Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 13, 2013

Palo Alto considers expanding Terman Middle School

Superintendent nudges Stanford for help with land

by Chris Kenrick

With Palo Alto's headcount of middle school students growing, the school district is eyeing land near Terman Middle School for new facilities.

Palo Alto Superintendent Kevin Skelly is making a pitch for Stanford University to help add classroom space for Palo Alto's growing middle school population.

In Skelly's ideal scenario, Terman would expand to the adjacent 1.67-acre property currently occupied by the private Bowman International School on Arastradero Road, and Stanford would provide an alternative site in the Stanford Research Park that Bowman could move to.

Stanford so far has rejected the idea. It wants to support the district but does not want to provide land as part of that support.

But with Palo Alto's middle school enrollment expected to bump in the next three to four years and then dampen, expanding Terman — now considerably smaller than Jordan or JLS — is a "vastly superior solution" to other options, including building a whole new middle school at the 35-acre Cubberley Community Center site, Skelly said.

Skelly and the K-8 Bowman International School — which wants to expand to a 4.5-acre site — have been discussing a possible deal for the past year. But Bowman so far has come up short on finding a suitable expansion venue.

In a school board study session on enrollment growth and facilities planning Monday, board members told Skelly to continue to pursue "mutually beneficial options" with Bowman but also to consider other middle school options "with a sense of urgency."

Several said that despite murky growth projections, a fourth middle school, somewhere on the Stanford campus or elsewhere, may be needed soon. Currently enrollment at Terman is 717, compared to 1,025 at Jordan and 1,015 at JLS.

The district considers 1,100 to be the maximum desirable headcount for a middle school. This year's district-wide middle school enrollment is higher by 48 students than last year's.

In pitching for Stanford's help, Skelly cited the university's plans to develop 180 faculty-staff housing units off upper California Avenue in the former Facebook location. Stanford also is developing 70 "affordable" apartment units on El Camino Real between California Avenue and Page Mill Road, but those units will not be restricted to Stanford-affiliated tenants.

Stanford currently generates 681 K-12 students in the Palo Alto school district, up from 603 in 2009-10.

The university and the school district have a long history of cooperation, with five local public schools on land once owned by Stanford. They are Palo Alto High School, Gunn High School, Escondido and Nixon elementary schools as well as Oak Knoll School in Menlo Park.

In other business Monday, board members reviewed demographers' data that project little or no elementary enrollment growth in the near term, even as the district is making plans to open a new elementary school.

But members said the demographers' projections failed to take into account new housing that — while not yet in the development pipeline — is likely to occur.

Vice President Barb Mitchell (who was elected president of the board on Tuesday) noted that the City of Palo Alto, under heavy pressure from state and regional planning officials to add housing to address the city's jobs-housing imbalance, is conservatively projecting 3,000 additional housing units being built in the city between now and 2030.

District demographers are only projecting 500 new housing units, albeit for a shorter time horizon, she said.

"I don't think we should ignore (the city projections), especially when the demographers admit they don't look at data unless it's in our pipeline," she said.

Board members agreed to look more closely at new-school possibilities in another study session in January, at which Skelly said he would provide a range of options. The board has said it plans to make a final decision by June on location and programming — traditional or specialized, such as Spanish immersion — for a 13th elementary school.

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

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