Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller made his suggestion during a discussion of upcoming City Council study sessions on Tuesday night. The council agreed to dedicate a June 18 session to discussing equity in local education more broadly, including this suggestion and other topics.
"It seems that for years the success rate of (Ravenswood students) going into high school and also graduation rates ... has been an issue, and it may be that perhaps a K-12 district with Sequoia's resources might be able to address that and also provide some stability" to Ravenswood, Mueller said.
Tamara Sobomehin, president of the Ravenswood Board of Education, was unaware of the suggestion that Sequoia absorb Ravenswood until Mueller stated it publicly.
"It's unfortunate that we have to hear from a public announcement that a proposal of this magnitude has been made without inclusion and consideration of current leadership representatives from our board and district," Sobomehin said Wednesday afternoon.
Sequoia Union Superintendent Mary Streshly also said she was not in a position to comment because "our district has not been contacted by the city of Menlo Park."
By Wednesday evening, Mueller had connected with Sobomehin and invited her and Sequoia representatives to participate in the June study session, he said. He is also setting up a meeting with Ravenswood's acting superintendent, Gina Sudaria.
This is not Mueller's first proposal related to the Ravenswood school district. During his time on the council, he has suggested installing electronic billboards on public land to generate revenue for the district (this did not move forward) and pursued working with other local jurisdictions to create a joint powers authority that could increase funding for the district. The latter proposal is not off the table and will be considered at the council's June study session, Mueller said.
Some residents of Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood have pressed officials in recent years to transfer their two neighborhood schools, Belle Haven Elementary and Willow Oaks Elementary, from Ravenswood to the Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD).
Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, who is currently on administrative leave, did not mince words about this at the time, calling any attempt to remove Menlo Park schools from the Ravenswood district a "power grab" with the "sole purpose of increasing Menlo Park property values."
Given that Ravenswood feeds into Sequoia Union's high schools, Mueller said it is more equitable and sensible for Sequoia — even as a high school district — to absorb all of Ravenswood's elementary and middle schools, rather than for the Menlo Park district to do so. Menlo Park serves just under 3,000 students at four schools.
Sequoia serves nearly 10,000 students at four comprehensive high schools (Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton, Sequoia and Woodside), one charter school (East Palo Alto Academy), one continuation high school (Redwood High School) and other programs. The district is also the sponsoring agency for two independent charter high schools in Redwood City.
Parke Treadway, public information officer for the Menlo Park school district, said that no current district staff or board members have been involved in any discussions with the city regarding Ravenswood, though district affiliates may have been in the past.
"MPCSD does remain open to participating in any and all conversations regarding the future of education in our area, including the potential value of district consolidation," Treadway wrote in an email. "At this time, we are not actively working with our peer districts to make that happen, yet remain open to participation in the discussion."
Menlo Park Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor said Tuesday that the city should involve in any discussions representatives from Belle Haven and Willow Oaks schools as well stakeholders from LifeMoves, a Menlo Park nonprofit that provides services to Ravenswood families facing homelessness.
Between now and June, city staff will be reaching out to stakeholders and gathering information for the City Council to consider at the study session, Mueller said.
Sobomehin said that "any decisions about Ravenswood's future will be a community conversation that we drive. I encourage others to join our efforts and help support the definitive steps we are taking to ensure our students' success." '
TALK ABOUT IT
Give your opinion on Mueller's idea, and read others', on Town Square, the community discussion forum at PaloAltoOnline.com/square.
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