S E C T I O N
Schools NOVEMBER 18, 2009
N E W S O F L O C A L S C H O O L S , S T U D E N T S , T E AC H E R S , A N D PA R E N T S .
|CALENDAR 29 |CLASSIFIEDS 30
Bursting at the seams Despite a spate of new construction, growing enrollment might induce the Menlo Park school district to open a new school By Andrea Gemmet Almanac Staff Writer
f closing a school is the hardest decision a school board ever has to make, then the second most difficult is deciding whether to open a new school. Next month, the Menlo Park City School District’s board of trustees is going to have to decide if growing student enrollment justifies the expense and difficulty of opening an elementary school at the old O’Connor site. It’s a decision with farreaching implications. Since 1991, the O’Connor campus at 275 Elliott Drive in Menlo Park has been leased to the German-American International School, and the Menlo Park district faces a Jan. 1 deadline to notify the private school if its lease will end in June 2011 or will be extended for another five years. There is the financial cost of losing the annual rent that the German-American International School (GAIS) pays, and the cost of hiring administrators and staff to run a new elementary school. There is the capital cost of improving the O’Connor
site’s old buildings and bringing them up to par with the rest of the district. There’s a tricky task of figuring out who would go to the new school, located in the Willows neighborhood. If the district doesn’t open a new school, officials will have to figure out how to find room for the mushrooming student population on existing campuses that are already pressed for space. As it is, Oak Knoll and Encinal are much larger than most neighboring elementary schools, and for the next several years at least, they are expected to keep growing. “This is the most important decision of the year, no doubt about it,” said Superintendent Ken Ranella. Dollars and sense
The easiest piece of the puzzle is figuring out the cost to the district. Much harder is figuring out where that money would come from. It’s not a great time to be a California school, as far as funding is concerned. Like most districts, Menlo Park is faced with cuts in state funding and flattening property tax revenues that aren’t keeping
up with increased expenses. As a basic aid district, Menlo Park doesn’t receive additional state funding when its student body grows — it has to make do with the same amount of money divided among an increasing number of students. Per-student revenue in the district is down 4 percent this school year, and it’s projected to go down another 4 percent next year, said Mr. Ranella. “Hearing how tight revenue is going to be, you can imagine that funding challenges and the financial impact is a primary concern,” said board member Laura Rich. “The idea of taking on additional financial burdens is of primary concern to the board.” The cost of modernizing the buildings, a one-time expense, is still unknown, but the district has about $1.75 million set aside for the task. On an ongoing basis, there’s the loss of more than $300,000 in annual rental income and an estimated cost of more than $300,000 to run the school and hire administrators and office staff. Board member Jeff Child said that if the decision to open another school was purely financial, the decision would be easy —
why commit to spending more money? But if the alternative is putting more children into each class because there aren’t enough classrooms, that’s a different matter. “First and foremost, we can’t let O’Connor drive curriculum decisions inadvertently,” he said. “Notwithstanding the financial side, if we do not renew the lease, we’re not locking ourselves into class sizes that we don’t want.” How many more students?
Figuring out how many students the district will enroll next year, in five years and in 10 years, is both a science and an art. The district’s master plan figured on a maximum elementary student enrollment of 1,800, a number that guided the size of the new classroom and facilities construction that’s currently under way at Encinal and Oak Knoll. However, that number has already been exceeded — there are 1,855 elementary students enrolled this year, not including middle school students at Hillview — and it’s expected to grow. The master plan calls for the option of re-opening O’Connor if enrollment goes beyond 1,800. “We’re 55 (students) over our master plan, but our class sizes are a bit over, so they are absorbed into our current facilities,” Superintendent Ranella said. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem housing our students next year. The problem is the growth projection — it’s up until 2013 See SCHOOLS, page 26
This is the most important decision of the year, no doubt about it.
SUPERINTENDENT KEN R ANELLA OF THE M ENLO PARK CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT
Laurie Sobel, with sons Alexander, 5, and Joshua Pfistners, 3, walks into the preschool at the GermanAmerican International School in Menlo Park. The private school might lose its lease if overcrowding in the Menlo Park City School District compels officials to open a new elementary school at its O’Connor site. Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac
November 18, 2009 N The Almanac N 25
S C H O O L S
â€œThereâ€˜s no place like home.â€?
Redwood City - San Mateo - San Jose
Kathy Smith, a P.E. teacher, directs cars during the morning drop-off at Encinal School in Atherton. Despite staggered school hours for different grades, managing traffic to the growing school can be a challenge. Photo by Michelle Le/The Almanac
Bursting at the seams
SCHOOLS continued from page 25
%(%+(( ") %,
â€œTake the next step!â€?
$-(#'!($'#),# )$ ( )$ $#$*'#' )$#' "($'
/ +%'$(($#!$## %'#)"#$'#.)$# / +!$%#+*!( !!(#)#&*( / '#)",$' #"()')-
/ $#0$"%))+0!(( )"(# 2!-0$"%))+0!(()"( / 1#4$-*##%$()+#+'$#"#) 3$()+0$#!!#3!$($%-
$*$+(,)-"*$+"#()$&"( +$('*'! ('+ +* www.pasoccerclub.org
CASTILLEJA SCHOOL 8PNFO-FBSOJOHt8PNFO-FBEJOH (SBEFT
and then it starts to decline, but it doesnâ€™t bring us back down to 1,850 until 2019.â€? Part of the reason is an influx of kindergarteners. The district had never had more than 273 kindergarteners. Last year, the kindergarten class was 330 students, and it got even higher this year, at 352, said Mr. Ranella. According to Tom Williams, the districtâ€™s demographer, higher birthrates donâ€™t account for the size of the jump. The percentage of children enrolling in public school also spiked, from around 80 percent in 2003-2006 to well over 90 percent today. The situation is â€œstatistically hard to fathom,â€? Mr. Williams told the board last month. â€œItâ€™s easy to say open a school, but you have to have in the back of your mind, how long do you really need those facilities, because one of the most painful things a district can do is close a school,â€? said Ms. Rich. â€œIf itâ€™s only short term, do you just muscle through, with everything being tight for a little time?â€? While five-year enrollment projections are pretty solid, thereâ€™s a bigger margin for error when forecasting 10 years out. â€œNo one actually knows the numbers. You go 10 years out, those parents arenâ€™t even dating yet! The children arenâ€™t born yet and the parents may have just met last night at the BBC,â€? said Ms. Rich with a laugh.
dents, said Hans-Peter Metzger, head of the school. Losing the lease on the Oâ€™Connor site would likely mean moving out of Menlo Park, he said. â€œMany (families) moved to this area to be close to this school,â€? Mr. Metzger said. â€œItâ€™s become a community thatâ€™s evolved around this school.â€? He said he empathizes with the Menlo Park districtâ€™s difficult situation, but pointed out that Oâ€™Connorâ€™s small campus and old buildings are less than ideal for a new public school. The location is also an issue. Oâ€™Connor is in the far southeast corner of the district. Making it a neighborhood school means redrawing attendance boundaries throughout the district, a painful exercise, and one that was recently done to shift students away from Oak Knoll and into Encinal. Making Oâ€™Connor a magnet school is also problematic, because its location could be off-putting to families living on the opposite end of the district. But that doesnâ€™t mean the board wonâ€™t undertake the job of changing boundaries again, said Terry Thygesen, a former board member who is part of a three-member advisory committee helping to study the issue. â€œIf it really is the best solution for the district, I have full confidence that the board and the superintendent, no matter how tired they are from doing it, will say, â€˜This is best and weâ€™ll do it.â€™ I donâ€™t think theyâ€™ll shy away from it,â€? she said.
EEucaUing GirlT for Uhe TU CenUur Z 'JOBM'BMM0QFO)PVTF
5PNBLFBSFTFSWBUJPOPSMFBSONPSF XXXDBTUJMMFKBPSHttBENJTTJPO!DBTUJMMFKBPSH #SZBOU4USFFU 1BMP"MUP
26 N The Almanac N November 18, 2009
Ms. Rich said sheâ€™d hate to displace the German-American International School just to open a public school that could be closed in a few years. â€œA good tenant is worth gold,â€? she said of GAIS. â€œTheyâ€™ve been wonderful to work with.â€? The German-American school has daily attendance of about 250 children, from preschool to eighth grade, and almost a quarter of them are Menlo Park resi-
Is smaller better?
