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New secondary schools proposed for Cubberley site

Original post made on Oct 25, 2015

A school district committee charged with looking at how to better manage enrollment in Palo Alto Unified is making a preliminary recommendation that the district open a new, innovative middle and high school at Cubberley Community Center.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, October 25, 2015, 5:33 PM

Comments (64)

Posted by you
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2015 at 6:33 pm

This is a great idea!!!

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 25, 2015 at 7:08 pm

I'd heard there was some talk about this--an alternative at the middle-school/high-school level would be a great thing.

Posted by A Lums
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2015 at 8:26 pm

I just wanted to share one version of an essay I wrote and sent in various incarnations to people in the district, to the Weekly, to other parents, and READ TO THE SCHOOL BOARD SIX YEARS AGO (before we spent the money we could have used rebuilding Cubberley new on making Gunn and Paly larger and multistory.)

I was, at the time, not the only person to say these things. While I appreciate that McGee is new, and I really appreciate that this committee is finally bringing all these things up again, it's so frustrating being ignored when the input could have a far more beneficial and cost effective impact. (Note I even brought up the u-shaped cost curve versus school size. No response.)


Tonight’s vote will profoundly affect the future of education in Palo Alto, the quality of the education, the social environments of the schools, the kind of community we have, and finally, how well we spend the hundreds of millions in taxes we have voted for ourselves.

Tonight this board votes on whether to proceed with construction on the proposed architectural plan for Gunn High school. Why is this decision so profound? The overriding concern in design and expenditure has been to enlarge Gunn to accept 2300 to 2500 students.

The planners have been working hard on the detailed planning, yet the district has failed to have a dialog with the community about the greater implications of the decisions and whether it is what we want for this community and our kids.

Given their current sizes, enlarging our high schools further will, per the weight of available research, have negative effects on school quality. It will result in millions in planned expenditures just for enlarging the campuses that could otherwise go directly to improving them.

On the issue of cost first:

The need to enlarge Gunn has necessitated new multistory buildings for the extra classroom and administration space. According to a state of California report “Public School Construction Cost Reduction Guidelines”, multistory public school construction is so much more expensive per square foot than single story that it isn’t even worth building up to save land costs.

We already own the land anyway. We only need to build multistory – spending millions extra just to build up – because we are enlarging Gunn and Paly.

On the issue of school quality:
The weight of the educational research evidence argues against these larger-style schools on virtually all important quality measures.

In a Review of Empirical Evidence about School Size Effects, the authors reviewed 59 post-1990 empirical studies on school size and found the trend toward larger schools is not in the best interest of students. Note that the argument for “smaller” does not mean for “very small.” They point out specifically that in districts with secondary schools larger than 2500 students, smaller can mean 1500 students.

Educational research has found that learning suffers in schools larger than 2100 students, even in high socioeconomic status areas. This is important as Gunn High school currently has 1900 students. Per the research, going from 1500 to 1900 students is vastly different than going from 1900 to 2300 or 2500 students.

In a recent Brookings Institution review paper on education policy, the author found “good evidence that it would be optimal to make these schools [that have more than 2,000 students] smaller.”

There is an enormous body of research now on school size, indicating that large-scale schools – on the scale that we are planning to make Gunn – come with negative consequences: they are more bureaucratic and alienating, there is less community and connectedness, more bullying and violence, more discipline problems, lower teacher and student morale, a greater absolute number of teams and clubs yet lower rates of extracurricular involvement per student (as competition for key activities is more fierce), and lower math achievement, greater achievement gap, among other problems. Even operational costs may not be lower in such a large-scale school – educational economists point out that there is actually a u-shaped “cost function” when it comes to school size, it’s not linear.

Although people can make arguments for larger public schools based on a few limited and narrow measures or studies, again, the weight of modern educational evidence argues against our spending money to get larger-scale schools, at least if we care about getting the best educational quality and social environment for our kids for the money we spend.

In recent years, a trend in many districts to deal with the problems of overly large schools has been to set up “schools-within-schools.” Research on them is limited, but they do seem to work when properly implemented. However, implementation is tricky: in order for them to work, they must be fully implemented, i.e., they’re not some kind of informal grouping of kids, schools-within-schools mean actual separate schools. The separate schools may have contractual arrangements to share major facilities like gyms, but each school must have completely separate administration and programs, some research argues convincingly that they must even have separate entrances. We do not have the space or facilities to do this at Gunn and Paly, it would be an inefficient and restrictive way to use those resources.

Which brings me to my last point:

The above Brookings Institution review paper also concluded, “the research on school size lends support to the idea of DIVIDING extremely large schools” [not making them larger] and “The best case scenario is found in a district that owns and can reopen older buildings that have been closed.”

We should be looking at opening Cubberley as a choice school. If we make it an even moderately advantageous program, such as a project-oriented or technology focused high school, there will be more applicants than spaces, as there are with every other choice program in this district.

A choice program would thus circumvent any arguments over redrawing school boundaries, and would allow the district to draw down enrollments at both Paly and Gunn per its discretion. Instead of dealing with growth in a reactionary way – administrators could calmly and completely control the enrollment at all three schools even through unpredictable district enrollment growth in the future.

The board really should, with all due haste and diligence, run the numbers on reopening Cubberley for comparison, since this planning at Gunn has proceeded without a commensurate look at the costs and benefits of reopening Cubberley instead. (There was a high school task force a few years ago. As reported in the Weekly, they ultimately decided they did not have the expertise to answer whether to reopen Cubberley and asked to look at the curriculum instead.)

The language of Measure A amply allows for a project at Cubberley.

