Too many students, too few seats | May 22, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Schools - May 22, 2013

Too many students, too few seats

• High school district considers enrollment growth and changing neighborhood-school boundaries.

by Dave Boyce

In the Sequoia Union High School District, the status quo could be in for some rough going as an enrollment growth of kindergarten-through-fourth-graders, particularly in Menlo Park, makes its way toward and through ninth grade. District officials have begun a conversation on possible effects on facility use, school choice and neighborhood-school boundaries — a matter of great concern to parents in the Las Lomitas and Ravenswood school districts.

Projections by a consulting demographer — considered highly reliable — show 10,000 students in Sequoia district public high schools by the 2020-21 school year.

At the moment, enrollment is about 8,300, with room for more, Superintendent James Lianides said in a recent letter to parents. Woodside High is about 500 students shy of its 2,200-student capacity and Menlo-Atherton High, with the same capacity, has room for about 200 more. Because district officials are considering equalizing enrollment at at about 2,400 students at each comprehensive high school, both Woodside and M-A might have to fit in 200 students beyond their current capacities.

These projections assume full enrollment at the district's four charter high schools. A new comprehensive high school is not in the cards: the Sequoia district's capital budget sits at about $9 million, not even close to the necessary $200 million to build a new campus, and the district is all but built out, Mr. Lianides said. Adding second stories to existing buildings is not an efficient use of funds and efficiency is likely to be an important focus, he added in an interview.

Equal distribution of students and facilities is one of four proposed "tenets" that Mr. Lianides and the district board rolled out for community reaction last week. The other three: maintaining some student choice in picking a school, maintaining socio-economic diversity at Carlmont High in Belmont, and maintaining intact middle-school communities where possible, given a possible redrawing of the map that connects neighborhoods to schools.

Much of the Las Lomitas Elementary School District is assigned to M-A, which means that the district's eighth-graders have automatic enrollment at M-A. Meanwhile, the Ravenswood City School District has its eighth-graders assigned to three schools: M-A, Woodside and Carlmont, despite being geographically closer to M-A than part of the Las Lomitas district. This arrangement came with a 1983 court-ordered consent decree when Ravenswood High School was closed. The consent decree expired after six years, Mr. Lianides said.

M-A is an appealing school academically. For the 2011-12 school year, its state-determined academic performance index is 820 on a scale of 1,000, and white students have a collective score of 952. Both numbers are highly meaningful to real estate agents and homeowners concerned about property values, and to parents with high ambitions for their children. At Woodside, the numbers are 744 and 852, respectively.

M-A is also appealing geographically for Ravenswood students, many of whom now have to catch an early-morning bus to Carlmont High in Belmont.

About 700 Sequoia district students annually apply for a school other than that to which they are assigned. Because there tend to be more applications than seats available, the district holds a lottery and about 500 students are transferred, Mr. Lianides said. In the Ravenswood district, about two-thirds of students assigned to Woodside and Carlmont apply, usually to M-A or a local charter school, Mr. Lianides said.

The Ravenswood district is not alone in being split. Part of North Fair Oaks divides itself among three schools, and there are households in the Las Lomitas district assigned to Woodside High. But Las Lomitas households are handled differently. In a November 2011 letter to parents, former Las Lomitas superintendent Eric Hartwig explained:

"For the past several decades, La Entrada students who reside in Atherton or Woodside have Woodside High School as their assigned school, but there has been a policy of allowing them to 'transfer' to Menlo-Atherton High School," Mr. Hartwig said. "If this option is important to you, please be diligent in complying with the Sequoia District's procedures; if you don't follow them I won't be able to intervene."

The letter includes a link to an open enrollment form and adds: "It's as simple as that. No lottery, no mystery. Even if M-A is declared 'full' at a future date, (La Entrada) students who have followed this process will be admitted to Menlo-Atherton High school for 2012-13 under existing SUHSD Board Policies."

Go to to read Mr. Hartwig's letter.

At a May 15 meeting in a multi-purpose room in East Palo Alto, a group of about 30 Ravenswood parents, teachers and staff met with Mr. Lianides and board members Olivia Martinez and Allan Weiner. "Many of the people are interested to hear specifically about the Las Lomitas district," said one parent after having the lottery explained. Mr. Lianides replied: "They have to submit the application, but they come off the top."

"It's hard to look at that map and think it's not awkward,"said one parent. "It's a head scratcher. ... Does this make sense if we're building communities and community schools? I'm sorry, but I can't help thinking of a gerrymandered district when I look at this map."

Two days earlier, Mr. Lianides, Ms. Martinez and Mr. Weiner met with about 100 parents in M-A's Performing Arts Center. A show of hands indicated that about three-quarters were from the Las Lomitas community.

Las Lomitas and its relationship to M-A is "an organically derived fragile ecosystem," said one parent who said she was speaking for her husband. "It's grown organically into an amazing system that works. It works because we're all together. I anticipate that Woodside (High) will grow into something like that. ... If you remove a small part (of this ecosystem), it has the potential to collapse the whole thing."

Mr. Lianides comes to Woodside High at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 29.


Another community forum on high school enrollment growth and its effects will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 29, in the Performing Arts Center at Woodside High School, 199 Churchill Ave.


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