Eve Pearlman: Swim together, right now
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.