Building for the Next Generation

The Slice – October 2013: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Looking 40 Years Into the Future: PAUSD High Schools are shaping their campuses to serve the students of today… and 2053.

PalyMediaSquareStudents at Palo Alto and Gunn High Schools have more than just great teachers, fascinating electives, compelling clubs, and caring counselors to inspire them this year. With big construction projects topping $40 million taking place on both campuses, PAUSD high school students also have new facilities springing up all over their campuses. The Strong Schools bond measure, passed in 2008, is transforming Palo Alto high schools to better serve the students who attend today as well as those of the future.

These large infrastructure projects are a team effort, with PAUSD construction managers, high school principals Kim Diorio (Paly) and Katya Villalobos (Gunn), and Assistant Principals Kim Cowell at Gunn and Jerry Berkson at Paly all working together to adjust to changing scenarios and budgets. As this work has unfolded over many years, these teams have tackled the challenge of planning for the Class of 2013 while also accommodating future PAUSD high school students who are not yet even born.

“When we started planning for this project, I was an Assistant Principal at Gunn and our enrollment was 1,700 students,” explains Principal Diorio. “Now I’m the principal at Paly and both schools are working to accommodate a projected enrollment of 2,300 students by 2021. Our rebuilding is designed to provide the buildings and outside spaces we will need to continue offering an excellent education to all PAUSD students even as our population grows.”

While this vision becomes a reality, Palo Alto citizens have grown used to seeing dump trucks, cranes and bulldozers as they pass by the two local high schools. Both schools began their construction needs with the goal not only of expanding classroom space and updating aging facilities but also transforming teaching and learning to meet the changing needs of the city’s 21st Century learners.

Remodeled buildings provide rich environment for student creativity

HighSchoolWhile PiE does not fund school construction, many of the new projects on the two high school campuses will house innovative programs that are only offered to students because of donations to PiE.

Both high schools are rebuilding their Career Tech buildings, where a variety of electives, ranging from auto shop to robotics and computer programming, are held. The wide range of electives available at PAUSD high schools, made possible because of generous donations to PiE, help all students discover new interests that may blossom into an avocation or vocation some day.

Paly’s new Media Arts building, scheduled to be finished by the end of this school year, will give students the chance to explore a wide range of arts and media, including broadcast journalism. Who knows whether the next Diane Sawyer or Stephen Colbert will become entranced with the news through his or her experience in the new facility at Paly?

At Gunn, the World Languages laboratory, staffed in part by donations to PiE, will help equip Gunn students to become the next generation of multi-lingual executives, scientists and diplomats. And the robotics programs at both schools have new buildings, new tools, and expanded offerings to help students embrace the engineering behind high tech innovations.

Paly and Gunn facilities allow dedicated space for guidance and college counseling

While these new classroom environments are essential for students’ academic development, both schools are also investing in infrastructure to support students’ ability to thrive during school and after graduation. The guidance and career counseling programs at both schools, funded in part by donations to PiE, will get a boost from some of the new construction. Paly’s Career Tech Center, to be completed next year as part of its new library, will provide dedicated space for paid counselors and volunteers to meet with students and guide them through challenging conversations about college selection and career pathways. Gunn students will also enjoy an entirely new College and Career center and expanded counseling services.

The support and enrichment provided to our high school students by generous donations to PiE, combined with the exciting new facilities at both schools, will continue the tradition of excellence for PAUSD high school students today and through the next several decades. The Palo Alto schools community can be proud of its investment in the future of our schools and our students.