Recent statistics on student enrollment and housing growth plans in Palo Alto have encouraged the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) to open a thirteenth elementary school, according to district Chief Technology Officer Ann Dunkin.
“Basically the district has been growing at a rate between one and three percent a year, and it’s been a straight line for a number of years, which suggests long term growth,” Dunkin said.
A soon-to-be-appointed committee will be considering two locations for the school — re-opening either the Garland campus at 870 N. California Ave. or the Greendell campus at 4120 Middlefield Rd. The Greendell campus would be used jointly with district property at 525 San Antonio Rd.
“We’re going to be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each school,” PAUSD Superintendent Kevin Skelly said. “We’re going to use those things to help us make a determination, as well as community input.”
The eventual decision will be based on different factors, including a consideration of commute (minimizing the number of busy streets students would have to cross, for example) and a desire to group neighborhood classmates together for middle and high school in the future. Dunkin also added that the committee will have to decide between opening another school that zones children into its population regionally or opening a choice school that is not zoned to a particular part of the district.
The committee is expected to make a final decision of the location and timing of the new elementary school in the spring of 2013.
According to Skelly, the district had deliberated on opening a school six years ago but was unable to because of economic constraints. Rather than adding a new school, class sizes were increased in existing schools.
“For almost five years we were postponing [opening a new elementary school,] but given the growth we’re expecting, we can’t postpone it anymore,” Skelly said.
Allowing time for decision-making and construction, the soonest a new campus could be available is 2017-18 school year, according to Dunkin.
While many aspects of the new school have yet to be decided, enrollment is planned to be just over 500 students, with four classes per grade level. With 24 classes in total, Dunkin said that this should meet Palo Alto’s growth rate for several years to come.
The addition of another zoned neighborhood school would alter the existing school zone boundaries. The board would have to decide on a redistricting scheme that would be the least disruptive for families, Dunkin said.
Dunkin also reported declining growth in the north end of Palo Alto with the exception of Addison Elementary, which is growing in enrollment and will need support.
The district is also looking to add a fourth middle school to alleviate the enrollment growth that will move from the elementary schools to the middle schools as students age.
“We’ll definitely need a fourth middle school for the 2020-21 school year,” Dunkin said. “We’ll be fairly tight at that point to be honest, and we need to meet the educational needs in middle school.”