High-Tech High School Opening in Silicon Valley

The school will focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, and serve roughly 400 students -- less than a quarter the size of most public high schools.

by Kevin Kelly, Palo Alto Daily News / November 6, 2015 0

(TNS) — MENLO PARK -- Students are already being groomed for a new high school that won't open for three more years.

A plan by the Sequoia Union High School District to open a small, tech-centric high school at 150 Jefferson Drive in Menlo Park in fall 2018 is already racking up partners.

The most significant one is the San Mateo County Community College District, which includes Cañada College, College of San Mateo and Skyline College. As part of the partnership, the Sequoia district envisions "outreach to students in underserved communities during middle school," including summer school classes at Cañada, that would help students bridge gaps in their learning by the time they enter high school.

"Our freshman class of 2018 is sitting in sixth-grade classrooms today," said Alan Sarver, a Sequoia Union trustee who serves on an advisory board tasked with planning the school's curriculum, as well as for a similar high school proposed for San Carlos. "We are working with the community college to really help tailor that program toward the areas of engineering and design that are going to be the focus of our schools."

The district also is looking to partner in and out of the classroom with local employers who hire for those jobs -- not only because it makes practical business sense but also because when it comes to technology, it's an ever-evolving landscape.

"They'll help in making sure the curriculum is timely and appropriate for the needs of the industry," Sarver said. "We want to give the Silicon Valley tech community the sense that able students will be emerging for the local school systems."

Both schools will focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning and cater to roughly 400 students, less than a quarter the size of most public high schools.

The U.S. Department of Commerce in 2011 noted that STEM jobs had grown three times faster than those in other sectors and estimated they would increase by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. The same study found that a person with a high school diploma or less in a STEM job earned about 60 percent more per hour than non-STEM workers.

The idea is not only to prepare the students for college, but get them situated on career paths.

"It's most strongly based on the linked learning concepts that have really gone out across the state," said Sarver, adding that the schools' concept came from parents. "The parents of our district ... gave us 2,500 responses to a poll that we were running and clearly indicated computer science, digital arts and engineering as their preference."

Another idea in discussion for the school is to have ninth-graders take elective courses in computer science and design in the hopes that by the end of the school year, they would know which path to take. The advisory board is also considering a plan for the community college to partner for after-school classes at the school year-round, as well as the idea of a "capstone senior year project" for students that would carry some benefit to the community. Internships are another idea.

Aside from the focus on STEM and private-public partnerships, the school is committed "to the recruiting of a diverse student body," according to the district, as well as adhering to an "A-G curriculum," which refers to courses required for entrance to the University of California and the California State University systems.

Sequoia Union purchased the 2.1-acre site at 150 Jefferson Drive early this year for $9.3 million. Unlike the district's other high school campuses, the new school won't have athletic fields, a gym or a performing arts center. And though the Jefferson site is close to three communities that feed the district's schools -- Belle Haven, North Fair Oaks and East Palo Alto -- those who seek to study at the magnet school will have to apply there and be accepted.

The school will cost an estimated $25 million, according to the district, and funded through Measure A, a $265 million bond measure voters approved in June 2014.

The Sequoia district is bracing for a 20 percent enrollment increase by 2020, but board President Allen Weiner told The Daily News in May that growth wasn't the only reason the district wanted to establish the two new magnet schools.

"We recognize that different children learn in different ways (and) different kinds of schools are good for different children," Weiner said.

In addition to working on the curriculum, the advisory board has been interviewing potential architectural firms, one of which is expected to be recommended to the district board at its Nov. 18 meeting.

©2015 the Palo Alto Daily News (Menlo Park, Calif.), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.