Parents, schools leaders discuss fate of Wood Middle School
Parents at Wood Middle School asked the school board Tuesday to consider putting the Alameda Community Learning Center somewhere else next year, while some school board members said more needs to be done to support the middle school.
The charter is being moved from its longtime home at Encinal High School to make room for a new “Junior Jets” middle school program. And while school district leaders’ formal space offer to ACLC isn’t due until Friday, they have said there’s nowhere else for the school to go.
Wood parent Jane Grimaldi asked the district to consider keeping ACLC at Encinal, saying the school will still have room for it even when the Junior Jets program opens next year. Teacher Jeanette Frechou asked whether the charter could be placed on the old Island High site on Eagle Avenue.
“The word around town is, Wood is improving. Give us time,” Frechou said.
ACLC parent Caprice Carter questioned whether the Wood site would provide her school with the facilities it needs – particularly a large central meeting space that is a key feature of the school’s current space. She asked the board to consider holding a public hearing that would allow parents to provide input and to work together for a solution that is acceptable to everyone.
“I feel there has been no transparency in this process. So the community does not know how you arrived at this decision,” said Carter. “I also feel this decision making process pits one school against another school and one community against another community unnecessarily. We are all one community.”
Carter and others who spoke to the school board on Tuesday said they’re concerned that the ACLC move is part of a district effort to shut Wood down, and they accused the district of making moves that undermine the school by driving parents away. But school district officials offered a spirited defense of their efforts to improve it.
“We have no intention of closing Wood School. That’s not our intent. Our intent is to support Wood Middle School to help them come out of program improvement,” Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said, referring to a designation some schools receive when they fail to meet test score targets. “It is not the district’s goal, read my lips, nor intention, to close Wood Middle School.”
The comments came as district staffers offered a lengthy presentation on efforts they are making to boost test scores at three schools, including Wood. Schools that receive Title I funding from the federal government because a high percentage of the students they serve come from low-income families are required to meet test score targets or face sanctions that can include closure. Schools that do not receive Title I funding aren’t held to the same standards.
While Wood made notable gains in its test scores last year, it still failed to improve enough to get out of program improvement, putting it in the third year of the five-year program. If it fails to meet those targets for another year, district leaders will begin planning to either close Wood, fire all of its staff, change its educational program or bring in someone else to run the school.
Principal Jeff Knoth said he hopes to raise the school’s academic performance index score to 800 this year, the state’s target. He is also hoping to get enough students’ achievement levels up to stall the program improvement process, he said.
“We have high hopes for this year,” Knoth told the board.
The school’s staff lengthened the school day, implemented a host of teaching and training initiatives and began conducting more frequent assessments to monitor students’ progress and are offering academic and behavioral supports aimed at building a school culture that “values learning.”
The discussion prompted some board members to ask whether the district’s efforts to boost achievement at Wood are enough and whether schools leaders should be doing more to help the school succeed. And they questioned whether ACLC should go elsewhere.
“There’s a fear of closing Wood. I do believe that when a school has to live under that fear, that does impact parents’ choice to go to that school, in that environment,” said Trustee Trish Spencer, who asked that the board hold a public hearing on the potential ACLC move.
Spencer asked whether the district should consider eliminating the school’s Title I designation so that it will no longer be required to implement the sanctions, a move Trustee Mike McMahon said he wishes the board had considered years ago. Chief Business Officer Robert Shemwell said the district receives about $1.5 million a year in Title I funds that are used to provide supports at those schools; Wood’s budget for this year includes about $42,000 in Title I money.
“Had we known 12 years ago, I would have basically told this community that we need right away to get out of the Title I business in x number of years,” McMahon said.
Trustee Margie Sherratt asked whether the district is locked into continuing the program improvement process. No Child Left Behind expires in a year, she said, and new standards are set to be ushered in. But Superintendent Kirsten Vital said that regardless of the federal rules, the school is still not performing as it should.
“I think we have to look at the California accountability system. And Wood is at (an API of) 762. And that is not acceptable,” Vital said. “There is some work to be done regardless of program improvement.”