District to add 40 elementary classrooms in 5 years | March 11, 2011 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 11, 2011

District to add 40 elementary classrooms in 5 years

With unexpected enrollment bump in past two years, officials scramble to add space

by Chris Kenrick

Decisions may come by June on where to build up to 30 new elementary-school classrooms in Palo Alto in the next five years, school officials agreed Tuesday (March 8).

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Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at [email protected]


Posted by Wondering
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:29 am

Could the board and Skelly put one and one together by themselves, or do they need our help, if we need more elementary schools open, why can we also open one or two more high schools. They are packed. No wonder it is hard for the kids to connect. They are just one more in the crowed.

Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 9, 2011 at 10:31 am

30 years, ago 1981 or so, I was at a School Board meeting for something I've forgotten about now. But the first issue on the agenda was selling off school sites. I was 20 something, not married and didn't say anything.

I did think than that someday I would have children and I'd like to stay in Palo Alto and if I did they would go to school here.

How I wish I had said something then. Of course South Palo Alto needs more schools, that's where they closed most of them.

And the child that goes to elementary school often moves on to middle school and high school. Will we need to reopen Cubberly?

Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

Chris - thank you for a nice summary of the meeting yesterday. Did the 40 classrooms include the Young 5s and transitional kindergarten?

I thought a key point that Barb Mitchell brought up that some board members failed to remember during the course of the meeting was that only 5% of our student population comes from new housing.

A very interesting factor that caught the demographers off guard last year was the rental market. Even if houses are not turning over, does not mean that more kids are not moving into the district. It's just impossible to plan for.

Another key point from yesterday's meeting were the Priority 1 registration numbers that the three schools that are so far most impacted by enrollments are Palo Verde, Addison, and Fairmeadow. While we can focus most of our efforts on the South we absolutely cannot forget about the North cluster. The schools in the north are past their tipping points for maximum school size.

I urge the Board to call in the Garland lease as the Superintendent recommended. Barb Mitchell and Barbara Klausner both support the recommendation. They have three years to think about what to do with that site before they get it back. The benefits far outweigh the cost and the tenant isn't going anywhere. If 2014 comes around and they decide they don't need Garland, I'm sure Stratford or another private school would love that prime piece of real estate at a fraction of the value.

Posted by marsha
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Yes, I agree with Frank. In 1981, being a parent of an elementary school age child in Palo Alto, I too, attended several School Board meetings. The members of that Board were not clever enough to realize that closing schools (9), and selling the property to developers for housing would eventually leave Palo Alto in need of schools. Who would be living in the newly built homes but families with children going to the local schools. Not a brilliant decision. I would also like to add that if it were not for 8 active and vocal mothers at El Carmelo, that school would also be long closed, That was indeed a lesson that the squeaky wheel does command attention and sometimes the little guy does win!

Posted by Ohlone mama
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm

It cannot be that this trend was "unexpected". What an interesting choice of words by this journalist and/or our school board.
Do they live in Palo Alto? Do they get outside of downtown with boarded up stores on University Ave? hmmm. Anyone who had a child in Palo Alto at the turn of this last century knows how crowded each step from daycare to highschool has been!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 12:18 pm

As I suggested in a different thread - there may not be a need for "Young 5's" any longer...the starting age requirement is 5yo by September 1.

If we can give the BoE a little breathing room on this --- certainly they will have to consider how to handle the headcount increase for the middle and high schools. But at least let's give them time to first solve the immediate need. No need to complain about the lack of attention on the next two levels until they get the elementary school problem resolved.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm

CP Dad

It is nice of you to give the BoE breathing space, but that luxury has gone.

Most families are moving into Palo Alto with Elementary and Middle School aged kids. It is not as if we are building from the bottom in kindergarten. The newcomers are generally all ages and stages.

Likewise, not sure about your theory of Young 5s. There will always be parents who don't like the fact that their kids are 11 months younger than their peers and will claim that their kids are not ready and don't even think about those sports parents who want to give their kids the advantage of being biggest. The younger age for kindergarten will just transfer as the standards get higher.

