Ravenswood school board denies charter petition

Parents, urging 'no,' say charter will threaten neighborhood campuses

Hundreds of East Palo Alto parents and children turned out for a crowded and emotional school board meeting Thursday night to shout a collective "no" to the prospect of a high-performing charter school being established in their community.

In hours of testimony -- much of it in Spanish -- parents said the proposed school, by Rocketship Education, would "take money away" from their own children's schools.

They urged trustees of the Ravenswood City School District to reject Rocketship's application to establish a new elementary school in East Palo Alto by the fall of 2012, which eventually would serve up to 650 children.

In the end, the board voted 3-2 to deny Rocketship's proposal. The two votes supporting Rocketship came from the board's newest members, Evelyn Barajas-Luis and Ana Maria Pulido, who were elected last November.

Superintendent Maria De La Vega, who had recommended a "no" vote, said a new charter school could lead to neighborhood school closures and otherwise "disrupt" a small district like Ravenswood.

She acknowledged charters have "shown great success" in other districts, but indicated Ravenswood -- facing a major budget deficit -- is fighting for its survival. Ravenswood already loses more than 1,000 students who reside in the district to alternative programs, including the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program.

District parents said they had been recruited to speak out at Thursday's meeting after being told the new charter school would lead to closure of neighborhood schools, and that the new school would accept only top-performing students.

In fact, a charter school by law must take students on a first-come, first-served basis, or by lottery if oversubscribed.

More than 350 parents, teachers and children -- many holding signs and wearing T-shirts emblazoned with their school names -- filled the gymnasium at Costano School. A significant minority wore purple T-shirts, denoting support for Rocketship.

The proposed charter school would "endanger our school and our program," said Maria Sanchez, teacher of a kindergarten class at Green Oaks Academy taught both in English and Spanish.

Parent Ana Silva said in Spanish that, despite coming from another country, her two children "received all the support they needed from their teachers" at Willow Oaks School.

A host of students, teachers and principals delivered passionate testimony about the sense of community they feel in their neighborhood schools.

Rocketship, a four-year-old nonprofit led by tech-entrepreneur-turned-teacher John Danner of Palo Alto, operates three charter schools in low-income areas of San Jose.

The schools are relatively new -- having opened in 2007, 2009 and 2010 -- but students there earned 2010 Growth Academic Performance Index scores of 886 and 925, compared with Ravenswood's district-wide score of 688.

Rocketship co-founder and Chief Achievement Officer Preston Smith had pledged to work closely with the school district, and argued that achievement levels attained by Rocketship students would substantially boost Ravenswood's district-wide average.

Rocketship uses what it calls a "hybrid model" -- combining classroom teaching with one-on-one computer work, which allows students to master basic skills at their own pace, according to the company.

A significant minority in Thursday's audience indicated they support Rocketship.

"There are many rumors floating around about Rocketship, but has anyone really talked to their staff to get the information?" parent Lakeshia Phillips-Marshall asked.

"I want this to be about my child's education, not about how much money the school district will lose if the school is there," the mother of two said.

"We'll never know if it's going to be a success until we give it a chance."

After years among California's worst-performing school districts, Ravenswood's standardized test scores have inched up in the past several years, with gains on all campuses but led by the K-8 East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), a 13-year-old charter operated by Aspire Public Schools.

Rocketship officials said they will now appeal for a charter with the San Mateo County Office of Education, with the intention of establishing an East Palo Alto campus. The group's three existing schools operate under charter agreements with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.

