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Enrollment growth on school agenda

Original post made on Mar 5, 2011

With Palo Alto's elementary school classrooms bursting with children, school officials will meet Tuesday, March 8 to discuss how to handle what they expect to be continued strong growth in the younger grades.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, March 5, 2011, 2:15 PM

Comments (42)

Posted by susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Seems to me the smartest thing would be to reopen Garland. I know this was discussed in the past but not done in the end. Anyone remember why?

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm

It has been said before, birth rates are no good for identifying numbers for kindergarten. Most people come to Palo Alto after their children are born. Not sure about the weak sales either as there is so much new housing in Palo Alto and they are selling well because of the schools.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm

The other aspect is that when all these elementary kids get to high schools it will impact numbers there.

If present elementary parents don't want their kids to attend high schools of 2500 students, then they must make that known to PAUSD now before their kids reach that age. It is really important for elementary parents to attend this meeting and get their voices heard.

Posted by Mama
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

@Susan: PAUSD decided not to reopen Garland because kinder enrollment dropped.

Garland was going to have the majority of children living in South Palo Alto anyway. With the extra traffic, it would have been a dangerous situation for Jordan students and huge car line-ups impacting Jordan parents and students. With having to cross OrEx, not likely that many Garland parents would have their children walk or bike to school.

They really should open Greendell (next to Cubberley) instead since South PA is where the growth is.

Posted by member
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Greendell is a campus full of great programs that benefit the Palo Alto Unified School District. There is a preschool and parent classes that are part of the PAUSD Adult School. There is the very popular Young Fives program for Palo Alto children eligible for kindergarten but not yet ready. There is the pilot Springboard program which provides a short preschool experience for children who have not yet been in school before they enter kindergarten. There are also ESL classes and district staff offices on site. It makes sense to have all of these programs together sharing facilities and under single oversight.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm


With all due respect, keeping all these programs you mention at Greendell is probably a luxury. We have to put our priorities in getting the schools where the kids are, in the neighborhoods. These programs are commuter programs for the whole of Palo Alto and they can be housed anywhere.

One possibility could be using Ventura for these programs and using Greendell for a regular elementary school.

As another idea, the District Offices at Churchill could be used as a Middle School campus and the District Offices could be leased from available office space anywhere around the City.

This would put a fourth middle school near the Paly Campus, not ideal from a traffic point of view, but it could make sense with sharing some field space, etc.

This would then put Cubberley as a suitable site for some type of high school. Putting 9th graders together there is one idea, and a type of magnet school is another.

With the real issue of enrollment crunch, we are going to need to use several sites all over the city, not just one new site. Elementary kids turn into middle schoolers who turn into high schoolers. Our numbers show that we have to look ahead.

Posted by parents
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Where's the money? With the proposed new budget, we are facing millions in possible cuts. Most districts are facing worse losses than ours and are severely tightening their belts. We are crying about having "too big" schools. Join reality, quit complaining and start helping with action and not words. And by action I don't mean showing up one time at a board meeting and complaining.

Posted by Resident
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Mar 5, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Agree with the above post. Where is the money for another elementary school and another high school. With CA budget problem, we will see larger classes from elementary school to UC. Just face the fact! For anyone who wants a smaller class so their kid can have more attention, private school may be the REAL answer for the next few years until CA has a more balanced budget. Asking more local tax for school, it is getting tough now...

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 6, 2011 at 7:50 am

Can you please post the time and location of the meeting? This is not the regular meeting on Tuesday night.

Posted by Session Time
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

Here's a link to the agenda from the district web site: Web Link

The it says the Study Session is at 9am, in the Board Room at 25 Churchill. Here is the link to the Study Session material:

Web Link

Posted by susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 6, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Parent is so right - if elementary schools are packed now what will our high schools look like in 10 years? We already know that planning for the future is very short sighted in this town. We need to get together and make our demands known now.

Posted by not a blip, but a trend
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 6, 2011 at 5:56 pm

Please stop taking birth rates and new housing as the only indicators of growth. Of eight new kindergartners in our immediate neighborhood last fall, only one was born in Palo Alto. None are living in new housing or with grandparents, for that matter.

Young families move to Palo Alto once they look at their local schools. As other school districts feel the pinch from the state and decline in quality, this trend will continue.

And it WILL affect middle school and high school size. I like most of the posts above who are calling on PAUSD leadership to look at long term solutions.

