Ten candidates vie for seats on Ravenswood school board | News | Palo Alto Online |


Ten candidates vie for seats on Ravenswood school board

All three incumbents, seven challengers are seeking election in November

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After a rocky year for the Ravenswood City School District, 10 people are running for three open seats on the five-member school board, including the three incumbents. Pictured here, the Ravenswood Middle School in East Palo Alto, which opened last fall, is one recent effort the district has made to improve the education of its students, 56 percent of whom are English-language learners and 89 percent of whom qualify for the federal free/reduced lunch program. Weekly file photo by Veronica Weber.

The race for three open seats on the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education is heating up, with all three incumbents and seven newcomers officially running in November, according to the San Mateo County Elections website.

Board President Ana Maria Pulido and trustees Charlie Mae Knight and Marcelino Lopez are seeking re-election to the five-member governing board. The district serves approximately 2,400 students in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, about 56 percent of whom are English-language learners and 89 of whom qualify for the free/reduced lunch program, according to data from the California Department of Education.

Pulido, who was born and raised in East Palo Alto and is a product of the city's schools, was first elected in 2010. In an interview Saturday, she said she decided to seek another term to continue the forward progress she sees in the district, particularly on better preparing Ravenswood students for success in high school and college. She cited the district's new comprehensive middle school; targeted investment in science, technology, engineering, math, arts and music (STEAM) education; last summer's formal exit from a federal special-education mandate, the Ravenswood Self‑Improvement Plan (RSIP); and facilities upgrades as examples of that progress. When she was first elected to the board, Ravenswood had no science or arts instruction or single-subject teachers for middle school students.

"Change in leadership can sometimes change the direction," she told the Weekly. "We are at such a critical, important time in the district."

If re-elected, Pulido said she wants to develop new and "creative" approaches to recruiting and retaining teachers as the district struggles against economic and housing disparities in other communities. She said she will also focus on fiscal management, communication and transparency. Pulido wants the district and board to communicate more directly and proactively with the community, including through a listening campaign, newsletters or the district website.

"We're putting so much time and emphasis on creating the improved academic experience for students and sometimes that gets misconstrued or (people) focus on the minute hiccup we may encounter versus the great accomplishments and the new, innovative projects," she said. "What I want to do is for our district to share our story and be more proactive about doing that."

The former chief operating officer for local nonprofit One East Palo Alto, Pulido was hired by the Sequoia Union High School District in January as the superintendent's communication specialist and executive assistant.

Lopez said Friday that he decided to "give it another shot," particularly to keep an eye on the district's compliance with the federal special-education mandate.

Lopez was first elected in 2002 as part of a reform slate that in part sought to remove Knight, who had been the district's superintendent for 17 years. Knight had faced conflict-of-interest charges that resulted in a trial in 2001, after she tried to help underpaid school-district employees pay for housing and other needs through a loan program using private funds. She was acquitted by a San Mateo County Superior Court jury.

Knight won a seat on the school board in the 2014 election. She did not return a request for comment on her candidacy.

In a candidate statement filed with the county registrar, Knight writes that she has "devoted my career to fighting for educational opportunities for children of our community."

The accomplishments she is "most proud of" include balancing the district's budget and opening a standalone middle school.

Many of the seven newcomers work in education and said they felt compelled to run to bring change to Ravenswood, concerned about inequitable outcomes for students and crumbling trust between district leadership and the community. In recent years, the district has faced a budget crisis, a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff and calls from the community for her ousting. In April, the board voted 3-1, with member Marielena Gaona-Mendoza dissenting and Lopez absent, to renew Hernandez-Goff's contract.

Meanwhile, district leaders have maintained that the long-struggling district is on an upward trajectory, with the new comprehensive middle school, the exit from the yearslong federal special-education mandate and increased focus on STEAM education, among other changes.

The newcomers are, in alphabetical order: school aftercare director Maria Victoria Chavez, special-education administrator Brooke Crosby, nonprofit curriculum manager Stephanie Fitch, paraeducator Julian Garcia, teacher Laura Nunez, paraeducator and parent Nicole Sbragia and Tamara Sobomehin, who oversees development and strategy for youth technology nonprofit Streetcode Academy. Nunez and Sobomehin are running on a slate together.

Below is information about the candidates who spoke with the Weekly before the county's Aug. 10 deadline to qualify for the November election. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Chavez was born and raised in East Palo Alto and attended Ravenswood schools from kindergarten through eighth grade. After working as an office manager and in one of the district's after-school programs, she is now the after-school program director for Connect Community Charter School in Redwood City. She said Ravenswood teachers, staff and community members encouraged her to run for a seat on the board. She said she has "experienced firsthand the need for transparent and honest communication that not only includes the superintendent's voice, but also the voice of teachers, staff, students and parents." If elected, she promises to "collaborate with agencies to capitalize on resources for our students" and "work with teachers, families and administration on strengthening academic programs to increase academic achievement," her candidate statement reads.

