A New School is Coming to Palo Alto: Ready for Alt?

HzPBiElOLWSrOjmTmiFPL4S0jZKV9OWq08ub0SQZ8KkNew schools pop up regularly enough, generating modest attention when they open, but the latest private school slated to open in Palo Alto has some serious buzz. Alt School is getting attention for it’s unique style of personalized learning, but also because of who is behind this. It’s essentially a very well funded start up determined to impact education using a mold more progressive than the typical elementary and middle school school with bells, time pressures, dated curriculum, and limited parental input.

There are so many great aspects of Alt: with small numbers, children get very personalized attention from assignments geared toward them to teachers with time to help individually guide them; the goal is to gear kids toward success as adults, which means encouraging team-work, fostering curiosity, assisting in emotional growth; and the whole team behind Alt School is top notch. The staff is impressive and wants feedback all of the time. This means, if something is bothering the parent or child, they don’t want to hear about it at the end of the school year or semester. Because the program is evolving, they want feedback quickly to know what could improve the experience or maybe areas where the student needs more of a challenge or adjustments.

With the plan of opening networked micro schools – which is several schools about 80 kids at each location in a general area – this would enable kids to move to different locations if another environment would be better and allow for some locations to be specialized. For instance, one school may be Spanish emersion, while another may be STEM focused. Populations within the nearby micro schools can be shifted to accommodate students’ needs.

Reading the comments left on a local news site, many Palo Alto residents seemed aghast that such a school would be needed in their city. Some commenters took offense that anyone would want out of the local public schools. It was entertaining because Alt’s presence isn’t saying that the public schools are failing, it’s offering a different approach that may work better for some kids, with eyes on what kids will need to success in 2030. Also, being private means it’s open to kids outside of Palo Alto – which could be an unspoken problem the commenters have with the school.

With the high number of positives, we seriously considered Alt, but we’re not going to apply. Here’s why:

*The lack of outdoor space. This is a tremendous negative for us. Alt’s first campus will be at 930 Emerson, right downtown in a congested area. The bonus of the suburbs is schools on fairly large lots with room to run, kick a ball around, and climb during the day. My kids attend what is arguably the best school in the region for outdoor play, and changing to Alt would be a culture shock due to the lack of yard. Even maintaining that kids will get plenty of outdoor time and walks to parks (Heritage Park is several blocks away), it doesn’t meet our standard.

*Parking nightmare. It’s hard enough to get a parking spot to grab lunch downtown, but trying to get a kid to and from school in that busy area sounds stressful. Alt offers alternative hours, allowing early drop off and late pick up, but the greater University Ave. area is always bustling. Getting parking at Whole Foods can be a struggle and they have a parking lot across the street. It’s understandable why Alt wants to be in Palo Alto, but Redwood City would give them a lot of space for the money and would pull in more families from San Carlos and Belmont.

*It’s small, obviously. Small is great for many kids, but we have a super social child and a small school may feel limiting to him. Other kids may thrive in the small environment.

*The uncertainty. It’s a startup and while I think it’s positive and should succeed, if it doesn’t work for our child, we wouldn’t be able to return to our old school. We’d rather not take the risk.

*Finally, I watched a video, checked Yelp, and went to a promotional talk, yet didn’t hear a breadth of experiences. There was a great story from a parent on Yelp, but then I heard the same person’s story repeated by Alt staff, then this parent spoke at the promotional night. It’s a good success story, but it would be more powerful being echoed by other parents telling of their experience.

I hope Alt succeeds, not only in Palo Alto, but in altering the current educational experience. Society is changing pretty quickly, yet our school system is lagging behind, largely unchanged for decades. Hopefully Alt is a ripple that will push change.

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