Menlo Park district trustees examine options for reorganizing elementary schools
• The board seeks more information before an Oct. 25 meeting, when a decision could be made.
Trustees of the Menlo Park City School District are asking for more information before making a decision about reorganizing its elementary schools as part of a plan for dealing with rising enrollment.
The school board met Sept. 27 and plans another special meeting Oct. 25, when it will hear from the public, discuss the options, and possibly make a decision.
The board is focusing on two options:
• Make all three elementary schools — Laurel, Encinal and Oak Knoll — K-5 schools. Currently, Laurel serves kindergartners through second-graders on the east side of the district. These students go on to Encinal for grades 3-5. Oak Knoll is a K-5 school, serving students west of El Camino Real.
• Make Laurel a K-3 school with its students moving to an expanded Encinal for grades 4 and 5. Both Encinal and Oak Knoll would be K-5 schools under this option.
Before making a decision, the board is seeking more information on the feasibility and costs, and wants updated enrollment projections.
Changing grade configurations could necessitate changing attendance boundaries to shift some students from the Oak Knoll attendance area to Encinal. Another decision would be determining which students, living east of El Camino, would go to Laurel or Encinal if both schools were K-5s or if Laurel would become a K-3 school.
"We're pressing forward as it's necessary to make these (configuration) decisions before we can move ahead with facility planning," said Superintendent Ken Ranella.
Enrollment is growing at a faster pace than projected. This fall the enrollment of 1,589 students at the three elementary schools is 7.5 percent higher than a year ago. Total enrollment in grades K-5 is projected to reach 1,800 by 2015.
Superintendent Ranella plans to present more information from consultants and staff at the Oct. 25 board meeting. There will be time for community comment at that meeting before any decision is made.
"We heard loudly and clearly from the community last spring that Hillview must be retained as a district middle school" for all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, he said.
The board plans to decide how to upgrade and expand Hillview Middle School after it decides the capacity and grade levels at the elementary schools.
Some 150 parents, mostly from the Laurel and Encinal attendance area, came to Encinal School on Sept. 27 for the special board meeting, where Mr. Ranella gave a detailed Power Point presentation on reconfiguration of the elementary schools.
About 30 of the parents raised questions. Their input is now on the district's Web site (mpcsd.org) under the heading, "Reconfiguration," said board President Laura Rich.
One parent said he and his wife moved to Atherton and decided to remain in their home because they were comfortable with the schools. He liked the idea of "grandfathering" current families in their respective attendance districts, but said he could live with anything.
"How small is too small?" asked a mother who questioned the option of Laurel being a K-5 school with students spread across six grade levels.
Changes in attendance boundaries could lead to concerns over the safety of young children crossing El Camino Real to get to schools east of El Camino, another mother said.
"The density at Oak Knoll School could be reduced. It seems like twice the number of kids now than when I went there," said an Oak Knoll alumnus living near the school.
One mother spoke up in favor of introducing programs, such as a foreign language immersion program, at Encinal to attract families from the other parts of the district to help Encinal grow.
One dad described Laurel as "an enchanted forest" where K-2 children grow and flourish because the school and staff work well in addressing needs of the students.
Another suggestion was to move the recently completed district office and the proposed Educational Resource Center off the Encinal campus to leased facilities to provide more space for school needs.
Additional information to be gathered before the Oct. 25 meeting will include: a report from teachers about the optimal sizes of grade levels, an enrollment study in relation to the size of the three campuses, operational choices for each of the two options being studied, review of school attendance areas and boundaries, and the issue of students crossing El Camino.
For more information, check the district Web site, www.mpcsc.org. An e-mail to email@example.com goes to all five school board members and the superintendent.