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Palo Alto school board debates new elementary location

Original post made on Apr 10, 2013

While agreeing Palo Alto must open a new elementary school, members of the board of education differed Tuesday on how much more information they need before deciding to locate it on San Antonio Avenue near the city's southern border or at the old Garland school site on North California Avenue.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 9:51 AM

Comments (25)

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Translation time:

MI parent--the program's a mess, this way we can hide out at Ohlone and not have to face what a mess it is.

Her comments are odd, no? She's not arguing that MI's a successful program, but one that's on ongoing life support.

Clue to MI supporters--ever considered the fact that the program's not working *because* it's at Ohone? That the MI/Ohlone mash-up doesn't really work and parents from China (i.e. the ones with native Mandarin speakers) know it's not what they need to make their kids competitive in the real world.

More translations:

Baten-Caswell: move it and let's never reopen Garland because even though it's an excellent location for an elementary, we *love* the money.

Note to Baten-Caswell--you're a school district, not a landlord. Education takes priority.

Mitchell, Tom and Townsend: We're spineless. Ken, tell us what to do!

Yeesh, no *wonder* we have ongoing issues. This is such an easy one--our schools are overcrowded, growth is in the south and we have a site. I get debating what *kind* of elementary it should be, but planning to opening a 13th elementary is a no-brainer.

Dear wimps of the school board, I BLAME YOU for the fact that we have elementary schools with 500-600 kids.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I am disappointed that this is another thing our boe can't get on with quickly.

I agree with some of your points, Ohlonepar, but not about Melissa BC being more interested in income from Garland than anything else. I agree that I am surprised with her comments, but think you are wrong as her motives. She is usually well rounded and this sounds out of character for her, imo, so what her real reasoning is is beyond me.

I think that Greendell is a better location than Garland because I think that elementary kids crossing Oregon is a bad idea. Although Middlefield is still hard to cross, at least it has a 25 speed limit and is also close enough to San Antonio intersection and Charleston center that it is generally much harder for traffic to speed along Middlefield at that location.

I particularly like your summing up sentence, particularly in light of the AAAG's findings several years ago which were completely ignored.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Whichever school is opened, (appropriate, logical)neighborhood attendance areas should take priority over choice programs that benefit the few. I think the choice programs should be eliminated in fact.

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Posted by Sheri
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2013 at 5:33 pm

What about the recommendations for the Cubberley site? If an elementary school is (re)opened at Greendell, will people object to a community center and future high school adjacent to it?

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Posted by Erin Tuomy Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm

OhlonePar, I agree with your comments 100%.

The school district needs to act now and program later. They have waited long enough and our class sizes and school sizes are at the max. Just make a decision and don't be scared that it's the wrong one or the right one. Any new classroom space will be a gift to our kids at this point.

Of course they aren't opening Garland because of the money. That was their reason in 2009 and it's their reason now. Unfortunately, they don't yet realize that they'll have to open both schools by the time the first one is built and ready!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I think that in 2009 they wanted the rent but at that time they didn't have the San Antonio site. If it was purely money then they are getting money from that site at present. I have no idea of the respective rents, so I could be wrong.

Not sure about Heidi, at this stage is anyone, but Melissa BC is the only other who I think would put education first rather than money. I think she is tuned in much better than the other three. Melissa wasn't on the boe at the time of the AAAG, but they certainly had money on their mind since way back when.

But, yes, get on with it and start working on Middle and High school issues before the present kindergartners get there.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I don't have a big problem with Melissa Baten-Caswell, but the comment does bother me--particularly given what happened with Garland a few years back. Part of that huge bond issue we voted on a few years back included money for bringing Garland up to code.

While I agree that crossing Oregon is a problem, families in the triangle between Oregon and Embarcadero are already crossing Embarcadero. Garland actually would be a good spot to have taken an immersion program and then provided a walkable school to people in the triangle.

As for the rent situation, at the time of the Garland discussion, the JCC preschool hadn't moved. Right now, I believe, part of the Greendell site is not being used, while part of it houses Preschool Family and Young Fives, the daycare site is an addition to that. I'm guessing that Preschool Family isn't a big revenue stream, since it's part of the adult school, while Young Fives is a district program.

anonymous, you really want to take the 20 percent of district kids in choice programs, close all the programs, reopen the schools as neighborhood schools and then redistribute all those kids?

I think the citizen's committee's proposal is a good one--one of the more thoughtful ones I've seen come down the pike. Doesn't mean it's perfect. It's worth looking at growth patterns and seeing which immersion program, if either, belongs there.

Honestly, if it were me, I'd move Spanish immersion, as it's a well-established functioning program and shut down Mandarin since it's not cutting it and Mandarin classes in the private sector are widely available and affordable.

