Sequoia Union High School District enrolls students from the winding back streets of East Palo Alto to the palatial homes of Woodside and Menlo Park, a situation that has led to a so-called “achievement gap” falling largely along ethnic and geographic lines.
With an election just days away, five candidates for Sequoia’s three open board seats agreed that the achievement gap is one of the district’s biggest issues.
Just 60 percent of Sequoia’s 8,800 students have the skills appropriate for their grade level, said incumbent Lorraine Rumley, who thinks these ill-prepared students need the same support system “that kids in San Carlos or Portola Valley already have.”
That work has already begun, said Olivia Martinez, who is sharing a campaign fund with Rumley to fund their bids for a fourth term on the board.
Martinez said that, two years ago, the district began offering daily intervention classes for students each day to get them up to speed. While student achievement scores have been climbing, more substantial results will become visible in one to three years, as school culture changes gradually, she said.
Yet Larry Moody, a board member at Ravenswood Elementary School District, questioned district officials’ support for mentorship. Moody founded a nonprofit in 2006 called Built to Last that raised $1.3 million for mentors and tutors on Sequoia’s four campuses.
He said the attendance and grades of kids who participated in his program improved, but the board killed it when they denied his request for an additional $50,000 in funding.
A parent with two seniors at Menlo-Atherton High School, Moody suggested addressing the achievement gap by partnering with organizations such as Jobtrain to enhance job-related education.
“We’ve got to begin talking about technical trade schools as a career destination point,” Moody said.
Candidate Allen Weiner, a Stanford law professor and former State Department lawyer, disagreed that the district needs yet another program to fix the achievement gap.
What’s needed is to run the district more like a “policy operation,” said Weiner, who offers his services at the immigrant legal resource center and tutors English learners.
The board’s current methodology is “education by anecdote,” said Weiner, who would rather set clear strategic goals than use hard data to carefully evaluate each individual program and teacher, cutting some and improving others.
Candidate Carrie Du Bois, who has spent two terms on the San Carlos School District board, disagreed with that approach.
“It’s not just looking at complex data,” Du Bois said. “You have to look at stories of kids.”
Du Bois, who has a son at Carlmont High School and works with Foster Care youth in her day job, said the way to close the achievement gap is to “put our arms around kids,” and to reel parents into the community.
“I want to build community at schools or build a school in East Palo Alto, not bus them out,” Du Bois said.
Candidates for the Sequoia Union High School District board
Carrie Du Bois
Occupation: Real estate agent
War chest: $20,000
Endorsements: U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo; U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier; State Senator Joe Simitian; Sequoia School District Teacher’s Association
Occupation: Vice president of Cañada College (retired)
War chest: $5,900 (shared with Rumley)
Endorsements: State Assemblyman Jerry Hill; Redwood City School District Board Member Dennis McBride; founder of Summit and Everest Charter Schools Diane Tavenner; San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley
Occupation: Nonprofit director
War chest: $6,500
Endorsements: Former State Assemblyman Ira Ruskin; venture capitalist Josh Becker; Eastside College Preparatory School founder and principal Chris Bischof; board member of Sequoia Union School District Sally Stewart
Occupation: Co-owner, Valon Technology
War chest: $5,900 (shared with Martinez)
Endorsements: State Senator Joe Simitian; State Assemblyman Jerry Hill; State Assemblyman Rich Gordon; County Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell
Occupation: Stanford lecturer
Endorsements: Declined to state
Funding: Not available