School board taking a closer look at ACLC move plans

School board taking a closer look at ACLC move plans

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s Board of Education will be taking a closer look at plans to start a middle school magnet on the Encinal High School campus this fall – plans that prompted a controversial proposal to move the Alameda Community Learning Center onto the Wood Middle School campus.

The board will hold a workshop Tuesday to discuss the new “Junior Jets” program and its displacement of ACLC, a charter school serving students in grades 6-12 that has been on the Encinal campus for 18 years. Final details for the public workshop are still being worked out.

The “Junior Jets” program was one of four magnet and innovative school programs the school board approved in 2011 as part of an effort to satisfy parents’ desire for a broader palette of school options. But its anticipated fall arrival comes at a time when the school district is more strapped than anticipated for space, schools administrators said Tuesday.

“We are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said.

Tuesday’s discussion, ostensibly about the school district’s legal obligation to provide facilities for charter schools, rekindled frustrations over a two-year-old decision to split Nea Community Learning Center in half and anxieties over the future of Wood.

Parents from Nea said the split undermines one of the key features of the school’s charter, students in kindergarten through 12th grade on one campus. And they questioned the adequacy of the facilities they’ve been given, saying they lack sinks, drinking fountains and properly sized toilets.

Parents from both ACLC and Wood united Tuesday in their opposition to the proposed move, with both groups of parents questioning whether sharing the mid-Island middle school campus will work out for either school.

ACLC parents, who said their school was created by the district as a “school within a school” at Encinal nearly two decades ago and who questioned whether it should be kicked out for a new program, said Wood lacks the space they need – notably, a large communal space – and also, access to the programs their students now enjoy at Encinal.

“To pick us up and move us is a very disruptive activity,” said Martin Kharrazi, whose family includes three ACLC graduates and two students who currently attend.

Parents also said placing the charter on the Wood campus would be a “nail in the coffin” for the school, whose troubled reputation parents said they have been working to turn around.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents who said were planning to go to Wood, but not if there’s another school there,” said Blanche Kim, a parent with children attending Donald D. Lum Elementary School.

Parents said they’d welcome the opportunity to help the district find somewhere else to put ACLC; they want the school board to put the Junior Jets program on hold, or at least slow implementation, so they can find a better space for the charter. But administrators said they don’t know where else to put the school.

“I am always willing to think creatively. But as the history has shown us, we are being squished,” the district’s school services chief, Kirsten Zazo, said. “We have had to close facilities, and we are using every inch of space that we have for students.”

Schools administrators said they have been talking publicly about the fact that ACLC would have to move for over a year, though some parents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they’re just hearing about the move now. Zazo said ACLC’s leadership had been looking on their own for space for the school, turning to the district for space when they were unsuccessful. They asked to stay at Encinal High, a document requesting space for the 2013-2014 school year showed.

Prior space losses set off a chain reaction that prompted the district to offer Nea space on two separate campuses, splitting the school, Zazo said. The district surrendered the Singleton Avenue site that had held Island High School and the Woodstock Child Development Center preschool in 2010, pushing Island High onto the former Woodstock Elementary School campus and the preschool onto the Longfellow campus that Nea had planned to develop its entire K-12 school on. Nea ended up moving its K-5 program into space in the former Chipman Middle School, which also houses the Academy of Alameda charter that replaced it.

Island High was moved to the former Woodstock Elementary School campus, which also houses the Alternatives in Action charter high school and the Alameda Adult School, which the district shuttered last year after learning the building it was housed in didn’t meet state seismic safety requirements.

“Every classroom on the Chipman site is being used by students. Every classroom on the Longfellow site is being used by students because of Woodstock Child Development Center students being there,” Zazo said.

The discussion dovetailed with another about how schools leaders will engage the community in creating a long-range facilities plan for the school district, a task that hasn’t been undertaken in decades.

“We are pressed for facilities in this district,” said Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell, who said the district needs a facilities plan that could guide facilities decisions covering the next half-century.

Some schools leaders resisted calls to slow the progress of the Junior Jets program in order to find a better spot for ACLC – and to see what the future holds for Wood. Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer said the board should reconsider plans to open the magnet program after learning that the number of students being admitted for sixth grade is double the number originally planned. But Trustee Margie Sherratt said the program should move forward.

“I think we have to honor that and work with that and not change the decisions that have been made by this board and by the hardworking teachers and staff that have been working the last two years on these programs,” Sherratt said.