As it is, Menlo Parkâ€™s elementary schools have unusually big student populations. Mr. Ranella said he looked at schools in six Bay Area counties, and Menlo Park is in the upper 4 percent in terms of size. Most elementary schools range from 400 to 500 children, but with the projected growth, Oak Knoll and Encinal could top 800. While opening up a school at
Oâ€™Connor isnâ€™t very attractive, neither are the alternatives. If the district doesnâ€™t increase class sizes, it could house classes in other instructional spaces, like gyms, science labs or music rooms, or add portables. â€œNeither is a good option,â€? said Mr. Ranella. â€œPortables encroach on your open space. Music and science rooms are there because they are highly effective educationally.â€? And then thereâ€™s the question of whether itâ€™s better to have a smaller school rather than a larger one. â€œThereâ€™s not a lot of research that says that smaller schools at the elementary level are better than not,â€? Mr. Ranella said. â€œWe have a history of big schools here, and weâ€™re doing pretty damn well.â€? Accommodations have to be made with bigger schools. Traffic is always an issue, with the district adding extended dropoff lanes to its schools. At Oak Knoll, recess times are staggered in order to accommodate all the children on the playground. â€œIn the middle school, weâ€™ve argued that itâ€™s better having a larger school because thereâ€™s more variety,â€? said Mr. Child. Once the planned rebuilding of much of Hillview Middle Schoolâ€™s campus is complete in two years, an even bigger variety of classes can be offered, he said. Mr. Child said he hasnâ€™t heard complaints from parents about the size of the schools, even though Oak Knoll has had more than 700 students for quite a while. â€œWhat we hear about is change, not absolutes,â€? Mr. Child said. â€œWeâ€™re hearing about class size because itâ€™s up one (student).â€? But that doesnâ€™t mean the board can ignore the issue of school size, he said. â€œWe want to make sure weâ€™re thinking about it. Our job is not to wait for people to complain,â€? he said. A report to the board from Mr. Ranella covering the myriad issues involved is due in December, although the date is not yet set. Board members are waiting to see all the facts before deciding on a course of action. â€œThere are no happy choices here, as I see it,â€? said Ms. Rich. â€œBut itâ€™s not gloom and doom. Whatever happens, we are going to provide a great education for these kids.â€? A
C O M M U N I T Y
Pilates | Yoga | Contour | Class or Private | Acupuncture Massage Therapy | Nutrition Counseling | Physical Therapy
Truly Integrative Wellness in Woodside 2920 Woodside Rd. Woodside, CA 94062 (650) 851.4747 Learn More and Sign Up for Classes at www.WellnessStudio.com Maya Kelley goes en pointe as Clara in the Peninsula Youth Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.”
Maya Kelley dances lead in ‘The Nutcracker’ By Jane Knoerle Almanac Lifestyles Editor
hen Maya Kelley of Menlo Park takes to the stage as Clara in the “The Nutcracker,” this will be her 13th and last year in the Peninsula Youth Ballet’s production of the beloved classic. For the third year, Maya, daughter of Yumiko and Tom Kelley, plays the lead role of Clara. Her performances will take place at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 28, and Sunday, Dec. 6, at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 North Delaware St. in San Mateo. She will alternate the role with Dominique Larose, who appears as Clara on Nov. 29 and Dec. 5. Maya has been taking ballet at the Ayako School of Ballet in Belmont since she was 4. When she was a kindergartner at Laurel School, she appeared as a toy soldier in her first “Nutcracker.” Now she is a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School, sending applications off to prospective colleges. Does she plan a career in dance? “No, I don’t see it as a career. I want to be an engineer. I really like math and science.” she says. However, she also wants to include dance in her college curriculum.
Meanwhile, life is full, with ballet class on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and modern dance on Thursday. Weekend rehearsals for “The Nutcracker” started in October. Along with keeping up with her studies, Maya also finds time to play the flute in the MenloAtherton High School concert band. Although this will be her last year in “The Nutcracker,” Maya Kelley won’t forget her 13 years taking part in the beloved Christmas tradition. “Ballet will always be part of my life,” she says. A