Crosby was one of the integrated services coordinators in Ravenswood's special-education department from 2013 through the last school year. She supported the schools' special-education staff, worked with families on students' individualized education plans (IEPs) and was part of the team that helped the district exit RSIP. She said she worked to build much-needed "systems" and training for teachers and providers to comply with the federal requirements — and ensure students were receiving the services they need. Crosby this fall is working in a new special-education position in the Palo Alto Unified School District. She said she left her Ravenswood job after becoming frustrated with the impact of budget cuts on her department — including the loss of two out of five full-time special-education coordinators — which she said was made without any communication about how to make up for the work they had done. She then decided to run for office to maintain her connection to East Palo Alto.

Crosby emphasized her familiarity with the inner workings of the district, especially special education, and established relationships with staff and families. She started her career as a special-education teacher in Oklahoma in 2005 and also taught in Arkansas and Yuba City before moving to East Palo Alto.

Fitch is currently the English language arts curriculum manager at Summit Public Schools, a charter school organization based in Redwood City. She previously worked for seven years an English and journalism teacher and teacher coach at both charter and traditional public schools in California, New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Fitch grew up in East Palo Alto but attended Palo Alto schools through the Voluntary Transfer Program, or Tinsley program, after kindergarten. She graduated from Palo Alto High School through the district's Middle College program in 2003 and went on to attend Santa Clara University.

In an email to the Weekly, Fitch said that she decided to run for school board for the same reason she pursued a career in education: "because I never thought it was fair that kids received such different levels of quality education purely based on where they live -- such as the case between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto."

She said she is "frustrated by non-educators making policy decisions" that affect teachers and students and believe the school board should be "community members who are very knowledgeable and passionate about education -- whether they are teachers, principals, and/or parents."

If elected, Fitch said she would focus on building "two-way communication" between the school board and community, improving teacher retention and encouraging data-driven, student-focused decision making.

Garcia is a graduate and former employee of the district. More about his campaign is posted here.

Nunez is currently a mathematics teacher and athletics director at East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter high school. She moved to East Palo Alto as a third-grader and attended Ravenswood schools through eighth grade. She went on to Eastside College Preparatory School for high school and Stanford University for college.

As a student, she said, she didn't feel properly prepared for high school, and she now looks at her former district through an educator's lens.

"As a high school teacher, and a graduate of Ravenswood, I feel that something is missing," she wrote in an email to the Weekly. "I'm running because I want to be a part of the change. I want to keep students at the forefront, listen to the different stakeholders like teachers, parents and admin to see what we can do to better support them."

The most pressing issues facing the district, from her perspective, are raising student achievement and advocating for policy reform and "immediate solutions that result in increased budget and resources that will help diminish the achievement gap."

Sbragia is a former employee of the district and a current parent. More about her campaign is posted here.

Sobomehin is a longtime community volunteer who works at StreetCode Academy, which was founded by her husband, Olatunde, and provides free technology, entrepreneurship and design education to youth and their families. They have four children who attend school outside of Ravenswood; Sobomehin said her children started school elsewhere before the family moved to East Palo Alto and she and her husband wanted to keep all of their children at the same school.

A first-generation college student, she said she has wanted to influence education policy since she was a young girl.

"After going to recent school board meetings and speaking to many community members, I've realized that this is the right way for me to get involved," she wrote in an email to the Weekly. "My goal is to take all the energy that is behind the frustration and anger people feel and redirect it towards solutions so we are left with the passion and commitment people have for our students."

Sobomehin said she and Nunez decided to run together because of shared values and a vision for how to address problems they perceive in the district. Their campaign slogan is "Recharge Ravenswood," which aims to convey their "goal to inspire and facilitate renewed energy around the participants and policies of the Ravenswood district" while also acknowledging the ongoing, "often unseen" work of teachers and staff.

Whoever is elected in November will join Gaona-Mendoza and Vice President Sharifa Wilson at the dais.

The candidate statements can be viewed by clicking on each person's name below.

- Maria Victoria Chavez

- Brooke Crosby

- Stephanie Fitch

- Julian Garcia

- Charlie Knight

- Marcelino Lopez

- Laura Nunez

- Ana Maria Pulido

- Nicole Sbragia

- Tamara Sobomehin


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8 people like this
Posted by Communication
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Aug 11, 2018 at 3:43 pm

Pulido communication is not one way.... the examples you presented as communication involve the community listening to you but the board also needs to listen to its community and you have never been about that!!! You need to go!!!!!

7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2018 at 12:48 pm

Pulido and Knight, you need to go somewhere else. Knight doesn't even speak up at the board meetings. She just sits there seemingly doing not much. She interjects with silly statements that are not linked to what the person is saying. But ultimately I think Pulido and Knight, and probably Lopez, should go because the district protested and demanded the resignation of the superintendent Hernandez-Gaff and they stood behind her. The people of this community stand behind their principles, principals, and not politicians.

About who to choose, I don't know about that too much. Nicole Sbragia and Julian Garcia I know a small amount about. They seem cool, especially Nicole, but Julian I don't know. I feel like he's in it to prove a point not to create change. Maybe I'm wrong about Julian, and maybe one day he will bring change to our area. I just don't know how authentic his intentions are or how much he actually understands about the various aspects of governing a school district.

