New High School for East Palo Alto
By Nozipo Wobogo
East Palo Alto Today
Posted November 20, 2009
In 1976, Ravenswood High School (RHS) in East Palo Alto was closed due to SUHSD budgetary restraints and federal desegregation laws.
This resulted in East Palo Alto’s 9-12 grade youth having to be bused to schools many miles away. Over the years, there have been organizational meetings, informal discussions and appeals to the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) on the need for a secondary school in East Palo Alto.
There has also been work by former RHS students, parents, teachers, officials and residents who wanted to see a high school in their community become a reality. What has been the result over the last 33 years of this focus on secondary educational opportunities in the City of East Palo Alto?
Dr. Patrick Gemma, the superintendent for the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) provided a few answers to this question in a presentation that he made on October 20.
During his presentation at the Sequoia Adult School Facility at 793 Green Street in East Palo Alto, Gemma laid out a plan for bringing some of the facilities of a comprehensive high school to several small charter schools that would be located in East Palo Alto. SUHSD has been in the process for approximately a year to look for and prepare 10-15 contiguous acres on which perhaps two or three small schools would sit, forming a larger campus.
A possible space has been found in the Ravenswood Redevelopment Area. The campus will provide shared amenities such as a sports field, large gym or multipurpose room, library and the like.
This project would be on a 10-15 acre plot with a cost of 30-40k as opposed to a comprehensive high school that would require more like 25-30 acres at a cost of 100k.
SUHSD wants to work with the city on this development so will be asking for suggestions on land acquisitions as well as input from the community on what they would like to see. "The multi-school campus will be a public facility built with public money. We would like this to be a community space as well,” said Gemma.
One of the meeting attendees said, “This is just for these small charter schools? I thought that this was going to be for a regular comprehensive high school.” Another attendee commented about the differences between the two types of schools and said that she supported anything that expands educational opportunities for youth in East Palo Alto. The group was warned about being deluded into thinking that this will be like a public Ravenswood High School.”
Gemma stated that he considered greater flexibility an advantage of this type of school. He said, “These small charter schools can change on a dime. Students now have a choice between the large comprehensive and the small charter schools.”
Gloria Marshall asked if there would be room for all students at the planned site if they wanted to attend there. Gemma explained that with about 2000 high school age students in the city they could not all be accommodated.
Former East Palo Alto Mayor Duane Bay had questions about a number of issues. One of his questions focused on the issue of toxics. This is a concern on much of the land in the Ravenswood Redevelopment Area. In certain situations capping with concrete is an option. However, according to Gemma, when a school is built, a full cleaning must take place. It has been discovered that the plots under consideration are not nearly as toxic as previously thought. Another resident raised the problem of traffic with drop off and pick up of students. She told what it was like living near Eastside Prep and said that the situation was impossible until the officials at the school took steps to mitigate the problem.
Gemma says, “We want these developments to be a collaboration with the East Palo Alto Community.” He added that there would be future meetings with East Palo Alto residents on the issues surrounding the building of a charter school campus.
For an accompanying article that gives background information about some of the concerns that the closure of the Ravenswood High School generated, see more on this story in News Briefs at www.epatoday.org
Editor's note: To read the article, go to An historical perspective.