I reached out to one of the organizers of the Palo Alto Youth Art Protest by emailing the address printed on a poster. The young man, Hudson, who replied was gracious enough to answer my questions in detail, because, as he told me, “my little brother goes to Gunn, so I’m trying.”
As an educator I asked Hudson what we could do to make our schools more equitable for students of color. He said he had “a lot of experiences that were less than pleasant and quite problematic” over his 12 years in our Palo Alto schools. “These ranged between racial slurs from administration to the erasure of support systems for BIPOC within the school.” (Email Aug 13, 2020)
Hudson wrote detailed answers to questions I asked in email and then agreed to a follow up interview, which I have included in this blog post. Here, I will also summarize what, I believe, are his suggestions to Palo Alto Educators.
Deepen Our Curriculum
Many of his suggestions centered around more inclusion in all areas of our curriculum. He mentioned he did not learn about East Palo Alto history. “I wish I learned about systems of oppression within the everyday lives of people. Such as Education Discrimination, Job Discrimination, Housing Discrimination, Redlining, The School-To-Prison-Pipeline, The Prison-Industrial-Complex, just to name a few.” He would have liked to hear stories from more perspectives.
Which leads me to his second suggestion, which I will quote.
Connect with our Students, Personally
“Something I think teachers could do in Palo Alto would be to always be aware of the socio-economic disadvantages that the people of color typically face in their classroom given that national housing discrimination, job discrimination other things like that force most of the kids of color in our area into East Palo Alto, East Menlo Park. I think that can affect a child’s ability to learn and thrive in the classroom and I think if a teacher is self aware and aware of that, then they’ll be able to maneuver and help that student in the ways that they would need. Which would then create equitable solutions for the classroom.”
Those words spilled from him, as you will hear if you listen to the video. I am taking time to process their meaning myself. I believe what he was so diplomatically telling me was that I may have been teaching callously. He said, “You may not be aware, yes, but I think some people are aware and think that it does not affect their students. They still expect the same output from that student as another that doesn’t not face the same challenges in their day to day life.”
As a Teacher Librarian, I know I fail my students. I hope that I can build a strong enough relationship with each of them that they can tell me, honestly, when I do. I need to listen so I can do better. Hudson’s words challenge me to reach out. And to stop and listen – not react defensively – when a student trusts me enough to tell me a way I can improve.
Put Our Money Where our Mouths Are
His third suggestion revolved around creating and sustaining systems of support for our students of color. When I asked him for specifics, he mentioned a program he participated in at Gunn called College Pathways. It was “a system of support for students of color in order to try to orchestrate them staying on track and getting accepted into two year and four year colleges. It’s success rate my year was like 94%. So it was effective.” Hudson mentioned the Program was on the list to be cut and students had to fight for it. “A lot of Seniors and Juniors that came before me fought hard to try to make sure it stayed because they had older siblings that succeeded through the program. And I saw it work with my own eyes. That’s why I was like you can’t really take that away.”
Hire and Retain More Teachers of Color
A fourth area for improvement in Palo Alto schools Hudson brought up was recruitment and retainment of teachers of color. “And then – not to mention – there’s only like…at Gunn there’s not a single Black teacher. There was one Kenyan teacher, although, you know, he is of African descent, he cannot exactly relate to all the nuances of growing up in America for sure.”
We can reform our curriculum to include more perspectives. We can reach out to our students of color personally. We can ask them what they need to succeed. We can invest in systems of support – including College Pathways – for our Black and Brown students. And, we can ask our District – and ourselves – why don’t we have more teachers of color?
We all want our schools to improve. I hope we can all follow Hudson’s example and take a few brave steps in a new direction. Our schools – our students – are worth it. If you have specific suggestions for – or experiences in – doing this work, contact me at KristinAkerHowellATgmailDOTcom to share them.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview one of the stakeholders in the Tinsley Settlement. Dr. Julian Crocker served as Superintendent of Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) from 1985-1989, the time during which the Tinsley Case was settled. The Tinsley case took nine years of negotiations to settle. I was interested to find out what Dr. Crocker thought of that contentious time. He, after all, negotiated for one of the defendants when the case concluded.
