Editorial: Foothill campus plan is a 'vision test' | June 11, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 11, 2010

Editorial: Foothill campus plan is a 'vision test'

Proposal to rebuild part of the Cubberley Community Center with a new Foothill College campus envisions a new approach that could benefit Palo Alto students

An upcoming joint meeting of officials from the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the City of Palo Alto is more than just another multi-agency meeting.

The June 16 meeting, scheduled for the Palo Alto City Council chambers at 6 p.m., could be a turning-point meeting that sets direction for many years.

At issue is whether there is a future for a plan to rebuild part of the Cubberley Community Center into a modern campus, utilizing about eight acres of the 16 acres covered by buildings of the overall 34-acre site. It would not displace existing tenants.

A "concept plan" was proposed in 2008 by Foothill-De Anza officials as a way to accommodate future growth of community-college students at its Palo Alto Campus, including hundreds of Palo Alto students, as well as adults seeking retraining or enrichment classes. The plan included a circular building with classroom wings fanning out like spokes from a hub. It would replace some existing wings of the aging campus, opened in 1956.

But the college district backed off to consider other possible sites after a council meeting in which several council members said they would never consider selling land to the district but might consider a long-term lease. The district would fund the campus from a $490.8 million construction bond measure approved by voters in June 2006.

The Cubberley plan resurfaced early this year when Foothill-De Anza officials indicated they might still be interested in the possibilities at Cubberley — but in a less-ambitious "phased" redevelopment due to sharply reduced growth projections made necessary by state budget cuts.

The Palo Alto council and the Board of Education have each held closed "land negotiation" sessions but have not announced any actions. Officials from all three entities have also held a planning meeting for the June 16 session.

The real question underlying the meeting relates to the Palo Alto school district, which would need to agree to whatever plan emerges. There is a history of the district being gun-shy about collaborating with the city on joint projects, although there are areas on which they work together, such as field maintenance.

We hope in this case, however, that all three entities take a hard look at some visionary possibilities the Foothill plan might create. We don't think there's much difference between whether Foothill buys or leases the land long-term.

The true potential of this proposal is what it could do for Palo Alto students in terms of bridging the gap between high school and college — a gap into which too many students fall.

Former Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Martha Kanter, now an education official within the Obama Administration, told the Weekly last week that there are new collaborations underway across the nation that are showing "startling" positive results in helping promising students transition into college. She said such a collaboration might even save the Palo Alto district money. It would also rebuild a core portion of an aging campus.

The Foothill district already operates a "Middle College" that serves a limited number of Palo Alto students, enabling them to take college-level courses and get both high school and college credit.

Kanter cited a similar national effort, the "Early College High School Initiative," which is strongly backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations. That initiative is key in the new wave of collaborative efforts to improve education, she said. A full report is at www.earlycolleges.org.

"Early college high school is a bold approach, based on the principle that academic rigor, combined with the opportunity to save time and money, is a powerful motivator for students to work hard and meet serious intellectual challenges," the report begins.

Since 2002, partner organizations of the initiative have started or redesigned more than 200 schools in 24 states and the District of Columbia.

This is the kind of vision our local leaders might explore before making final decisions on the concept for redeveloping part of Cubberley into a new entity that could benefit all involved. It should be required reading for the June 16 joint meeting.

This is in a true sense a "vision test" for all parties.


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