Los Altos High to offer English language development program next school year

Historically, only one comprehensive Mountain View-Los Altos site has offered English language development classes: Mountain View High.

That’s meant that English learners within Los Altos boundaries — students who don’t speak English as a primary language — have had to travel to Mountain View to access appropriate support, when they would otherwise attend Los Altos High.

Next year, though, that all changes. The board of trustees on Monday night voted to open an English language development program at Los Altos, broadening access to support classes and meeting the needs of the growing English-learner population at Los Altos.

Both an increase in ELD enrollment and the inconvenience of traveling to Mountain View High School were catalysts for the new Los Altos program.

“A typical Los Altos English language learner that attends Mountain View High School [uses] public transportation,” said Associate Superintendent Teri Faught. “We have heard time and time again from these students and their parents [about] the hardships of the transportation of getting to Mountain View High School. … And it has become a challenge to the attendance of some of our English language learners.”

Previously, the district only offered EL classes at Mountain View in order to concentrate resources at one site, Faught said.

At a minimum, the new Los Altos program will include ELD 1-4 classes — which refer to classes for different levels of EL proficiency — and could include other EL content classes like biology and civics depending on enrollment. The budget allocates a maximum of $320,000 for the new Los Altos program.

Any Los Altos EL students currently attending Mountain View will be able to choose between campuses next year, though any incoming Los Altos-boundary EL freshmen and transfer students will attend Los Altos High.

Currently, the Mountain View ELD program actually serves more Los Altos than Mountain View students; of the 168 EL students at Mountain View, 92 are from Los Altos and 76 are from Mountain View.

“I do want to note that although Los Altos does not [currently] have English language development classes, they have done a fantastic job of providing support and skills classes and resources to [support] the EL learners who have chosen to stay at Los Altos High School,” Faught said. 

66 EL students attend Los Altos High, though 38.6% of those students are “progressing toward English proficiency,” as opposed to 53.8% at Mountain View, which Faught pointed to as a testament of the impact of having a dedicated ELD program.

“This is not about Mountain View High School or Los Altos High School,” Faught said. “This is simply about development classes versus no development classes, and communicating how important it is to have targeted classes.”

ROUNDUP: Los Altos girls soccer on three-game shutout streak; Paly girls basketball wins 10th in a row; Mtn. View ekes past Los Altos boys basketball

The Los Altos girls soccer squad hasn’t allowed a single goal in its last three competitions, shutting out Paly and Homestead this week hot off last week’s 5-0 rout over Los Gatos.

Captain and midfielder Esha Gupta said the Eagles moved their fourth defender to the midfield, which she credited for the team’s defensive success. The Eagles (7-4-2, 3-2-1) face tougher competition in Santa Clara (4-4-5, 2-1-3) next week, and Gunn (8-3-3, 3-1-2) the week after; Paly, Homestead and Los Gatos all rank at the bottom of the league.

“We might have to switch back to four [defenders] in the back for Santa Clara because they tend to be more direct, but I think it’s just mentality,” Gupta said. “We are all competing now for the second place spot in the league.”

Both the Eagles (number 3) and Bruins (number 4) are poised to nab Gunn’s number two SCVAL De Anza spot. Mountain View (12-0-1, 6-0-0) has a strong hold on the top spot, with only five goals against the entire season.

Last time the Eagles faced Mountain View they were handed a 1-0 loss, though the Spartans only scored off a direct free kick. 

“Mathematically it’d be difficult to take their number one spot, but not impossible,” Gupta said. “Right now we’re focusing on beating Gunn and Santa Clara.”

In other news:

  • Paly girls basketball (12-1, 3-0) added two games to its now 10-game win streak, with wins over Homestead (10-4, 2-1) and Saratoga (6-8, 1-5).
  • Mountain View senior Joe Brown’s last-minute three-pointer helped the Spartans (12-5, 4-1) eke past Los Altos (13-3, 4-1) in a 48-47 nail-biter.
  • Gunn boys basketball (12-4, 3-2) have kept themselves in the hunt for the top slot in the SCVAL El Camino Division with wins over Monta Vista (9-8, 1-5) and Saratoga (13-3, 4-1).

