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Elaine Ray, News Service (650) 723-7162; e-mail:

Stanford helps launch new charter high school serving East Palo Alto and Menlo Park

The Ravenswood City School District has been without a public high school for 25 years. But no longer. Thanks to a collaboration between Stanford, a Bay Area nonprofit organization and the district, a new school will open Tuesday, Sept. 4 to fill the void. The new school, temporarily named the Aspire Charter High School, will serve 84 ninth-graders this year and will ultimately serve more than 300 students.

"It's going to bring the high school back home," said Nicky Ramos-Beban, co-director of the school. "It is really a community school that we're trying to create."

Stanford Professors Charla Rolland and Linda Darling-Hammond, along with a half-dozen other School of Education faculty, helped design the charter school, which will be housed in a wing of Menlo Oaks School in Menlo Park. Students from East Palo Alto and Menlo Park will attend the new school, the first in the area since Ravenswood High School closed in 1976.

Concrete plans for creating a new community school took root last fall, when Aspire Public Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating small schools, and Stanford School of Education professors put their heads together with the Ravenswood City School District. They got ongoing funding from the state of California, with smaller grants coming from such sources as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided $400,000 for the project's first four years, and Hewlett-Packard, which provided equipment.

The three-way collaboration between Aspire, Stanford and the district is highly unusual, said Aspire CEO Don Shalvey, whose organization has been receiving advice from Darling-Hammond for several years.

"To have a school of education working in concert with an operating public school ... can only bring good things to kids," Shalvey said.

Aspire will operate the high school while Stanford will provide curriculum development and support and school design assistance. The university also aided in recruiting staff and fundraising for the school. The School of Education plans to take advantage of the chance to give teachers in training practical experience -- the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) will send student teachers to work with experienced teachers at the school.

"Stanford was there when it was just a dream -- and that was just in the fall," said Rolland, consulting associate professor at the School of Education, who helped write the school's charter.

The school will add a grade level each year until reaching 320 to 340 students in a four-year high school. According to Ramos-Beban, the school's student body "is extremely reflective of the Ravenswood district" and includes 45 percent each of Latino and African-American students, with 10 percent of students from Pacific Islander backgrounds.

Much of the impetus for creating the school came directly from the community, Rolland said. In an area where some teenagers must sit on buses for one to three-hour stretches just to get to school, the need was obvious.

School designers and administrators think its small scale will help students thrive. Special "laboratory" classes will unite 26 students with three teachers, who will share expertise on a wide range of topics. Aside from a handful of elective classes, most classes will be limited to 20 students.

"One advantage to going small is that you can be personalized," said Ramos-Beban. The school design calls for teachers to follow their ninth grade students into their tenth grade, creating a stronger relationship between student and teacher. Tutoring also will be available.

Rolland sees Stanford's contribution to the school as an outgrowth of its ongoing relationship with local people, especially those in East Palo Alto. "It gives us a place to share best practices and to continue to develop knowledge," she said. "It's natural that we would share it in a community that could benefit the most."

The school plans an official "launch" for Oct. 12, when its permanent name -- chosen by students and their families along with school officials -- will be announced.

Aspire Public Schools was founded in 1998 by Don Shalvey, then superintendent of San Carlos School District, and Reed Hastings, an entrepreneur. Its goal is to build a statewide network of 100 small, high-performing charter schools throughout the state. Aspire opened its first elementary school in North Stockton, California. The new Ravenswood school is its first high school.



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