Nicole Sbragia, an East Palo Alto parent, charter school paraeducator and security dispatcher, plans to run for a seat on the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education in November.
She is the first candidate to announce a bid for three open seats. Three board members' terms are expiring in November: President Ana Pulido and members Charlie Mae Knight and Marcelino Lopez. Lopez told the Weekly he has not decided yet whether he will run for re-election. Pulido and Knight did not return repeated requests for comment.
Sbragia said she felt compelled to run because of increasing concerns about a breakdown in trust between the community, teachers and district leadership, particularly in recent months. She organized a boycott at Belle Haven Elementary School in protest of the sudden removal of former principal Todd Gaviglio this spring and felt the board did not listen to the community's pleas to not renew Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff's contract. She is part of Community United for Better Education, a grassroots advocacy group that formed this spring in response to concerns about Hernandez-Goff's leadership.
"Over the two years that my kids have been in the school district I have seen that the decisions are not being made with the child first," Sbragia said in an interview. "I feel that the community is not being listened to."
A single mother of two, Sbragia moved from Redwood City to East Palo Alto five years ago. Her younger son attends Belle Haven and her older son is a rising freshman at East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter high school in the Sequoia Union High School District.
Sbragia has a degree in criminal justice and has worked in security dispatch for the past 13 years. Both of her children have special needs, which spurred her to become a paraeducator in Ravenswood in 2016, working as an aide in special-education classrooms. Her position was cut last year, so she found a paraeducator job at East Palo Alto charter school KIPP Valiant Community Prep.
She's concerned about the future of Ravenswood, which is facing declining enrollment, lean budget years and high teacher turnover. At Belle Haven alone, eight lead teachers, a speech therapist, occupational therapist, a makerspace teacher and vice principal left this year, according to Sbragia. She's worried about the impact these vacancies, if unfilled or even if hurriedly filled, might have on students.
Belle Haven teachers have told Sbragia they are leaving because of "poor leadership" and broken trust with the district.
"The choices that you have made have lasting effects on our school communities," she told the board at its last meeting of the year on June 28, speaking about the departure of Belle Haven's popular vice principal. "The responsibility does fall in part on you but the consequences fall on our children."
The solution is in part simple, Sbragia said — "I really think they (teachers) need to be treated better" — but also complex. She suggested spending less on district personnel, such as eliminating the district's external communications officer and cutting down on legal expenses, and diverting the dollars to support teachers and staff.
Sbragia said she supports charter schools as another choice for East Palo Alto parents. Other parents elect to send their children to neighboring districts through the district's longtime Voluntary Transfer Program, known as the Tinsley program.
"Parents should have a choice," Sbragia said. "I do believe in charters and I do believe in Tinsley but I wish that our school district was good enough to where parents didn't have to make those choices. They should be able to go to their neighborhood school and have confidence that their children are being looked after and that the best is happening for their children."
Whoever is elected will join Vice President Sharifa Wilson and Marielena Gaona-Mendoza on the dais. Both were elected in 2016, Wilson to her third term and Gaona-Mendoza her first. The Ravenswood school board does not have term limits.