A change is increasingly likely for eighth-graders from East Palo Alto who want to attend Menlo-Atherton High School. The high school district board is leaning strongly toward giving them a preference that would put them at the head of the line of most of the eighth-graders who want to attend M-A but are not automatically assigned there.
Jim Lianides, the superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District, proposed the change in policy and the board discussed it at its Sept. 25 meeting. Board action to establish such a policy is likely sooner rather than later, as the period for choosing a high school for the 2014-15 school year begins in October.
East Palo Alto students would be able to apply for an adjusted transfer, which would take place before the start of open enrollment -- applying for a school other than the school to which a household is assigned. In open enrollment, if there are more students than there are open seats for a given school, a lottery ensues.
While an adjusted-transfer policy sidesteps the uncertainty of open enrollment, the policy governing East Palo Alto students wanting to attend M-A would operate on a space-available basis. For decades, students from East Palo Alto have had to ride buses to Woodside and Carlmont high schools in keeping with a desegregation-inspired consent decree from the 1980s.
East Palo Alto parents have been vocal and persistent in their efforts to bring this practice to an end and keep their middle-school cohort intact by having their kids attend a neighborhood school.
Citing rumors and fears that the board might divide the Las Lomitas Elementary School District between M-A and Woodside as one way of addressing a coming jump in enrollment, Las Lomitas parents have argued that their middle-school cohort should not be split.
In recognition of that concern, between 10 and 12 households from the Las Lomitas district are actually assigned to Woodside High, but their adjusted-transfer policy gives them a guarantee to attend M-A, different from the space-available policy proposed for East Palo Alto.
The Las Lomitas guarantee is not expected to change, Mr. Lianides said.
Public comment on the proposal tended to differ according to geography.
"This effort to restore a high school for our children is wonderful because you are healing a community in pain," said James Lovelace, an assistant superintendent for the Ravenswood City Elementary School District, which serves East Palo Alto. The Sequoia district closed Ravenswood high school in East Palo Alto in the 1970s for reasons that included low enrollment.
"Our community really feels the lack of a high school," said Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez. It's "a wound that has not healed."
The fact that M-A admittance would be governed by space available did chafe; some of the dissatisfaction may have been due to a misstatement of the policy in the staff report. Board member Allen Weiner said that it would be corrected.
Parents from Las Lomitas asked whether the board had equivalent concern for continuing M-A's history of academic performance. "M-A is a result of a very special and unique ecosystem that I don't think any of us can figure out," said Greg Portugal during a subsequent discussion of possible changes to the Sequoia district boundary map defining the households that are assigned to a given high school. "You should consider engaging experts before you consider such a major decision."
"Is education (at M-A) going to suffer in the interim?" asked another Las Lomitas parent. "I'm just trying to figure out what to do with my children in the interim. I may be a little selfish."