Almanac

Schools - October 30, 2013

M-A's growth won't diminish 'excellence,' superintendent says

by Dave Boyce

The more that enrollment grows at Menlo-Atherton High School, the more the school district and M-A administrations will be working to "build upon the academic excellence at M-A" and maintain the "positive learning environment (and) academic focus" that families in the Menlo Park and Las Lomitas elementary school districts have come to expect.

That message came in an Oct. 22 letter to parents from Jim Lianides, the superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District, in a follow up to recent community meetings Mr. Lianides held in both elementary school districts. "As enrollment grows, additional classes and sections will be added to meet student needs," the letter says. "Support staff, athletics and student activities will be expanded proportionately with growth."

The Sequoia district now has 8,300 students, but projections show enrollment growing to 10,000 by 2020. Much of this growth will come from the Menlo Park and Las Lomitas districts, so M-A will be particularly affected, officials have said. The projection does not account for growth in housing, including multi-family complexes going up in Menlo Park and Redwood City. Nor does it include the 1,200 students annually enrolled in the district's three charter schools.

In his letter, Mr Lianides clarified the district's position on what have been frequent talking points: all Menlo Park and Las Lomitas graduates will be assigned to M-A, the Sequoia district intends to open two magnet schools of 300 to 400 students each to relieve enrollment pressure on the comprehensive schools, and the North Fair Oaks neighborhood known as "The Avenues" will not be reassigned away from M-A.

M-A will also become the new home high school for all students from the Ravenswood City Elementary School District. M-A has long been the home school for Belle Haven students, but East Palo Alto students have been taking buses to Woodside and Carlmont high schools since 1983. A court-ordered consent decree required the Sequoia district to establish populations at each high school that came within 5 percentage points of reflecting the district's ethnic diversity as a whole.

Because Ravenswood's future enrollment is expected to hold steady, the effect of adding its 60 students a year to M-A will be offset by M-A households from other parts of North Fair Oaks willingly being reassigned to Woodside and Sequoia high schools, officials have said.

A task force is at work — composed of Sequoia district board members, staff, teachers and community members — on a plan to flesh out the district's facilities needs for a bond measure the board is likely to authorize for the June 2014 election.

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