I just hope PAUSD leadership is listening and thinking long-term vs. band-aid.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2011 at 8:18 am

I'd like to see some more creative use of our existing space. All the programs for 5 and younger kids currently at Greendell could be housed in PACCC sites that already exist on our elementary campuses. They are empty until the kinders get out every day - a perfect overlap of time. The Greendell campus could become another elementary school in the area that has the most new housing - south PA.

Posted by Erin Mershon
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:26 am

Greendell is a decent solution for the south but no one is talking about making the choice schools move. I wonder why that is? You also still have a huge enrollment issue in the North cluster that you can't fix with Greendell. People are moving into housing in the north and they are all being overflowed to Hays, which now stands alongside schools with immersion and choice programs as one of the largest in the district.

Should a neighborhood school grow to be 700 students? That is the alternative if they don't open Garland. Garland was not reopened for one reason alone: money. Over half of the enrollment growth for the next five years is predicted to enter in 2011-12. Anyone remember when Garland was slated to open? Yep, 2011-12. Barb Mitchell was so wise to vote for Garland to stay on track.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:38 am

Erin - moving both the Immersion programs to Greendell would free up a lot of space in the North and since Choice programs are by definition commuter schools, Greendell makes a good choice for that reason also. The one negative is I don't think Greendell has been updated in years, none of the old B4E money went there.

Although it is valuable to have preschools associated with PAUSD, I think our priority should be to our K-12 students first.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

With the change in the new Kindergarten start age (must be 5yo before September 1), there may no longer be a need for the "Young 5's" program - so that may free up some space...

Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:59 am

Put a choice program parents really want, like an accelerated math program, in one of the south Palo Alto schools with plenty of room.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:18 am

I still don't think just moving Mandarin out of Ohlone solves much anything for the space issue in the north. It solves a huge problem for Palo Verde. But a serious look needs to be taken to the area north of Oregon: Hays, Duveneck, and Addison.

Hays is well over 500, and Duveneck and Addison are quickly approaching 500 students. There was a huge fight when talking about opening Garland that 480 students was considered a "mega-school" and people wanted it to be limited to 360 students. Where are those people now who were fighting to limit school size? Were they only fighting to limit the size of the school in my backyard?

Posted by paying attention
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:28 am

Moving MI elsewhere (Greendell, Garland, ???) would allow another full strand at Ohlone, which would help alleviate some of the crowding at other schools. The Ohlone lottery has been consistently WAY over-subscribed for years, so there is clearly demand in the community. Those wanting Mandarin Immersion would still have that choice, and more people wanting the Ohlone choice would get it. (I don't think there's enough history/data yet to know if community interest in MI warrants expansion.)

This still makes Ohlone an over-600 elementary school, but that seems to be written in stone anyway.

Posted by chuck
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

The problem lies with the City of Palo Alto planning department.

If you allow the building of lots of small BMR units, let developers squeeze three mini mc mansions on a single block, then WOW you will get a lot more not so very rich people moving into Palo Alto and sending their kids to the local schools.

What needs to happen instead is to allow many of those huge houses to subdivide into say two, not 3 or 6, but just two. This is greener, puts less of a strain on infrastructure, avoids the BMR debacle, and ensures that we have more of an even level of affluence, instead of this poor jammed together, then rich too far apart, community.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:34 am

Erin and Paying Attention - I actually suggested moving both Immersion programs, SI and MI. That would free up space at Escondido and Ohlone which would help a lot. There would be an additional strand (classroom per grade) at each of the schools.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:39 am

Chuck - much of the drive for housing (developer economics aside) is fulfilling the ABAG requirements to add thousands of new housing units. The City can't consider the schools when approving housing, although they can consider them in their overall planning.

Our enrollment issues will continue to get worse due to additional housing and the state budget crisis. If you read today's Mercury News, there is a list of the all the local districts main School Board agenda items. Every other district is proposing/discussing layoff this week - we are discussing our growing enrollment.

Posted by Here's an idea...
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

What if they moved Young Fives to Garland--which has more flexible bell times and might allow more flexible management of traffic impacts on surrounding neighrborhood streets near Jordan and Garland? Use Greendell for a new elementary school.

Keep MI at Ohlone. They shouldn't have offered MI a home if they didn't intend to welcome them permanently. No one wants their neighborhood school eaten up by a choice program. If you try to put it at Greendell, you are up for a serious fight. The neighborhoods over there want a new neighborhood school...and south Palo Alto has already absorbed more than its fair share of choice programs.

