University hopes to get extension of charter for its East Palo Alto schools

The nonprofit Stanford New Schools, which runs the East Palo Alto Academy, welcomes the opportunity to keep operating its elementary school and high school.

The Ravenswood City School District board of trustees last week denied a five-year renewal of the Stanford New Schools charter, citing dissatisfaction with state test scores in its new elementary school grades, but left open the possibility of extending the charter for a shorter period.

Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford's School of Education and president of the nonprofit Stanford New Schools, which runs East Palo Academy Elementary School and East Palo Alto Academy High School, welcomed the opportunity to continue operating the schools.

"While the trustees were very enthusiastic about the high school, they expressed concern about the elementary school, which had only two years of data when the charter came up for renewal," Stipek said. "If the district extends the charter, that would give us the chance to demonstrate that we can succeed with the elementary school in the same way that we have succeeded with the high school."

The East Palo Alto Academy High School opened in 2001 as a joint project of Stanford, a Bay Area nonprofit organization and the school district. Stanford assumed full responsibility for the high school in 2005; it now has 300 students in grades 9-12.

Stipek said the high school has an 86 percent graduation rate, compared with the state average of 80 percent. More than 90 percent of the students who graduated from the East Palo Alto Academy High School last year were admitted to colleges.

"More than 50 percent of them were admitted to four-year colleges – more than twice the rate for African American and Latino students in the state as a whole," she said. "And Stanford raises considerable money for scholarships to ensure that the students who are admitted to college will be able to attend."

The East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School opened in 2006. It has 270 students enrolled in kindergarten through fourth grade, and eighth grade; Stanford had planned to add a fifth grade next year.

"Like most new charter schools, it takes time to become effective in improving student performance," Stipek said. "It is not uncommon for a charter school to take three to four years before we see a significant growth in test scores, which we expect will happen in the next two years at the elementary school."

In March, the state of California listed the East Palo Alto Academy – the name given to the combined charter school campuses – as a "persistently low-achieving school," based on the school's low rate of achievement as the elementary grades were added.

Stanford has appealed that designation, saying it is inaccurate based on the state's own criteria.

According to the state, a "persistently low-achieving school" is one that has not gained at least 50 points on the Academic Performance Index – the metric California uses to assess its schools – over the last five years. (The index is a single number, ranging from 200 to 1,000, that reflects the school's performance level, based on the results of statewide testing.)

Stipek said the East Palo Alto Academy actually achieved a 76-point overall gain over this time period; the high school alone had an even greater gain of 84 points.

The academy's index was 605, compared with scores of 480 or less for the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state.

Stipek said the state refused to consider all five years of data because the state changed the school identification code when the elementary grades were added.