Foundation aims for longer school day

New Ravenswood director links classroom hours, higher scores

A tight focus on academics has slowly but surely boosted test scores in East Palo Alto schools.

The kids and teachers have worked hard -- but Renu Nanda thinks outside volunteers deserve some small credit as well.

Nanda, a lawyer and resident of Menlo Park, is the new executive director of the Ravenswood Education Foundation, which has raised more than $3 million in its four-year history and brokered outside assistance for the hardscrabble Ravenswood City School District. The district serves 3,800 K-8 children from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park.

Longer school days and summer academies have been top funding priorities for the foundation -- "increased learning time is one of those things that we know works," Nanda said.

The Ravenswood district celebrated a 79-point gain -- from 636 to 715 -- over three years in its Academic Performance Index (API), released last week.

That may not compare to Palo Alto's 926, but it's progress for a district where 80 percent of children are considered low-income; about two-thirds are still learning English; and 30 percent every year are brand-new enrollees.

Four schools -- Brentwood, Cesar Chavez, Costano and Willow Oaks -- exceeded the median API score for other California schools with similar demographics. One school, James Flood, precisely hit the median. Three others -- Belle Haven, Green Oaks and McNair -- came in below the median API score for similar schools.

"Having great schools is an incremental process, and it takes a long time," Nanda said in an interview in her small office at Ravenswood district headquarters.

"We're showing that we can do it, but it's still a community of high need. Less than half the parents are high school graduates in this district -- compared to the three-quarters in surrounding communities that have graduate degrees."

Nanda first came to the foundation as a board member more than two years ago and has chaired the development committee and served as board vice-president. She previously worked at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Low Income Investment Fund in San Francisco.

In August she took over the Ravenswood foundation's executive post from founding director Charley Scandlyn, formerly a pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, who has returned to the church staff.

The Menlo Park Presbyterian congregation has generated major financial and volunteer power for Ravenswood schools, particularly during the church's "Compassion Weekend" each spring, which brings out thousands.

"We've had volunteers in the classroom, volunteers adopting classrooms, a whole teacher-appreciation initiative. There's a lot of community support," Nanda said.

The foundation's website lists additional broad-based support from local corporations and foundations, as well as from 700 individual donors.

"We're trying to bridge the desire of the community to help -- with all the resources it can bring to bear -- with the needs of the district," Nanda said.

"The district staff is busy educating, teaching, leading, running schools. When you have an outside company that says, 'Hey, we'd like to do something,' it's good to make it easy for them."

Besides adding classroom hours for Ravenswood students, top foundation goals are promoting parent involvement and helping eighth-graders transition to high school.

The foundation last year hired a "parent-outreach coordinator" for the district, and more than 500 district parents have donated to the foundation, Nanda said.

The eighth-grade transition project is still in the planning stages.

Since the closure of Ravenswood High School 35 years ago, Ravenswood students have had to split up for high school, fanning out to Menlo-Atherton, Woodside and Carlmont. Rumors of high dropout rates abound, but reliable data is hard to come by since the high school district does not track the scattered Ravenswood students as a group.

"Our next frontier is how our children are doing in high school, and whether they're succeeding in high school and beyond," Nanda said.

"We've supported good teachers, excellent administrators and engaged parents, and I'm confident our (standardized test) scores will continue to go up."

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by 800-Is-Proficiency
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

> Longer school days and summer academies have been top funding
> priorities for the foundation -- "increased learning time
> is one of those things that we know works," Nanda said.

Interesting. Is "Learning time" something that can only something that can be achieved in a publicly-funded school? It's clear from the never-ending commentary on the PA schools that parents, the home, and family-directed education contribute more than "the schools". In short, "education" is likely to be more of a cultural "thing", than something that is applied in a government school.

And then there is the issue of "digital learning". With reading being the basis of all subsequent intellectual activities, having the best digital reading instruction/support system in the world should be the goal of every person involved in education--rather than wanting to spend zillions of dollars on palaces that sit idle most of the day. Wonder what this group thinks about diverting some of its resources into creating better on-line resources for the students (and parents)?

Well .. a seventy-five point gain in three years is nice. Let's hope that they can continue this march to 800, and then even higher.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2011 at 6:42 pm

We're talking EPA, not PA where resources at schools and at home are quite different. Socioeconomic status matters. Education is an uphill climb and clearly EPA is climbing -- even without the resources that PA has.

I'm sure the EPA teachers would love to increase digital learning and that's why they appreciate support from PA companies and from volunteers. But they seem to realize that teaching fundamentals -- like English -- comes first.

Ever wonder how what contributions could have been made by kids from underserved communities where education resources are NOT equal?

Like this comment
Posted by Kirstn
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 12, 2011 at 9:15 am

We need longer school days just to more closely match the work day. Parents have to work (or thrive from work) and having kids come home alone to empty houses is no way to increase test scores or raise healthy kids. I'd suggest lengthening the day for all the kids, and aiming to include enrichment (like sports, music, art, etc) to the school day. I know it's a dream, but that's where we should be trying to go.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:54 pm

In my "perfect" school world, kids would spend from 8-5 on school grounds and their day would include academics, arts and sports. ALL homework would happen on campus. When they were home, they could relax and spend time with family!

Like this comment
Posted by whynot
a resident of Southgate
on Sep 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm

The high school kids can be tutors and help kids in after school classrooms to help regular lesson learning or the pre-preparation for the next chapters and help solve practice problems.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

Palo Alto, rejoice. Mike's Cafe is back.
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 2,247 views

Premarital and Couples: Musings on Life
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,589 views

Why we are Warming
By Sherry Listgarten | 30 comments | 1,517 views

Cap On? Cap Off? The Cities Respond
By Laura Stec | 4 comments | 1,257 views

List for a new baby
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 323 views