As students returned to class last week, they discovered new course offerings, facilities, and staff. An increased focus on math, science and technology was a common theme.
Below are highlights from local public high schools (reporting by Dave Boyce) and elementary and middle schools (reporting by Kate Daly).
For the coming school year, Woodside High School will join two other high schools on the Peninsula in offering students career technical education courses from Project Lead the Way, a specialty curriculum of science, technology, engineering and mathematics that is funded by donations from major corporations to a nonprofit based in New York.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised the program, and the school of education at Harvard University cited it as a model for the 21st century, Principal David Reilly said. The program will cost Woodside High about $20,000 a year, paid for through a combination of funding sources, Mr. Reilly said.
The engineering staff at Woodside High are engaged in a team effort with counterparts at Stanford University. The college provides guest lecturers for Woodside engineering students, who will then have the chance to tour Stanford's engineering school and participate in internships, Mr. Reilly said.
Eighty-six Woodside High students used the summer to get another year of mathematics under their belts through the math acceleration program. The school ran one class of second-year algebra, one of pre-calculus, and two of geometry, mostly for incoming freshmen who did not have a chance to take geometry in middle school, Mr. Reilly said.
The draw of high school sporting events advances significantly at Menlo-Atherton High in 2011-12 with permanent lights now installed at the football field, Principal Matthew Zito said.
Four of the 11 varsity games will be on a Friday night at home, all starting at 7 p.m. The Bears play El Camino High School from South San Francisco on Sept. 2. Later in the season, St. Ignatius College Prep of San Francisco, Jefferson High School of Daly City, and Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton will visit M-A for night games.
The Sequoia Union High School District funded the field lights through M-A's share of $165 million from a 2008 bond measure. Counting three other bond measures since 1996, the Sequoia district has raised about $368 million for capital projects.
At M-A, learning how to effectively take notes will be a focus as the school introduces the Cornell note-taking system, Mr. Zito said. The Cornell method is a college-level system intended to improve learning and retention and aid in reviewing notes ahead of a test.
Bond measure funds are paying, at least in part, for a new media arts building at M-A, for which the steel framing is up and the electrical work has begun, Mr. Zito said. The district expects to receive a $3 million grant from the state to help fund the building of this $6 million project, he said.
The district paid $330,000 for a new 1,100-square-foot biology lab now residing in what was formerly a regular classroom, Mr. Zito said, adding that the lab is "beautiful."
CHARTER HIGH SCHOOLS
Everest Public High School, now in its third year, will open its doors at a new location, a building owned by the Sequoia Union High School District at 455 5th Ave. in Redwood City.
The district completed the new building over the summer, Superintendent James Lianides said in an email. Also over the summer, the district renewed the charter of, and arranged a long-term facilities agreement for, Summit Preparatory Charter High School, Everest's sister school, Mr. Lianides said.
The 5th Ave. facility "is beautiful and I hope the beginning of a truly collaborative relationship with the district," Everest Executive Director Kelly Garcia told the Almanac.
Ms. Garcia is new as the director at Everest; Jon Deane, her predecessor, now works for Summit Public Schools, the parent corporation of Everest, Summit Prep and charter schools in San Jose.
Asked for highlights for the new year at Summit Prep, Executive Director Todd Dickson noted that 89 percent of this year's seniors have passed an advanced placement exam -- one of the best results in the country, he said -- and the school begins its second year of a "very successful" freshman math program.
Everest will likely begin a competitive sports program this year as an associate member in the Central Coast League, and 2011-12 will be its first year with a junior class, Ms. Garcia said.
MENLO PARK ELEMENTARY
On Aug. 22, the first day of classes for the Menlo Park City School District, new Superintendent Maurice Ghysels welcomed 2,719 students, 90 more than last year.
Formerly superintendent of the elementary school district in Mountain View, Mr. Ghysels oversees four schools: two in Atherton (Encinal, a K-5 school, and Laurel, K-3) and two in Menlo Park (Oak Knoll, K-5, and Hillview Middle School, grades 6-8). Encinal has 772 students enrolled, up slightly from a year ago. There are seven new teachers: Emily Chiet in instrumental music, Lucia Nestler in kindergarten, Esme Collier and Sasha Vargas in third grade, and Marisyn Camper, Alicia Flynn and Jessica Schmidt in fifth grade. Krystina Kimes is the school nurse.
Laurel's enrollment of 467 is also up slightly. Three new teachers are starting this fall: Marlene Lehman in second grade, Rachel Hartwig in classroom music, and Toni Esther-Zubowski, who is heading up physical education. Three classrooms being built on the northeastern corner of campus are expected to be completed by January.
Oak Knoll has about the same number of students as last year, 723, and a few new staff members. They are: Ms. Chiet in instrumental music; Amy Austin, who is re-joining the kindergarten team; and Jayd Almquist in art. Shantal De Silva is the speech/language therapist. October will be a no-homework month at Oak Knoll. A new emphasis is being placed on learning a life skill each month by reading multicultural literature.