Related stories:

Superintendent urges denial of charter school bid

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Like this comment
Posted by forrest gump
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:50 am

Forrest Gump: "Stupid is as stupid does"

Like this comment
Posted by RCSD has no vision
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Despite Maria de la Vega's previous talk about Rocketship's model, it was all about the money in the end. And if she's so concerned about school closures, why did they abruptly shut down the Stanford Charter School due to "low performance", disrupting the kids' education. I know families who had kids there, and that was rough. Especially since they denied renewal of the charter just before their most recent test scores came out, which were shown to be rising. It's all about politics, money, and not the greater good. Ravenswood has no vision.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm

The financial impact of a charter school can NOT be used as criteria for denying the application. The law is as follows:

The board is not allowed to consider the potential impacts a charter school would have on the other educational programs of a district or the district’s fiscal health or state of its facilities, among other issues.
The charter law requires that the charter shall be granted unless the authorizing board makes written factual findings, citing specific facts that one or more of the following conditions exist:
• The charter presents an unsound educational program for the students to be enrolled in the charter school.
• The petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition.
• The petition does not contain the number of signatures required.
• The petition does not contain an affirmation of each of the conditions described in Education Code 47605(d).
• The petition does not contain reasonably comprehensive descriptions of the 16 required charter elements.

I assume Rocketship will be appealing this to the San Mateo County board.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

What a bunch of morons. Maybe a bit of research before blindly rushing out to defeat the proposal?

"District parents said they had been recruited to speak out at Thursday's meeting after being told the new charter school would lead to closure of neighborhood schools, and that the new school would accept only top-performing students."

Just like they were "recruited" to stop the leaf blower ban in Menlo Park several years ago.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Ravenswood District ( and EPA ) was STUPID 50 years ago when we left...

It's nice to see that things never change in EPA....

Like this comment
Posted by Carlos
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm

When things aren't working, it's time to be bolder and try a new approach. Besides, charter schools have been a long proven success in many instances.

Not sure if the parents who rejected the idea were misinformed and/or if they were just simply afraid of any changes, but I'm shocked that Rocketship was rejected without much analysis. Hard to help a community when they don't want to help themselves.

Like this comment
Posted by Mel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 25, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Another example of powerful public unions influence making sure that the union interests come first.

This is consistent with actions and influence of police, fire, teachers and other public workers. The interests of the citizens are way down the list of priorities if they are even on the list at all.

Like this comment
Posted by To Palo Alto Mom
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm

This is Hmmm. Thank you very much for your post. I don't have kids, & I wasn't aware of the info you posted. I've seen good stuff happen w/Ravenswood in the last few years & I know money's scarce, so I understand their fear. However, what you posted is relevant & it'll be interesting to see what happens now. If I had kids here, I'd be worried, or I'd doing whatever I could to keep them in private school if they weren't in one of the charter schools already.

It's worrisome that many EPA residents don't have the proper analytical skills to research something important such as this when they don't really know its impact or what is the best decision for *the students* who need so much to succeed in this increasingly expensive, competitive world.

Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 25, 2011 at 6:24 pm

I live in Palo Alto, but have volunteered and worked part-time for Ravenswood since 1997. This is partly about the money, but more about the Community. Ravenswood is doing GREAT! The schools are so, so, so much better now than when I started. There was a major change in leadership in 2003, then a 'hiccup' for a couple of years, but now has good, stable people working hard for the benefit of the kids. Budget cuts are probably going to require the closing of at least 1 school. Rocketship could force that to be 2 schools by taking a 'school-full' of students out of the district. I was in Palo Alto in the 1980's when so many schools were closed (Ortega, Ross Road, Crescent Park, Jordan, Terman, Ventura, etc.) It tears the community apart. EPA is on the rise and needs support in this direction, not something that further divides.

Rather than inserting Rocketship, lets send the Tinsley kids back to EPA. Last year the district-wide API for low-income kids in PAUSD was only 703. Several EPA non-charter schools are much better than that.

The EPA Charter that was started 20+ years ago by EPA parents is doing well. The Charters that were started by an outside group who want to "fix the poor people" have failed -- Edison and Stanford.

Like this comment
Posted by Proud Parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I can't believe that the Ravenswood Board denied Rocketship!

How dumb can you really be?

Rockethip wants to come to East Palo Alto to help out our kids and our Board rejects them!?!?!

Ofcoarse Maria De La Vega doesn't want Rocketship to come, because thats her competition! And she makes $180,000 a year!!!

Its funny how Saree Mading was claiming she was elected. LOL!! She did NOT get elected. Only three candidates applied, so she was GIVEN the title NOT earned.

Will see if she gets reelected.

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