Feature: District Enrollment to Grow Massively

Photo Credit: Google Maps

The boundary for Menlo-Atherton High School enrollment.

The Sequoia Union High School District enrollment is set to grow by between 1,100 and 2,300 students by 2020, according to a demographic study commissioned by the Superintendent’s Staff and the Board of Trustees. This growth would raise the total district population to at least 9,200 and as many as 10,600 students, up from a current population of 8,300.

The study was commissioned by the Board after the district’s internal projections showed growth and the Superintendent’s Staff wanted a “more in depth analysis of the demographics,” according to Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Enrique Navas. “The outcome of the report confirmed the internal projections we did,” said Navas.

The geographical method used by the demographer, Tom Williams, “is very helpful … because we can determine exactly where students are coming from,” said Navas. Williams drove almost every street of the district to examine exactly where the growth is occurring. Williams says that as the students in K-5 “get closer to ninth grade” and he adds more years of data to his projections, he’ll be able to narrow down the ranges for projected growth.

Williams attributes the growth to “turnover” in housing once occupied by older residents, the growth of the high-tech industry and fact that “the jobs are here, the money is here and the districts are highly acclaimed districts.” He points out that, “a lot of the people in high-tech are new wealth … and a much higher percentage of them came out of public schools and they want to put their kids in public schools, but they’re going to look around and find the best public schools.”

Williams says, “it’s a good bet we will peak in about 2020, but we could be at a pretty high number and holding pretty dang close to that number for a while thereafter.”

He also points out that growth across the district is not evenly distributed, with Menlo-Atherton expected to grow by between 300-600 students, Carlmont between 350-750 students, Woodside between 200-550 students, and Sequoia between 375-725 students.

This growth is made more complex by the fact that East Palo Alto is “divided into three different sections and they attend three different high schools,” according to Navas. This is how the boundaries in East Palo Alto have historically been, he explained.

The issue most immediately facing the district is building capacity and the district is “already experiencing some capacity issues at Sequoia High School.” If we did nothing from now on, “we are getting very close to a max out at Carlmont and Sequoia, and Menlo-Atherton next,” said Navas. “These kids are coming, the kids are going to be here. For the next four to five years, we are going to have to address the needs for additional students.”

While the district faces some of this growth very quickly and some long term, Navas is quick to point out that the growth will not only be dealt with by building more buildings. The Board, Navas says, “Gave clear direction to the administration that this is a parallel train, that we need to make decisions on instruction and let the programs drive some of the decisions,” while also remaining aware of “facilities.”

The district is, “looking at every option available to us,” says Navas, and the process is made easier by the fact that “when the schools are good, that [they are schools] people really want to be a part of, those transitions and decisions are a little bit easier.”

Navas described how it will not be one solution, one silver bullet, that will address this growth, but an amalgamation of ideas and solutions. He explained the effects educational innovation could play a role in addressing the growth, saying, “we’re going to be educating students for the future, and we don’t know what the future’s going to be like. Are we going to have a different model…where we can have rotational classrooms? Is it going to be a university type lecture hall?” He “doesn’t want us to box ourselves in” and repeated that “instruction needs to guide some of those decisions.”

While he is hopeful about the effects of future educational innovations, he remains “worried because of facilities.”

“I have to be a year ahead of game,” Navas says, if he wants to secure approval from the state for new construction.

When asked where the money would come from for new projects, Navas explained that, “A percentage of state matching funds for prior projects has been set aside to address enrollment growth,” but “It may not be adequate, we only set aside about $10 million.”

Beyond the construction of new buildings on our existing campuses, the district currently has a Myrtle Street campus that is not being used. Navas explained that the district, “currently has a commitment with Stanford New Schools, so until we are released from that obligation, we cannot make a long term commitment to use the facility.” Navas says, “Under Prop. 39, we were obligated to provide a facility to [Stanford].” After the campus was built, however, Stanford decided the campus wasn’t large enough and decided to remain in their own facility. While the district does not have “immediate plans” for the campus because of the obligation under Prop. 39, “We need to know sooner rather than later” if Stanford doesn’t want to use the campus long term, says Navas, “because those are classrooms we can use.”

When asked about the proposition of building a new comprehensive high school to accommodate the growth, Navas said it would be “very expensive” because of the cost of land in the district. Satellite campuses, including charter and alternative schools, are, “something that we need to talk about” says Navas, but says the district has “other options” that include “year round schools” and “AM and PM sessions,” to consider first. Navas concedes year round schools are “not a popular option for a lot of families with more than one sibling in the school system” because of difficulties with scheduling vacations, although he says the district would do everything it could to diminish the problem. He also points out that AM/PM sessions would “limit the options for students to participate in after school activities,” but believes that “we need to consider every option.”

When asked about the possibility of moving boundaries Navas said, “it is not an easy thing to do; it disrupts families … it is difficult” and the district would only pursue it “knowing that it would benefit not only our district, but also our families.”

He says that not matter what solutions are proposed, “The Board ultimately will make [the] decision.”

He points out that the district is “being proactive” and at Sequoia “has added four portables this year … and is adding five classrooms,” while at Carlmont, the district is “adding four classrooms.” The district is also having a contractor examine the campuses to see where facilities can be added. The district will also retain the services of Tom Williams to continue to refine the enrollment projections.

Navas believes that “we need to go methodically and have a well thought out plan” in order to address the problem, while making as many decisions as possible “sooner rather than later.”