After seven years in Palo Alto, Superintendent Jim Brown announced in June that he had accepted a job as superintendent of the Glendale Unified School District. Brown's years in Palo Alto, which ended in August, culminated with the passage of a $143 million school bond measure in 1995. He came to Palo Alto in 1989, inheriting a district whose community had lost trust in its previous leader. Brown had won the 1996 Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce Tall Tree Award for outstanding professional.
Menlo School unveiled its plans June 13 for a $6.5 million preservation effort to save the historic Douglass Hall, which had been threatened with demolition after the 1989 earthquake. Two-and-a-half years earlier, school trustees went before the Atherton City Council pushing for the 1913 building to be torn down so they could build a more modern one. A community group managed to persuade the school to save the building, which would be preserved by bolstering the structure with a new building that will wrap around it. Menlo trustees need to raise the money to preserve the hall, and another $4.5 million to remove some portable buildings. Headmaster Norm Colb called the architect's plan "genius," because it saves the building and gives the school more space.
An outside consultant found that the math departments at Jordan Middle School and Palo Alto High School had a "dysfunctional relationship," and students were caught in the middle. David Greene, of the Bay Area Research Group of Palo Alto, presented his report to the school board in June. The report sparked quick change on the part of the school district, which hired a math liaison who teaches at Gunn but works directly with middle school and high school math teachers. In the spring, some parents were alarmed when the school board adopted a new math course of study for third through fifth graders that does not include a textbook. After months of discussion, a district math committee recommended a combination of math curricula, focused on one that uses no textbooks or workbooks.
Peninsula school districts celebrated over the summer when the state legislature authorized Gov. Pete Wilson to free up more than $700 million to help schools reduce class size in kindergarten through third grades to 20 students per teacher. For most districts, that meant an end-of-summer scramble to hire enough teachers and find enough classrooms. But, by the first day of school, every first-grade class in Palo Alto was reduced from 27.5 students to just 20, and other districts achieved that ratio as well. On Dec. 2, Palo Alto Unified and Ravenswood were among those statewide that were notified of their actual funding. Both districts will receive in excess of $1 million for this school year. The state will pay $650 per child for those classes that have 20 students for a full day, and $325 per student for half-day classes.
After months of rancor, the Palo Alto school district and its teachers' union agreed to a contract, raising teachers' salaries 7 percent over two years. The school district and the Palo Alto Educators Association announced the agreement Aug. 16, just three months after the two sides had declared an impasse and were on the brink of requesting state mediation.
For the second year, Paly and Gunn scored the highest among eight similar Bay Area high schools. The school district reported the SAT scores in November, with Gunn ranking first in both verbal and math SAT scores, with 597 and 636. Paly's average verbal scores tied with Gunn's and its math score was 621. The Palo Alto school district compared Gunn and Paly's scores with those of eight high schools, from Marin to Saratoga. Eighth graders' math scores on the Stanford Achievement Test, a nationally normed test, improved this year, which is significant because the district and parents have put middle school math under scrutiny for several years in an effort to combine traditional instruction with newer math teaching.
The Ravenswood City School District celebrated a big win Nov. 5 when voters in East Palo Alto passed Measure U, the school district's $6 million school bond measure, by a landslide vote of 87 percent, the largest margin for such a bond in the state. The campaign spent only $2,500 and had only four committee members. The money from the bond will be used to renovate the district's eight schools. The first priority will most likely be roofing, electrical and plumbing work. When they enter high school, East Palo Alto students go to Sequoia Union High School District, which also experienced a victory for its $45 million Measure V school bond Nov. 5. Menlo-Atherton High School will receive about $10 million.
The Palo Alto school district ended the year facing multi-year budget deficits. Due to a mistake in the Santa Clara County Controller's office, the district found out in October that it would face a midyear shortfall of about $760,000, resulting from sagging property taxes and an overpayment by the county. The district will begin 1997 facing the prospect of budget cuts. Business Manager Walter Freeman projects a $2.5 million shortfall for the next school year as well.
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