I went to last week's school board meeting to hear about the district's plans to address rising enrollment. What I witnessed can only be described as adoption of a whack-a-mole strategy with little focus on what is best for Pleasanton's students and a great deal of focus on checking the box on a decision so the board can move on to addressing subsequent enrollment issues at Lydiksen, Hart and East Pleasanton at some future date.
Here's the fundamental problem with the Dec. 18 vote to build a separate elementary school for fourth- and fifth-graders directly behind Donlon Elementary: no one actually wants it or can speak convincingly about why this will benefit the community and provide an excellent education for our kids. No one.
In the words of Board President Valerie Arkin right before she voted in favor of the proposal, "I don't think it's ideal at all." That's not the kind of ringing endorsement you want to hear right before the board commits $60+ million dollars of taxpayer money and enacts plans that will disrupt an entire community and cohort of young students.
Speaking of students, where were their needs addressed during the board's "workshop"? Other than comments from a few parents about the inconvenience of multiple PTA meetings and school functions, what is best for the education of our students was entirely missing from the discussion.
Our elementary education system in the U.S. is presumably structured in a kindergarten through fifth grade configuration as a result of evidence that shows it's best for children's development and learning.
Is there any evidence that pulling fourth- and fifth-graders into a separate school for two years, then dropping them into middle school for three years is an effective option? If there is, I certainly didn't hear it brought up last week.
What I did hear was a parade of neighbors and parents who's primary concern seemed to revolve around the inevitable traffic build up a new school of 400 students will bring to this small neighborhood -- all heightened by the fact only 19% of Donlon students currently walk to school. I found that whole NIMBY concern pretty hollow.
Guess who is responsible for that traffic? For the close calls the kids who do walk or bike experience on a daily basis? We are, the Val Vista neighborhood and Donlon community.
If we don't like all those cars, then let's commit to helping our kids get safely to school by foot or by bike. Let's work with our neighbors to improve bad driving behaviors as we all rush for the freeways on our way to work.
Yes, traffic safety is a very legitimate concern. As the parent of two kids who walk to school every day, I share those concerns. But should parking and traffic be the most important concern when we're talking about what's best for Pleasanton schools? Of course not.
Every single resident here benefits from Pleasanton having uniformly excellent schools. We should all be questioning how creating a separate school whose size and scope will require essentially the same operational budget as a K-5, but will only ever be able to serve two grade levels is a reasonable solution for the district as a whole.
So here's what we're left with -- a plan for a school that even the board doesn't seem to want. A neighborhood up in arms over concerns about traffic safety. A district that has failed to holistically deal with enrollment issues prevalent throughout the district and kicked the can down the road once again. And kids who deserve a lot better than what I witnessed last week.
Shame on all of us for settling.