Ravenswood to close Stanford charter school

Trustees cite poor academics, but other factors come into play

In a stunning rebuke to Stanford University, the Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees Thursday voted to shut down a Stanford-run charter elementary school at the end of the school year, citing poor academic performance.

The 3.5-year-old East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, will close its doors to more than 200 students in June.

Stanford had argued the decision was made on skimpy data -- essentially just two years worth of test scores.

Stanford officials said if given another year or two the school's results would begin to match or exceed those of two older high-performing charter schools in the Ravenswood district, or the district's own schools, which recently have shown improvement.

But Ravenswood trustees -- who oversee seven schools serving children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park -- weren't having it.

They opted instead to accept the recommendation of Superintendent Maria De La Vega.

De La Vega cited poor results on state tests, and said visitors to the school site had observed serious problems with classroom behavior management. She said the school's current program was inadequate and that Stanford was unlikely to be able to improve it sufficiently.

Thursday's 11 p.m. vote to accept De La Vega's recommendation was conducted in less than five minutes, with no discussion by board members.

Stanford's heavy hitters -- including the high-profile Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who headed President Obama's transition team on education -- were kept waiting for hours and not asked to speak.

The vote was 3-1, with trustees Victor Lopez, Larry Moody and Sharifa Wilson supporting closure and trustee Saree Mading opposing the motion. A fifth member who previously had supported Stanford, John Bostic, was absent.

Trustees did offer some reprieve to a Stanford-run charter high school, the 8.5-year-old East Palo Alto Academy High School.

They agreed to extend the school's charter until 2012 or until Stanford finds another sponsoring agency for the high school -- whichever comes sooner.

Fifth-graders from the to-be-closed elementary school will be educated on the high-school campus next year -- apparently to maintain the continued jurisdiction of Ravenswood, a K-8 district, over the 9-12 high school.

Stanford officials have said the Sequoia Union High School District -- the most logical sponsoring agency for a high school in East Palo Alto -- will not sponsor them and they will have to look elsewhere.

Ever since the closure of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood High School in 1976, students from the community have had to travel to other Sequoia district high schools, including Menlo-Atherton, Woodside and Carlmont.

Dropout rates of those students are estimated at about 70 percent. The Stanford-sponsored high school has achieved better results, with a roughly 84 percent graduation rate. Nearly all graduates have gone on to two- or four-year colleges.

Privately, Stanford officials said they were stunned by Ravenswood's decision to close the elementary school.

Publicly, they said Stanford faculty will continue to "work closely" with the teachers of the elementary children, who will be transferred to other Ravenswood district elementary schools.

"We are very pleased that we will continue to be involved with students in the East Palo Alto community, which has been so enthusiastic and supportive of our presence," Stanford Education School Dean Deborah Stipek said.

"Stanford has a long-term commitment to the students of East Palo Alto. We are pleased that we will continue our partnership with the Ravenswood school district, and that the board is supportive of our successful high school program."

Other than the test data, Ravenswood's decision appeared to reflect the institutional needs of a declining-enrollment school district that is fighting for financial survival.

An immediate cash infusion from the state to the district will accompany any former Stanford student who returns to his or her neighborhood school this fall.

Indeed, just prior to the vote Thursday night, trustees heard from their Chief Business Official Megan Curtis about a looming deficit, due in part to declining enrollment.

Curtis said staff members have identified many potential cuts but the district may have to consider more drastic measures, including school closures and furloughs, to close the budget gap.

Another policy trustees might consider is a "district-wide campaign to increase enrollment," Curtis said.

"If we could pull back 200 or 300 kids to our district, that could offset the entire deficit," Curtis said, without making any reference to the Stanford situation.

Ravenswood trustees have expressed frustration that district schools continue to lose enrollment -- and accompanying state revenue -- despite their improving test scores and the district's stated motto, "Journey to Excellence."

The 3,000-student district loses about 40 percent of its potential enrollment each year to charter schools or to the Tinsley desegregation program, a 23-year-old court settlement that allows 160 of Ravenswood's non-white kindergartners each year to enroll in neighboring Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other area school districts as far north as Belmont.

"We're all working toward the same end, but oftentimes it becomes competitive," De La Vega said in an interview with the Weekly last December.

"I know it's not (the charters') intent, but when you take (students) away it makes it more difficult to work through those challenges.

"My role as superintendent is to protect the district and make sure we're left with the ability to provide a quality education."

Related story:

Stanford loses bid to renew EPA charter schools

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Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:29 pm

This demonstrates the fundamental problem of charter schools needing to be approved by local districts. There is a clear conflict of interest. While I can't speak to the specifics and it may be that the school had too many issues, it is troubling to have a superintendent talking about the challenges of declining enrollment within the district schools and the associated financial challenges, stating "If we could pull back 200-300 students into our district, that would offset the deficit." Juxtapost that with the decision to close a school that has, surprise 200 students.
This seems to be a standard school district approach, take away choice for students and you will get a larger budget. It doesn't address the need for innovative and more cost effective approaches to education.
Of course this will be followed by Sequoia Union now opening up a campus in EPA and trying to force Summint and Everst to locate there.

