By Victoria Tregoning
I appreciate the very good article, "Proposal aims to narrow the wide gap in educational equity at local schools" by Barbara Wood, that appeared in the Aug. 17 Almanac. It does a good job of attempting to explain how de facto segregation and the huge disparity in Menlo Park schools came about and has persisted for decades. It's possible that most Menlo Park residents have been unaware of the extent of this reality.
Although I moved to Menlo Park over half a century ago, I didn't become aware of the extent of the disparity myself until about 25 years ago, when my sister was a teacher at Willow School and employed by the Ravenswood City School District. (She had also been a student at Willow School in the 1950s, and was probably the only student at Willow School who also became a teacher there later in life.)
I was helping to care for her young son, who was just beginning his education at Laurel School. We live on Berkeley Avenue, in the Flood Park Triangle, half way between each school less than a half-mile away. Having a child at Laurel and a sister teaching at Willow presented us with daily opportunities to see and experience the wide gap in educational equity on many levels in our community, within a few blocks.
I found it hard to believe at first. My sister acquired a Costco card so that she could purchase quantities of basic school supplies, insufficiently provided by her district – things like notebooks, copy paper and pencils, totaling around $1,000 each year out of her own pocket for her kids. She said that many other teachers at Willow did the same thing just so that they could function, not able to wait six weeks for a purchase order to clear for something they needed.
My sister cared deeply about Willow School, her hundreds of students over the years, and their families. She would have appreciated Barbara's article and possibly have written a thank-you, herself. Sadly, she died of brain cancer the year before she was to retire after nearly two decades of teaching at Willow School.
We need to find a better way toward sustainable equity in education and resources for our children. I'm not sure about the idea of a regional agency and the long, drawn-out process of creating other layers of bureaucracy. It reminds me of the idea of the California lottery to fund education – most who voted for it didn't realize that in addition to the winning tickets, the lottery promoters, ticket sellers and managers would be the biggest winners (with unknown social costs to the public).
Gov. George Deukmejian was right – getting into the gambling business is not the way for California to teach its children.
The use of public benefit negotiations often seems to be a euphemism for ignoring planning limits and giving developers what they want (no matter what the potential long-term costs), in exchange for a few crumbs tossed in a do-gooder direction in the short term. These ideas can result in huge disparities in how much and who actually benefits, in some ways perpetuating the very conditions they were supposedly conceived to change.
It's complicated. I look forward to its evolution and reading about it in the Almanac.
Victoria Tregoning has been a member of the Menlo Park community since 1956.