Sherratt and Trustee Barbara Kahn said Wood families deserve to know what the future holds for the school as soon as possible. Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the concerns parents and board members have expressed about Wood prompted her to set up a meeting with parent and teacher leaders at the school in order to discuss its future, and that the board will hear more about possible plans for the school in April.

Board members said that at next week’s workshop, they’d like to get more information about plans for the Junior Jets program this fall and what impacts a suggestion the district delay the seventh and eighth grades would have. They said they also wanted more details about how the proposal for Wood and ACLC to share space would work out.

“Hopefully an outcome of this is, both ACLC and Wood would end up being reassured that maybe if they share facilities, they will live together,” Kahn said. “But the only way that is going to happen is if we talk to each other.”,


Submitted by Mudflats47 on Thu, Feb 14, 2013

I consider myself a supporter of public education. I voted for the various recent parcel taxes to support local school districts. I don't apply for the available senior citizen exemption. My grandchildren do not attend Alameda schools.

After ABC opened their coverage of the State of the Union address with music fit for a gladiatorial contest, I switched from that extravaganza (on TiVo) to the live school board meeting. Here I watched a very articulate administrator explain in excruciating detail how she works to shuffle the various programs and charter schools among the various Alameda school campuses. We even heard about "state law" that regulates how this shuffling is to be done. It occurred to me that each of the charter schools have their administrative staff. Therefore, when we have a public school and two charter schools crammed on one campus, we have four sets of administrators for one campus ( 1. district, 2. public, 3. and 4. charter). Each administrator needs (I agree) an office, a desk, a computer, an email account, etc. I don't understand how all that administration contributes more to educating a child than simple neighborhood schools did. I also wonder if education for all children in Alameda could be improved substantially if we took all that money in administration and put it back into the schools.

(There was one very telling moment in the school board meeting when a parent of a child in a charter school stood up and asked why all the charter schools and their attendant shuffling occurred on the west end, and not on the east end. I think that's a really interesting question. I don't know the answer. Maybe it's just because there is space for shuffling on the west end. But it might be worthwhile comparing and contrasting how and why schools operate on the east vs. west end, the administrative costs, and how that affects the actual education provided to individual children.)

Submitted by AlamedaMama on Thu, Feb 14, 2013

ACLC and the other charters in town came about from a need that was not being filled by the district. They function separately and without district funds. They are funded through the state like the district but are not under the same board or superintendent. This allows them flexibility the district does not have. It also means they do not have the administrative over head the district has as well. Nea an ACLC share a Director and each have a Principal of their own. They have very little support staff, equal to what a local elementary school has on site. Because they are able to function with out all the additional administrative costs that the district has, more money goes to things that touch the students.

These schools exist with approval from the district. They fill a niche that the district then does not have to fill. The district is now trying to innovate and fill some of the same niches. Why? Especially why when it comes to the West end when there are currently three other choices available. And why when it is in direct competition with Wood. The reason these schools are on the West end is because they evolved that way. ACLC was started through the district and up until recently shared some classes with Encinal. AoA started because Chipman was in the same position as Wood is now and the district allowed it to be taken over and turned into a charter. Nea started on the west end as a spin off of the successful ACLC program and grabbed Longfellow because it was previously closed to students because they had been moved to Ruby Bridges. They also took this building because it was in walking distance to the College of Alameda, where Nea high school students can take classes.

What the district has not done is develop a plan. When the Navy base closed in 1999 the district lost a lot of students and funding. The four elementary schools on the west end started to struggle with the lack of students. The district lucked out when the development happened at Bayport. They were able to get the developer to build them a new elementary school big enough to take three schools populations enabling them to close Woodstock, Miller, and Longfellow. What the district should have done at the same time was address the same lack of students for Middle school. They failed to plan yet again and Chipman went in to PI first and was converted into a AoA with the districts blessing. And with the addition of two new Middle school options the writing was on the wall for Wood. This makes the fact that they have decided to open a new magnet at Encinal with the Junior Jets baffling. Do they really want to add to the destruction of their only traditional middle school on the West end? To me it seems they didn't plan to fail, they failed to plan.

I think Alameda should demand more of its Superintendent. I especially fell a vote of no confidence when it comes to the decisions that have been made on my tax payer and children's behalf. Especially when it comes to the decision about the district offices. If the district had payed what the Navy wanted back two years ago they could have kept the Miller and Woodstock childhood development center buildings. Instead they let it go saying they couldn't afford the one time bill of $400,000 to upgrade the sewer system. But now they have the money to lease offices for $553,000 per year? Sounds very fishy to me.