News

With $3.5 million donation to Ravenswood Middle School, foundation signals optimism about new leadership, direction in district

District to use funding to create experience comparable to neighboring middle schools

A librarian. Field trips for each grade level. An after-school homework center.

The Peery Foundation and Ravenswood Education Foundation announced Thursday that they are partnering to donate up to $3.5 million to the Ravenswood Middle School to fund these additions and others that will bring the East Palo Alto school closer to parity with middle schools in neighboring districts.

The funding, which will be ongoing in subsequent years, will pay this year for a guidance counselor, mental health counselor, social worker, academic support teachers, additional office staff and arts and athletic enrichment opportunities, among other supports.

The Palo Alto-based Peery Foundation, which invests in youth and families on the Peninsula, worked with interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria to identify needs at the district's first-ever comprehensive middle school. This fall marks the first year that all grade levels are enrolled at the campus.

The Peery Foundation said that the donation was prompted by the change in leadership at the top of the Ravenswood school district this year. Sudaria has led the district temporarily since the spring, when former superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff was forced to resign.

"Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria has over 20 years of experience in Ravenswood. Her leadership, including her deep historical and contextual knowledge of teacher, principal and director level positions, makes us confident in the potential we see, and have always seen, in Ravenswood," said Avani Patel, who oversees portfolios for the foundation and also a former Ravenswood teacher and administrator.

Sudaria worked with Ravenswood Middle School Principal Amanda Kemp to use the funds to target immediate gaps at the school. The funding decisions are also not set in stone and can be flexible to the school's needs, Sudaria said in an interview.

Having two administrative staff rather than one at the front office will help manage attendance for more than 600 students, a critical element for their success, Sudaria said. The school can now provide transportation for students who want to stay after school for homework help in the academic center but don't live in the neighborhood. They hope to hire a digital and performing arts director to coach elective teachers and boost those offerings. The money means Ravenswood middle schoolers will be able to go on the same field trips that are given in more affluent districts, such as Yosemite in seventh grade and Washington, D.C. in eighth grade.

The donation "at least puts us at the same starting point as other middle schools," Sudaria said. "We still know that high quality, effective teaching will make the greatest impact overall but we don't want to start behind. Being able to have a safe environment, being able to build culture at the school and provide opportunities for students will only engage them more and make it a bit easier for the classroom teachers."

Opening the middle school in 2017 was a major, at-times controversial undertaking for Ravenswood, which previously had no standalone middle schools. The school got off to a rocky start, with three different principals in two years.

The district hopes a comprehensive middle school will reverse an alarming trend that the historical K-8 model contributed to: Only one in three students leave Ravenswood fully prepared to meet the rigors of high school and then graduate ready for college, according to the district.

Dave Peery, the foundation's managing director, said this is the first time in years that "it feels like the key stakeholders are pulling in the same direction that will lead to better outcomes for students and families in the district.

"The district has proven leadership at the helm, and we have an opportunity to support that leadership in providing a strong academic offering to students," he said in a press release. "We invite the philanthropic community to join us in supporting Ravenswood at a moment in time when significant change is possible."

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Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Mark Dinan
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2019 at 11:47 am

Fantastic news! Big Thank You to the Peery Foundation! Kudos to Superintendent Sudaria & the newly revitalized School Board for the excellent work which resulted in this grant. As an EPA resident, it is wonderful to see the positive changes in Ravenswood School District.


5 people like this
Posted by Old Palo,Alto
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 12, 2019 at 12:54 pm

Old Palo,Alto is a registered user.

Unfortunately it is well meaning, will feel good, provide jobs BUT .....

MONEY is only one part of the problem.

The goals are stated a bit, some means are proposed, but what are the objective standards on which this will be judged
To have succeeded or failed?

It does not seem to be performance or outcome dependent, or accountable.

In general, I am happy, it can’t hurt ...

BUT there is no real evidence that MERE RESOURCES of additional money above minimum have ANY connection to student long term outcome, achievement , income or employability.

The school culture, a quality principal, the principal acting with authority supported by community and parents, willingness to hire the best teachers ,and fire the lowest performer in each year, objective standards of student achievement do matter..
( as do non school variables such as parenting skills, family stability, reading to children and in front of children, conversation, play opportunities, friendship networks dinner time, church or equivalent attendance, employment etc ) which are outside schools’ control.

Resources are good. But what are the measurable objectives that are sought here, who will assess and when?

Thank you to the Foundation! And I wish the very best to all the students and staff!



4 people like this
Posted by Proceed with Caution
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2019 at 2:02 pm

The donation is an amazing gift and the foundation is to be commended. Having said that, the fact that the current interim superintendent has been in the district for many years should be only one of many factors for hiring a permanent superintendent. The Board has an opportunity to conduct a search for a permanent superintendent and if the current interim wants to compete with others, she may emerge as the successful candidate. But a search should occur. Longevity is only one among a long list of qualifications of a superintendent. Ravenswood deserves the most qualified leader available and the Board will not know who that is until an open search is conducted. The community, staff and students served by Ravenswood deserve an open search.


4 people like this
Posted by From Across The Freeway
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2019 at 2:17 pm

Are the individuals responsible for budgeting & allocating these financial resources capable & qualified to do so?

So many things in EPA seem to go wrong.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2019 at 4:15 pm

It's great for the schools to get this money. But it's disturbing to see a outside big money donor campaign so openly for the interim superintendent. It's really not their place to say. It's up to the people and the school board. Outsiders waiving money around should stand aside, and let the community and its representatives make the decision.


8 people like this
Posted by Humble observer
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 13, 2019 at 9:43 pm

I am quite disturbed the by tone of critique in some of the comments. In particular, the comment about “so much in EPA seems to wrong,” seems to be an insular reflection without much understanding of what consistently goes wrong in far wealthier cities across the country. I see waste, poor decision making, and misguided policies play out in neighborhoods across the Bay Area, but no one asks similar questions of school districts and city councils in places like Piedmont, Hillsborough, Mill Valley, and Palo Alto. Those of us making comments about cities in which we do not reside need to check ourselves with a little more humility.

And if that reminder is not helpful enough, I would add that systemic societal oppression and the total disregard for the City of EPA and its students when Ravenswood HS was dismantled years ago is a major barrier to overcome for any community. Start by asking, how am I culpable in maintaining systems of oppression instead of what is wrong “over there.”


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