Arguments for barreling ahead without dealing with these consequences — to take advantage of the down economy to “save money” – is a shopper’s arguments for buying something expensive that isn’t right just because it (might be) on sale.

And there has been another influence driving this decision, a common problem in government projects: the easy pot of money and the hard pot of money problem. It’s driving decisionmaking that right now the construction money is perceived as easy, and operational money as hard. Although it may be overall cheaper and in our best interest as a community to reopen Cubberley instead of making Gunn and Paly large-scale schools, the perception that this Measure A money is easy and that there might be increased operational costs to opening Cubberley (the hard pot of money) keeps everyone prioritizing spending the construction money. Unless someone can step in to represent the overall interests of the community, this influence will continue to dominate the process.

Do we want to spend the money for ultra large schools in our town, or do we want to keep our schools to an optimal size, per research on what works (and doesn’t)? We’re not even allowed to build a Costco here, why do we want larger and more impersonal schools for our kids? The kids are already under so much pressure, I feel if we want to maintain academic excellence while reducing that pressure and improving community, we should seriously consider opening Cubberley (as a choice school). We would probably save money, too, but we should at least know where we stand.

Planning is relatively cheap to change, construction is difficult and expensive. The District would be negligent if it failed to have this dialog about which direction the community would like for our schools BEFORE putting us irrevocably on one road.

Make no mistake, enlarging Gunn and Paly will have consequences to student achievement and the quality of our schools for decades to come.

Please delay moving forward with this construction until you have this dialog with the community and are sure this is what we really want.

Posted by A Lums
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2015 at 8:35 pm

I'm sure no one on the board remembers my reading this five minutes after I did. But if they are reading it now: Think about the prescience of what I wrote above in context of what the task force is saying now. And then think about what I have been trying to tell you about school environmental health and depression/other health and performance measures, before the (relatively small amount of) money needed to completely fix everything so our kids are as healthy as possible is gone. We were promised better in the facilities bond anyway. don't wait years - the kids deserve better.

Posted by mattie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 25, 2015 at 8:37 pm

More than one, in fact! The summary is simple: People love the elementary schools, then it's downhill in a hurry. [Most of us are smart enough not to confuse the quality of the output with value added.]

My $0.02 is that we somehow forget that our 10-17 year olds need a lot of the same things our 5-10 year olds need. Community, care, sleep, parents, fun, social emotional support, time to run around. With the bloated size of middle and high schools comes depersonalization, lack of the "neighborhood feel," departure parental involvement...

Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:50 pm

Dear A Lums, mattie, Opar, you,

I'm with all of you!

A Lums, thank you for all the care and work that went into you essay; it's a gift to us all.

The proposals for Save the 2,008—also just given the bum's rush by the Board and Superintendent—are exactly in tune with the philosophy for this news school.

Smaller classes; closer student-teacher engagement; a less impersonal environment.

I'd be honored to have you join with the 400 of us, or at least check us out, at


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008 -- creating hope for Palo Alto's high-schoolers

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2015 at 11:13 pm

The goal is logical and noble. But nowhere there is mention of cost.

How much more tax are we talking about?

Will the community be willing to pay for it?

Stanford? Google? Sell some land?

Unfortunately we are all burdened with may taxes from state, county and city, for school, library, BART, VTA, etc., etc. Palo Altans may not be able to afford the new school, which would be sad, of course.

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2015 at 11:21 pm

Measure A was passed only six months ago. I guess Palo Altans are too rich (and busy) to remember that.

Posted by Trim the fat
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 25, 2015 at 11:27 pm

This is an outrage! Our high schools are 1000 students more than the national average?! Yes, open a choice secondary school for all those liberal minded parents. All the Ohlone and JLS Connections kids can attend.

[Portion removed.]

Report the students who are not living in Palo Alto 24/7 because they are cheating by attending PAUSD. Report them anonymously here: Web Link

Posted by m2grs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:13 am

And here is another reason against high-density housing - Parcel Tax.

A high-density lot pays only the same parcel tax, i.e. Measure A tax, as a single family house. But potentially a lot more kids go to school from the high-density lot.

Case in point is the famous BV park. The entire mobile park is one parcel. It pays one ~$800 measure A tax. But more than 100 kids from the park go to school.

Posted by Yes, yes, yes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2015 at 8:50 am

Oh, please, please, least one, please!

Posted by In the numbers
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:08 am

" Our high schools are 1000 students more than the national average?!"

That's a poor comparison since there are a large number of small, rural high schools. The better comparison is mentioned in the article:

"And next to comparable schools in local districts with similar socio-economics and demographics, Palo Alto middle schools are 7 to 20 percent larger (in number of students) and the two high schools, 11 percent larger, according to the subcommittee."

Posted by Yes, yes, yes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:29 am

Our elementary schools are great, but the middle schools are just AWFUL. Many parents take their kids out of PAUSD for that interim.

One of the reasons is that all the middle schools are overcrowded. We could use one more.

The high schools are not much better than the middle schools....many parents put their kids back in the local high schools, then, disappointed, put them back in private schools, wishing they had remained in private schools after middle school.

Everyon knows that the two high schools are insufficient for this district.

Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:46 am

They ought to end the busing program and only allow Palo Alto residents to attend our schools. East Palo Alto isn't even in our county - it's in San Mateo County.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:49 am

What do the Palo Alto Forward and other high density housing people say about space in the schools?

Posted by JLS Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:53 am

While I support the recommendations of the committee and would love to see smaller middle schools and high schools, let's not get carried away. Our middle schools are NOT awful! They are too big, yes, but there are great teachers, great programs, and lots of social and emotional support. They are not perfect, let's try to make them better, but please appreciate what a great job our teachers and principals are doing there.