Dr. Crocker answered my questions clearly in writing, and we followed up with a phone call, part of which I have included here. It struck me that the issue he faced at that time is similar to what we are facing now: inequity of resources. Dr. Crocker walked me through some of the major public school funding policy and litigation issues that have affected our schools over the last 34 years, and I include those here for those of you, who, like me, could use a refresher.
Dr. Crocker’s answer to the question: what would equity look like to you? intrigued me. Given that thirty-four years later there still exist major inequities between Ravenswood School District (the plaintiffs) and the other Districts (the named parties) involved in the Tinsley case, Dr. Crocker was one of the first primary sources I asked who granted me an interview and was willing to hazard an answer.
What would equity look like to you now?
You said, you “understand the realities of local school districts but you now favor an open enrollment policy for all school districts if at all possible.” What do you mean by that? Do you mean each school within its own district? Do you mean between districts? … Or do you mean open enrollment for each little school within that District?
Actually both. If it was a district like San Mateo, for example, that had a number of elementary schools, and again in the context of the majority of families, as you know, have both parents working. Just to go back in history, the reason, not the reason, but one of the advantages of what we call neighborhood schools is because it was kind of built on the assumption that there would be somebody at home all the time. There were neighborhoods that held together. Well, obviously that’s changed. So, my point was that since in many homes both parents are not there, in many ways it makes sense to have an open enrollment policy so that kids can go where it is perhaps more convenient for their parents than just staying in their local neighborhood school since both parents leave anyway. That’s kind of what I’m saying.
And there are a lot of individual situations where it may be better, again from the family’s standpoint, not necessarily the District, but from a family’s standpoint that the children go to another school instead of their neighborhood school. That’s what I’m saying, ideally from a parent’s perspective if Districts had literally an open enrollment arrangement, in many ways it may be more helpful for families. Particularly now where, as I said, as you know, both parents are working in most places. The whole idea of the neighborhood school part of it was based on the idea that somebody’s home all the time. It’s from the 40s, the 50s, and the 60s. It kind of a neighborhood; there wasn’t the transiency. There wasn’t electronic stuff or any of those things.The whole neighborhood school was geographically focused.That’s just not the case now. We tend to be more electronically focused than geographic.
That’s what I meant by that. It may meet the needs of families better if you had a purely open enrollment system within a District.
It kind of opened my mind. So I was going with that. Some families commute very far. Some families commute an hour and a half each day or more to work each day. That kind of Open Enrollment would have to be done at a regional or state level almost. Then there are questions that have to be answered. Some schools would be overly impacted. For instance my school operates on a lottery with a waiting list.
Right. I think a lot of Districts do that. That’s right.
Of course with all the funding inequities, that brings up a lot.
Right. The major shift in the funding now is really as you probably know between the majority of Districts who are still on the revenue limit. Using a revenue limit, it’s still kind of state wide. It’s much more equal that way because of the state wide revenue limit except in some districts, San Mateo is probably like that now. Do you know …if I were to say Basic Aid District, do you know what I mean by that?
Yeah, Palo Alto, Menlo Park…some of the wealthier Districts, to be honest.
Right. They’re back on the regular property tax now. Their property tax is high enough that it exceeds the revenue limit so they’re allowed to continue to go with their property tax. It’s interesting. Those districts that have that kind of high property tax they’re not necessarily interested in more students coming in because it, quote, takes money from the kids who already live there. It doesn’t really, but they see it that way. So that’s another whole factor. That was not the case when the Tinsley situation was there. But it is now.
How were schools funded during the Tinsley Settlement?
We were still on the Revenue limit. We had just started the system basically we have now. That went into effect after the Serrano Priest decision. There were revenue limits. They weren’t all in effect. Do you know what I mean when I say revenue limits?
I should. Maybe you can explain it for me again.
It’s just the amount of money per student that the state allocates to school districts. And it’s, I don’t know, $6,500 a student, and that money comes technically from the state to school districts and it’s called revenue limit. It’s a mixture of local property tax and state tax money that goes to make up that particular amount. If you said $6,500 per student then some of that is made up of local property taxes, some of that is made up of state sources, but it’s controlled by the state. That’s my point.