Posted by 20-20 Hindsight
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm

"The members of that Board were not clever enough to realize that closing schools (9), and selling the property to developers for housing would eventually leave Palo Alto in need of schools. "

That's an unfair assessment. Student enrollment was dropping rapidly throughout the '80s and many school campuses were empty for years. I seem to recall that people were calling for the district to sell off unused campuses to save on maintenance costs, avoid possible liability issues, and to generate revenue to eliminate the need for bond measures.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 9, 2011 at 1:57 pm

It really doesn't matter if you call it Young Fives or Transitional Kindergarten. According to new law, it's mandatory now. We are lucky that we alreay have a fabulous program in place and don't have to start from scratch like other districts. Skelly talked about adding classrooms for Transitional Kindergarten, this would mean we would still have Young Fives as well, but I'm guessing the age range for Young Fives would move from fall birthdays to summer birthdays.

I agree with Parent that the Board has no luxury to take time to breathe on the subject of middle school and high school space. If they wait to talk about enrollment and space issues at the intermediate level they'll be in the same predicament they are currently in at the elementary level. Too many kids and not enough space.

It is fascinating to look at the grade progression tables given by the demographers. If the Board doesn't start doing something now to plan for the enrollment figures that hit them this year in Kindergarten and First grade then they should all be recalled. Those kids are not leaving.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Transistional kindergarten (or whatever the name will be) should be held at the school sites in the empty PACCC buildings. Every school except for Nixon has a Kids Club standing empty every morning. No brainer.

JLS and Jordan have physical room for expansion. To some extent, a larger middle school can be better if it allows for each grade to have full teams of teacher. (A team in middle school is 100 plus kids who all share the same core teachers which allows them to get to know the kids better and coordinate the kids work load.) Some teachers are now part of more than one team, which makes it harder.

Aside from that, it is obvious that we need another elementary school. Period.
Opening an IB school or another type of "magnet" high school might be a good way to reduce the size of our high schools and entice people to send their kids somewhere beside Paly/Gunn.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Not sure how well this is known, but the Kids Clubs at most elementary schools are used during the morning, not empty.

5th grade music programs (each instrument needs its own room) special programs for poor readers, esl, teacher conferences, PTA meetings, etc. all use these rooms. I would agree that it appears that some space would be availabe during the day, but from my experience and talking to others, whatever space is available at the elementary schools, whenever it is available, is being used. Our elementary schools are busy and every available room is being utilized in all sorts of ways.

It doesn't mean that we can't put a Young Five's classroom at each school because of space, but our schools are congested and whatever is going on in these rooms now will have to find space somehow - either by doubling up instruments in the same room or make the esl lessons use the teachers lounge, or the .... or even outside.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 9, 2011 at 3:15 pm

My point is that I would allow the BoE to first resolve the Elementary campus issue first, then solve the next levels.

We're talking bandwidth. I would rather see a prioritization, focus and a thorough & quick job versus spreading thin and trying to do all 3 at once (and possibly do a half-baked job). Yes - no one is happy with the current situation - but it's what you do moving forward that is going to matter.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 9, 2011 at 3:33 pm

There was a capacity chart given out at the meeting yesterday. The only capacity allowable at Hays for example is to take over the SDC rooms to regain 2 classrooms. Kids club has two classrooms but I do think they are used during the day for other things.

Melissa brought up a good point about increasing school size, one that I have made before. If you increase school size you have to think about other impacts the school might face such as library time, the size of the multi-purpose rooms which are already too small for the student body at most schools, crowded front offices, and even the line for the bathroom! We can't just keep squeezing more and more kids onto these sites. At some point we have to say we need more room.

Two of the board members were willing to make that call yesterday, but two want the perfect school in the perfect part of town before they make the easy decision to call in the lease. That site doesn't exist anymore so now they have to get creative with what they have.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 9, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Crescent Park Dad - Usually I would agree with you, but this board can't seem to make a decision on anything so maybe if they at least start working on it something, I'm hopeful that progress will be made in the next, oh, 10 years. My kids will be just about ready to graduate by then.

Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 7:05 pm

20-20 Hindsight is absolutely right. In 1978 the voters turned down a bond measure to refurbish our schools. Everyone agreed that empty schools should be sold off if the District wanted money.

