'I don't think there is trust on this board.' Fissures emerge between East Palo Alto school trustees during retreat

Strategic planning process sparks tensions, disagreement among Ravenswood board members

Ravenswood City School District Board of Education members decided to restructure its long-term strategic planning effort after strong disagreement over how the process had been launched. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Nine months after an election created new dynamics on the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education, the new and old trustees are struggling to find common ground.

Tension flared up during a five-hour retreat on Saturday, when two longer-serving board members said they have felt dismissed by new leadership and left out of the district's recently launched effort to develop a long-term strategic plan.

"I'm OK with new perspectives … as long as they come with the intention of serving students well," said Trustee Ana Maria Pulido. "What I'm concerned about is people’s intentions. Are they coming here to add or subtract? Are they coming to dismantle the progress we did make and set us even further back?

"I don't think there is trust on this board," she said.

Under interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria's leadership, the district created this summer a 21-member steering committee, including two board members, administrators, parents and community leaders, to lead the work of drafting a new strategic plan before presenting a final version to the board in December. Sudaria told the Weekly that she compiled a list of possible members with Attuned Education Partners, a firm the board hired to support the strategic planning process. The firm provided her a list of other districts' steering committees membership and she selected people to represent similar groups, including board members, administrators, parents, teachers, local elected officials and faith-based leaders.

Pulido and Trustee Sharifa Wilson sharply criticized the strategic planning effort as lacking transparency and inclusion of the full board. Pulido was named to the committee at her request but has since declined to participate given her concerns. She said it was unclear how members were chosen and was concerned that all of the district's schools were not represented. She and Trustee Sharifa Wilson advocated for closer board involvement in the process than they thought had been provided for.

"The board's voice should be a priority," Wilson said. "That's what the uneasiness on my part is about — feeling like my voice is tagged on. It's like, who's driving this ship?"

Board President Tamara Sobomehin defended the process as inclusive and responsive to board feedback. Sudaria added committee members in response to Pulido's concerns, raised at the board's last meeting, including additional staff and parents to represent all schools and community partners.

Sobomehin noted she asked the consultant leading the process to add more points throughout when the full board will be involved and can provide input.

Vice President Stephanie Fitch said she thought the process should be "more tied down to where the schools actually are" rather than driven from the top down, but understood her colleagues' desire to be more involved.

The four trustees (Marielena Gaona Mendoza was absent) ultimately agreed to send the committee structure back to the drawing board. They will take formal action at their next meeting to constitute it as a board committee. Sudaria will make recommendations for members and solicit suggestions from all trustees; the final membership of the group will be subject to full board approval. Sobomehin and Pulido will also meet with the Attuned Education Partners consultants to review the process.

Earlier in the meeting, Sobomehin — who along with Fitch was elected in November — acknowledged that board members have been "openly uncivil" with each other. She urged her colleagues to come together despite any differences in opinion.

"We've got to be a stronghold together," she said.

"New ideas and perspectives aren't necessarily putting down" (what's been done before), Fitch said. "The point of having elections every few years is because you need that new perspective coming in.

"I don't think this district has moved as quickly as it needs to," she continued. "Bureaucracy makes that hard. … But we can affect this system, here, and I want to do that but I can't do that alone and I'm not supposed to do it alone."

Finding ways to work together productively as a board will be especially critical this year, as the K-8 district is looking at closing schools due to declining enrollment.

The board also agreed on Saturday to take the next step to launch a search for a permanent superintendent by formally voting to do so at its next meeting this Thursday, Aug. 22. Sudaria has led the district on a temporary basis since February, after former Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff was placed on paid administrative leave and then forced to resign.

Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.


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2 people like this
Posted by Ego
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 12:55 pm

Here is what I learned from watching that board meeting online:

Ana is rude, a bully and even though she has more years on the board she is least qualified to make decisions. It was great hearing the experiences of Sharifa, Tamera and Stephanie and what they bring to the table.

I learned that Sharifa, Stephanie and Tam are willing to work together for the good of the kids.

I learned that Ana only cares about her own opinion and refuses to listen to other people.

I also learned that Ana is willing to sit there and go at someone arms folded, refusing to listen to someone else and make them cry and then get up and walk away with a smile.

It is a divided board. Four members willing to tie the ropes and one member refusing to even throw in her rope while she sits back, arms crossed criticizing everyone else and unwilling to help. The golden rule of doing unto others as you'd have them do unto you is certainly lost on her.

