Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a four-part series about how pockets of enrollment growth are creating challenges for local school districts.
Pockets of student enrollment growth in elementary schools will eventually move through to local high schools.
Unlike the elementary schools, which have often been caught off guard with the unexpected growth, high school districts can see the bubble moving through the younger grades. Planning can start sooner as a result. The Sequoia Union High School District, for example, is prepping for 20 percent growth by 2020. The numbers are nearly enough for another school. But those students aren’t spread out evenly and there isn’t space available to simply create a new school. Instead, the district is in the middle of a year-long planning process in hopes of having the space available once those students start their freshmen year.
"We have about a three-year window with stable enrollment. Then it really starts to take off,” Sequoia Superintendent Jim Lianides said.
Current estimates assume enrollment will grow from about 8,300 to 9,700 students by 2020 with the greatest number of students coming from Belmont, Redwood Shores, San Carlos and Menlo Park, according to a staff report. That growth isn’t equal across the district. Also, not all schools have the capacity to add more facilities, Lianides said. The challenge will be stretching facilities for the growing number of students.
A serious conversation to consider as the district grows is having schools that are not equal in size, said Lianides.
Finding the right solutions for the district requires a lot of work. First, Sequoia will assess the current facilities to identify options to add classrooms or build up. It’s not just space. The conversations will include what kind of facilities will be needed. In addition, the district will consider the possible growth to each campus with and without changing boundaries.
It’s not just about facilities. Sequoia officials are also tackling relationships with the various elementary school districts that feed into the high schools.
Currently, one middle school could have students going to any of the four comprehensive or charter high schools within the district. Also, the district allows for students to apply to other schools within the district. Districtwide, 700 such requests were made last year and 500 were granted. Historically, about a third of the incoming freshman class aims to make such a transfer.
School assignments can be a difficult thing in the Sequoia district. Middle schools or schools who serve students from kindergarten through eighth grade can be within the high school boundaries of multiple schools. In the Redwood City and Ravenswood City elementary school districts, some schools are in the boundaries of three of the Sequoia schools. One option would be to keep those groups of students together in high school, which could build community and a better working relationship between the high school and feeder school. The conversation isn’t aimed at making changes, it’s a chance to discuss the idea in the larger plan of accommodating growing enrollment.
The proposed timeline calls for completing these tasks by August 2013 with any changes in boundaries for future students to become effective August 2014. Once complete, Lianides said the district will have to look at the possible cost for implementing the plan. There is a small amount of money available from Measure J — a $165 million bond measure passed by voters in 2008. If that money was enough to cover the plan, Lianides said the district will move forward. If not, then finding a way to create the changes will be the next item on his to-do list.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.