The whole point of it, going all the way back to Serrano Priest; it’s a laudable point I agree, is to try to have basically equal funding for all students in the state. The theory – and I agree with it – is number one: if public education in California is a state function – It is. It’s in the State constitution. – Then the state has the responsibility to insure there is a degree of equal funding for all students in the state. That is the outline of it.
That was the Serrano Priest Decision.
Exactly. Here’s a footnote. Serrano was John Serrano. I can’t remember yesterday but I can remember his name.
It was John Serrano. He was in the Los Angeles area. He was outside of Beverly Hills. He used Beverly Hills as an example. He didn’t live there, he lived in Linwood or somewhere, but he said, We don’t live in Beverly Hills, but the kids who live in Beverly Hills have so many more resources because the property tax in Beverly Hills is so much higher than it is in Linwood and so the Beverly Hills Schools have so much more to work with than we do. And his reasoning was that if public education is a state function, and it is, then the second point is the state has an obligation to have equal funding, you can’t have these discrepancies going on. He won. The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of him. That’s when the current funding system went into effect.
What it basically did was hold down what were called high wealth districts and pushed up low wealth districts through the fact that the state took over the funding. Does that make sense?
There have been a lot of iterations in between but basically that’s where we are now. We have these revenue limits in effect.
So that happened after Tinsley.
The point was that Palo Alto was a high wealth district. So that was one of the things in the mix. That’s why the Tinsley kids, their families, wanted them to come to Palo Alto.
Because it was better funded?
It was much better funded. Yeah.
The Serrano Priest decision didn’t really seem to turn that around.
Not quickly. It took time. I think if you looked at it over time you’d see that maybe up until 5 years ago the majority of the Districts in California were relatively equal. Then, as I said, literally recently with this escalation in home prices and land values it’s starting to be more discrepant now. Does that make sense, what I’m saying?
I’ve been looking at the inequities and trying to figure out what is it that is creating these funding inequities? Is it the parent foundations in these Basic Aid Districts? What is it? And, I’m trying to ask as many people as I can, what they think could fix it. I don’t know. That’s why the idea of Open Enrollment is interesting to me. You obviously can’t have too many kids per classroom, I don’t know how you solve the funding.
The underlying issue, it’s very much of an issue where you are, the Bay Area, I think they still call it Basic Aid District, your funding is still totally all local property tax then it’s just kind of an arithmetic deal then: the more kids you have the the fewer dollars per student there is. Because you have a set amount of money, even though it’s a high amount. So the Basic Aid Districts want to restrict the number of students in their District for financial reasons. They would prefer from a financial stand point not to have inter-district transfers, not to have students from other districts come in because that means there’s technically less money for the students who live there. Do you see what I’m saying?
Now I do. So having a Basic Aid District is really a disincentive to integration.
Absolutely. Its a disincentive for any kind of non-residential student to come there.
I just understood that.
Understand, I’ve been retired for 2-3 years so I’m not right up current with the current funding situation. There’ve been some tweaks.
I think we’re still a Basic Aid District. I’ve heard that term thrown around and it has made me gloss over, frankly, every time I hear it.
Our last point. It was always a real dilemma. Because on the one hand you’re glad for Basic Aid Districts because they’ve got a lot more money for kids so you don’t want to restrict that. On the other hand it does cause inequities across the board. It’s a real dilemma. It always has been. There’s no easy answer.
It seems to me the problems of inequity can’t be solved at the one District level.
It needs to be regional. Or statewide.
That was the whole idea, again, I know I’m repeating, of the Serrano Priest decision, of the revenue limit, was to solve this issue on a state-wide basis. To move the funding from locally to the state – which again 80 – 90% of the schools are funded that way – and solve this problem by having the set revenue limits. And, like I said, that system has worked. There are aberrations, like San Mateo, frankly Santa Clara, the Bay Area, Marin County’s probably the same way. The high expensive areas.
You think maybe just open enrollment in the Bay Area. How would you fix the funding in the Bay Area, then?
