M-A tries to calm fears about school changes | October 16, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Schools - October 16, 2013

M-A tries to calm fears about school changes

by Barbara Wood

Parents anxious about the effects of projected enrollment growth on Menlo-Atherton High School peppered Sequoia Union High School District Superintendent Jim Lianides and Menlo-Atherton High School principal Matthew Zito with questions at an informational meeting at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park on Monday, Oct. 7, attended by more than 100 people.

The two tried to soothe community fears that anticipated growth in the district and changes in the boundaries of attendance areas could affect their children's experience at Menlo-Atherton, the public high school that the Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City School districts feed in to.

"You're just not going to see much of a difference from what you see today," said Principal Zito, promising the "socio-economic or racial makeup of the school," will remain similar to what it is today.

"If you appreciate what the school offers ... it simply isn't going to be different," he said. "We can maintain that same culture and the kind of attributes that draw people who want to attend the school," he said. "Your kids' experience of the campus should be fundamentally the same as it is today."

He promised the school would continue to have the same number of advanced placement (AP) courses as it does currently, with additional sections of each course. Menlo-Atherton will need to add some teachers, classrooms, bathrooms and additional athletic teams, to accommodate the additional students, he said.

The plan presented by the two administrators would end the long-distance busing of students from East Palo Alto to Woodside and Carlmont high schools by including all of East Palo Alto in the Menlo-Atherton attendance area. The move would be balanced by removing from the Menlo-Atherton attendance area some number of students from North Fair Oaks, who would instead be assigned to Sequoia and Woodside high schools.

Some North Fair Oaks parents spoke at the meeting and said they would like to remain in the Menlo-Atherton attendance area. Superintendent Lianides said he is meeting with a few parents from North Fair Oaks this week and hopes to hold a larger informational meeting in the area soon.

Superintendent Lianides' presentation showed that currently 516 students from the Ravenswood School District are in the Menlo-Atherton attendance area, 666 students from the Menlo Park City School District and 345 from the Las Lomitas School District.

With boundary changes that move all Ravenswood district students into the Menlo-Atherton attendance area, plus anticipated growth, Menlo-Atherton is projected to have (by the year 2020): 1,138 students from Ravenswood, 957 students from the Menlo Park City School District and 498 students from Las Lomitas.

The numbers do not reflect the fact that each year some students from each attendance area transfer out of Menlo-Atherton to other district high schools while other students transfer in, leaving the totals the same but slightly changing the home districts of students, Superintendent Lianides said.

Superintendent Lianides said that two-thirds of the projected growth at Menlo-Atherton is expected to come from Menlo Park with one third from the Ravenswood district.

Without the boundary changes, Superintendent Lianides said, the district's projections show by 2020 an additional 348 students at Menlo-Atherton High School, bringing it to 2,416 students; and 336 more Woodside High School students, bringing it to 2,013 students. Carlmont High School would grow by 477 students to 2,652 students and Sequoia would grow by 420 students to 2,448.

One of the strategies the district hopes to use to ease the overcrowding would be the development of two small alternative schools that would draw students from the entire Sequoia Union district.

Superintendent Lianides said that the district's facilities task force is looking at the possibilities. "These schools would not have an attendance area but would be located in strategic areas so they could draw from wider communities," he said, adding they would be "voluntary in nature but very attractive."

"These are still very much in the initial phase," Superintendent Lianides said. The district would have to pass a bond measure, buy land and plan the schools. He said the schools would likely be located near where the district has the largest enrollment growth, which includes Menlo Park, Belmont and Redwood Shores. "The location of these campuses would be strategic," he said.

Superintendent Lianides said that a tentative attendance area map will probably be presented in November but not formally adopted until summer. That means that attendance areas for 2014-2015 will not be changed; but that changes could go into place by the 2015-16 school year.

The planned changes should make the district's schools better, Superintendent Lianides said. "The whole goal at the end is that the student experience in 2020 will be better than the student experience today."