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January 31, 2006 > Editorial: School bells ring, are you listening?

Editorial: School bells ring, are you listening?

If you are the intensely social type, get ready for a treat. The rest of us who like a bit of space are in for a difficult time. The watchword of planning has become high density and with good reason. There is a scarcity of land to develop and therefore, most new commercial and residential space will end up planned for as many bodies as possible in the smallest area possible.

The result of this change may turn some planning assumptions on their head. In this issue's interview with Dr. Karl Black, Superintendent of the Milpitas Unified School District, he spoke of an interesting change beginning to surface. Townhomes and condominiums, traditionally factored by school districts as less likely to house families with school age children, are changing. New developments and redevelopment favoring high densities near transit hubs and shopping may increasingly house school-age children. There may be little or no play space for children included in their design, but as Dr. Black says, where else can some of these people go?" Existing housing may be out of financial reach so ownership or rental of one of these units may be an acceptable compromise.

As children of established neighborhoods age and phase out of the educational system, single family dwellings with the white picket fence and two-car garage are fading from the school scene. They are being replaced by high density developments that now are beginning to include families. High density family living may be considered typical in some older and highly urbanized areas of the country, but in our land of sprawl, will significantly alter the demographic landscape. School systems and cities that do not take note of this fact are in for a surprise. This may create a minor adjustment at the present time, but things are changing. As an example, think of the impact of a large number of families with school age children moving into the Centerville Market Place or into high density development around the Union City BART station.

Dr. Black's comment about the significant impact of test scores on population and business trends is also eye-opening. A simple approach is to look at schools as separate units of our communities with some nebulous impact on those outside the gates. This is, and has always been, a na•ve view of the education process. The concept of a direct link between growth and commerce of our cities and the state of our schools has never been more apparent than now. If you don't want to pay attention to what might be considered theoretical talk of our children as the next leadership for our communities, state, country and world, focus on the immediate financial impact on property values and attraction of businesses (i.e. jobs) to an area based on testing scores and achievement patterns. This is not a 10 year scenario. It is happening now.

It is time for all of us to pay attention to the leadership of cities and school districts (including our community colleges!). This is even more important now than it has been in the past. Councilmember and Board Member ability to cope with this changing landscape should be scrutinized with care since they form the link between us, the public, and these economic and social forces that will shape our lives.

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