From the community | Measure I (know I can)

Antonio Lopez is a city councilor for East Palo Alto. From 1999 to 2008, he attended Ravenswood Edison Brentwood Elementary and Ronald McNair Middle School. He is currently completing his second year of doctoral studies. in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford.

I still remember the smell of gunpowder – not the one that once flooded our streets, but the one that filled our classrooms. The chalk-painted hands of my school’s only music teacher hovered above us. We sat “crisscrossing applesauce” on the carpet, its thin layer of shag not much of a cushion between our caboose and the floor. Tight against each other, all thirty-two, we tried to decipher the score that our teacher had just given us. A song? Tania shouted, What does this have to do with the STAR test? Marcel supports his dissent: Ayo, aren’t we supposed to do math problems or what?

But Mrs. Parker would have none of that. “Go back to the top guys, come on, we only have 40 minutes here. And don’t just say the words. Really Listen for them. Understand the meaning. Like a broken faucet, the words pour out in stutters, heaps of syllables that betray our disarray. But eventually, after endless loops of the song on the old Panasonic stereo, our voices came together in a single stream of I.

i know i can

be what i wanna be

If I work hard on it

I will be where I want to be


If I had to sum up my experience as a K-8 student in the Ravenswood School District, it would be this moment with Mrs. Parker at the Edison Brentwood Academy: her insistence, and the insistence of countless educators who stayed despite the low pay, that Black and brown children are only captives of our imagination. No zip code, no state guardianship or county grand jury, no a would determine our outcome in life but us.

“I Know I Can” by Nasir Jones. Throughout my career as a Ravenswood child, I have carried the words of the Queensbridge poet with me. But as inspiring as Nas’s words were and still are to me, my years in higher education and public service have made me realize that our public schools, like the cities in which they are housed, can only thrive as we invest in it. Displacement, a high cost of living and a hyper-saturation of schools in our small town have taken their toll on our neighborhood. And in 2020, citing budget cuts and a precipitous drop in enrollment, the school board closed Brentwood along with Belle Haven Elementary School.

In the upcoming ballot in June, residents of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven will consider a measure that, if passed, would provide $110 million in bonds to the Ravenswood School District. The district plans to spend the majority of these funds on upgrading Costaño Elementary School and Cesar Chavez Ravenswood Middle School. Many aging laptops have survived their temporary use. The buildings have remained largely intact since the 1950s. Beyond replacing these portable classrooms with permanent classrooms, Measure I aims to improve the efficiency and technology of elementary schools in the area.

Some would say that you should not give more to a school district that has already received measures in the past. “Antonio”, they say, “have we not given enough?” How can I respond adequately by summarizing the history of inequality in one breath? How can I convince parents, who may have attended Ravenswood themselves and had a less than memorable experience, that one measure won’t undo decades of redlining, blockbusting and white-flying, in addition to a weak tax base? We need decades of resources to repair decades of damage.

Others will be more direct in their assessments. “Why should I give to a district that has mismanaged funds in the past? The logic behind this statement seems almost biblical, arguing that children should inherit the mistakes of their predecessors. In this same logic, is our own city then ineligible for state and federal aid? Isn’t the fact that our children have been and will continue to be educated there reason enough to support Ravenswood?

To the anti-reform skeptics, I want to remind you that on the road to self-determination, even nations are wrong. We are a young city which has had less than forty years to position itself at the level of secular municipalities. As the great Bob Hoover said in an interview for dreams of a city (a documentary filmed in the late 1990s on East Palo Alto), “Unfortunately, none of us are experts in community development, city building, so we kind of learn as we go. as you go. It’s on-the-job training. »

What value is there in continuing to point fingers? Let’s join our hands. Yes, we must learn from the past, but why let it cloud the present? And that present is the fact that over the years Ravenswood management has taken countless steps to improve the quality of learning for its students. In 2008, the same year I graduated from Edison McNair Academy (now Los Robles), the district partnered with education advocates and concerned philanthropists to create the Ravenswood Education Foundation (REF ), whose private funds have improved the quality of teaching through coaching and collaborative time, enrichment in the arts, SEL support, and more. Last year alone, REF raised over $9 million for Ravenswood. Recently, REF introduced a program that matches teacher compensation viz. neighboring districts to ensure we hire the best and brightest educators. Last month, the Chavez robotics team went to the robotics world championship! And just the other day, while I was handing out Measure I literature, I had a conversation with Liliana, a freshman in Los Robles’ dual immersion program. She spoke practically better Spanish than me. And in a city where two-thirds of the population are Latino, in a state where Latinos are the largest ethnic minority, we must equip our children, regardless of background, with the skills they need to face their future.

This is a school board with skin in the game. This is a district that believes that a child should not have to travel outside of their own community to receive a good education. As school leaders, parents and other elected officials, we are all on a mission to make Ravenswood second to none.

This is not just a letter from a decision maker. This is a call letter as an alumnus, as a born and raised in East Palo Altan whose entire life was transformed due to upbringing, including my time in Ravenswood.

It is not a showcase of poverty, nor a story of well-being of a “successful” elder. It’s one of many stories across the country of school districts that, like the cities they’re in, are struggling to retain the communities they serve.

It’s a song our children sang, but our bickering voices drowned out theirs. This is a call for self-responsibility, for us to recognize that as long as we as a community depart from our institutions of learning – our public schools – they will continue to struggle.

Despite how the years have hardened me, I still sing this song alongside our children. I hope that by voting Yes on Mesure I, and thanks to your donations and your volunteer work with us, you will do so too.

About Adam Gray

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