Also, the School District could not find tenants for the empty schools and no one wanted to live next door to an old boarded up school with a chain link fence around it!!

The School Board were smart enough to keep some elementary schools so that even now we have the former Greendell, Garland and Fremont Hills. Also the former Ventura School can be bought back from the City.

I have noticed that the School Board always over compensates when making long term decisions. 40 additional elementary classrooms could be paired down to 35.

Posted by Maura
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I will offer my prediction after years of watching parents in this town go ballistic over school boundaries-there is going to be an epic hissy fit by many parents when the district finally has to come to terms with re-drawing the boundaries and/or sending kids to a new school. Parents in this town feel they must send their kid to the elementary school they want them to go to, regardless if it's too crowded. Just wait until they want to send Gunn students to Paly to alleviate crowding-parents will argue they bought here specifically to send their kids to Gunn. And those of you who want to open a third high school (not that I don't understand the desire), you must be joking if you think competitive Palo Alto's college-obsessed parents are going to send their kid to a brand new school with no reputation or track record of achievement scores? Think again.

Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 7:41 pm

My best guess would be to re-open Greendell, transfer Hoover to the Greendell site and rebuild Hoover with new classrooms for a regular neighborhood elementary school. A neighborhood elementary school at Hoover could then take the overflow from Fairmeadow, Palo Verde, and El Carmello.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Regarding the kids clubs - I'm sure they are used during the day, but I'm not sure PTA meetings should take precedence (which could take place elsewhere, most of the schools my kids have been at used the library after school). Music lessons and teacher conference should/could be in the classroom. (And in 15 years, I've never been to a teacher conference during school hours anyway, they have all been after school.) All our schools have a MP room of some kind, also available for band practice.

I doubt there will be enough need for 11 Young Fives programs, so perhaps it could be located at whatever school has enough other flex space.

Maura - I agree if we tried to open a random 3rd high school we would have an issue. But if we opened an IB program or something modeled after Summit/Everett parents would be less reluctant. I'm not sure we really need a 3rd high school anyway.

Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 9, 2011 at 9:21 pm

@ Maura:

You mention sending Gunn students over to Paly to alleviate overcrowding.

I don't think this will happen any time soon. This year, there were a number of middle school students going on to Gunn as freshmen who requested to go to Paly instead and were turned down. They were not allowed to transfer to Paly and had to go to Gunn. (Some Gunn bound freshmen were able to transfer but a number were turned down)

Posted by carlito waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 9, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Do I hear how many more parcel tax increases?

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 12:02 am

Hi Maura,
I don't think opening the third high school has to be as stressful as all that. Cubberley is in a central location. It could be opened as a choice school, many people have suggested this for years.

If it were even a moderately attractive choice, there would be a waiting list for the program as there is for every other choice school in this district. It would be a Palo Alto school with Palo Alto curriculum and standards, and it would be smaller -- some people would choose it just for that. School administrators would then have the luxury of total control of the size of all three schools, because they could adjust the enrollment of Cubberley accordingly, and take kids from both areas. Probably a lot of kids would come from near Cubberley so they could attend school in the neighborhood (as happens with other choice schools).

There was a survey of high school kids at Gunn and Paly, that didn't even suggest a choice program where they could get something extra, it simply asked if they would be willing to go to Cubberley if it reopened, and even then when it was presented as a separate regular school, at least 15% said they would. It would be more if it were an attractive choice school. Even at 15%, we'd already have enough to make Cubberley an optimally-sized school (within the size range that is optimal for a high school), and make Gunn and Paly a more optimal 1400-1500 each.

No boundaries would have to be redrawn, and everyone that went to Cubberley would have chosen to be there. District administrators get control of the school sizes -- despite unpredictable enrollment swings -- that they can only dream of now. Everyone wins. Even the neighborhood wins, as I remember the real estate around Terman jumping suddenly in value way out of proportion with area real estate when Terman reopened as a school (it was huge, like 20% or more, I remember, we were looking in the neighborhood).