Hillview Middle School enrollment has grown to 757. The campus is being rebuilt, which has an impact on the school calendar. Fewer professional development days are scheduled during the school year. Students will finish early, on June 1, 2012, and the professional development days will occur during the first week in June.
In 2012, school will start later -- after Labor Day -- to give workers more time during the summer to demolish the current school buildings and begin construction of sports facilities.
During the current school year at Hillview, there will be rotating areas on campus for students to participate in physical education, Mr. Ghysels says.
New teachers at Hillview this fall are: Danielle Ireland in seventh-grade language arts/social studies, Arion Espinoza in sixth-grade science, Heiko Ritter in seventh-grade science, Brian Darmanin in student government and broadcasting, and Katherine Salem in physical education.
LAS LOMITAS ELEMENTARY
The Las Lomitas Elementary School District has hired more teachers to keep up with the slight swell in the student population at its two schools. Classes started Aug. 22.
Due to private contributions from the Las Lomitas Education Foundation, "we were able to add staff to help bring down class sizes," says Superintendent Eric Hartwig. La Entrada (grades 4-8) will average 23.8 students per teacher and at Las Lomitas (K-3), " we're looking at 22.2 or so," he says.
Las Lomitas in Atherton has 674 students in K-3, two new classrooms, and nine new teachers to help accommodate the growth. Ashley Button is teaching kindergarten and Michelle Donecho is teaching first grade, as are two former substitutes, Colene McKeon and Rebecca Holland. Krystin Hyres and Kristina Rodriguez are teaching second grade; and Robbie Christensen, Judith Harney and Nicole Montre are teaching third grade.
Kindergartners have a new play structure, and the asphalt play areas at both Las Lomitas and La Entrada campuses have been re-striped to make room for new games.
La Entrada in Menlo Park has 694 students in grades 4-8. They're breaking in four new classrooms and getting used to a new "Rotating Block Schedule" that starts with a regular eight-period day on Mondays, and then switches to six-period blocks the rest of the week. Each course now meets four times a week, instead of five.
"We expect that teachers and students will appreciate the longer block of time and will be able to engage in a greater variety of in-depth activities," Mr. Hartwig says.
Cynthia Chiu is teaching a new course in Mandarin. Other new teachers are: Christine Evans in eighth-grade science, David Pickett in sixth/seventh-grades core, Caroline Lucas in Spanish, Mark Jones in physical education, and Tracey Wenz in special education. Emily McDonough is the new counselor.
PORTOLA VALLEY ELEMENTARY
Superintendent Tim Hanretty of the Portola Valley School District says total enrollment may be the same this year as last, but there is news: both schools now have rooftop solar power systems, and are making other changes.
Ormondale (grades K-3) expects to have 320 students enrolled when classes start Aug. 29. The school is trying an experiment with this year's third-graders. Since there are so many more boys than girls, there will be two all-boy classes, and three mixed-gender classes with a nearly equal number of boys and girls.
"Because boys learn differently than girls, we're hoping to structure the classes differently," Mr. Hanretty says, adding that, if the model works, it may follow this group into Corte Madera middle school.
Sherry Andrighetto is back teaching full-time in kindergarten. Whitney Cooley is new as a third-grade teacher.
Corte Madera's 391 students in grades 4-8 are being greeted by a new principal, Michael Corritone, who recently left Windemere Ranch Middle School in San Ramon.
The sixth-grade program is now a "core instructional block," where a team of teachers teaches math and science, and language arts and social studies are combined.
Tim Sato will be working full-time as a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher. Suzanne Chandler is teaching sixth-grade science, and Amy Payne is the new sixth/seventh-grade writing specialist.
Math instruction in seventh and eighth grades is being increased from 40- to 55-minute periods, so more teachers are being brought in part-time, says Mr. Hanretty. Michelle Price is teaching math in sixth, seventh and eighth grades, while Lisa Hennefarth and Kerry Keplinger are teaching seventh- and eighth-grade math.
Three new resource specialists are Erin Bajornas, Jennifer Gorgone and Charlotte Haefner. Former counselor Kristen Shima is now dean of student life and student activities.
Enrollment has stayed steady at 445 in the Woodside Elementary School District, which runs a K-8 school and a private preschool on the same campus. Kindergarten through fifth-grade classes are averaging 18 students per section, whereas middle school class sections are averaging between 18 and 20.
The only brand new hire is Superintendent/Principal Beth Polito, who worked previously in the Saratoga Union School District.
"Our goals for the year are to choose a Social and Emotional Learning program to benefit all students K-8 as well as provide additional training to our staff in the areas of mathematics and the effective use of technology to enrich student learning," she says in an email.
Matt Waters has moved from para-educator to math teacher, and former school psychologist Katherine Peterson is now the student services coordinator.
Longtime district employee Karen Arimoto-Peterson has left the school. Former superintendent/principal Bruce Thompson is back, acting as a consultant to create a facilities master plan.