Wilson, Gaona-Mendoza elected to Ravenswood school board | News | Palo Alto Online |
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Wilson, Gaona-Mendoza elected to Ravenswood school board

Two winning candidates offer starkly different views of state of school district

The Ravenswood City School District Board of Trustees will hold onto one longtime public servant and gain a new voice after Tuesday's election, with incumbent Sharifa Wilson and challenger Marielena Gaona-Mendoza winning two open seats, according to unofficial results from the San Mateo County Registrar of Voters.

The two candidates were separated by less than a percentage point on Wednesday morning, with each pulling in about 35 percent of the vote. Wilson was slightly ahead with 58 more votes.

Incumbent Marco Chavez, who was seeking a second term on the board, trailed with 28.93 percent.

Wilson and Gaona-Mendoza offered vastly different views on the district during their campaigns. Wilson, a former City Council member, mayor and two-term school board member, said she is confident the embattled district is on its way to long-awaited improvement, especially with a new superintendent at the helm since 2014.

Special-education advocate and teacher Gaona-Mendoza, on the other hand, painted a picture of a district failing to support students, hemorrhaging good teachers and lacking transparency.

Gaona-Mendoza said Wednesday that the "victory means a lot to me not because I got a seat on the board, but because this is the beginning of making changes in this district for all our students.

"Most of our kids are from low-income households, but they, just like the children of millionaires, deserve the best education and to be treated with respect," she said.

Wilson said she was surprised by and concerned that Gaona-Mendoza was elected, calling Chavez’s defeat ”a loss to the district.”

"I don't know if Ms. Mendoza will have the capacity to be able to provide the kind of support that he was able to bring,” Wilson said. "Her whole thing is built around criticism of the district. It concerns me because even in the face of evidence, she still sticks to her same line."

Wilson said she was hopeful that the new board would be able to work together as a team and do a better job at communicating the district’s improvements so that "people are not locked into their perception of the past."

In response, Gaona-Mendoza said that the election results indicate her message of change resonated with voters. She said she's willing to work collaboratively with the board members, despite her strong criticism of them, given they all share a common interest: doing what is "best for the kids and their education."

Wilson and Gaona-Mendoza will join at the dais nonprofit office manager Ana Maria Pulido, parent and Stanford Golf Course technician Marcelino Lopez and retired Ravenswood superintendent Charlie Mae Knight.

The Ravenswood school district serves kindergarten through eighth grade students in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.

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20 people like this
Posted by Marielena Gaona-Mendoza
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2016 at 4:47 pm

Today is the beginning of a new and brighter future for our Ravenswood School District Kids. Parents: Please do not loose hope. Our students deserve the best education ever. They are the future doctors, lawyers, architects, teachers, presidents etc. They can be all they want to be if they get excellent education.
Hoy es el principio de un nuevo futuro brillante futuro para nuestros estudiantes del distrito escolar de Ravenswood. Padres: por favor no pierdan la esperanza. Nuestros ninos merecen la mejor educacion. Ellos son el future de nuestro pais, seran los doctores, abogados, arquitectos, maestros, presidentes del futuro. Ellos podran ser lo que quieran o sueñan ser si tienen una excellente educacion.
For those who did not watch the candidates debate, here is the link to it. Para los que no miraron el debate de candidatos del distrito escolar, aqui esta el la grabacion:

Web Link
Thanks to all the people who voted for mi. Together we can make a better world for our kids. We will be in touch.
Gracias a todos los que votaron por mi. Juntos podemos hacer un mejor mundo para nuestros hijos. Estaremos en contacto

4 people like this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 10, 2016 at 2:27 pm

As a 20-year worker in Ravenswood District I've watched the district get better and better. I hope Ms. Gaona-Mendoza will put aside her rancor and negativity and work with others to further the progress already made.
Marco Chavez has done great work in Ravenswood for many years. I hope he will continue to serve the District in other ways.

5 people like this
Posted by A Concerned Community Member
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 10, 2016 at 6:41 pm

Ms. Gaona-Mendoza stated above "Parents: Please do not loose hope."

That's a sweet message, but I would be concerned about a former teacher and new board member who does not know the difference between "lose" (correct in this case) and "loose" (incorrect). How will kids in this low performing district learn basic spelling and reading skills if a supposed teacher makes basic errors?

Second, while it is so kind and touching for Ms. G-M to tell parents that their children will be future doctors and lawyers, the elephant in the room is that it won't happen. Many of the students who are products of the Ravenswood district will end up dropping out of high school, getting pregnant as a teen (or impregnating a teen), or getting involved with crime, drugs, and alcohol.

No matter how dedicated the school board may be, no matter how determined the hard working teachers might be, unless the students' parents do their part at home, nothing will change. How many Ravenswood parents read to their children every night or take them to a library? How many parents in this district go to Back to School Night, conferences, or volunteer at their child's school? How many parents check in with their child to check their HW and make sure that assignments are complete?

Nothing will change unless parents change. Why is Palo Alto Unified high performing and Ravenswood is low performing? Both school consistently have the same API scores year after year. Why? The teachers at both districts are dedicated and loving, and want their students to succeed. But teachers can only do so much. The students at PAUSD will be the ones becoming lawyers, doctors, presidents, and accountants. Why? Because their parents are invested in their education. Their parents are checking Naviance or Power School to see their child's grades and HW. They are attending Back to School. They are providing tutoring for their child. They are not accepting Ds and Fs as grades.

Everyone wants to be hopeful and let children know that we believe in them, but teachers and school boards cannot do anything. I'd like to see a school and school board who hold parents accountable. School board members can say all they want and make promises, but until you get the parents on board, the students in Ravenswood will continue to struggle.

