High schools: Year of challenges, with more ahead


Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that ground had been broken at Woodside High on a new classroom building.

For a magnet school to fulfill its mission, it must attract students. This year, the governing board of the Sequoia Union High School District settled on a particular curriculum as the magnet for its new small high school in Menlo Park, set to open for its first freshman class in the fall of 2018 at 150 Jefferson Drive.

Based on findings from parent and student surveys conducted earlier in the year, the board is going with a curriculum focused on technology, design and engineering, including linked-learning relationships with local corporations and possible course content and resources from the county community college district.

The course work is intended to both prepare students for careers and meet standards of the University of California A-G system, according to Assistant Superintendent Bonnie Hansen. Internships, career technical education and computer-coding classes are all possibilities, she said.

Time is pressing. Voters in 2014 approved a bond measure authorizing the district to borrow up to $265 million for facilities to meet an enrollment surge expected over the next five to six years. Some $64 million had been allocated for two magnet schools of about 400 students each: one in Menlo Park and the other planned for San Carlos. But a recent analysis showed a cost-inflation gap growing between plans and available funds.

Instead of spending $10 million on land for the two schools, the district spent $13 million. Then a November report by the district's chief facilities officer, Matthew Zito, updated the situation for the remaining $54.4 million meant to be divided evenly between the schools: The Menlo Park school with plans for a 44,000-square-foot building is now expected to cost $825 per square foot, or $36.3 million, and that's if the district moves with alacrity in 2016, officials said.

Officials express hope that voters statewide will approve a $9 billion school construction bond measure in November 2016. The Sequoia district could request up to $18 million if it's approved, Mr. Zito said.

Board changes

For about nine months in 2015, the city of East Palo Alto and the Ravenswood City Elementary School District were represented by one of their own on the Sequoia board. Laura Martinez, 30 at the time, came to the board from the City Council of East Palo Alto, where she had twice been mayor.

The board picked her in March from a pool of five candidates to fill the seat of retiring and longtime board member Olivia Martinez. But in the November election, Laura Martinez came in fourth in the contest for three open seats on the board.

Voters re-elected Carrie DuBois and Allen Weiner, both for their second terms. The new member is Georgia Jack, associate director of stewardship at Stanford University's Office of Development and a community volunteer in Redwood City. She had come within a percentage point of beating out an incumbent for a seat in 2013.

Among Ms. Jack's top priorities: student stress around homework and enrolling in advanced placement classes, retaining and hiring teachers and staff as baby boomers retire, the undermining effect of the high cost of living on careers in education, and children living in trauma.

All the candidates expressed concern this year over the first set of scores on the state's new Common Core English and math tests for 11th graders. Achievement gaps have been an ongoing problem for the Sequoia district, but the Common Core results show gaps larger than previously thought, and that closely track family income levels.

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At Menlo-Atherton High, Matthew Zito shared the job of principal for the first six months with Simone Rick-Kennel, an administrative vice principal. Ms. Rick-Kennel assumed the top job in July as Mr. Zito moved up to chief facilities officer for the district.

Ms. Rick-Kennel was appointed administrative vice-principal at M-A in 2008 after having been a special education teacher at M-A since 2002. She was appointed dean of students in 2007. She began her career in special education in the South San Francisco Unified School District.

On the M-A campus, workers broke ground this year for a 21-classroom building to replace Building G at the rear of the campus. The building replaces 10 classrooms and adds 11. M-A may see its enrollment grow by 25 percent by 2020-21.

At Woodside High, projections of a 19 percent increase in enrollment have not yet begun to show themselves, Principal Diane Burbank said. She cites two possible reasons:

■ The new school boundary map approved in 2014 reassigned all students from the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park to Menlo-Atherton High.

■ Enrollment has been dropping in the K-8 feeders schools to Woodside High.

The number of students signed up for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program at Woodside was 40 percent at the start of the 2015-16 school year, down from 50 percent for the previous school year, Ms. Burbank said.

Meanwhile, enrollment rose in advanced-placement classes. Woodside High was among 425 high schools nationwide recognized in 2014-15 for extending AP enrollment to a broader range of students, Ms. Burbank said. At Woodside, that broader range referred to Hispanic students and students living in a low socio-economic status -- students living in poverty, according to the state Department of Education's definition of socio-economically disadvantaged students.

Overall, AP scores at Woodside were maintained or improved, Ms. Burbank said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Woodside Parent
a resident of Woodside High School
on Jan 8, 2016 at 8:48 am

Ground was NOT broken this year for a new two-story building at Woodside, it will be in June after the end of the school year. Fact check, anybody?

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Boyce
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 8, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

Woodside parent is correct. Ground will be broken for the new classroom building in late spring or possibly June of 2016.

I regret the error.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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