And, if the district looks seriously at this option now, it's not too late to reallocate funds that are going to pay for extra buildings and more expensive multistory construction at Gunn and Paly to renovating Cubberley. Everybody wins, and it's much more strategic. And no arguments over boundaries.

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 12:10 am

palo alto mom,
We do need a 3rd high school, and we need one now.

Educational research shows a lot of negative effects when schools reach a certain size. Schools are optimally sized between 600 and 1500 students, and we've been within that range for most of our existence. But over 2100 students, quality can really drop. There are huge systemic challenges to the social environment. Right now, we're planning to use Measure A funds to make Gunn and Paly larger, up to 2500 students each, when we have the opportunity to spend probably the same construction money and make three more optimally-sized schools.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2011 at 8:10 am

Another parent - The Measure A funds that are currently slated to improve Paly and Gunn are not going to be reallocated to a third high school. Both schools need upgrades having little to do with increased enrollment. Additional elementary space is a current need, the high schools are big, but manageable. I suspect to really open another school, we would need another bond.

Posted by ConcernedMom
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 10, 2011 at 8:19 am

I read all the wonderful parents suggestions regarding opening a 3rd high school instead of investing into expansion. But learning from EDM experience, when we all talked but were unable to change anything due to the luck of parental voting, is there anything we can TRULY change? After all, we all are tax payees, supporting our schools. As talented as our parents community is, we need a direction to unite and push the idea that instead of 2500 students with all the consequences of the overcrowded schools, why not open the 3rd one and use bond money? Looking for a LEADER to unite parents and not just discuss it among ourselves...
PS. New development, rent houses - why not REALY CHECK the residence? I know a few families who rent fir a first couple month of school year. How often is that checked? Once a year every 5th year the most?

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2011 at 9:24 am

Many of the upgrades our high schools are getting have NOTHING to do with increased enrollment and everything to do with old buildings. Adding some space is a benefit, but a lot of what we are doing is needed whether the high schools stay the same size of grow.

ConcernedMom - the District will follow up on checking residency IF you turn someone in. You can do so anonymously. The District Residency Officer's number is (650) 329-3700 ext. 7385

If there are people who really feel so strongly about needing a 3rd high school - how about a Charter School?

Posted by it's not rocket science
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 10, 2011 at 10:12 am

Yeah, I don't get this either. All we ever see from parents on this forums is complaints? If you don't like the teaching, materials, etc.; leave the district!

Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 10, 2011 at 11:02 am

Odd. Less than 2 years ago the district voted to open (and then not open) Garland. Web Link

Now, they want to study it again? Maybe this is why the district is in a financial crisis to start with. They spend all of their time studying things and by the time the study is over, things have changed or have gone past the breaking point.

Posted by Reporting non-resident students
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 11:48 am

Concerned Mom, if you know of people who are scamming the district by renting for only a couple of months to establish "residence", be a responsible citizen and help your school district identify scofflaws. Citizens are supposed to cooperate and report criminals. Do your duty. Call the PAUSD Attendance Office 329-3700 and report what you know.

If you aren't doing your duty as a citizen, then don't complain that the district isn't identifying these people fast enough to satisfy you. Evidently, you aren't concerned enough to help the district do something about the problem. Be a good citizen, not a whiner.

Posted by bj
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Based on all the demographic growth information, it really seems beneficial to have space at Garland come on line in 3 years no matter what it becomes . One crazy idea I've not seen yet: It could be part of the Jordan middle school taking the 5&6 graders from the North and West clusters, freeing up elementary space and middle school space. Similarly one could make Hoover 5 & 6 next to JLS. Direct instruction would have to move, but there's old JCC space at Cubberley which is set up to take commuter traffic. Don't know how to duplicate this at Terman though.

Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Another Parent, Palo Alto Mom and Concerned Mom: If you want your children to attend high school in buildings that are not up to earthquake standards for schools and with asbestos and lead paint; send your own kids to Cubberley, but don't anticipate that other parents will want to transfer their kids to such a deteriorated and rundown facility.

The School District has already said many times, if Cubberley is to be reopened as a Middle or High School, it will have to be torn down and rebuilt to modern earthquake standards for schools, and that will required another huge bond measure.