16 people like this
Posted by Matt Fuzz
a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 10, 2016 at 6:45 pm

I for one am glad to see that that Ms. Gaona-Mendoza has been elected. Clearly all the people who voted for her also believe that the school district could benefit from certain changes. Transparency in the school district keeps parents and community more involved in their schools. I'm curious why someone would think that's a negative thing.

18 people like this
Posted by Tinsley Transfer Program parent
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Nov 10, 2016 at 10:25 pm

I am thrilled that the East Palo Alto students are going to have Marielena in the board advocating for them. A new member who really knows how the students struggle in the classroom and has a vision to help them to be more successful and believe on themselves. I am a Tinsley Program Transfer parent and I can only say great things about Marielena. My kids who attended Barron Park Elementary were so lucky to have such a caring and loving teacher. Other parents and myself were amazed at how easyly she got us parents and students involved in school activities, such us back to school night, parents education nights, social ice cream, etc. She was always supporting the students not only academically, but emotionally as well. Inside and outside of the school, by doing home visits to teach them how to read, or by visit them when they were sick, as well as advocating for them at the IEP meetings. Students and parents had a great connection with her since she gave us confidence and a great peace of mind, vknowing that our kids who were in a different school district far away from home, felt so comfortable with her. I know that Marielena has the capacity to provide the students and the board the support they need. I wish her the best and I know that she is doing it because she loves the kids and she wants the best for them.

18 people like this
Posted by A. German
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2016 at 10:36 pm

In regard to the comment about a typo:
Will a board member's ability to catch a "lose" versus "loose" typo change what they will be focusing on during their term? Will it change their honest commitment to change perceived problems within the school system? The comment seems more like an attempt to grasp at an opportunity to criticize.

The statement about their children being the future professionals being untrue is worrisome. The troubles that Ravenswood district students will get themselves into are also troubles that will befall PAUSD students. Even, though the ratio of white collar to blue collar career paths (or even graduation rates) may be different, it is still appropriate to remind parents that their children are the future and some of those children WILL be doctors and lawyers. It is still *appropriate* to encourage that, hold it as a goal, and actively nurture that idea.

I've had enough previous peers (who are now in either medical school or residency) relay stories about school staff verbally/explicitly telling them to aim lower. I know your comments were not directed at district students directly (rather about them), but it's still hovering dangerously close to a disempowering statement.

I do understand that you're trying to state a view about the realities of their situation. But your approach seems a bit unrealistic as well. How does one effectively hold parents accountable and change their behavior? (Sure, one can hold them accountable by saying "it's your fault"...but that solves very little.) Also, that does not relieve any amount of accountability upon the school district. It does not relieve them of the responsibility to try and better the situation as much as possible given the circumstances they are handed.

As someone who has heard through community channels about the efforts that Ms. Gaona-Mendoza has put into addressing problems in the system, I'm confident that she will be able to address some of the problems plaguing this school district. If she has everyone's support that is.

It's rare to find someone in an elected position who is truly in it for the reasons they say. Who would be willing to lose it all for an issue they personally thought was the morally correct choice. Who believes that speaking up for a single student is more important than her job, her well-being, or her social status within the "system". We should be more than welcoming to a personality of that type. This is a CRITICAL trait. Those people usually don't get elected.

But apparently enough voters agreed with her that there are serious problems within the school district that can be addressed. If the non-critical way worked, then why would so many people want a different voice. She might have been critical of PAUSD during a past issue, but reviewing what the federal courts decided after that issue came to light, there were SERIOUS problems present. The kinds of problems that lead to student suicide. This habit of being critical of the system should NOT be attacked or suppressed, rather than encouraged!

Having said that, this is not a knock at the other candidates. It simply means, her views might be more in-line with the voters'. I TRULY HOPE that the candidates who did not win as well as their supporters put full effort into helping Ms. Gaona-Mendoza to try and effect the change that she and other parents seek.

Thank you to all who are involved in shaping our community's future. This is exactly what you are all doing when you become involved in our children's' education.

8 people like this
Posted by Ms. Gaona is Capable of
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2016 at 3:07 pm

I just can't believe that Sharifa Wilson said to the reporter: "I don't know if Ms. Mendoza will have the capacity..." This comment is racist and Sharifa should be ashamed of herself for speaking like that about the candidate that Ravenswood residents have elected. If I was Ms. Gaona-Mendoza I would be very offended by her comment, but I know that she will demonstrate to Ms. Wilson that she is very capable of doing the job. Perhaps, even better than Wilson herself. If things were good in this district, people would have voted for the two incumbents. I just hope that Ms. Wilson comes to accept that Ms. Gaona won a spot, and welcomes and supports her into the job that she was elected into.

7 people like this
Posted by ilydiy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm

I have one question, what is wrong with this being Marielena's first year on the board? Everyone has their first. For me, I feel that the more time on the board, the bigger you feel. The less years you have, the more connection with the personal lives there are. The people voted for Marielena because they know her. They want her. You can't just say that she is not worthy because this is her first year! No! Everyone has years. To have years and years of experience, you have to start. You start your first year. She wouldn't have had to do this, but after trying to make the schools better, and being ignored, she has to do the work herself. So prepare to have the changes of you lives. Because this woman, wants whats best for the school. She'll be different from the board members. She's actually going to do her job.

5 people like this
Posted by Shmoplifeboy
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

A new bright star can make a big difference especially when a person such as Marielena has such great ideas for helping kids improve on their educational standards. One new person can make such an impact on change. I mean think about the hard work she had to go through to being elected and convincing people why she should qualify for the school board.I don't see why they make a big deal about Chavez leaving because sure he's done a good job and old memories were made but when a new person arrives smiles should be shown and new memories are made. It's best to focus on the Present than on the past am I right?

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