Some semblance of normalcy returned to local schools in 2021 | January 7, 2022 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - January 7, 2022

Some semblance of normalcy returned to local schools in 2021

by By Angela Swartz

In 2021, there was somewhat of a return to normalcy at local schools. Students were back on campuses full time by the fall. High schools held in-person commencement ceremonies and some schools even held modified proms.

Enrollment continued to decline at public schools, while private schools actually saw more students interested in enrolling.

New principals started at local high schools, while the Sequoia Union High School District welcomed a new superintendent.

Full-time return to campuses

Although elementary-aged students returned to schools on a hybrid basis in fall 2020, it was different for public high schoolers. Sequoia district pupils didn't return to campus until spring, and and on a part-time basis, much to the ire of some families who wanted their teens back in classrooms sooner despite the risks of the pandemic.

Once back full time in the fall, rules around COVID-19 exposure began to loosen in the Sequoia district. During the previous school year, high schoolers were required to quarantine if they were exposed to the virus, but during the 2021-22 school year, only those who were unvaccinated needed to quarantine. Some 175 cases were reported to the district in total during the fall of 2021. Of those, 58 were at Menlo-Atherton High School, 5 were at TIDE Academy and 27 were at Woodside High.

Middle school students were "willing to do anything it takes" to stay in school and followed precautions well, one Menlo Park school official said.

Teachers expressed anxiety about coming back to instruct in-person amid the pandemic.

A shortage of substitute teachers proved to be a particular pain point for schools on the Peninsula. Districts got creative, with principals, counselors and other school staff covering classes. Teachers in some cases have been filling in for their absent colleagues during free periods meant to be set aside for grading and lesson planning.

With the return came higher spending to cover the safety costs to bring students back to campuses.

When the 2020-21 school year wrapped in the spring of 2021, M-A seniors masked up for an outdoor prom on the soccer field.

Unlike the Class of 2020, the Class of 2021 got the opportunity to walk across a stage to receive their diplomas. Graduations were scaled back, with fewer attendees and shortened ceremonies.

Sports competitions return

In January, high school sports teams resumed play, after athletes spent almost a year of being limited to conditioning work.

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), the state's governing body for high school sports, said seasons would resume in late 2020, but the start date was pushed back.

Families rallied in January to let athletes fully return to competition, including indoor sports, as part of the "Let Them Play" effort.

Leadership changes

The Sequoia district hired Darnise Williams as its new superintendent in the summer. She took over for Crystal Leach, who led the district on an interim basis after former superintendent Mary Streshly was forced to resign following a vote of no confidence by the teachers union and top administrators.

M-A, Woodside and TIDE Academy welcomed new principals in the fall of 2021.

M-A Principal Simone Rick-Kennel left her longtime post to lead TIDE and the district's small schools. She replaced Allison Silvestri at TIDE. Karl Losekoot, M-A's instructional vice principal, took the helm at M-A.

Woodside Principal Diane Burbank retired this year as well. Her replacement was Karen van Putten, who most recently was a principal in Saratoga.

MPCSD tax measure passes

The Menlo Park City School District's parcel tax, Measure B, passed in November with overwhelming support (74.4% voters said "yes").

The measure asked for $598 per parcel annually, a $193 bump from the current rate of about $405. It will raise $4.6 million annually for the district, which serves about 2,700 students in Menlo Park and Atherton.

Measure B will sunset after 12 years, expiring in 2033. It replaces Measure X, a seven-year parcel tax which expires in June 2024.

Email Staff Writer Angela Swartz at [email protected]

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