Election Day will be a litmus test for the Ravenswood City School District.
Come Nov. 6, voters will be presented with two distinct narratives from six newcomers and three incumbents running for three open seats on the Board of Education. The newcomers are critical of current school leadership, including the superintendent and school board, for what they describe as failed transparency and communication. They believe the future of the K-8 East Palo Alto school district, which is battling declining enrollment, revenue and the forces of gentrification, depends on fresh governance.
The incumbents, meanwhile, maintain that Ravenswood is on an unprecedented path of progress, largely due to changes put in place by the superintendent they hired five years ago. Examples of this upward trajectory, they say, are the district's new comprehensive middle school, opened last fall to better prepare Ravenswood middle schoolers for high school; targeted investment in science, technology, engineering, math, arts and music (STEAM) education; last summer's formal exit from a yearslong federal special-education mandate, the Ravenswood Self-Improvement Plan (RSIP); and facilities upgrades, supported by voter-approved parcel taxes in recent years. They believe stable leadership and experience on the board are critical to continuing the district's long-needed forward momentum.
The newly constituted board will face a perception of distrust among some in the school community, including with the teachers who signed a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff last year and parents and staff who opposed the renewal of her contract this spring.
The three elected candidates will join board members Marielena Gaona-Mendoza and Sharifa Wilson on the dais.
The Ravenswood school district serves approximately 2,400 students in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park (Belle Haven School in Menlo Park is part of the Ravenswood district), about half of whom are English-language learners and the majority of whom qualify for the free/reduced lunch program.
To inform and aid voters in their decision-making, the Palo Alto Weekly recorded video interviews with eight of the nine current candidates in which they discuss their backgrounds and what they see as the most pressing issues facing the school district. The videos, with Spanish subtitles, are posted at paloaltoonline.atavist.com. The ninth candidate, incumbent Charlie Knight, did not respond to repeated interview requests. (One former candidate, Maria Victoria Chavez, withdrew from the race last week and endorsed candidate Tamara Sobomehin as a "strategy not to split the votes and to ensure that there is a change in leadership at the school district level," she said in a statement.)