The other recommendation calls for a total shake-up: eliminating intradistrict transfers entirely, in order to level out enrollment across the district and push the concept of "neighborhood schools" within safe walking distance.
The idea of neighborhood schools gained traction and won the favor of Mountain View Whisman school board members during the drawn-out process of drawing new school attendance boundaries. Creating boundaries for the new Slater Elementary — which is expected to open next year — encompasses all of the North Whisman region because of the stated goal to keep communities together. The Shoreline West neighborhood was placed within one boundary — Landels Elementary School — instead of being split between two schools for similar reasons.
With open enrollment the way it is, boundaries are more guidelines than anything else, and the percentage of children attending their own neighborhood school fluctuates radically from one area to the next. Community members in the Monta Loma area have told trustees that many parents in the region go for other options — like the Stevenson PACT program or private school — before considering the nearby public school.
Reports from past years show that only about a third of the families living within the Theuerkauf, Castro and Monta Loma boundaries requested their own neighborhood school as the first choice for kindergarten enrollment, compared to 86 percent for Huff Elementary.
Intradistrict transfers would still be possible under the recommendation, said Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph, but only on a case-by-case basis reviewed by district staff. Picking from a menu of schools and requesting a campus other than the designated neighborhood school would no longer be part of the formal enrollment process, he said.
What's unknown at this point is whether children using intradistrict transfers would be allowed to stay at their current school under the new enrollment priorities, or whether they would be required to relocate back to their neighborhood schools. The task force will need to make a decision on that sometime this spring, Rudolph said.
"Part of the conversation is going to be, are you talking about a hard start, where everyone is reset, or whether it's from here on out," he said.
Board members are expected to weigh in on both recommendations at the March 15 meeting, after the Voice's press deadline. District officials say the plan is for the task force to choose one of the recommendations and present it to the board by May — with possible modifications along the way — before trustees make a final decision.
Both recommendations are aimed at cleaning up the district's enrollment priorities. Currently, there are 26 priorities used to decide which schools students are allowed to attend, some of which are so specific they only affect a single family in the district. The changes would apply at the same time that the district's new school attendance boundaries take affect, and each recommendation takes a different approach to grandfathering students under the old boundaries.
Under the status quo option, dubbed "Recommendation A," attendance boundaries remain an important factor in whether students are allowed higher or lower priority during the enrollment lottery process. But with new boundaries set to take effect in the 2019-20 school year, would current students be subject to the new boundaries, or be "grandfathered" in with the old boundaries?
Task force members backing Recommendation A opted to allow no grandfathering at all, meaning families would need to reapply for their children without the advantage of living within the old attendance boundary. The option to strip away intradistrict transfers, dubbed "Recommendation B," also does not allow grandfathering, with the exception of incoming fifth-grade students who would be allowed to complete their final year at elementary school.
Grandfathering has been a hot-button issue for parents living near crowded schools, particularly Bubb and Huff Elementary, after recent enrollment increases threatened to force nearby students into involuntary transfers to schools elsewhere in the district. After expanding the size of kindergarten classes at Bubb and Huff last year to accommodate an overflow of kids, Rudolph said the schools have sufficient space to avoid turning away any children from their own neighborhood school this year.
A change of pace for choice programs?
The outlier in the conversation about neighborhood schools are Mountain View Whisman's choice programs, the parent-participation PACT program at Stevenson Elementary School and the dual immersion program at Mistral Elementary School, which draw from every region of the district and, by their very nature, draw from beyond the local neighborhood.
Both have huge waiting lists for enrollment each year, and both could see big changes in the way families score one of the coveted spots in the program.
Recommendation B, according to a district staff report, proposes creating a tiered system for Mistral and Stevenson that could give priority to students from specific attendance boundaries within the district, or to children from lower-income families who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. The ideas of priority enrollment for choice programs is still in its infancy, but Rudolph said there has been a lot of interest and receptiveness to the idea from PTA presidents, the District Advisory Committee (DAC) and even some school staff.
One of the reasons for the proposed changes is that Stevenson Elementary has historically under-enrolled students from low-income families, leaving the school with the least economic diversity in the district despite drawing from every single neighborhood. Although 34 percent of the district's students qualify for free and reduced-price meals, those students make up only 5 percent of Stevenson's enrollment.
Rudolph said that PACT staff and community members want more diversity in the school and they struggle to figure out ways to do it — a shift in enrollment priorities could be the answer to the problem.
This story contains 1050 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.