Proposed charter move causes outcry

Proposed charter move causes outcry

Michele Ellson

Updated at 8:43 a.m. Wednesday, January 15

Alameda’s Board of Education rode herd on a contentious discussion Tuesday about space for Alameda Unified’s charter schools that exposed the rising tensions over space that are being driven by the rising popularity of the Island's charter schools and the district’s efforts to increase and improve school options.

The central drama concerned district staff’s proposal to move the Alameda Community Learning Center for the second time in two years, a move that brought dozens of parents, staff and students from the middle school charter out in protest.

“I can’t help but feel that we at ACLC are not held in the same regard as other schools,” student Camilla Guiza-Chavez said, voicing the concerns of many who fear the moves could hurt the school’s enrollment and programs.

Other parents asked the district to consider renewing a lease for the Home Sweet Home preschool, which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

District officials said they could accommodate The Academy of Alameda Middle School’s request for 22 classrooms at the former Chipman Middle School, but that Wood’s need for nine additional classrooms to support a restructuring plan could necessitate another move for the ACLC charter. The district is considering moving the middle and high school charter to the former Woodstock Elementary School campus or scattering students to a few different campuses. Nea Community Learning Center could stay on the two campuses it’s on or move to Woodstock.

Board members narrowly chose to move the charter school once more, to the former Woodstock campus, which will be vacated by the Alternatives in Action charter high school at the end of June. If the board and the charters' leaders agree to put both Nea and ACLC there, the district may need to find new homes for Island High School and its adult school, which are also housed at Woodstock now.

District staff is preparing offers of classroom space to Alameda’s charters under Proposition 39, a state-mandated ritual that requires school districts to figure out how and where to house their charter schools each year. In prior years district staff conducted most of this process behind closed doors, presenting charter space allocations to the school board for its approval as a fait accompli. But controversy over last year’s decision to move the Alameda Community Learning Center charter onto the Wood Middle School campus – a move families from both schools and a pair of board members opposed – prompted Superintendent Kirsten Vital to make the process more public.

“I don’t want to do what we did last year,” Vital said, referring to the contentious split vote to move Alameda Community Learning Center onto the Wood campus.

School choice has been a major district initiative, and Alameda Unified has created a middle school at Encinal High and offered other options aimed at keeping struggling schools open and keeping parents who might otherwise leave for private and charter schools in the public school fold. At the same time, though, the district relinquished the former Miller School property – which housed the Island High continuation school – over cost issues and effectively condemned Historic Alameda High, sending its adult school scrambling for new space. Those moves contributed to the current space crunch.

Meanwhile, Alameda’s popular charter schools have been expanding. Academy of Alameda Middle School principal Matt Huxley has said he’d like to expand the number of grades at the school, though it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday if the charter renewal petition he submitted included additional grades.

Alameda Unified’s first troubles with accommodating all of the district’s schools surfaced in 2011, as the Nea Community Learning Center expanded toward a K-12 school. In that year, district officials offered Nea space on two different campuses in a deal that was supposed to last one year but has gone on for three. But tensions escalated in 2013, when the district sought to evict the district-created Alameda Community Learning Center charter from it 18-year home on the Encinal High School campus to make room for its new Junior Jets middle school magnet program.

In an e-mail to The Alamedan, Nea's lead facilitator, Maafi Gueye, said her school is excited about the prospect of reuniting on one campus.

"Nea has been very excited about the prospect of moving back together to be on a contiguous campus so that we can fully realize the intention of its charter once again," Gueye wrote Wednesday. "Should the opportunity for the reunification of Nea's K-5 and 6-12 programs present itself in the final AUSD facilities offer on February 1st, Nea will embrace that opportunity with fervor!"

Just as last year’s controversy over the charter’s move stirred both fear that the district was trying to shut struggling Wood Middle School down and long-held concerns about equal opportunity for Alameda’s poorer West End, Tuesday’s discussion dredged up charter parents’ long-held suspicions that schools leaders consider them public school-hating drains on the traditional school system and ugly accusations that Wood families had been less than welcoming of their presence this year.