Posted by EcoMama
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm

As a Duveneck parent, I'm shocked that our school is getting a FIFTH strand of classes -- so we'll have 5 kinders, 5 1st grades, etc. after construction that's already been approved is complete ("whenever" that is). Who wants their kids' elementary school to be BIGGER THAN TERMAN (a middle school)? Something has to give. Perhaps the lines need to be redrawn, choice programs moved, something... for putting more kids in already-limited space, even if a two-story building is added, isn't really a solution. The playgrounds, lunch lines, traffic, etc. will be more crowded. Garland is needed, and so is Cubberley. The board needs to make a firm decision on reopening and stick to it!

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Escondido and Ohlone are not considered to be part of the north cluster according to the district enrollment figures. They only include Hays, Addison, and Duveneck in the North cluster.

I need to clarify earlier figures on enrollment data. Hays has 542 students, Duveneck - 504, Addison - 456. Compare that with our schools that have an immersion program on site and Ohlone has 552, and Escondio has 568. Neighborhood schools equal in size to choice and/or immersion schools. I think everyone would agree that something is amiss here. The first step is to open Garland to relieve pressure on the north.

Posted by Move MI
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Ditto to Paying Attention. Move MI. Expand Ohlone for Ohlone's sake.

Posted by No more choice schools
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm

If you are going to keep choice programs, keep MI at Ohlone. They offered MI a home, eliminating one of the barriers to establishing a new choice program. Ohlone should honor their commitment and keep them.

Any new school should be a neighborhood school. We don't need incentives ot keep people in the district any more.

Posted by Open Greendell
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm

The report says that 90% of the growth share is in the south cluster. Yet, the staff recommendation only recommends consideration of opening Garland (which is in the north cluster). There is no explanation as to why Greendell is not being considered. WHY?

Opening Garland would require a majority of their future student population to commute across Oregon Expressway.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Opening an elementary school where they are building more housing makes sense to me and Garland is not where the new housing is.

I know that North cluster schools are suffering from getting bigger, but they do have the bigger campuses unlike schools like Palo Verde which is smaller and has no space to make any bigger.

Ohlone with our without MI is likely to grow because of the size of its campus. With the waiting list for Ohlone regular always so popular it also makes sense to increase the size of the school.

Looking at numbers of students in a school alone doesn't tell the whole story. Looking at a small school like Palo Verde doesn't tell you from numbers alone, that there is a huge overflow from that neighborhood. The kinders being overflowed may get into another south cluster school, but anytime a new family moves into the neighborhood with a child already school age, they are likely to be offered a spot just about anywhere in Palo Alto and if they have two elementary age kids it is quite possible that they won't even be able to get into the same school.

Garland was slated to open as a huge (since mega apparently has a number description) school and it was supposed that a large majority of the kids would have to cross Oregon Expressway. This would lead to big problems as it would become a commuter school for these kids as they would not be able or allowed to ride or walk to school. I for one was happy to see that those plans were slated but not that the District should do nothing.

Greendell has always made more sense to me to open as a regular neighborhood school or as a home for choice programs. However, I am beginning to think that moving choice programs there would not help the local neighborhood schools like Fairmeadow and Palo Verde. I think we are at the stage of needing to get back Ventura as well as Greendell.

My other idea is to use District Offices at Churchill to ease middle school problems and for office space to be leased elsewhere.

This is crunch time folks. PAUSD has not been thinking ahead, has no reserves from school impact fees from developers which should be paying for new schools and no plans for what may happen after our high schools reach 2400.

They are in danger of closing the barn door after the horses have already bolted. This is now cleanup from collateral damage of being ostriches for the past ten years.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm

@Parent - Addison is the second smallest school in the district. It is .3 acres smaller than Palo Verde and actually only .1 acre bigger than El Carmelo, the smallest campus in the district. Palo Verde has an enrollment of 396. Addison is 456.

This is not just about where to house more kids, we can increase class size all day to house more kids. This is about what's best for our kids.

The district has put student emotional health at the top of it's priority list and rightfully so. I think school size plays a big part of that, starting at the elementary level. If a child gets "lost" in elementary school, it's so much harder to try to get them back in middle school or high school. If they feel like they truly belong in elementary school they'll have much stronger self-esteem and confidence going into middle school and high school.

