Timeline set for decision on new elementary school | November 16, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 16, 2012

Timeline set for decision on new elementary school

With school boundaries in the balance, board seeks community input

by Chris Kenrick

Facing the politically fraught prospect of redrawing school attendance boundaries, Palo Alto school officials this week laid the groundwork for community participation in choosing a site for a new elementary school, likely to open by the fall of 2017.

Two possible locations — Garland, at 780 N. California Ave., or Greendell, at 4120 Middlefield Road — have been named by school staff and ratified by the Board of Education.

A yet-to-be appointed advisory committee of school district staff, parents, PTA and traffic safety representatives will meet publicly between January and April, charged with identifying the pros and cons of each campus.

By May, Superintendent Kevin Skelly will recommend one of the sites to the Board of Education, according to a timeline approved Tuesday, Nov. 13, by the board.

The school district's Chief Technology Officer Ann Dunkin and Director of Elementary Education Kathleen Meagher will lead the advisory committee.

The board directed the two to "hold an open application process for committee members."

Palo Alto's enrollment has been on an upward trajectory for more than two decades after falling to a post-Baby Boom nadir of 7,500 in 1989.

Today, with headcount at 12,396, Palo Alto has 12 elementary schools, three middle schools and two high schools.

At its historic high of 15,000 in 1968, Palo Alto had 22 elementary schools, three middle schools and three high schools.

The past decade has seen an annual 2 percent growth, even during the recession, which appeared to surprise school officials.

For more than two years officials have agonized over when new campuses would be needed, employing two separate demographers as well as trying to project trends through regression modeling.

This week Dunkin told the board that adding classroom space to existing sites under the 2008 "Strong Schools" bond measure will accommodate elementary needs through the 2016-17 school year.

Skelly is scouting for a location for a fourth middle school, which officials have said will be needed in the next five years. He said he hopes to find an alternative to school-owned property at Cubberley Community Center in south Palo Alto because that location, near to both JLS and Terman, would severely disrupt existing middle school attendance boundaries.

Capacity at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools is being expanded under "Strong Schools" construction to accommodate 2,300 students apiece, which officials have said will suffice until sometime after 2020.


What are the pros and cons of re-opening Garland or Greendell as Palo Alto's 13th elementary school? Share your thoughts on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.