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Posted on Fri, Jan. 23, 2004

School boundary battle


RIVAL PETITIONS ADDRESS EVERGREEN CROWDING



Mercury News

Parents in San Jose's East Side are circulating competing petitions pushing different solutions to overcrowding at the new Evergreen Valley High School -- the valley's first high school built for the 21st century.

One petition being circulated by parents near the school seeks to shrink school boundaries to limit enrollment. Another group of parents wants the district to find ways to increase capacity.

``I don't think as a community we should make this an us vs. them situation,'' said Debi Starr, who hopes her two grade-schoolers will someday attend Evergreen. ``We need to work together to resolve the overcrowding problem.''

Emotions are running so high among petitioners and opponents who don't want to be denied access that a tussle broke out at a recent public meeting on overcrowding.

The East Side Union High School District, meanwhile, is considering attendance boundary and schedule changes along with new construction to manage the unexpectedly high number of students predicted to be landing at Evergreen.

Barely a year old, the school is a bright, modern campus with an unusual academic structure that divides students into four small schools that can provide more individual attention than traditional large high schools.

With enrollment rapidly approaching the school's capacity of 1,800, some parents and community residents are insisting that Evergreen has to limit who can attend.

``We need to ensure the quality of the school,'' said Elsie Mar, a parent who wants the boundaries shrunk. She has a son in third grade at Matsumoto School and a daughter in eighth grade at Chaboya School who expects to attend Evergreen next year.

``Overcapacity will bring a lot of problems,'' Mar said. ``It will put strains on administrators and teachers. If they don't have the resources and time for our kids, the school won't be as good as it should be.''

Evergreen was designed to handle about 450 students in each of its four grades. But when 625 freshmen showed up for class last fall, the student body ballooned to roughly 1,550 -- well above expectations.

Estimates for 2004-05 -- the first year in which Evergreen will have students in all four grades -- show that next fall's freshman class could be as big as last fall's. This would put enrollment at roughly 2,170.

The district has had ample warning that Evergreen could be facing this problem. A demographer's report released before classes began warned that the school's enrollment would exceed capacity by the time it had students in all four grades and recommended that the district adjust Evergreen's attendance boundaries to send more students to other district schools.

Although trustees did vote to adopt the demographer's recommended boundaries, they later backed away from their decision after community outcry. Instead, trustees converted the excluded zones to optional attendance areas. Students living in those zones can choose to attend either Evergreen or one of two nearby schools, Mount Pleasant and Silver Creek.

Now parents living inside the core attendance area are petitioning to have the school boundaries set at the demographer's suggestions -- excluding students who live in the option areas.

Sridhar Vajapey, who has a son who expects to be a freshman at Evergreen in the fall, said parents have already presented petitions to the school site council and will also present them to the board of trustees.

In response to the first petition, other parents living both inside and outside the proposed smaller boundaries have begun organizing to persuade the school board to leave Evergreen's attendance area unchanged. At least one group has begun circulating a petition asking the board to find a different way to cope with the overcrowding problem. Starr noted that other schools in the district already use flexible scheduling and have added portables to expand capacity.

Others also point out that the infrastructure is already in place to construct another building at Evergreen and that many parents moved to the area to be able to send their children to that school.

One of the district's boundary committees is studying the overcrowding problem and will present a list of options and community feedback to Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas in the coming months. She will then present a recommendation to trustees.

Malini Patel, who lives in one of the option areas, believes the district should have built a bigger school.

``The problem is just going to get worse because so many new homes are being built here,'' said Patel, who has a son in his junior year at Mount Pleasant and a daughter in her sophomore year at Evergreen. ``I worry about the quality of education because of all the turmoil at the school.''


Contact Joelle Tessler at jtessler@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5490.

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