Maurice Ghysels, the superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District, will take on a new role as chief innovations officer in the Ravenswood City School District after leaving his current position at the end of this academic year.
Ghysels will provide additional support to Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff as the district launches its first comprehensive middle school in the fall. Currently, Ravenswood's sixth- through eighth-graders are enrolled at six separate sites combined with elementary schools. The inaugural sixth-grade class will comprise of 260 students; the district's goal for middle school enrollment is 900 students across all three grades.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and another anonymous donor are funding Ghysels' position, which will earn an annual salary of $180,000.
Board of Education Vice President Ana Maria Pulido said the board has been looking for someone to fill the innovation position for two years.
"This is an absolutely critical time for Ravenswood," Pulido said. "There's only one of (Hernandez-Goff), and there's so much to do in this district. ... We don't want anything to be missed as we transition into this comprehensive middle school."
Ghysels holds a bachelor's degree in economics from San Jose State University, a master's degree in education from California State University, Hayward (now known as California State University, East Bay), and a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of San Francisco. His previous experience includes teaching and startups.
He was superintendent of Mountain View Whisman School District from 2005 to 2010 and left after he disclosed to its school board that he and the principal of one of the district's elementary schools were involved in an extramarital affair. In 2011, he became superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District.
In announcing last fall his planned departure from Menlo Park, he told The Almanac, "I like to create, build, startup and get things in place to where they can sustain, and then go on to the next adventure."
Hernandez-Goff said she and Ghysels have collaborated on projects in the past and that Ghysels suggested working together after he leaves the Menlo Park district. Though his priorities will lie with overseeing the development of the new middle school, he will also provide assistance to Hernandez-Goff in communications plans and other areas of need in the district.
Ghysels said he is "highly motivated to join the team" and will focus on building relationships with teachers, identifying talent and constructing "sustainable systems" of academic enrichment such as performing arts, fine arts, sports and social-emotional programs that will "connect middle school children to school."
"In all of this, it is about students," he said. "It's about parents making choices, and it's about Ravenswood being the go-to district. ... We need to attract and retain teachers (and) students, and I think that the vehicle of the comprehensive middle school is the way to do that."
Ravenswood's students typically graduate to Sequoia Union High School District. In recent years, however, the high school dropout rate for Ravenswood students has reached "a little more than 40 percent," according to Pulido. Ravenswood, said Hernandez-Goff, has the lowest percentage of students who graduate high school and the lowest percentage of students who complete the A-G course requirements for admission to the University of California compared to other districts whose students enter Sequoia Union.
The board and administration hope that the comprehensive middle school will help students bridge the achievement gap and "give kids the confidence to know that they can be successful sitting right next to someone who went to (a more competitive) district," board President Sharifa Wilson said.
The new middle school will "group students according to their academic needs," Hernandez-Goff said, such as providing an honors English lane and support for English language learners in addition to regular English. Students will also have daily access to algebra courses, something that has only been available on Saturdays in the past because eligible students were not concentrated on one campus.
The district is asking its teachers for voluntary transfers to the middle school and, for those without single-subject teaching credentials, will provide some aid with their education.
At the end of the next school year, the board and funders will evaluate Ghysels' progress and make a decision about extending his position for another year, officials said. The district does not anticipate maintaining the position past two years.