Much work is ahead as the Sequoia Union High School District ramps up to address a coming enrollment surge. In an early step along that path, the board last week gave a green light to a draft of a redrawn district map that now includes all students from the Ravenswood, Menlo Park and Las Lomitas school districts in the Menlo-Atherton High School community.
If the board stays with the map unveiled by Superintendent James Lianides, the only students who will lose seats at M-A are those who live north of Eighth Avenue in North Fair Oaks, part of a large swath of unincorporated county land that uses Menlo Park's 94025 ZIP code. In prior years, students living on Sixth and Seventh Avenues in North Fair Oaks have attended M-A.
The board made the correct decision to shift all Ravenswood students to M-A, instead of busing them to Carlmont (11 miles away) or Sequoia, in downtown Redwood City. It is unfortunate that some North Fair Oaks students will not have the assignment to M-A, but Ravenswood students live nearly as close to M-A and have long deserved to attend school there. The map should also be popular with Las Lomitas parents in West Menlo Park, Ladera and west Atherton who were fearful that their children would be shifted to Woodside High, in many cases a school that is closer to their homes.
All Sequoia district high schools face the prospect of a huge enrollment bulge that is making its way through elementary and middle schools and will result in M-A, Sequoia, Woodside and Carlmont enrolling more students 200 at Woodside and 600 at M-A, projections show. The problem is that none of these high schools have space to accommodate the students now, so more classrooms will need to be built.
During discussions last year, Mr. Lianides ruled out building a new comprehensive high school, which would cost an estimated $200 million if a site could be found. But even adding two-story classrooms at existing high schools will cost money, so it is likely that a bond measure will come before voters this November or sometime next year.
On the plus side, a decision that could add capacity to the district is the board's plan to build two small magnet schools, including one in "the Menlo Park area," that could accommodate up to 400 students apiece. So far, no specific sites have been identified for either school, but presumably that decision also could come this year.
And the timely arrival of a charter school called Big Picture Learning could make a small dent in the overall enrollment bulge this year, if its plans pan out. The school offers classes, but a principal focus is on students discovering what really interests them and crafting paths toward their future, whether academic or career-oriented.
The school is looking for seventh- and eighth-graders who are not doing well in a traditional school environment and face prospects of not graduating from high school. The charter, whose steering committee includes former longtime Sequoia district board member Sally Stewart of Portola Valley and former Menlo Park City School District board member Karen Canty of Atherton, is patterned after Big Picture Learning, a network of some 100 charter high schools with headquarters in Rhode Island and San Diego and offices in the Netherlands and Australia.
Initially, Big Picture hopes to find a site in Redwood City and in its first year would serve about 100 students in two classrooms, with an outlook of up to 300 students.
The board has not made a final decision on the changes at M-A, or any of the other Sequoia district high schools. Parents will get a chance to voice their support or objections during more community meetings in the coming months. It should be a busy year.