School officials outline next steps on magnet, innovative school programs

School officials outline next steps on magnet, innovative school programs

Michele Ellson

Alameda school district leaders are preparing to request a fresh round of magnet and innovative school proposals – in the spring of 2013.

Proposals that are turned in that October and later okayed by the Board of Education would be implemented in the 2015-2016 school year, district officials told the board on Tuesday. They said the proposals will be on a three-year cycle until the Measure A parcel tax expires, in 2018.

The district is preparing to put a new global arts magnet in place at Washington Elementary School for the 2012-13 school year and innovative learning programs at Bay Farm and Amelia Earhart elementary schools. A “Junior Jets” program for junior high school students is to be added at Encinal High School the following year.

School board trustees added a sixth grade at Bay Farm but deferred a decision on adding more middle school grades there or at Washington until they have a better fix on the future of Wood Middle School, which faces closure or other major reform measures if state test scores there don’t improve.

The programs being put into place over the next two years were put on hold when an earlier parcel tax proposal, Measure E, failed to earn the assent of two-thirds of voters in a June 2010 election. The approval process was restarted when Measure A passed the following March.

Trustees are being asked to move the attendance zone boundaries for Franklin, Henry Haight, Paden and Ruby Bridges elementary schools to accommodate incoming students who live in the Washington zone but whose families would prefer they attend a traditional school. But the district’s student services chief, Kirsten Zazo, said she doesn’t expect many students now in the Washington zone will seek entry into those schools.

Zazo said that all but three of the families whose students now attend Washington have signed forms saying they plan to be at the new magnet next year, and she said the parents of 100 incoming kindergartners took enrollment papers to attend the school next year.

She said the district has received forms for 40 students outside the Washington attendance zone whose families are interested in sending them to the new magnet next year, 23 of them from families whose students now attend the Nea Community Learning Center charter.

“Students in other elementary schools have shown quite an interest in attending the magnet,” Zazo said. “We are getting quite a lot of forms from Nea students.”

The new magnet will be open to students across the district, though Zazo said students who now attend the school and others who live in the current Washington attendance zone will have priority in enrollment. The open enrollment period for the school will be held through March 30.

District officials are setting up a 15-person committee to name the magnet that will be made up of district staff, parents, students and community members. That committee will be appointed in March and is expected to offer its top three name choices to the school board by May.

School board Trustee Mike McMahon said the district got about three dozen suggested names for Ruby Bridges.

Like Wood, Washington had been given five years to improve its students’ scores on standardized tests or face sanctions that could ultimately include school closure. But district officials said Tuesday that making the school a magnet restarts that clock.

While district staff said they plan to conduct an annual progress evaluation of the new magnet and innovative school programs and a comprehensive evaluation every three years that measures the program’s effectiveness and academic success, they admitted they haven’t yet figured out what the measures demonstrating either will be.

McMahon questioned how district staff will measure the effectiveness of the new programs, which he said weren’t focused on specific outcomes or goals. “We said they will do great things, but we haven’t tied that to measurable outcomes,” he said.

Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said she wanted to make sure that schools that wanted to copy innovative programs at Bay Farm and Amelia Earhart – whose programs are only open to students who live in the schools’ attendance zones – wouldn’t have to wait three years to apply for the money they’d need to do so. District officials had previously estimated the three-year startup costs for the new magnet and innovative school programs at $2.64 million.

Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said those proposals could come back to the board before the next proposal cycle for new programs starts, though McMahon questioned whether future school boards would okay those funds and said the data to prove their effectiveness wouldn't come soon.

"I'm not sure boards will be willing in the future to replicate these programs based on a 'trust me' type of thing," he said.