That’s the problem, then, I don’t have a solution.
The ideal solution but it’s, you know, if you had enough money at the state level to raise other districts up to where the Bay Area Districts are then it would be a lot better, but that’s a huge amount of money from the state. Nobody’s come up with a good solution. Right now. So it’s tough. It’s hard.
Well, now that you know my childhood history, I would go back to Proposition 13. I would want to find out how much money it would cost to raise the other districts up to the Basic Aid Districts, then see what
That would be interesting.
Then see what we’ve lost in commercial property tax revenue from Prop 13.
That’s a good point. As you research this, you’ll see the example is always given is Beverly Hills is always compared to, I don’t remember the other district that’s always given in the Los Angeles area. Beverly Hills is always given as the example of a high wealth district and how kids there have so many more resources then kids in Compton for example. Actually, I do believe Compton is the one they used in Serrano Priest.
It would make sense. You could easily do it here with Palo Alto Unified and Ravenswood, I’m afraid.
Thank you for taking the time to help me figure out school funding in California.
I would say, I know I’ve said it a couple of times, the real hero to me was Judge Lanham. He just wasn’t involved in schools or anything. He was just a regular superior court judge and all the sudden he deals with the issue of school funding. He got so involved. I think he cleared his calendar of everything else. It became a real cause celeb for him to get this issue between Ravenswood East Palo Alto and Palo Alto settled. That’s one of my strong memories was how involved he got in it. And I know it wasn’t on his radar before that. And he really got into this issue. He was the real hero in this issue.
Did you have any other thoughts or questions.
It really dredged up some good memories. There were some difficult times but there were some good memories. I’d say the Palo Alto side from my perspective, the interesting thing, again, this is just me, so don’t, you know, before the Tinsley settlement, Palo Alto is..probably now too, is an elitist district. A lot of connections with the university. They kind of see themselves, I think, they did then, as a high flying district. So the idea of having kids from across the tracks, quote, if you will, go to school there was just not on their radar at all.
So to go through that whole issue. And yet the interesting thing to me, and again, this is just Julian, here we’re literally across El Camino from Stanford, of course very liberal voices coming from Stanford, about how important it is to have an integrated system. But not with my kids. That’s what was kind of saying because here you would literally have professors or people at Stanford who theoretically were saying we should have an equitable system and there shouldn’t be these discrepancies but don’t bring those kids from across 101 to my District. So there were some kind of differences that way. It was interesting to me to see that pushed to the limit. Anyway. In retrospect. It’s fine.
I think we’re having those kinds of discussions today still.
About many things: Foothillls Park, people are asking that to open up. The school issue hasn’t come up yet, but any time it does there is heated discussion about students from East Palo Alto.
There are comments online.
We didn’t have that.
You were negotiating for the Palo Alto side. Who was negotiating for the Ravenswood side? Who did you meet with? Do you remember?
No I don’t. And they could have had some changes going on. And I’m trying to remember who the county superintendent was, for San Mateo County. I think it was Russell Kent. I believe he was the county superintendent for San Mateo and I believe they were one of the players there.
Yes, I think they were named on the suit and Santa Clara was too. Both counties were and 7 to 9 districts, Portola Valley…
Judge Lanham had his hands full.
He sure did. And of course each of those districts have boards and you’ve got trustees. You’ve got a lot of fingers in the pot. That’s why, again, I thought Lanham was the real hero.
I didn’t think about all the different people on the boards. I was thinking about theSuperintendents and the 170 claimants.
The Board members are publicly elected so they had to deal with this issue with their constituents.
You had to get the settlement approved by the board?
Right. The Palo Alto Board.
Do you remember how many times you went to the Board?
I think it wasn’t like there were different agreements that were brought. It was more like a continuing discussion and explaining what was happening. Fortunately, one of the Board members, Joe Simitian particularly, and a couple of the others, but anyway then when we brought the final settlement that’s when they agreed. It was more of a narrative. This is what’s happening. And then we brought the settlement.
So you’d give them updates.
You’d take their temperature and give that feedback to the judge?
We would yes, it was a continual process.
That’s probably how the judge figured out how. There was probably a lot of back and forth.
