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Three local schools land on state's 'worst' list

'Preliminary' list includes Stanford-run charter school in East Palo Alto

Three East Palo Alto schools -- including a charter school run by Stanford University -- have landed on the California Department of Education's "preliminary" list of the state's worst-performing schools.

One of the schools, Edison-Ronald McNair Intermediate School, had its charter revoked for poor performance in 2008 by East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District.

The Stanford-run East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School was reorganized with a new principal last fall and recently petitioned Ravenswood trustees to allow it to continue operating.

The third school on the list, the K-8 Costano, has a new principal and has been cited by Ravenswood officials and others as a campus in the midst of a turnaround.

The rankings, representing the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state, were based on state achievement tests and graduation rates, the Department of Education said.

Given the fact that one of the schools had its charter revoked two years ago, it was unclear whether there was a time lag in the state data. Department of Education spokeswoman Pam Slater could not immediately be reached for comment.

The department said the "preliminary" list will be reviewed Thursday by the state Board of Education and then be sent to the U.S. Department of Education for final approval.

Once the list is final, each school will be required to engage in one of four school intervention models and be eligible to apply for federal funds to implement the changes.

"We are . . . puzzled by the list the state generated," Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega said today.

"However, there is money to apply for continued improvement and, with all these cuts, it may benefit us to be able to maintain and enhance our current positive trend and minimize the impact of the budget cuts."

Representatives of Stanford New Schools, the non-profit that runs East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School and a sister high school, could not immediately be reached for comment.

However, in interviews last December, Stanford officials acknowledged the Stanford charter elementary school had not yet met expectations.

"I think we're still learning," School of Education Dean Deborah Stipek said when asked if the elementary school had lived up to expectations.

"We've only been in business for three years.

"In a lot of ways we've been very successful in the kind of emotional and family support, but our kids' skills are not up to what they need to be. It just takes time to get things right."

A large contingent of Stanford officials recently appeared before the Ravenswood board of trustees seeking renewal of the school's charter, which expires this year.

"We were not satisfied with our students' achievement gains (in the first five years of the charter)," Stanford said in its petition for charter renewal of both its elementary and high school.

"There was significant disruptive turnover in leadership and teaching at the school sites, and we needed greater clarity in lines of authority, decision-making processes, and communication.

"Understanding these challenges, this year we embarked on a process of profound reflection and re-design at all levels of our system, from governance and management structures to instructional practice and the use of data to drive decision-making.

"The new tools we have brought to bear on the analysis of student performance data have put us in a much better position to provide the kind of differentiated and engaging instruction our students need to succeed."

A report by the San Mateo County Grand Jury last May concluded that "charter schools in East Palo Alto give students in under-performing schools successful alternatives to traditional public schools."

More successful charters in East Palo Alto exist in the East Palo Alto Charter School, the Phoenix Academy, Edison-Brentwood School and Stanford's East Palo Alto Academy High School.

In particular, the grand jury cited high test scores in East Palo Alto Charter School, which is managed by Aspire Public Schools, a non-profit charter management company; and the Edison-Brentwood Academy, run by EdisonLearning Inc, which was launched by entrepreneur Chris Whittle and former Yale University President Benno Schmidt to pioneer the use of private management to transform low-performing public schools.

The grand jury said it was too early to judge the success of the Stanford charter elementary school.

"The East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School is only in its third year of operation," the grand jury said.

"While scoring low on most measures so far, its affiliation with the Stanford University School of Education brings Stanford's resources, research, and innovation to the school and hopefully, over time, to the district."

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