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KIPP Bay Area Schools to open charter school in East Palo Alto

Ravenswood school board approves petition for TK-8 public charter school

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East Palo Alto parents who have been working tirelessly for well over a year to bring a new public-school option to their community celebrated Thursday night after the Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees approved a petition to open a charter school in the city.

The school board voted 4-1, with Ana Maria Pulido dissenting, to approve a resolution to allow KIPP Bay Area Schools, a leading charter school organization, to open a school in East Palo Alto. The school will serve both East Palo Alto and Belle Haven students from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade.

The vote followed numerous parents, students, educators and two city council members urging the board to provide East Palo Alto students and parents with a high-quality educational option within their own community. Students who attend or have graduated from KIPP schools in other cities spoke of how the supportive school community became like a family to them, encouraging them to push through both academic and personal challenges and helping them become college-ready.

By contrast, current and graduated students from the Ravenswood school district spoke of the challenges they faced: feeling unprepared for and struggling in high school, feeling inferior to students from other higher-performing districts and wanting better for future students in East Palo Alto.

"Coming from a Latino community, I grew up hearing Latinos would never make it," said Maria Rodriguez, a freshman at Woodside High School who said she has not received the support she needs to succeed at school. She has several younger sisters who she hopes will do and have better than her, she said.

"I want nothing more than my sisters to make it to a four-year college and graduate from college. I want my sisters to have a school like this," she said. "Everyone deserves to succeed."

KIPP Bay Area Schools, which operates 11 high-performing charter elementary, middle and high schools in cities such as Redwood City, San Jose and Oakland, has been working with a group of East Palo Alto mothers and the community-organizing group Innovate Public Schools for many months to open a charter school in East Palo Alto. KIPP filed an official petition in November and the district held a required public hearing the next month before taking action on the issue Thursday night.

"Central to the mission of the school is an unwavering belief that all students in the East Palo Alto and Belle Haven communities can succeed in the nation's most competitive colleges when provided with extended time for learning inside and outside the classroom, a rigorous, college-preparatory education, and a wide range of supports," the petition reads.

"An excellent college education is necessary for expanded opportunities in an increasingly competitive global 21st century job market. The KIPP K-8 School will prioritize the goal of a college education in achieving personal success and creating a life of choices and opportunities."

KIPP schools place heavy emphasis on high expectations, individualized attention and cultivating deep relationships with students and their families, all with an eye toward getting students to and through college. Nationally, KIPP alumni are graduating from college at a rate more than four times that of the average student from a low-income community, according to the organization. A longer school day provides time for extra support and enrichment.

KIPP schools are tuition-free public schools. They operate lotteries for admission if the community demand exceeds the number of spaces available. Preference is given to low-income and in-district students, April Chou, chief growth and operating officer for KIPP, said at the December public hearing. Ninety-six percent of KIPP students are students of color and 87 percent receive free or reduced-price meals through the federal school lunch program, according to the organization's website.

The school board approved KIPP's petition Thursday night, albeit not too enthusiastically.

Board member Sharifa Wilson voted in favor given the fact that the petition met all the necessary legal requirements, but made a plug for work she said is underway to improve the educational experience in the Ravenswood school district.

"The only way that we're going to prevent the district from being eaten alive by every charter school that can put together, frankly, 80 parents (to) sign a petition, the only way that we can combat that is to keep moving forward, which we're doing under this new superintendent," Wilson said. "The results are not going to be seen for another six or seven years. I understand the need for parents to want to move forward and to make sure that their children are given a quality education."

Pulido, the only "no" vote, said she could not support the charter school given a commitment to the "benefit of all our students, not a segment of students."

"It's important that we look at the 3,500 students that are here and that we look at all those families and we look at all those parents and we look at what is going to be in the best interests of the entire community," she said.

Board President Marco Chavez also emphasized the need for a "relationship building" with KIPP moving forward.

A longtime Ravenswood teacher who herself went through the district expressed some wariness of another charter school coming into East Palo Alto.

"I'm all for opportunities and options. I just want to make sure KIPP can weather the storm," she said. "I've been here 15 years with the district. I've been through charter schools that have come and gone, superintendents that have come and gone, principals that have come and gone.

