Stanford school gets two-year extension from Ravenswood

By and
April 23, 2010, 1:04 a.m.

K-4 programs cut; fifth-grade program to continue one year

The Ravenswood City School District board voted 3-1 on Thursday to extend a Stanford-run school’s charter until 2012, when the school’s Stanford backers say they will look elsewhere for a “charter home” for the high school.

Operated by Stanford New Schools in Menlo Park, the high school will stay open for two more years and the fifth-grade program until 2011. The K-4 programs, whose test scores were largely responsible for landing the so-called East Palo Alto Academy on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving” schools, will close in June.

Last week, the school board voted to deny Stanford’s school a five-year charter extension, sending its superintendent, Maria de la Vega, to negotiate a limited two-year extension with Stanford.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford professor and transition advisor on education to President Obama, founded Stanford New Schools, the umbrella organization for East Palo Alto Academy.

Last month, the state labeled the school “persistently low-achieving” based on test scores. With a Growth Academic Performance Index score of 605, below the state’s target of 800, Stanford’s school fell among the lowest-performing 20 percent of schools statewide.

Stanford rushed to defend East Palo Alto Academy, saying the nine-year-old high school’s strong performance was skewed by low scores at the fledgling elementary school, which opened in 2006.

Deborah Stipek, the dean of the School of Education, pointed to the high school’s numbers: 86 percent of students graduate, above the state’s rate of 80 percent; 96 percent of graduates go on to two- or four-year colleges; the high school gained 180 API points in the past seven years. And all this in a set of schools where 80 percent of 550 students are non-native English speakers, in a school district where two other schools also landed on the state’s list for poor performance.

But the elementary school’s scores were less sterling; its administrators have appealed its latest API score to the state, and in 2009, 18 percent of second-graders and 11 percent of third-graders scored as proficient in English. In math, 22 percent of second-graders and 19 percent of third-graders scored as proficient or advanced.

Now, attorneys for Stanford and the district must write the proposal into a revised facilities use agreement and memorandum of understanding for approval by the board.

The agreement also requires that Stanford New Schools leaves its elementary school facilities on Sheridan Drive in Menlo Park and abandons a Proposition 39 facilities request there, instead operating its fifth grade and high school at the current high school site on Pope Street.

Stanford and Ravenswood must also ensure that Ravenswood gets “appropriate compensation” for use of those sites.

On Thursday, district counsel Tim Fox told the board the negotiated agreement “appears to be the most elegant solution” to the disappointment surrounding the test scores at East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School. The elementary school and high school are touted on Stanford’s YouTube page as “new models for K-12 reform.”

Ruben Abrica ’78, a former Ravenswood board member, told the board he was concerned with “this whole high-stakes testing game.”

“We live and die by it,” Abrica said. “I think Stanford got a taste of it.”

Board President Sharifa Wilson, Vice President Larry Moody and Marcelino Lopez voted for the extension. Board member Saree Mading, an administrator at East Palo Alto Charter School, voted against it.

“I had to,” Mading said. “Principle. We’re not a K-12 district. I don’t believe a fifth-grade class should be with a high school.”

“Stanford’s been embarrassed,” she added. “I get that.”

Board member John Bostic was absent from the vote. Moody said voting for the extension was “in the spirit of the board,” adding that Stanford has “gone through their learning curve.”

Stipek said Stanford would search for a new “charter home” for the high school at the end of the two-year extension. There are no plans to seek a new elementary school charter, she said.

“Right now, our immediate concern is to support our elementary school children” who must go to new schools next year, Stipek said.

Superintendent de la Vega said the fifth-grade program got an extra year under the agreement because there is a natural “break” before those students enter junior high in sixth grade.

She would not say whether or not the district would consider a renewal of Stanford’s high school charter two years from now.

A scene apart from last week’s standing room-only meeting, Thursday’s session was half-empty by the time the board took up the Stanford New Schools issue minutes before 11 p.m.

Rudy Rivera, a Guatemalan immigrant with two children in Stanford New Schools, sat at the back of the room. His daughter, a sophomore at East Palo Alto Academy High School, will finish high school there, he said. His son, a first-grader at the Stanford-run elementary school, will go next year to Costano Elementary School, where a brother also goes.

“I hope Stanford is looking for something else to continue,” Rivera said. “It’s important we have the school.”

He said he preferred it for his children because of the one-on-one attention they got from teachers.

“My kids’ education is a priority,” Rivera said. “It has to work.”

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