My kids love JLS.

Posted by JLS Connections Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:14 am

Yes, please open Cubberley as a choice school and let all the Ohlone and Connections kids go there! Maybe a new school would actually have room for ALL the kids trying to get into Ohlone and Connections, instead of just the lucky lottery winners!

And I agree with JLS Parent - my kids love, love, love JLS. That said, a smaller school would be even better.

Posted by Another JLS Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:40 am

I agree with JLS Parent. My kids also love JLS (and they are not in Connections). Stating that all Palo Alto middle schools are universally awful is just plain false. We've had fabulous experiences at JLS with both our kids (not perfect, but overall great). I would send my kids there again in a flat second. We feel lucky to be at JLS. Give credit where credit is due. The JLS Principal and Staff are fantastic!

Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:43 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"A high-density lot pays only the same parcel tax, i.e. Measure A tax, as a single family house. But potentially a lot more kids go to school from the high-density lot."

Is this true? If the property is subdivided into condos, they each should get their own parcel number.

"Case in point is the famous BV park. The entire mobile park is one parcel. It pays one ~$800 measure A tax. But more than 100 kids from the park go to school."

That's because the people in mobile homes did not own their property - they rented it. If it were subdivided into condo ownership, that would be a different scenario. That's why the Jissers have the right to move them out.

What you should be advocating is not "no high-density" housing - it should be advocating for high density condos. The property tax would be greater as a whole for high density condos than a single family home on the same lot.

Posted by More Traffic
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:48 am

As far as opening another Choice School in South Palo Alto? No one seems to discuss the traffic and safety issues. I would be interested to hear what the Palo Alto Safe Route to School program has to say on that topic: how all the new traffic will be managed and how we'll keep our walking/biking students safe with more cars speeding through South Palo Alto to get to Cubberly in the morning.

I notice that North Palo Alto never signs up for choice schools. South Palo Alto has to deal with incoming traffic into Ohlone, Mandarin Immersion, JLS Connections, Hoover and private schools like Challenger/Keys/International school on Cowper, for example. While I understand the need to house more students, South Palo Alto will be the lucky recipient of more cars driving like maniacs in the morning so they won't be late to school . . . what a mess for all the kids who live and walk/bike to their neighborhood schools in south Palo Alto.

Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:04 am

Large high schools like Gunn and Paly are Darwinian. Only the strong survive and that seems to be an ingredient of pride in the survivors and shame in the losers. This is allegedly a democratic institution acting like an elite prep school. Students who need individualized help get lost, unless their canny parents get them into Educationally Handicapped (EH) classes of 1-4 students! I taught at Gunn for over a decade, when the enrollment reached "only" 1300, and it was difficult then. Class size then grew to 40 and it became impossible to reach standard set by the community and myself.

Opening a new high school atCubberley should have happened 10 years ago. There has been lax planning and a tendency to rest on glory and ignore evidence.

Posted by green mom/silvia
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:11 am

Wonderful! Thank you for having listened to the community. I wish that you can overcome quickly all the possible hurdles in the process, so that we will see the new High school in a few years. As you can see, you got an almost unanimous approval! Please keep in mind what is needed: a cooperative learning environment that provides all the things that Mattie listed, where children and youth learn to be successful contributing members of the new society.

Posted by Arts Program
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:29 am

I would love to see an arts "school within the school" program at both existing high schools as well as at the new school. Something like Mountain View/Los Altos district's Freestyle Academy. Or why can't PAUSD share the program the way it already shares Middle College? Everything about this district is STEM which is important but I'd love to see a program my creative, arts-oriented kids could participate in while getting valuable experience for college and beyond. Freestyle Academy is supposed to be amazing in that regard!

Posted by Lottery schools undermine neighborhood schools.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:32 am

The district never learns. If you create another lottery program you will pull out the kids who are talented in design and engineering from the other two high schools. This will not be a good thing. The lottery programs at the elementary school level are a PROBLEM, not a solution.

Let's create another comprehensive high school. Keep the size of all of our high schools reasonable.

Recommended maximum elementary school size is 700. The elem school with the largest enrollment at 510 kids is Fairmeadow (second smallest school site in terms of land mass. That's a problem that needs fixing.)

Recommended maximum size for middle schools it 900 (JLS and Jordan both exceed that this year and we anticipate growth.)

Recommended max size for a high school is 1700 (Paly and Gunn both exceed that this year and we anticipate growth.)

Preserve real choice in the district. Redraw attendance boundaries. Assign all schools an attendance area and give priority to children who live in that area to attend their neighborhood school. Get rid of the REGRESSIVE lottery process. Enable choice at neighborhood schools by allowing them to create "schools-within-their-schools" as other districts do. It's an interesting model that preserves real choice, doesn't exclude people (especially the poor, "unconnected" and families who don't speak English as their first language) as the current lottery system does. It would also preserves the neighborhood cohesiveness that strengthens community by invigorating children's neighborhood and school connections.

Lottery schools give choice only to to the "connected" people who hear about the lottery in time for the deadline. To do this, it is very helpful to speak English or be connected to someone "in the know" who tells you about the process. Then you have to have time to attend a night meeting to learn how to participate in the lottery. Then you have to fill out an application (speaking English helps a lot here, too). "Choice" goes to the people who are connected enough to plug into this process. They are self-selected group of people who are generally well-employed and college educated. This is NOT choice. This is the way the wealthier, better educated parents create a separate community for themselves. Each individual in the community may or may not realize this is what they have done, but it is a regressive process that excludes families who are not "plugged in". This exclusivity is not acceptable in a public school system.

