I don't live in North Fair Oaks. My Menlo Park neighborhood is slated to attend Menlo Atherton High School and that has never been in jeopardy as the school board deals with the difficult task of figuring out how it will accommodate projected enrollment growth coming from Hillview, La Entrada and Ravenswood. But what is happening to our "neighbors" from the North Fair Oaks neighborhood is wrong, and as a member of this Menlo Park community, I have an obligation to speak out.
At last Monday's community meeting (10/7/13) held at Hillview, my heart went out to the concerned parents of the North Fair Oaks (NFO) neighborhood. Superintendent Lianides seemed to give the parents of Los Lomitas students assurances that their high school would not be redistricted away from Menlo Atherton (M-A), stating that the Board of Trustees had heard from the Los Lomitas parents "loud and clear" that they wanted to retain M-A as their school of choice. Unfortunately for the apprehensive parents of NFO, there were no similar reassurances. Maybe the anxiety-ridden letters and comments of NFOs parents haven't yet resonated quite as loudly or clearly.
Shouldn't we be consistent when applying values across neighborhoods and to all of our students? The Superintendent spoke admiringly of Ravenswood being a "community valuing choices" in terms of charter school attendance but that nevertheless wanted a single "home school". That same rationale is not being applied to NFO-- and it should be. Because the K-8 schools for NFO perform lower than the other elementary schools in the Sequoia district, a large percentage of families in that neighborhood send their children to private K-8 or North Star in order to have them well prepared for what Principal Zito describes as M-A's "top 40%". Rather than celebrating the fact that those families make a great financial sacrifice to ensure their children are well equipped to succeed at M-A, the board seems to be using that fact as a reason to redistrict them between Woodside and Sequoia. Like Ravenswood, many families within the NFO neighborhoodparticularly those attending Garfield or Kennedy-- may choose an interdistrict transfer to Sequoia or Woodside. The fact that some families choose alternative high schools should not be used as a reason strip away the CHOICE to attend what has traditionally been that area's home school from the remainder of that neighborhood. Why is school choice good for one neighborhood, but not another? Why would it be important for one neighborhood to have a single home school, but not another?
Many residents have brought up concerns about what impact the increased enrollment would have on already difficult traffic congestion around our high schools. Ironically, NFO students who actually happen to live within biking and walking distance to M-A seem to be the ones who could soon face the challenge of commuting to a more distant school. If "Preparing Our Campuses For Increased Enrollment" is one of the major strategies for planning (as the District's slide from the Hillview meeting described), why would we INCREASE traffic congestion by forcing all NFO students to cross busy downtown traffic to Sequoia and Woodside? Why would we not have them attend, what has historically been, their neighborhood school that they could walk or bike to?
Initially, outreach from the district to the NFO community was incredibly poorsomething the Trustees themselves acknowledged about a month ago as word, and outrage, spread among NFO residents. Communication to the community through the feeder schools did not reach NFO residents, leaving neighbors to rely on news reports and word of mouth information. To date, the only community meeting held in NFO was in Spanish. (A concerned resident at the Hillview meeting had to request that a community meeting be held in English.) To their great credit, the NFO's neighborhood has quickly mobilized. They have put together a petition with 250 resident signatures, initiated an online survey about school attendance patterns in order to supply the Trustees with more granular information, and attended various meetings to make their voices heard. Fortunately, the Trustees seem to be listening as they learn more about that neighborhood. The proof of how much they've listened will be in the upcoming boundary maps that the Trustees draw up.
Board of Trustees: these are my neighbors. These are the people I see at Safeway and at the Halloween Parade on Santa Cruz Avenue. Their older children are attending M-A now and their parents have volunteered for, donated to and been a part of the M-A community for decades. This is relatively small number of people who don't significantly impact the enrollment numbers at M-A, but who are receiving a message that they don't matter as much as the students at Hillview, Los Lomitas and Ravenswood. They do to me. They should to all of us.