Safety is another big issue when talking about increasing school size beyond 500 students. You might think that the schools in the north have big campuses but you should look at the lunch lines, crowded lunch tables, and the maxed out playground is at recess.

Another 200 kids in the current environment just won't work.

I know parents at Hays are not the only ones feeling the pressure and I hope parents will be there tomorrow to ask the tough questions.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm


I agree with you entirely, you are preaching to the choir. I was just pointing out that it is not just the North cluster.

I do not like the N v S mentality that often pervades these discussions, but if Garland were reopened as a single storey school it would be great for the North, but not help the South. No one in the South wants to cross Oregon for safety reasons. For the South we need Greendell would do the South and to house the programs that are there we need Ventura.

I know, I know, it all costs money, but that is why I am so mad about the school impact fees that have vanished into the pot without any forethought as to what is happening.

I know that what is ideal is to reopen all three schools (Ventura for Young Fives, etc.) but I can't see that happening. At present the schools that are big are not going to be whittled down. What I feel sure we should not do is to make any more huge schools.

Elementary is important to you now, but do you want your kids going to Jordan with over 1000 students and Paly with over 2400, because at present that is what will happen. You are not at the stage yet, but I implore you to think what you want for your kids when they are teens, because I doubt you will like it. Now is the time for you to act - yes get involved in the elementary issue, but get fellow elementary parents thinking about the middle and high schools too.

Posted by Mama
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

There are very few adults supervising the children at lunch time. Perhaps, some 5 adults for some 500 children, which calls for defensive supervision only.

I am pleased that Garland was not reopened when 90% were going to be driving from South PA. Imagine the line-up on Louis Road twice per day.

All the choice schools are bulls***. Abolish them and force children to attend their neighborhood schools. It's better for the environment (less driving) and better for the children (too many reasons to list).

Posted by New resident
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 7, 2011 at 9:50 pm

@Parent - We are moving to the area in the summer with an incoming 5th grader and 3rd grader. How accurate is it that we might not be able to get our kids in the same school, let alone our neighborhood school?

Posted by another parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm

@parents and Member,
You asked where is the money for another high school --

In order to pack up to 2500 students at our existing high schools, we are spending Measure A money, which is already approved, in a certain way, and plans already drawn. One of those ways is to build a lot of extra square footage and multistory buildings that wouldn't be necessary if we weren't expanding those campuses.

Multistory construction is so expensive in public school construction, the state of california allocation board study of costs in school construction concluded it's almost never worth it even to save land costs.

The architect for the district admitted the premium on 2-story would be at least 15% (I think more, but that's on record) -- meaning, of that first 2-story building at Gunn, $3 million of the $20 million at least will be just because it's a two-story building. So conservatively, of the 6 two-story buildings going in, we could save almost $20 million just by not having to build two-story, and tens of millions more of that classroom space could be reallocated from building Gunn and Paly larger to renovating Cubberly. How many tens of millions? Even if it was just $50 million, very conservatively, that's $70 million that could go to renovating Cubberely. It's not extra money, it's just spending the money we have with our goals in mind.

Foothill had $40 million they wanted to spend putting in a new building at Cubberly -- we missed a huge opportunity to partner with Foothill (is it too late?)

Before anyone starts arguing this post, a lot of us have been advocating for the administration to be more open with the public about the implications of the constructions decisions, explore options and compare costs. That simply has not been done. We need actual facts, problem solving and a dialog with the public about how we spend money now that will affect our district for decades to come.

It's not where will the money come from, it's how wisely are we going to spend the money we are spending now. We shouldn't be arguing over generalities, we should be looking at what we want, exploring our options, and problem solving how to use the money we have to best get those options. We still can, but it will take a lot of action by the public.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 7, 2011 at 10:39 pm

New Resident

Having a 4th or 5th grader is better than having a 1st and 3rd grader because generally speaking the 4th and 5th grades will have more students in each class. If you have a 5th grader it may be easier to get that child into your neighborhood school than a younger child.

I know of one family who moved here half way through the school year where the 4th grader was able to get into the neighborhood school but the younger one had to go elsewhere. In fact the 4th grader could also have gone to the same school, but it was explained to them that if they put the 4th grader in the neighborhood school and the younger one elsewhere, at the end of the school year the younger child would be bumped up the wait list because of sibling preference and likely to get into the neighborhood school also. So for the first couple of months they were in different schools but both ended up in the neighborhood school although for the younger child they had to spend several months in one school before having to change schools yet again.

