The Ravenswood City School District has announced which of its five elementary schools have been proposed for closure next fall: Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto and Willow Oaks Elementary School in Menlo Park.
Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria is recommending that Brentwood students move to Costaño School in East Palo Alto and Willow Oaks students to Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park. (See a map of the recommended changes here.)
On Wednesday, Sudaria notified the Board of Education, teachers and staff, and parents received a pre-recorded phone message from her in English and Spanish. The proposals are not final and are subject to approval by the school board.
Ravenswood began discussing school closures in earnest this summer, under new leadership and with a looming budget deficit. The K-8 district is aiming to cut $1.35 million from next year's budget. Closing a single school would save Ravenswood about $400,000.
Sudaria has said that merging schools is necessary for the survival of the district, where enrollment and corresponding state funding have been steadily declining for years. All of Ravenswood's elementary schools are operating at close to half capacity this year, and the district's overall enrollment is just over 2,000 students.
Brentwood, the largest of the five elementary schools this year, with 330 students, also needs the most renovations, according to a presentation Sudaria will give to the school board at a special meeting on Friday.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Sudaria said that she and her leadership team took into consideration four priorities identified by community members and board members through an input-gathering process in recent weeks: location of schools, including keeping neighborhood schools and ensuring the three remaining schools are spread out so more students have a school nearby; minimizing the number of students impacted; considering the facility's size and condition; and protecting special programs such as dual-immersion, arts and mental health support.
They considered 12 merger scenarios, Sudaria said, and weighed each against additional factors, such as whether each school has enough students to be sustainable in the long term, the school’s performance and whether closing a school would disproportionately affect any specific ethnic subgroup.
"I pride ourselves on having a team of diverse perspectives and points of view that pushed and challenged each other," Sudaria said. "There's not going to be 100% agreement, but at least there will be consensus and understanding of how we came to the proposal to the point where I’m confident that we've been able to weigh all the tradeoffs. I'm able to stand behind this proposal."
Under the recommendation, the district's dual-immersion program remains at Los Robles-Ronald McNair Academy (which is also the district's most recently renovated elementary school) and Turnaround Arts will stay at Costaño School. All three of the remaining elementary schools will keep their existing makerspaces, music and art offerings and school-based mental health services.
Other advantages to this consolidation plan are that Ravenswood can keep a school in Menlo Park, avoid further disruption for Los Robles students (who recently moved to McNair), minimize the use of portable buildings and ensure there are enough classrooms for all projected students, with room to grow in the future, according to the board presentation.
One downside is that Willow Oaks students will have to take a bus to Belle Haven; however, more Willow Oaks students already ride a bus — 175 — than at other schools, according to the district. And while Brentwood students will have to move schools, they already are more spread throughout the district than other elementary students.
If the board approves this plan, starting next fall, current Brentwood kindergarten through fourth grade students would attend Costaño; current Willow Oaks kindergarten through fourth grade students would go to Belle Haven; and Los Robles-McNair, Belle Haven and Costaño students would stay at their current schools.
Brentwood and Willow Oaks families would be able to choose to enroll at a different school if they wish, and students at other schools can choose to transfer after Brentwood and Willow Oaks students are accommodated. The district would provide buses if needed for students to attend their new schools.
Middle schoolers will be unaffected by the mergers.
Any students who are new to the district next fall will be able to choose which elementary school to attend.
Staff at the affected schools will generally move with students, though principals, office staff and potentially custodians will be cut, according to the proposal. Classified staff who would be affected would be notified in February.
Ravenswood doesn't plan to layoff any teachers, Sudaria wrote in her presentation; any cuts will be covered by natural attrition.
The district plans to explore leasing out the Brentwood and Willow Oaks campuses to bring in additional revenue, Sudaria said, and to address a likely expansion request from Kipp charter school in East Palo Alto.
"In order for this district to continue to thrive and renew itself we have to be optimistic in the possibilities," Sudaria said. "On the other side of this is going to be stronger school communities and programs for students."
Sudaria is encouraging community members to share their feedback on the merger plan at several upcoming public meetings.
"There might be other scenarios or reasons for another scenario that we have not considered," she said.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, Ravenswood's District Advisory Council (DAC) and District English Learner Advisory Council (DELAC) will hear the proposal from Sudaria. Child care, food and translation will be provided. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the district office, 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto.
The school board will discuss the mergers at its regular meeting next Thursday, Dec. 12, at the district office.
The board is set to make a final decision on which schools to close on Jan. 9.
There will also be informational meetings at each elementary school on the following dates:
- Willow Oaks: Dec. 9 at 6 p.m.
- Brentwood Academy: Dec. 10 at 6 p.m.
- Los Robles Ronald McNair Dual Immersion: Dec. 11 at 6 p.m.
- Belle Haven School: Dec. 16 at 6 p.m.
- Costaño School: Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.
Information about the mergers and an opportunity to provide input online are available at ravenswoodschools.net/school-mergers.