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 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.

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Magic, Fun and Imagination for CYRM Intermediate Novels

August 1, 2016 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries | By

The novels nominated for the Intermediate California Young Reader Medal this year will bring your 3rd through 6th graders plenty of what they love: fun, magic and imagination. As always, readers must read all novels nominated in a category to be eligible to vote. Here is a quick summary of each novel in the Intermediate category.

Chock-full of puzzles, Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein is very popular with 2nd – 5th grade readers, who love to solve the puzzles along with the characters. The Public Library in Alexandriaville had been closed for 11 years. Mr. Lemoncello, world-famous game-maker and public library supporter, set out to right this wrong by holding an extravagant party/contest for 12 twelve-year olds to celebrate the opening of the brand new state of-the-art public library. This book details that contest by following the stories of a couple of those contestants. Librarians, like me, will enjoy the many references to children’s literature and the Dewey Decimal classification system. This book begs for group projects like create a game and the website mentioned in the back of the book has extensions galore.

The other two books nominated are both fantasies. Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is the more adventurous of the two. Oscar knows he’s different but he doesn’t know why. He understands cats, but not people. The magician’s apprentice tells Oscar he’s useless; worthless. When something unknown attacks the village and the magician is gone, Oscar wonders if he can possibly help – and how. Ursu’s robust fantasy will have readers questioning the role of magic in fairy tales and in their own lives. This is good for fantasy and fairy tale readers 4th grade and up. I have a free Story Sheet called Sensing Magic which examines Ursu’s use of sensory words to convey Oscar’s changing attitude toward magic and challenges students to begin a magical story.

Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin is the most humorous of the three novels. This is a must-read for middle grade fairy-tale lovers and has just enough humor to attract those less inclined to read. Rump paints a sympathetic and believable backstory for a character whose motivation has never been clear: Rumpelstiltskin. Shurtliff’s unnamed fantasy-land (for names are important) is whimsical enough that readers will want to stay just to find out what quirky creature might appear next. The Story Sheet Back Together Again helps students deconstruct how Shurtliff re-told Rumpelstiltskin and challenges them to de-construct and re-tell Humpty Dumpty in a new way.

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Great new adventure fantasy

July 7, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, libraries | By

Need an adventure/fantasy for 8 years and older? Like Narnia, and other great tales in this genre, Wildwood by Colin Meloy allows readers to wonder about the foundations of our society by setting up an entirely new one just outside our own. At the outset of the story, Prue’s baby brother is abducted by crows and taken to Wildwood, just across the Willamette River from Portland. Prue – and her friend Curtis ­– become embroiled in the machinations of politics and power in Wildwood when all she really wants to do is retrieve her baby brother.

There is much that I love about Wildwood: the moderate pacing, the varied point-of-view, the fair-enough handling of the parents, and mostly the main character Prue. I love Prue’s journey to get her brother back, and everything she learns and does along the way. Meloy deals with the themes of justice, peace and non-violence adeptly and still manages to keep the story entertaining.

This is a well-crafted story, one I would be pleased to read to a classroom full of fourth graders, or my to own family



  • Title: Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles Book 1
  • Author : Meloy, Colin
  • Illustrator: Ellis, Carson.
  • Copyright: 2011 Unadoptable Books LLC
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-202468-8
  • Dewey Decimal Number: Fic Mel
  • Reading Range: 6.3


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Imagine This. A Friend.

June 24, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, teaching, writing | By


Imagine this. A friend.


Beekle gets tired of waiting to be imagined, and sets off on a journey through the real world to find his friend.


What is so magical about this book is the interplay between the real and the fantastical. The combination of both elements in such close proximity makes us believe anything is possible. Beekle is a spectacular creature, yet he is wearing a crown held together with Scotch tape. Heck, I could make that crown.


Maybe I could have a friend like Beekle.


And that, right there, is the magic in this book. It is filled with everyday magic that could give even those of us in our saddest and loneliest moment a glimmer of hope.


Dan Santat assumes that we have spectacular imaginations, like the kids in the story. Just check out the endpapers if you need more evidence of miraculous friends.


Children do have imaginations like this – all they need is a little time, encouragement and inspiration. I’m so thankful Santat has provided us some inspiration in The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend and glad he has a Caldecott Award to show for it.


If you’d like a CCSS aligned worksheet for first and second graders to get started on a story about an unimaginary friendship of their own, try this free download: Unimaginary Friend Story Sheet.


Title The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend

  • Author Dan Santat
  • Illustrator Dan Santat
  • Copyright 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-316-19998-8
  • Dewey Decimal Number PB San
  • Reading Range K-3 (3.3)
  • Book cover image

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Gone Fishing – A Novel for Second Graders

June 13, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries, teaching, writing | By

Gone Fishing is a treasure for many reasons. First of all: kids love it. It has just enough mischief and naughtiness to spice up a read-a-loud and keep any reluctant reader turning pages. The sibling rivalry at the center of this story will hit home with anyone who has, well, had a sibling. Even for those of us who don’t normally fish, the slimy details keep us involved and invested because we identify with Sam and rejoice as he overcomes his frustrations and failures.

The second reason this book is such a treat you may not even notice up front: it’s a novel-in-verse. And what’s even better is that the audience is second and third grade, where we have a dearth of novels-in-verse. Gone Fishing is perfect for this age group because the subject matter is on-point emotionally: a younger sister horns in on her big brother’s fishing trip with dad. Even more appealing to teachers: the poetry is meticulous. After you’ve been through the book once to catch the plot, you will enjoy re-reading to enjoy Wissinger’s craft. Here, the various poetic forms reveal the emotions as true and entertaining, without being overwrought. And, each form is outlined in a neat appendix, handy for future – and practicing – poets.

Gone Fishing is a natural fit for the second grade English Language Arts Standards in Reading Literature. The story is told from two very different points of view – both Sam and Lucy ­– making this a perfect read to “speak in a different voice for each character when reading dialogue aloud (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.6).” This short book will help round out the range of complexity called for in the Standards (CCSS ELA Literacy 2.10) by introducing a wide variety of poetry.

Some students may be lucky enough to try writing some of their own poetry using the examples in the back of this book. Turning our complaints, failures and frustrations into entertaining poems can take a lot of the sting out of the curves we all get thrown every now and again. Kudos to Wissinger for setting this shining example of resiliency.


  • Title Gone Fishing
  • Author Tamera Will Wissinger
  • Illustrator Matthew Cordell
  • Copyright 2013
  • ISBN 9780547820118
  • Dewey Decimal Number Fic
  • Reading Range 1-3 (2.6)

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