Cover Story - September 5, 2007

Back to School: Menlo Park City School District

Shifting school attendance boundaries is key to district's master plan

by Marjorie Mader

The Menlo Park City School District faces another year of huge challenges as it moves forward on its $91.1 million, multi-year planning and rebuilding program for all four schools.

"The key issue," says Superintendent Ken Ranella, is making the final decision by December on adjusting school attendance boundaries for Laurel, Encinal and Oak Knoll schools.

The district's master plan hinges on changing attendance boundaries. It proposes to change Encinal, the grade 3-5 school with 406 students (the smallest enrollment and largest school site), to a K-5 school with about 700 students. Enrollment at both Laurel and Oak Knoll would be lowered. Plans call for opening kindergarten classes at Encinal next fall and adding a grade each year until the school become a K-5.

Here's the picture:

Laurel, the K-2 school, is at capacity now with 520 students. Oak Knoll, the K-8 school west of El Camino Real built 50-some years ago for 250 students, has 730 students. Both Laurel and Encinal are located east of El Camino Real, the current boundary for school attendance. Enrollment at Hillview Middle School, serving all district sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, has remained at 667 students.

Kindergarten enrollment is an indicator of future class sizes. This year's kindergarten count is at a high with 302 new students entering the district last month. Once students enter the district, they tend to stay and graduate from eighth grade.

The district's total enrollment grew from 2,255 last year to 2,323 students last week,14 students shy of the enrollment consultant's projection of 2,347 students.

"We have a significant amount of work ahead to draw the (attendance boundary) line between Laurel and Encinal," said the superintendent. The intent is to do the changes systematically and gradually over a three-year period, he said. One issue is whether or not to include "magnet schools" or "choice" as part of the decision, he said.

"Parents and teachers definitely will be involved in this important issue," said the superintendent.

The district's facility planning is moving ahead. By next month, the district's first special education preschool building at Laurel School will be near completion. The district will be able to serve district children, ages 3 to 5, with special needs at the district facility instead of sending them to county or private schools.

More district priorities include: exploring a foreign language program, to be taught by a specialist, for students in K-6; maintaining and enhancing the current educational program; considering after-school child care options, primarily for kindergartners through fourth-graders; and revisiting home-to-school transportation options.

Following is information on the district's four schools, where classes began Thursday, Aug. 23.


95 Edge Road


Phone: 324-0186

Nancy Hendry, principal

Enrollment: 520

Full house. Laurel is at capacity with 31 more students, a 6.3 percent growth from last year's enrollment of 489. All classrooms are in use.

Class size. All classes have 19 to 20 students except for the first grades, which have 21. There are nine classes each of kindergarten and second grade and eight third-grade classes.

New teachers. Brynn Cahill, who completed her undergraduate work and master's degree in education at UC Santa Barbara, is the new kindergarten teacher. Amy Gee, Laurel's first physical education specialist five years ago, has returned to her former position after being on leave.

Focus on learning. Laurel's entire teaching staff is involved in an ongoing program that focuses on children's learning styles and teachers' teaching styles. Consultant Lane Narvaez, elementary school principal in the St. Louis, Missouri, area, returns this year to coach each of the Laurel teachers as they present a lesson to their class and participate afterward in a debriefing discussion. Ms. Narvaev will be at Laurel Thursday and Friday, Oct, 4-5; Nov. 29-30; Jan. 31 and Feb. 1; March 27-28. This program is funded by the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation as part of its teacher excellence initiative.

Special education preschool. Scheduled for completion later next month on the Laurel campus is the modular building that will house the district's preschool program for children, ages 3 to 5, who need special support. This building also will house the district's occupational therapy program.

Reconfigured parking lot. Changes were made over the summer to Laurel's parking lot to serve the new preschool and add a dedicated bus lane. This lane will be used by buses that bring students from Encinal to Laurel as part of the voluntary transfer program and by the Menlo Park shuttle between the two schools.

Back-to-school night. Parents on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. will visit their children's classrooms, meet their teachers and learn about the year's programs.

"Quarter Gourmet." A favorite event returns for another year when families bring dishes to share, pay a quarter for each serving, and get to know each other. The first Quarter Gourmet is Friday, Sept. 14, at 5 p.m. on the new sod second-grade playground.

First PTO meeting. Parents are invited to the first general meeting of the school's Parent Teacher Organization on Wednesday, Sept. 26 starting at 6:15 p.m. with hors de oeuvres for parents and teachers.

