Election Day will be a litmus test for the Ravenswood City School District.
Come Nov. 6, voters will be presented with two distinct narratives from six newcomers and three incumbents running for three open seats on the Board of Education. The newcomers are critical of current school leadership, including the superintendent and school board, for what they describe as failed transparency and communication. They believe the future of the K-8 East Palo Alto school district, which is battling declining enrollment, revenue and the forces of gentrification, depends on fresh governance.
The incumbents, meanwhile, maintain that Ravenswood is on an unprecedented path of progress, largely due to changes put in place by the superintendent they hired five years ago. Examples of this upward trajectory, they say, are the district’s new comprehensive middle school, opened last fall to better prepare Ravenswood middle schoolers for high school; targeted investment in science, technology, engineering, math, arts and music (STEAM) education; last summer’s formal exit from a yearslong federal special-education mandate, the Ravenswood Self‑Improvement Plan (RSIP); and facilities upgrades, supported by voter-approved parcel taxes in recent years. They believe stable leadership and experience on the board are critical to continuing the district’s long-needed forward momentum.
The newly constituted board will face a perception of distrust among some in the school community, including with the teachers who signed a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff last year and parents and staff who opposed the renewal of her contract this spring.
The three elected candidates will join board members Marielena Gaona-Mendoza and Sharifa Wilson on the dais.
The Ravenswood school district serves approximately 2,400 students in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, about half of whom are English-language learners and the majority of whom qualify for the free/reduced lunch program.
To inform and aid voters in their decision-making, the Palo Alto Weekly recorded video interviews with eight of the nine current candidates in which they discuss their backgrounds and what they see as the most pressing issues facing the school district. The videos, with Spanish subtitles, are below. The ninth candidate, incumbent Charlie Knight, did not return repeated interview requests. (One former candidate, Maria Victoria Chavez, withdrew from the race last week and endorsed candidate Tamara Sobomehin as a “strategy not to split the votes and to ensure that there is a change in leadership at the school district level,” she said in a statement.)
Crosby was one of the integrated-services coordinators in Ravenswood’s special-education department from 2013 through the last school year, when she left for a special-education position in the Palo Alto Unified School District. She has emphasized her familiarity with the inner workings of the district, especially special education, and established relationships with staff and families.
Watch the our video interview with Crosby on YouTube.
Fitch grew up in East Palo Alto but attended Palo Alto schools through the Voluntary Transfer Program. She is currently the English language arts curriculum manager at Summit Public Schools, a Redwood City charter school organization. Fitch, who has been endorsed by the teachers’ union, said she decided to run for school board for the same reason she pursued a career in education: “because I never thought it was fair that kids received such different levels of quality education purely based on where they live — such as the case between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.”
- Campaign website: facebook.com/sfitchforravenswoodschools/
Watch our video interview with Fitch on YouTube.
Garcia is a graduate of the district and works as a paraeducator in the Redwood City School District. His campaign slogan is “leading from the grassroots,” an alternative to the leadership status quo in Ravenswood.
- Campaign website: facebook.com/pg/Garcia4Ravenswoodschoolboard
Watch our video interview with Garcia on YouTube.
A former Ravenswood superintendent, Knight won a seat on the board in 2014. In her filed candidate statement, Knight writes that she has “devoted my career to fighting for educational opportunities for children of our community.”
Lopez, whose children attended Ravenswood, has been on the board since he was elected in 2002 as part of a reform slate. He decided to run for re-election in 2018 to continue “the good work we have done in the last 16 years,” he wrote in a candidate statement filed with the county registrar.
Watch our video interview with Lopez on YouTube.
Nunez, who attended Ravenswood schools, is currently a mathematics teacher and athletics director at East Palo Alto Academy, a public charter high school. She wants to better prepare Ravenswood students for high school. “I want to keep students at the forefront, listen to the different stakeholders like teachers, parents and admin(istrators) to see what we can do to better support them,” she said. She is running on a slate with Tamara Sobomehin.
- Campaign website: rechargeravenswood.com
Watch our video interview with Nunez on YouTube.
Pulido, who was born and raised in East Palo Alto and is a product of the city’s schools, was elected to the board in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. She is currently the Sequoia Union High School District superintendent’s communication specialist and executive assistant. She believes the district is on an upward trajectory and cautions that “change in leadership can sometimes change the direction.”
Watch our video interview with Pulido on YouTube.
Sbragia is a Ravenswood parent and works as a paraeducator at East Palo Alto charter school KIPP Valiant Community Prep. She organized a boycott at Belle Haven Elementary School in protest of the sudden removal of former Principal Todd Gaviglio and is part of Community United for Better Education, a grassroots advocacy group that formed this spring in response to concerns about Hernandez-Goff’s leadership. “The board majority is not listening to the community,” Sbragia wrote in her candidate statement. “I will fight to change the current culture of fear and retaliation felt by district employees and work to include all stakeholders in decision making.” She has been endorsed by the teachers union.
- Campaign website: facebook.com/sbragiaforschoolboard/
Watch our video interview with Sbragia on YouTube.
Sobomehin is a longtime community volunteer who works at StreetCode Academy, which provides free technology, entrepreneurship and design education to youth and their families. Her campaign slogan, together with Laura Nunez, is “Recharge Ravenswood.” “My goal is to take all the energy that is behind the frustration and anger people feel and redirect it towards solutions, so we are left with the passion and commitment people have for our students,” she said. She has been endorsed by the teachers union.
- Campaign website: rechargeravenswood.com
Watch our video interview with Sobomehin on YouTube.
Find more coverage on Palo Alto area races here.
TALK ABOUT IT
Discuss this year’s Ravenswood City school board candidates on Town Square, the community discussion forum at PaloAltoOnline.com.