Encinal High, Junior Jets could become single school

Encinal High, Junior Jets could become single school

Michele Ellson

The Encinal Jets – and the Junior Jets – are about to become one big, happy family.

Tonight, the school board will consider whether to combine Encinal High School and the Junior Jets middle school program on the Encinal campus into a single school. If the board grants its okay, the new school will be called Encinal Junior/Senior High School.

The idea was pitched by Encinal staff and community members, in part to lift the “huge burden” of administering two separate schools, according to a staff report to the school board. It says the merger could enhance students’ sense of belonging to a single campus, encourage high schoolers to look out for their younger classmates and ease staffing.

Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said the shift is a marker of the success and popularity of the Junior Jets program. “It helps us finally achieve our vision of a six to 12 junior-senior high school, which it was always envisioned as,” McPhetridge said.

The schools are already funded as a single entity and run with a single mission and vision, and some of the teachers on campus work at both schools. The main difference between the current setup and what’s being proposed: Less paperwork. As it stands now, the schools operate two schedules, two websites, separate attendance tracking and budgets. The schools even have two separate phone numbers.

“For the students who go here, it is one school,” Principal Kirsten Zazo said. “But system-wise, we’re running it as two schools.”

While the schools are being combined into a single entity, Zazo said the middle school will maintain its existing program and dress code.

“I don’t actually see the kids seeing any changes,” she said. “They already see it as one school, six through 12. So it’s not going to be that different for them.”

The school board approved the Junior Jets program in 2012 as part of the district’s effort to create innovative school programs that attract and retain families. Middle school in particular had been a tough time, when the district would lose families to charter and private schools.

The Junior Jets program was also set up as a more traditional public school option for West End families who might not want to attend a charter school. It was originally expected to serve as an extension of the high school, to eliminate what for some students can be a jarring transition between middle and high school.

The school serves 222 students in grades six through eight this year, its second in operation, and it’s expected to expand to accommodate 300; McPhetridge said the school is on track to have four sixth-grade classes next year and that the district got so many applications it held a lottery for admission. More than half of the middle school’s students attend high school-level classes on campus.

While it was originally set up to serve the West End, Zazo said Junior Jets is drawing families from all over the Island.

“I think that they’re seeing it as a high quality school,” she said.

The proposal is part of a full school board agenda that includes consideration of different options for the order in which projects to be funded by a $179.5 million school bond will be initiated. The primary change board members will consider among the five options to be presented is whether to move design and construction of fixes at Alameda and Encinal high schools up sooner than they are already scheduled.

No action on that item is scheduled for Tuesday.

The board will also consider whether to approve a five-year renewal of the Alameda Community Learning Center’s charter, extending it through 2020. Schools administrators are recommending the board approve the extension.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The meeting will also be broadcast live on Comcast cable channel 15 and AT&T cable channel 99 and webcast live on the city’s website.

Additional information on the items the board will discuss is available on the Alameda Unified School District website.