Parents air concerns about 10th school site & intermediate-school English curriculum

Town Crier File Photo
The Los Altos School District has targeted the Old Mill/Safeway property, which includes an office building, above, for a 10th school site. The property owners aren’t willing to sell, however.

Fifteen residents and an attorney spoke at the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees meeting Jan. 8, primarily expressing their opinions on the prospect of the district invoking eminent domain to acquire property for a 10th school site.

The district is targeting the so-called Old Mill/Safeway site in Mountain View – near the northeastern corner of San Antonio Road and California Street – but the property owners have refused to sell the site to the district.

Only one of the 16 speakers favored the use of eminent domain – the right of the government to take private property for public use.

District resident Jen Benebeim said securing a new site would give the district flexibility in planning, whether it is used for Bullis Charter School or a neighborhood school, so she urged trustees to move forward with the purchase.

“I know some people are concerned about lawsuits, but this is what eminent domain laws are there for,” she said. “I don’t think you should be afraid of that.”

Nearly all of the other residents who spoke at the meeting asked trustees to avoid litigation. Lea Hallert, Stef Lau-Chen, Ying Liu, Hanifa Ismail, Nancy Bremeau, Dorothy Au, Mike Carlton, Jennifer Jacobsen and Ram Velaga all suggested seeking options within the 116 acres of land the district already owns to develop a new campus.

Carlton reminded trustees of ideas that came up when the board in 2014 commissioned an architect to reconfigure the Egan Junior High and Covington School campuses to accommodate more students.

“(The reconfiguring ideas) included many reasonable layouts to accommodate the separate schools on existing campuses,” he said, adding that it’s clearly feasible to put Bullis Charter School at Covington and/or Egan without displacing either school.

Local residents Jim Burnham and Cam Chan opposed relocating the charter school to the area north of El Camino Real. Burnham said traffic is congested around the Old Mill/Safeway site, while Chan noted that the Bullis Charter School should not be converted to a neighborhood school.

Norm Matteoni, the attorney for the Old Mill/Safeway property owners, suggested that the district and the property owners work out an “alternate, viable solution” rather than engage in a legal battle.

On behalf of the property owners, Matteoni submitted a statement to the Town Crier as a letter to the editor, which appears in this week’s issue on page 8.

Parents object to ‘self-taught’ English

Four Egan Junior High parents and an eighth-grader registered their concerns about the school’s English curriculum at the Jan. 8 board meeting.

Bremeau said she is disappointed with not only Egan’s English curriculum, but also the way the district’s classes are taught in general.

“Clearly, LASD is moving toward a self-taught, peer-review model of teaching, but I use the term ‘teaching’ here loosely,” she said. “The teachers in this model are no longer teachers; they become facilitators at best.”

Another parent, Mei Huang, said she is concerned that grammar and vocabulary are not being taught at Egan, and that students select reading materials on their own, leading to poor choices. She recommended that classics be incorporated into the English curriculum.

Eighth-grader Kate Stadler said she collected a dozen student signatures in mid-December to communicate students’ frustration with the new English curriculum.

“With this new curriculum, much of the learning is left to the students themselves,” she said, adding that she and her peers would like more structure as well as traditional grammar lessons and literature discussions to return to the classroom.

In response, trustees opted to put the issue on a future agenda.

Sandra McGonagle, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, later told the Town Crier that the district would work on explaining the merits of the new English curriculum to parents so that there are no more misunderstandings.

“The district feels really confident with the English curriculum that was adopted,” she said. “We used a very thoughtful process, with a whole lot of teachers’ voices, and it’s a proven curriculum by developers out of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project of Columbia University with Professor Lucy Calkins. We have no doubt that the curriculum will prepare students for high school and beyond to be really well-rounded readers and writers.”

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