ALAMEDA -- After more than three hours of hearing emotional comments Tuesday night on a plan to move the Alameda Community Learning Center to Wood Middle School to make room for a new magnet school, the Alameda school board recommended the district administration keep the plan in place.
The magnet school, called Junior Jets, will house up to 180 sixth- through eighth-grade students at ACLC's current site on Encinal High School's campus. The school board approved the school a year ago but did not specify where the learning center would be placed. After hearing it would move to Wood, some parents and teachers appealed to the board to move it elsewhere.
The learning center's board director, Paul Bentz, has sought other locations at district schools and elsewhere in town without success. About 100 people showed up to support their schools, with the majority telling the board not to undo the original plan to start the Junior Jets program in the fall.
The initial outcry came from some parents and members of Wood's PTA, who feared district administration was targeting the school for closure. Wood is an underperforming school with a significant part of its population low-income students from non-English-speaking homes. It is receiving federal funds to provide programs to bring up its performance. If it doesn't meet government standards, it would either have to close or go under a restructuring process in about a year. Wood is the only district school showing declining enrollment and the only campus with sufficient space to share facilities with the learning center, the district states.
District representatives have repeatedly stated they are not planning to close Wood and instead have been diligent in helping the school make the grade. Trustee Margie Sherratt said the district has spent thousands of hours in those attempts and she does not believe there is a clandestine district plan to close it. The decision to move the learning center to Wood is because there is no other site with space available.
Some of the learning center's parents and teachers were also put off by the plan, saying the 18-year-old school had a specialized configuration at Encinal for its program and moving it would mean needing to recreate that design. But, trustee Mike McMahon said, in 2000 the center changed its status from a "school within a school" to a charter school.
McMahon and Sherratt said the board's first obligations are to the district schools. About 20 speakers from all sides had their say, recommending pushing back a year for the Junior Jets until the learning center found a location other than Wood, or going ahead with Junior Jets and finding space there for the center, too.
But finding space for both programs at the campus was out of the question, said a district representative from the facilities department. That would require eight or nine portables, for which there is no room, at a cost of roughly $1 million.
Trustee Trish Herrera Spencer said she was "adamantly opposed" to moving the learning center to Wood, and trustee Barbara Kahn said she believes there are other options. But three of the five-member board recommended the staff move forward with the plan, garnering applause from attendees representing Encinal and Junior Jets.