Gunn

  • Boys basketball:
    • 71-64 W vs. Monta Vista (Tue)
    • 55-37 W vs. Saratoga (Fri)
  • Girls basketball:
    • 52-50 W vs. El Camino (Mon)
    • 59-37 L vs. Monta Vista (Wed)
    • 47-44 L vs. Santa Clara (Fri)
  • Boys soccer:
    • 2-1 W vs. Los Gatos (Wed)
    • 3-0 L vs. Homestead (Fri)
  • Girls soccer:
    • 3-1 W vs. Los Gatos (Wed)
    • 4-0 W vs. Homestead (Fri) 
Los Altos's Andrew Reilly in a 56-40 win over Milpitas on Jan. 21, 2022. (Tomoki Chien)

Los Altos

  • Boys basketball:
    • 48-47 L vs. Mountain View (Tue)
    • 56-40 W vs. Milpitas (Fri)
  • Girls basketball:
    • 41-42 L vs. Los Gatos (Wed)
    • 40-29 W vs. Wilcox (Fri)
  • Boys soccer:
    • 3-1 L vs. Santa Clara (Mon)
    • 1-0 W vs. Homestead (Wed)
    • 3-2 W vs. Paly (Fri)
  • Girls soccer:
    • 2-0 W vs. Homestead (Wed)
    • 2-0 W vs. Paly (Fri) 
Mountain View's Patrick Kane downs a three-pointer against Los Altos on Jan. 18, 2022. (Allison Huang)

Mountain View

  • Boys basketball:
    • 48-47 W vs. Los Altos (Tue)
    • 52-48 L vs. Homestead (Thurs)
    • 37-28 W vs. Cupertino (Fri)
  • Girls basketball:
    • 33-27 W vs. Fremont (Wed)
    • 51-24 W vs. Cupertino (Fri)
  • Boys soccer:
    • 2-1 L vs. Wilcox (Tue)
    • 0-0 T vs. Santa Clara (Fri)
  • Girls soccer:
    • 4-0 W vs. Santa Clara (Fri)

Paly

  • Boys basketball:
    • 59-49 W vs. Homestead (Tue)
    • 50-41 W vs. Santa Clara (Fri)
  • Girls basketball:
    • 48-46 W vs. Homestead (Wed)
    • 59-34 W vs. Saratoga (Fri)
  • Boys soccer:
    • 1-1 T vs. Santa Clara (Wed)
    • 3-2 L vs. Los Altos (Fri)
  • Girls soccer:
    • 2-2 T vs. Santa Clara (Wed)
    • 2-0 L vs. Los Altos (Fri)

For your next sugar craving: Try Rick’s Rather Rich Ice Cream in Palo Alto

Rick’s Rather Rich Ice Cream subscribes to a succinct underlying principle: There is beauty in simplicity. That philosophy manifests itself in many ways, most prominently through the parlor’s decor and flavors. 

Upon entrance to Rick’s, warm colors of pink and yellow greet the eyes, and a display of 48 ice cream flavors steals the attention of customers. Like the decor, the ice cream is simple and bold, with flavors spanning from “Cotton Candy” to “Kulfi.” It is this simplicity that has allowed Rick’s to remain a cornerstone of the Palo Alto community since its opening in 1953. 

Kiki Kohsla became part-owner of Rick’s in 2012, and has since served as the parlor’s manager. Khosla and her family knew that they wanted to get involved in a small business, and when the opportunity came along to buy Rick’s, they couldn’t say no. 

“We were looking at buying a small business and didn’t really know exactly what we wanted to get into,” Khosla said. “Rick’s came through and we tried the product and I think that’s what sold us.”

Kiki Khosla. (Tomoki Chien)

Kohsla soon found out, however, that running a small business was no easy feat. This hardship was intensified by Rick’s location in Palo Alto, an area notorious for its astronomical rent prices. 

“Everything has gone up in prices, but we cannot be relaying all of that extra cost onto the customer because there’s only so much that we can expand our product,” she said. 

Yet despite hardships, Rick’s has been able to garner a loyal consumer base largely because of the unique flavors that it offers. 

