http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2013/05/08/where-to-put-the-students


Almanac

Schools - May 8, 2013

Where to put the students?

• Growth projections have high schools examining options, including new boundaries, more classrooms.

by Dave Boyce

Facing projections of a 22 percent rise in overall enrollment in local public high schools over the next eight years, officials from the Sequoia Union High School District want to hear from district parents in community meetings this month about where to put the students, and whether and how to redraw boundary maps that connect schools to neighborhoods.

The projected increases, district officials say, stem from enrollment surges in elementary and middle schools in three Peninsula communities: Menlo Park, San Carlos and Belmont-Redwood Shores. At Menlo-Atherton High School, which has 2,009 students in the current school year, enrollment would grow to 2,600 students by 2020, an increase of 29 percent. Woodside High would see its population of 1,710 students grow during the same period to 2,080, a 22 percent rise.

If students were distributed evenly among the four comprehensive high schools, each school would average 2,400 students in the 2020-21 school year, according to current projections. New boundary maps would be a near certainty because of the uneven impacts of this expected growth. For example, under current boundaries, Menlo-Atherton High School would be expected to provide space for 2,600 students by 2020, space the school does not have. Woodside High, which has a capacity for 2,200, and would have 2,080 in 2020, well below the average but also well above its current enrollment of 1,710.

In a recent discussion, the Sequoia district board agreed that each school will have to get "reasonably close" to the average. Any boundary redrawing should be done with careful attention to special programs and demographic diversity, the board said.

The district does not have the necessary $200 million for a new campus, Superintendent James Lianides told the board. Voters in 2008 approved $165 million for capital improvements by approving Measure J, but the current balance is about $9 million. A new bond measure could pay for more classrooms, and that option did come up during the discussion.

Another critical consideration for the board: the competing priorities of keeping a community of middle-school students together versus offering students and parents a choice in schools. The board sounded agreeable to a choice of two high schools per middle school, although some members said they preferred one. Morgan Marchbanks, the assistant superintendent for educational services, said that of 31 East Palo Alto parents she interviewed, all wanted a choice in high schools.

The district has scheduled community meetings in May to solicit comments from the public. An April 23 letter to school families from Mr. Lianides lists six meetings, including one at M-A on Monday, May 13, and one at Woodside on Wednesday, May 29, both at 7 p.m. in the school performing arts centers.

On hand to lead the meetings will be Mr. Lianides and two board members. The first meeting is in Redwood City at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, at Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster Ave.

Growth projections

"Because our future students are currently attending school in our partner elementary districts, we believe the study is quite accurate in its projections," Mr. Lianides says in the letter. "We look forward to your input and to sharing the demographic information, which makes it necessary to look at our 30-year-old boundaries and prepare for the future."

Current students or siblings of current students would not be affected by changes in boundaries, the board said. Board President Chris Thomsen suggested draft maps for the community meetings to reduce the abstraction of the issue.

The projections assume that the district's four charter schools will continue their current enrollments, but the projections do not account for new students from housing in the planning stages or now being built.

Meetings

The Sequoia Union High School District is planning community meetings to discuss expected enrollment growth and options for dealing with it. The two local meetings will be at:

Menlo-Atherton High School in the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Monday, May 13.

Woodside High School in the Performing Arts Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29.

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