Potential charter move to Wood stirs parent concerns

Potential charter move to Wood stirs parent concerns

Michele Ellson

Families at Wood Middle School say they’re frustrated about the possibility of a charter school being added to their campus, a move that has stoked both rumors and fears that the school is slated for closure.

“We feel this is just another nail in the coffin for Wood School,” said Diane Stohner, a Wood parent who said she’s got concerns about having the Alameda Community Learning Center charter school on the Wood campus.

Stohner and other parents interviewed by The Alamedan – who said they first learned about the possibility of a move from the charter’s parents and students – said they think it would be a bad deal for families at both schools. They said they don’t feel comfortable with the idea of having high school students on their campus and questioned whether it has the parking and other facilities the charter will need.

“I don’t feel comfortable having my daughter around high schoolers,” Stohner said. “We didn’t sign up for this.”

The charter, which serves more than 300 middle and high school students, needs to move off the Encinal High School campus at the end of this school year to make way for a new “Junior Jets” middle school magnet slated to open there in the fall. And while district officials aren’t saying that the charter has asked for space on the Wood campus or that they are planning to offer it, they’re saying they don’t have anywhere else to put the school.

“Ongoing facility challenges find AUSD in its current position where only one school in the district is showing declining enrollment: Wood Middle School. Thus, Wood Middle School is the only school in the district with sufficient space to share facilities with ACLC as other campuses currently are doing,” district officials wrote in an e-mail to people who have inquired about the rumored move.

Paul Bentz, who heads the nonprofit entity that manages the school, declined to discuss the specifics of the charter’s space request until after the district makes its offer – that’s due by February 1 – though he said that if it were up to him, he’d prefer that the school stay in its home of 17 years on the Encinal High campus.

“We would like to stay right where we are. That would be our first choice,” Bentz said.

The charter’s space request, which the school district provided at a reporter’s request, asks to keep the school at Encinal; failing that, the school’s leaders are seeking consideration “for its own site on the West End of Alameda if such a site becomes available or to share a site that has adequate equivalent space.”

Parents questioned whether the enrollment projections offered by district officials – which show the student body at Wood dropping by almost half next year – are accurate. The school has only two available classrooms with its current enrollment, data released by district officials as part of a report on Alameda Unified’s new administrative offices showed.

“So what do you do if ACLC moves over the summer and Wood has 500 kids?” Wood parent Lori Keep asked.

Keep and other parents interviewed by The Alamedan said they want the district to consider moving the charter to another West End site or the former Island High School campus, which is now vacant. In their e-mail, administrators wrote that all of the district’s available sites are being used and listed other shared facilities, including the former Chipman Middle School, which houses the Academy of Alameda middle school charter and Nea Community Learning Center’s K-5 program; and the former Longfellow Elementary, which is home to Nea’s 6-12 program and the Woodstock Child Development Center.

Wood once earned a California Distinguished School honor reserved for its achievement but has struggled in recent years to meet state and federal test score targets and to address discipline and behavior issues, though parents said the school has changed. They said suspensions are a fraction of what they were only a few years ago, and overall, the school’s test scores are rising.

But the school’s inability to raise test scores for one group this past year – its English learners – place it in the third year of a five-year scheme known as program improvement, during which the school must meet its targets or face a host of options that include replacement of all of its teachers, a wholesale change in its educational program, takeover by an outside entity or closure.

Scores for Lincoln Middle School’s English learners also saw double-digit drops this past year, though they remain much higher than Wood’s, and the school met all of its testing targets. The Academy of Alameda’s English learners also posted higher scores, though that school failed to meet test score targets in other groups.

Only schools that receive federal Title I money due to the high percentage of low-income families they serve are subject to the program improvement process, prompting some parents to suggest the district stop taking the funds. The school’s budget includes $42,283 in Title I funds this year, the district’s records show.

“The school is being punished for helping these kids who need help,” parent Jane Grimaldi said.

The district’s letter says that an Alameda Community Learning Center move to the Wood campus doesn’t mean the school will be closed, and Superintendent Kirsten Vital has said that the district is doing everything it can to boost achievement there. Still, she said that the Board of Education – whose members have said they want to have a public discussion about the school’s future – will need to make a decision about the school’s fate by the end of this year.

Grimaldi said she’s had parents of fourth and fifth grade students tell her they had planned to come to Wood but now aren’t because they are hearing the charter is coming on campus; she believes they equate the potential for the charter being sited at Wood with the possibility for closure.

“The enrollment numbers at Wood are what will determine whether or not Wood closes, and people simply don't sign up if they see any uncertainty. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle,” she said.

Parents said they fear a closure would mean the loss of a host of “awesome” teachers and programs that include after-school scrapbooking classes, technology tutoring and an urban sustainability program that recently earned a federal grant and is working in conjunction with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Keep said the band program and its instructor, Anselmo Reis, have been a boon for both her children as well as for lower income students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument.

But an even more basic concern they have is where Wood’s students will go if the school is closed.

“If Wood closes and we don’t choose Encinal, where do we go? What happens if they can’t cram us all in at Lincoln?” Grimaldi asked.

District administrators have embarked on an aggressive campaign to institute “choice” programs at the behest of parents seeking alternatives – and particularly, middle school alternatives – to traditional schools and charters. In addition to Lincoln, Wood and a trio of middle school charter programs – the Academy of Alameda, Alameda Community Learning Center and Nea – the school board just signed off on a full middle school program at Bay Farm Elementary School, and the Junior Jets program is slated to get off the ground this year.

The Alameda Community Learning Center’s request projects that 116 of the charter’s middle schoolers will come from Wood’s attendance zone, while 47 would come from Lincoln’s.

But the Wood parents interviewed by The Alamedan said they want a traditional neighborhood middle school and that they worked hard to pass the Measure A parcel tax to preserve it. And they said the district’s efforts to find out what kind of schools parents want didn’t capture the desires of Wood’s parents, who they said want their neighborhood schools too but aren’t as vocal.

“Our parents don’t have computers. Sixty-two percent are socioeconomically disadvantaged and 32 percent are limited English proficient,” Grimaldi said. “Survey Monkey doesn’t work for those folks.”

District administrators must present preliminary space offers to all of Alameda’s charter schools by February 1 and a final offer by April 1, and the charters have until May 1 to respond. Parents have asked for a public hearing before then, though a district administrator said the school board typically doesn’t discuss the space offers until they are finalized.

“Here we are finally plugging it out. And they’re plunking ACLC on campus,” Grimaldi said.

Comments

Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Wed, Jan 23, 2013

The Wood School campus has a great location. The science classes have conducted research at the beach. There is also land that can be developed into a school garden. The staff is dedicated and I've heard the music department is excellent. Last year the teachers and administrators of WMS submitted a proposal to uplift and transform the school with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) theme. At that time the school board chose to support proposals for the new Jr. Jets program and the Bayfarm middle school program, but they rejected the WMS proposal. Too bad.

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