"If we are failing, parents, we're together," she added, turning to the crowd. "So we need you."

Two other low-tuition or tuition-free private schools, the K-8 Beechwood School and the 6-12 Eastside College Prep, primarily serve students from the Ravenswood district.

In addition, three charter schools currently operate within the district's boundaries: the K-6 East Palo Alto Charter School and the 7-12 East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, both operated by the charter organization Aspire Public Schools, and East Palo Alto Academy High School, which was launched by and receives support from the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

In 2010, Ravenswood trustees declined to renew the charter of a Stanford-sponsored East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, citing low test scores.

In 2011, Ravenswood trustees denied a petition by charter operator Rocketship to open a new elementary school in East Palo Alto that eventually would have served 650 children.

Ligia Rivera, a parent leader with Innovate Public Schools (which helps parents and communities advocate for quality public schools for low income children and children of color in Silicon Valley), told the Weekly after the meeting that she felt a sense of hope, coming a long way from the moment when it was just her and two friends working toward what seemed like an impossible goal.

And for another one of those mothers, Alma Mendoza, Thursday's vote was personal. She hopes her younger children will be able to attend KIPP for middle school.

"I'm so happy because my little ones are going to be beneficiaries," she said.

KIPP is aiming to open the school in the fall of 2017 and will work with the district to determine the location of the school.

"We are truly excited for the parents who worked tirelessly to advocate for this option on behalf of their children," Chou said in a statement. "We look forward to partnering with Superintendent Hernandez-Goff and the Ravenswood City School District to support the success of all students in this community."

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


17 people like this
Posted by Sue Allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2016 at 11:13 am

I have worked in Ravenswood District for about 20 years, and the improvements in the last 10 are phenomenal! The District is providing better teachers, better resources, better education. The students are now almost all going to Menlo Atherton High where there is a good working relationship to make the transition go well, and have students feel welcomed and included. The drop-out rate is a fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

KIPP will now come in and skim more of the cream off the top of Ravenswood, leaving behind those whose parents are too disorganized and/or uneducated to apply for KIPP. Ravenswood has to educate ALL students --especially those with major academic and behavior problems. The Charter and Private schools in EPA take a much smaller percentage of these, and can easily 'counsel them out' for not working up to the school's standards and expectations.

If the parents working to bring KIPP to Ravenswood would rally their efforts and their friends to support public schools for ALL students, it would make Ravenswood get better even faster.

Those who want to support the work in Ravenswood going forward can volunteer or donate through the Ravenswood Education Foundation.

1 person likes this
Posted by SP
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 1:20 pm

Forcing all students to attend poorly performing schools is not an answer to Ravenswood's education problems. I have seen children go through the Ravenswood system for 25 years, and while their is some improvement, its not nearly the improvement that should be there, and I would not wish what most kids have to go through there on any child. Parents are tired of the promises the district keeps making. Most of this is the mess left behind by the previous superintendent.

Actual graduation rate data is very difficult to find, since Ravenswood is a K-8 district and these students scatter to private, public and charter schools throughout the area when they hit 9th grade. See Web Link for actual research, which reports a 50% - 60% graduation rate, but 30% - 40% are unknown since they leave the district before graduating, so the dropout rate could be 10%, or 40%. Difficult to say. And that is only for Ravenswood kids that start 9th grade in the Sequoia district, which is a small percentage of the EPA high school population.

Now that there is no standardized high school exit exam, graduation rate is going to be a very poor measure of student or school performance.

A better performance measure, especially for parents who would like their children to attend college, is standardized testing and college readiness evaluations. Charter schools are simply outperforming public schools in this area. See Web Link for data and analysis of this.

Ravenswood had the time and attention to fix this, but from what I heard, years of inept decision making at the district staff level prevented improvement.

One of many problems was that the previous superintendent had a personal agenda. She was inducted into the county Women's Hall of Fame for promoting women of color into leadership positions, AKA all of her staff and principals. Now, this is a good thing, but not at the expense of the kids. At the district board meeting where this was announced, I looked around, and there were no male staff left in the district. They used to be there, but they were all pushed out for her agenda. Now, some of the female principals were excellent, but some were pretty awful. Speaking privately with some of the good ones, it was clear their excellence was despite the superintendent, and not because of her.

