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Country Almanac

From its inception 18 years ago to its closure this spring, Ravenswood High School in East Palo Alto has been remarkably controversial. A setting for increasing black enrollment, eventually riots and utter educational breakdown in the late 1960’s, it became an expansive experiment in integration in the 1970’s. For most who have been associated with it the school was an indelible experience."

The Book

"An impressionistic tribute to Ravenswood”" is how the book is subtitled. In form the book consists of eight chapters, six of which survey different eras in the schools history through pictures and brief text. The lead chapter is an introduction and the final is reflections and different viewpoints from people associated with the school.

In part the book is designed to clear up all the misconceptions about the school, its authors said. “Misconceptions such that the school was a riot-ridden place in recent times," Greg said.

Ravenswood Staff
A book has been prepared about Ravenswood, which is due out September 1. It is almost entirely the work of three people, teacher Carol Hall and two students - Greg Gavin of Woodside and Rosan Gomperts of Menlo Park.
“Another misconception is that Ravenswood was just an experimental school that closed,” Mrs. Hall said. “It wasn’t. It was also a community school for years with a life and a history of its own."

The idea for a book was initiated by faculty at a teachers workshop last summer, according to Mrs. Hall. "We realized that the Ravenswood story was a good book and that we all had been writing a chapter to that book. But to have an authentic book it would have to be a collaboration."

Yet the pressure of closure on the faculty delayed any plans for the book, according to Mrs. Hall. “So like every activity that has ever come down the road at Ravenswood the writing of the book was made into a class,” she said. In a class however, one of the most important problems of writing the book still existed. It was impossible to get a lot of people to agree on what the school was and what a book about it should say. Mrs. Hall, Greg and Rosan saw this disagreement as an important part of the school and their book tries to reflect that. “There are things in the book that completely disagree with each other,” Greg said.

As the summer neared, the problems of creating the book became more apparent and once committed workers drifted off, only the three were left to finish the book. Now that they are closer to finishing more people have volunteered their help. Yet at one point, when there was no one else, Mrs. Hall, Greg and Rosan became so discouraged that they planned to print only 150 copies of the book, thinking that they could sell no more.

Young Gregory Gavin
PASTING UP the final pages of the book, Greg Gavin of Woodside and Rosan Gomperts of Menlo Park (l to r) are the authors, along with teacher Carol Hall, of a book on Ravenswood High School. Both former Ravenswood students, Greg and Rosan are doing much of the technical work on the book , which is do out on Sept. 1.
Now, however, the first printing of the book will produce 1000 copies, letters have been sent to all former Ravenswood staff, faculty and parents, and more than $100 has been donated to the effort from a committee of concerned parents. The rest of the printing costs will hopefully come from advanced sales."

“There is something about schools that makes it much too easy to forfeit on something,” Mrs. Hall said. “But it was important to me to follow through with this idea and prove to people that a Ravenswood book could be done.” “Also, Ravenswood was important. It was never boring. Throughout all the time I was there I was learning something new.

The People

In its last years Ravenswood High School brought bitter debate about integration, school finance, and education in general to the Sequoia Union High School District. Now, the school’s closure will move Ravenswood’s students and faculty back into the traditional system. How these people feel about the closure, their mandatory move, what Ravenswood meant to them and how its unique career affected them will be important factors throughout the district."

"I'’m not sure I'm sorry its over"” said Graham Knight, a white teacher who transferred to Ravenswood from Sequoia the first year of desegregation. Mr. Knight will return to Sequoia next year. “I felt there was a decline in the school, not in the last year, but over the last few. The last year for me was personally tiring. I wanted to look back and see what we had done, but we had to keep looking ahead."

Sara Boyd, a black counselor who spent seven years at Ravenswood, feels differently. Mrs. Boyd will be a counselor at Menlo-Atherton now. “It was just a low blow. All of us worked very hard to keep it going. The cost of running the school made it impossible to keep open as it was,” she said. “Yet I feel very badly. Ravenswood was the only school on the Peninsula for the black community."

Ravenswood shouldn’t have been kept open as an experimental school, according to Mrs. Boyd. “I don’t think it should have continued in its present form because it was not meeting the needs of black students,” Mrs. Boyd said. “Another school should be set up that is fitted to the needs of black students. Right now it’s the same old story: the poor get shafted.

