New supe serves dinner, links funders and programs

Philanthropists, principals mingle to discuss needs of Ravenswood students

Wealthy philanthropists, school principals and nonprofit leaders mingled Wednesday in an unusual session to "map resources" for East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District.

Superintendent Gloria Hernandez served dinner and invited the district's outside funders and service providers to brainstorm on strengths, weaknesses and gaps in programs on the district's seven campuses, which serve 3,600 K-8 children, most of whom are English learners from low-income families.

Hernandez, who arrived last summer from a Sacramento-area school district to lead Ravenswood, said she was "impressed by how many community partners we have, not just this year, but who have invested for years.

"I want to deepen our collaboration and change how we deal with our partners," Hernandez said, adding that she aims to reassess the district's "delivery system and models."

Only 61 percent of Ravenswood's eighth-grade graduates ultimately earn a high-school diploma from the Sequoia Union High School District, compared to Sequoia's district-wide graduation rate of 80 percent and a 93 percent graduation rate for the Menlo Park City School District students who come to Sequoia.

Only 11 percent of Ravenswood's graduates ultimately complete a four-year college-prep curriculum in high school, compared to a Sequoia district-wide average of 40 percent and a rate of 76 percent for students coming from the Menlo Park City School District.

"We really need to be doing much, much better for our students," Hernandez said. "We hand them off to Sequoia (for high school), but it's like being a co-parent. We raise those students until the time they go there."

Though principals have developed individual relationships with outside supporters, Hernandez said she hoped the resource-mapping session would offer a broader perspective and help the district ensure parity and develop a baseline of core services.

"The bottom line is, public schools are really where the action is in terms of preparing future citizens, civic engagement and nurturing creativity," Hernandez said.

She divided the 90 guests into seven groups and asked them to confer with each principal about concerns on their campus.

Principals were stationed at charts, which identified specific outside funders for supplemental academic programs on their campuses.

At the K-8 Willow Oaks School, for example, Principal Cynthia Chin said the school serves 120 of its 703 students in an after-school program, run by the nonprofit Citizen Schools, with 100 children on the waiting list.

At the station for the Brentwood Elementary School, one funder remarked that the school did not seem to have much technology.

Principal Tami Espinosa said while Ravenswood has a district-wide technology plan, Brentwood "is not very technology-rich.

"We're K-5, and the laptop give-away programs have mainly been to middle school students," Espinosa said. "But we do now have a laptop cart," she said, adding that with new state testing moving online, "just the basics of using a computer, and a mouse, dragging and clicking is something we're trying to prepare kids for."

Longtime Ravenswood supporters said they were impressed by the volume of information offered at the gathering.

"The transparency and the willingness to reach out and leverage resources is really impressive," said Dave Higaki, executive director of East Palo Alto Tennis & Tutoring (EPATT), which is in its 26th year of offering tennis lessons and academic tutoring to Ravenswood students.

EPATT board member Marcia Pade said she appreciated the opportunity to meet the principals.

"The initiative that the superintendent has taken, to be this inclusive, I think, is extraordinary," Pade said.

Stacey Kertsman, director of Castilleja School's Center for Awareness, Compassion and Engagement, said: "It's so incredible to be in this room with so many people thinking about this school district."

Terrence Riley, business manager of the San Francisco nonprofit Aim High, called the resource-mapping dinner, which was funded by the Grove Foundation, a one-of-a-kind event.

"I've never seen a district go upward and beyond to bring together so many partners to hopefully seek their input and hopefully use their input," Riley said.

Hernandez said Wednesday's session was limited to outside partners who provide academic programs and did not cover other outside-funded district projects in areas such as mental health, counseling and parent engagement.

"This is just a start," Hernandez said. "We wanted you to see each other and have the programs linked up so you could have dialogues with the principals and get an idea of who else is working in the district."


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Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 3, 2014 at 7:32 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

Thanks to Palo Alto online for writing this article. There are so many good things happening in Ravenswood District, and it shows in quality of teaching and student achievement. The 61% high school graduation rate is still too low, but much better than the 25% graduation rate that used to be reported. And it will get even better in the next few years. Thanks to all those within Ravenswood District and outside groups who are supporting these great young students.

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Posted by Paul Thiebaut III
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Approximately 500 children begin kindergarten every year in the Ravenswood District. My parents always told me it was rude to invite yourself to someone’s party, but as the leader an early education nonprofit located in and serving East Palo Alto, I would like the Ravenswood District to invite East Palo Alto pre-k programs (e.g. 10 Books A Home and preschools) into its discussion of our students’ needs.

The early experiences of Ravenswood students certainly effect the development of skills and behaviors needed to be successful students. Research shows that children who start behind usually stay behind, especially under-served students. It’s also been shown that investments in early education are more cost-effective than many stopgap interventions for older students.

Just the other day, a Ravenswood kindergarten classroom volunteer told me that the teacher mentioned that one of 10 Books A Home’s learners was doing better than most other students. And, this is in a classroom where at least 20% of students don’t know their letters or numbers.

I think I speak for many early education professionals, pre-k teachers, parents, and philanthropists when I say that it would be wise for the Ravenswood District to include pre-k programs in its consideration of our students’ needs.

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Posted by Relax
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Paul, have you ever heard of a phone? Maybe you should call Gloria and tell her how you feel instead of blasting the school district for not inviting YOUR organization to the dinner. That would be the responsible thing to do. Don't take everything so personal. I highly doubt they intentionally did not invite 10 books a home...your organization is making an impact but come on let's not get nasty.

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Posted by Rena Cuffy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Paul Thiebaut, thank you for the work you do! I'm so glad you posted because I happened to attend this session and Dr. Hernandez mentioned the extreme need for programs like yours and her desire to partner. She is new but I see her making great strides to rebuild trust between the district and community. I highly recommend you reach out to the school district and let them know that you exist and your desire to do more (and don't forget to mention your positive feedback from that teacher).

Keep it up!

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Posted by ryan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Cesar Chavez Academy (and McNair) are Citizen Schools partnered Expanded Learning day schools. 100% of 6th graders stay 2.5 hours+ 5 days a week and 2/3 of 7th and 8th graders, too. Not an after school program. And not at Willow Oaks.

Good article though!!

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

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