If we want our lowest performing students to do better, we need to desegregate our schools. We can start by eliminating the current lottery process.

Posted by George Jaquette
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

George Jaquette is a registered user.

It is often a mistake to paint with a very broad brush, and one can paint a story with numbers that does not reflect the reality on the ground.
Many middle schools in the US are only 7th and 8th grades, ours are 6th-8th grades. Egan Junior High School next door is two grades and had 559 kids in 2012.
Web Link
The subcommittee found that Palo Alto's secondary schools are also larger than national averages and other local,
comparable schools.
Palo Alto's middle schools enroll an average of 879 students, compared to a national average of 576, according
to the subcommittee.
Santa Rita had 562, Loyola had 575 ... but they are two-year schools. The difference is not as stark when you factor in the sixth grades.
I know many parents who choose to send their kids somewhere else for middle school, notably Castilleja and The Girls Middle School. Those parents make that decision because they believe these other schools provide a better opportunity for their child. But MANY MANY more send their kids to JLS, as we are, and the ones I know well are happy with our kids' experience as new sixth graders.
I only know JLS, but I know many parents who are very happy with the middle school education we are getting today from the great teachers and staff at our middle schools. They have made many efforts to ensure that kids feel welcome and safe, and it is unreasonable to broadly assume that larger schools are worse schools. Districts in the area are considering a move to 6-8 for middle school, and I think we should celebrate how well it is working for us today.

Posted by outisder
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:42 am

why not just open the school and pretend it is a public school that will give fair instruction to all kids. That would be different enough. Also, do not hire only teachers who went to school in pausd, as kids deserve to know about the rest of the world.

There is something very inclusive and friendly about this school site. There is something to be said about a school in the kid's neighborhood instead of another elitist, lottery type school. Good facilities are not as important as a good staff, just make the school safe and not fancy. Kids will remember how they were treated rather than any trendy wall treatment. Some of the school has very funky, funny details that should stay. Great little theatre, nice quad area. why was this school closed?

Posted by stephanie compton
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:43 am

@ Lottery Schools - Could you check your data on elementary school attendance numbers? Ohlone is significantly larger that 510.

Posted by Lottery schools undermine neighborhood schools.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:56 am

Excuse me. I forgot to include Mandarin Immersion (134 students). That makes Ohlone (the largest school site in the district in terms of land mass) 537 students--only 27 students more than Fairmeadow (the second smallest site in terms of land mass).

We can do better for our neighborhood schools. And we should.

Posted by Numbers
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 26, 2015 at 11:59 am

Ohlone = ~607. Escondido ~546. Fairmeadow is the largest non-choice school at 510.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:16 pm

This is good news and many of us have been asking for this for many years.

The thing now is that there will be any number of opinions with good reasoning. I just feel that the work that has been done should continue without bias or special interests getting the opening process to take too long. Don't let this process get bogged down with procedural stumbling blocks and expert studies to make this last to prevent our present kindergartners not reap the benefits.

On top of this, lets get some shuttles to take kids to school and some pressure put on the college board over college application process.

Posted by For Numbers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:51 pm

You have it partly right. Our NEIGHBORHOOD schools in the south and west clusters have become as you call them, "non-choice" schools. We can't get in our neighborhood schools because of overflow problems caused by the presence of choice schools. The uncertainty of families in south PA who can't get into their neighborhood schools forces them to apply to choice schools (whether or not they like the program or "philosophy") because they really want a NEIGHBORHOOD school that's walking distance from home. We have NO CHOICE. That's why we call them "Lottery" programs. They take our neighborhood school sites, taking away our choice to attend a neighborhood school and then create program which they call choice, but you only get access to that choice if you are "plugged in" in time to meet the lottery deadlines AND get lucky in the lottery.

Otherwise, if you live in the south, you are EXCLUDED from your former neighborhood school by people who were "in the know" and lucky in the lottery. No more choice programs in the south, please. Enough is enough.

This is regressive and unfair.

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@PAmoderate - Isn't a parcel tax on the parcel of land? So condominiums split a single tax amongst all the units because they sit on a single parcel of land.

Posted by Lois
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:23 pm

There is a huge problem with what is being proposed. Parents always want their children to attend a school closest to their home, Cubberley is in the furthest south-east corner of the School District, and may not attract students volunteerily.

The last time Cubberley was proposed as a Middle School for those attending Terman there was a huge outcry against it because students from Los Altos Hills and Stanford did not want to be transported across town to school. In fact, at the time, Stanford offered 18 acres of land off Deer Creek Road and Page Mill on which to build a Middle School if Terman was found to be too small.

The PAUSD needs to consult Stanford about the location of any future Middle/High School.

Posted by A Lums
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm

I just anted to make a clarification for those who dont have a lot of background so they dont confuse your point with mine - the $378 million facilities renewal bond which I mentioned in my six-year-old essay above was also Measure A. We subsequently aporoved an operations bond or tax, I believe, also Measure A. We recently approved a supplenental tax, also Measure A. Did I miss any?

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Lois - Because they are talking about Cubberly as a choice program, it really isn't an issue, and would free up some space at the middle schools for those parents who want a neighborhood school.

My question is why it takes 60 million dollars in construction to get Cubberly reopened? The kids there now seem to be using it as-is. If you want another vanity choice program, at least suck it up and do it cheaply. If you want 60 million, open it is a neighborhood school.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Paly and Gunn are hardly "neighborhood" schools and neither are in walking distance of most of the kids who attend them. (Also, Ken Dauber suggested a K-8 school at the Garland site which would take on both immersion programs--so, yes, there have been some suggestions about moving choice programs to the north cluster.)

