One high school or two? Bond sparks debate
One high school or two? Bond sparks debate
Backers of a proposal to build a single, comprehensive high school think the land now occupied by Wood and Lum schools and Rittler Park is the place to put it. Photo by Michele Ellson.
Should Alameda have one comprehensive high school or two? That’s one of the main questions facing schools leaders as their proposed $179.5 million facilities bond heads toward a November vote.
The bond measure contains up to $90 million for Encinal and Alameda high schools – money some longtime residents believe should be used to build a state of the art campus for both schools’ students.
“If we put all our resources into one school, we could have a first-rate school, which the city deserves. The students deserve it,” single high school backer Don Peterson said. “There’s no reason to keep supporting two second-rate facilities.”
Supporters of a single high school said it’s time for the school board to consider consolidating the schools, a subject they accused civic leaders of avoiding for years. And they said they think a call for a new high school could consolidate support for the bond measure.
“I think what any of us are doing is asking them, please, sit down and talk about it. Ask the community, see if they’re interested. Look at it and have conversation,” said John Piziali.
In a letter to the editor published this week, school board president Margie Sherratt said the board will tackle the topic in the fall.
Peterson and others seeking the development of a single, new high school said a bigger school will be able to offer more courses than Alameda an Encinal high students can now access, along with better extracurricular activities and athletic facilities. And they said it makes more economic sense to run a single high school.
They said the construction of Encinal High School after World War II for the children of largely non-white workers at the Alameda Naval Air Station who populated the West End created an East-West, race-and-class divide that lingers to this day. A proposal to consolidate the campuses on the College of Alameda campus when that school was facing closure in the 1970s came and went, they said.
While a flood of new families who mingle on Alameda’s sports fields and in other youth activities has lessened that divide, one high school backers said they think consolidating the schools could erase what remains.
“It’s been a division forever,” said Nick Cabral, a community leader and, like Peterson and Piziali, an Encinal grad. “Why should the community have to deal with that?”
Cabral and the others said that they’re big boosters of Encinal High and that they cherish their experiences there so much that they want future generations of students from across the Island to be able to share them.
“I love the school, but I want it for the whole city,” Cabral said.
They said they think a new high school could be built where Donald D. Lum elementary and Will C. Wood middle schools and Rittler Park sit now. Additional funds to build the school could be generated by selling the Alameda and Encinal high properties, they said.
Not everyone is on board with the concept of a single high school, though. Followers of The Alamedan’s Facebook page were split on the question of one high school or two, with some agreeing a single high school would unite the city and others saying they want both campuses fixed up.
“There is no way you could fit that many students into one school and still create a cohesive and friendly learning environment. That's almost 2500 high schoolers,” Zack Kjelland wrote. “I just graduated from (Alameda High School) and that alone was already very over crowded.”
Another Facebook reader, Patti Cassaro, said consolidating the schools would mean fewer opportunities for students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.
Others said they think Alameda Point may be the only place on the Island with enough space for a new high school. Kevis Brownson said the Lum/Wood site was studied and found to be too small, and that Alameda Point is too far for some families to travel. School district spokeswoman Susan Davis said the district has not yet formally studied the proposal to put a high school on the Lum/Wood site.
“Although building one high school could help to solve the perennial East-West resource debate, there does not seem a way to do it with no practical site,” Brownson wrote. “The plan to reuse Historic (Alameda High School) for students with the (new) AHS renovated for … administration, and renovating (Encinal High School) with a new performance space, seems like the best way to go to me.”
Most of Alameda County’s suburban districts have a single, comprehensive high school, with the size of the student body in single-high-school districts ranging from 742 at Piedmont High to 3,934 at Newark Unified’s James Logan High, 2012-13 enrollment data on the state’s Ed-Data website show.
Pleasanton Unified has two comprehensive high schools, each of which had more than 2,000 students enrolled in 2012-13, state data show. Of Alameda County’s suburban districts, only San Lorenzo Unified had two comprehensive high schools serving fewer than 2,000 students each, as Alameda does.
A single, comprehensive high school would serve nearly 3,000 students based on district enrollment data for Alameda and Encinal high schools – making it a “very large” school based on the California Department of Education’s guide to school site analysis and development. It says school districts typically plan for a maximum of 2,400 students in a single high school, though it acknowledges more urban districts where space is at a premium may need to operate bigger schools.
The guide says size may not be the most crucial factor in the success of a school, and that bigger schools can be impersonal and also, more costly to operate on a per-student basis. Research on the impact of school size on academic achievement is inconclusive, it says.
“Determining the size of a new school is an important decision for a school district and deserves serious thought,” the guide says.
Using the guide as a rough estimate, the ideal size for a high school serving Alameda and Encinal students would be 276,000 square feet at 92 square feet per student and would sit on 58.7 acres – 52.7 acres for the first 2,400 students plus an additional acre per hundred students.
Alameda High School is 221,255 square feet and sits on 12.9 acres, while Encinal has 134,440 square feet of building on 21.9 acres. Lum, Wood and Rittler Park, which would also be considered for a single high school site, have a combined 18.6 acres, data contained in the district’s facilities master plan and a 2012 city parks master plan show.
Former school board member Bill Garvine said he’s not sure if a single high school is right for Alameda, but he said he thinks schools leaders should weigh information and opinions for and against the proposal as part of an effort to more specifically detail what voters are getting if they approve a bond.
“These are questions we need to get together to talk about as a community before we obligate taxpayers, to be sure we get it right,” he said.
Here's what The Alamedan's Facebook followers had to say about whether Alameda should have one comprehensive high school or two.