A thread emerged last night from the tangle of priorities facing the Sequoia Union High School District as the board discussed the district's open-enrollment policies and finding places for students as a jump in enrollment looms: Fix the problems associated with high-school assignments for eighth-graders from the Ravenswood City Elementary School District in East Palo Alto.
The five members did not agree on exactly how to to craft this fix, but a draft policy to change open enrollment to give a preference of some kind to Ravenswood families wanting to attend Menlo-Atherton High School will be forthcoming from Superintendent Jim Lianides for the Sept. 25 meeting.
Given highly reliable projections of at least a 22 percent increase in enrollment in the district by 2020, a revised policy has the potential to be a first shot at what promises to be a very difficult knot to untie.
■ The district must build more classrooms, which will require putting a bond measure on the June 2014 ballot. To make a credible case to voters, the board and district staff must determine what to build and where to build it on campuses that are already built out. Building up rather than out will be necessary because a fifth comprehensive high school is out of the question, given the lack of sites in the district and the approximate $200 million cost of a new school. Construction on classrooms must start by the 2014-15 school year to meet the coming demand, Mr. Lianides said.
■ Which neighborhoods will go to which high schools as enrollment rises? Proximity makes M-A the natural destination for Ravenswood families, and the district is very tired of decades of riding buses to Woodside and Carlmont (11 miles away in Belmont). Families in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District and North Fair Oaks who are already assigned to M-A bought their houses to attend M-A. (M-A has a reputation for high performance academically.) Some Las Lomitas residences, though they are farther from M-A than Ravenswood homes, have a guarantee of attendance at M-A while other families must participate in an annual open-enrollment lottery, a privilege that Ravenswood parents have noted.
■ Revisions to the decades-old map that assigns neighborhoods to schools are all but certain. The board tangled a bit over whether open enrollment can be adjusted to compensate Ravenswood parents without having a draft of a revised map from which to derive guidance on long-term objectives.
■ Should Ravenswood kids have to opt out of M-A attendance, or opt in? If they must opt in, who will be the informed advocates on school choice for the many Ravenswood "kids of chaos," board member Carrie DuBois asked. Opting in is preferable to opting out, which could be too much too fast and severely push enrollment at M-A, board member Alan Sarver said. Nevertheless, said Ravenswood advocate Ellen Mouchawar, Ravenswood families should have the right to opt out to resolve the inequity issue over the Las Lomitas guarantee.
■ The Sequoia board is out of time. Family deliberations on the question where eighth-graders are going to high school for the 2014-15 school year begin in October and conclude in January.
"For decades, many kids in East Palo Alto have not been well served," said Ms. DuBois. But she wants to hear from more of the community, including teachers, community groups that work with kids, such as the Boys & Girls Club, and representatives of foster children.
Quoting Stanford University education authority Linda Darling Hammond, Ms. DuBois said that the United States is known for making education decisions without talking about poverty.
Board member Olivia Martinez said it's time to give Ravenswood families the privilege of opting out of going to M-A, though she said she did not anticipate that North Fair Oaks families would be assigned to another school. "It's hard for me to reconcile that that would be one of the changes," she said.
Priority one, said board member Allen Weiner, has to be open enrollment as it affects Ravenswood families. He said he is "very concerned" about opt-out and its potential to overcrowd M-A. The superintendent should have the discretion to make decisions to avoid that happening, "to make M-A as full as an egg, but not fuller," Mr. Weiner said.
As for revisions to the map, it is "very hard (and) a ticking clock," Mr. Weiner said. Community outreach has to be much better and much more effective, such that smart, informed decisions can emerge from the set of community meetings to be scheduled for the weeks ahead, he said.
The district should look into creating a couple of smaller schools, Mr. Lianides said, an idea that Ms. DuBois supported in that kids who are at high risk for academic failure need smaller school environments to make real progress.
The superintendents from Ravenswood and the Sequoia district should be working together over the next two weeks to hammer out an open enrollment fix, board President Chris Thomsen said.
Any changes to enrollment policies would not affect current students or their siblings, Mr. Lianides noted.