There is a new superintendent, but the damage has been done. Parents are not going to wait for another round of promises.

13 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm

To REF board member: When you've worked in the community for 20 years but haven't actually lived's easy to say "what you would do." Until you live here and raise your children in this community you'll never know. Please do not speak against charter schools and parents having choices. At the end of the day ALL parents want the best for their kids.

2 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Thank you board members Lopez, Wilson, Chavez and McKnight for listening, supporting, and respecting our community. Proud moment!

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 3:10 pm

I want to assure all of our community members that the parents who rallied to have this charter school come into EPA is not in sole support of KIPP but rather in support of high quality education. There is one thing that no one can deny and that is the data on the high failure rate compared to high performance rates. We are on the unfortunate end of this spectrum and is why the parents who rallied for the charter is rallying for high quality schools overall and that means reforming the schools that are in place but also opening options to the community who want to give their child a school that may encompass values that are closely tied to their own and if that may just be as simple as allowing them to have alternative teaching styles and culture of education.

4 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Glad to see parents stepping up! Especially Latino parents. Our voices will be heard. We deserve quality education in our community. I support all schools and all children!

6 people like this
Posted by Thank You
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Thank You .. Yes we have Charter schools, but not for elementary.. Once our kids have gone through the Ravenswood School District they are behind. behind. And there is no lie about that.. I went to school here in the 80's and pretty much its the same now as it was then, bad. Now I have kids and no I do not want them to go through what I went through, but finally we start with our kids foundation elementary school. All the schools we have now are for middle and high school, to late, to late. Also as parents we need to step in and help and not put all the blame on the schools or the district, we need to help the teachers and staff and if we see what needs to be done step in and help. Show up to the school board meetings. We have a lot of young parents that went through the same system and we need to stop this cycle, we need to step in and help them. We need to really change our whole way of thinking for our kids. .. Come on now EPA!!!

3 people like this
Posted by Long Time Observer
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2016 at 12:30 pm

[Portion removed.] I too wish all of the young children of east palo alto could have the best education in their own neighborhood, but I have seen the way Ravenswood School District Works, and looking back, not much has been done. Many of our students score very low on the state exams, as soon as they get to third grade they start getting into drugs, fights, and get into problems with police. Things will get better for our students when we the get better leadership. Sorry for the ones who have to be left behind. At least few students will benefit with KIPP in E.Palo Alto

2 people like this
Posted by A Proud KIPP Parent
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Congratulation KIPP East Palo Alto!! To all the parents/families and supporters. I know the blessing, the thrill of happiness knowing that in your community you will have a charter school that will provide you with 100% of encouragement, preparation and support for your child to a great future. I went through the same experience along with other parents. Today, I am a very proud parent of KIPP Execelencia Community Prep. My child and the other students in the school have the education that they deserve. Seeing my child getting the knowledge of the daily learning makes it all worth it. The faculty at the school are the most excellent staff I have ever met. Seeing the teachers motivation and going above & beyond with each student to get them to their academy level every day is a blessing. I am a very well educated parent with a great job. I struggled to get a great education because; I was consider another minority and did not get the support as the rest of my back then from my schools I attended McKinley Middle School and Sequoia High School. (I’m glad I graduated and went to college). For the same reason, I want my children to have better opportunity with their education and support from the school they attend. Sadly, the experience received from the prior assigned public school my child attended became a disappointed considering it was a great school years ago. All I saw was children moving to the next grade and if the child is struggling, the child has a “medical” problem. A child not wanting to go school cause teacher gets upset or doesn’t get any help when is asked and receiving just negativity. Also, seeing some students getting exclusive attention than others is an Absolutely a Red Flag for a parent!! Now, I’m just beyond thankful to see my child getting up every day to go school. Getting the homework complete and seeing my child knowing what the lesson is about is just priceless. It was the perfect decision ever made. To the families in East Palo Alto, you will not have no regrets of the experience you will see once your child starts the charter school. No matter what ethnicity or economical level you are. Your child will receiving an excellent education that will prepared them for their future and to be able to attend a university. Congratulations once again, 2017 here they go a new generation for success.

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