“I don’t see how it’s fair to punish an overperforming school because of an underperforming school,” said ACLC 10th grader Adam Morlikowski. Wood is being forced to restructure due to low test scores.

While parents, staff and students from ACLC decried the move, some – including Patti Wilczek, director of Community Learning Centers Inc., which oversees Nea and ACLC – acknowledged the tough choices the district has to make due to space limits.

“There’s no easy solution to this,” she said of the space crunch.

The district has initiated a process for building a facilities plan they will likely take to voters in November for funding; at the behest of Wilczek’s predecessor, Paul Bentz, the plan will discuss facilities for Alameda’s charter schools, which educate more than 10 percent of its public school students.

Preliminary space offers go to charter schools by February 1, and the board will make decisions in May.


Submitted by haskidsinausd (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

I'm intrigued by the comment "I don't see how it's fair to punish an overperforming school because of an underperforming school", because it bring to light some common misconceptions about standardized test scores. Schools in which there is very little diversity, such as ACLC, only have to (per state law) report their "significant numbers". In this case, ACLC only reports the test scores of their Caucasian students. All other scores are considered, by the state, to be "insignificant". More diverse schools, such as Wood, report all test scores as "significant". English Language Learners, achievment-gap groups, children living in poverty...all included in the score report. Interestingly, when the "Caucasian" group scores are compared between charter schools and regular public schools, the scores are often the same or higher in the regular public schools. As Diane Ravitch said, "Standardized test scores are a very accurate measure of family income." I don't think we should assign facilities based on family income.

Submitted by Scott Dodds (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

As school district parents, we should avoid the trap of pitting the parents of each school against each other. With respect to haskidsinausd, this is not about class or income. It is about fairness, stability and what is best for all our students, and not unfairly punishing those who have already given too much.

Wood school is as much the victim of an AUSD administration that wants to play games instead of search for real solutions. AUSD forced this situation with last year’s poorly conceived move of ACLC to a struggling Wood campus. Now here’s another ludicrous package, proposing the upheaval of 6 schools across 5 campuses to add 9 classrooms for Wood expansion.

Stop the musical sites. Deliver a stopgap of portables until there is a real plan that benefits all.

Submitted by Aclc (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

haskidsinausd's information is completely inaccurate.

Submitted by Aclc community ... (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

We only report the test scores of our Caucasian students? Where did you get that information? That is not true at all

Submitted by Mark_Irons (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

"Aclc Community", you have distorted the point about Caucasian test scores made by "haskidsinausd". It does not say AUSD only tests Caucasians. read it again:" when the "Caucasian" group scores are compared between charter schools and regular public schools, the scores are often the same or higher in the regular public schools". We should concentrate on what improves education for the majority of students not just those who have the where with all to scramble for limited slots in elitist charters. Public schools interest before charters, period. Charters are public in funding only.

Submitted by haskidsinausd (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

I'm looking at your School Accountability Report Card 2010-2011 (it was the only one I could find) from the ACLC website for the fact that ACLC did not make AYP. I'm looking at the base API School Report on the site. I was looking at 2010-2011 because it matched the Accountability Report, but I see that in 2011 and 2012 Asians were added as a "significant" group. Before that it was only Caucasians. My apologies. But, still, no other sub-groups are included.

Submitted by Syl Gibson (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

An ACLC/NEA campus at the Woodstock site is a real boon for the "Community Learning Center" schools for several reasons:

1. They will have their own campus (something ACLC has wanted since I taught there 2002-2007)
2. The site is walking distance from College of Alameda (many of the older ACLC learners take college courses- it adds course diversity and looks great on college applications)
3. As more construction happens on the point, the center of our community will shift westward giving the school an ideal location for new families.
4. ACLC/NEA is in good position to receive both public and board support for a long term (10-20 year) lease for the site considering the hardships they've had to endure.

It's all good at Woodstock. Let's celebrate Wood's success!