Yes. Very much and again, it was not only just multiple districts but across counties it couldn’t have been much more complex in terms of jurisdictions.
I really appreciate the time that Dr. Crocker spent helping me to understand not only how school funding has changed, but how it affected the desegregation landscape of our local schools. In my next blog post, hear former San Mateo County Office of Education Superintendent Anne Campbell’s reflections about What would equity look like to you? How can we get there? I can be reached at kristinakerhowellATgmailDOTcom.
This summer, based on my reading of White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, I began to research our local history with desegregation. I am a white Teacher Librarian. Why am I teaching my students that desegregation is something that happened in the past, somewhere else, when some of my students arrive at school on a bus each day? How have I lived with that cognitive dissonance for five years?
Many of my own students arrive at my school on a bus each morning. Well, they did prior to Covid-19. I realized, too recently I’m afraid, that I cannot teach about desegregation as something that happened in the past to my students. They experience it every day. We like to call it something else, however. In our District we refer to the program as VTP. In the online comments section of our local paper I see commenters say “Tinsley kids.” These are my students, like any of my other students. They simply have a much longer morning and afternoon. I’ve taken their bus ride. I know. The bus ride can be over an hour each direction, even though they are just crossing the freeway.
I set about researching the Tinsley Settlement that provides the lottery that allows some of them to attend school in the District in which I teach. I began to form a website to collect my research to share with others. My reading focused on race – my race – and education in my immediate geographic area: the Mid-Peninsula: from San Carlos through Palo Alto. At first I was just keeping an annotated bibliography, like any good librarian. The more I read, the more I realized that there was a story to be told. Pursuing primary sources became the focus of the remainder of my summer.
I hope to use this dusted-off WordPress site to share the research I have found, and as an avenue for listening. Here I hope to use all three aspects of my professional identity: Teacher, Librarian & Writer in service of educational equity. We don’t have it. That is not a bold statement. It’s a fact. In this blog post, I will briefly review the history of school segregation in Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
There is no law creating segregation by race in our public schools from San Carlos through Palo Alto. Yet, there is a Settlement requiring desegregation of those schools that has been in effect since 1986. In this blog post I will attempt to summarize what I found. More detailed descriptions and primary sources, links to data, along with a bibliography, can be found at this website https://sites.google.com/view/oursegregatedschools/home .
Let me first describe the Tinsley Settlement. It is a Voluntary Transfer Program set up between Ravenswood City School District and 9 (now 8) of the defendants. Only Redwood City Schools have met the criteria set forth to exit the Tinsley Desegregation Settlement requirements in the last forty years. That requirement is 60 percent students of color within school district boundaries. Each year a lottery is held for Ravenswood City School District Kindergarten, First or Second grade students of color who wish to transfer to a neighboring District. Sixty students are chosen to attend PAUSD, 31 for Belmont Redwood Shores, 26 for San Carlos, 24 for Menlo Park City School District, 12 for Las Lomitas, 8 for Portola Valley and 5 for Woodside. Letters are sent from Ravenswood City School District notifying non-minority parents in those school Districts that they may apply for transfers into Ravenswood School District.
To understand how school segregation came about I had to understand how residential segregation had come about in Menlo Park, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto, since our schools are largely, still, neighborhood schools.
The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce had tried to segregate “the Oriental and colored people of the city” in the 1920s. Despite support from the Palo Alto Times, the American Legion and others, the measure did not pass. However in 1954, when a black man, William A Bailey, actually purchased a home in all-white Palo Alto Gardens, 125 people suddenly showed up to an evening Palo Alto Gardens Improvement Association Meeting concerned that their property values would decline.
Larry Bailey, William’s son, recalled the Gentleman’s Agreement that formed that evening this way, “not against the law at the time, but that there was a Gentlemen’s Agreement between the White residents to let this so-called Board review whoever was purchasing a home to see if they were acceptable candidates to join the community, if they were acceptable as far as race, I presume. That’s typically what those unwritten agreements are.” (KPLY radio, 2017) The neighbors pooled $3,750 to offer him an incentive to leave.
