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Sustainability for All: Fletcher Middle School proposes choice program to boost enrollment

Existing students would continue to attend, with kids from throughout district now also able to apply

Eighth graders work on an exercise in their Spanish 1B class at Ellen Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto on Nov. 17, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Ellen Fletcher Middle School is looking to institute a campuswide focus on environmental sustainability and allow students from throughout Palo Alto Unified to apply to attend in an effort to boost enrollment.

Starting next fall, the school is proposing to create a "Sustainability for All" choice program. The initiative would include the entire student body and would be incorporated into all core classes, as well as electives, field trips, clubs, after-school activities, community service opportunities and partnerships with community groups.

While the sustainability focus is being billed as a choice program, it would differ from the district's existing choice programs in that Fletcher would remain a neighborhood school. All students within Fletcher's attendance boundaries would still be assigned to attend the school, but those zoned for Jane Lathrop Stanford and Frank S. Greene Jr. middle schools also could submit applications to attend.

The move comes as the district looks to shore up declining enrollment at the school. Last school year, Fletcher had 506 students, compared to 821 at Greene and 996 at JLS, according to state data. In December 2021, the school board approved running an enrollment lottery for the current school year to allow students from elsewhere in the district to transfer to Fletcher.

The goal isn't necessarily to get Fletcher to be the same size as the other middle schools. According to Superintendent Don Austin, getting above 600 students would be a healthier place than where the school currently stands. He added that this doesn't need to happen in the first year of the new program.

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The idea for a sustainability program was picked by school staff. The school also convened a committee of staff, students, parents and community members who worked to develop the proposal. According to Austin, the idea was for the school to come up with a plan that felt natural, rather than being told by the district what direction to take.

"When they came back with this proposal, I was so excited. … It is a natural fit with where we're going as a city, with Stanford's new school of sustainability, with parent interest, with student interest, with staff interest," Austin said at Tuesday's school board meeting where school staff presented their plan.

Science teacher Tamara Wallace told the board that the sustainability theme is meaningful for students and staff, with students in particular making it clear that this is a topic they want to learn about and take positive action on.

"Kids today don't always have rich experiences in nature and many feel anxious about how the current environmental and social conditions will impact their future," Wallace said. "It's important that they see adults around them, in and out of school, share a vision for sustainability and (show) that their everyday actions can make an impact."

At school, students will learn about how their choices and those of others affect the world around them, math teacher Becky Rea told the board. They will also have opportunities to go on field trips to experience nature, explore conservation efforts and learn about green technologies, she said.

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The school also is considering how the campus looks and feels, including features such as landscaping and gardens, as well as the potential to create more environmentally friendly packaging for school meals and reducing food waste, Rea said.

Another goal is to partner with groups like the city of Palo Alto and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which officially opened last month.

Ellen Fletcher Middle School in Palo Alto has proposed a sustainability choice program in an effort to increase enrollment. Embarcadero Media file photo by Magali Gauthier.

The proposal for a sustainability choice school was met with a generally positive response from the board members on Tuesday.

"I love this program. I got a little teary reading about it this weekend," board member Jesse Ladomirak said. "I would definitely send my kids here in a heartbeat."

At the same time, she questioned whether this truly constituted a choice program, since it includes the whole school and all kids in the neighborhood would still be assigned to attend. According to Principal Melissa Howell, if a family isn't interested in the sustainability theme, their children could opt out of certain field trips, electives and clubs, but would still participate in the core curriculum.

Eventually, it's possible that as enrollment increases, the sustainability choice program could become a separate program within the broader school, Austin said, but at first, administrators felt it was important that the initiative encompass the full campus.

Board member Todd Collins said that it will be important to have good communication about how the program works, since this is different from existing choice programs in Palo Alto.

Board President Ken Dauber, Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza and member Shounak Dharap all voiced support for the plan.

"Preparing our students, especially at the middle school level, to be tackling these huge societal issues of import that they're going to have to be dealing with long after we're gone, is so crucial and it's so great that we're doing that," Dharap said.

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Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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Sustainability for All: Fletcher Middle School proposes choice program to boost enrollment

Existing students would continue to attend, with kids from throughout district now also able to apply

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 27, 2022, 9:42 am

Ellen Fletcher Middle School is looking to institute a campuswide focus on environmental sustainability and allow students from throughout Palo Alto Unified to apply to attend in an effort to boost enrollment.

Starting next fall, the school is proposing to create a "Sustainability for All" choice program. The initiative would include the entire student body and would be incorporated into all core classes, as well as electives, field trips, clubs, after-school activities, community service opportunities and partnerships with community groups.

