Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 23, 2013

New superintendent comes with memory of her own assimilation

Gloria Hernandez aims to build on strength of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood district

by Chris Kenrick

Although she's the U.S.-born daughter of a U.S.-born Air Force employee, Gloria Hernandez — the new superintendent of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District — spoke Spanish at home throughout her childhood.

She didn't master English until second grade, and she'll forever remember the teacher — Rose Prieto in Albuquerque, N.M., — who helped her do so.

"Mrs. Prieto really communicated with my parents so they'd understand the system," Hernandez recalled in a recent interview.

"I was the oldest child — six came later — so she helped steer our whole family in terms of academics. Sometimes teachers don't know how great an impact they have on families."

At Ravenswood, where nearly 70 percent of Hernandez's students are considered "English learners," the new superintendent arrives with her own experience in the landscape of assimilation.

The 4,100 children in the K-8 East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park district — 81 percent of whom are Hispanic — "have all the challenges you find up and down the Central Valley, Coachella Valley and San Bernardino area," Hernandez said.

"But this is right here in the heart of Silicon Valley."

After the Air Force moved her own family from Texas to New Mexico to California to Nevada to Mississippi, they landed back in California where Hernandez graduated from high school in south Los Angeles and earned multiple degrees, including a doctorate, from California State University at Sacramento, with a specialty in teaching English learners.

She taught in migrant camps and Catholic schools. Later, after earning a public-school teaching credential, she launched a program for English learners, working as a teacher, principal and assistant school superintendent in the Sacramento area.

Hernandez said she was attracted to East Palo Alto by the challenge of educating English learners in an urban community surrounded by affluence.

"That's what drew me — just being right here with Facebook and all the other IT companies that are so wildly successful and also being surrounded by very wealthy communities — Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto.

"The dichotomy is interesting for me," she said.

Barely a month into the job, Hernandez is meeting with teachers and community groups, as well as officials from charter schools and surrounding school districts to get the lay of the land.

She estimates her district loses 800 to 900 students whose parents have chosen alternatives to Ravenswood, including private schools, charter schools and the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, in which 500 cross the freeway to the Palo Alto Unified School District alone. (Other Tinsley children travel to public schools in Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Belmont, San Carlos and Woodside.)

Her main message to those parents: "I think we can provide a high-quality education right here in Ravenswood. We have people who are committed, and we have principals who are working very hard to provide that consistency and support for the teachers so they're doing the best job possible."

Though Ravenswood's Academic Performance Index has jumped nearly 100 points in the last five years, to 712, it still falls short of the statewide goal of 800. But Hernandez maintains that a focus on that single metric can be misleading.

"Parents want the best for their children so when they see a nicer facility and they see some of the things provided in our surrounding districts based in large part on the fact that the community is wealthier, they believe their child will receive a better education there," she said.

"However, we've had other superintendents and people who do the data in surrounding districts tell us that they have huge challenges in working with our students, a lot of it being around English learning and the fact that, when they're bused, they can't participate in after-school activities.

"So it doesn't necessarily guarantee them a better education — it just maybe seems better," she said.

One of Hernandez's short-term goals is to spruce up facilities on Ravenswood's eight campuses, including playgrounds. She'd also like people to know about the district's comprehensive preschool, the Child Development Center, serving kids ages 3 to 5.

She wants to expand small programs that have shown success on one campus, such as Readers and Writers Workshop at Costano, to other schools.

She also wants to do more with self-paced, computerized instruction. At the same time she insists: "No matter what program you have, you really have to have a quality teacher to guide students and lead them in their learning."

Though the details are still up for grabs in Sacramento, Hernandez anticipates Gov. Jerry Brown's newly enacted "local control funding formula" will add significantly to Ravenswood's coffers.

She hopes to — literally — start broadcasting the news to parents, in English and Spanish.

"We've been told which radio station most parents listen to, and we're looking for a time conducive to that," she said.

"We'd like half-hour radio spots each week where there will be information from the district on upcoming events and things like the A-G (college entrance) requirements, how to work with your child, how to support them even if you don't speak English, things to ask your teachers when you go to parent conferences so parents can come in and feel more secure," she said.

Her ideal program would include an "ask the teacher" segment to which parents could call in questions.

"We did this at my old district (Twin Rivers Unified School District near Sacramento)," she said, noting that federal funds targeted for English learners and parent involvement can be used to pay for it.

"It's a very effective way to use it, and it really works," she said.