“I know some flavors might make you think ‘I’m not sure’ or ‘Should I even try this?” Khosla said. “Some people just have presumptions about what something might taste like. But once you kind of try and expand your horizons, I think you’ll be surprised.”

(Tomoki Chien)

And Khosla’s still adding new flavors. 

The ideas for flavors usually stem from Khosla’s life experience as an ice cream connoisseur. From there, Khosla consults Rick’s chef, and the two tweak the flavor profile until they get it just right. Finally, Khosla presents the proposed flavor to her family, and at last, after making the changes her family suggests, the finished product is offered for purchase.

“Everything that’s creative with the business has always been my thing,” Khosla said. “It helps me explore more of my own creativity and I’ve always just loved that.”

These days, Rick’s — like many other small businesses — is doing the best that it can to get through the pandemic. But even at a time when making connections is more difficult than ever, Khosla noted how the Rick’s community has continued to support the parlor. This support was shown when Rick’s, in need of financial support, launched a GoFundMe asking for donations in March of 2021. 

So far, Rick’s customer base has raised over $22,000

“We weren’t really expecting them to show that much support, especially during the lockdown, but they did,” Khosla said. “We’ve always been glad that we are part of such a caring and aware community that helps small businesses.”

Meet Lucas Ramirez, Mountain View’s new mayor

Lucas Ramirez first took an interest in politics because of the Caltrain. When he was a college student during the 2008 recession, there were concerns that budgetary constraints imposed on the Caltrain, which he took every day, would limit its service: the first time he saw the direct effect that local government had on his life. Now, as of last week’s council meeting, he’s officially the mayor of Mountain View.

“I was able to learn a lot about what city work does, and its importance on quality of life and just how people are able to live and work and play in their communities. It’s sort of stuck,” Ramirez said.

As mayor, Ramirez said that Mountain View will continue to tackle issues of housing and support the community throughout the pandemic. The council’s top priority is focusing on the goals outlined in its strategic roadmap, which consists of seven key areas, including intentional development & housing options, mobility and connectivity, sustainability & climate resiliency and economic vitality, according to Ramirez.

Lucas Ramirez. (via City of Mountain View)

Ramirez has worked with the City of Mountain View, his hometown, for nearly a decade now; he was first appointed to the human relations commission, then the planning commission, then city council, and at last being elected mayor. He served as vice mayor last year.

“One thing I like about local government [is that] anyone can get involved,” Ramirez said. “I’m not special. I studied music in college when I didn’t have any plans to go into local government. It just sort of occurred naturally because I had a particular interest in something.”

After college, Ramirez returned to Mountain View, where he became involved in community groups focusing on transportation, including the League of Women Voters, in which he said he “learned through osmosis.”

And while being mayor of Mountain View is his “night job,” Ramirez’s “day job” is also in local government — he’s on the staff of a councilmember in San Jose.

“I’m excited to be mayor, but also nervous; it’s a tremendous responsibility,” Ramirez said. “There’s a lot of work and I work full time, so it’s going to be challenging to balance both of the positions I have: my day job and then this role [but] I think it will be an extraordinary and amazing experience.”

Ramirez said he’s especially looking forward to addressing housing this upcoming year, in which a major component will be the housing element — a document that outlines city housing strategies for the next eight years.

“I think it will take a lot of thought and it’s very important to get community on that document that will shape our future, not just the next year, but the next 30 years,” Ramirez said. “So it will be very important to make sure all voices are heard and come up with some consistency about how the city will grow.”

Additionally, the city will shape two housing proposals in the North Bayshore and East Whisman locations. If implemented, these plans would create new communities and neighborhoods, while replacing suburban office parks.

Other significant plans noted by Ramirez for this year include implementing state laws — such as SB-9, which changes single family zoning — and considering recommendations from the city’s public safety advisory board on school resource officers.

“We have been beset by calamity after calamity,” Ramirez said. “The challenges that we’ve had to contend with are numerous and unrelenting. … In this difficult context, the residents of Mountain View have selected the seven [councilmembers] to represent them, to advocate for them, and to conduct the business of the city. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think they’ve assembled a stellar team.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ramirez was a high schooler during 2008. He was a college student at Santa Clara University.

 

Two new dog parks are coming to Los Altos

Two new fenced-in dog parks are coming to Los Altos in the near future, following a motion passed by the city council on Tuesday evening. The two parks will be located on Hillview Ave., adjacent to Center Soccer Field, and McKenzie Park West. The project will cost a total of $100,000 and will be complete in roughly three to four months. 

Not all residents will be happy with the project. Last April, the city implemented a pilot program that allowed dogs to be off-leash in the unfenced area of the Hillview baseball field, which solicited a number of complaints from residents.

“Some of the concerns that we heard had to do with upkeep and cleaning up the fields,” said Councilmember Neysa Fligor.  

To avoid eliciting similar concerns, the council used the following criteria to determine the locations of the two new dog parks: size, parking, buffer from residential homes, access to water, not being on a shared-use field and amount of shade. Rosita Park and Heritage Oak Park were considered as alternate sites. 

Although council members unanimously agreed upon the two locations, there was disagreement over whether or not the two parks should open at once. Filgor — the only one to vote against the motion — argued that the McKenzie Dog Park should be established after the Hillview Dog Park. 

“My preference is to do at least one year of Hillview [Dog Park]. Then we can assess, look back, learn, and then move forward with McKenzie,” Fligor said. “That’s why I will not be supporting the motion, because I do not support doing them at the same time.”

Vice Mayor Sally Meadows, on the other hand, thought that staggering the opening of the two parks would put too much pressure on one park. 

“I think it’s an unfair assessment to put all of the burden on one site. We saw this in the pilot where all of the dogs were in one place,” Meadows said. 

The council ultimately voted to establish the parks at the same time. 

Pat Burt and Lydia Kou elected mayor and vice mayor of Palo Alto, rotating election system to be considered

Pat Burt and Lydia Kou were elected mayor and vice mayor, respectively, at Tuesday’s Palo Alto City Council meeting. 

Burt was elected into office with a 6–0–1 majority, with all Councilmembers except for Greg Tanaka (who abstained) voting for Kou’s nomination of Burt. Kou, who turned down Councilmember Alison Cormack’s nomination for mayor, was unanimously elected to the vice mayor position. 

A veteran of local government, Burt will be leading the council as mayor for the third time over his roughly 15-year career with the Palo Alto City Council alongside Kou, who will be serving the council as the vice mayor for the first time in her six-year city council career. 

Councilmember Alison Cormack originally nominated Kou, who declined the mayoral nomination, saying she thought Burt was better suited for the job.

“I really believe in the progression system,” Kou said during the meeting. “Pat [Burt] has … 8 years in the planning and transportation commission … he was elected to the city council, where he spent 9 years. [Burt was also] reelected again in 2020, having served 1 year, is on to 18 years.”

Despite the generally undivided votes for the new positions, Cormack raised questions about the efficiency of voting protocols at the meeting.

“This process is opaque, and it’s frankly become odious and it’s unnecessary,” Cormack said during the meeting. “Councilmember Kou every year suggests that we have a rotation process for mayor, and I will be supporting that this year at the retreat as I have before … It’s more straightforward.”

The specifics of such a rotation process are unclear, as different cities have varying term limits and procedures, but the council may clarify the specifics after its annual retreat on Jan. 30. 

(As a side note, Palo Alto residents can input priorities they think are relevant for the council to discuss during the retreat here.) 

Rotation processes in city council elections usually cycle councilmembers through the mayor and vice mayor slots every term,  ncreating a greater possibility of equal mayor terms amongst the council.

Tanaka supported this idea, saying he thought it made “a lot more sense” and resulted in “a lot less drama.” Former mayor Liz Kniss, who made a statement during public comment, also voiced her support for a rotational process for mayor during the election.

“I very much support the idea of a rotation,” Kniss said. “Greg [Tanaka] mentioned it tonight [and] it’s been mentioned many times in the past, maybe this is the year it will happen.”