While the sustainability focus is being billed as a choice program, it would differ from the district's existing choice programs in that Fletcher would remain a neighborhood school. All students within Fletcher's attendance boundaries would still be assigned to attend the school, but those zoned for Jane Lathrop Stanford and Frank S. Greene Jr. middle schools also could submit applications to attend.

The move comes as the district looks to shore up declining enrollment at the school. Last school year, Fletcher had 506 students, compared to 821 at Greene and 996 at JLS, according to state data. In December 2021, the school board approved running an enrollment lottery for the current school year to allow students from elsewhere in the district to transfer to Fletcher.

The goal isn't necessarily to get Fletcher to be the same size as the other middle schools. According to Superintendent Don Austin, getting above 600 students would be a healthier place than where the school currently stands. He added that this doesn't need to happen in the first year of the new program.

The idea for a sustainability program was picked by school staff. The school also convened a committee of staff, students, parents and community members who worked to develop the proposal. According to Austin, the idea was for the school to come up with a plan that felt natural, rather than being told by the district what direction to take.

"When they came back with this proposal, I was so excited. … It is a natural fit with where we're going as a city, with Stanford's new school of sustainability, with parent interest, with student interest, with staff interest," Austin said at Tuesday's school board meeting where school staff presented their plan.

Science teacher Tamara Wallace told the board that the sustainability theme is meaningful for students and staff, with students in particular making it clear that this is a topic they want to learn about and take positive action on.

"Kids today don't always have rich experiences in nature and many feel anxious about how the current environmental and social conditions will impact their future," Wallace said. "It's important that they see adults around them, in and out of school, share a vision for sustainability and (show) that their everyday actions can make an impact."

At school, students will learn about how their choices and those of others affect the world around them, math teacher Becky Rea told the board. They will also have opportunities to go on field trips to experience nature, explore conservation efforts and learn about green technologies, she said.

The school also is considering how the campus looks and feels, including features such as landscaping and gardens, as well as the potential to create more environmentally friendly packaging for school meals and reducing food waste, Rea said.

Another goal is to partner with groups like the city of Palo Alto and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which officially opened last month.

The proposal for a sustainability choice school was met with a generally positive response from the board members on Tuesday.

"I love this program. I got a little teary reading about it this weekend," board member Jesse Ladomirak said. "I would definitely send my kids here in a heartbeat."

At the same time, she questioned whether this truly constituted a choice program, since it includes the whole school and all kids in the neighborhood would still be assigned to attend. According to Principal Melissa Howell, if a family isn't interested in the sustainability theme, their children could opt out of certain field trips, electives and clubs, but would still participate in the core curriculum.

Eventually, it's possible that as enrollment increases, the sustainability choice program could become a separate program within the broader school, Austin said, but at first, administrators felt it was important that the initiative encompass the full campus.

Board member Todd Collins said that it will be important to have good communication about how the program works, since this is different from existing choice programs in Palo Alto.

Board President Ken Dauber, Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza and member Shounak Dharap all voiced support for the plan.

"Preparing our students, especially at the middle school level, to be tackling these huge societal issues of import that they're going to have to be dealing with long after we're gone, is so crucial and it's so great that we're doing that," Dharap said.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2022 at 11:21 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2022 at 11:21 am

Any guesses as to how students from other parts of Palo Alto will get there?


Resident
Registered user
Midtown
on Oct 28, 2022 at 2:03 pm
Resident, Midtown
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2022 at 2:03 pm

If it's anything like JLS Connections or Ohlone, they drive if they live north of Oregon.


Retired PAUSD Teacher
Registered user
another community
on Oct 28, 2022 at 3:02 pm
Retired PAUSD Teacher, another community
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2022 at 3:02 pm

Sounds like a great initiative, especially the inclusion of all stakeholders in the planning.

So much for the "alignment" push that was such a big part of Mr. Austin's agenda. Not long ago the "big idea" was for courses to be the same at all three middle schools, and for course alike teachers to teach the same lessons at the same time. Teachers who did not adhere to this model were often singled out for administrative disparagement and/or harassment.

It makes sense to try to balance the numbers a bit more, so let's hope this is not some gimmick, but a real attempt to make education more relevant. How the two other middle schools react, or are impacted remains to be seen. Given the history of PAUSD, if Fletcher's new program is a success, then Greene and JLS will be under pressure to come up with something as attractive too. Hope it works out.


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