School board taking a closer look at ACLC move plans
School board taking a closer look at ACLC move plans
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.”,