But we know the district doesn't have the guts to ask the tough questions, and so Mandarin staggers on, with some of its staunchest supporters admitting it needs ongoing help.

So much for PACE's original idea that if Palo Alto had Mandarin Immersion all the districts would then start MI programs.

Re: Cubberly. I don't think it's going to be turned back into a full-size high school all that soon, though we need a third high school. Greendell is actually a separate, though adjacent site, so when and if it happens, both school sites can (and have in the past) simultaneously operate. Particularly given the additional acreage from the daycare site.

I really like the idea of establishing a smaller high-school program at Cubberly, such as an IB program.

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Posted by Eric
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 10, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Hypothetically... if Garland were still open today, would we choose to close it to bring in a tenant for more money? It's a nonsensical choice.

The board really needs to consider the value of school locations that allow more children to walk to school. How many children would be able to walk to 525 San Antonio Rd?

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Posted by Patricia
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 12:49 am

I'm fine with keeping Garland as a rental. I live near Garland and it seems to work well - no conflicts with Jordan's schedules, not too many cars. If Garland were reopened as a neighborhood elementary (or worse, a choice school) Louis Rd. would be backed up as Charleston/Arastradero is in the mornings. Garland would pull a good portion of students from South Palo Alto. No one is going to have their child bike or walk across Oregon Ex.

Greendell should be a choice school since it is an ideal commuter school and Ohlone should return to a neighborhood school.

Better yet, change all schools back to neighborhood schools.

Not surprised MI is failing - there are too many after-school Mandarin programs around. People send their children there as extra daycare after school.

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Posted by Jerky
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

Everyone that says Ohlone's MI program is failing, where you getting this info from? Was there an article recently or something?

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Posted by Tanya
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

The PAUSD brought the issue of opening Garland up to the Midtown community. Meetings were held and Garland was very acceptable to parents. The Garland boundry would have included Midtown areas.
Why is the School District now going to another demographic, committees, and re-doing the meetings and decision?

Oregon Expressway is slated for Safety Improvements to the whole expressway. It is counter intuitive to say that Oregon is to be unsafe with Safety Improvements embraced by many of the immediate residents and endorsed by the Oholne working group for the Oregon Expressway Safety Improvement plan.

Safety improvements make crossing safer. Is anyone against kids crossing safer?

Kids on bikes cross Oregon on the Bryant Bike Blvd. on their way to PAly and isn't it the same issue if kids from N. of Oregon want to reach a hybrid school by bike to San Antonio?

It seems some promoting schools on San Antonio are using Oregon as an issue. While ORegon is a safety upgrade.

Kids cross at El Camino Real, Churchill Railroad tracks, San Antonio Road without safety improvements so why change a school boundry for a road that is being improved. It seems there are other unspoken issues here. Parents can get their children to school safely as some have assured at public meetings, and they make those decisions. Not all parents participate or feel safe having their kids on bikes on the road for school commutes either.

It just plain makes sense that if the County creates a Safety Improvement plan Oregon Expressway Roadway will be safer. Who can be against a safer road and a school boundry locals endorsed already.

Those that live within the affected boundry are involved, let those individuals make the decision. They have spoken already.

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Posted by Patricia
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 11:40 am

Tanya, you are comparing elementary school children to high school students. Big difference in judgement. You may feel that "safety improvements" can alter OrEx to be safer, but the general parent population might disagree. OrEx is a cut-through street and red lights are run by drivers often. Unless they put ticketing cameras on OrEx, no one is going to slow down.

I read that 2/3 of the students attending Garland would be from South Palo Alto. It only makes sense to open an elementary in South Palo Alto since new housing continues there.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

There will be no need for kids to enter the San Antonio site from San Antonio. That will be primarily a vehicle entrance.

The kids from south Palo Alto on bikes and foot will enter from Cubberly through Greendell. That is the beauty of having two entrances. QED

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 11, 2013 at 5:56 pm


I know people in the program and what the on-ground reports of the program are--letting go a teacher every single year. Word gets out and there's some confirmation in the above article with an MI parent being quoted as saying the MI program would fail if it were moved from Ohlone.

Believe me this is a far cry from the original dreams of PACE--a multi-strand MI program with its own school. The fact that MI parents are fighting a move to a site where there might be potential for growth (no possibility at the overcrowded Ohlone site) is quite telling.


Ohlone wasn't a neighborhood school. The Ohlone program took over a closed school site at a time when the district was selling off and closing a third of its elementary school sites. If Ohlone hadn't moved into the site, it probably would have been sold the way several other sites were--turned into housing and parks. Currently the site is very, very used and serves more kids than it would as a neighborhood school.