Book fair. Save the date for Laurel's annual book fair Monday through Friday, Oct. 8-12.


1895 Oak Knoll Lane

Menlo Park

Phone: 854-4433

David Ackerman, principal

Grades: K-5

Enrollment: 730 students

Class sizes. Classes meet the district's targets at every level: 20 students in grades K-3 and an average of 24 students in grades 4-5. A new second grade was created this fall as class sizes had grown during the past school year in first grade.

Teachers. Ten new teachers have joined the Oak Knoll staff. Among them are: Joyce Chan, kindergarten teacher from the Berryessa School District; first-grade teachers Andrea Boatwright, student teacher at Oak Knoll who took over from first-grade teacher Tami Nurisso while she as was on maternity leave; Alison Dyer, student teacher in the Palo Alto and Las Lomitas school districts; and Elizabeth Wood, former teacher at St. Joseph's School in Atherton and most recently program coordinator for the nonprofit Bring Me A Book Foundation. Joining the second-grade team are Megan Dei Rossi from the Manteca Unified School District and Laura Johnston, a student teacher at Oak Knoll last year. New members of the fourth-grade team are: Jessica Bouret, Jon Coldoff and Teri Murphy, who took over for Oak Knoll teachers who were on maternity leave last year. John Fuller, new fifth-grade teacher, brings 15 years of experience teaching in Redmond, Washington. Ceil Kellogg transferred from Encinal to teach fifth-grade at Oak Knoll.

Changing assignments. Jeanne McCann has moved from teaching kindergarten to first grade and will job share with Julie Zarcone. Linda Cotter will teach first grade full time. Joan von der Linden moves to fifth grade after serving as vice principal for much of last year when Maria Clemo filled in as Encinal interim principal. Renee Lavezzo moves from first to third grade. Johnna Becker and Stacy Emmert, returning from maternity leave, will be job-sharing a fourth-grade class.

Focus. The Oak Knoll staff is poring over test data from last year and working to continue to improve math scores and push more students into advanced groups in reading and math, says Principal Ackerman.

Technology. Another set of 20 mobile laptop computers on carts has been added, increasing the school's cache to five laptop sets in use by students in grades 2, 3, 4 and 5 this year. A full-time technology guru has been hired to maintain the computer equipment. Kindergartners and first- and second-graders use the school's computer lab.

Garden growing. Sunflowers bloom in the school's garden. Last fall, second-graders collected the sunflower seeds, stored , packaged and then sold them, giving the profits to the garden project. The garden is being used by all grade levels as part of the curriculum in science, math and social studies. Third-graders developed a Native American "three sisters garden" of corn, squash and peas.

Back-to-school night. On Thursday, Sept. 6, parents will meet teachers and learn about school programs. Starting times are 6:30 p.m. for grades 3-5; and 7:30 p.m. for grades K-2.

Fall Family Fiesta. Families will return to school Friday, Sept. 14, for a social time, casual dinner and games, from 5 to 7 p.m. Sign up at school and purchase tickets in advance.

Bike Safety week. All Oak Knoll students will participate in a variety of activities during bike safety week Sept. 10-14 that culminate with the family bike ride Sunday, Sept. 16, in memory of Michelle Mazzei.

Memorial Family Bike Ride. Oak Knoll School is sponsoring the second annual family bike ride Sunday, Sept. 16, to honor Michelle Mazzei, the fourth-grade teacher and triathlete who lost her life in a bike-car accident October 2005. Former students of Ms. Mazzei, friends and community members, are invited to register and ride the 1.5-mile Otter Run loop up to four times. The first wave of riders starts at 8 a.m. Registration fee is $20 for adults, $10 for students. Forms are available at the school office. The event benefits the Michelle Mazzei Fund for Education at the nonprofit Environmental Volunteers.


195 Encinal Ave.


Phone: 326-5164

Allison Liner, principal

Grades: 3-5

Enrollment: 406, up from last year's 396.

Classes. Class sizes are 20 students or under in third grade; 22-24 in fourth grade, and 25-26 in fifth-grade. The growth in enrollment is spread across all three grade levels. An additional third grade was added this summer, making eight third grades. There are six fourth grades and five fifth grades.

