Fate of Wood, future of middle school to be discussed

Fate of Wood, future of middle school to be discussed

Michele Ellson

Tuesday’s school board meeting will mark the opening of what could be a year-long conversation about options for Alameda’s middle school students, and specifically about the future of Wood Middle School.

The discussion about Wood’s fate comes as schools leaders are juggling a number of new middle school options – and as they face a decision about where to put the Alameda Community Learning Center charter, which will move out of its home on the Encinal High School campus next year when a new “Junior Jets” middle school program takes up residency there.

The board is slated on Tuesday to consider adding seventh and eighth grades at Bay Farm Elementary School, which launched a special program that included sixth grade this year. But board members said they’d also like to begin discussing the fate of Wood, where students have struggled to make state and federal test score targets.

If student proficiency in English and math don’t improve over the course of the next year to meet the targets, schools leaders will face options for Wood that include replacing the school’s staff, putting someone else in charge, restructuring the school or shutting it down.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said she wants to see the school improve and that the district is making efforts to raise achievement there. The district has reduced Wood’s class sizes, dropped a class period in order to boost the amount of time students spend learning English and math and funded a host of supports, including professional development for teachers and counseling, after school programming and a coordinator focused on boosting attendance. The school’s budget for this school year is $255,994, compared to $180,350 at Lincoln – which serves nearly twice as many students.

“We’re working really hard to improve that school. And our hope and expectation is that it will improve,” Vital, who said no decisions have been made about Wood’s future, told board members at their November 27 meeting.

Wood’s test score struggles began in the 2010-2011 school year, when the school’s overall Academic Performance Index score dropped 34 points and it failed to meet test score growth targets in all five of the student subgroups that were big enough to track. The school’s scores improved last year, but its failure to meet growth targets for one group – English learners – meant it would remain in “program improvement,” a designation for schools that don’t meet test score targets.

“Wood has made improvements. But the level of improvement needed, both state and federal have not met,” Vital said during an interview Friday.

The federal government expects 89.2 percent of Wood’s students to be proficient or better in English Language Arts and 89.5 percent to be proficient in math this year, and 100 percent by 2013-2014; last year, 51.6 percent of Wood’s students were proficient in English and 46.4 percent in math. Lincoln’s students, which – like their peers across California – must meet the same goals, were 82.7 percent proficient in English last year, exceeding last year’s target, and 75.6 percent proficient in math, which was a few percentage points less than the target.

Once in program improvement, schools have five years to turn things around before changes must be made. Vital said the school board would need to make a decision by December 2013 about Wood’s fate.

When Chipman Middle School faced a similar fate, a group of teachers and families created the Academy of Alameda charter school to take its place. Washington Elementary School is one of several district elementary schools that have struggled to meet state and federal proficiency and test score growth mandates, and parents and teachers there created the arts-themed Maya Lin magnet that opened its doors this year, which gave the school a fresh start on its test scores.

Maya Lin is one of four “innovative” programs the school board approved last year, as a response to parents’ desire to have a broader array of schooling choices. (The board opted not to approve fifth program for a sustainability-themed magnet at Wood.) Maya Lin may also add middle school grades, though the school’s leadership is waiting a year in order to get the new school up and running.

The addition of the middle school choices at Encinal, Bay Farm and potentially, Maya Lin, could take some of the pressure off of Lincoln, which is serving 968 students this year to Wood’s 506. But they could also draw students away from Wood, reducing its population to a number that’s too small to support a comprehensive array of courses.

Administrators are projecting that 111 sixth and seventh graders will attend Bay Farm next year and 203 sixth, seventh and eighth graders will become Junior Jets, leveling Lincoln’s population at 953 and dropping Wood’s to 360; a presentation to be offered Tuesday says it is “very difficult to run a viable and comprehensive program” when the student population dips below 500.

If Wood were to close, they project that Bay Farm and Maya Lin would fill out their capacity for junior high schoolers, Encinal would take in 450 Junior Jets and Lincoln’s enrollment would decrease slightly. Special education classes would be shuffled to other classes to accommodate middle schoolers at Maya Lin and the school’s fourth and fifth grade class sizes would grow to 32 students per teacher, the maximum for other district schools.

The space would also become available for ACLC’s middle and high schoolers, who will need a new home when the Junior Jets program comes online. Tuesday’s staff presentation lists the Wood campus as a possible home for ACLC in 2013-2014.

“We are going to have to relocate some charter schools,” school board trustee Mike McMahon said at the November 27 meeting. “They have to end up somewhere. And I have a feeling I know where they are going to end up.”

McMahon made a pitch for a K-8 school mid-Island, at Lum or Wood, something Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said mid-Island parents have asked about and will be allowed to propose in the district’s next round of specialized school plans – a process that could give Wood the opportunity to experience a comeback.

“Wood could create market share. Wood could decide to get people back,” McPhetridge said. “It could become a 6-12. It’s hard to tell what will happen with innovation.”

Alameda's Board of Education meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 11 in the Alameda High School cafeteria, at 2200 Central Avenue. The meeting will be webcast live on The Alamedan's Ustream channel.