New school year brings changes, with the biggest yet to come

New school year brings changes, with the biggest yet to come

Michele Ellson
Junior Jets

Updated at 10:05 a.m. Monday, August 26

Alameda Unified School District students who are starting classes today will be welcomed by new schools and principals, millions of dollars in facilities upgrades – and a new lunch menu. And there are even bigger changes to come, as the state implements a new school funding scheme and districts put new curricular standards in place.

All of the district’s four high schools and both of its traditional middle schools – Lincoln and Wood – will be headed by principals who weren’t running them at the beginning of the prior school year.

Meanwhile, middle school families will be partaking in a pair of new schooling options – the new Junior Jets middle school at Encinal High and new seventh grade classes at Bay Farm Elementary – while dozens of families with children turning 5 this fall and beyond will attend transitional kindergarten classes at Amelia Earhart, Henry Haight, Paden and Maya Lin elementary schools.

The district upgraded paint, roofing, floors and more at its schools this summer, spending $6.5 million on summer fix-it projects according to a presentation to be offered to the school board on Tuesday.

One other potentially major upgrade students will see when they go back to school today: A new lunch menu that the district says is healthier and one that offers more choices, including special-order vegan entrees.

“Our focus is on creating a healthier school nutrition environment,” the district’s website says.

But some of the biggest changes schools here and across the state will see are in the works this year. Like school districts statewide, Alameda Unified is receiving a per-student funding increase for the first time in years, and the district will face new accountability requirements for the money that are still being worked out.

The district will also be working to implement the Common Core, which are effectively national curricular standards intended to better prepare students for college and careers. State lawmakers included $1.25 billion, or about $200 per student, in this year’s budget to help school districts put the new standards in place, and district officials have two years to put a plan in place and spend the money.

Schools leaders are also working out the details of a proposed bond for a November 2014 ballot to revamp and perhaps, rebuild, some of Alameda Unified’s aged schools. District leaders released a facilities study in June 2012 that showed the district’s schools needed $92 million in fixes, and they conducted a special series of meetings this past spring to help determine the fate of the Historic Alameda High School campus, much of which remains fenced off to address district leaders’ concerns the buildings could collapse during a big earthquake.

District staffers are proposing a study that outlines the district’s future demographic and educational program needs that would be used to help guide decisions on what facilities are needed and where, similar to studies that underpinned prior facilities decisions.

That discussion and more are on the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting. The board’s public session begins at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue, and can be viewed on Comcast cable channel 15 and AT&T cable channel 99.

Separately, Alameda police are gearing up for the new school year by offering traffic safety tips for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. They're also reminding parents not to double-park in front of schools or park in white zones, which could result in fines. Tips and additional information are available via the Alameda Police Department's Nixle page.


Submitted by Bill Delaney (not verified) on Mon, Aug 26, 2013

The Wood School paint job simply makes the school look like a prison. To avoid the opportunity to have the school look like a place for energy and creativity is unfortunate. To expect young people in 2013 to attend a school that has the appearance of being a 1968 facility is unfortunate as well.

Submitted by Nancy Ely (not verified) on Mon, Aug 26, 2013

Bill, when I first saw the painting being done at Wood, I was SURE that was the undercoat! Unfortunately, that was the final color... How much nicer would have been some soft pastels, such as southwestern tones of coral and turquoise!

Submitted by wood has heart on Mon, Aug 26, 2013

Bill, when I first saw the new paint job, I assumed that this was the undercoat. How were these colors ever chosen? How much more welcoming it might have been if the school had been painted in some soft pastel colors, such as southwestern corals and light turquoise? Also, the placement of the new sidewalk in front of the building makes impossible the planting of bushes or shrubs that would soften the harsh exterior of the building. Who plans these things?

Submitted by Curmudgeon (not verified) on Tue, Aug 27, 2013

Much of the capital work that was done on the schools this summer is cheap, almost an afterthought compared to the fancy "tenant improvements" in the district's new corporate office suite.

I watched the new white boards for Encinal being unloaded three days before school started. Ancient, rotted, water-stained bulletin boards have been left in place in some rooms. Apparently, no one had time to use a level for the new white boards, some of which are crooked.

Buried in the back-to-school report to the school board is a mention that the district hasn't adopted any new textbooks this year. This makes it impossible to implement the Common Core curriculum. English Learners and students with disabilities are at risk, because the alternatives to a formal, Common Core-aware curriculum -- including a library of math handouts commissioned by the District -- are in no way adapted for special needs.

The back-to-school report also suggests that all-new furniture was purchased for the corporate office. One of the tasks this summer was to move the furniture from the old district office in Historic Alameda High, over to Encinal. Bureaucrats get the good stuff, while the people who work and learn in the schools get the old junk.

It's time we had schools that matched the overall level of wealth, the high aspirations, and the proud history of our city.

Submitted by Susan Davis (AU... (not verified) on Mon, Sep 9, 2013

Thank you for bringing up your concerns, Curmudgeon. Apologies for the tardy response, but we've had a busy start to the school year.

In response to your statements:

1.At EHS this summer the district: purchased and installed new furniture in 11 classrooms and the Jr. Jets wing; purchased and installed new lunch tables for the Jr. Jets yard; painted 95 percent of the interior; purchased 12 new benches to surround tree wells; refinished floors and installed new carpet; repaired walls and ceilings; modernized five portables; repaired and replaced siding on numerous buildings; and constructed a new drop-off circulation driveway for safety. Three assistant Jr. Jets principals, two counselors, and a staff secretary also received office furniture in good to excellent condition that was leftover from the old district office at HAHS.

2.On May 23, 2013, the EHS principal submitted a request for 26 whiteboards. 24 whiteboards were installed on July 24, 2013. The principal will determine where new bulletin boards are to be placed and submit a work order.

3. No “tenant improvements” have been made in the district office and no new furniture was bought for it, except for some filing cabinets and some chairs and tables that were needed for one of the larger conference rooms in the building. Other furniture in the new office building came from a company that was going out of business; that furniture was all used.

4.Textbooks supporting Common Core have not yet been purchased because a) the state hasn’t yet created the assessments for Common Core (so it is not yet clear which textbooks will be most helpful); and b) given that this is a multi-million dollar item, the district will be forming committees to make rigorous, thoughtful decisions about which books will work best for our students. The district did, however, spend more than $600,000 on other textbooks and supplementary materials for AUSD students this year. (You can see a list of materials purchased on page 40 of the presentation.)

5. While no work was done on the district office this summer, across school sites district staff and contractors: painted the interiors and exteriors of schools; repaved blacktops and sidewalks; replaced roofs; took out dead or dying trees; upgraded furniture at the school sites; maintained and repaired fields; replaced lockers; replaced fire extinguishers; upgraded interior lighting; installed doors and fixed windows; repaired stucco,; repaired irrigation systems; installed walkways and portables; and refinished wood floors and repaired tile floors, among many other repairs and improvements.

Those looking for more details about the work done this summer can refer to the presentation for the Board of Education meeting here: