BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The three Ravenswood City School Board members who are seeking re-election are facing six challengers, all of whom want to change the direction of the district.
Ana Pulido, Marcelino Lopez and Charlie Mae Knight are the incumbents on the embattled school board that serves East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.
Pulido was the only incumbent who responded to the Post’s questions about the district. All of the challengers — Julian Garcia, Nicole Sbragia, Stephanie Fitch, Laura Nunez, Tamara Sobomehin and Brooke Crosby — answered the Post’s questions.
Ana Pulido told the Post the opening of Ravenswood’s comprehensive middle school is among the incumbents’ achievements. Knight and Lopez said the same in their candidate statements.
Pulido defended her vote to keep controversial Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff, saying the decision was a “tough” one. The superintendent was criticized for hiring her son as an IT technician and removing a popular principal.
Pulido said that if the board had decided not to renew the superintendent’s contract, it would have left the district with little leadership because of high turnover.
Stephanie Fitch, a former teacher who now works as an English curriculum creator for an education nonprofit, said she’s running to have a positive impact on her home community.
Fitch believes the lack of community trust in the board is the biggest issue facing the district. She wants the current animosity between teachers, the board, the council and parents to end, so the entire community can work together to improve students’ education. Laura Nunez is a math teacher at East Palo Alto Academy high school who grew up in the city. Nunez said she’s heard that students in the district are worried their teachers will leave in the middle of the year. Nunez said the district needs to improve teacher retention. She applauded the current board for saying it will look into building teacher housing, and she also said that more communication between the district and its employees will go a long way.
Julian Garcia, another East Palo Alto native, works as a paraeducator for the Redwood City School District. Garcia said he decided to run for school board last year when the Ravenswood Teachers Association pushed for the superintendent to resign following a vote of no confidence. Garcia was also one of the residents who called for Hernandez-Goff’s contract not to be extended.
Garcia said his top three priorities are to improve the board’s relationship with the community, resolve the district’s budget crisis, which is a result of falling enrollment, and improve the quality of education for students.
Brooke Crosby, a former administrator with the district’s special education department, said she grew weary of the unrest in the district and decided to run after taking a job at a different district.
Crosby said the biggest issue for Ravenswood is the lack of trust between the schools and the district. She said the new board should try to encourage teachers and the administration to collaborate and exchange ideas.
Tamara Sobomehin works for StreetCode Academy, an East Palo Alto nonprofit that teaches children how to code. Sobomehin said the biggest issue facing the district is the “huge gap” in student achievement, and she pointed out that many students perform below grade level in math and English.
Ravenswood has the lowest test scores on the mid-Peninsula. Last year, only 19.5% of students met or exceeded state standards in English, while just 13% met or exceeded math standards.
Sobomehin said she would like to create and implement a comprehensive strategic plan to improve students’ learning.
Nicole Sbargia, a teacher’s aide, said she is running because of the removal of the principal at Belle Haven Elementary and the renewal of the superintendent’s contract.
Sbargia said the biggest issue facing the district right now is teacher retention, and she wants to review the district’s budget to see when it would be possible to give the teachers raises. She also wants to make sure the superintendent is held accountable.
Three seats are up for grabs, and whoever is elected will join Marilena Gaona-Mendoza and Sharifa Wilson on the board.
Maria Chavez, whose name is listed on the ballot as a candidate, has withdrawn from the race.