8 people like this
Posted by Jesusita Rivera, RCSD teacher
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 12:58 pm

Trustee Pulido, it is with prior leadership, you included, that our district kept flowing backwards. In the 18 years of me teaching and when I was a student myself, I have never felt more progress as there is now under Superintendent Sudaria and with the two new board members along with Trustee Gaona. It is in my humble opinion that it is trustee Pulido and Wilson that the unnecessary strife is coming from. The two of them cause division, in my opinion, and not the unity that is so needed. Pulido mentions the intentions of the people on the committee, well, as I’ve voiced many a times at board meetings, I question Pulido’s and Wilson’s intentions. Fitch, Sobomehin, Gaona, and Sudaria’s intentions are very TRANSPARENT. They serve the children, family, the entire community. In regards to Sudaria being interim, she IS and should be the superintendent. Foolish would be to let her go. No committee needed to search for a superintendent when we have a super star now. Foolish, foolish, foolish district if she is let go.

9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 1:54 pm

Here's a link to a video of the event, which was shared in the EPA Neighbors Facebook group: Web Link

Here is what was discussed, with timestamps:
0:00 Getting started, review agenda
0:12 "Ice Breaker" - Parable of the Ropes
0:24 Board Member backgrounds, narratives, reasons for joining the board, concerns about how the board is functioning
0:25 Tamara Sobomehin
0:34 Sharifa Wilson
0:53 Stephanie Fitch
1:20 Ana Maria Pulido
1:44 Gina Sudaria
2:11 Wrap up introductions and summary by Dr. Satterwhite
2:32 Strategic Planning Process discussion
3:48 Lunch break
3:54 Supt Search Process discussion
4:12 Supt/Board Roles & Protocols
4:55 Round Robin wrap up comments

3 people like this
Posted by Team Gina
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Aug 18, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Please board.... Keep Gina Sudaria!!! She is doing so much to better unite and improve our district for our kids and all stakeholders!!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Just wait
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 18, 2019 at 4:30 pm

how much does consulting group cost? Why are schools closing and everyone but paras are getting raises? Paras make the same as McDonalds employees. It doesn’t sound right.

2 people like this
Posted by Paras did get raises
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 4:38 pm

All classified and certificated staff members got raises .... including paras. The only group that did not get raises was management.

You are correct that the superintendent search will cost money.

Keeping our current Superintendent not only makes sense but it saves time, money and resources. Not to mention she is the most qualified person for the job!!

2 people like this
Posted by RFT
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 19, 2019 at 2:58 am

I hope Gloria stays on. She's doing an excellent job!

Public servants contribute best when they are open-minded, see the big picture and accept change. Accepting change and trusting the new members are critical. Trusting the process is key. What worked in the past might not be what is needed now. Humility helps.

Good luck to everyone and may all of the students benefit from your hard work.

1 person likes this
Posted by Jesusita is Right
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 20, 2019 at 5:50 am

Jesusita is Right is a registered user.

Did you try to say Gina Sudaria or Gloria, former super?
To Jesusita Rivera you said:
"It is in my humble opinion that it is trustee Pulido and Wilson that the unnecessary strife is coming from. The two of them cause division, in my opinion, and not the unity that is so needed."
You​​ ​are ​right, I remember attending some meetings with my teenager son and leaving frustrated because I witnessed how Wilson and Pulido treated Gaona; even my son noticed it, and he asked me: "Mom, Why are they so rude to trustee Gaona?"
I think what is going on here is that they were used to be the be dictators along with Ms. Hernandez, and the two other board prior members who always followed them, and now they sometimes do it, but not as often and bad as they did before. Hopefully, they get to learn to treat others with respect and realize that they no longer can be the dictators.

Like this comment
Posted by OH GOODNESS!
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:02 am

After reading the posting from Jesusita Rivera, RCSD Teacher, I now have a better understanding of why our children's writing skills may be so low. To everyone, please check your grammar and syntax before posting here. Especially if you are representing yourself as an RCSD teacher.

Like this comment
Posted by OH GOODNESS!
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:25 am

After reading the posting from RCSD Teacher, I now have a better understanding of why our children's writing say be so low. To everyone, please check your grammar and syntax before posting here. Especially if you are representing yourself as an RCSD teacher.

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