It may be a good idea to talk to the office staff in the neighborhood school where you are considering moving to see what they think the likelihood of getting both your children in will be. I think that if you move during the summer there will be a better chance of them ending up in the same school rather than if you move mid year.

Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 7, 2011 at 11:58 pm

@New Resident - echo the above post. We came here several years ago with a 5th and 2nd grader in mid-year. When we first sent in paperwork, a couple months before moving, one kid was assigned to the neighborhood school and another was bumped - but by the time we arrived, both were in. There is more turnover than in some districts, in part due to Stanford and general California mobility, so spots do open up. As the above poster said, connecting with the school secretary is very helpful - she knows exactly what the score is and can give you a sense of how things are likely to develop.

Posted by changeup
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

How about moving all of Greendell's current programs to Garland and renovating Greendell as a new sight for Elementary school? The Greendell sight is right next to Cubberley fields and track for physical education and could use the theater and gym at Cubberley too. What a great site for an elementary school?

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

Changeup -

Many of Greendell's programs could be housed on the existing elementary campuses in the PACCC (kids club) buildings. They are totally empty until the kinders get out, then have only kinders until 2 or so when the older students get done for the day. Any non-PAUSD program at Greendell could be moved or eliminated and Greendell could be renovated for a full elementary school.

New Resident - the sooner you register your kids the better. There is a good chance they will make room for the 5th grader (there is a lot more flexibility in class size for 4-5 grade) which will put your 3rd grader at the top of the list for their classroom (siblings get first preference). BUT, this all starts when you register your kids which requires a legal PA address. The school secretaries are the ones who manage the process (they don't make the decisions, they just have all the info).

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2011 at 11:33 am

Parent: PAUSD offices are not a viable option for another middle school. Simply not enough land - not even for a "neighborhood" grammar school. Plus it is bordered by Churchill, ECR, Paly Tennis Courts and the Paly Softball/Baseball field - no room to expand the footprint to create a viable solution.

Posted by Erin
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I am strictly focusing on elementary schools for this forum because the study session today was around elementary facility planning and enrollment. I agree that the middle schools and high schools are already too big and will continue to swell well over what is an appropriate size as the enrollments in the elementary schools age upward. We'll need another middle school and high school in less than 10 years.

As it is, Garland won't come back on line until 2015 at the earliest. The district needs to think about the sites it has and where the kids are that are most affected by the crunch. It's Palo Verde and Addison according to the data presented this morning. Garland can be used in many different ways, as could Greendell. I'm not sure either is best used as a neighborhood school site but they both could ease the burden of neighborhood schools by being reopened. The only alternative is to increase school size on our existing campuses.

Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 8, 2011 at 3:20 pm

From what I recall, much of the overcrowding results from families moving into existing housing. Palo Alto has a lot of rental housing. Whereas renters once tended to be singles, grad students, they are increasingly families with kids.

With huge budget cuts on the horizon, Palo Alto is getting crunched as people flee the general fund districts.

I've long favored MI and SI going to Greendell. Ohlone's main program is more in demand than the language programs and, because it can take kids in at any grade without prequalifications, an Ohlone-only site is more efficient. (And overcrowding is one of the reasons I thought and think MI was a really bad idea--immersion programs can't compensate for attrition easily and EVERY seat counts at this time.) MI/SI are small enough that they could continue to share teh site with the Young Fives program. Yes, PSF would probably have to move, but could quite possibly find a place in Cubberly--it doesn't have the same restrictions as programs that are actually part of the PAUSD.

That said, the overcrowding has damaged Ohlone. Already, the district is muttering about reneging on its initial promise to remove the portables. I expect the district to break other promises as well. They have no credibility with me. I knew they were lying about the three-year trial period. And I think they have no desire at all to admit the obvious--overcrowded, oversized schools are bad news.

Garland, Greendell, Ventura and Pinewood should all be looked at. Land is the most costly factor and the district owns schools and land.
It has bond money for building.

And, of course, there's the politically unpalatable issue of the VTA kids--that's basically three kinder classes of kids a year--essentially a school's worth of kids.

Posted by interested
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 8, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Erin, since it appears you attended the morning session, would you mind sharing more of what was presented, specifics? Thanks.

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