Maps of new boundary lines aimed at addressing overcrowding in the Sequoia Union High School District are beginning to come together, but some community members are worried it will mean their kids will have to go to Sequoia High School instead of Menlo-Atherton High School, where they traditionally have attended.
Parents in the North Fair Oaks community who live on Sixth and Seventh avenues are complaining about the potential shift. Seventh Avenue and Menlo Park resident Rebecca Wilhelm said she bought her house because the home school was Menlo-Atherton and she doesn’t want to be lumped up with the rest of Redwood City, while her neighbor Stuart Sussman agreed.
“Many of us on our street bought homes knowing Menlo-Atherton would be our high school,” Sussman said. “It’s impossible to safely ride [your bike] to Sequoia from there. Many parents seem to agree — we don’t want to change Menlo-Atherton as our high school.”
Board members and Superintendent Jim Lianides were sympathetic about the neighbors’ concerns, but contended there’s no way to draw lines that will satisfy everyone. Lianides said his facilities task force took into account board support to allow the North Fair Oaks community to remain within the Menlo-Atherton boundary, but a challenge in developing a map was how to best define that community. The natural boundary division was along Eighth Avenue since Sixth and Seventh avenues have different patterns of school attendance. There are currently 35 K-8 students residing on Sixth and Seventh avenues who attend Garfield Elementary School and 16 students attend other Redwood City elementary schools. When the enrollment choices of current high school students living on Sixth and Seventh avenues are examined, seven students attend Menlo-Atherton and 11 students attend other district comprehensive high schools and utilize open enrollment to make those choices, according to a staff report.
“Any way you draw the border is going to divide a diverse community,” said Trustee Alan Sarver. “I don’t see it being a slam dunk decision.”
North Fair Oaks community members say their own data conflicts with the district’s account, while others applauded the new map, including Brandon Nicholson of the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto.
“Tonight, and your subsequent vote, offers students an opportunity for education and you will make history in the advancement to public education,” he said. “The new map solidifies the effort to support good education to all communities.”
Overall, the tentative new district boundary map, created by the task force, was presented to the board for discussion at its Wednesday night meeting. The new map very closely aligns middle schools with a single comprehensive high school, except for in Redwood City, according to the staff report. Major changes from the current boundary map reflect the goal of improved alignment, including:
1). Menlo-Atherton becomes the home school for the portion of East Palo Alto formerly assigned to Carlmont and Woodside high schools;
2). The portion of Las Lomitas formerly assigned to Woodside will now be within the Menlo-Atherton boundary;
3). Except for the area referred to as the “Avenues” beginning with Eighth Avenue, the remainder of the North Fair Oaks and east Redwood City communities formerly assigned to Menlo-Atherton will now be assigned to Sequoia High School;
4). The Heather Elementary School community in San Carlos currently assigned to Sequoia will now attend Carlmont. This will align the entire Tierra Linda Middle School boundary with Carlmont; and
5). The boundary between Sequoia and Woodside high schools in west Redwood City is being adjusted by several blocks to follow main avenues; Roosevelt Avenue to Valota Road, Valota to Jefferson Avenue, Jefferson to Alameda de las Pulgas and Alameda to Edgewood Road.
With the changes, Trustee Carrie Du Bois said she would like to see small learning communities potentially established or a plan to help the students get to know each other before integrating the schools.
Meanwhile, the latest projects from the district’s demographer show the district will grow to 9,996 students by 2020, with Menlo-Atherton growing to the largest number of students with 2,643. These projections do not include the beneficial effects of the proposed two small schools of 300 to 400 students under consideration, do not take into account any future new housing within the district that will generate students not currently attending K-8 schools, and assumes that all students will attend their home school. The district is looking at putting one small school in the Menlo Park area in the south and another between Redwood City and San Carlos in the north.
“We’re very concerned about the size of Menlo-Atherton,” Lianides said. “These are numbers they’ve never seen at these schools. There were a number of considerations for this map and the most important outcome was to keep communities together.”
Inequity in the district has also been of concern for trustees, who in October 2013 voted 4-1 to allow more students from East Palo Alto to attend Menlo-Atherton. This 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.
“We know students who come to Menlo-Atherton from Ravenswood [City Elementary School District] succeed better here,” said board President Allen Weiner. “It’s not going to chew up students.”
The next step in the process will be to schedule a new series of community meetings in which this map, along with information regarding the district’s impending facility needs, will be presented to parents. There will likely be one meeting at each high school and additional meetings held at Fair Oaks Community Center and the district’s Myrtle Street facility in East Palo Alto. The target implementation date for map changes will be the fall 2015. If approved, the changes would only affect entering ninth-graders and it would take four years to phase in the modifications. Siblings of current students residing in areas affected by boundary changes would be able to attend the older sibling’s school, according to the report.
The board will hold a study session on enrollment growth and facility planning 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22. The facilities task force will present recommendations to meet the housing needs of district students in the coming years. There will also an update on current activities and upcoming tasks to prepare for a bond election in 2014. Included in this presentation will be financial information relating to tax rates and bonding capacity.
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