School proposed by Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, receives scrutiny

An illustration of the school that Dr. Priscilla Chan, pictured, wants to build in Weeks Street in East Palo Alto.

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

A new campus for an East Palo Alto school proposed by Mark Zuckerberg’s wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan is running into headwinds from officials who are worried it will siphon students from the city’s Ravenswood City School District.

“I’m really excited about the model of the school, and I’m thrilled that our children will be getting a world-class education locally at what looks to be a world-class facility,” said Commissioner Ofelia Bello at a Dec. 10 Planning Commission meeting. “But I am disheartened at our disinvestment of Ravenswood.”

However, the purpose of the meeting was to review a draft environmental impact report, or EIR, for the proposed school at 1200 Weeks St. And the law requiring the EIR, the California Environmental Quality Act, doesn’t pertain to how such a project would effect a school district. Chan, the wife of the billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, did not appear at the hearing.

Still, residents are concerned because the Ravenswood district has been hemorrhaging students due to low test scores, and many of those families have fled to the six charter and private schools in the city.

Chan’s school, called the Primary School, has been open since 2016, operating out of trailers across the street from the Ravenswood Family Health Center at 1885 Bay Road.

Development moratorium

The school bought 3.5 acres on Weeks Street a few years ago, but has not been able to build there because of a development moratorium due to a water shortage.

Site of the proposed Primary School campus in East Palo Alto.

The shortage has since ended after the city bought Mountain View’s rights to 1 million gallons of water a day and was given 500,000 gallons daily in water rights from Palo Alto. That’s opened the door to development in East Palo Alto again.

The Primary School, along with the Sobrato Organization and the developer of an office project at 2020 Bay Road, paid a cumulative $1.53 million to help the city buy some of Mountain View’s water supply.

Chan hopes to enroll 511 students from preschool through middle school.

Soil contamination

While some at the meeting were concerned about the impact the school will have on Ravenswood, others, such as Commissioner Kyra Brown and project neighbor Maria Cabrerra, said they’re worried about the toxins in the dirt that will be disturbed by the construction. The soil where the school is proposed was contaminated by previous industrial owners.

But Primary School President Meredith Liu said the school will be “cleaning up” the land prior to construction in order to make sure the land is suitable for a school.

But Cabrerra said she was worried that when the contaminated soil is removed, neighbors would suffer from airborne toxins.

Another neighbor, Kevin Keating, said he was concerned about the traffic created by the 70 employees and 511 students. The site is on a cul-de-sac.

Keating asked that the school consider busing students.

Liu said they’re not planning to bus students, but instead will have staggered drop-off times, giving parents an hour window to drop off or pick up a child.

Anyone who wishes to provide a comment on the draft environmental impact report can submit it by Jan. 6. After that, the final environmental impact report will be completed, and the Planning Commission and the city council will likely review the full project mid-2019.

11 Comments

  1. What are the Zuckerbergs taking money away from public schools by opepning up their “own” school? if the project was to provide an alternative educational experience why not providemonie and resources to the San Mateo County Office of education or to the local school District. That would not take money needed moneies from the school District and the resources would benefit all the children not just those attending the”Zuckerberg” school. Resources for public schools are insufficient. Excellent neigihborhood public schools are the responsibility of the whole community. The school is an institution that provides not only academic opportunities but most importantly, civic and social opportunities.
    If citizens do not support public schools that meet the needs of all children we end up with “ours and those schools”
    When children have the opportunity to interact and learn with children with other languages, cultures, and experiences their educational experiences are enriched.
    It seems to me that the many individuals that start “their own” schools may have a greater interest in promoting themselves and their agendas than providing support for public education.

    • That’s a naive perspective. Charter schools have had to save the day in Ravenswood. Not all are doing wonderful but they are much better than Ravenswood schools. My only objection would be if the school deliberately shuns kids and families from Ravenswood district. If that’s that case then the school should not be allowed IN East Palo Alto, but we will see.

  2. If they want to make a school, why don’t they make it public and with enough space for everyone. What is their point… EPA needs an exclusive school? For what?

  3. Of course Ravenswood School District is hemorrhaging students, it is a horrible district with horrible schools and abysmal test scores that reflect the poor education the students receive. Who wouldn’t want their kids going to better schools? Just take a look at all the problems Ravenswood School District has had, from accusations of financial irregularities, to hiring family members in high paying jobs, to board members who don’t even live in the district, to removing popular principals because they criticize the superintendant. They need to overhaul everything at the top and going to the bottom, but in the meantime let the students get a good education at a school like the one Chan is setting up.

    As to giving money to the Ravenswood District to improve, they have proven again and again that they can not manage money and it would end up lining someone pocket and not helping the students…

  4. Oh please. Public schools are so bad. The schools keep lowering the bar that a high school grad can’t even get into college. Teachers don’t want to teach, it’s the union that want to keep their cush jobs. Charter school was parroted as the better public school and they’re no better.

    Make the schools private, subsidize the families who want to send their kids there and give status reports to make sure their kids are doing good. Public schools today is not what it was decades ago.

  5. Mr. Stanford founded a University for all the children of California. It was free. The current Stanford admins are corrupt self-serving miscreants of which hopefully the new provost will clean house soon enough (see GUP). Someday, Stanford will be an example again. Think big Dr. Chan. Think of all the children. Don’t create tiers of education. If you want to make a school, make a school for the children that are not going to college. Those children need your school the most. Leave the high performers at Ravenswood.

  6. “A visionary is not the one who can see things farther away than others, nowadays everyone can utilize binoculars or other instruments to see things afar. A visionary is the one who can see NOW, what others will see much later.”
    For a long time I have been critical of the approach many foundations, including CZI, use to improve education.
    My critique is not about what they do – I admire the efforts to help children getting better education.
    My critique is about what they claim – they all claim to reform, reshape the whole system of education.
    All those foundations will prove is that if you have enough money to hire enough good teachers and to provide to teachers and student good learning environment, students will be learning better than students in other schools.
    Affecting the whole system of education requires much more than that.

    • What better plan do you propose? Your philosophy sounds reasonae but there are people on the ground dealing with this problem everyday that cannot waste their time on such concepts. If it were a perfect world we would adopt the New Orleans model and change everything tomorrow. However, it’s not a perfect world and there are dozens of stakeholders every square mile of land her in the Bay. So if I were you I would focus on plans than philosophy.

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