765 Palo Alto Unified parents volunteer to fill staff absences; superintendent says “we’re staying open”

When Omicron hit Palo Alto Unified schools last week, Superintendent Don Austin was, in his own words, “terrified” — not of the virus itself, but that he would have to shut the doors to Palo Alto schools like March of 2020. Now, though, that terror’s gone. 

He’s confident, and with good reason: 765 parents across the district’s elementary and secondary schools have volunteered to fill food service, COVID testing, custodial, office assistance and classroom supervision roles left vacant by staff out on quarantine, as part of the district’s bid to keep schools open, dubbed “1 Palo Alto.”

“We’re under 100 away from having as many volunteers as we have teachers,” Austin said. “What that’s done for us is it’s allowed us to be able to tell everybody, ‘It doesn’t matter what happens. We’re staying open.’ And we can say that with confidence right now, when not everybody can.”

Austin said that though not all 765 of 1 Palo Alto’s volunteers are needed immediately, the plan’s always been as much about protecting against future contingencies as about filling immediate needs — in some unforeseen circumstance, the district could cover a sudden overnight spike by the next morning, he said.

Today, the district saw some 70 staff absences across its 18 sites.

“I’m asking Google engineers to empty trash cans for us and they’re just like, ‘Great, let’s do it,’ Austin said. “It’s been amazing so far.”

Austin said that shutting classroom doors and switching to remote learning was never much of an option for Palo Alto Unified. 

That’s partially because of the uncertainty of closing doors for two weeks — which became a year and a half last time, he noted — but also because doing so without first meeting strict county standards would be a violation of California education code; the injunctions that allowed schools to offer distance learning last year expired over the summer.

In the absence of an explicit state or local health order, schools can only offer virtual learning through independent study programs, and can’t require that families enroll in that. In fact, it’s illegal for individual teachers to let quarantined students Zoom into the classroom, even if it’s not part of broader school policy.

The only exceptions are if districts shut down using snow or smoke days already built into collective bargaining agreements with the teachers’ union, or if the virus causes a crippling staffing shortage that districts can’t fill (in which case districts must show the county office of education that they’ve exhausted all other options through a long-winded process. Just last week, county health officials, including Dr. Sara Cody, urged schools not to switch to online instruction). 

Austin noted that 1 Palo Alto could’ve very well made it harder for other districts to say they’ve exhausted all staffing options when filing to switch to remote instruction.

Also key in the district’s bid to keep doors open through the Omicron-driven surge has been its COVID testing sites.

Yolanda Conaway — the district’s associate superintendent who manages its testing sites — said that because the district started expanding to offer testing to the broader community prior to the Omicron surge, it was prepared for the increased volume when students returned from the break.

“Without even really knowing it, we were planning for the increase, although in our minds what we were doing [was] planning to expand our service to the broader community,” Conaway said. “The shift was about shifting resources, not having to create new avenues. So I think the challenge was not as great as it could’ve been.”

The district has restricted testing at the Cubberley Community Center, which was previously intended to primarily serve the broader community, to district students and staff only. Still,, the district has been able to keep all its testing sites open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, and even expand Cubberly’s hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays.

Lines are longer than before because of limited staffing, Conaway said, but thus far the district has been able to keep all its testing sites open throughout the day. Neighboring Mountain View–Los Altos Union has had to halve its testing hours due to staff shortages.

Conaway said that the district is even exploring the possibility of a second vaccine booster clinic for students ages 12 and up later in January; the district will release more information on that early next week or sooner.

“I don’t know what direction [Omicron is] going to go in, or whether there will be a new variant,” Conaway said. “But every time there is this shift, we learn more. So each time we do things a little bit better, a little bit smoother. We’re kind of always ready for the next thing.”

200 MVLA students out on quarantine; district can’t legally switch to remote learning at the moment

It’s been a week for COVID at Mountain View–Los Altos Union schools. Since Monday, 88 COVID-positive students and staff stepped foot on campus, 11 times the highest number ever reported until now.

And those are only the ones who came on campus. A total of around 200 students and 30 staff — many of whom got the virus over the winter break and didn’t come back to school — are out on quarantine.

