Proposed charter move causes outcry
Proposed charter move causes outcry
Updated at 8:43 a.m. Wednesday, January 15
Alameda’s Board of Education rode herd on a contentious discussion Tuesday about space for Alameda Unified’s charter schools that exposed the rising tensions over space that are being driven by the rising popularity of the Island's charter schools and the district’s efforts to increase and improve school options.
The central drama concerned district staff’s proposal to move the Alameda Community Learning Center for the second time in two years, a move that brought dozens of parents, staff and students from the middle school charter out in protest.
“I can’t help but feel that we at ACLC are not held in the same regard as other schools,” student Camilla Guiza-Chavez said, voicing the concerns of many who fear the moves could hurt the school’s enrollment and programs.
Other parents asked the district to consider renewing a lease for the Home Sweet Home preschool, which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
District officials said they could accommodate The Academy of Alameda Middle School’s request for 22 classrooms at the former Chipman Middle School, but that Wood’s need for nine additional classrooms to support a restructuring plan could necessitate another move for the ACLC charter. The district is considering moving the middle and high school charter to the former Woodstock Elementary School campus or scattering students to a few different campuses. Nea Community Learning Center could stay on the two campuses it’s on or move to Woodstock.
Board members narrowly chose to move the charter school once more, to the former Woodstock campus, which will be vacated by the Alternatives in Action charter high school at the end of June. If the board and the charters' leaders agree to put both Nea and ACLC there, the district may need to find new homes for Island High School and its adult school, which are also housed at Woodstock now.
District staff is preparing offers of classroom space to Alameda’s charters under Proposition 39, a state-mandated ritual that requires school districts to figure out how and where to house their charter schools each year. In prior years district staff conducted most of this process behind closed doors, presenting charter space allocations to the school board for its approval as a fait accompli. But controversy over last year’s decision to move the Alameda Community Learning Center charter onto the Wood Middle School campus – a move families from both schools and a pair of board members opposed – prompted Superintendent Kirsten Vital to make the process more public.
“I don’t want to do what we did last year,” Vital said, referring to the contentious split vote to move Alameda Community Learning Center onto the Wood campus.
School choice has been a major district initiative, and Alameda Unified has created a middle school at Encinal High and offered other options aimed at keeping struggling schools open and keeping parents who might otherwise leave for private and charter schools in the public school fold. At the same time, though, the district relinquished the former Miller School property – which housed the Island High continuation school – over cost issues and effectively condemned Historic Alameda High, sending its adult school scrambling for new space. Those moves contributed to the current space crunch.
Meanwhile, Alameda’s popular charter schools have been expanding. Academy of Alameda Middle School principal Matt Huxley has said he’d like to expand the number of grades at the school, though it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday if the charter renewal petition he submitted included additional grades.
Alameda Unified’s first troubles with accommodating all of the district’s schools surfaced in 2011, as the Nea Community Learning Center expanded toward a K-12 school. In that year, district officials offered Nea space on two different campuses in a deal that was supposed to last one year but has gone on for three. But tensions escalated in 2013, when the district sought to evict the district-created Alameda Community Learning Center charter from it 18-year home on the Encinal High School campus to make room for its new Junior Jets middle school magnet program.
In an e-mail to The Alamedan, Nea's lead facilitator, Maafi Gueye, said her school is excited about the prospect of reuniting on one campus.
"Nea has been very excited about the prospect of moving back together to be on a contiguous campus so that we can fully realize the intention of its charter once again," Gueye wrote Wednesday. "Should the opportunity for the reunification of Nea's K-5 and 6-12 programs present itself in the final AUSD facilities offer on February 1st, Nea will embrace that opportunity with fervor!"
Just as last year’s controversy over the charter’s move stirred both fear that the district was trying to shut struggling Wood Middle School down and long-held concerns about equal opportunity for Alameda’s poorer West End, Tuesday’s discussion dredged up charter parents’ long-held suspicions that schools leaders consider them public school-hating drains on the traditional school system and ugly accusations that Wood families had been less than welcoming of their presence this year.
“I don’t see how it’s fair to punish an overperforming school because of an underperforming school,” said ACLC 10th grader Adam Morlikowski. Wood is being forced to restructure due to low test scores.
While parents, staff and students from ACLC decried the move, some – including Patti Wilczek, director of Community Learning Centers Inc., which oversees Nea and ACLC – acknowledged the tough choices the district has to make due to space limits.
“There’s no easy solution to this,” she said of the space crunch.
The district has initiated a process for building a facilities plan they will likely take to voters in November for funding; at the behest of Wilczek’s predecessor, Paul Bentz, the plan will discuss facilities for Alameda’s charter schools, which educate more than 10 percent of its public school students.
Preliminary space offers go to charter schools by February 1, and the board will make decisions in May.