Healdsburg school district merges kindergartens amid criticism of racial, academic divide
Starting this upcoming school year, Healdsburg kindergartners will attend one school.
The school board has decided to merge kindergarten classrooms at Healdsburg Charter and Healdsburg Elementary. The move comes amid criticism of a racial divide and academic achievement gaps between the two schools that prompted the district last year to form a task force and hire a nonprofit to investigate disparities in the school system.
It’s the first step in eventually combining the two schools into one, district officials say, an action many parents demanded after contending Latino students were funneled away from the charter and into a Healdsburg Elementary English language program.
Leticia Romero, director of community engagement at Corazón Healdsburg, a nonprofit dedicated to bridging racial and economic division in the north county city, welcomed the decision to merge the kindergartens.
“To finally have the superintendent and other administrators listen and say out loud ‘I’m ready to take responsibility for what’s taking place and create change’ is also a good start,” she said.
Although Healdsburg Elementary and Healdsburg Charter share campuses, their student bodies are sharply divided by race and academic achievement.
Latinos represent 89% of students at Healdsburg Elementary, and only 36% at the charter school.
State standardized test results last year indicated 68% of charter students met or exceeded English standards, and 55% met or exceeded math standards. In contrast, at Healdsburg Elementary, 32% of students met or exceeded English standards, and 23% met or exceeded math standards.
“Certainly the charter school was put into place to avoid white flight, and there has been a history of racial division,” said Romero, who through her role with the nonprofit works with many Latino families navigating the Healdsburg school system.
The demographic figures and state test results were cited by parents who called for a change for the two schools during a board meeting last summer that brought trustees to tears.
As a response, the district canceled Healdsburg Elementary’s English language program and hired the Oakland-based National Equity Project to provide guidance as the task force comprised of district administrators, students, teachers, parents and residents solicited feedback from the community during town hall meetings and in interviews to better understand how the school system affected families.
“We engaged in a yearlong listening campaign with our community and heard loud and clear that they wanted our elementary schools to come together and have our classrooms be reflective of the demographics of our community,” Superintendent Chris Vanden Heuvel said in an email. “Additionally, we feel that as the public school system in our city, we have a responsibility to encourage our community to come together in meaningful ways.”
Healdsburg Unified has more than 1,200 students, and 66% are Latino while about 30% are white, according to 2018 state data. The kindergarten merger is the first major step taken by the 20-member equity task force.
The change came as a surprise to some parents of the 55 incoming kindergartners at Healdsburg schools, who received calls from district administrators over the last few weeks informing them of last month’s unanimous board decision to combine the two programs.
Holly Fox, parent of an incoming kindergartner, said her husband received a call from the district superintendent. Her son was enrolled in the charter school for its project-based learning curriculum, but will now be a kindergarten student at Healdsburg Elementary this August.