Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

Charter school leads the pack in East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto Charter School approaches scores of some top-ranked Palo Alto campuses

by Chris Kenrick

A charter school led the pack as standardized test scores for students in East Palo Alto inched up, according to state results published this week.

Students at the K-8 East Palo Alto Charter School earned an 882 on California's 2010 Growth Academic Performance Index (API) — approaching scores of some schools in the top-ranked Palo Alto Unified School District.

Most other schools in the Ravenswood City School District, which serves East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, also made gains.

Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the overall results "look very good. Five schools met target. Two schools missed target.

"We are on the right track, but we have some serious work to do with two of the schools."

District-wide, Ravenswood earned a 2010 Growth API score of 688, compared to Palo Alto's 925, on a scale of 200 to 1,000.

Most Palo Alto schools, already operating near the top of the state's academic-performance scale, continued their gains.

East Palo Alto Charter School Principal Laura Ramirez attributed her students' success to high expectations and hard work.

"Our students and staff are showing what high expectations, a love of learning and collaboration can do," she said. "I couldn't be more proud."

The 13-year-old EPACS, as it is known, operates on a nearly year-round calendar. Students began the current school year in July.

The 420 students gather in uniform at 8 a.m. each morning in the school courtyard for a brief pep rally before filing to class. They line up behind college banners and repeat the school's mantra "College for certain."

Each classroom flies the colorful banner of the alma mater of its teacher — Arizona, Calvin, UC Irvine, UCLA, Michigan, Northwestern, St. Mary's, Stanford, Vassar and so on.

Admission to EPACS, run by charter operator Aspire Public Schools, is by lottery. The school operates under a five-year, renewable charter agreement with the Ravenswood district.

Fifty-five percent of EPACS students are classified as "English language learners," 80 percent are Latino, 18 percent are African-American and 2 percent are Asian or Pacific Islanders.

Eighty-seven percent have family incomes low enough to qualify for the free or reduced-price federal lunch program.

Aspire also manages a sister high school in East Palo Alto, the four-year-old East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, which graduated its first class in June of this year. All 21 graduates were accepted to four-year colleges.

The first Aspire school was founded in 1992 by Don Shalvey, former superintendent of the San Carlos School District. It was the first charter school in California.

Aspire now operates 30 public charter schools in low-income communities throughout California. Shalvey left the organization in 2009 to become a deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Aspire Public Schools experienced another banner year of performance as our team continues to build on our track record of incredible student achievement," CEO James Wilcox said.

"These results are an incredible tribute to the determination of our team and their commitment to students. They have refused to let this economic crisis derail our students' journey to college and are truly changing the odds for some of the most underserved students in the state."

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

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