New principal. Alison Liner, Encinal's new principal, reports the grade 3-5 school is off and running, and "it's a wonderful and exciting place to be." On the job only a month before school started, she's learning names of students, staff and parents before "the real work begins," she says. She was the unanimous choice of the selection committee to succeed Stacy Marshall, who decided not to return after the birth of twins. Ms. Liner brings to Encinal her experience as a teacher (in every grade from first through fifth), teaching principal and principal of the K-4 Arundel School in San Carlos for the past five years.

Focus. Encinal staff is focusing on developing professional learning communities and working collaboratively as school wide and grade-level teams. The goal is to use "best practices" to ensure that every child progresses, says Ms. Liner.

New teachers. Six experienced teachers have joined the Encinal faculty. They are: Petrina Jones, third grade; Kira Bough and Georgia Kleeman-Keller, fourth grade; Jessy Hamlin and Molly Stiff, fifth grade; Robin Reding, reading specialist.

Counselor. Jennifer Butler, school counselor serving K-5 students in Virginia schools for the past two years, will spend half-time at Encinal and at Oak Knoll.

Specialist. Ines Negron, a new member of the district's special education team, is the new inclusion specialist. She will split her time helping students at Encinal and Hillview schools.

On to construction. Encinal has begun its three-year transition from a grade 3-5 school to a larger K-5 facility, serving more students, as part of the district's reorganization plan. Portable classrooms were moved on campus this summer to house third-grade classes and some offices, while F wing, closest to the district office, is being renovated for the first crop of kindergartners in fall 2008. The old portables, near Middlefield Road, were removed to make room for a new classroom complex for fourth and fifth grades.

"Character Counts." This character education program, involving all students, will continue with some changes this year. Teachers will take a close look at this citizenship program with the aim of helping students become even better citizens.

"Community Read." Everybody at Encinal — students, staff and parents — will read the same book and get together for an evening discussion in the spring. The title of this year's book will be revealed later in the school year.

Garden keeps growing. Encinal's garden, planted in raised beds along Middlefield Road, continues to be a focus for each of the grades. Activities are geared to the state curriculum for the grade-level.

Fall family picnic. Families bring a picnic supper for this annual get-together on Friday, Sept. 7, from 6 to 8 p.m. on the grass.


1100 Elder Ave.

Menlo Park

Phone: 326-4341

Michael Moore, principal

Grades: 6-8

Enrollment: 667

Class size. Core classes (language arts and social studies) range from 22 to 26 students at each grade level.

Teachers. Joining the Hillview staff is art teacher Janet Strauss, who completed her student teaching at Hillview with Terry McMahon last year under San Francisco State University's credential program in art. Ms. Straus is following her interest in art after a career in mass communications and marketing and receiving previous degrees from Cornell University and Harvard. Moving to Hillview from Encinal School as the new sixth-grade core teacher is Marianne Santo, who previously taught fifth grade.

Looking ahead. Hillview will move ahead on program planning and developing specifications for its new campus to be built on the site of the current playfield. Funding will come from the $91.1 million bond measure, approved by voters in 2006.

Building character. Counselor Debbie Devoto will again coordinate the school-wide character education program. Teachers will spend time with students, discussing integrity, respect, responsibility, friendship, citizenship, caring, empathy, perseverance, the importance of a positive attitude, and the value of service. Four school-wide community service projects will be decided upon and carried out by students with the help of parent volunteers. The projects will deal with the environment, the elderly, fundraising, and a noontime club. All students will be encouraged to participate in some way.

Electives. "Creative Cooking" is one of the popular electives at Hillview, where students cook quick-and-easy, 30-minute meals, share recipes and learn about a balanced diet. Students chose two electives each semester and only one elective if they take Spanish or French. The 20 offerings range from advanced art and photography to robotics, video production and woodshop.

"Hawk Talk." Students produce the morning news, televised throughout the school each morning on the campus TV station, HTV.

Camp Hillview. All incoming sixth-graders participate in Camp Hillview, a three-day orientation program on campus. The program, designed and carried out by the Hillview staff, provides a common academic and social experience for sixth-graders. This year's program was held Aug. 29-31.

Community festival and potluck supper. This school-wide, traditional event for students and parents takes place at school on Friday, Sept. 28, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Online. Hillview's weekly calendar is available by e-mail. To sign up, go to and click on weekly calendar.


181 Encinal Ave., Atherton, 94027

Superintendent: Ken Ranella

Call 321-7140


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