Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 23, 2013

Plan would end scattering of East Palo Alto students

Boundary change would consolidate Ravenswood graduates at Menlo-Atherton

by Chris Kenrick

East Palo Alto students would no longer be scattered to high schools in Belmont and Woodside under a plan being considered by the Sequoia Union High School District.

The plan — which would consolidate all graduates of the K-8 Ravenswood City School District at Menlo-Atherton High School — would end long bus rides, which some have blamed for high dropout rates among students from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park. This year, Ravenswood had about 430 eighth-graders who fanned out to Menlo-Atherton, Carlmont and Woodside high schools for ninth grade.

The prospective boundary changes — likely to go before Sequoia trustees late this year or early next year — are the result of community meetings held last spring throughout the district, which operates four comprehensive high schools as well as other programs serving teens from Atherton, Belmont, East Palo Alto, Ladera, San Carlos, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Redwood City and Woodside.

At the meetings, officials sought guidance on facilities planning for the district, which anticipates enrollment growth of 20 percent or more within a decade. Current enrollment is 9,247.

"The message that came back clearly as the No. 1 priority from all those meetings was the need to strengthen connections between any given eighth-grade graduating class and, if possible, a single high school where the students would go," said Sequoia Trustee Alan Sarver of Belmont.

Alternative boundaries will be drawn this fall and presented in another series of community meetings before going before trustees for a vote, Sarver said.

"We have a lot of evidence to indicate it's an adjustment that would more suitably match public demand and improve results for the communities we serve, and so we anticipate the maps that will come out of this process will reflect that, and that's what we'll bring back to the community," he said.

Sarver stressed that the district plans to maintain its popular open-enrollment program, which allows families to apply for a school other than the one to which they've been assigned. The district typically gets about 700 requests a year under open enrollment and has accommodated "upwards of 500 of those," he said.

Open enrollment has been heavily used by Ravenswood families to get students reassigned from Carlmont or Woodside high schools to Menlo-Atherton, he said.

Ravenswood graduates have been scattered to other high schools ever since the closure of Ravenswood High School, which the district operated in East Palo Alto from 1958 to 1976 when it was closed due to declining enrollment.

The prospective boundary changes in the Sequoia district would not affect the 700 Ravenswood students who attend other school districts under the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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