Also, 2,500 students in a high school is not a large high school. Los Angeles has high schools with over 5,000 students in them; now that is a large high school.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 10, 2011 at 1:39 pm

bj - you are right on in your thinking. Garland doesn't come back to us for 3 years. The staff recommendation was solely asking the board to call in the lease just so they have the option to think about what to do with Garland. If they don't recall the lease by June, the next window is December 2011 for a termination in December of 2014. There are so many uses for that site. They just need to think outside of the box.

Maybe the 6th graders move out of the middle school at JLS and Jordan and onto Garland and Hoover's sites if those are neighborhood or mixed choice schools. Maybe Hoover moves to Greendell, making the Hoover/Old Ohlone site neighborhood school space for the south. Maybe Garland houses MI and partial neighborhood students making room at Ohlone for neighborhood kids or just more Ohlone students. There were only 23 new slots open at Ohlone this year after siblings were enrolled. Just ridiculous. There are just so many options but they have to get the sites back to be able to think about them.

A very important point was reiterated to me this morning by another parent. All three north elementary schools are over-enrolled from what they should be. Each school was built for 3 strands or less. They are all at 3 or 4 strands currently, with some board members threatening 5 strands at Hays if something doesn't change drastically with our space issues. Garland can take lots of neighborhood kids even if it's not a full 3 or 4 strand neighborhood school just to alleviate the pressure on the north.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Concerned Mom,

I called the district attendance office several years ago (anonymously) and reported a family who was living elsewhere and renting out their small PA home. In fact, I left a voicemail of the name of the child and did not speak with anyone. Shortly thereafter, the family had to move back into their PA house for their children to continue attending PAUSD. The district is following leads - they just need the leads to follow. I think there are hundreds of students who do no live in Palo Alto 24/7, as per guidelines.

Report those cheaters, please: (650) 329-3707 or [email protected]

Posted by Grandma
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:13 pm

The problem with Garland is its location. When the School District wanted to reopen it as an elementary school to alleviate overcrowding parents in both North and South Palo Alto said they did not want their children crossing either Oregon Expressway or Embarcadero to attend.

The answer to this problem would be to make the Garland site the alternative open school where most children are driven to school anyway, and keep the present Ohlone site as a neighborhood elementary school.

Isolating the 6th Grade at both the Garland and Hoover sites would never fly in this community; the BDofE and Administration know this.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm

If you look at the projects at Paly, you'll find that they are trying to replace all of the portables with real classrooms. Further they are trying to improve the arts programs by building modern facilities for both media and performing arts.

There won't be any empty classrooms waiting for the 600 (supposed) extra students to arrive (current Paly population is 1850).

Beyond the above projects, they would make Haymarket safe and usable again, do the same for Paly's historic Tower Building and then continue to improve the PE facilities.

Posted by Waht about moving PSF & Young Fives?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm

How about putting PSF and expanded Young Fives at Garland? These pre-K programs might have more schedule flexibility to work around the big traffic surges at Jordan--an increasing problem as the middle school enrollment is going to grow. Traffic is a BIG problem on the streets near Garland and Jordan.

Open Greendell as a neighborhood elementary school. No more choice schools in south Palo Alto. We already have taken more than our fair share of choice schools. We need a new NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL!

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 10, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Grandma - where do you think the kids in the Garland area go to school? We already have to cross Embarcadero to get to a school. Either Hays or Duveneck. It's a given. Most kids have to cross some busy street whether it's Embarcadero, Middlefield, or Charleston. It's just a matter of not having enough schools for the neighborhoods.

Posted by One Gunn Mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Gunn has 30 portables that wil be replaced with real buildings. They used to be in the back by Miranda but now they are in the parking lot. They are all 15-20 years old and have outlived their useful life. This would have to be done even if the school size stayed the same as it is now. Money for this cannot be redirected to a 3rd high school. PALY had earthquake issues with the main building and the theater. Rebuilding these 2 schools is not a luxury.

Posted by Just the facts, please , ma'am.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 11, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Erin, please support your argument with facts. Bet you can't.

Hyperbole is not helpful. "Most kids?" Really? How many?

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 11, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Web Link

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