In a stunning rebuke to Stanford University, the Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees Thursday 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.
Thursday's 11 p.m. vote to accept De La Vega's recommendation was conducted in less than five minutes, with no discussion by board members.
Stanford's heavy hitters -- including the high-profile Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who headed President Obama's education transition team -- were kept waiting for hours and not asked to speak.
The vote was 3-1, with trustees Marcelino Lopez, Larry Moody and Sharifa Wilson supporting closure and trustee Saree Mading opposing 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.
Fifth-graders from the to-be-closed elementary school will be educated on the high-school campus next year -- apparently to maintain the continued jurisdiction of Ravenswood, a K-8 district, over the 9-12 high school.
Stanford officials have said the Sequoia Union High School District -- the most logical sponsoring agency for a high school in East Palo Alto -- will not sponsor them and they will have to look elsewhere.
Ever since the closure of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood High School in 1976, students from the community have had to travel to other Sequoia district high schools, including Menlo-Atherton, Woodside and Carlmont.
Dropout rates of those students are estimated at about 70 percent. The Stanford-sponsored high school in East Palo Alto has achieved better results, with a roughly 84 percent graduation rate. Nearly all graduates have gone on to two- or four-year colleges.
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.
"We are very pleased that we will continue to be involved with students in the East Palo Alto community, which has been so enthusiastic and supportive of our presence," Stanford Education School Dean Deborah Stipek said.
"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."
Other than the test data, Ravenswood's decision to close the Stanford elementary school appeared to reflect the institutional imperatives of a declining-enrollment school district that is fighting for financial survival.
An immediate state cash infusion to the district will accompany any former Stanford student who returns to his or her neighborhood school this fall.
Indeed, just prior to the vote Thursday night, trustees heard from their Chief Business Official Megan Curtis about a looming deficit, due in part to declining enrollment.
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.
Another policy trustees might consider is a "district-wide campaign to increase enrollment," Curtis said.
"If we could pull back 200 or 300 kids to our district, that could offset the entire deficit," Curtis said, without making any reference to the Stanford situation.
Ravenswood trustees have expressed frustration that district schools continue to lose enrollment -- and accompanying state revenue -- despite their improving test scores and the district's stated motto, "Journey to Excellence."
The 3,000-student district loses about 40 percent of its potential enrollment each year to charter schools or to the Tinsley desegregation program, a 23-year-old court settlement that 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.
"We're all working toward the same end, but oftentimes it becomes competitive," De La Vega said in an interview with the Weekly last December.
"I know it's not (the charters') intent, but when you take (students) away it makes it more difficult to work through those challenges.
"My role as superintendent is to protect the district and make sure we're left with the ability to provide a quality education."