Belle Haven resident Pam Jones speaks at Monday night’s meeting on education held at the Onetta Harris Community Center in Menlo Park. At right is Mayor Kirsten Keith. Post photo by Emily Mibach.
BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Residents of Menlo Park’s Belle Haven neighborhood said at a meeting Monday night that they would like to split their K-8 schools off from the East Palo Alto-based Ravenswood City School District. Not surprisingly, Ravenswood school board members and employees objected to such a move.
Pamela Jones, a Belle Haven resident who attended Ravenswood schools in the 50s and 60s and was a school board member from 1977 to 1981, said it’s time for her neighborhood to secede from the Ravenswood district.
Secession would result in a tiny school district with two schools — Belle Haven Elementary at 415 Ivy Drive and Willow Oaks Elementary at 620 Willow Road. The two schools have a combined enrollment of 1,265 pupils, representing 31% of the Ravenswood district’s total enrollment of 4,058.
Ravenswood City School District scored far below the state average on statewide exams last year. Only 19% of Ravenswood students met or exceeded English standards and 12% met or exceeded math standards. Across the state, however, 49% of students met or exceeded the so-called Common Core English standards on the test while 37% of students met or exceeded math standards. The district improved by 1% in both math and English scores from its 2015 marks.
One district for the entire city
While Jones would like Belle Haven to secede, she’d really like one school district for the entire city of Menlo Park. Palo Alto, for instance, has just one district for levels kindergarten through 12th grade.
Fellow Belle Haven resident Michael Hoff wanted to know more about what pulling the two Belle Haven schools out of the Ravenswood district would look like. He asked if there are cases when district boundaries change and whether that improves the quality of education.
Monday night’s meeting, which drew 75 people, was called by Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith to discuss improving education in the Belle Haven.
Suzanne Carrig, who is director of policy development for the Santa Clara County Office of Education, said that it depends on the districts involved and what the need for change was. She explained the mechanics of how districts can be created, split or merged.
The topic of secession hit a nerve with those from the Ravenswood district.
Ravenswood board president Sharifa Wilson said she had not been notified of the meeting, and wished that the school district’s parents had come to her board with their concerns.
Wilson questioned whether secession would help Belle Haven students, who are predominately black and Latino. She said a better idea would be to merge the Belle Haven schools into the Menlo Park City School District, which operates west of Highway 101.
Others, like Ravenswood teacher Rhonda White, pointed out that many of the children from the area who attend schools in other districts fare about the same as far as test scores go, and suggested that it is not the education that is subpar but the conditions students face.
Former council candidate Cecilia Taylor, who attended Belle Haven schools in the 1970s, said the schools haven’t changed much over the years.
“It looks the same way it did in 1970-something. That does not mean that the education there is poor, but it does mean that the facility is old,” Taylor said.
Joe Ross, president of the San Mateo County Board of Education, said that while the county has a lot of wealth, it also has poverty and an achievement gap.
“These schools need more money and resources and we need to support it,” Ross said.
Idea to help Ravenswood stalls
While Ravenswood voters approved a June 2016 bond issue for $26 million, the district needs about $330 million for buildings and other capital improvements.
Last year, Menlo Park City Councilman Ray Mueller proposed creating a joint powers authority that would raise money for the Ravenswood district, possibly through a tax or impact fee on development in the area.
The JPA would have included Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Ravenswood and San Mateo County. But discussions to create a JPA stalled after Ravenswood officials heard rumblings that Menlo Park might try to take the Belle Haven and Willow Oaks schools out of the Ravenswood district.