In an effort to solve over-enrollment in Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) secondary schools, the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee (EMAC) proposed reopening Cubberley High School as a project-based alternative for grades 6-12. The Campanile believes that the projected costs of this proposal exceed the supposed benefits of reducing the size of existing schools. However, we support the committee’s additional suggestions to implement a “house system,” similar to current PAUSD sixth grade teams, at existing schools and further extend experiential learning.
We applaud the EMAC for producing a comprehensive report on the subject by using PAUSD-specific data, and for taking the time to include student voice in the decision-making through a recent survey open for all PAUSD students.
While The Campanile believes strongly in alternative experiential and 21st century-focused learning environments, we question whether an additional school is absolutely necessary to achieve goals of modernizing education and mitigating the effects of large enrollments.
Both Palo Alto High School and Henry M. Gunn High School have recently undergone extensive construction to accommodate 4,600 total students. The student population is projected to peak at that level in 2020 before stabilizing at 4,100 students. At the middle school level, the three schools are built to sustain 2,950 and enrollment is projected to peak next year at 3,019 before stabilizing at 2,700 through 2030.
The earliest that the Cubberley school could be opened is 2019 — an optimistic estimate in itself. The primary predicament of overpopulation at the middle school level will have already passed, and at the high school level, peak enrollment will have almost been reached by 2019.
Rather than attempting to create a long-term solution for a short-term problem, the District should look to utilize all of its resources to improve these issues in a timely manner through the EMAC’s additional proposed solutions, such as the implementation of the house system, which would group students and core teachers together to create a home base. We believe this system could alleviate the strains of student connectivity due to exceeding capacity at middle schools, and provide a similar supportive environment at high schools.
The startup costs of updating Cubberley were projected at $60 to $70 million. The myriad decisions, constant attention and additional fundraising are sure to occupy a substantial amount of the District Board of Education’s time for at least the next five years to get the school up and running. These resources are finite, and applying them to a new school could prevent progress at current schools.
Paly recently put in place Social Justice and Sports Career Pathways and has seen widespread approval by students in these programs. The Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program began this year to expand research outside of the sciences, signaling that a greater emphasis on moving away from traditional direct instruction is developing. The Campanile fears that making an alternative experiential high school will divert focus from transforming our current schools and delay their development of innovative environments as students who seek project-based alternatives will opt for Cubberley.
With house systems in place, students could pursue varied thematic focuses, those that the EMAC pinpoints in the student survey, to give students ways to take control of their own learning. Additionally, such groups could be organized so as to emphasize diversity, augmenting learning environments as a whole.
We need a solution now, and we need to act fast to solve the issues at hand. The EMAC’s thorough report gives us the data we need to make changes today that will positively impact students’ learning in the years to come. The committee deserves praise for this impressive work but the solution does not come from drowning in the complications of an unnecessary additional school.