A librarian. Field trips for each grade level. An after-school homework center.
The Peery Foundation and Ravenswood Education Foundation announced Thursday that they are partnering to donate up to $3.5 million to the Ravenswood Middle School to fund these additions and others that will bring the East Palo Alto school closer to parity with middle schools in neighboring districts.
The funding, which will be ongoing in subsequent years, will pay this year for a guidance counselor, mental health counselor, social worker, academic support teachers, additional office staff and arts and athletic enrichment opportunities, among other supports.
The Palo Alto-based Peery Foundation, which invests in youth and families on the Peninsula, worked with interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria to identify needs at the district's first-ever comprehensive middle school. This fall marks the first year that all grade levels are enrolled at the campus.
The Peery Foundation said that the donation was prompted by the change in leadership at the top of the Ravenswood school district this year. Sudaria has led the district temporarily since the spring, when former superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff was forced to resign.
"Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria has over 20 years of experience in Ravenswood. Her leadership, including her deep historical and contextual knowledge of teacher, principal and director level positions, makes us confident in the potential we see, and have always seen, in Ravenswood," said Avani Patel, who oversees portfolios for the foundation and also a former Ravenswood teacher and administrator.
Sudaria worked with Ravenswood Middle School Principal Amanda Kemp to use the funds to target immediate gaps at the school. The funding decisions are also not set in stone and can be flexible to the school's needs, Sudaria said in an interview.
Having two administrative staff rather than one at the front office will help manage attendance for more than 600 students, a critical element for their success, Sudaria said. The school can now provide transportation for students who want to stay after school for homework help in the academic center but don't live in the neighborhood. They hope to hire a digital and performing arts director to coach elective teachers and boost those offerings. The money means Ravenswood middle schoolers will be able to go on the same field trips that are given in more affluent districts, such as Yosemite in seventh grade and Washington, D.C. in eighth grade.
The donation "at least puts us at the same starting point as other middle schools," Sudaria said. "We still know that high quality, effective teaching will make the greatest impact overall but we don't want to start behind. Being able to have a safe environment, being able to build culture at the school and provide opportunities for students will only engage them more and make it a bit easier for the classroom teachers."
Opening the middle school in 2017 was a major, at-times controversial undertaking for Ravenswood, which previously had no standalone middle schools. The school got off to a rocky start, with three different principals in two years.
The district hopes a comprehensive middle school will reverse an alarming trend that the historical K-8 model contributed to: Only one in three students leave Ravenswood fully prepared to meet the rigors of high school and then graduate ready for college, according to the district.
Dave Peery, the foundation's managing director, said this is the first time in years that "it feels like the key stakeholders are pulling in the same direction that will lead to better outcomes for students and families in the district.
"The district has proven leadership at the helm, and we have an opportunity to support that leadership in providing a strong academic offering to students," he said in a press release. "We invite the philanthropic community to join us in supporting Ravenswood at a moment in time when significant change is possible."