East Palo Alto board to study all school names but first, Ravenswood Middle School

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The Ravenswood school district trustees voted unanimously on Thursday to form a board subcommittee to study and make recommendations on whether to change the name of Ravenswood Middle School in response to community concerns about the loss of a campus named after civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.

The new naming subcommittee will tackle this issue under a tighter deadline that has yet to be set, board members agreed, and then review all school names in the district.

Trustees Ana Maria Pulido and Marielena Gaona Mendoza, who have advocated for retaining Chavez’s name, will serve on the subcommittee.

Community members voiced concerns this summer about the potential removal of Cesar Chavez Academy’s name. Since Ravenswood Middle School opened in 2017, it shared a site with Cesar Chavez Academy, but this fall marks the first year that the new comprehensive middle school will operate as one entity, serving sixth through eighth grade students. The name Ravenswood Middle School never went through a formal naming process, as required by board policy.

The concerns about Cesar Chavez Academy sparked a proposal from Trustee Sharifa Wilson earlier this month to take the opportunity to scrutinize all school names.

But Pulido and Gaona Mendoza said they were concerned about embarking on a long, drawn-out process and wanted to address the Chavez issue first. Pulido suggested the board consider changing its renaming policy, if necessary, to do so.

They ultimately decided to form the board subcommittee and prioritize making a decision about the name of Ravenswood Middle School. Pulido has suggested they integrate the two names and call it “Cesar Chavez-Ravenswood Middle School.”

In other business Thursday, the board approved a committee of more than 30 administrators, teachers, parents and community members who will be tasked with a major initiative for the K-8 school district— creating a new strategic plan — over the next four months. The committee had been a point of contention among board members, some of whom criticized the selection process as lacking transparency and the membership as unrepresentative. Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria and a consultant hired to support the strategic plan process added 11 people to address these concerns, including parents and teachers to make sure all schools were included.

Pulido cast the sole dissenting vote against the committee’s approval on Thursday because, she said, the appointed members (including her and board President Tamara Sobomehin) are voices the district often hears from.

“We need to draw from more perspectives, in my opinion,” she said. “I feel they’re too homogenous.”

The trustees also directed staff to add two parents, one to represent the Voluntary Transfer Program, or Tinsley program, and another, East Palo Alto charters schools.

The committee will have its first meeting next Thursday, Aug. 29. The district plans to solicit further public input through focus groups, surveys and town halls. Top district leadership will also participate and give feedback in five meetings throughout the fall.

In response to Pulido and Wilson’s concerns that the full board has more oversight into the committee’s work, the process now includes five either special board meetings or one-on-one conversations with consultant Attuned Education Partners for trustees to weigh in, in addition to regularly scheduled board meetings.

Under a proposed timeline, the board members are set to see a draft strategic plan by mid-October and consider approving it in December.

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