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Eve Pearlman: Swim together, right now

Submitted by on 1, March 5, 2010 – 5:50 amOne Comment

Photo by Jan Watten

As you may have heard, come next fall there will be a new charter school opening its doors in Alameda.

The Academy of Alameda Middle School will almost certainly be housed in the current site of Chipman. The West End middle school is right now in its fourth year of ‘program improvement,’ a designation given to public schools that have failed to meet the goals for improving student achievement mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

When schools do not meet student performance requirements, NCLB requires that they reorganize or close. So with the clock ticking for Chipman, and after a series of community meetings last spring and fall, AUSD settled on the creation of a charter school to meet the mandates of NCLB. In mid-December 2009, the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved The Academy of Alameda’s charter petition.

“The Academy of Alameda is a free public charter school,” said AUSD superintendent Kirsten Vital. “The development of this school was done in close collaboration with AUSD, and it’s a good option for middle school students.”

The Academy was developed with careful consideration for the community that the new school would likely be serving and to research-based methods for supporting student success. “We looked at our diverse population,” said Lori MacDonald, who worked on the charter petition, “and made an intentional decision to structure the school so all students would be learning together in a supportive academic community.”

Each day at The Academy will start with a brief whole-school gathering to highlight student successes and community goals. Weekly small-group teacher-facilitated advisory meetings will give students a chance to work on ongoing service projects of their choosing as well create a forum for discussion. “Students will have an opportunity to talk about some of the issues that come up — especially those that can divide students,” said MacDonald. “And they’ll have a mechanism to learn to problem-solve together.”

Parents should note that because The Academy is a charter school, enrollment is not automatic for students from traditional Chipman feeder schools – Paden, Washington and Ruby Bridges. To have their children attend to The Academy, parents need to fill out an application. And students from other schools who chose to attend The Academy must also hand in an application.

While charters have ignited controversy in the past, mostly with respect to concerns about draining resources from the district as a whole, AUSD and The Academy leadership are working together to negotiate terms that will keep the charter’s relationship to AUSD revenue neutral. “If we’re hurting AUSD overall,” said MacDonald. “We are not really serving our 600 students.”

The current Chipman student body is a diverse one. According to last year’s STAR test reports, 27 percent of students are Asian, 22 percent are African American, 14 percent identify as Hispanic, and 20 percent reported themselves as ‘other.’ More than half the students come from families whose income levels allow them to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.

“The vision is to stop giving excuses,” said MacDonald. “To stop saying, ‘kids aren’t learning because the district doesn’t support them’ or ‘kids aren’t learning because of what goes on in their homes.’  At the Academy, we are saying all kids can learn and we will be making a coordinated, ongoing, school-wide effort to make sure they are achieving standards – and going beyond.”

A Stanford School of Education study released in February found the best predictor of success for middle schools is what they described as, ‘an intense, school-wide focus on improving academic outcomes” — a characteristic The Academy will strive to achieve with its focus on just this sort of teacher collaboration and responsibility. “It’s not just a meeting at the end of the semester when you realize someone’s failing – it’s an ongoing thing,” said MacDonald. “It’s about the entire staff taking responsibility for all student learning in all subjects at all times.”

So welcome new kid on the block – and welcome to your vision for educating Alameda’s children.

“We know that all kids can achieve,” said MacDonald. “And we’re responsible for raising the achievement level of all kids.”

Eve Pearlman offers her take on Alameda’s stories, big and small, every Friday on The Island. Contact her at eve@theislandofalameda.com.

One Comment »

  • Roy M Carlisle says:

    As much as I appreciate this article and Lori MacDonald’s thoughtful comments, I think the vision for this charter needs to be put in neon on billboards for all to see! (even though I am decidedly not a fan of billboards)

    As a stepparent who has other kids in the Alameda school district, I am keenly aware of the lack of “an intense, school-wide focus on improving academic outcomes” in other schools as well as Chipman. We have watched budgets slashed, enthusiasm for quality teaching stumble, and programs eliminated. Morale is low among students, teachers, and administrators/staff and it is like an elephant in the room that no one wants to discuss or even acknowledge. And, of course, it is politically incorrect for me to speak aloud that public education in Alameda is not doing its job for many kids. But it isn’t.

    It is really not hard to understand why home schooling in California is in a boom time. Some parents will choose home schooling for religious and political reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of education in the public system. But the current dismal state of California public education forces some parents to choose home schooling as a last resort because they care about the intellectual life of their children. And they are willing to make the sacrifices needed to do something about their children’s development.

    But,if the community catches the vision for this new Academy of Alameda charter school, and enrolls students, and those students improve, then this experiment could set a standard for the whole district. And if those students and parents who come through this charter demand this level of “intense focus” from other schools and teachers, then we parents–and the whole community– will all be the beneficiaries. I don’t expect parents to read the charter but it is an amazing document, but I do think parents owe it to themselves and their childrent to go hear the presentations about the charter that are given by charter staff and board. And of course there will always be people and organizations who don’t want the status quo to change, for all kinds of reasons, but having a generation of kids who are badly educated is a sin of monumental proportions. And that makes me angry.

    And if you want more fuel for the flames of righteous anger about the state of education in the broader American populace then please read the following report: http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/2010/major_findings_finding1.html
    I am not advocating for the politics espoused by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute but I do think it is a revealing report and one that all parents should be aware of in this day and age of problematic educational standards.

    So…the newly emerged presence of the Academy of Almameda gives me hope, and that is also something worth shouting about.

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