Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 30, 2010

Ravenswood to close Stanford charter school

Trustees cite poor academics, but other factors may come into play

by Chris Kenrick

In a stunning rebuke to Stanford University, the Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees last week voted to shut down a Stanford-run charter elementary school at the end of the school year, citing poor academic performance.

The 3.5-year-old East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School will close its doors to more than 200 students in June.

Stanford had argued the decision was made on skimpy data — barely more than two years' worth of test scores.

Stanford officials said if given another year or two the school's results would begin to match or exceed those of two older high-performing charter schools in the Ravenswood district or the district's own schools, which recently have shown improvement.

But Ravenswood trustees — who oversee seven schools serving children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park — weren't having it.

They opted instead to accept the closure recommendation of Superintendent Maria De La Vega.

De La Vega cited poor results on state tests and said visitors to the school site had observed serious problems with classroom behavior management. She said the school's current program was inadequate and that Stanford was unlikely to be able to improve it sufficiently.

The 3-1 vote to accept De La Vega's recommendation was conducted in less than five minutes, with no discussion by board members.Trustees Victor Lopez, Larry Moody and Sharifa Wilson supported closure and trustee Saree Mading opposed the motion. A fifth member who previously had supported Stanford, John Bostic, was absent.

Trustees did offer some reprieve to a Stanford-run charter high school, the 8.5-year-old East Palo Alto Academy High School.

They agreed to extend the school's charter until 2012 or until Stanford finds another sponsoring agency for the high school — whichever comes sooner.

Privately, Stanford officials appeared stunned by Ravenswood's decision to close the elementary school.

Publicly, they said Stanford faculty will continue to "work closely" with the teachers of the elementary children, who will be transferred to other Ravenswood district elementary schools.

"Stanford has a long-term commitment to the students of East Palo Alto. We are pleased that we will continue our partnership with the Ravenswood school district, and that the board is supportive of our successful high school program," Stanford Education School Dean Deborah Stipek said.

Ravenswood's decision to close the Stanford elementary school will bring additional funds to the cash-strapped, declining-enrollment school district.

The district receives state funding for each pupil attending a neighborhood school, so former Stanford students who return to their neighborhood schools this fall will bring revenue with them.

Indeed, just prior to the vote April 22, trustees heard from their Chief Business Official Megan Curtis about a looming deficit.

Curtis said staff members have identified many potential cuts but the district may have to consider more drastic measures, including school closures and furloughs, to close the budget gap.

The 3,000-student district loses about 40 percent of its potential enrollment each year to charter schools or to the Tinsley desegregation program, which allows 160 of Ravenswood's non-white kindergartners each year to enroll in neighboring Palo Alto, Menlo Park and other area school districts as far north as Belmont.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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