Gina Sudaria Makes Ravenswood a Place Worthy of Our Kids

August 31, 2020 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Education Policy, teaching | By

Ravenswood City School District’s first official full year with their new Superintendent, Gina Sudaria, saw a new Strategic Plan implemented, a pandemic, and then a flip to online learning. The former principal at Costano hasn’t missed a beat, still planning for her District to be a place where educators will be happy to bring their own children to school. 

If you read the strategic plan for Ravenswood you will see lots of things we love in Silicon Valley: deliverables for things like communication, professional development, assessment. But if you listen to this interview with Ms. Sudaria you will see what I see: an educator whose bottom line is the heart. She considers a school great if educators will bring their own children to it. And Ms. Sudaria brought her son to Costano. Ms. Sudaria wants every school to be a place where students want to come on campus because they know the adults on campus want them there. In Ravenswood, that’s what she sees. And their focus is on delivering instruction to the diverse set of students they have focusing on the culture, race and language to meet the needs of all students.

The biggest barriers to this strategic plan are financial. As a Revenue Limit school district, nearly fifty percent of the RCSD budget is restricted, meaning the State determines how it is to be spent. The restrictions are so tight, those dollars can’t even be used for teacher salaries, which is a barrier for RCSD in recruitment and retainment. If you look at this comparison between Districts, you will see how the average per pupil spending differs between our Basic Aid Districts and RCSD. The Ravenswood Education Foundation is the best way to support the District in meeting the needs of the students because the Foundation works with the District to allow the restricted funds to be spent optimally, thereby freeing up use of unrestricted funds.

Ms. Sudaria envisions three ways to make equity a reality. Get rid of restrictions on state money, for one. Another suggestion she has is to stop funding penalties based on attendance. Basic Aid Districts don’t face those penalties. Ms. Sudaria’s third goal is to make sure our schools are meeting the needs of black and brown students and doing anti-racist work. 

In my next blog post, hear from one of the organizers of the Palo Alto Youth Art Protest. If you would like to share your thoughts about What Would Equity Look Like, write to me at KristinAkerHowellATgmailDOTcom. 

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Anne Campbell Envisions Closing the Opportunity Gap

August 18, 2020 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories | By

Last week Anne Campell, former San Mateo County Superintendent, spoke with me about equity in our mid-Peninsula Schools. She described the Opportunity Gap we have on the Mid-Peninsula. The Opportunity Gap here is the difference in the school experience for students in California based on whether they attend school in a Basic Aid or a Revenue Limit School. Students in Basic Aid School Districts, including Portola Valley, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and others with high property taxes, are able to provide their students opportunities like reading supports, full-time librarians, PE teachers, music teachers and art classes, that other districts don’t have the funds to provide to their students. The term Opportunity Gap was first used, as far as I can find, by Camika Royal in Good to replace the term “achievement gap.”

To close this Opportunity Gap on our Mid-Peninsula, Campbell suggests re-examining our funding priorities at the State level. All students should be funded at the level of students in these Basic Aid Districts. Campbell has worked together with Debby Martin, a retired high school teacher, on an initiative called Every Kid, Every School to address school funding inequities and close the Opportunity Gap.

I include the entire interview here because I admire Ms. Campbell’s thoughtfulness, perspective and experience. If you watch, I think you will too. In the first ten minutes of the video Ms. Campbell shares her experiences as an administrator with the Tinsley Program. The second ten minutes she reflects on the impact she has seen the Tinsley Program have on students, families and districts. The final ten minutes contains her thoughts on how to close that Opportunity Gap in California. 

If you would like further reading on the history of the Tinsley Program you can find a bibliography and other sources on my Google website:

My next blog post will feature an interview with Gina Sudaria, Superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District in which she describes her dreams for Ravenswood City Schools, and some of the barriers she faces to those dreams. If you would like to share your thoughts about What Would Equity Look Like? And How Can We Get There? Please contact me at KristinAkerHowellATgmailDOTcom.

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Our Segregated Schools

August 6, 2020 | Posted in Education Policy | By

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 .

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.

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