Still, the district has no plans to return to remote learning, and in fact can’t unilaterally make that decision, according to Leyla Benson, associate superintendent and the district’s COVID designee.

“The injunctions that were previously in place so that we could offer remote instruction are not currently [there],” Benson said. “So we don’t even have that same authority that we had in the past. … I think there are some misconceptions about what districts are allowed to do right now.”

In the absence of an explicit state or local health order, schools can only offer virtual learning through independent study programs, and can’t require that families enroll in that.

The only exceptions are if the virus causes a staffing shortage that districts can’t meet (in which case districts must show they’ve exhausted all other options before entering into collective bargaining with the teachers’ union), or if districts shut down using snow or smoke days already built into collective bargaining agreements (in which case those days would be made up later in the year).

Benson said that so far, the district’s been able cover all missing staff, but that it’s “sort of at the cusp right now.”

Given the high volume of cases, a host of changes, including daily symptom trackers, random testing and weekly athlete testing will go into effect on Monday.

The district has also stopped sending close contact notifications as it did last semester, because Benson said there’s a low chance the district would be able to accurately report close contacts as it did when there were only a few cases a week.

“When you look at it, you have to acknowledge that the chances are that you are, yourself, a close contact,” Benson said. “These are the reported cases. You may be near someone who’s going to report tomorrow. So we need you to operate under the assumption that you’re a close contact.”

Testing once, if not multiple times a week is the best course of action for students, she said.

Current protocol dictates that any student or staff member who tests positive must quarantine for 10 days following the date of the test. Bryant Martinez, a Los Altos senior, said he tested positive on Monday after taking one of the antigen tests provided by the district.

“It was kind of bound to happen, especially because I work in a movie theater,” Martinez said. “In terms of catching up with work, I’m not too ill so I can still do some homework here and there.”

Martinez said that he’s had all the support he needs from his teachers, and isn’t too worried about missing out on eight days of school.

“[I’m not worried], just because it’s the beginning of the semester,” he said. “If it were in the middle of the semester then I would feel like I would fall behind, but as of right now, not really.”

Eva Spaid, a Mountain View senior who tested on Monday and got her result on Tuesday, also said that she’s less stressed because it’s the start of the semester.

Spaid said her English teacher is letting students Zoom into the class from quarantine, in a setup that’s not unlike last year’s hybrid learning classrooms.

“I really appreciate it, and the effort that people are going through is really helpful — because it’s a lot missing 10 days of school,” Spaid said.

She said that she wasn’t sure if setting up Zooms would be as useful for other classes that aren’t as discussion-based as AP Lit, though.

“I do know being on Zoom for like the whole day is draining,” Spaid said. “So I think it depends on the class. … For a lot of other classes it’s definitely easier to get by asynchronously.”

Benson said that as per state education code, the district and school administrators can’t tell teachers to offer hybrid instruction for sick students — it would be against the same codes that make it difficult to switch to distance learning.

“There’s nothing stopping teachers from being creative with how they are offering that independent study work,” Benson said. “We just as a school cannot declare certain things. But teachers have a lot of authority over their curriculum and the delivery of their curriculum. And …[I’ve gotten positive feedback] about the creative ways in which teachers have strategically reached out to students or engaged them.”

The district’s COVID spike follows broader state and county trends, which have seen case numbers and test positivity rates spike far higher than last winter’s Delta-driven surge.

Deaths and hospitalizations, though, have largely been decoupled from case numbers, both declining since the fall — with vaccinated individuals far less likely to suffer both. 82.2% of Santa Clara County residents are fully vaccinated, and 58.1% of eligible residents have received the booster.

In annual review, MVLA schools report shrinking achievement gap in key metrics

The achievement gap between Latino and white students at Mountain View–Los Altos Union schools shrank in two key metrics last year, school administrators told the board in an annual data review last month.

The district has long reported disparate achievement between its Latino, white and Asian students, and was in fact identified by the state as disproportionately referring Latino students to special education programs, something which the district must address in its state-mandated Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services plan.

But while the numbers tell a mixed story, December’s data review showed relatively large improvements made in two specific key areas — A–G completion and Algebra II grades — by the district’s Latino population.

