Parents ask for new charter school in East Palo Alto | News | Palo Alto Online |


Parents ask for new charter school in East Palo Alto

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.

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 low-tuition or 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," Hernandez-Goff said.

Contributing writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at

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6 people like this
Posted by Erik Jacobsen
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 27, 2015 at 10:46 am

Just a minor point of clarification: Beechwood School (preK-8) is not tuition-free, as the article incorrectly states. Though it is subsidized and financial aid is available, families do pay tuition, in addition to taking on responsibilities for parent education and school involvement.

24 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2015 at 10:49 am

I've worked in Ravenswood Schools for almost 20 years, and the improvement during that time is amazing. There isn't the money in EPA that there is in PA and MP, but the teachers are working hard to educate students who often come from difficult circumstances.

As charter schools and Tinsley VTP pull out the 'best and the brightest' the Ravenswood schools are left with the children who have the most problems and the least support from parents and other family members.

And the deep dark secret in PAUSD is that their test scores for low-income and minority students are not much better than those in Ravenswood.

Let's support public schools for ALL Students.
I hope the new private school being started by Zuckerberg/Chan will really work with the most disadvantaged as they say, and not just pull in the kids whose parents are aware and organized enough to apply when their kids are 3 years old.

9 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

I've worked in EPA for 15 years. The elementary schools are great, but EPA NEEDS A HIGH SCHOOL!!

6 people like this
Posted by Mother
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:08 am

As a mother of a 6 years old living in East Palo Alto, my priority is to make sure my child gets the best education.

We were lucky that be got into a MP school through Tinsley (although I have to correct Muttiallen, because the program works as a lottery, therefore it is not sure that the best and brightest get to go) but that doesn't mean we should not support the local district as well.

The city should allow private schools to run, get tuitions from anyone that can afford it in exchange for funds for the public district.

No one should be left behind.

3 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:54 am

Programs like Tinsley and the charter schools are public schools open to everyone. If there are too many applicants, a lottery is set up to make the selection.

It is difficult to see exactly why this is unfair to anyone.

I do understand that some parents are not aware of these opportunities and do not make the applications. In my opinion, the biggest place to work to improve education is to empower parents with the tools to do a better job.

4 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@muttiallen - base on the most recent testing scores, economically disadvantaged elementary school students do much better in PAUSD than Ravenswood. Though, as you point out, it may be down to those kids having educationally motivated parents.

@Robert Smith - Assuming everyone deserves a chance at a decent school, lotteries are inherently unfair to the losers.

5 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2015 at 1:06 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

Ravenswood school district is primarily made up of non-English speaking, uneducated, (sometime illiterate), households, and has noticeable disadvantages compared to Palo Alto or Menlo Park. Most parents who have the means to are pulling their kids out of the Ravenswood school district via Tinsley, charter schools or private schools. The students that remain in Ravenswood are the ones that have the most disadvantages. Having the best teachers and facilities in the world is not going to change this, whether in a charter or a public school. If all Tinsley, private, and charter school kids from EPA were in the Ravenswood School district, the numbers would be very, very different. Having a new charter school and the same students will not magically provide a solution unless tremendous resources are invested in this most disadvantaged student population.

3 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 2:40 pm

I've known various Tinsley kids over the years and I think the PAUSD is a tough district to be in. You can be a very bright kid from EPA, but you don't know it because your PA schoolmates, from an early age, get so much extracurricular support (tutoring, lessons, highly educated parents) and have parents thinking about the long-term college game from preschool on. You can be a bright kid and think you're kind of average because the playing field is so uneven.

I like what I've read about the proposed Priscilla Chan/Zuckerberg school. From what I've read, Chan is the child of quite poor immigrants who got to Harvard through brains and hard work. I feel like she's someone who wants to do more than just give lip service to giving back to the community.

Wish there could be some kind of public/private hybrid high school for Ravenswood--one that takes advantage of the Stanford HS program in EPA.

4 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 2:43 pm

@Mark Didan,
I agree with a lot of what you say.

You suggest spending a lot of money on the most disadvantaged. Unfortunately, most studies made in recent decades argue that more spending money does not help very much. Nor does improving the buildings, the teachers, computers, textbooks, or any other similar feature.

