East Palo Alto: Parents push for charter school in wake of test results

ByJacqueline Lee

Read the full article at mercurynews.com >

Fed up with the low performance of students in the Ravenswood City School District, parents are rallying behind a charter school interested in coming to East Palo Alto.

KIPP Bay Area Schools plans to submit a petition in November to open a K-8 school, said April Chou, KIPP’s chief growth and operating officer, at a forum held Monday at St. Francis de Assisi Church.

The event was organized by Ravenswood parents and Innovate Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that works to improve low performing schools, often by connecting parents to charters.

Many of the 200 forum attendees said they were frustrated that 82 percent of Ravenswood students do not meet English standards and 88 percent do not meet math standards, according to results of a new state test that measures student achievement released in September.

“These scores are just not acceptable,” said Jessenia Solorio, a parent organizer, before the meeting. “If we go over to the next city, Palo Alto, the scores are opposite. We just want this for our kids so they have the opportunity to go to a four-year college and get a job one day.”

About 83 percent of Palo Alto Unified School District students scored proficient or above in English and math this year.

A drop in student scores was anticipated statewide because this is the first time the Department of Education has administered the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System of assessments. But district parents say performance has been an issue for years.

According to 2009-10 state data, one-third of Ravenswood’s 4,000 students were proficient in English and about 42 percent were proficient in math.

KIPP opened a school in Redwood City this past year and East Palo Alto parents who send their children there have noticed a difference in academic rigor, services and attentiveness.

“Our children are losing years of education they will never recuperate,” said Karla Facundo, whose child attends the KIPP school in Redwood City.

Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez attended Monday’s forum as an audience member and did not answer questions.

Hernandez and school board members declined invitations to be panelists.

Katherine Martinez, who attended Ravenswood schools from kindergarten to eighth grade and graduated as valedictorian, said she did not feel prepared when she entered Menlo-Atherton High School.

KIPP will give students a more challenging and relevant education, at a location within East Palo Alto, Martinez said.

To get to Menlo-Atherton, Martinez commuted one hour each way by bus and foot.

“This is not the experience I want for my younger sister,” she said.

About 25 percent of the district’s students currently attend schools outside East Palo Alto through the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program.

The lottery system was started as part of a lawsuit settlement in 1986 that found Ravenswood students were denied an equal educational opportunity because of the isolation of racial minorities in the district.

At the forum, assigned speakers shared testimony and asked questions of seven panelists. Organizers did not allow questions from the audience.

San Mateo County Office of Education Superintendent Anne Campbell and trustees Joe Ross and Hector Camacho said they support all public school options, including charter schools, that fit state education code criteria.

If the Ravenswood school board rejects KIPP’s petition, then KIPP could appeal to the county and state.

East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Yarbrough said she believes every student deserves the best education. Still, Yarbrough raised a concern shared by some attendees: If Ravenswood receives less funding and resources as more students leave, what happens to the children left behind?

Councilman Ruben Abrica said he supports the petition and commended the dedication of parents to explore alternatives. Abrica said he doesn’t always believe that charter schools are the right fit. He previously agreed with the school board’s rejection of another charter school.

In 2011, the school board rejected a petition from Rocketship Education to open a K-5 school.

Board members were critical of Rocketship’s hybrid model of mixing classroom teaching and computer work and also said the charter’s special education framework would not satisfy the district’s court-ordered requirements.