“We’re seeing that our students are achieving at a high level,” said Los Altos Assistant Principal Fabian Morales Medina. “My colleagues were a little worried for our Latino students and … I was like, ‘You guys are crazy.’ When you look at the data compared to our state’s data, our Latino students are achieving [at a high level]. Does that mean that we still have room for growth? Absolutely. But our students [have access] and the ability to engage in an education.”

Both Los Altos and Mountain View administrators pointed to an increasing number of Latinos finishing Algebra II — which is “often the biggest challenge for our subgroups when accessing post-secondary education” — with a C or higher as evidence of success despite the pandemic. 

Last academic year, Latino students at Los Altos saw a 4 percentage point increase in C-or-higher Algebra II completion compared to the 2019–2020 school year, while their Mountain View counterparts saw a 17 percentage point increase; the gap between white and Latino students at Mountain View closed by 14 percentage points, and the gap at Los Altos by 3.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught said that part of the Mountain View increase is because the system had previously counted students who didn’t graduate when compiling the numbers — this year it was changed to only include students who graduated.

“We did this to help us gain a stronger understanding of all of those who graduate,” she said in an email. “In doing some rough querying myself, I see that about 20-ish LatinX students did not graduate. If you add this back into the data, it makes the data between 19–20 and 20–21 a little closer.”

Los Altos High School: Algebra II completion with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)
Mountain View High School: Algebra II completion with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Both sites also saw improvement in A–G completion, which is the set of credits that determines eligibility for the University of California school system. Latino students at Mountain View saw a 13 percentage point increase, and their Los Altos counterparts saw a 3 percentage point increase; the gap between white and Latino students at Mountain View closed by 8 percentage points, while the gap at Los Altos widened by 4 — but due to gains made by white students, as opposed to a regression on the part of Latino students.

Mountain View Assistant Principal Jon Robell attributed the growth to flexible learning practices during the pandemic.

“Our teachers are thinking outside of the box,” Robell said. “We’re starting to assess in alternative ways. We’re starting to think ‘Okay, we need to do something different because we were forced to do something different [during remote learning].’”

Specifically, Robell said that online instruction forced teachers to “hone in on” essential standards and reevaluate certain assessments.

Mountain View High School Principal Michael Jimenez said that because the school’s administrative team is so new — all are long-time educators, but just recently assumed their roles — it’s hard to know exactly what’s driving the success.

“Something was happening before we got here that was making this successful, and I can’t tell you right now what it is,” Jimenez said. “I’m just not familiar enough with it yet. But whatever it is, we need to figure it out and continue that.”

Los Altos High School: A–G completion over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)
Mountain View High School: A–G completion over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Board member Sanjay Dave, though, cautioned against looking only at racial and ethnic groups as a whole, and instead suggested that looking at the subgroups within those racial groups is more productive.

“To be quite frank, I think we’re doing a disservice to the Latin community in the sense that we put that whole group in one,” Dave said at another data review session in November. “When you look at regular [education students] relative to everybody else, there’s a huge difference.”

Historically, Latino regular education students have outperformed the Latino demographic as a whole, in part because a disproportionate number of the district’s special education and English learners are Latino (“general education” excludes special education and English learners). 

Meaning, while there’s still an achievement gap between general education Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts, that gap is smaller than the one between the entire Latino population and counterparts. For example, last school year at Mountain View High, 93% of Asian students, 85% of white students and 45% of Latino students finished with a GPA over 3.0, but 57% of specifically Latino regular education students did the same. 

Subgroups within the Latino population at Mountain View High School that completed Algebra II with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Interestingly, C-or-higher algebra and A–G completion fell in the regular education Latino population at Mountain View, while English learners, reclassified as fluent English proficient students (students who used to be English learners) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made large gains.

Still, though, regular education students outperformed the other subgroups in those metrics.

“80% of kids at MVHS do very very well, but I believe we can do 95% if we address the issues we’re looking at right now with our [English learners],” Jimenez said.

While the achievement gap shrank in A–G completion and Algebra II grades — among others — a few key metrics like graduation rate, freshman GPA and freshmen with no Fs saw a widening of the gap. Generally, though, the numbers tell a mixed story.

