San Carlos Real Estate Agent, San Carlos Realtor Sequoia High School — The best kept secret on the Peninsula | The White Oaks Blog

Sequoia High School — The best kept secret on the Peninsula

by Chuck Gillooley

If you live within the Sequoia High School District and have a child who is nearing high school age, you’re probably somewhat aware of the challenges the school board is facing with balancing the enrollment at the four high schools. The problem is that while enrollment is flat or down at Sequoia, Menlo Atherton, and Woodside high schools, Carlmont is literally bursting at the seams. Why? Since the City of San Carlos made that fateful decision over 20 years ago to tear down their perfectly good high school, many of the residents have taken advantage of inter-district transfer option and have sent their children to Carlmont, which is closer for a lot of us than Sequoia. In the past 20 years, the demographic make-up of San Carlos (and surrounding communites) has changed entirely, and the number of children approaching high school age is at record levels. Consequently, the “open door” at Carlmont may close this year for many families who would like to attend but don’t live within the Carlmont district. 

But that’s just the background, and not the reason for this post. Being residents of San Carlos and having the first of our three kids entering high school next year, my wife and I are part of this group of parents who just assumed we’d apply for a transfer and follow the droves of other San Carlos families to Carlmont (even though we’re in the Sequoia district.) I mean, who would go to Sequoia, right? I’ve lived in either Redwood City or San Carlos for the past 43 years — you just didn’t go to Sequoia because you wanted to — you went because you had to. So if you had asked me 6 months ago if I was going to write an article like this I would have laughed (long and loud, for that matter.) Hey, old perceptions die hard.

Fast forward to present…. As part of this re-balancing process, parents who wish to apply for an inter-district transfer MUST first tour their designated high school, and their child must “shadow” another student there for a day. For us, that meant reluctantly going to Sequoia and going through the motions just to confirm what I thought I already knew.

And I’m glad that I did, because I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This is not your father’s Sequoia High School. When Principal Morgan Marchbanks took over the helm of the school nearly 9 years ago, she essentially picked the school up by its collective feet and shook out everything that wasn’t working. In it’s place she implemented leading edge educational programs such as the International College Advancement Program (ICAP) and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which provides students with study options that are so advanced that students actually get college credit for some of these courses.

Realizing that programs don’t implement themselves, Principal Marchbanks embarked on an aggressive recruiting campaign to attract the best and brightest teachers and administrators to breathe life into not only the core academia, but the arts and trades (such as dance and woodshop.) One of those key hires was vice principal Bonnie Hansen, who together with Principal Marchbanks, has created a leading-edge learning environment where challenges are abundant for every student, and respect is mandatory for anyone who steps foot on the campus.

This school has a buzz and vibe that I haven’t felt at other schools that I have visited. Combine all of this with the first rate facilities and Stanford-like campus, and the recipe is ripe for success. But don’t take my word for it — check it out for yourself. Because if Morgan Marchbanks and her staff have their way (which I have no doubt they will) Sequoia High School will soon have the same problem that Carlmont has — more students will WANT to come here than they will have room for.
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Comments 12
  • It may be a wonderful school, but the fact that its located across the street from a porn shop doesn’t bode well.

    Also, if it’s so great, why aren’t people from Belmont and Redwood Shores clamoring to get their kids in?

    I’m new to the area so I’m having a hard time fathoming why in the world the high school in San Carlos was torn down to begin with. It just seems so strange — was there any community uproar? Who profited from this?

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  • Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks for weighing in with your comments. I’ll address your points about Sequoia below…

    — Location. Granted, there are some questionable businesses along El Camino, but the campus was there long before any of the businesses were. And Sequoia isn’t the only school on the Peninsula that’s within a stone’s throw of some lousy parts of town. I hope the City of Redwood City will pass some sort of ordinance that will eliminate the porn shop and other businesses that shouldn’t be close to the school.

    — Reputation. The reason that more people aren’t clamoring to the school is the whole reason I wrote the post in the first place. It’s the best kept secret because it’s unfairly living under the shadow of its former reputation. The transformation of this school is simply amazing. 10 years ago, the school probably wasn’t a great place to be. But the current principal has cleaned house, both literally and figuratively, and the school today is nothing like it was 10 years ago. Carlmont High School underwent the same transformation (remember the movie “Dangerous Minds”? That was modeled after Carlmont.) 10 years ago, people avoided Carlmont like the plague, but today it’s at capacity.

    — San Carlos High School. When you look at San Carlos today, it’s hard to believe the district would close what was the newest school in the district. But back in the early 80’s, enrollment was declining and the short-sighted decision was made to close the school. Since then, the demographics have changed entirely in San Carlos, and all of their schools are bursting at the seams. Did anyone get rich off that deal? When you see the homes that went in where the school campus once was, it certainly makes you wonder….

    I certainly understand where your opinion of Sequoia comes from…all I can ask is that you judge it by what happens inside the school borders, not by what’s around it. On that basis alone, I think you’ll be surprised.

    Thanks again for your comments,

    Chuck

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  • Is there any info regarding where graduates of this program have been accepted at college, what their API scores have been, what their SAT scores have been? I know that this may unfairly distill such a rich program down to just a few numbers, but it would be helpful to have some kind of basis of comparison between IB and other options in the area. Thanks!

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  • Attached are the college acceptance lists and the “Where Did they go” lists for all IB graduates since the program’s inception. I don’t have individual API scores or SAT scores on these students but am comfortable saying that they score within the top quartile on standardized college entrance exams (SAT, subject tests and ACT). These students typically get 5’s on any AP exam they take after having taken an IB course in that area. Also, of 445 IB exams administered in May 2008, 313 of those exams scores were 4 – 7, qualifying for college credit (that’s 70%).
    For 2008:
    UC Davis UC Berkeley Canada College
    University of Arizona Notre Dame de Namur SJSU
    UC Santa Cruz University of the Pacific
    Sacramento State CalTech Chico State Univ. Willamette Univ.
    U. of Colorado Boulder Foothill College Knox College
    UC San Diego SFSU Tufts University
    CSU Monterey Bay Mills College UC Irvine
    Cal State San Marcos UC Merced San Diego State
    College of San Mateo Carleton College St. Olaf
    Columbia College, Chic. Sonoma State Univ. Stanford University
    Univ. of Tampa StonyBrook UniversityDeAnza College
    Univ. of Oregon Cal Poly San Luis Obispo CSU East Bay
    Wellesley College Univ. of San Francisco Texas State Univ.

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  • I think it is great that the IB kids were accepted at great schools. I am concerned about the kids who won’t make it in advanced placement classes or IB. The SAT scores for Sequoia are significantly lower than any other school in the district and that is with the IB programs scores factored in. That means that outside of the IB program the scores are no where near what it would take to get into any UC or state school. There are kids in the middle too and I am concerned that they may not be a priority with so many resources going to the other ends.

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  • Yes, it is true that Sequoia SAT scores are not as high as other schools. We take pride in the fact that every student is encouraged to take the SAT (and one or twoIB classes for that matter), not just average and above average studennts. Sequoia’s large English as a Second Language Learner population is also reflected in our SAT scores. Students who have been in the country learning English for fwere than 7 years, for example, have no theoretical probability of being fully bilingual. However, if they finish their coursework with an average Grade Point Average, they are still encouraged to take the SAT to be eligible to complete a college application.

    In short, the data for Sequoia would look “better” if we adopted exclusive criteria for promoting and assisting in SAT taking. However, our data reflect a commitment to access that represents the participation of a significan portion of the school’s population — all along the skills continuum. Hence, it does not reflect a mediocre or poor performing “average” student ‘performance. Thank you for engaging in the dialogue about Sequoia! Peace, Morgan Marchbanks, Principal 2000- present

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  • Your piece on Ms. Marchbanks and Sequoia High School sound too promotional to be true. I note that her immediate response as to where Sequoia grads go to university named the IB program students; in other words, the top few students. As at Atherton and Woodside High Schools, the best students are singled out and given the best classes to ensure their success–and, not coincidentally, ensure that the schools can claim placements at top universities.

    This is deceitful and manipulative on the part of those schools. Ms. Marchbanks is no exception in the manipulations of her numbers.

    I, too, visited the Sequoia campus and was quite concerned by what I saw and heard. Many, many students are failing if judged by realistic standards. Regrettably, it is hard to get at the real numbers because of willful obfuscation by both the school and district administration.

    There is no way I will send my child, who has a slightly above average ability, to this school. His education would be brushed aside in favor of promoting the handful of high achievers.

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  • Steve,

    Thanks for taking the time to write in. You bring up some very interesting points.

    First, let me set the record straight regarding the motivation behind the original post: There’s nothing “promotional” behind this article or any of the ones that have followed. I have nothing to promote by writing these — I am simply speaking as a concerned and involved parent of a freshman who is enrolled in the school. I decided to write the post because many other families in San Carlos were facing the same questions. I like what the school has to offer, and I will be backing up what I say by sending our other two children to Sequoia when the time comes.

    Regarding statistics, I’ll leave that for Principal Marchbanks to elaborate on her numbers. I will say that I think accusing her of manipulating numbers may be a bit harsh. ALL high schools promote whatever special and advanced programs that they offer. Why? Because that’s what 99% of the parents ask about. But just because Sequoia (and every other school) promotes their advanced programs and similar educational opportunities, that doesn’t mean the rest of the students are ignored. In fact, one of the things I really like about Sequoia is that they have excellent programs for all education levels.

