Mayor to hold education Q&A for Belle Haven parents

Belle Haven Elementary School, which uses the adjacent Belle Haven branch of the Menlo Park Library as its library during school hours, is part of the Ravenswood City School District. Many neighborhood residents want to leave the district and possibly create a new one in its place, due to poor academic scores. (Kevin Kelly / Daily News)

Belle Haven Elementary School, which uses the adjacent Belle Haven branch of the Menlo Park Library as its library during school hours, is part of the Ravenswood City School District. Many neighborhood residents want to leave the district and possibly create a new one in its place, due to poor academic scores. (Kevin Kelly / Daily News)

Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith has scheduled a meeting for Belle Haven residents later this month to discuss long-standing concerns over their children’s education.

“For years, we’ve been hearing from residents in Belle Haven who are not happy with education … and are asking for help, for assistance with this,” Keith said. “I wanted to start the conversation. … It’s the start of a community-driven conversation.”

At the meeting, titled “Community Conversation: Improving Quality of Education,” Keith will hold a question-and-answer session with residents alongside a panel that includes Suzanne Carrig, director of policy development and administrative programs at the Santa Clara County Office of Education, and Joe Ross, president of the San Mateo County Board of Education. The meeting will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at the Menlo Park Senior Center (110 Terminal Ave.).

Unlike the rest of Menlo Park, Belle Haven is part of the Ravenswood City School District, which also includes East Palo Alto and whose history of poor academic scores has driven many in the community to send their children to other districts.

Prior to the Q&A, Carrig will give a presentation regarding possible tools the neighborhood could use to improve the district, alter boundary lines or create a new district. She said creating a new district can be a very complicated process, one she has never seen during her 19 years with Santa Clara County.

“When you create a new school district, it’s not even a local decision, it goes to the state,” Carrig said. “In cases of changing boundary lines from one district to another, that’s a local decision that can be appealed. … For the most part, the activity we see in Santa Clara County is transfers, moving from one district to another.”

The overwhelming majority of Ravenswood’s students, about 89 percent, live in poverty. Roughly 83 percent are Latino, 7 percent are Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 7 percent are African-American and the remainder are other races. Last year, 19 percent of Ravenswood students scored proficiently in English and 12 percent proficiently in math on state tests — only a 1-point gain in English, and no change in math from 2015. The scores are markedly worse than state scores for low-income students of all three predominant ethnic groups in Ravenswood.

Carrig said the state doesn’t use socioeconomic status as a criterion for creating new districts, but it would not be out of the question.

“I would think, although I can’t say with any certainty, that they would look at this as well,” she said.

She added there are ways to file complaints against school districts with counties’ offices of education.

“County offices are required to look at particular schools, making sure they provide proper books and the facilities are clean and operating, and there is a percentage of qualified teachers,” Carrig said.

“Everybody has the right to make sure their kids are getting an adequate education.”


Medical college admissions: Maharashtra students, parents move SC against change in domicile norms

Maharashtra Students and parents have challenged the decision by the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court to relax domicile rules for admission to medical and dental colleges.

One in every two students applying for medical and dental seats in Maharashtra is not from the state. Angry with the state’s decision to relax norms and allow non-domicile students to apply for medical seats, medical aspirants and their parents from Maharashtra filed a petition in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER) figures show that the number of registrations of students who have cleared both class 10 and 12 from the state is 49,768, whereas those who have only cleared Class 12 is 48,977.

Explaining why the Class 12 numbers were high, a parent said “Many students come to Mumbai to prepare for medical entrance exams and appear for Class 12 exams in Maharashtra after sitting Class 10 exams in their respective states.” He was of the opinion that they should not be given the advantage meant for children with state domicile.

On July 7, the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court relaxed domicile norms for medical and dental aspirants in the state. Originally, those who had cleared class 10 and 12 from the state or had a domicile certificate – a document showing that the student had lived in the state for the required number of years – were eligible for state quota seats. Now the rule making Class 10 compulsory has been dropped. “Those who have cleared Class 12I from Maharashtra, even without Class 10 from the state, will be eligible for state quota seats from now,” said Dr Pravin Shingare, director of DMER.

Commenting on the move another parent said “Earlier this year SC was very clear that no more cases on medical and dental admissions should be entertained by High Courts till admissions are over. How can the Aurangabad bench allow such changes to the admission process while the registrations are on?”

DMER’s decision to announce a revised provisional state merit list before the first seat allocation list for state quota seats has brought some relief to the parents and students. “We hope the SC will support our stand before the first seat allotment list is released,” one of them said.

While the petition is up for hearing in SC this week, the first seat allotment list for admissions to state quota seats in government-run and private medical and dental institutes in the state will be released on July 25.




Unions urge parents to turn education cuts into election battleground

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary.

Kevin Courtney, NUT general secretary: ‘We want to put pressure on every candidate … to pledge to oppose school cuts in their constituency and elsewhere.’ Photograph: Getty

Teaching unions say they will carry the fight against budget cuts affecting schools directly to parents and voters, with the National Union of Teachers’ general secretary vowing to make education funding a key election issue.

Kevin Courtney told the union’s annual conference the snap election was an opportunity to challenge the funding shortages in England.

“In the run-up to this election, parents must demand of all politicians: will they invest in our country, will they invest in our children?” he told delegates in Cardiff.

“I don’t believe there’s a parent anywhere in this country who voted for their child’s class size to go up, or voted for their child to lose the opportunity to do art or dance or music.

“So parents must now demand clarity from candidates seeking office. We want to put pressure on every candidate in every constituency to pledge to oppose school cuts in their constituency and elsewhere.

“We can reach parents with this and we can make a difference in the general election.”

Courtney, in his first union address since his election as general secretary, demanded that the government publish its consultation on the controversial national funding formula planned for schools in England.

“It would be an absolute disgrace if they did not publish their response to this before the general election. Parents need to know what they are voting for, they need to know what the parties are saying about the funding of their children’s schools,” he said.

But if the Conservative party attempted to appease unhappy MPs “by taking more money from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham, then I’m saying to Theresa May: expect industrial action from this union, and expect it soon”, he added.

Courtney accused the Tories of breaking their previous election manifesto pledge on school funding. “Because that Conservative manifesto promise was broken, across the country we’re seeing class sizes going up, we are seeing arts, dance, drama, music taken off the curriculum. We’re seeing thousands of teaching assistants made redundant or not replaced,” he said.

The NUT’s call on funding was joined by other unions, including those representing headteachers.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our top message is that there is insufficient funding in the education system. We call on all political parties to commit to investing in education as part of a long-term economic plan.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his union would also campaign over the school funding cuts. “There are crises, like teacher recruitment and the £3bn of cuts the government expects schools to make, that should not be forgotten during the election campaign,” he said.

“We will lobby every party to make sure that their policies on education are based on evidence and are at the forefront of their campaigns.”

The NUT had previously passed a motion rejecting the government’s plans to revive selective schools in England.

“This union is clear. Justine Greening and Theresa May’s ‘grammar schools for everyone’ is just an oxymoron,” Courtney said. “We believe Theresa May has been very nervous of using a legislative route. She has no electoral mandate for it but she is now seeking one. So this debate is now very public.”