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Proposed charter school moves stir frustrations in Alameda

Submitted by on 1, April 8, 2011 – 4:35 pm8 Comments

Paul Bentz had planned to expand enrollment at the Nea Community Learning Center in its existing K-11 configuration next year. But now, he’s offering to split the school in two.

Proposals to split Nea for a year stem from a facilities offer from Alameda Unified that demonstrates the difficulty the school district is having in accommodating the rapid growth of its charters, and the popular Nea in particular. And the charter shuffle is having ripple effects across the Island’s West End.

The school district is legally required to offer space to public charters equivalent to what the district’s traditional school students get, and in March they offered Nea and The Academy of Alameda Middle School shared space at the former Chipman Middle School, a move Bentz characterized as an effort to keep Nea in one piece but one that won’t properly accommodate their students. Representatives for both schools said they have rejected the offer, and Nea has put forward a trio of counteroffers that would split the school in half next year (the Academy’s is pending, a spokesperson for the school said).

“We’re not particularly happy about splitting our school,” Bentz said. (Bentz also rejected an offer for Nea’s sister school, the Alameda Community Learning Center, to get the same space it got this year; he had asked for more room to expand.)

One of Nea’s counteroffers would have the school’s K-5 students at Washington Elementary School next year, a move the head of that school’s PTA said would cause unwanted disruption for students there. Washington PTA president Lorrie Murray said a Nea move could also infringe on the school’s efforts to turn the school into a magnet, and that even with the school’s existing programs, Washington doesn’t have the space to give.

She said that some families at Nea are getting the message that they’ll be coming to Washington next year, even though the district and school officials have not yet discussed the offer. This week, she sent a letter to local newspapers touting the school’s successes and its magnet plan.

“This year has been a really positive year for us, and we’re on firmer ground with a great leader,” Murray said of the school’s current principal, Judy Goodwin. “We just want continue on the path we’re on without the disruptions.”

Late last year, school district officials moved the Woodstock Child Development Center to the Longfellow campus, a move that put Nea on a “collision course” with the district over space, Bentz said. The school, which listed 341 students when it applied for space in October and plans to expand to 500 by 2012, would need the entire Longfellow site to accommodate its growth, the application said, “and even then it will be crowded.” Nea boasts a waiting list of more than 350 prospective students, the application says.

“If a larger site were to become available, Nea would consider it. If AUSD closes any schools in 2011-12, Nea would like to be consider (sp) for relocation to a larger campus,” the application reads.

School district leaders had planned to close Washington, Franklin and Otis in 2012 if the Measure A parcel tax didn’t pass.

Christine Strena, an Academy of Alameda parent who is active on school issues and serves as a spokesperson for the school, said she asked why the district hasn’t moved other programs housed at Longfellow to Washington or even the Academy instead of moving around schools “and there was no real answer to that.” The district official who handles charters couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.

Strena said she’s learning these facilities negotiations go on every year, and she’s hopeful the process will lead to a less disruptive result for all the schools’ students.

“You put a charter, a school, on a campus, and parent bodies get vested in that facility,” Strena said. “You can’t split schools needlessly, (and you have to) treat charters like regular public schools.”


  • Kristen says:

    This article brought to mind the old Island High site– is this site available for charters, or is the district planning to sell it to a developer?

  • Julia says:

    The old Island would also make a great place for Woodstcok to relocate. Give Nea back the space they could really use.

  • Tina says:

    Having to move Nea for 2011-12 is an “unwanted disruption”. Having to split the school temporarily is an “unwanted disruption”. And having to go through it all again next year will be an “unwanted disruption”. But while the Nea community is showing extreme flexibility and compromise, the district wants to preserve its available space–simply so it can explore options.

    To say Washington doesn’t have the space to give is fiction. It was on the block for closure if the parcel tax failed because it is desperately under-enrolled. What’s more, due to its performance, neighborhood parents are permitted to opt-out of enrolling there.

    • hank says:

      Tina, have you actually been to Washington? “Desperately un-enrolled” and enough space to accommodate NEA’s classrooms seems like a huge stretch in poetic license.

      Not to mention, Washington is a title 1 school with ‘at risk’ children. Do you think those kids deserve getting moved around for NEA? Should those family’s endure NEA’s ‘unwanted disruption’? It’s one thing to be upset with the district, but quite another when your talking about displacing those ‘at risk’ children and their families (many of which work more than 1 job & still struggle to put food on the table).

      • Tina says:

        Yes, Hank, I have been to Washington. I live a block away, and my son was enrolled there I moved him to Nea. And yes, Washington is under-enrolled, but don’t take my word for it–check the district’s own documents.

        I didn’t suggest anyone move for Nea. The fact is, there is much more room at Washington than where the district proposes to put Nea, at Chipman with the Academy. Seems like the district is OK with smushing the charter schools together in one location–as long as it doesn’t disrupt the district schools.

  • Andrew says:

    Just like the article mentions, Nea is being moved out by another program AUSD has moved in. Even if Nea wasn’t expanding, we have to move. Nea is perfectly happy at the Longfellow site, and have spent a considerable amount of time and money fixing up our school, and are not thrilled to have our school split up. We understand Washington’s point of view (having another program move in), and hopefully, IF we end up there (or another location), both schools can work together and not have a hostel environment. As adults, we teach the kids to welcome, share and respect each other, and the best way to teach, is to model. Neither school wants this, but it is not up to us. The final decision rests with AUSD.

  • Andrew says:

    I would also like to add that the Nea community highly contributed to the campaign to pass Measure A, by raising a substantial amount of money, making phone calls, and walking the neighborhoods and talking to residents.

  • Kai Smith says:

    From reading the comments on this article, I can tell that most of them are coming from parents of either students at Nea or students at other Alameda schools. Because i am a student at Nea i know things about the school that only the students and teachers know. If any of you were actually at the C.C.C (assembly) about 5 weeks ago when Mama Maafi announced that we might have to move to the AOA sight, the look on the faces of my fellow classmates and the feeling of disappointment in my “GUT”. The reason that most children go to Nea is because, they don’t want to go to the Academy. So why would you put them at the same site as the Academy. We at Nea feel that, because Nea is so new that the public school system/district doesn’t have as much concern in Nea as it does in Washington or Wood. Now im not saying that other schools like Washington and Haight are not as important, Im just saying, why is it okay for us to be cramped up, but when it comes to them they get all this money and donations?

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