Sylvia Gibson
Island High School Teacher
Wood Middle School Parent
Friend of ACLC

Submitted by ThisIsRidiculous (not verified) on Wed, Jan 15, 2014

The Miller site needs to be reacquired and repaired. Bringing that ONE facility back on line would solve many of the district's woes. The constant shuffling is costing way too much money and the continual bickering is tearing the community apart. Get ACLC/NEA their own site, let programs like Junior Jets and Wood Middle School move forward and prove themselves, and then focus on important things like bringing all of the AUSD schools in to the current century as far as cutting edge technology goes.

Submitted by WestEnd Parent (not verified) on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

I just want to respond to Syl Gibson's message:

An ACLC/NEA campus at the Woodstock site would NOT be a real boon for the "Community Learning Center" schools for several reasons:

1. According to AUSD's own facilities assessment, the Woodstock campus needs improvements of at least $123K due to major structural problems ($63K only to study the problems with the foundation!). Maybe AUSD is thinking ACLC did such a nice job improving their new site last summer that if they move the school around, they'll take care of improving their neglected facilities around town?
2. The distance to College of Alameda has never been an issue for ACLC students. As a matter of fact, some of them take online classes from UC Berkeley as well for the reasons you mentioned.
3. As more construction happens on the point, the westbound traffic will be a nightmare, with lots of potential for safety concerns. Many ACLC learners ride their bikes or walk to school.
4. "ACLC/NEA is in good position to receive both public and board support for a long term (10-20 year) lease for the site considering the hardships they've had to endure." This would only make sense if the CLCS schools get a safe site that it's not going to make them go broke through improvement process.

I agree, let's celebrate Wood's success when it actually is a success. For now it's all dreams, the Board of Education admitted at the hearing that they haven't even studied the new plan Wood is proposing, yet they are willing to move THREE schools (Adult Ed,ACLC and Island High) to accommodate Wood and their PROJECTIONS.

Submitted by Syl Gibson (not verified) on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

To respond to "West End Parent"
I currently work at the Woodstock site and it is a good place. There is a playground here that the NEA students can use. The school was built in the 50's and is similar to Franklin, Edison, and Otis in how it looks and feels. There are separate wings that can be used for different age/class groupings. There is a large multi-purpose room that can be the "Center". There are several inner courtyards, one is a beautiful garden plot created by BASE. There is natural light, there are grassy areas for outside class meetings, and a there is sense of community already present at the site. Please come by and see for yourself. At this point I think it will be helpful if we all look on the bright side. If you would like to know about the quality of education at Wood Middle School, please attend our next PTA meeting, Wednesday Feb. 12, and meet our vibrant community.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Jan 16, 2014

Hey folks,

I'm feeling compelled to step in to remind everyone that we require commenters to be civil and on-topic to participate in discussions on The Alamedan. While I personally appreciate that many of the things you all have said here have pretty much confirmed the points I've made in my story, using the anonymity we are allowing you to have (for the time being) to take potshots at one another is a nonstarter here. I'd like to host a constructive discussion on what is clearly a topic of great import to many of you, so let's please try to refrain from name-calling. Otherwise, I am going to have to close comments on the piece.

Submitted by Connie Turner (not verified) on Fri, Jan 17, 2014

I have to agree with Mark- public schools before charters! AUSD's focus needs to be how to provide quality public schools for all.

Submitted by Cturnover on Fri, Jan 17, 2014

I strongly agree with Mark - public schools before charters. AUSD's focus needs to be to provide quality public schools for all.

Submitted by AlamedaMama on Fri, Jan 17, 2014

Cturnover - Charter schools are public schools. Anyone can go to the school. Legally the district can not favor one over the other when it comes to facilities.

Submitted by Cturnover on Sun, Jan 19, 2014

Charters are public in that they get public funding. But that is all.

Submitted by Cturnover on Sun, Jan 19, 2014

Of course the district can favor one over the other, or we would not be having this discussion.