for people to host block parties, hold community fairs, and develop a shared sense of participation in public life.
Why did you pick up this newspaper, or read this op-ed? Most likely, because you're interested in and feel a part of the Palo Alto community.
Great public schools are at the heart of what has traditionally meant to live in Palo Alto, a town that itself grew up together with a world-class university and one that continues to value education.
Great public schools have also drawn new generations of Palo Altans interested in and committed to their community — the schools, yes, but also the libraries, the parks, the open spaces and multiple healthy business districts.
When we decided to move back to California in 2002, we considered many neighboring towns that also have excellent schools. Ultimately, though, we felt it was important to live within a K-12 unified school district where we could send our children all the way through their high-school years. We wanted the excellent education and community feeling we expected when our kids attended elementary school to continue in the upper grades as well.
We haven't been disappointed. Our daughters are now enrolled at Palo Alto High School, while our youngest attends Addison Elementary. All our children have benefited from caring and committed teachers, while our entire family continues to enjoy the connections we have formed, retained and extended as our school community has grown through the years.
And Palo Alto itself has exceeded our expectations. We have been delighted by the warmth and sense of belonging that the schools engender both on and off the campus.
Palo Alto's schools draw support not just from parents, but also from corporations, local businesses, retirees and other city residents.
This support transcends the schools, but it starts with the schools. That's why I believe so strongly in Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE), the only non-profit whose contributions can pay for additional and much-needed teachers and staff. PiE supports all of our public schools and is supported in turn by a broad cross-section of our community. PiE helps to ensure that Palo Alto's virtuous circle retains its momentum.
PiE receives generous donations from thousands of parents — and cash and coins from kids selling lemonade from a card table on the corner. But we also get grants from community foundations — and gifts from local hair salons and jewelry designers. Realtors support our efforts and local rock-and-roll bands donate their time for fundraisers.
Moms whose kids graduated 20 years ago send checks with notes about teachers who made a difference in their children's lives. Teachers and principals write checks to PiE, too. And a generous group of local families has provided a challenge grant that will match any donations made by Nov. 22. More information about PiE is at www.papie.org.
Without their support, and yours, Palo Alto schools — and Palo Alto itself — would look and feel very different. Thank you for your help in keeping our schools, the vibrant heart of our vibrant community, alive and well.
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