Why Ravenswood closed was of interest to Laverta Jones, a black teacher who spent eight years at Ravenswood. She will be teaching at Menlo-Atherton next year. Support for Ravenswood was stronger when it was a black community school, Mrs. Jones said. “There was a school spirit before integration. It was a community school. We heard rumors about closing the school every year and every year they rallied against it. But that spirit was continually broken through the years. This year most of the teachers who transferred into Ravenswood for the integration wanted out. That went a long way to helping make it easy to close that school,” Mrs. Jones said.

A school too diverse, attempting too much, made Ravenswood’s closure inevitable according to Elvira Monroe, a white teacher who came to the school with integration. Mrs. Monroe will be at San Carlos High. “Alternative education is the way to go, but not the way we did it: alternative education, integration, a faculty that was never together, some teachers there to fool around. We were built to fail.

In terms of reaching out to people, I think we changed people’s lives,” said Mrs. Monroe. “We tried so many different things. Some worked, some didn’t. Thank God for those that did.”

But the closure had to happen. I think we came to the realization that given the kind of tasks we had to fulfill for the district we were not meeting kids’ needs, especially black kids she said.

There evolved a rip-off syndrome academically. Do your own thing. I think we sacrificed academics. I think we cheated a lot of kids,” Mrs. Monroe said.

How to move the Ravenswood faculty into the rest of the district after the closure was a source of controversy all year. Assistant superintendent in charge of personnel last year, Merle Fruehling, designed the move so that every teacher in the district was given the opportunity to transfer. Placement was made according in each department in each school.

Mr. Fruehling said that the program worked “very well. Typically most school districts leave it up to the administrations at each school to decide who gets a job. This is very arbitrary. Others go strictly on seniority. We didn’t do that primarily because many of the younger teachers were at Ravenswood.” Transfer opportunities were given to all teachers “so that teachers at other schools couldn’t say that Ravenswood teachers were getting special treatment.

"I think the program was handled as humanely as possible," Mrs. Monroe said. "What are you going to do? This was a pretty miserable situation. All and all I think it worked out pretty well."

Mrs. Jones is less satisfied. “The plan fell to pieces how many times? Some people who requested one school still don’t know where they’re going to be.

The subject area and department that teachers were placed in was another problem, Mrs. Jones said. “I’ll be teaching math. That is out of my area.” Mrs. Jones was a piano teacher at Ravenswood. Although she taught math six years ago, she spent the summer retraining herself to prepare for this fall.

Students will be affected by the closure in other ways. “It doesn’t seem fair to the black community,” Gloria Geesey, a white student who will move to Woodside High next year. “The black students are going to have to get up much earlier than anyone else. Other schools aren’t going to start later for them, like Ravenswood did for the whites. The blacks are the ones being inconvenienced. Next year it seems to me there will be a lot of racial hassles,” Miss Geesey said.

I believe that the people who live in East Palo Alto can handle this,” Mrs. Jones said. “They can handle this because it happened gradually for them, because children were moved out of the community school gradually.”

A lot of students are going to have a chip on their shoulders who are from Ravenswood,” said Rick Altman, a white student who will spend his senior year at Menlo-Atherton. “People have said to me, ‘I can feel the structure already’ about the schools they will have to go to next year. Personally, I’m not looking forward to it. I worked on the paper at Ravenswood. It’s going to be very tough to go over to the M-A paper now.

About athletics, however, Mr. Altman feels differently. “I’m looking forward to playing tennis at M-A. It will be nice to play for a competitive school.

“I think kids will be suspicious of us,” Mrs. Monroe said of students at other schools reacting to teachers coming from Ravenswood. “They won’t be used to teachers caring as much as do teachers who have been to Ravenswood at one time or another.

Despite the differences of opinion about what Ravenswood was, what caused its closure, and what the subsequent problems will be, there seems to be a consensus that Ravenswood High School made a strangely permanent mark on whomever it touched.

“The experience made me a better counselor,” Mrs. Boyd said. “At Ravenswood I was dealing with all kinds of people and as a result I am going to be more understanding an empathetic.

"I grew a lot in learning to adapt my teaching to the type of students I had,” Mr. Knight said. “I picked up a lot of ideas about what worked and what didn’t. I learned to feel very close to the student. It was more than a school, it was a community.

We were a group of people on an expedition,” Mr. Altman said. “I’m still bitter. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully accept that it’s gone. It was a part of my life."

Ravenswood PDF (12MB)