Fresh paint, brand new buildings, updated technology, excited students and staff marked the opening of several new schools in San Mateo County this fall.
The Ravenswood District opened Ravenswood Middle School on the campus of the Green Oaks/Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto. The school is a "start-up," says Dr. Maurice Ghysels, newly hired as Chief Innovation Officer for the district. "We are rapidly iterating, innovating and creating a culture and positive school climate from the ground up."
Beginning with a class of 284 sixth graders, the plan is to add seventh and eighth grades in subsequent years.
The district decided to open a middle school in order to offer more electives such as sports and music, an advisory period, a maker space, and more specialization in content areas--things that were not possible in the district's K-8 schools. As the school adds grades, the plan is to add science labs and performance and fine arts facilities to make the school a more comprehensive middle school and focus intently on making sure students are prepared to succeed in high school and beyond.
For now, Ghysels is building a team of educators who are "radically kid centered, collaborative and demonstrate grit." Formerly the superintendent of the Menlo Park School District, Ghysels is committed to coaching and supporting the staff, from new principal Doug Garriss to the newly hired teachers, and making sure they have the supplies and help they need. "I'm like the 'free safety' in football," he says. "I go anywhere on campus or in the district where I'm needed to support the team."
The students at Oxford Day Academy (ODA), a new charter high school in East Palo Alto authorized by the San Mateo County Office of Education, planned and emceed the ribbon-cutting event for their school held on October 12, 2017.
Before the ceremony, students, dressed in their best business attire, proudly introduced themselves and led visitors on a tour of their school. One student led off the ceremony by reciting the poem Today is the Day by Beah Richards. Other speakers included students, faculty, board members and volunteers from the community. Students said of their new school "This school has showed me how to work for what I want," and "Teachers don't give us answers but prepare us to be leaders."
The school began with a class of 51 freshmen students and will add an additional class each year. "This group of students is incredible," said Dr. Mallory Dwinal, CEO. "The goal of every student here is to change the world and I am feeling more confident every day about the world being in their hands."
The brand new state-of-the-art Bayshore PreK-8 School in the Bayshore Elementary District held its ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 30, 2017. The new school combines the district office,preK, elementary and middle school in one complex.
The district previously had an elementary and a middle school, both older buildings in need of hefty renovation. After passing a $6 million bond, the district decided to sell the Robertson Middle School property for $23.6 million, go out for an additional $7.5 million bond, and rebuild the Bayshore Elementary School as a PreK-8 school. They broke ground in June 2016 and the new school was ready to welcome students in August 2017.
"It was unheard of to do this project in such a short time but we did it," says Superintendent Dr. Audra Pittman, who was formerly Director of Administrator and Beginning Teacher Support Services at SMCOE.
The new school is 50,000 square feet and currently has 377 students with room for an additional 191 students. It includes a school garden, outdoor decks and learning spaces, a theater, gym, library/learning commons, maker space and a state preschool program providing a free and sliding scale half-day preK class. Every classroom has interactive white boards and projectors, and 1:1 technology either through iPads or Chromebooks for the students.
Pittman sees benefits to having a PreK-8 school for the district beyond the new building. It provides opportunities to pair older students with younger students, teaching the older students to be models and helping to build their self-esteem. The younger children in turn look up to the older students.
-Lisa Rosenthal is a freelance writer.