Year in review: New election system, new school make news in high school district


In 2016, the biggest news for the Sequoia Union High School District may have been the decision to divide the 19-square-mile district into five voting areas -- one for each board seat -- to encourage people of color to run for seats on the board.

Residents of East Palo Alto and North Fair Oaks now have a voting area of their own. Candidates who live there can come forward and win or lose based on the vote tally in those mostly Hispanic communities.

School board candidates in the Sequoia district have been running district-wide, meaning that each voter could cast a ballot to fill all five board seats.

When the five voting areas are created, each voter will cast a ballot to elect just one board member -- the one residing in the same area as that voter.

Creating voting areas meets the requirements of the state's Voting Rights Act and reduces the likelihood of a lawsuit that had been threatened by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The lawsuit threat reflected complaints that Hispanic residents are not represented on the board despite comprising 30 percent of the district's population, according to census data.

Of the five current board members, all are white and none lives in a Hispanic community.

New school

While ground has not yet broken at 150 Jefferson Drive, site of a new 400-student magnet public high school focusing on technology, engineering and design, there has been other news for this site in the light-industrial zone of Menlo Park (east of U. S. 101).

The Sequoia board approved the project's environmental impact report in October. The school is likely to generate more traffic at nearby intersections, but the impact report lists several mitigation measures, including a commitment by the district to implement a travel-demand-management plan, and to participate in Menlo Park's transportation-impact-fee program.

The school will be unique in its combination of technical focus, community college teachers on staff working part time, and mentors from nearby high-tech corporations and startups, an aspect of a Linked Learning curriculum.

Plans include 15 classrooms and five labs: a maker-space lab, a design lab and traditional labs for biology, chemistry and physics. This confluence of talent and opportunity may give students the potential to graduate from high school with the freshman year of college complete, and with early exposure to Silicon Valley corporate culture.

The school does not yet have a name, but district Superintendent Jim Lianides has been urging district Chief Facilities Officer Matthew Zito to complete that task. So the board recently heard a "branding and marketing" presentation by Krista Skehan, founder of Personify, a Menlo Park company.

The presentation proposed 21 name ideas in three categories: conservative, middle-ground and creative.

From the creative category, there is LEO, or Linked Educational Opportunity. It comes with a tagline: "Say hello to LEO." In two other creative names, the word "link" figures prominently: Combine "link" and IQ to get LINQ, or combine "link" and "unique" to arrive at LINQUE.

The suggested middle-ground name Collab is a mashup of "collaborative" and "college focused." Also in this category: Root, OneValley, Monument and TIDE (Technology, Innovation, Design, Engineering).

Of the four conservative names, the word "bay" starts three of them: Baytech, Bayshore and Bayfront. The fourth name is Newbridge.

As a group, the board did not respond positively to any of the names, but some members put in a few good words for TIDE, including the ease with which it would fit into a school cheer, as "Roll Tide!" does for the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide.

Election protest

In a departure from most presidential elections, the victory of Donald Trump on Nov. 8 elicited an outpouring of protest at both Woodside and Menlo-Atherton high schools.

The protest at Woodside stayed on campus. Students in the central quad began with an anti-Trump rally, but it morphed into "a unity thing," one student told the Almanac. "It was pretty cool to see, actually," he said.

At M-A, protesting students flooded onto Middlefield Road in waves, peacefully walking and running, carrying anti-Trump signs and banners, and bantering and shouting as they traversed Oak Grove Avenue to El Camino Real to Palo Alto and back to school via Willow Road.


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