I have come to be more focused on the parents and what we can do to help them. In particular, the parents who really want to help their kids and are putting out the effort. If they feel that charters may help, they should have more charter opportunities than they presently do.

15 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Yes, Tinsley is a lottery -- but only for those who are educated/motivated/organized enough to apply. That leaves out the students whose parents don't know how to apply, are not aware of the program, or are afraid to put their name on anything official because they are illegally in the US. Most of those parents have come here because they want a better life for their children than they had -- better living conditions and better education. But, they depend on the school system to supply it.

Ravenswood is suffering from the tech boom -- just as we did in the late 1990's. There are not enough teachers -- and it just isn't here. Read the front page of today's SJ Mercury. There aren't enough substitutes because anyone willing to be in a classroom at all is teaching full-time.

But this all may be moot. Ravenswood enrollment is falling. Rents are up, and houses are increasingly occupied by several young single people who want to cut short their commute to tech companies and don't care what the neighborhood school system is like. We have families moving to Central Valley, Arizona, etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:10 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Mark Dinan - You paint pretty bleak picture. Besides cancelling the Tinsley program to bring students back, aren't Charters and private schools like Zuckerberg/Chan are attempting the best option for those remaining kids?

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

This American Life on NPR did a great story on school busing a while back:

Web Link

Kids from disadvantaged backgrounds do much better when mixed in with schools in more affluent communities. Dramatically expanding the Tinsley program would be an obvious solution to the problems faced by Ravenswood school district.

The challenges faced by Ravenswood School district are hard, and the solutions are not easy. Everyone should agree that educating kids is the highest priority and is an investment well worth making.

Like this comment
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:12 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@muttiallen - Do you know what percentage of students apply for the VTP?

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Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Mark Dinan - . The TAL piece was really light on analysis, and heavy on anecdote. The only data cited was national learning gap over decades, which had numerous other contributing factors. Also, in some areas that gap has continued to shrink, even as bussing stopped.

As you suggest yourself, the better scores of Tinsley students can entirely be accounted for by parental motivation, and there is data to back that up. See this story from a few years ago:

"East Palo Alto students enrolled in Palo Alto schools through the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program show "very small positive effects" in math and English compared with students who applied -- but were not admitted -- to the program."

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:22 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

@Slowdown - From what I have gathered, the Zuckerberg School is attempting to break the cycle of poverty with a holistic approach which identifies nutrition, healthcare, home environment/housing as essential elements in education. This is an approach which will be very expensive, and could be a great opportunity for kids in EPA.

My point is that many of the kids in the Ravenswood school district will need massive investment to bring them up to education levels comparable to Palo Alto or Menlo Park. I am not an education expert, but do know that the schools in my neighborhood are facing educational challenges related to poverty not present in Palo Alto, Los Lomitas, or Menlo Park.

7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Mark Dinan - Let me make the unpopular but realistic suggestion that the goal shouldn't be to bring the students in Ravenswood up to the education level of Palo Alto (which I'd argue is impossible, and VTP is evidence). Instead we need to give them enough education, and the right education that they have the chance to improve themselves and their lives.

So it is a waste to try and get 90% of them to college, so let's try to get 50% to college and 50% into a vocational track that let's them work and support their families.

4 people like this
Posted by @Slow Down
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:44 pm

"Let me make the unpopular but realistic suggestion that the goal shouldn't be to bring the students in Ravenswood up to the education level of Palo Alto."

Right, because we don't want *them kind* to get an actual education...

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Mark Dinan is a registered user.

@Slow Down - I won't claim to know the answers to the very difficult problem of education in disadvantaged communities like EPA, but have seen the issues up close as the parent of a 5 year old. We are lucky enough to qualify for the Tinsley program, and love Las Lomitas School in Atherton: small class sizes, great kids, fantastic teachers and administration. It is well funded in a way that Ravenswood is not due to an active PT & a much more affluent neighborhood tax base. Furthermore, the Tinsley program attracts only the most motivated parents from EPA. We happily accepted the transfer, but another family we know did not due to feeling like they would be out of place.

I wouldn't necessarily oppose another charter school, but it also strikes me as wrong to blame the teachers and administrators of Ravenswood for the low performance of the school district.