    I am a graduate of St Francis in Mountain View, which is also an excellent school. But not everyone who graduates from SF goes to Stanford or Harvard. In fact, some don’t go to college at all, but they promote their advanced placement program as much as any other school. So I don’t see how they are any different from Sequoia.

    I hope if you’ll view Sequoia with an open mind, and trust that Principal Marchbanks and her administration are doing what’s best for ALL of the students, not just the top few.

    Thanks again for your comments,

    Chuck

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  • I have read and re-read each of the comments posted by other San Carlos residents as well as Ms. Marchbanks and I can’t help but return to the question that rattles around in my mind… “What is best high school environment for my child to be successful? I am a credentialed teacher and have taken a holistic approach to education throughout my teaching career and my children’s education.

    It is with this in mind that I say in all honesty, Sequoia does not have all that is necessary to offer my child the opportunities to be successful. Sequoia has several areas in which it needs improvement all of which I am certain that Ms. Marchbanks is aware of, and in all likelyhood attempting to address. Still, I don’t feel that my child should have to attend a school that is not only riddled with “Nortenos” and “Surenos”, but also has very little to offer the “middle of the road” student. IB is the new name for the honors track. I am sure Ms. Marchbanks can identify a handful of students who take part in some of the IB classes, but are not in the progam in its entirety, but that is certainly not indicative of the excellence of their overall educational opportunities at Sequoia.

    I went to public school and shared only P.E. with the “regular” students and can say that I pretty much got a great education in my little Honors Program bubble. I had not difficulty with maintaining my grades nor did I feel threatened by the violence that permeated the school around me. The same is very true for the IB kids at Sequoia. They live in a bubble and have a great program that keeps them together and allows them to survive within a school in turmoil. While I am well aware that Ms. Marchbanks has done quite a bit of “pulling the school up by it’s collective bootstraps,” she is dealing with a huge ESL population and their social issues as well. Much of her time and funding is directed at addressing their needs.

    How can I say that better is good enough for my child? That is simply a cop-out. Although Sequoia might be better than it was, it is certainly not an excellent school for all its students and I truly do resent the fact that when you look at our elementaries, our middle school and then Sequoia, there is a huge dissconnect between the type of school environment each level provides. My family will leave the White Oaks Neighborhood when it is time for our child to attend high shool if the district does not grant us a transfer. The reason is simple, Sequoia is not the best high school environment for our child to have the opportunity to be successful.

    I give credit to Ms. Marchbanks for the work she has done and continues to do to improve Sequoia, but have to call a spade a spade. Sequoia’s diverse population has not lent it to grow in a multitude of ways, rather it has splintered Sequoia’s already tight budget and vision and forced its focus to be directed at the highest achievers ( IB) and the lowest achievers ( ESL) and to largely ignore the needs of the kids trapped in the middle. I see many of the San Carlos kids I know falling into that no man’s land where they cannot possibly achieve the success they deserve at Sequoia or beyond.

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    • Last time I checked, the future success of most adults was not dependent on where one was educated between the ages of 14-18.

      San Carlos Parent asserts that IB students live in a bubble, and that there are possibly only a handful of students who take some IB classes but are not in the whole program. Both assertions are untrue. There are far more students participating in IB classes without doing the full IB diploma than there are students who have chosen the full IB path. I have one of those middle ground students who takes ICAP/IB classes and regular classes, and is…happy! As for “the bubble”, there will always students who isolate themselves from the larger community, just as there will always be parents who choose to isolate themselves from the larger community. Perhaps it is in pursuit of excellence, but perhaps it is something else entirely. Possibly I am naive, but my child’s future success has more to do with her character, work ethic, persistence, and her ability and willingness to thrive in an environment that may not be tailored to her exact specifications, than having the “best high school environment.”

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  • I’m glad to hear that Sequoia is moving along so well. I graduated in 1999, and throughout my time there I was always told how ‘bad’ the school was. There was some merit to this. A large number of people in my class never made it to graduation and only a handful of my classmates went on to 4 year colleges. Yet the problem to me was never the faculty – most of whom -especially the newer members such as Jack West, David Lee and Kelly O’Hern I thought worked extremely hard. Rather, the difficulties seemed to lay in structural problems of public education that placed tremendous pressure on the school. That is, Sequoia’s student body at the time was largely from poor families where English was a second language. State-mandated testing and curricula seemed rather oblivious to this disadvantage, and in turn the school had low test scores and graduation rates. Nonetheless, I’m appreciative of the effort of the faculty there – I managed to get into Santa Clara after graduation, earned a master’s, started a professional career and I’m working on my Phd at UCLA.

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  • Can you comment on East Palo Alto kids going to Carlmont? How big an impact does it have on Carlmont? Some parents told me that it’s a big issue for the school. Will this continue?

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