Ravenswood board votes to close Willow Oaks and Brentwood elementary schools | News | Palo Alto Online |


Ravenswood board votes to close Willow Oaks and Brentwood elementary schools

School mergers will take effect this fall in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park

After a lengthy debate over different options for closing two elementary schools, the Ravenswood school board voted on Thursday to move Willow Oaks Elementary School students to Belle Haven Elementary School in Menlo Park and Brentwood Academy students to Costaño School in East Palo Alto this fall.

The Los Robles-Ronald McNair Academy will remain intact, including its dual-immersion program. There will be no change to Ravenswood Middle School.

The board unanimously supported the Willow Oaks-Belle Haven merger but the Brentwood-Costaño consolidation initially failed in a split vote. Trustees Stephanie Fitch and Tamara Sobomehin supported it, Vice President Sharifa Wilson and Gaona-Mendoza did not and President Ana Maria Pulido abstained.

After the deadlock, however, Pulido changed her vote in favor of the merger and it passed in a 3-2 vote. She said that while she disagrees with moving Brentwood, the facilities at Costaño are of higher quality and worth maintaining.

Starting this fall, current Brentwood kindergarten through fourth grade students will attend Costaño; current Willow Oaks kindergarten through fourth grade students will go to Belle Haven; and Los Robles-McNair, Belle Haven and Costaño students will stay at their current schools.

The board's final action aligned with staff's recommendation, though it was unclear throughout most of the meeting whether there would be sufficient support among the trustees for that plan. They discussed other scenarios, including moving Costaño to Brentwood, Willow Oaks to Belle Haven and Brentwood to Los Robles-McNair. They debated the impact on students' access to neighborhood schools, transportation and safety concerns; the ability for teachers to collaborate at smaller sites; and the potential for rental revenue from different sites, among other issues.

The K-8 district began discussing school closures in earnest this year in the face of declining enrollment and budget cuts. All of Ravenswood's elementary schools are operating at close to half capacity this year, and the district's overall enrollment is just over 2,000 students.

The district is aiming to cut $1.35 million from next year's budget. Closing a single school represents cost savings of about $400,000.

The district solicited public feedback on school mergers this fall through community meetings, district office hours and an online survey.

Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria said previously that the final recommendation, announced in early December, took into consideration four priorities identified by community members and board members through the input-gathering process: location of schools, including keeping neighborhood schools and ensuring the three remaining schools are spread out so more students have a school nearby; minimizing the number of students impacted; considering the facility's size and condition; and protecting special programs such as dual-immersion, arts and mental health support.

Other advantages to this consolidation plan, she noted in a past presentation, are that Ravenswood can keep a school in Menlo Park, avoid further disruption for Los Robles students who recently moved to the McNair site, minimize the use of portable buildings and ensure there are enough classrooms for all projected students, with room to grow in the future.

One downside is that Willow Oaks students will have to take a bus to Belle Haven; however, more Willow Oaks students already ride a bus — 175 — than at other schools, according to the district. And while Brentwood students will have to move schools, they already are more distributed throughout the district than other elementary students.

Brentwood and Willow Oaks families will be able to choose to enroll at a different school if they wish, and students at other schools can choose to transfer after Brentwood and Willow Oaks students are accommodated. The district has said it will provide buses if needed for students to attend their new schools.

Any students who are new to the district next fall will be able to choose which elementary school to attend.

Staff at the affected schools will generally move with students, though principals, office staff and potentially custodians will be cut, according to the original staff proposal. Classified staff who will be affected will be notified in February.

The district is contractually required to distribute by this Friday, Jan. 10, forms for teachers to indicate whether they plan to come back to Ravenswood in the fall and if so, which schools and grade levels they prefer.

The district plans to explore leasing the Brentwood and Willow Oaks campuses to bring in additional revenue, and to address an expansion request from KIPP charter school in East Palo Alto.


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4 people like this
a resident of another community
on Jan 10, 2020 at 7:24 pm

So sad to see that this districs' leaders (board members and administrators) have done nothing to improve the district's scores and because of that people avoid to enroll their children and send them to privates, charters and others transfer them to other public schools who have better scores and more discipline. This district will disintegrate in few years due to the past leadership, and if they keep Ms. Sudaria things will only get worst as she does not have any experience as a super. She will be learning as she goes while making mistakes and learning from them (hopefully) while the district sinks down deeper. They need to hire someone experienced ASAP if they really want to save this district otherwise GOOD BYE RAVENSWOOD. I feel bad for those students who have no other choice but to attend this district. I know every parent want the best for there children and many of them do not have the means to pay for private, or are not lucky enough to qualify for the Tinsley Transfer, or charters (they have long waiting list.

6 people like this
Posted by Mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2020 at 9:49 pm

I've been volunteering and working in Ravenswood for over 20 years, so know the district well. At its largest, Belle Haven had over 800 students. It is now below 300. And other schools in the district have shrunk in similar amounts. This is what has forced the mergers. Ravenswood Schools are also better now than they were when the schools were larger. The reduction has much more to do with the price of housing and the gentrification of the neighborhoods than with the quality of the schools. Even Palo Alto is going through reductions in enrollment. The cost of housing has simply made it impossible for families to live here -- especially lower income families. EPA used to house all our service workers, construction workers, gardeners, house cleaners, etc. Now it is full of young, single professionals working for Facebook and Google and other tech companies. Three or four of them can rent a house and pay far more than a working-class family with children.

Gina Sudaria is one of the best things to happen to Ravenswood in a long time. She started as a teacher in the district, so understands the needs of the students. She has lots of experience in the District Office. She came in as interim Superintendent and within weeks was able to solve the contract impasse with both teacher and workers unions. She has made the budget and school mergers open and transparent with many community meetings around these issues. The other members of the school administration are comfortable with her leadership and hopes she is hired as the permanent superintendent. Recent hires of superintendents from outside the district have not proven to be what Ravenswood needed.

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