New school or not? School board to debate Cubberley question

    Will a new school re-open at Cubberley Community Center? The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education will discuss plans for a possible new school at Cubberley and future investments into schools at the board meeting at 6:30 p.m. today. 

    According to the meeting agenda, the board will talk about the goals for a task force to be commissioned to “explore educational models for the Cubberley site and contiguous school properties.” Possible foci for the task force include a proposal to build an innovative secondary school and to create better education opportunities for the district as a whole. Since it is only a discussion item on the agenda, there will be no voting involved.

    According to board member Melissa Baten-Caswell, it might be too ambitious for one task force to tackle all the issues that concern the Cubberley site.

    “I personally feel like this is a lot of stuff for one task force to do,” Baten-Caswell said. “I feel like it would be easier if we could parse this out.”

    Baten-Caswell says the opinions of the board members are split on enrollment issues and the possibility of building new schools. Supt. Max McGee and Baten-Caswell both say they expect ample discussion on these topics.

    My expectation is that we will have a good discussion and that the outcome would be for the Feb. 9 meeting to have some actionable recommendations,” McGee said.

    McGee supports the formation of a new K-12 campus, while Baten-Caswell says she feels that it would be more worthwhile to expand current programs.

    “Rather than to invest in a new secondary school, [I’d like] to put our investment into our current secondary schools so that we can invest in innovative programs,” Baten-Caswell said.

    Baten-Caswell predicts there will be several community members who will speak during the open forum portion of the meeting on both sides of the issue.

    “I think there’s going to be a lot [of open forum speakers],” Baten-Caswell said. “I think there’s some very strong feelings both ways, particularly about the high schools, about whether we should use our time, talent and money to invest in our existing schools or whether we should split that investment and invest in a brand new school as well as existing schools.”

    According to Baten-Caswell, the school board reviewed a survey that found the majority of students and teachers at the high school and middle school levels, along with parents from the elementary through high school levels, said that they would like to see smaller class sizes. However, Baten-Caswell says that based on enrollment data, she is not convinced that a new school is needed to fix overcrowding issues.

    “If we don’t need a new school, do we want a new school?” Baten-Caswell said. “I think that’s really the question we need to ask at this point is do we want a new school, not whether we need it. But there are some people, including the committee [Enrollment Management Advisory Committee], that think our schools are too big.”

    Baten-Caswell notes that at the elementary school level, one solution could be shifting the flow of students so it’s spread evenly throughout all the elementary schools. The board will discuss elementary school boundary lines at the meeting.

    “I’d say I don’t believe we do [need to open another elementary school], but I do believe we need to rejigger boundaries so we’re not overflowing kids from the same school,” Baten-Caswell said.

    The decision to create a new school will require a lot of thought and contemplation of the consequences, including the impact on the community center aspect “because Cubberley really belongs to the community,” according to Baten-Caswell.

    “Conceptually, I think starting something new is fun,” Baten-Caswell said. “Are you willing to use some of your money and some of your people’s time to do it? That means that they won’t be able to spend that same time and money on existing programs. You have to decide if that’s the most important thing.”

    McGee aims to be mindful of the district’s mission: to improve the preparedness of students and enrich their educational opportunities.

    “I think that even more importantly they [EMAC] pointed out to really think about student connectedness, about opportunities and access, about how to make our schools even better than the excellent schools they already are,” McGee said.

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