AUSD Wrestling with Excellence

Anyone who has sat through such educational classics as Waiting on Superman, Animal House or Stand and Deliver has probably wondered, "What is the mechanism that keeps mediocrity in education on life support?"

A recent Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) school board meeting discussed the fate of the Junior Jets and the destiny of the Alameda Community Learning Center (ACLC). Since its inception in 1995, ACLC has had a waiting list; some years the list contained 200 hopeful names.

Imagine private enterprise having a waiting list; picture McDonalds telling potential customers, "We are out of hamburgers this year, but we can put you on the waiting list for next year. Or, you can register for a lottery and maybe win a Big Mac."

Only in the public sector can you ignore customer demands and not only stay in business indefinitely but also get bonuses, parcel taxes and more administrative floor space.

While ACLC has been enjoying a Procrustean fit on the Encinal High School (EHS) campus, AUSD has closed one competing middle school and has watched the second middle school enter into its third year of program improvement.

Yet no smoke alarms have sounded. Instead of expanding a successful education venue, such as ACLC, it remains tightly crimped much like a size 10 foot in a size 6 army boot; the bunions are beginning to show.

The latest impediment to ACLC growth is the impending Junior Jets program at EHS. This trump card will not only serve to boot ACLC off the EHS campus, it will in all probability dismantle it.

Suddenly, no one will have seen it coming and we will be both shocked and wistfully sorry when ACLC is reduced to insignificance or snuffed out entirely.

Public discussions, much like proofs in geometry, start with certain givens and axioms and proceed deductively along a tortuous pathway to seemingly airtight conclusions. But unlike geometry, public discussion becomes littered with emotional tripe, irrelevancies and anecdotal evidence.

This public discussion seemed to start with a conclusion and work backward; like a salmon swimming upstream. The proof trotted out to keep Junior Jets on track had a savory corollary: ACLC must leave the EHS campus. The givens in the proof are astounding and the school board's inertial reactions to these givens are equally astounding. It was argued that the West End could not sustain a successful middle school and therefore it needed the Junior Jets Program.

"Could not sustain a successful middle school." This was a given!

All members of the school board must have heard the remark; yet no objections or smoke detectors sounded.

ACLC has always had a symbiotic relationship with EHS.

ACLC students augment Armen Phelps' award-winning band; they bring thespian talent to the school's epic theater productions; they are leaders within JROTC; and are among the contestants of the competitive fields.

More importantly, ACLC students are among the top scorers in the Advanced Placement (AP) classes at EHS. Sometimes they supply the necessary numbers to keep EHS AP classes afloat.

Should ACLC be deported to Wood Middle School (WMS), ACLC and EHS will lose this symbiosis.

Timing is everything; were an ACLC administrator or Paul Bentz to tell WMS students they need not apply and would have to continue languishing at WMS, parents would be outraged; instead a WMS contingent is trying to keep ACLC at bay and prop up its antithesis.

Insufficient space at EHS was another herring waved about; yet most of its classrooms are devoid of students for one sixth of the day. Teachers have the luxury of using their classrooms for planning periods, during which the classrooms lie fallow: no students.

Is "Kids First" just hollow rhetoric or do territorial imperative and clannishness trump the needs of students within a successful educational model?

Someday, perhaps after we get the results of the Junior Jets experiment and after the denouement of the ACLC saga, Hollywood might make a movie about Alameda and the decisions we made at this juncture. It could be called Wrestling with Excellence.

Jeffrey R Smith teaches math at Encinal High School.



0 #1 SFB 2013-07-24 04:15
Jeff Smith rants again!

Private businesses ROUTINELY tell customers no - exclusivity is in vogue - if demand rises, raise prices - use felt ropes to keep the unwanted out. ACLC succeeds in part precisely because they refuse those who they wish.

Now as to WMS's and EHS's challenges - the reasons behind these are so complicated that we would need years to wind them out. Jeff, teach at WMS and save it from itself! YOu've done wonders for EHS, haven't you?

Finally, the flip side of your screed inre teachers in their rooms on their prep - do you REALLY think strong teaching routinely happens when a teacher has to shuffle from room to room for each class? No home base? No place for your lesson plans, no wall space for your ideas or your students' work?

Jeff - stick to teaching, your philosophical raves are pointless and only roil the waters

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