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Time to bring the belle haven school into the Menlo Park district and give those children a fighting chance at education.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Citizen For Better Schools
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:50 pm

The Ravenswood City School District will never give children the education they deserve...why do you think parents are pulling thier cildren out of the gosh because Ravenswood City School District is only concerned about the money and not the education of students. Ravenswood City School District has pulled a bully move on Stanford!

Like this comment
Posted by teacher 2
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Dear Almanac,
Why don't you do an article on the reasons for the high teacher turnover rate and the effects on trying to sustain an education community? Is there any answer to that problem?? Why do teachers leave so fast??

Like this comment
Posted by A Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Apr 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm

The 3,000-student district loses about 40 percent of its potential enrollment each year to charter schools or to the Tinsley desegregation program, a 23-year-old court settlement that allows 160 of Ravenswood's non-white kindergartners each year to enroll in neighboring Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other area school districts as far north as Belmont.

"We're all working toward the same end, but oftentimes it becomes competitive," De La Vega said in an interview with the Weekly last December.

To me, this statement says that she's only concerned about the enrollment of the schools and not the education of the students...When a parent pulls a child out of district, its not because the parent wants to it's because the child isn't receiving a decent education to compete in the world. Stanford New School testing was not the reason for the closure of the school. Enrollment in the Ravenswood District is the reason behind the closure of Stanford New School..

Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Shocked and saddened by the greed and apathetic attitude of Ravenswood School District. It is obvious to all that read the article that the trustees do not have the welfare of the children's future in mind. I am appalled at not even asking Obama's team transition leader Prof. Darling-Hammond to speak. Shocking. Stanford has done so well with their high school and not to give the lower school a fighting chance is proof of "more of the same corruption" we experience in California with lack of choice. California will never be the #1 state for education with these bullies in power. A life long resident of Atherton, I have seen our education system go downhill slowly. Greed, corruption, tough unions, and top heavy admin $$$ are responsible. No one can stop it.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 23, 2010 at 3:38 pm

I'll clarify my prior post. What the schools need is an independent board for credentialing charter schools. At present, charter schools offer a parents an alternative to local public schools. Some charter schools are good and some aren't. If the body deciding the fate of a charter school has a stake in whether a charter school's charter is renewed, the process will always favor shutting down the charter. All schools, charters included tend to take a year or two to get going (sometimes this is a result of fighting districts to open in the first place), so it is easy to then say the school isn't performing. If the district stands to benefit from the closure (captive parents and students), this serves as a cynical means to close budget gaps in a "competitive" environment, made easier if the competition can be wiped out for you. Whether this was the right decision or not, it has the taint of conflict of interest.

Like this comment
Posted by Luis
a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I am a graduate of East Palo Alto Academy High School and I feel very fortunate that the school will continue. Without it, students in the area have to attend schools up to 20 to 30 minutes away from East Palo Alto. I was fortunate to attend East Palo Alto Academy. Besides being a closer high school to where I lived, they also cared a lot about their students. I have friends who attended Carlmont, Woodside, and Sequoia and most of them if not all of them did not continue their education. Some did not even finish high school.

In East Palo Alto academy one feels motivated to attend school, work hard, but most importantly one feels important because the teachers actually care. The relationships developed while in East Palo Alto academy with teachers, principal, and other students become significant with time. East Palo Alto academy prepared me for college in many different ways. By the end of my senor year I had already taken 6 college classes that helped me get the feeling of what a college class was like and it also gave me a head start since they were transferable classes. The exhibitions prepared me to be a better public speaker, and knowing some of the roles while working in groups has helped me facilitate group meetings and group projects.

I am currently a third year at San Jose State University, majoring in business management and I can honestly say that EPAA has been a big impact not just for me but to family also. Thanks to East Palo Alto academy, college became a reality for me and for many other students who attend EPAA.

Like this comment
Posted by Albert B. Franklin
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2010 at 11:54 am

I'm very shocked to read that Stanford, with a billion dollars yearly
endowment can not educate a few minority students of Whiskey Gulch.
When I created my elementary educational program in East Redwood City, only a solitary person refused to participate in it.

While in seemingly no time at all, recruiting offices I opened for East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park and East Redwood City with Canada College on Farm Hill Boulevard were somehow systematically shut down.

Redwood City Elementary School District evaluated my students, after an intensive 6 week long summer course to disover they academically out performed the rest of Redwood City. Former city manager, Jim Smith, told me one day that citizens of Redwood City were so apalled by their academic performance they demanded, for him to start summer school at Selby Lane.

I believe Senator Boxer, who oversees East Palo Alto should provide me a grant, so I might be ablt to try to correct what Stanford Charter School failed to get done in East Palo Alto.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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