For example, at Los Altos, the gap between the number of white and Latino freshmen with a 2.0-or-higher GPA increased by 24 percentage points. But, at the same school, the gap between the number of white and Latino freshmen with no Fs widened by only 3 percentage points. 

And, the gap stayed constant when comparing the number of students in all grade levels with a 3.0-or-higher GPA. Mountain View reported similar trends in those three metrics.

Still, administrators reported resilience through the pandemic, and lauded the district’s teachers for their work through remote instruction.

“I think it’s a moment of pride, stepping back … and saying ‘Whoa guys, we are achieving at a high level, and it’s a moment for us to celebrate,’” Morales said.

The full data packets can be found here (Mountain View) and here (Los Altos).

MVHS Drama Llamas “power team” gears up for its next production

Performing with Drama Llamas feels like being in a music video, according to Jessica Gao, a senior and one of three student directors of the Mountain View High School theater club.

Managed and creatively directed by students for 13 years, Drama Llamas aims to provide a collaborative and supportive space for anyone — aspiring Tony award winners and curious newbies alike — to experience being a part of a musical production.

“Theater is such a vulnerable thing to put yourself into, especially when you’re a high school student,” Gao said. “Drama Llamas really says, ‘We’ll take you, wherever you’re at and we just want to let you explore this amazing art.’”

Drama Llamas does not take the term “student-run” lightly. The club’s upcoming production “Firebringer,” a comedy set in cavepeople times, will feature original choreography by Mountain View High student Sophia Gervais and, if space allows, a live student orchestra performing the soundtrack. All 16 students who auditioned with no major conflicts were accepted into the production.

“Everyone’s all in, and there’s so much care for the work that we’re doing and for each other,” Gao said.

While creative freedom enables students to create a musical that resonates genuinely with them, it also plants landmines of incohesion. With another enlightening simile, Gao explained that the production is made up of “a bunch of mini puzzle pieces.” For the directors fitting it all together, there’s something new to learn at every stage, she said.

Beyond organization, promotion and coaching, directors’ covert duties like community cultivation silently shape the production.

The student-only environment — with many trying theater for the first time — provides a sense of comfort to vulnerably experiment, according to Gao, who was new to theater herself when she first joined Drama Llamas.

After seeing the club’s spring musical, Gao awakened to the productive marvel of theater arts. She said she made a vow with herself that she would be in a musical before she graduated. Now she gets to be the one inspiring other newcomers.

“It’s amazing to see how much people will come out of their shells and put in their best effort,” Gao said. “I remember at the end of callbacks, I felt that same spark I did watching that musical, and I think that’s what Drama Llamas is: being able to share the magic of theater and musicals with everybody.”

A memory from the club’s recent “Firebringer” callback auditions that stuck out to director Ani Lawit was, in what is often considered a competitive circumstance, auditioning students instead united to help each other prepare. On the other side of somewhat chaotic auditions, a natural rapport arose.

“It’s kind of incredible, the fact that we had callbacks and we only spent a couple hours together — and at the end, it felt like we’ve already known each other,” director Eva Spaid said.

All of the lowerclassmen faces give solace to the directors and seniors in knowing that, after their graduation, the club legacy has dependable inheritors.

Lawit said she now loves being a leader in forming it for Drama Llamas. The club’s alchemizing enthusiasm for theatrical production makes the work not feel like work, according to Spaid, even when it involves marathon planning calls with her fellow directors.

“We are a power team,” Gao said.

Recently, the power team closed the chapter of laying groundwork for “Firebringer” and are now ready to begin rehearsals.

“I’m looking forward to the beginning process, where they’re just learning the lines and getting a feel for the show and we can do more one-on-one work with people, but then I’m also looking forward to stepping back and seeing what we’ve created as a whole,” Lawit said.

With this potentially Croods-inspired musical, viewers should look out for music that gets stuck in your head, a big plot twist and possible chorus cameos from the triumvirate, themselves.

Visit Drama Llamas on Instagram @mvhsdramallamas. “Firebringer” will premiere at Mountain View High School on April 29, 2022.