Children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park headed back to schools Thursday where achievement test scores are inching upward.
"We're making progress in our 'journey to excellence,'" Superintendent Maria De La Vega said, invoking the motto of the K-8 Ravenswood City School District.
"Student achievement continues to be our top priority. Every school is making some gains, some more than others," she said.
The state's 2009 Academic Performance Index for the district, in which 70 percent of students are English language learners, was 666 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 -- slightly but steadily up in each of the past several years.
Compared to other California schools with similar demographics, some Ravenswood schools performed better than average and others worse. Topping the performance list in 2009 were East Palo Alto Charter School and Edison-Brentwood School -- both public charter schools.
Also above average in comparison to similar schools were Cesar Chavez and Willow Oaks, while James Flood matched the performance of the average school with similar demographics.
Each Ravenswood principal is charged with academic targets and asked to make regular presentations to the school board on how their students are doing.
"All the schools have a campaign, a slogan and all have set a target for their API (Academic Performance Index)," De La Vega said.
"They have a goal to work toward, activities they put in place and they have assemblies rallying around, 'how do we get there?'"
Hanging in the halls at Cesar Chavez, for example, are posters exhorting students to "Dream big, work hard, give back."
Bulletin boards display school attendance and uniform policies both in Spanish and English, as well as a "Hall of Fame" listing the names of students who scored "advanced," or improved two or three levels, on the California Star Test.
Ravenswood opens the new school year with a boost in enrollment due to children in two former charter schools returning to district rolls.
Trustees last spring voted to close the Stanford University-run East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, citing poor performance. The for-profit EdisonLearning Inc., which managed Edison-Brentwood for the past decade, withdrew for financial reasons.
The resulting tide of students back to neighborhood schools bumps the district's enrollment -- and accompanying state funds -- from roughly 2,960 to 3,475.
The current projected operating budget for 2010-2011 is $38.9 million -- up from $36.8 million last year.
"The new budget was built on increased enrollment," Chief Business Official Megan Curtis said.
"Overall, we would have lost $4 million, but the returning students reduced that and brought back revenues to the district," she said.
Also working to attract outside revenue and resources to the district is the Ravenswood Education Foundation, headed by Charley Scandlyn, formerly a youth minister at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church.
With community partners that include local corporations, foundations and service clubs, the Ravenswood foundation has funded an extended day at Belle Haven, Cesar Chavez and Costano schools as well as academic summer programs on several campuses. It also finds volunteers to help with school restoration and maintenance projects, and to "adopt" classrooms or entire grades.
Scandlyn said the foundation aims to hire an outreach coordinator to foster parent involvement on all campuses.
"Say you have 600 kids at a school and 800 parents. We want to get at least 30 highly engaged parents at each school and 100 involved parents, leading to a campus where everybody feels informed," he said.