One high school or two? The debate begins

One high school or two? The debate begins

Michele Ellson
Historic Alameda High School

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.


Submitted by Gerald C Wagner (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

Why not keep both facilities. One a Frosh-Soph campus and one for Junior-Seniors. That's what I went thru when Lagrange, IL, LTHS was getting too large. Worked well, sports and all.

Submitted by luczai (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

Maybe the concept of an east and west campus would work. They could call it Alameda Encinal High School. Academic activities could be located in the Alameda High location, which is more central to all students, and athletics, theater, music, art, and other activities in which not all students take part could be centered at the Encinal location. If additional classroom spaces were needed at Alameda, some of the areas currently devoted to those things might be converted into classrooms. I don't know enough about what's practical to suggest exactly where, but if the tennis courts were relocated, possibly a multi-story academic building might be built there. I would also suggest that if such a plan took form, a shuttle bus service between east and west campuses be considered. As the new housing plans attempt to get more people out of their cars, the bus system will become too crowded to accommodate the needs of students who must travel between campuses. This would also cut down on the number of cars of staff and students driving from one location to the other.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

Of all the things Alameda could blow a quarter of a billion dollars of borrowed money on, this would have to be at the bottom of the list. What stands between Alameda High School students and a better education is not a bigger campus. And, just because other towns have done it that way is really no argument at all.

Submitted by Denia (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

It was a very informative meeting, and the discussion productive and thought-provoking thanks to the skilled facilitation that Mr. Quattrochi provided. I went in leaning one way and left very open to the other alternative.

The issue of east vs. west that pervades so much island discourse and equitable access to quality educational programming, services and facilities is a big one for me. But with creative thinking, such as what luczai offers above, I am hopeful that there are viable ways to bridge the (real and/or perceived) gaps.

PS. Kudos to Michele and the amazing resource that she is to our town. This is a terrific article summarizing last night's meeting.

Submitted by SugarBeat (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

If Alameda truly wants to "bridge the lingering divide between the east and west ends of the Island and provide more equitable schooling" then they should think about bussing students from around different parts of the island (like Berkeley has done for years).

Since it sounds like there is money that some entity wants to spend, build a third high school option to meet the changing needs of students, instead of collapsing 2 established high schools.

FYI - San Leandro has a freshman campus.

Submitted by Bette (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

Time to gut the innards of the white elephant with the fence around it - Keep the facade and build a whole new building inside. That would give you the space to combine both. 21st century learning requires new facilities that can handle the needed tech for STEM classes.

Just please plan for staff parking. Eminent domain for the dead corner with the empty lock shop and drive through cleaners.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

Let's get real... the district has no intention of consolidating the two high schools, this is just paying lip service to something that started last year.

That 'something' that started last year started after the district floated the tax bond measure, and some people in the community questioned the expense of paying for both high schools, and argued that the high schools aggravated a socio-economic and racial divide between the east-end and west-end of Alameda.

So, to placate those people, and get the bond passed, the district had to promise, in the bond measure, to study the question. That's all it was, a promise to study the question, have public hearings, etc. No requirement to actually consolidate the schools.

So, now that the bond measure passed, in part on the back of that promise, the district is going through the motions of having the public hearings, etc.

However, don't expect anything to come of it.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

I agree with Ruth Abbe, who said, “We don’t have the money for this...You can’t compare these two plans to each other, because one is existing money, and the other is a new bond program.” We simply do not have the $275 million to build one new campus, so we have to renovate the three that we now have.

The question arises: how do we make the best use of the three high school campuses (Island, Alameda, and Encinal) that we have now have? Cross-enrollment in the other high school's courses and sharing resources would seem easy to implement. We all need to drive less over the next few years, so I would argue against paving more asphalt just so teachers or parents can drive cars there.

Submitted by Lizzy (not verified) on Sat, Jan 31, 2015

I think its best to keep 2 separate high schools. Have 1 high school for Alameda would make class sizes too big.

Submitted by Donna Vaughn (not verified) on Sun, Feb 1, 2015

The powers that be should again look at Lyons Township High School in La Grange, Illinois. Freshmen and sophmores are at one campus and juniors and seniors at another. Its a highly rated high school so I know it works.

Submitted by Mary McMuldren (not verified) on Tue, Feb 3, 2015

I think we have two unequal high schools. There needs to be equity. This could be facilitated in a number of ways. More needs to be offered at Encinal to attract a full roster of local students. We should not be filling up unwanted spots at Encinal with students from out of town while AHS is overcrowded. Splitting the campuses with each offering a two year program sounds like an excellent idea. No, it doesn't mean larger class size; it means better class options for each interest/need.