9 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Getting back to basics, the initial issue here is the desire of a group of parents to have more charter school options, and the reaction of the school board that this would not be in the interest of the entire Ravenswood district.

The Ravenswood reaction is exactly the same that every district always has when a charter rears it ugly head. Rightly or wrongly, the educational bureaucracy always believes that it knows everything and deeply resents any effort to take parts of "their" tax dollars.

Two local examples:

1. A few years ago, a group tried for some time to get a Chinese language immersion program in Palo Alto. The district rejected it on the grounds that it was not in the interest of the entire PAUSD. Then, the group started an effort to form a charter school. The school board was outraged, called it blackmail by name, but ended up decided to approve the Chinese immersion program after all. The school board tried to contend that charters were only for educationally weak districts, which is not true.

2. Los Altos--another high-end district--had a long battle with the Bullis Charter School in their district. There were many lawsuits, court appearances, claims and counterclaims. Once again, the district saw this as an effort to take their tax dollars, and said that it was not in the best interest of the district. Bullis finally won.

I regard the reactions of the district to be all too formulaic and predictable. Of course the Ravenswood district is going to try to protect its own turf, that's what districts do!

The Ravenswood district can't even point to basically sound educational results, they don't have them. How can the children be worse off in a charter than they are now?

5 people like this
Posted by This is your chance
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2015 at 4:57 pm

To the residents of EPA: you have a great opportunity and momentum to make this happen. You'll need to drive this and fight for it because there will be obstacles along the road, especially from those who want to preserve the status quo, even when they are fully aware that a lot more can be done to improve your local schools.

Even w/ lots of outside help and $, not much will happen unless you push your elected officials to do what's right for your kids.

7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 27, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

"Right, because we don't want *them kind* to get an actual education..."

How many generations do you want to fail with the current status quo before you try something different?

1 person likes this
Posted by Our Kids - It Takes a Village
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2015 at 2:38 pm

The book, "Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis," by Robert D. Putnam takes a step-by-step look into why we now have the large opportunity gap for students from low income families. Easy read backed by research.

In a nutshell:
- kids from all income levels do about the same during school hours
- kids from college educated families pull ahead outside school hours
- kids from non-college educated families lack contacts to apply and make it through college

One of the success stories identified in the book is the Harlem Children's Zone. It started with community and health services and then branched out into charter schools.

The approach being taken by "The Primary School" backed by Zuckerberg & Chan seems on track with what this book has pointed to as the key issues to address.

For EPA and the whole school district, without "wrap-around" services for low income communities, it is hard for the schools to pull the weight alone. It takes a village.

2 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2015 at 6:50 pm

@Our Kids--It Takes a Village

You are partly right.

It is all about the parents and family I think.
-- Kids are only in school about 18% of the time, they are with their parents the other 82%.
-- During the critical "pre-school" years, they are with their parents all of the time.
-- Effective parents: teach their kids to read, take them many places, talk to them all of the time (millions of utterances actually), all before they even start school.
-- Effective parents: make sure they have educational activities during the summer, detect and solve educational problems, fight the educational bureaucracy when necessary, get them into a better school if their school isn't effective.
-- Parenting is never finished.

A village can do a lot but it is hard to replace effective parents if the child doesn't have them (or effective substitutes).

I have been advocating that we have to start with the parents and help them to do a better job. The educational establishment downgrades the role and importance of parents, and this needs to change.

Even if "wrap-around" programs could be provided (and they are too expensive to be done on the scale needed), they would not really replace effective parenting.

2 people like this
Posted by Sir Topham Hatt
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Isn't it time to consider allowing the Tinsley children (and the many attendance-based dollars that follow) to the return to the Ravenswood district? More money, more of the students with involved parents, should go a long way towards improving the district

2 people like this
Posted by EPA Teacher
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 29, 2015 at 11:01 pm

I'm disapoointed to see the kind of language some commenters have chosen to describe parents in EPA.

My students' parents make huge sacrifices to support their children. It is not uncommon for parents to work 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet. Two different dads this year have told me they only sleep 4 hours most nights between their shifts. I have families who live in garages and other secondary units because that is what their families can afford. Many families have left our school already this year - displaced by soaring rents.

I think the comments about "effective" vs "ineffective" parents are quite misguided.

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