Parents ask for new charter school to serve East Palo Alto and Belle Haven

KIPP Bay Area Schools will seek to open school in 2017

A leading charter school organization said Monday it would seek to open a new elementary school in East Palo Alto in the fall of 2017 to serve East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven area of Menlo Park.

KIPP Bay Area Schools, which operates 11 high-performing charter schools in cities, including Oakland and San Jose, will seek authorization for a new school through the Ravenswood City School District and, if turned down by the Ravenswood board, will appeal to the San Mateo County Board of Education, a KIPP official said.

The announcement came at the end of an emotional community forum at St. Francis of Assisi Church convened by a group of East Palo Alto mothers and the community-organizing group Innovate Public Schools, which helps low-income parents lobby for better schools.

The mothers described, in English and Spanish, how their children had been shortchanged by slow, indifferent bureaucracy and inadequate resources in the Ravenswood school district, and declared their sense of urgency for better options.

Already, they said, more than 1,100 children leave the district each morning for schools in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other districts through the Voluntary Transfer Program, known as the Tinsley program.

"It's clear from the Tinsley program that there's a huge demand," said Ligia Rivera, mother of a fifth-grader and a 10th-grader. "But our question is simple: Why can't we have schools like the ones in Palo Alto and Menlo Park right here in our community?"

Rivera showed slides of Ravenswood's results on the new Smarter Balanced standardized test released last month, indicating that about 80 percent of district students are below grade-level standards in English and math.

"We understand that the (Ravenswood) district is working hard to improve the current situation," she said. "We thank them and realize that each individual is doing their best to make a difference, but we know the school system is like a boat, and boats are really slow to turn.

"Simply put, our kids cannot wait for four or five or six years to make a change," Rivera said.

In 15 months of working with Innovate, Rivera said, the parents had met with various public and elected officials and learned about charter schools, including KIPP.

Especially attractive to the parents were KIPP's longer school days, individualized learning programs, intervention programs for below-grade-level students and "a university culture that begins in kindergarten," she said.

"As parents, it is our right to choose where our children can go to school," Rivera said. "Just because we are a low-income community and cannot pay for private education does not mean our kids should not have educational opportunities."

Rivera and other mothers spoke before a panel of public officials that included East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier, City Councilman Ruben Abrica, Sequoia Union High School District Trustee Laura Martinez, representatives of the San Mateo County Office of Education and April Chou, chief growth and operating officer for KIPP.

All five trustees of the Ravenswood district declined invitations to attend or failed to respond, the mothers said.

However, Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff sat in the front row of the auditorium, which held about 200 people.

Toward the end of the meeting, Yarbrough-Gauthier said she was worried about the fate of the 4,000-student Ravenswood school district if more and more children leave for other options, such as Tinsley or charter schools.

"I know we want to do what's best for our students, but if we take more students out of our schools what happens to our school district? What happens to the children who are left behind?" she said.

The KIPP announcement comes on the heels of news last week that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, plan to open a new private, tuition-free school in East Palo Alto that eventually will go from pre-K through eighth grade.

Two other tuition-free private schools, the K-8 Beechwood School and the 6-12 Eastside College Prep, also primarily serve students from the Ravenswood district.

In addition, three charter schools currently operate within the district's boundaries: the K-6 East Palo Alto Charter School and the 7-12 East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, both operated by the charter organization Aspire Public Schools, and East Palo Alto Academy High School, which was launched by and receives support from the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

In 2010, Ravenswood trustees declined to renew the charter of a Stanford-sponsored East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, citing low test scores.

In 2011, Ravenswood trustees denied a petition by charter operator Rocketship to open a new elementary school in East Palo Alto that eventually would have served 650 children.

In an interview following Monday night's meeting Superintendent Hernandez-Goff said she had met numerous times with the parent group, as well as with representatives of Innovate and KIPP.

"What I've shared with them is that it's my job to help every single child in the district," she said. "The charter rules and regulations are very clear, and I know that KIPP has a pretty solid curriculum and academic programs so there'd be no reason to turn them down. I tell them, 'That's your job; I'm doing my job.'

"I see my job as not to facilitate charter schools into the district but to really work at turning around our district and improving educational options for parents and kids," she said.

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4 people like this
Posted by concerned
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm

I applaud parents working hard with the the school district for better education. It is unfortunate that the Superintendent feels that her job is to turn around the district rather than work with KIPP that has a "solid curriculum and programs". I suspect the district has been trying to turn around for many years. What can she do differently to make this a reality? I think her job should focus on the students well-being and not maintaining the status quo. Those who want to learn should be able to find a school in their community that will support their quest. Or, let all those that are motivated go outside of the district to receive the education they deserve. I am not an advocate for KIPP, but I do feel that kids' rights come before unions, job protection, and entrenched thinking. There are many teachers who would work longer days and there are other possibilities for a longer school day; however, the fight to change contracts is impossible in the public system. Charter schools are no panacea, but they can move more efficiently with less union restrictions.

Good luck EPA, I hope you continue to fight for a good education.

3 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 27, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Do any of these East Palo Alto charter schools actually choose to admit any students with physical and/or learning disabilities, or autism, etc.?

It is my understanding that charter schools can cherry-pick the students they choose to accept, and they can refuse to admit kids with physical disabilities or learning disabilities or autism, etc. These charter schools get our tax dollars, yet they do not have to accept all students of the ages served by their schools. Who is going to see to it that students who are refused admission by these tax-supported institutions are given an excellent education?

Don't get me wrong -- I am glad there are more schools i EPA, but I worry about what will happen to the kids that the charter and private schools refuse to admit. I do not like any student being left out.

4 people like this
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly contributing writer
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2015 at 11:23 am

To Concerned,

We asked KIPP to respond to the concerns you raised and they have replied as follows:

KIPP is open-enrollment, which means that we are open to all students and there are no admissions criteria. Our enrollment process is "blind" to special education eligibility, so we do not learn about a student’s special education status until they have enrolled and registered.

Our percentage of students with special needs varies from school to school, based on the community context. For example, one of our middle schools in San Francisco serves up to 12% students with special needs, which is on par with the average for the San Francisco Unified School District. Our regional average mirrors the statewide average for charter schools at 8%.

We provide a continuum of care to meet the needs of each individual student. Our care ranges from special education instruction in general education classrooms and resource centers to offering residential programs as required by the student's IEP. We also provide related services of speech, counseling, occupational therapy, vision, orientation and mobility, adaptive physical education, and deaf and hard of hearing services as required by a student's IEP.

For our middle schools in San Jose, we have created, in collaboration with the Diagnostic Center - Northern California, a special day class called the Specialized Teaching Program (STP) for students with autism and other severe difficulties in communication, socialization, and behavior. We are the Diagnostic Center’s very first charter school partner.

Our staff and teaching teams actively seek to identify students who may have overlooked disabilities. Assessments are completed by one of our five staff school psychologists across the region and other relevant service providers.

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

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