East Palo Alto parents rally for charter school

Opponents say parents should support their traditional neighborhood schools

East Palo Alto parents and community members Thursday night (Feb. 24) appealed to trustees of the Ravenswood City School District to support the establishment of a new K-5 charter school in East Palo Alto.

The boardroom and surrounding hallways were crowded with children and adult supporters wearing purple T-shirts emblazoned with the name of the proposed school, Rocketship.

Rocketship Education, a charter school operator that runs three relatively new but high-performing schools in San Jose, submitted a petition to Ravenswood in January, gaining the support of nearly 700 parents in East Palo Alto.

Ravenswood trustees must determine whether the educational program described in the petition is consistent with sound educational practice, Tim Fox, deputy San Mateo County counsel, said.

If trustees decide the charter does not comply, the superintendent will provide written findings to the petitioner, Fox said. If the petition is granted, the school will be able to operate under certain regulations, he said.

Rocketship representatives touted their "hybrid" model of education, which uses classroom teaching, at least an hour a day of individualized instruction in a computer learning lab and six to 10 hours a week of face-to-face tutoring.

"We want to eliminate the achievement gap with the communities we serve. Our mission is that every student who leaves our campus by 5th grade is proficient and college bound," Preston Smith, Rocketship's chief achievement officer, said.

Rocketship representatives said they were eager to "partner with Ravenswood" and boost the district's scores on standardized tests.

Students in Rocketship's Mateo Sheedy School in San Jose earned a 2010 California Growth Academic Performance Index Score of 925. The group's Si Se Puede Academy had a score of 886 in its first year of testing. Data was unavailable for the newest Rocketship school, Los Suenos Academy.

Schools in the Ravenswood district averaged 688 in 2010, up from 633 in 2007.

Smith said a key to Rocketship's success is parent involvement, noting that school representatives make home visits to every child every year.

"The charter application should be accepted because the quality of education they can offer is inspiring. Ravenswood can attain it in a very short time," said a teacher testifying in favor of the application.

An East Palo Alto parent who has visited a Rocketship campus in San Jose said, "I was impressed with the children working on computers and very excited at the level they were at. The Board is worried about closing current schools, but Rocketship will be funded by private donors mainly and some state funding so this won't really impact school district funding as a whole."

East Palo Alto resident Robert Hoover said, "I know that this will have an impact on the district in terms of staff, maybe funding; but I know that getting the best education for our children should be our goal, especially in a community such as ours."

"I've seen what a lack of education can do to a community and the destruction that takes place if our children are not brought up in the right way. A child brought up in school is less likely to be brought up in court," Ricky R. Williams, pastor at St. John's church, said.

Others spoke against the petition.

"I've worked with the district for a long time and have seen charter schools come and go," said Ravenswood Teachers' Association President Aaron Williamson.

"We can't bankrupt this district to bring in this new school -- we are already looking at a $3 million dollar cut for this year. How could we cope with a $4.5 million loss, which this school may incur?

"We're asking for a silver bullet to save Ravenswood, but what's really going to save us is ourselves," Williamson said, adding that the district should make a greater effort to reach out to parents.

"We don't need Rocketship, what we need is more involvement from parents. The passion and motivation that you have now, that brought you here today," another resident said.

Ravenswood Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the district already employs many of the strategies discussed by Rocketship.

"Many of your strategies in our schools we have already. We have technology and experience in labs. We have been on our journey towards excellence as you can see in our data and test scores. We can't let one school go down and one go up. We all have to go up together." 

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Posted by volunteer tutor
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 25, 2011 at 11:41 am

I tutor students at Menlo-Atherton High School who are in the English Learner Dept. and many of these students have graduated from middle school in EPA (of the three students I tutor, one went to Garfield and the other two to Belle Haven). These students speak Spanish at home and with their friends at school, only speaking English for the short time they're in class. They are not being properly served or educated at the middle school level - and whether the answer is to fund a high-performing charter school or figure out a way to engage the parents of the already existing EPA schools, something drastic needs to happen in order for these students to become literate in English so they can attend college, tech school, etc.

I also tutor reading in an after school program at Brentwood called Reading is Freedom and I see the students who are struggling to read at their grade level. They speak English very well and are learning in English, but many of their parents do not yet speak English, which makes it difficult for the students to get help with homework at home. I see the teachers at Brentwood as being very dedicated and involved in outreach, for instance, last week they held a Literacy Night at the school to talk to parents about how they can support and encourage their kids literacy at home. I'm not sure of the reason, but it was sad to see that the event was attended by only a small handful of parents.

Something that I've learned through tutoring these two age groups (1st-3rd graders and high schoolers) is one to one work with students does make a difference.

1 person likes this
Posted by ralph
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Feb 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Many years ago (when my kids were just starting at O'Connor school) I ran for Ravenswood City School District board (and lost). I live in south Palo Alto now and am still interested in improving the education of our children (and grandchildren).
I thank "volunteer tutor" for the comment (above). Perhaps this proposed charter school would be successful, perhaps not. The parents who are engaged enough to actively push for it are surely parents who, unlike those "volunteer tutor" describes, are helping their children with homework, and, hopefully, involved in their child's school. Obviously parents are primarily motivated for their own children, not all the other children in a school. But the overall success rate for charters is no better than the overall rate of public schools. Replacing what you have with a charter is a gamble with less than 50-50 odds. Read her book "The Death and Life of the Great American School system" by Diane Ravitch (nationally recognized education expert, she spoke last night at University of Santa Clara). The excitement about charter schools is misguided. The public school your children is in can do a better job with your efforts and support.

Like this comment
Posted by Lini
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2011 at 1:54 am

There is no need for a new school to be built within East Palo Alto. Why should we build a new school if we can not make an impact on the schools that are already within East Palo Alto? I suggest the Ravenswood District work on the schools that needs improvement than adding another school that may end up be in the same position as the others schools in East Palo Alto. There are many issues that need to be solved first before taking new step that won't solve the issues at hand.

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Posted by DaddyD
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2011 at 11:29 am

We here in Foster City do not even have a high school and have been after the County District's Bureacracy to build it to no avail. Where did all the specific funding for this NEW EPA School come from in a State that is Broke and County that is over 80 Million in the Red with a County Controller making 750,000.00 in 2007, what is it now?

Tax Payers keep getting ripped off by Bureaucrats Throwing Tax Payer Monies at Collective Govt Union Backed Projects. Follow-Our Money!

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