Teachers in the Ravenswood City School District are pushing for the resignation of the superintendent, Dr. Gloria Hernandez-Goff, saying they’ve lost confidence in her ability to lead, especially in light of what they said has been a botched roll-out of a new district-wide middle school.
The Ravenswood district is located in East Palo Alto and the eastern part of Menlo Park and serves about 3,100 students in elementary and middle school.
In a letter presented to the school board last Thursday, the Ravenswood Teachers Association said problems with Hernandez-Goff’s performance have emerged since she came to the district almost four years ago, but that “the 2016-2017 school year has produced the most blatantly unprofessional and aggressively hostile actions we have seen.”
Through a spokesman, Hernandez-Goff declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that she and the board have held “a series of stakeholder conversations” over the past three years about the plan to create a comprehensive middle school and that the conversations have been open and transparent.
“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,” Hernandez-Goff said in the statement, calling the vote of no confidence from the teachers’ union “a publicity stunt.”
The letter lists several reasons why the teachers feel that the superintendent has failed to meet professional standards set by the state for educational leaders, including what they described as a failure to adequately include teachers in planning for the new middle school, set to open this fall, and not properly communicating with teachers about plans to shift different grades to other school sites.
“We don’t believe she’s the one to lead us in the future long-term,” said Ronda White, president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association and a 20-year veteran of the district who teaches struggling readers. She said 143 of the district’s 184 teachers signed the letter. The majority signed their names, but 52 simply signed “a teacher at” and then the name of their school.
The board last Thursday gave its official approval to move ahead with opening the middle school this fall. All sixth graders in the district will attend the new site this year and new classes of students will be added in the two following years until the school serves all of the district’s sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Until now, middle-school students in the Ravenswood district have mostly attended K-8 schools.
The stakes are high for this district, which is located in an impoverished part of Silicon Valley, close to Facebook’s gleaming campus and just across the highway from the much more affluent communities of Palo Alto and Atherton. Despite an infusion of state dollars in recent years in the wake of a shift in the way California funds schools, test scores in the Ravenswood district continue to lag below the state average and significantly trail scores in nearby districts.
A new KIPP charter school also is set to open this fall and will siphon away some students — and dollars — from the district, putting pressure on the budget.
Nevertheless, School Board President Sharifa Wilson said she’s confident that Hernandez-Goff is the right one to lead the district.
“There’s no question in my mind because we’re starting to see the results,” Wilson said. She pointed to what she said is an improved working relationship with the Sequoia Union High School District, where Ravenswood students attend ninth through 12th grades, and said Ravenswood students have started taking more college-preparatory classes when they get to high school.
Wilson also commended Hernandez-Goff for increasing art and music instruction, as well as adding maker spaces where kids can tinker, design and learn programming and even how to make robots.
But board member Marielena Gaona-Mendoza, who was elected last November after pledging to make the district more responsive, said the teachers’ vote of no confidence needs to be taken seriously.
“I was not surprised at all that this happened,” Gaona-Mendoza said. “I applaud the teachers for having the guts to stand up and come and do it.”
Gaona-Mendoza said she started to realize how frustrated the teachers were when the union president, Ronda White, spoke at an earlier board meeting this spring about how the teachers felt left in the dark about plans for the new middle school.
“We the board members should listen, and this is the time for the superintendent to really listen and maybe learn a lesson that teachers cannot be ignored,” said Gaona-Mendoza, who teaches in Redwood City and previously taught special education in the Ravenswood district. “I know how teachers feel when they’re being ignored and have issues they want to bring up to the superintendent and she’s not there for them.”
Board President Sharifa Wilson said she and another board member will meet with union leadership to address concerns raised in the letter. However, when asked whether the board will ask Hernandez-Goff to step down, Wilson replied, “Absolutely not.”
Read the letter below: