Concerned Menlo Park parents showed up in numbers at a school board meeting to contest a potential shift that could send their children to different high schools and bring more students from East Palo Alto to Menlo-Atherton High School.
At Wednesday night’s Sequoia Union High School District board meeting, parents cited separation from a school they moved to the area to have their kids attend, disconnect from their home school, decreased property values and having to travel farther to get to school as reasons they oppose adjusting the district’s boundaries and revising the current open enrollment policy.
“The solution for enrollment should not be at the expensive of my community,” parent Laura Redmond of the North Fair Oaks neighborhood said at the meeting. “We bought our house 10 years ago for Nativity [Catholic School] and Menlo-Atherton. I hope we can find another solution.”
The board, in turn, said this is all part of a larger process to address growing enrollment in the district, along with addressing long-standing equity issues that date back to the desegregation of the district which brought some students in the Ravenswood City Elementary School District in East Palo Alto to high schools farther away than nearby Menlo-Atherton. According to a study, the district will grow from 8,200 students currently to 10,000 students in 2020.
The board said there is a need to adopt a revised open enrollment policy by no later than early October to adequately alert families to the proposed changes for the 2014-15 school year. A facilities task force will also meet beginning Sept. 27 to explore options such as boundary changes, open enrollment or even opening a new school to discuss enrollment growth. Other tasks ahead include the development of a tentative boundary map and the scheduling of more community meetings to give input into the map. The board has also discussed the possibility of seeking a construction bond to go on the June 2014 ballot that would pay for the additional classrooms and site infrastructure.
For now, the issue is balancing what district officials see are the needs of students with community concern over what the changes may mean.
An interim revised open enrollment policy would grant preference for Ravenswood students to attend Menlo-Atherton, North Fair Oaks neighborhood students assigned to Menlo-Atherton the preference to attend either Sequoia or Woodside, and the preference for Tierra Linda Middle School students in San Carlos assigned to Sequoia to attend Carlmont. Currently, travel times to Carlmont from the Ravenswood area are upwards of 45 minutes.
Potential school boundary changes are also part of the package, most directly affecting three communities within the district: Ravenswood City and North Fair Oaks, both of which sends its students to three different high schools, and Tierra Linda, which send the majority of its students to Carlmont High School and a smaller number of students to Sequoia High School.
North Fair Oaks residents expressed their concern for the new boundaries, including that Sequoia and Carlmont would mean longer travel times for their students and less academic and athletic options.
At the meeting, parent and North Fair Oaks resident John Lukas said there was inadequate notice regarding the meeting and other aspects of the redrawing.
Prior to community meetings, Superintendent Jim Lianides said the district sent 8,000 letters out to every parent that has a child in the district and that the times of the meetings are certainly out there.
On the other hand, Kendra Gragg, a social studies teacher in the Ravenswood district, said she encourages the board to consider making decisions based on what is equitable and good for all students, not just on property values.
Trustee Carrie DuBois is looking for more of that type of perspective.
“My concern right now is there’s been this heavy weight in getting feedback from parents that are heavy advocates for children,” DuBois said. “Every time I see a yellow bus I get sad, I see many kids in East Palo Alto not served. I want to fix those problems. I want to hear all those perspectives before we make a really big decision.”
The issue of proximity to schools was a major concern for Trustee Olivia Martinez.
“It’s hard for me to reconcile changes if Menlo-Atherton families went to school elsewhere,” Martinez said. “I am comfortable with making changes to the existing open enrollment policy.”
Parents said during past community meetings that keeping communities intact and keeping the options available for open enrollment were the priority, Lianides said.
The superintendent plans to bring back further information on open enrollment policy at the next board meeting Sept. 25.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105