A facilities task force, aimed at exploring options such as boundary changes, open enrollment and opening new schools to address overcrowding and equity issues, is advising the Sequoia Union High School District to consider adding two new schools, more classrooms and to seek a bond measure to pay for the changes.
The group, composed of Trustees Allen Weiner and Alan Sarver, teachers, administrators, a plant manager and a parent, delivered a midpoint report on its findings to Sequoia Union High School District’s Board of Trustees Wednesday. It has been mainly focused on school building capacity, Lianides said. The task force looked at classroom to teacher ratio and found schools to have a 1:1 ratio. Lianides said it is key to not let these ratios drop because it affects education.
“As we grow and are not able to expand facilities in classrooms, we will see ratios drop because we will be needing to use every classroom, every period to accommodate growth,” said Superintendent Jim Lianides. “We are going to be seeing far more movement of teachers and students during the day. A choir room might be used to teach English.”
A teacher spoke about the importance of having proper facilities in place. Good teachers can teach under overcrowded situations, but they will eventually burn out, said Edith Salvatore, president of the Sequoia District Teachers Association.
Suggested solutions include adding two new small schools with 300 to 400 students each through a bond measure and adding six additional classrooms to Menlo-Atherton High School with remaining construction funds, according to a staff report. The district has been in the midst of an ongoing process to address growing enrollment, which according to a study, will grow from 8,200 students currently to 10,000 students in 2020.
The district would need to look into having eight period days and two lunch periods, with teachers possibly moving around to two or three classrooms in a day, he said. The task force is endorsing two small schools to help accommodate growth, Lianides said.
“We need to do research on needs and where to locate them,” he said. “There could be a school in the Menlo Park area on either side of [Highway] 101, or Redwood City, near San Carlos or Old County Road. They should be near the greatest points of growth in district. We need to look at input from community members to begin to come up with themes or attractions of the schools.”
The district might want to look for even bigger small schools with 600 to 800 students, said Sarver.
“The urgency of getting the bond measure is tremendous,” he said. “We need to have a team in place and working on it to pull the final details into a campaign. Community engagement around this is going to be very important.”
Meanwhile, Weiner said there are a couple of clear areas where the board needs to give direction and say this is where the staff needs to go. For example, the board needs to look into the differences between passing a bond in June versus November, which would mean consulting with a bond counsel. By early March 2014, the board would need to adopt a resolution placing the measure on the June 2014 ballot. The bond could also be put on the November 2014 ballot, but to wait beyond that time would not allow future projects to come online as the future students begin arriving, the report stated.
The current remaining $165 million Measure J bond, passed by voters in 2008, has been exhausted on other projects. These projects include adding five classrooms to Carlmont High School, the move of the maintenance and transportation departments to Douglas Street and the purchase of 980 Myrtle St. in East Palo Alto, according to a staff report. There will also be construction on the site of 10 additional classrooms for Stanford New Schools, according to a staff report.
“We don’t all have the same vision for what small schools should looks like,” Weiner said. “I’m quite supportive to give direction on planning for the small schools. There’s a lot of hard work that has to be done; we are facing a reality of the kids coming and I think we need to have facilities in place.”
Given potential boundary changes, it is likely total enrollment at each high school will grow. Potential modifications most directly affect three communities within the district: Ravenswood City Elementary District and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood, both of which sends its students to three different high schools, and Tierra Linda Middle School in San Carlos. Menlo-Atherton could grow to 2,600 students, Carlmont and Sequoia high schools could grow to 2,400 to 2,500 students, while Woodside High School could reach 2,100 to 2,200 students, according to the staff report. A tentative boundary map will be brought to the board in November, followed by meetings to give input into the map.
Other board members have different visions for dealing with the overcrowding and equity issues.
Having more parents on the task force, from each of the comprehensive high schools in the district, was a concern for Trustee Carrie Du Bois. She said she would be in support of medium schools and doesn’t want Menlo-Atherton or Carlmont to get too large. Back in October, the district trying to deal with helping address these inequity issues. It voted 4-1 to allow more students from East Palo Alto to attend Menlo-Atherton High School, which acted as a way to allow more East Palo Alto students to attend their local school, rather than taking a long bus ride to Carlmont.
“To really engage the community, we have to have a strategic plan,” she said. “I might be the odd man out here, but thinking about 21st century schools, looking at facilities the way we have them now is a bit backwards starting with a facilities task force. I really want to be able to help the kids not doing well and we may need small school communities within schools.”
Agreeing with Du Bois, board President Chris Thomsen said in terms of 21st century planning, he’d like to see some input on new classroom formats from outside sources.
“Are we getting enough new ideas?” he asked. “How do you use technology to bring classroom materials with you? I want to make sure we’re thinking broadly about the classroom and teacher ratio. Is the problem too immediate to stop and think about that?”
Trustee Olivia Martinez also said it’s good to not get trapped into the ratio. The small school format needs to be clearer.
“I don’t think it drives everything,” she said. “In terms of the format for small schools, discussion needs to happen immediately.”
The task force first began meeting in late September and will wrap up its meetings in December.
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