Hernandez also plans to use the San Jose public relations firm Ford and Bonilla, hired by her predecessor Maria De La Vega, to get the word out about Ravenswood.

"My goal is to make sure we're utilizing all our strengths and providing a very consistent academic environment across the board and that we're able to guarantee all our children are getting a quality education. And I want parents to know that," she said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by New-Boss-Same-As-The-Old-Boss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2013 at 8:29 am

Reading this article on the new Ravenswood Superintendent of Education leaves one wondering if anyone at the Weekly fully appreciates the problems at Ravenswood. The one genuflect to the these problems is noted by pointing out that Ravenwoods API is only 712—down 2 points from last year's 714.

Looking at the individual schools,
Web Link
only one school actually achieved an API score greater than 800 (a charter school), and five out of nine schools showed significant declines in their individual academic performance.

> But Hernandez maintains that a focus on that single metric can
> be misleading.

It's amazing that the employees of failing/failed school districts invariably trot out this old canard. Of course standardized test scores matter!

There is nothing in this article that leaves one with the sense that this new Superintendent sees Ravenswood's academic performance as her top priority for the immediate future.

> Her main message to those parents: "I think we can provide a
> high-quality
> education right here in Ravenswood. We have people who are
> committed, and we have principals who are working very hard
> to provide that consistency and support for the teachers so
> they're doing the best job possible."

Given the current, and historical, performance of Ravenswood—-how can anyone believe the new Superintendent's claims?

> Hernandez also plans to use the San Jose public relations firm
> Ford and Bonilla, hired by her predecessor Maria De La Vega,
> to get the word out about Ravenswood.

Given that the API Scorecards pretty much tell the whole story of any school district—spending money on a PR Agency would seem to be a poor use of the District's funds. One can only wonder what goes through the Board of Education's mind when they approve these sorts of expenditures.

While everyone wishes this new Superintendent bests wishes for success, it's hard to see much for Ravenswood other than business as usual for some time to come.


Posted by Ignorance is bliss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

There is nothing "given" that API scores tell the whole story of a school or a district. Various PAUSD schools at 900 and above merely correlate with higher income and educational attainment levels. To suggest that the API measures the success of a school district would suggest to me that the poster knows extremely little about the API at all. Research it's original design, what metrics it was to include, and then the weighting of the individual CSTs.

I was wondering how long it would take self-absorbed Palo Alto to comment on the new hire for superintendent because posters don't show much interest in East Palo Alto issues such as youth violence or educational matters, but I clearly underestimated the know-it-all, holier-than-thou tone that would strike first. This new superintendent appears to have much more integrity and substance than our PAUSD superintendent, and the years under his reign have hardly left us in a position to judge other districts. PAUSD has spent thousands more per child, and supposedly we have the best teachers, but we have been unable to educate so many students from impoverished backgrounds like East Palo Alto.


Posted by New-Boss-Same-As-The-Old-Boss, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 26, 2013 at 8:52 am

> There is nothing "given" that API scores
> tell the whole story of a school or a district.

Well, perhaps that's true—other data includes the graduation rate, the percentage of teachers with emergency teaching qualifications, the on-campus crime-rate, the student suspension rate, the yearly capital expenditures for infrastructure, the number of parent volunteer hours, SAT/ACT scores, the college attendance rates for graduates, the college graduation rates for graduates, Students taking AP courses, AP results, teaching staff retention rates, superintendent/school principals rotation rates. (And there are other metrics, but these are generally available from public sources.)

Yes, there are other metrics that provide some insight into the management of a school (or district), and the likely quality of a education at such a school. However, it's really hard to find schools that offer evidence of a high quality education that don't post high API scores.

> PAUSD schools with APIs about 900 merely correlate with higher income
> and educational attainment levels

Evidence is that parent involvement drives student performance more than schools. So, suggesting a mere correlation between high APIs and parent education/income dismisses the underlying sociological mechanisms driving education.

BTW—any one run into someone who said: "we moved into this community because the API scores for the schools were the lowest we could find?" Anyone have many friends who proudly proclaim their belief in low API (poor performing) schools?


Posted by Paul Thiebaut III, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 26, 2013 at 11:22 am

10 Books A Home welcomes the new superintendent and hopes to work with her to boost parent engagement.


Posted by been there, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

While money helps, minimal distractions like the internet/TV along with supportive parents and teachers make a big difference. Having grown up and educated in Compton,CA one learns to survive and adapt with little. It can be done


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