Racial covenants like this cropped up all over the Mid-Peninsula. At the same time, East Palo Alto had been red-lined, which means that buyers could not get mortgages there – banks would not loan since they would not be federally insured – even if they could afford a home. Black families who could afford homes, were directed away from Palo Alto to East Palo Alto, where there were mostly rentals, therefore denying their families the ability to accrue equity at the same rate white families were able to in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The Office of Civil Rights has extensive documentation from it’s 1960 report on Palo Alto and the inability of Black families to purchase homes in Palo Alto even when they had the money.
In Belle Haven, part of Ravenswood City School District, a practice called block-busting was commonplace. A realtor would go to a white homeowner, tell him that a black family was about to move in, therefore, ostensibly, property values were about to tank. The Realtor would buy the house at a deep discount. He would then turn around and sell it to a Black family at an inflated price – earning commission on both transactions.
It was in this residential setting that the schools in East Palo had become nearly all Black and the schools in Palo Alto and Menlo Park had become nearly all white in the course of a few years. Given that fewer homes on the east side of 101 had mortgages guaranteed by the Federal government, the property tax base – where there were more white owners, and students – was larger on the West side of the freeway.
The Office of Civil Rights and the NAACP had taken notice of our segregated high schools. The NAACP was asked to review the boundaries. 3,700 neighbors of all races signed a petition asking that the boundaries be re-drawn along Willow Road, as that would create a more diverse student body both racially and economically. However, the School Board, and some vocal neighbors to the West, voted to keep the boundaries as they were. The NAACP named 101 between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto “The Concrete Curtain” in 1957.
By 1970, Ravenswood High School had become 94% African-American. Reports were that up to 200 elementary students were involved in a Sneak-Out Program, an only partially concealed method whereby families would enroll children in nearby districts by listing them in other households. Again, inequity – and racial segregation – between our schools was under the spotlight.
The Sequoia Union High School District embarked upon a radical plan to integrate Ravenswood High School as a model magnet school. Classes were designed to appeal to white students: scuba diving, Hebrew, Russian, organic gardening, and rock climbing. A record 400 white students signed up to be bussed to Ravenswood High for the first year of the program. The school performed West Side Story and Coretta Scott King visited. But, within four years, enrollment had declined, like elsewhere in the Bay Area, and the School Board had to close a high school.
Ravenswood High School closed in 1974. All the EPA students were divided up and bussed to the Districts remaining high schools. East Palo Alto still does not have a public high school.
The next year, 1975, the Midpeninsula Task Force for Integrated Education formed with 33 parents from Ravenswood City School District. This group eventually became the plaintiffs for the Tinsley Class Action lawsuit, which claimed unequal access to educational resources for their students. The three lawyers representing the case knew one another through Rotary and two were trustees of Ravenswood. There were nine named defendants: San Mateo County Office of Education, Santa Clara County Office of Education, Redwood City School District, Palo Alto City School District, Menlo Park City School District, Belmont Redwood Shores, Portola Valley SD, Woodside Elementary SD, and Las Lomitas Elementary SD. Margaret Tinsley was chosen as the named plaintiff. Judge Lanham of the California Superior Court got the case and spent the next nine years in negotiations with all parties.
As recorded, the final settlement has three main goals: to increase the number of minority students in the 8 mostly all-white districts, to improve educational standards of the Ravenswood City School District and to improve inter-District cooperation.
Thirty-four years after the settlement, it is clear to me that, other than Redwood City School District, the other defendants remain mostly all-white districts. Looking at the School Accountability Report data I have collected here, it is also clear to me that schools with more white students have better paid teachers and, for the most part, higher per-pupil spending in our geographic area.
Given the fact that we have been here so many times historically on the mid-Peninsula – and yet have failed to achieve equity in our schools, I want to ask this question: What would equity look like? And, how can we get there? I will ask those who will be kind enough to answer and let me share their answers.
In my next blog post, Dr. Julian Crocker, the PAUSD Superintendent (1985-1989) at the time of the Tinsley Settlement answers that question, and helps me understand school funding. You might be surprised by his answer to What Would Equity Look Like? I was.