One high school or two? The debate begins
One high school or two? The debate begins
Should Alameda have one comprehensive high school or two? About 50 people – including school board members past, present and prospective – showed up at Will C. Wood Middle School on Thursday night to discuss the pros and cons of each.
The meeting was the first of several set up to allow community and school board members to discuss whether Alameda should consider building a single comprehensive school, a topic architect Mark Quattrochi said hasn’t been seriously broached on the Island since the 1980s. District staff is slated to make a recommendation to school board members on February 24.
“It’s really about the big picture view, of one high school versus two,” Quattrochi said.
In addition to new facilities, a single high school could provide more robust educational and after-school opportunities, participants at Thursday’s meeting said, including more classes and academies with specific educational focus areas. A single school could also bridge the lingering divide between the east and west ends of the Island and provide more equitable schooling, they said.
“A unified school would go a long way toward bringing the community together,” Jim Myers said.
All three of the Alameda County school districts with total enrollments close to that of the Island’s – Berkeley, Castro Valley and San Leandro – educate their high schoolers on a single campus, according to information district staff provided to the school board for its January 13 meeting.
But maintaining Alameda’s existing schools would provide a sense of continuity and identity, participants said – along with more opportunities to participate in sports, leadership opportunities and other extracurriculars. Keeping two smaller schools would also make it easier to spot struggling students and address social problems, some said, and would be more in line with the neighborhood school experience Alamedans value.
Keeping the high schools we have would also be more practical, some said. Building a new school would cost up to $275 million and take eight years to design and build – provided the district could secure a location for it and also, get both voter and state approval to exceed its existing bond capacity in order to pay for it.
“We don’t have the money for this,” Ruth Abbe said. “You can’t compare these two plans to each other, because one is existing money, and the other is a new bond program.”
The state recommends that a high school housing the roughly 3,200 students a single school is projected to educate by the 2023-24 school year sit on 72 acres. Both Alameda High and Encinal High are on campuses that are far smaller than the state recommends.
The Measure I school bond contains $90 million for Alameda’s high schools, but school board members opted to hold off on deciding how they will spend it until the district had the chance to talk to community members about whether they want to maintain Alameda’s two existing comprehensive high schools or build a single new school for everyone.
If the board opts to follow the original plan for use of the bond funds, Historic Alameda High School will be completely modernized for student use, receiving a structural upgrade, new science labs and a raft of site improvements – including removal of a safety fence wrapped around much of the property.
Encinal High School is on deck to receive a new, two-story school building and upgraded classrooms, renovated science classrooms and modernized gym locker rooms, plus site improvements.
One other option participants discussed Thursday night: creating a single school with programs split across both the Alameda and Encinal campuses. The district has previously provided trade and Advanced Placement classes to students from both schools on a single campus, former school board member Margie Sherratt said. And meeting participants speculated about the different methods the district could consider to help students access classes on either campus.
“You can use class space online – give a lecture at Encinal High, (watch) at Alameda High School,” Sherratt said. “There’s lots of ways to really increase the one high school feel, even on two campuses.”
The discussion about the future of Alameda’s high schools will continue at a second meeting to be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Encinal High School, 210 Central Avenue. A school board study session will follow at 6:30 p.m. on February 17, at Alameda High School, 2200 Central Avenue.