Cubberly's on Middlefield near both Charleston and San Antonio--it's a logical place for a commuter school. However, given how many people already drive or take the bus to Gunn and Paly, I don't some sudden increase in traffic as a result. Kids in south Palo Alto would actually have a high school in easy walking/biking distance instead of one on the other side of El Camino (or Oregon). It is, after all, the site of Palo Alto's former third high school.

The logical thing with Cubberly, though, is to put a choice program there. Why? Because a lot of people paid a premium to be in the Gunn district--they're going to have issues with being abruptly zoned to a new, smaller school. *Most* families will still want their kids to go to one of Palo Alto's well-regarded high schools, but a smaller school that offers a true alternative is something this district could use. There are kids who don't care about being on a winning sports team, but do benefit from differentiated instruction and project-based learning. There are families that want the depth of a baccalaureate program (both of these are worth talking about, IMO). More to the point, the district expects continued growth at the HS level--so where do we put those kids? Kids who don't find their niche group at Paly and Gunn tend to get lost.

Also, a small pilot program at Cubberly is a lot cheaper than a massive retrofit of Cubberly. It offers some flexibility.

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@opar "Also, a small pilot program at Cubberly is a lot cheaper than a massive retrofit of Cubberly. It offers some flexibility." I agree with this idea, but why are they starting with a 60 million dollar rebuild? What happened to the agile siliconv alley mentality - get a MVP out the door before you demand 60 million and 5 years of construction.

Posted by lissy
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Innovations are so important. And so many people seem to want something a little different i.e. immersion programs or project based programs. It would be great to have an arts program -- or project based -- or trades oriented --

I really like the k-8 model. I do not like including 6th graders in middle school. Most are not ready to become more adult in the ways the campus is set up -- i.e. no play structures -- no balls available to play with -- school dances --- Things can work without them being the "best" choices.

That said: the teachers do an amazing job, mostly, of staying in touch with the kids. Hats off to them.

Posted by Lottery programs impact the south and west clusters
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 3:42 pm

A choice high school at Cubberley will draw a lot of car trips, impacting nearby neighborhoods and school routes that already are impacted by Hoover traffic and Challenger School, and Gideon Hausner Day School, and Connections at JLS.

If the district is going to create any more choice programs, they should disrupt their current lottery model. Give priority to people in the natural attendance boundary of EVERY school in the district to minimize traffic impacts and insure real choice to impacted neighborhoods. Remaining seats can go to others who want them.

The school district should take responsibility for the ongoing transportation costs of mitigating the significant traffic impacts of their lottery programs--because this extra traffic is a choice, not a necessity.

Once again the neighborhoods in the south and west lose. PAUSD takes away their neighborhood school sites, giving them to choice programs, and dumps the traffic from lottery programs on them.

To OPar, it's not hard for a high school student to bike a few miles to school. It takes 13 minutes to bike two miles from my home to Gunn. However, if you put a north PA kid in a program at Cubberley, they'll be unlikely to bike. Some might do it, but most will not.

No more lottery programs.

Posted by A Lums
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I'm confused by the conflicting ideas presented in the article, that PAUSD is overcrowded but also have competition from other educational models and innovative programs. If PAUSD is overcrowded, wouldn't some kids transferring other programs be helpful?

Speaking as one who has transferred a child out for more innovative educational opportunities, building a new school is not the limiting factor. This is such an innovative and energetic community of families. When we made innovative suggestions that would have provided better for the needs of independent learners, cost less, and reduced the overcrowding across the district without requiring new construction, we were told that PAUSD couldn't do that because, basically, too many families would want to do the same. (huh?)

Posted by JLS Connections Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I agree that eliminating the lottery and instead having "schools within schools" is the best way to go - keeping kids in their own neighborhoods would be better and solve a lot of problems. I actually proposed the same thing on another thread some time back.

For what it's worth, a majority of the kids in Connections are already in the JLS draw area (including us), so the traffic impact is not that large, but it is more than zero. Also, by middle school, a lot of kids are biking to school even if they live outside the school's draw area.

If it's possible to open Cubberley as a regular, neighborhood school that would be preferable. There are a ton of kids that are much closer to Cubberley than they are to Gunn or Paly: Fairmeadow, Hoover-local kids, Palo Verde, Ohlone-local kids. I'd much rather send my kids to a closer high school than all the way across town and across big, busy intersections. Also, students shouldn't have to choose between sports and music, or between project-based learning and sports, or between any of the options offered in school.

Finally, the demand for project-based learning is growing because it is very successful, and adding the option to every school should be a priority. It is not only "liberal-minded" parents that want it, it's most parents that have seen it in action and have seen how much more engaged the kids are and enjoy the learning. It works!

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 4:40 pm

My personal feeling is that a choice middle/high school would make little difference to traffic conditions around town. Unlike elementary schools, middle and high school students are more likely to bike or use shuttles - this is apparent even at the two present high schools which are still several miles away for most students and presumably half students at both schools have to cross the Caltrain tracks anyway.

We have high numbers of kids riding bikes to school and having a third high school would obviously make it easier for many students even though it may make it more difficult for others. Many parents choose to drive their kids to the high and middle schools anyway and these parents are likely to do so wherever they students go to school.

By expanding the shuttles to cater for our secondary schools is something that the City should be working on if they aren't doing so already. Some Paly students have no option for public transportation although Gunn does have a better option. Cubberley, being on Middlefield would actually help, causing a "reverse commute effect" for the high schools even though it is relatively close to JLS, Hoover and Fairmeadow. It could also help the South PA area as any teachers who need to drive from highway 101 would be in a shorter surface street commute than Paly, Gunn or Terman.

I think the traffic issue, although worth discussing, is not the big issue about Cubberley.

Posted by resdenttoo
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2015 at 5:43 pm

It is never mentioned and I wonder what is the arrangement between PA and Stanford where schools are concerned. Stanford is adding housing build on Stanford property but kids go to PA schools. It was recently mentioned that over 100 kids are expected to enroll from one of such project. Goes Stanford contribute to the system?

Posted by campus family
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:05 pm

@ residenttoo

Well - I own a home on Stanford campus and my kids - along with a majority of the kids on the surrounding blocks - in go to private middle/high school. A few neighbors were talking about it this summer - and we could come up with about 65 kids in middle and high school, about 38 of them were in private. Within about four block radius of my house I know kids going to Casti, Menlo, Crystal Springs, Sacred Heart, GMS, Harker, Hausner. Lots of carpools going off campus every morning.

Those remaining in PAUSD - from my side of campus - are assigned to Terman/Gunn. I Have no idea what the Paly side of campus is doing.

Also - there seem to be more kids heading off to private elementary than 4 years ago - when my kids were in PAUSD elementary I knew only two families of kids opting out - but now I know quite a few faculty kids heading to St. Raymonds, Phillips Brooks, Sacred Heart, Hausner and a couple are driving up to Nueva.

I'm not writing this to make a value judgement about PAUSD - it's merely to answer the question of another person on this post. Schools are about match. The best school for any child is the one where they thrive. There are problems in the private schools as well as the public schools. it's just a different set of problems. Each family has to decide which set of problems they want to deal with.

As for Stanford West - most of the families there have very young children - and I think the average stay at Stanford West is about 3 years. It's a constant turn over of young kids and parents who are still trying to figure out where to live permanently - I believe public school is the default. Also, some Stanford West units are rented by Google, so it's not accurate to say it's all Stanford over there.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:23 pm

> Stanford is adding housing build on Stanford property
> but kids go to PA schools.

Property owned by Stanford may, or may not, be subject to property taxes. If the property is dedicated to Stanford’s core educational mission, then it is tax exempt (over $7.5B at this time). Properties like Stanford Industrial Park is not exempt—although Stanford does not pay the taxes. The taxes are paid by the companies leasing the properties.

Although the Assessor won’t comment on whether this housing properties will be exempt at this time—it’s a good bet that it will not be exempt, so Stanford will be paying property taxes. Sadly, it’s hard to believe that anyone at the PAUSD will be tracking this assessment.

> Does Stanford Contribute?

By-and-large, no—Stanford does not contribute for the children who live in student housing. Residents who live in the homes they own (Staff)—these people pay property taxes based on their individual assessments. As it turns out—the revenues generated from Staff housing is lower, in the aggregate, than the properties in Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills.

Stanford also made a deal several years ago—called the Terman/Stanford Agreement such that Stanford gave the PAUSD $10M in order to restart Terman. In exchange for this money, the PAUSD promised to never ask Stanford for any more money—in perpetuity.

Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:08 am

SteveU is a registered user.

When I came to Palo Alto in the 60's I lived across the fence from the school parking. I never understood WHY they closed that set of schools and opted for overcrowding other campuses.
Now that they have built high density housing down by Meadow and W Bayshore, having a campus at that end makes a lot of sense and would be fairly easy to get to.

Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:28 am

Re Stanford contributing: Paly, Gunn, Escondido and Nixon are all on Stanford land. See (e.g.) Web Link

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:44 am

Yes -
it should return to being a school (or schools)
It was a school before
It is a wonderful, central location
It needs a lot of financial investment in the property

It should not be an exclusive self-segregating school as in choice or language immersion school

Contrary to what @campus family posts -- I attended Gunn and it was filled with the children of Stanford faculty and staff as well as visiting fellows -- so I don't know what the current percentage/number is of Stanford kids attending PAUSD schools, but they certainly did in the past. If Stanford is building a lot of housing (as up in the old Facebook neighborhood), then it is obvious that numerous children will attend PAUSD schools.

Posted by Cheryl Lilienstein
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:48 am

The intersection between our children's (identified) sense of loss of connection has something to do with depersonalized, overcrowded schools, shuttling children to schools in cars, more traffic and stress for everyone.

This is a great reason to:

1. Press the city council to limit housing growth to a SPECIFIC percentage per year, so that schools can accurately project needs, plan properly, and provide smaller classes for all students

and diminish neighborhood intrusion traffic by

2. Re-committing to neighborhood elementary schools that are small, walkable, and safe from traffic.

Additionally: Shuttling children to non-neighborhood schools does not strengthen children's nor parents' ties to the schools as centers for community building. We need that basic "I know, trust, and love my neighbors" value.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:08 pm

> Re Stanford contributing: Paly, Gunn, Escondido and Nixon
> are all on Stanford land.

Actually, Paly belongs to the PAUSD--due to an eminent domain action during the 1950s.
The land is to return to Stanford if it is not to be used as a school.

Had the PAUSD moved to take Gunn and Nixon when the schools were built, the cost of the land would have been very little to the taxpayers.

Long term costs of educating Stanford students has never been a matter of much interest to the PAUSD--no matter what those costs might be.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

To the issue of PAUSD educating Stanford students, isn't that the obligation of a PUBLIC school system.... to take all comers? And since Stanford is within the boundaries of the PAUSD, is there any more to talk about?