As for reopening Garland and traffic--there's currently a school there and it's pretty much ALL commuter, so I doubt that there would be a dramatic difference in traffic. Might even be less since it would be a walkable school for the Triple El and Garland neighborhoods.

The one argument I've heard made against reopening Garland as an elementary that makes some sense to me is that Jordan is overcrowded that the Garland site should be considered as a middle-school extension.

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Posted by Ohlone MI parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Apr 12, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Its interesting to read all this discussion/opinion about viability of MI that is NOT written by an MI teacher, parent, student or the Ohlone Principal himself. OMI is actually a very wonderful program in my view (and still developing of course, at 5 years in. Some teacher turnover on par with usual attrition). It actually has a wait list longer than Hoovers (not just of Ohlone hopefuls- most of us in the program I've spoken with would have had great difficulty compromising on the absence if either component - language or teaching philosophy).

Don't take my word for it, watch the board video yourself - The MI comments in the above article are taken out of context, she was saying the district created an Ohlone MI program not just an MI program. Thus, if you move this by itself to a hybrid school (part neighborhood) there would be the tension if maintaining open philosophy, language immersion while also trying to integrate with what the neighborhood school culture is yet to be. This would also be a difficult tension for SI - by kill the program it seems what is meant is 'changed beyond what we signed up for'. Thankfully the board appears to value preserving programs more than the committee did.

Whatever you believe, I hope that true to the Ohlone way (as well for the larger PAUSD community) we can each take the time to educate ourselves on the facts and lets have a learned discussion about what best serves our community going forward.

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Posted by glass half full
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 3:39 pm

@Ohlone MI parent,

" It actually has a wait list longer than Hoovers"

I don't understand this. If it has such a longer wait-list, why doesn't it have the full 24 students in the 4th/5th grades?
I also don't understand the lack of Tinsley students in the program. Are they being actively dissuaded from joining/continuing?

The program, obviously from the outside, appears to have some serious issues given that there are so few kids in it - less than one full class per year. When other programs/schools are overflowing, it doesn't sound like a successful program.

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Posted by Ohlone MI parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Apr 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Dear glass half full -
you said "The program, obviously from the outside, appears to have some serious issues given that there are so few kids in it - less than one full class per year. When other programs/schools are overflowing, it doesn't sound like a successful program"

The truth - taken from the Student Directory 2012-2013 published at the beginning of the school year (FYI: all Ohlone english and mi strand classes are K/1, 2/3, or 4/5 clusters):

K/1 - 2 classrooms of 22 children each
2/3 - 2 classrooms of 22 children each
4/5 - 2 classes of 19 children each (remember this is the first year we even had 5th graders, given the programs age).

PAUSD published limits on enrollment are a max class size of 22 for K and 1, 23 for 2 and 3, 24 for 4 and 5.

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Posted by glass half full
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2013 at 7:08 pm

@Ohlone MI parent,
So you agree with my statement that you have 19 in 4th and 5th grade where nearly every other 4/5 grade in a very large district has 24 students. Don't you see the problem here? 30% of your grades are you can't attract the full complement of students. You claim that this is the first 5th year, yet your 4th grade also only has 19 students. If they can't attract a full class, it's not going to happen next year.
Only one program stands out with this issue. How does that match your claim that "Ohlone MI has a longer wait list than Hoover"?
You also neglected to address the lack of VTP students in the program. Are they being dissuaded from choosing the program?

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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Glass half full and Ohlone MI parent -

The small class sizes in grades 4-5 for Immersion programs has been an ongoing problem (or benefit if you are in an Immersion program) for many years. The Escondido SI program has had much smaller classes in 4-5 for a long time. The problem with any Immersion program is that students need to be fluent in the Immersion language AT GRADE LEVEL to enter the program after I believe 1st grade.

I assume the lack of VTP students in MI is simply because they have not asked to be part of the program. Again, not too many kids are fluent in Mandarin (which is ideally supposed to be 1/3 to 1/2 of the class).

Other Palo Alto choice programs - Ohlone, Hoover, even the Connections program in middle school - do not have any restrictive requirements that prevent students from joining after they are 6 or 7.

In addition to opening up space at both Ohlone and Escondido, moving the Immersion programs out of non-language elementary schools would eliminate the exclusion felt by many of the non-language kids at the schools (my kids have lots of friends that attended Escondido who REALLy resented the SI kids, partly because the kids lorded their priveleges over them and partly because they were severely restricted in the mix of kids in their classrooms because there were only a few non-SI strands. It would also allow the principals to run only one school and one PTA, etc. at the school site.