It might be nice to pull in Fitch if he has experience with Summit, especially since one of the schools will be hybridizing their curriculum into the classrooms. He may be a good resource.

About Crosby. Sorry, but anyone associated with district administration just does not sit well with this voter at this time.

About Maria Chavez. I believe I have met her and, if she's the one I'm thinking about she is genuine based on my brief assessment of her character.

8 people like this
Posted by Vote No for Pulido, Marcelino and Dr. Knight
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2018 at 7:27 pm

If you vote for Dr. Knight is like voting for the superintendent. Mr. Goff is the one who took the papers on behalf of Dr. Knight, this tells me that she is too involved with Gloria Hernandez, and her husband Duane Goff. Also, there are a lot of rumors that Charlie Knight does not live in East Palo Alto but at the Los Angeles Area. She lives with her daughter who flies her to the board meetings, and then they go back. Dr. Knight owns a lot of homes in East Palo Alto, so it is very easy for her to use one of those addresses. In the past, she was caught doing this when she wanted to run for a seat, but people complained and she pulled out her applications. Why would Goff turn the candidate documents for Dr. Knight? Is it because she is living in Los Angeles? Her daughter could have done it if, in fact, she was not able to do it. Herself. Another thing, not to be rude, but Dr. Knight does not know what is going on anymore. She seems to be deaf and confused at times. She like Marcelino almost never asks questions or makes comments, and the worst thing is that she takes cat naps at the board meetings. There must be some guidelines as to what is the age limit, or health and mental requirements that the candidates need to have in order to run for office.
If you vote for Ana Pulido o Marcelino, they will not listen to the community, remember many people asked Ana Pulido not to renew G.H.G. her contract, but she did it anyway. Marcelino was a coward and did not attend the meeting, so voters would vote for him, and G.HG would not get upset with him. Also at meetings, he does not make questions and all he says is "Let's Work Together." He has been a trustee for 16 years; it is time for him to go.

8 people like this
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Aug 12, 2018 at 8:13 pm

How can someone question Julians intentions or knowledge of the board when he has been to more board meetings than any other candidate. CHECK THE MINUTES PEOPLE!!!! He speaks at all the meetings!!!! He went to school in Ravenswood and has worked in the schools so he knows the change that needs to happen!!!! VOTE FOR JULIAN!!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Another Julian Supporter
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2018 at 10:16 pm

I agree. Jualian has been to more board meetings, than any of the candidates. He knows what is going on inside and outside the district. I believe that Nicole, Julian and Stephany will be a great coice. Maria Chavez, dos not sound bad, but remember she is Marco Chavez, he too let Gloria Hernandez do anything she wanted, and even thought he did not think Gloria was doing a good job, he voted yes to renew her contract (the one that just expired). I vote for her only if she could show that she will do a better job than her brother.

9 people like this
Posted by Vote 4 Nichole
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2018 at 11:18 pm

Nicole is really invested in our Ravenswood kids no doubt! She is the only one (out of 10) who has a child in the district and she has had other options for her kid. Ravenswood has done her wrong, when she worked there and to her son who has special needs. She went above and beyond to stand up for what’s right when Gloria messed with Todd. She knows what is right and is willing to fight for it. I am not sure who of the prospective candidates is on Gloria’s payroll but I can promise you it is NOT Nicole.

2 people like this
Posted by Ms. Lomeli
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Vote for Mr. Garcia!!
I've been knowing Julian G. For many years he is a person with a great heart. Not only because he is humble and likes to help others, but because he likes justice. He grew up in E.P.A and him like many others, including myself have payed the consequences of the poor educaton given to the children, especially the Latino and Africa American communities. I'm sure that Mr. Garcia is not taking the role for his own benefit but to help the children, ourfuture, to have a better education. The person who has seen and live the struggle is now fighting for education rights! Don't you think is time to see a change? No one will make a change, but a person who was a victim of the educational system.

2 people like this
Posted by Concerned EPA resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2018 at 2:49 pm

I want to point out a false claim in this article about Ana María Pulido, it states: “Pulido was born and raised in East Palo Alto and is a product of the city’s schools’’ this is NOT TRUE she attended the Palo Alto School District. I know this because I attended high school with her at Paly for 3 years, so she is not a product of this Ravenswood School District. She didn’t interact with her fellow East Palo Alto Tinsley transfer students, so it comes as no surprise that she doesn’t understand the need in this district. She is doing many things for her own self interest and not thinking about the students or this communities needs.

I recently pulled my sister from Costaño Elementary school and enrolled her in a charter school because she wasn’t receiving adequate instruction and they continually pushed her into the next grade level without any concern to her being behind two grade levels. The entire district test scores are marginally below any other district around us in every subject. And voting to keep a superintendent with very little moral compass who spends district money on hiring family members for made-up postitions speaks to the person Pulido is and how little concern she actually has for this community. She is someone who never interacted with people in her community therefore will never truly understand the needs of the children who actually attend the schools in the Ravenswood School District.

Please do not vote for Pulido in the upcoming elections as she is not the right candidate for this community.

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