Community Matters Newsletter

Fall 2023

Dear MPCSD Community,

School has been open for the 2023-24 year for about eight weeks and we are getting back to business, centering our work around the critical theme of belonging, and thinking about the future of MPCSD. 

In terms of "getting back to business," our business in schools is anchored in teaching and learning. We are reviewing and improving academic curriculum, updating our facilities plan, increasing safety measures, and continuing to provide teachers with high quality professional development. We are drilling into our student achievement data to anticipate student needs, scale best practices, and craft intentional plans to provide support, while also highlighting students' strengths. This level of academic precision and ongoing progress monitoring is what it takes to ensure that all students are making progress and academically achieving.

Belonging is a fundamental human need that is foundational to building confidence, making connections, and experiencing success. Therefore, we are centering all of our work in thoughtful goals and intentional plans to improve the conditions for student belonging in our schools. It is in this context of our shared humanity that I can’t stop thinking about the state of our world, especially the violent war in the Middle East. MPCSD is human-centered, and denounces hate, hate speech, violence, and terrorism. We are heartbroken by the devastation of these circumstances: the horrific terrorist attack on Israel by Hamas and the resulting war, the innocent hostages taken, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and the many innocent lives that have been lost, many of whom are children. We must spread compassion for those near and far who are experiencing grief and/or feeling threatened by antisemitism or Islamophobia. We recognize that some of our families are feeling scared, sad, and uncertain, and as a school community we are making efforts to connect with and support them. As educators, what we want is for all the children of the world to have the opportunity to live in peace, feel safe, and anticipate a bright future. I feel this hope when visiting classrooms throughout our district: our children are our brightest light and despite how fractured the world feels right now, I still have hope for the future because of our students. They are empathetic, compassionate, curious about each other's lives, and supportive of each other. That is why we are doing all we can to create school environments and experiences where all students belong, so that the children of today are well equipped to lead tomorrow.

Finally, as superintendent, I invite you to engage with us. We are interested in our community’s perspective as we embark upon a year-long process to develop a strategic vision that surfaces our current values and results in new strategic directions. We are working with all stakeholders (students, staff, families, and community) over the course of the 2023-24 school year. Read below about how you can participate. Thank you for being a part of our community. Your engagement matters as together we ensure that today’s students are educated, supported, cared for, and world-ready!

In partnership,

Superintendent Kristen Gracia

Dates to Note

Please see our website 72 hours in advance of each Board meeting for the agenda and attendance details. Open Session begins at 6:00 p.m.

October 26 - School Board Meeting

November 1 - Enrollment for Early Learning Center for Fall 2024 Opens

November 10 - Veteran's Day observed

November 16 - School Board Meeting

November 18 - Vaccine Clinic with Safeway Pharmacy @ Hillview Middle School

November 20-24 - Thanksgiving Break

December 14 - School Board Meeting

December 25-January 8 - Winter Break

Help Us Vision the Future

You - our community - are partners with us in providing a high quality education to our children. Your perspective is important to our strategic vision.

What skills and mindsets will our students need to be world-ready? What should public schools mean to the community? Please complete our short Defining our Future Survey.

State Achievement Scores Announced

The Spring 2023 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) results were recently released. MPCSD exceeds the overall state results, while mirroring national trends that a post-pandemic learning loss recovery will take time.

As reported to the School Board on October 12, MPCSD results show the following:

  • 80% of students meet or exceed standards in English Language Arts (-1% from 2022)
  • 78% of students meet or exceed standards in Math (+1% from 2022)
  • 71% of students meet or exceed standards in Science (given only to 5th and 8th graders)

Overall in California, 46.7% meet or exceed standards in ELA, 34.6% of students meet or exceed in Math, and 30.2% meet or exceed in Science.

MPCSD's student achievement continues to outperform the state as a whole. However, the district is focused on improving achievement across all student groups and bringing our results back to pre-pandemic levels. This year the district will scale successful interventions, realign ELA instructional practices with curriculum framework, and fully implement asset based math assessments, among other strategies. Board members expressed confidence that through continued academic precision focus, we will overcome pandemic-related lost learning and ensure that all students are achieving to their potential.

Preschool Enrollment Opens Nov. 1

MPCSD's award winning Early Learning Center is now accepting applications for the 2024-25 school year lottery for our Laurel and Oak Knoll sites, including our Spanish Immersion classroom at Laurel. Eligible students will be 3 years old by December 1, 2024 and district residents have priority for enrollment. 

Applications for the initial lottery are available from November 1, 2023 - January 8, 2024. Families who apply after the lottery will be enrolled on a rolling basis if space is still available. In-person tours are available at Laurel and Oak Knoll. Please visit the ELC website for tour dates and our application. 