Ohlone is a lovely school site, I can understand why MI parents would like to keep the program there. But I can't believe that project based learning is essential to learning Mandarin.

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Posted by Ohlone MI parent
a resident of Ohlone School
on Apr 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm

glass half full - there are 23 4th graders divided between the two 4/5 classes (the classes are a MIX of 4th AND 5th graders IN EACH ROOM).

Anyway, it's common knowledge to the city council that Ohlone MI has a wait list. People want their kids to go here, it's not a failing program.

it's a great question you ask about Tinsley, I don't know the answer.

palo alto parent - was thinking the same re attrition/competence needed in the upper grades of any language program, and it's interesting to see some numbers about SI too. Thank you for offering this perspective.

RE MI at Ohlone - It is true that open philosophy is not essential to an MI education per se. There are programs elsewhere which do not use this model. However, our district created a provisional MI program at Ohlone 5 years ago, and changed it to a non-provisional program 2 years ago. Parents applying to OMI each year are asked to make an active commitment to embracing the Ohlone Core Values and educational philosophy (writing an essay and signing on to it, literally). Had they created it in another kind of teaching environment it would have been a different program, and would likely have draw different parents/children to it.

The matter that faces us now is that the board needs to determine which site and program to put at the 13th elementary school. In seeking input from the community, they stipulated in their direction to the 13th elem school committee that they evaluate suitability of site/program based upon a set of values - one of which was "preserving programs". The parents of OMI spoke up at the school board meeting to point out the value that this program at this site has for us - taking issue with the committee's assessment that you can pull MI or SI out of their current locations and have no differential effect on the programs when compared to opening a new neighborhood school or moving a whole choice program intact to the site (the principle of Escondido, who was also on the committee, raised this issue as well). Of course, This is just one of MANY issues that face the board in deciding which site to open - I hope by continuing to respond to try to correct misinformation being propagated here that I have not created so much stir around this that we forget there are other important issues with this site selection. For instance, Palo Alto parents have expressed important concerns about unpredictable overflow to other schools and school boundary issues . I hope each of you with a perspective to share will come to the next board meeting and let your opinion be known (or write a letter! They accept them before each meeting and will place them in a special section of the agenda).

It's not really relevant, but I actually find the commute to Ohlone to be a pain, and would find our equally lovely neighborhood school more attractive had we been offered the same opportunities there. We're willing to endure the inconvenience because open education with a language program is THAT worth it to us.

Take care everyone, and have a great weekend.

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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I think it's worth noting that the advisory committee had more than one Ohlone parent on it (I believe it was three) and that same committee recommended moving an immersion program to Greendell. I think that speaks volumes about just how integral (not) MI is to Ohlone. After a brief flurry of volunteerism during MI's first year, MI parents have pretty much slipped into their own MI-centric orbit while the vast bulk of parental volunteering, outside the Lunar New Year celebration, is done by Ohlone-main parents.

Demand for MI is seriously skewed--i.e. there aren't nearly enough native speakers applying. And it's a little skewed to compare the waitlist for two-thirds of a strand (i.e. the native English speaking chunk) to the demand for spots at a full-sized school. Though if one must, it's worth noting that the big demand for any of the choice programs is for Ohlone's.

But, anyway, back to the attrition issue with MI. The 19 kids in each of the upper grades is a little misleading--the program lost a chunk its first year and was able to pull from its original waitlist for kindergarten. (There have also been a couple of cases of Mandarin-speaking kids who did enter the program late.) The 19-kid classes represents further attrition issues.

Anyway, it's darkly amusing to me how much affection MI parents have for the Ohlone way, given how big a strain the program has put on the school and how many families who wanted into the Ohlone program didn't get a chance *because* MI usurped Ohlone's approved half-strand expansion. I suppose what it comes down to is that the immersion portion of MI is so half-assed that the Ohlone aspects of Ohlone MI are the best things about the program.

Ohlone served as an incubator for MI because PACE threatened a charter--now it's time for the program to stand or fall on its own merits. If it can't maintain its own staffing, deal more effectively with attrition *and* show that it's meeting its language goals, it has no business taking up the energy and space that it does. It clearly doesn't meet an actual need in the community.

Oh, and "taking things out of context" is always sort of a last bastion defense. You'd never make that kind of comment if the program was flourishing. Indeed, if it were *flourishing*, you'd want the new site where there'd be a possibility of expansion--something that's not going to happen at a 600-kid school with a long waitlist for its main program.

Actually, I'm not sure MI's earned a spot at Greendell.

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2013 at 4:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by The Ohlone Way at work
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

This recommendation needs some more consideration. It would be nice if the affected neighborhoods were included this time.

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Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Hoover School

on Jun 6, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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