Local school district in state’s cross hairs

A troubled school district serving students in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto faces state sanctions ranging from a curriculum overhaul to abolishing the district after consistently failing to meet federal standards based on standardized test scores.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday recommended light to severe sanctions for 97 California school districts for the first time under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because they have failed to meet achievement goals for four years.

The achievement goals are based on student improvement each year through standardized tests given by the state.

The Ravenswood City Elementary School District, along with six other districts throughout the state, faces the harshest sanctions, ranging from implementing a new curriculum to abolishing and restructuring the district.

Ravenswood serves approximately 4,500 students in K-8 in seven elementary schools and a child development center.

Superintendent Maria De La Vega said she was surprised to be put on the list of worst-performing school districts since Ravenswood has improved its test scores during the past two years. But the problem, say state officials, is that the district has not improved enough. In fact, it is one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state and has met only 13.3 percent of the benchmarks in reading and math.

State officials said they have directed a team led by the San Mateo Office of Education to analyze Ravenswood’s performance.

Peter Burchyns, the county office’s senior administrator for board and superintendent services, said team members would examine Ravenswood’s curriculum, monitoring of student achievement, staff training, teacher collaboration and alignment of financial resources. The project will take at least a year, he estimated. Based on the analysis, they will then recommend action to the state Board of Education.

More than 70 percent of Ravenswood’s students are English learners, said De La Vega, and a high number of migrant families move in and out of the district, allowing little time to work with children. The poorly funded district, which has had problems retaining teachers in the past, has recently recruited several young educators and they are still mastering the state standards.

“We’re moving as quickly as we can. At the same time, we want to make sure the instructional program we provide is in depth,” she said.

De La Vega said she welcomed the help from the San Mateo County Office of Education, but was worried about how the state would pay for the intervention. The state budget deficit currently stands at $16 billion and Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting $4 billion in education in the budget year beginning July 1.

“We hope that whatever funding they extend as part of this corrective action will make up not only for what they’re cutting but can be used as a resource to close that achievement gap,” De La Vega said.

tbarak@examiner.com

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