Are my facts wrong? I don't see how a public school system can refuse to take members from its own community, esp. if that community pays taxes.

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Barron Park Dad,

It can't. Stanford has been part of the district (as has a chunk of Los Altos Hills) for a long time. I, for one, am perfectly happy to have Stanford kids in the district--most of them are bright and have parents who value education.

Re: Cubberley. Again, plenty of people bought in South Palo Alto so their kids could go to Gunn. They're not going to look kindly upon being rezoned to a new high school with no record. Also, turning Cubberley into a full-size standard high school all at once will cost way more than $60 million. A smaller choice program isn't about self-segregation, but getting enough families who are *willing* to try something experimental. If, like other PA programs, it's a success, then I expect it will grow. If and when it does so, it seems reasonable to me to push for it to primarily serve kids in the old Cubberley draw area. Indeed (as is the case, by the way, with both Ohlone and Hoover), I expect that families would buy/rent in that area so their kids could attend Cubberley. But only once it's established.

But plenty of families now in the Cubberley draw area (probably most) don't want project-based learning, they don't trust it. Though it's also clear to me that McGee is trying to bring more of that approach to the high schools--such as the independent-research program.

There's a very real question about how to introduce changes in the district where a large minority pushes for them, but the majority doesn't want them. *That* is why the choice programs have been popular.

Posted by JLS Connections Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:01 pm

As a parent who strongly advocates for project-based learning (and we did not go to Ohlone), and would love for my kids to continue their education in that format through high school, I will not send my kids to a school that offers them none of the other high school opportunities, such as music and a full host of electives like the other high schools in the district.

Cubberley should open as a regular high school and every school should offer a project-based strand (or as many as needed as popularity increases) within their own school. JLS now has two Connections strands, and still turned away more than enough for a third. There is no reason each middle school could not offer their own Connections program. And with that many in middle school, it will carry on to high school, again with enough for at least a full strand at each of three high schools.

Forcing kids to choose between project-based learning and all of the other wonderful opportunities in high school will be what causes the "experiment" to fail.

Connections at JLS is no longer an experiment - it is proven and successful and it's time for other schools to start their own programs so kids don't have to commute across town to get access to what every campus should offer.

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@OPar - moving school boundaries is always going to upset people, but tough luck. If the two high schools are overcrowded, a third needs to be opened. When you purchased your home, you bought some land and a house, not a perpetual right to attend a particular school.

Posted by A Lums
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:43 pm

@Connections parent,

Connections is a proven and expanding model, and very popular for good reason. Unfortunately, the commitment to true project-based learning wanes after 6th grade. Only English and Social studies are in the Connections program in 7th and 8th, and they resemble the traditional school more than the true project-based program of 6th grade. Another sign of waning commitment is the sheet parents (used to, don't know if anymore) sign that warned Connections wouldn't be grades-based but would use other grading rubriks than traditional grades, and yet was really a grade-based program by 7th grade.

The only other project-based part of the program is a year-long after-school project kids do in 8th grade. I heard from a lot of parents who wished the district support for Connections extended to keeping the program truly project-based throughout.

I agree that some project-based learning at each high school would be preferable, but unfortunately, that's moving a much bigger mountain than making a project-based choice school available first.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2015 at 6:17 pm

If Cubberly were to re-open as a third (normal) HS, I am sure that those students attending Gunn at that time would be allowed to finish at Gunn - unless they wanted to transfer into Cubberly.

I agree with the idea of having the choice programs at every school. It would be more expensive, but it keeps the kids going to the schools with their neighbors/friends.

Plus a choice school does have its downsides, such as a lack of typical extra-curricular activities...sports and so on. CIF doesn't allow kids from schools with no sports to play for another school, even if in the same school district or city (for example).

Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Slow Down,

Public schools are a whole different kettle of fish than a private-sector start-up. Very different set of requirement and laws--particularly when it comes to building (As I recall, schools have to basically work as earthquake shelters--so lots of retrofitting on Cubberley.) People who voluntarily enter a 6-12 program at Cubberley would be more willing to put up with the changes than families forced to attend because of rezoning.

Yes, you can say "tough luck" to people who bought, but an opt-in situation with neighborhood priority would make for a less combative situation. Since a lot of Connections and Ohlone kids already live fairly near Cubberley, I think the traffic impact could be minimized--extend the Crosstown shuttle past Charleston to San Antonio and increase the morning frequency.That takes care of most of the kids living in the south and north clusters. Doesn't address the West cluster, but I suspect those kids really will stick to Gunn and Paly. (Though a shuttle along Charleston would kill two birds with one stone--south cluster kids could get to Gunn; west cluster kids could get to Cubberley) As the kinks get worked out of Cubberley's project-based learning approach, I suspect we'll see more project-based learning at Paly and Gunn and Cubberley will become a de facto neighborhood school.

But in order to get a program started at Cubberley, I think starting it as a choice program that's already popular at the lower-school levels is a good idea. Get families who are willing to be early adopters.

Posted by JLS Connections Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2015 at 8:06 pm


Why do you assume it would be more expensive to have choice programs at each school than to dedicate a whole school to choice programs?

I think a lot of Ohlone and Connections parents will not opt for a high school that is not a full high school. I certainly would not go for that even though Cubberley is much closer for us.

I hope the district thinks hard before opening a sub-high school. Spend the money opening a 3rd, full high school and start up project-based based strands at each school. Schools already have the infrastructure, training some of the teachers to teach from a project-based approach is not that big of a deal.

Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 28, 2015 at 12:22 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@OPar - How does PAUSD get away with renting out the Cubberly buildings to nursery schools and language schools and after school programs if they are seismically unsafe?

Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2015 at 11:54 am

Just hire a good construction company and good teachers and stop all the discussions. This needs to be a regular public school. There are too many choice schools and not one normal school. I am sick of all the parents who think their kids need special diets and special programs to survive and thrive. Regular students should get the choice to just have a standard ca public school education. Kids want good instruction and want to have teachers that will care. All this nonsense and labeling just to get this is wasting time. Hire professional teachers that are skilled at instruction and the skill of teaching and get an administrator that will listen and talk to parents without two law firms in her purse. call it the Normal School. make sure it has well rounded programs so and artsy kid can also be a mathy kid if they happen to change their mind about a career at 14. Parents have to hover at the other schools- wouldn't it be awesome to just send a kid to school without worrying if a teacher is teaching to standards or not.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2015 at 2:56 pm

@outsider, congratulations for your sensible, direct approach as indicated by your post.
I am with you, but you KNOW they will never get this going without lengthy studies and consultants, new committees, charities, lobbying by special interest groups.
I also like your idea of knowledgeable teachers TEACHING (as some do, of course) rather than defaulting to fad schemes, groups, online education, special dispensations for some, curriculum that spirals, use of electronic media and so on.
Never mind passing students when they can't even pass the CAHSEE (so get rid of this low-bar test), as the State of California recently did, granting high school graduation to a raft of California kids who didn't earn it. But - that isn't a Palo Alto problem.
I think back fondly on my teachers who had great subject knowledge (whatever the subject!), spoke/lectured in a direct, clear fashion, and who added in some special character/features of their own. I am glad we don't have to deal with the dreadful Common Core and EveryDay Math of today. Whew. A good teacher can teach even an unpalatable subject if permitted to get ahead with it. I fear the multi-level bureaucracy of the public school system is beyond reform at this point.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2015 at 2:57 pm


Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2015 at 7:35 pm

Slow Down,

I didn't say Cubberley was seismically unsafe, but it's not considered to be up to current standards for public school construction--same with the other PAUSD properties that are leased to private schools.

And, no, I don't get it either--seems like a bit of a construction boondoggle to me. I just remember it from when Measure A was on the table and the budget for retrofitting of Garland, currently being used as a private school, to become a public school again was in an insane amount (though the newest reports says that Garland could be used as is in a pinch . . .), things like $100K for replacing windows.

By the way--any choice programs have to be cost neutral--which is why Ohlone, for example, raises tens of thousands annually to maintain the Farm.

The project-based learning idea for a high school is under discussion because a couple of different groups of parents and educators have approached the district about it. You want a normal neighborhood high school? Get together a group, show motivation and approach the district. Make an argument as to why re-opening Cubberley as a traditional high school is to the district's benefit.

Project-based, by the way, doesn't mean dismissing the standard curriculum. Teachers like it because it gives them more independence in *how* to teach a subject, but the subject will still be taught.

Posted by Middle School Parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 29, 2015 at 5:38 pm

I couldn’t agree more with the JLS Connections Parent. I would much prefer to see project-based learning rolled out to all the schools, as she/he mentions. I’d rather see Cubberley open as a middle school or a high school, but not both, and with all the sports and other school opportunities available to them. Part of me worries that if a choice program is opened, that all these kids will not give up the other “school stuff, like sports, music, etc. but will instead go back to the other middle and high schools for these activities. And the only reason this would be a problem is because the EMAC subcommittee is proposing this “choice school” as a solution to our district-wide over-enrollment problem. A small choice school of 7 grades does next to nothing to help with over-enrollment in our other secondary schools and would actually make it worse if the choice school students had to attend our other schools for music, sports, etc. Which gets me to my main point, why are we discussing whether or not a small choice school should be opened? I think we should be asking the EMAC subcommittee to show us how this solution addresses the task they were chartered with and that is to come up with solutions to our district-wide over-enrollment challenges. I’d like to see a proposed solution by school that lists the current problems caused by over-enrollment and the proposed solution to address it. Broadly, I believe the problems fall into 4 categories, 3 of which have solutions that can be implemented today, as follows:

1) Class sizes that are too large, not in sync with the spirit of the approved increased parcel tax to keep class sizes down. One idea to solve this is to set maximum student capacities per classroom, rather than using averages across a school as the goal for class size.

2) Administrative and other staffing resources are not keeping up with increased student populations. For example, our three middle schools all have 3 counselors each for their respective student bodies, yet 2 of these schools are almost double in size. One idea to fix this is to proportionately fund other administrative and staffing resources based on total student enrollment.

3) Electives are not keeping pace with increased student populations. What we see today is relatively the same number of sections being offered regardless of growth in student population, causing class sizes to grow, plus more and more students are not getting any of their top 4 elective choices. One idea to fix this is to proportionately increase the number of elective sections for each elective offered to accommodate the over-enrollment.

By no means am I suggesting that these 3 solutions alone will solve all the problems with our current over-enrollment, but they will definitely go a long way to helping the situation. This subcommittee should also address the "stickier" problem of our overcrowded facilities. Adding portables and bringing on new teachers can help to reduce class size, which is very valuable, but it doesn’t address the fundamental overcrowding of the school itself – having to rotate PE classes for gym space, or students sharing gym lockers and even sharing desks in classrooms, or not being able to accommodate all middle school children that want to participate in after school sports because of limited gym or green space, overcrowding in the library, having to rotate computer time, long lunch lines, fewer places to sit for lunch, etc.

I hope and expect that our school board will challenge the EMAC subcommittee to provide us with a new proposal, by school, that has a tangible plan to address our district-wide over-enrollment problems.

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