"The Menlo Park City School District’s Early Learning Center nurtures young children’s curiosity, sense of wonder, belonging, and deep engagement with the world around them, preparing them to develop the critical skills needed to enter kindergarten and reach their full potential. Our caring and knowledgeable teachers support the development of friendships, foster positive conflict resolution skills, and ensure that children have a sense of belonging and feel safe and valued for their unique gifts."

Stanford Professor Geoffrey Cohen Visits Speaker Series

A crowd of over one hundred came out for our kick-off Speaker Series event, "Belonging: Creating Connection and Bridging Divides in Our Community," with Professor Geoff Cohen on Tuesday, October 3. We enjoyed an insightful and compassionate conversation about how we as school communities and within our own families can create the conditions for a deeper sense of belonging. 


Professor Cohen shared that in our everyday lives, we have opportunity even in small moments to make a big impact on those around us. Here are some tips from Geoff for creating deeper connections and more belonging:

  • The challenge of humility: we often don’t know as much about a person’s situation as we think we do. Get curious, ask questions, and find out more about others.
  • The challenge of empathy: we can be too quick to judge and too slow to reach out with our hearts. People can connect over shared feelings and experiences once we find out what those are.
  • The challenge of communication: take the time to learn how we can best support each other. 

Ways to connect with kids, especially in the middle school years:

  • Create a connection: be emotionally available and nonjudgmental.
  • Creating opportunities for exploration with your guidance: take field trips to explore their interests, encourage extra curricular activities.
  • Find service opportunities/volunteerism: being of service is key way to help teens develop a healthy sense of self. 
  • Sleep: plenty of sleep has a strong positive effect on mental and physical health.

Three things everyone, especially children, need to hear: you are seen, I believe in you, you are not alone.

Making Schools Safer

Student safety is MPCSD's top priority. Last school year we contracted with Guidepost Solutions to perform a comprehensive physical security program review with the intent to determine a baseline status from which we can evolve, grow, and strengthen our program and protocols to better serve our students, staff, and community.

Guidepost highlighted the strengths in our safety protocols and practices including our solid video surveillance system, perimeter definition, and overall culture of security ownership by staff. We have developed a safety roadmap which includes implementing new safety measures as well as some longer-term strategies. Beginning on the first day of school we increased our safety posture and implemented Staff Identification Badges, Campus Monitors, and a Visitor Management System. Other new measures will take more time; for example, we are currently working on increasing signage, perimeter fencing, and more sophisticated communication systems for our classrooms. 

Annual Fundraising Offers Community Opportunities

Every fall, the parent-led volunteer organizations in MPCSD - our school Parent-Teacher Organizations and the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation - team up to raise critical funds for our schools. This effort, the One Community Campaign, supports specialist teachers for art, library, science, music, and PE; mental health and wellness programs and our full-time counselors; and school-based programs and activities that create belonging for our students, staff, and families.

We are pleased to report that 65% of our district families contributed to the One Community Campaign. MPCSD families value a strong education and invest above and beyond their property and parcel taxes to ensure that we can provide a robust and enriching program to all students.

Community Members Can Support Our Schools, Too! Here are three ways:

Order Amici's & Support MPCSD Schools! 

Order Amici’s for lunch or dinner on Tuesday, October 24, mention MPAEF, and earn 25% back for Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Hillview schools. Here’s how:

#1: Amici's website

#2: By phone at 650-329-8888

Note: Promotion does not apply to dining-in at Amici’s (pick-up only), DoorDash or any other 3rd party and delivery orders.

More information here.

Taste Of The Mountains - Menlo Park Wine Walk

On Saturday, December 2 the Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation, and the Menlo Park Design District are thrilled to bring back this fun and festive event! Enjoy local wines and shop at local stores with proceeds from ticket sales benefiting Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Hillview schools. Tickets on sale now!

Be a Friend of MPAEF

The support of dedicated community members—grandparents, alumni families, neighbors, and community members at-large—helps the Foundation to achieve its goal of gifting an annual grant to the Menlo Park City School District in support of an exceptional education experience for all students.

Credit Card/Paypal, Check/ Donor Advised Funds, and Stock Donations accepted. Learn more here.

Community Vaccine Clinic with Safeway

We are once again partnering with Safeway Pharmacy to offer COVID and Flu vaccines to the community. Get your shots at this convenient clinic right here in Menlo Park:

Safeway Vaccine Clinic

Saturday, November 18, 2023

10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Hillview Middle School PAC

1100 Elder Avenue, Menlo Park

  • Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine
  • XBB COVID (Brand depending on availability)
  • 3 years and older
  • All insurances accepted (will be billed by Safeway) except Kaiser, and Medi-Cal for people 19 years and younger. Bring insurance card to appointment. Those not covered or not insured (including Kaiser and Medi-Cal) will need to pay at time of service: Flu (regular) $40, Flu (senior dose) $72, COVID XBB $160. 
  • Schedule an appointment here and be sure to print out the PDF copy of the consent form to bring with you.
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