East Palo Alto parents want better schools

*This article was published on the front page of the East Palo Alto Today newspaper. You can read the issue here.*

Are East Palo Alto schools failing to prepare their students for high school and ultimately college? Many parents and students themselves seem to think so, which is why they have petitioned for a KIPP public charter school.

Last December, many students and parents gathered at a public hearing in the Ravenswood City School District to express their opinions about the quality—or lack of quality—of the education that students are receiving in the District’s schools.

The group of petitioners was backed by Innovative Public Schools, a non-profit that works specifically with parents. The group helps the parents get organized as they push for new and better school options in the community.

“I have two children here in East Palo Alto,” said Joel Ortega, a parent leader, during the public hearing. “When my son went to Eastside College Prep in sixth grade, I cried because he was so far behind. If you can do something, do it,” he urged.

Maria Elena Mendoza, another parent leader, said: “The statistics show that many of our children will not graduate from high school and even fewer from college. That’s why 1,000 students leave the district to find a better education.”

Yesenia Rodriguez, who also spoke as a parent leader at the meeting, expressed similar comments. “We have informed ourselves and seen the statistics—I want a better option so we don’t have to go outside our community.”

KIPP public charter school alumna, Emani Lewis, shared her positive experience, saying, “Too many jaws drop when I say I graduated from Spelman College and we need to figure out how to get more students that look like me to and through college. When I think about what got me through, I think about my KIPP college advisers, my family, and the amount of support KIPP provides.” Then, she asked an important question: “If these were your kids, where would you want them to go?”

The general message from the community members at the meeting was that the schools need to improve in order to prepare students for the future and they would like the city’s school children to have educational opportunities available in East Palo Alto.

According to Sierra Jenkins, the director of development and communications at Innovate Public Schools, a petition has been submitted to open a new charter school in 2017. “They are on a deadline,” Jenkins said of the Ravenswood City School District, “the vote is definitely going to be in January.” If the district does not approve the new charter school, then an appeal will be filed.

EPA Today reached out to the school board for comment, but did not receive a reply. The next school board meetings will take place on February 11 and 25, 2016.

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