The stage is set for a battle between the Mountain View Whisman School District and a group of residents living in northeastern Mountain View who say it's high time the district reopen one of the area's two long-closed neighborhood schools.
At a recent board meeting, members of various neighborhood associations from the area implored the trustees and administration of the district to reopen Whisman School -- which has been shut since 2000 and which currently houses the German International School of Silicon Valley and the Yew Chung International School of Silicon Valley.
"I'm urging you to please consider reopening Whisman School in our neighborhood," Jessica Gandhi, president of the North Whisman Neighborhood Association.
"At this point we're all commuting to everywhere but in our own neighborhood," Tamara Wilson told the Voice. Wilson is the parent of a 3-year-old boy who would go to Whisman if it were open, but is instead slated to go to Huff School.
"We definitely, definitely need a neighborhood school," said Paula Weaver, who lives in the area. Her husband Bob, a representative for the Whisman Neighborhood Association, also spoke in favor of reopening Whisman School.
Despite pleas from community members like Gandhi, Wilson and the Weavers, Craig Goldman, superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District, said his district is not planning to reopen Whisman. In fact, the board just approved a plan from the German school to install four new portable units on the Whisman School campus -- a signal that the German school and Yew Chung are there to stay for the foreseeable future.
However, Goldman said, his administration is exploring the possibility of reopening Slater as combination neighborhood school and expansion of the district's Dual Immersion program, which has children learning in both in both Spanish and English.
"We are not currently considering reopening Whisman School," Goldman said. "We think Slater is the best option for serving both the Slater and Whisman neighborhoods."
That would be fine, Bob Weaver told the Voice if the plan is to place the expanded Dual Immersion program on top of a traditional neighborhood school at the Slater site. But, Weaver continued, the way Goldman has presented his idea to the Whisman Neighborhood Association, it is not acceptable.
"Right now, there is absolutely no district desire to create a traditional neighborhood elementary school in our neighborhood," Weaver said, adding that Goldman's Dual Immersion plan is "not going to fly as a substitute for a traditional neighborhood program."
"The Dual Immersion plan as currently presented by the superintendent is a choice program," Weaver said -- meaning that parents can choose to send their kids there or somewhere else within the district.
While Goldman has said that residents of the Whisman area would get priority to attend the school, Weaver noted that there are some who would not want their children in the Dual Immersion program and would prefer a traditional program. Those parents would end up having to send their children to a school outside of the area, which is precisely what the residents want to avoid.
Wilson said that there are many young families with infants and toddlers living in her condominium complex, located right around the corner from the Whisman campus. She presumes that many of her neighbors would rather have their kids go to a nearby school rather than drive their children across town to another campus.
Goldman defended his plan to expand the Dual Immersion program on the Slater campus as the most practical option.
"Given the history of low enrollment in Whisman and Slater from those neighborhoods, the district needs to consider how it can ensure that if it builds a school there will be sufficient enrollment to justify the adjustments," Goldman said, adding that he doesn't believe there are enough students of the appropriate age living north of Central Expressway to justify adding a third traditional neighborhood school on top of the existing schools, Monta Loma and Theuerukauf.
"Having a Dual Immersion program would allow the school to attract students from other neighborhoods if there is insufficient enrollment from other neighborhoods," Goldman continued. "This is the best idea we have at this point in time to provide a neighborhood solution that simultaneously ensures that the school will be fully utilized."
Weaver countered Goldman's claim, saying that he is quite sure there are enough children currently in the Whisman area to justify a traditional neighborhood school. There are 611 students currently enrolled in a district elementary school living in the area, and he said that number is projected to jump by at least 100 in the next five years.
Goldman said that it's true there are enough students in the area to fill a school, but he is skeptical as to whether the parents of all of those students would be willing to pull their kids out of their current schools -- which include traditional schools, as well as the parent-participation school, Stevenson. "We need to have some level of certainty that we're not going to be building a bridge to nowhere," he said.
Weaver said he understands Goldman's logic. It would cost the district an estimated $20 million to get one of the neighborhood schools up and running again. But, he continued, he is sure that a stand-alone traditional neighborhood school would have sufficient demand to justify the district reopening either Whisman or Slater. For his part, Goldman has asked Weaver and the area neighborhood associations to show him that a school in the area would be filled.
"He has sort of put the onus on us -- he has asked us to prove it," Weaver said. "It is our intent to prove it."