Being an elementary school principal can't be easy even under normal circumstances, but it's likely that Encinal School Principal Sharon Burns never expected that she'd have to hone the skills of a juggler.
"We're just having to be creative with our use of space," Ms. Burns said after describing the careful scheduling and strategic shifting of various classes and campus programs to accommodate the rapidly growing student enrollment on the K-5 campus.
The juggling act includes: the conversion of the science lab to classroom space and the subsequent adjusting of the science program to fit the new space limits; the move of the computer lab into the district office board room; the use of a new portable building for, among other things, part of the music program -- with string players squeezed out of their former space in the multipurpose building learning their instruments in a space shared with special education occupational therapy equipment.
Encinal School in Atherton is one of the Menlo Park City School District's three schools serving kindergarten through fifth-grade students, all of which have enrollments exceeding the schools' capacity. Although each of the schools has undergone major renovation in the past decade, the number of children enrolling in the high-performance, high-wealth district far exceeds demographic projections done at the time the renovation projects were undertaken.
For years, district officials have watched nervously as enrollment crept up, and counted on reaching the enrollment plateau projected for around 2015, making adjustments along the way to accommodate increases from year to year. But this year, faced with a 40 percent enrollment hike since 2000 and new projections showing continuing growth through at least 2022, the school board unanimously decided to ask district voters to approve a $23 million bond measure to rebuild the former O'Connor school in the Willows neighborhood of Menlo Park.
Measure W on the Nov. 5 ballot would fund construction of a school for third- to fifth-graders coming from the K-2 program at nearby Laurel School. The district plans to open the new school, on a campus that has been leased out to a private school for decades, in 2016.
In addition to Encinal, the district operates Laurel School in Atherton, Oak Knoll (K-5) in Menlo Park, and Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, which opened for the 2012-13 school year after a complete reconstruction of its facilities.
Superintendent Maurice Ghysels noted that each of the pre-middle school campuses acquired for this school year a portable building to accommodate more students. The enrollment increase at these schools has created traffic congestion before and after school, particularly at Encinal, he said.
"Also, of course, our playgrounds are more crowded because Oak Knoll and Encinal schools were planned for 680 (maximum) enrollment, but they are now each above 770," he added. Laurel School, built with a 484-student capacity, how has 516 students, according to the district.
Total district enrollment is now at 2,904. Projected enrollment in 2022 is 3,000 to 3,350, the district said.
No one submitted a ballot argument against Measure W, and with a strong history of community support for previous bond and parcel tax measures, school leaders are optimistic that the measure will reach the necessary 55 percent approval margin to pass.
The ballot argument in favor of the bond measure notes, among other things, that enrollment is projected to grow by up to 400 students over the next decade, and the existing building at the O'Connor site is nearly 60 years old, with only 10 classrooms. If the bond measure doesn't pass, the argument states, "core educational programs and facilities -- hands-on science, music, physical education, and art -- will be displaced to accommodate classrooms."
The district estimates that a 25-year, $23 million bond would cost district property owners an average of $8.70 per $100,000 of assessed value, and district leaders have said they're aiming for a single-series current interest bond issue.
School parents and community leaders have campaigned for the measure through neighborhood coffees and other outreach activities, said Katie Ferrick, one of five volunteers leading the Yes on W campaign committee. District children have also gotten involved by staffing neighborhood lemonade stands, where they pass out campaign fliers along with a cool drink.
Ms. Ferrick noted that building a new school would keep all district schools -- and the entire community -- "strong and vibrant."
"We wouldn't be in the position of over-enrollment" if the district hadn't worked hard over the years to offer a stellar educational program, she said. Over-enrollment "means we have great schools -- and what a great problem to have."