Well exceeding the 50 seats provided, and likely breaking a maximum occupancy rule, neighborhood residents showed up at the April 17 Mountain View Whisman School District board meeting in a show of public support for bringing back a school to what they say is an under-served area of Mountain View.
They got a good response for their efforts.
After the presentation, Superintendent Craig Goldman told parents that opening a school in the area is not just on the table; it's going to happen.
"From my perspective, the opening of a school in the Slater-Whisman neighborhood is a given. It's not a matter of if. It's a matter of when," Goldman said.
Since the closure of Slater elementary school in 2006, the northeastern "quadrant" of the city, roughly the area between highways 85, 237 and 101, has gone without a neighborhood elementary school. The area is instead sliced up so parents have to drive their kids to four different elementary schools across the city.
And while the the closure of both Whisman and Slater schools was an important sacrifice to stay within the budget for the school district, representatives from the Whisman and Slater neighborhood associations say the district has the money, the elementary student population is rising fast, and it's high time an school be brought back into the neighborhood.
Greg Coladonato, president of the Slater Neighborhood Association, said he was thrilled with the turnout, and that the board seemed to show interest in the ideas they had for reopening the school.
"We really brought reality to the board, and showed we had the support," Coladonato said.
Parents from the neighborhood spoke to the board stressing the need for a school in their neighborhood, and assured the board that they would switch to an elementary school their area.
"If a neighborhood school was to reopen in the Slater-Whisman area, I would sign up both of my boys today," said Greg Chapin at the meeting.
Others voiced concern to the board about the impacts of not having an elementary school in the community.
"We have a cul-de-sac in our neighborhood that literally has three families with children that don't know each other," said Soosh Gandhi, former president of the North Whisman Neighborhood Association. "They don't go to school together, they don't play together. It's really tough to build the community."
The board mulled over the idea of hiring a professional demographer to update the studies on student population across the district, and considered a survey for whether parents would send their kids to a school in their neighborhood.
Jessica Gandhi, president of the North Whisman Neighborhood Association, said the board should keep in mind that kids in second grade and above are likely too old to benefit from a reopened school. Gandhi said the focus should be on kids in first grade and below, and that there are big incoming numbers to watch out for.
According to a district demographer study, the Whisman and Slater neighborhoods have 611 elementary students, and that number is expected to grow to 723 by 2017-18. But Ellen Wheeler, a board member for the Mountain View Whisman School district, said they want to know more than just the number of students.
"Of those 600 people, how many of them would choose to go to a neighborhood school?" Wheeler said. "If it's 100 people, that's not a neighborhood school. If it's 400 people, that is a neighborhood school."
Goldman said he has been in support of opening a school in the Whisman neighborhood for some time, and that his announcement during the meeting that it was "just a matter of when" is not a sudden change in attitude.
He said if the board and the district administration consider opening a new campus, they need to take into account the number of elementary school students in the neighborhood, which sits at 611 as of 2012-13, as well as the district-wide numbers.
"District-wide enrollment has been fairly flat," Goldman said. "There's not a lot of growth."
Goldman also agreed with Wheeler that they need to assess what impact re-opening a school will have on neighboring schools. He said opening a school may provide some relief for schools at or over capacity, but a big change in attendance could result in another school closure.