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By Henrietta J. Burroughs            Follow East Palo Alto Today on
East Palo Alto Today                  Facebook    Twitter         Blog
May 11, 2017                         
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Graphic from RCSD website
Photo courtesy of http://www.ravenswoodschools.org/schools.html

After serving four years as the superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District, Dr. Gloria Hernandez-Goff is now facing what appears to be a crisis looming over her administration. Her office is now mired in controversy and the controversy is taking its own twists and turns.

The seriousness of the situation in the school district became evident when the Ravenswood Teachers Association (RTA), submitted a letter and a petition to the Ravenswood City School District Board during the board’s regular meeting on Thursday, April 27.

The petition called for the superintendent’s immediate resignation and it carried the names of one hundred forty-three teachers who taught in the school district. The RTA said that the teachers had given the superintendent a no confidence vote, and it cited specific grievances against Hernandez-Goff’s leadership and her work within the district.

With the presentation of the letter, listing the RTA’s concerns with the district, the controversy that the no confidence vote has generated has left many in the East Palo Alto community reeling and asking other questions that go beyond the issues in the teachers’ letter.

Not only are there now questions being raised about the superintendent’s skills as an administrator, but questions are also being raised about nepotism in hiring within the district and some of the personal relationships of at least one member on the school board.

The first development, which surprised many in the community, was the letter, itself, calling for Hernandez-Goff’s resignation. In the letter, the RTA said that the grievances against the superintendent were related to six professional standards of excellence that they said she failed to meet.
The RTA said the “standards originate from the State of California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing….and are used by reputable educational organizations such as West Ed and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) to measure the effectiveness of school and district leaders.”

The letter cited the following:
Standard 1: Development and implementation of a shared vision
Standard 2: Instructional leadership
Standard 3: Management and learning environment
Standard 4: Family and community engagement
Standard 5: Ethics and integrity and
Standard 6: External context and policy

The teachers acknowledged that Dr. Hernandez-Goff “brings positive assets to the table, but the negative consequences of her actions FAR outweigh the positives,” the group said. The group went on to state that “the 2016-2017 school year has produced the most blatantly disrespectful and aggressively hostile actions we have seen.”

For her part, Dr. Hernandez-Goff blames the teachers no confidence vote and the call for her resignation on “politics.”  She pinpoints her efforts to bring a Comprehensive Middle School (CMS) to the school district as a major cause of the RTA’s stated dissatisfaction with her leadership and she responded to their charges and their letter with a statement of her own in which she wrote:

“Three years ago, the Board of Trustees and I began a series of stakeholder conversations leading to Thursday night’s vote approving the timeline of the Ravenswood Comprehensive Middle School. Through these open and transparent conversations, it became evident that it was critical for the District to move away from the status quo in order to give Ravenswood’s children the best possible opportunity to advance in their academic journey.

The Board of Trustees and I recognize that change is never easy, but we are not in a position where we can afford to play politics at the expense of our children’s education and future. For that reason, the Ravenswood Comprehensive Middle School will begin with its first cohort of students in the 2017-18 academic school year.

Despite the union leadership’s publicity stunt of a vote of no confidence, I have the utmost faith in our teachers and their commitment to our students.”

Both the superintendent and the RTA seem to agree that the Comprehensive Middle School is the catalyst that brought the current controversy involving the school district to a head.

The district sees the Ravenswood Comprehensive Middle School as a way of providing “a sixth through eighth grade program that supports student growth through academics, enrichment opportunities, and strong family partnerships,” and supports its opening in the fall of 2017.

The planning for the CMS started more than a year ago, and it had a projected opening date of the fall of 2017.

The district office argues that it set up a CMS Task Force and sought the input of teachers, parents and other community members throughout the review and planning process.

The RTA counters this by stating, “Few stakeholders have been included in the CMS Task Force... Teacher involvement in the plan has been minimal at best; the task force had few teachers on it and there has been zero teacher input since October of 2016.”

The teachers association accuses the district of setting up committees, but not empowering them to make decisions, speak to each other or give input into the overall plan. The RTA also accuses the district of calling staff meetings at the last minute, of informing parents and families of teacher reassignments before informing the teachers themselves, and of a host of other actions that failed "to foster an environment that is conducive to rigorous teaching and learning."

Sharifa Wilson, who has served several terms on the school district’s board of trustees, defends and supports the district superintendent. She claims that the criticisms the RTA is leveling against Hernandez-Goff are personal and that the union is throwing everything in the mix to get a better contract for the teachers.

Wilson said, “What I find interesting is that this is the first time in three years that we are beginning to see the positive impact of what the superintendent brought to the district. We brought her in to fix this district.  The students still are dropping out at 40% to 50%.”

"The district has to focus on student outcomes,"Wilson said. "Now, test scores are posted by classrooms, where everyone can see them.  It’s evident which classrooms are doing better. Having the data where it can be clearly seen will allow administrators and teachers “to see where we have to put more support and prevention in place.”

Wilson pointed to things she saw as other improvements: “We now have an alignment with the Sequoia High School District, which means we have our teachers doing professional development together. The teachers are now aware of what the students need. Now 10% more students are enrolled in A-G prep classes at Menlo Atherton High School. More students are now focused on preparing kids for college and beyond to give them a sense of hope and personal accomplishment.

Wilson said speaking of Hernandez-Goff, “She also brought in electives – a band, jazz, an orchestra, digital arts, health and wellness, a choral group. Now, there are six kids in the Menlo Atherton band

“We know that the teachers want a raise, so they say, 'Let’s create this hell.' Are they trying to undermine the success? We finally have successes, more increase in parent engagement and you want to get rid of the superintendent?” Wilson asked.

Some are now raising questions about Wilson’s support of Hernandez-Goff and her relationship with the head of the CMS task force. There are also charges that Hernandez-Goff, currently, has her son on the school district’s payroll and, in the past, also had her daughter on the payroll.

The district office has yet to respond to the nepotism charges. The next school board meeting will be held on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the district office at 2120 Euclid Avenue in East Palo Alto.

As the charges and the counter charges fly back and forth, many will be awaiting answers and a resolution of the conflict. After all, as all sides might agree, it is the education of the children that is at stake.