School districts are often roiled by events and debates. Sometimes the controversy is over programs, pedagogy or policies. Other times, it's about changes in finances or facilities -- or any of a number of other challenges that all districts face.
One current controversy here in our school district is where the Alameda Community Learning Center, a charter school on the Island, should be located.
Under state law, the Alameda Unified School District has to provide charter schools with facilities that are equivalent to those that district schools receive. Right now, ACLC is at Wood Middle School. But because of an upcoming restructuring of Wood's program, which itself is guided by the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, there is not enough room there for ACLC, too. As such, our current plan is to negotiate a long-term lease with Community Learning Center Schools, the organization that governs ACLC and Nea Community Learning Center, to place both schools at the Woodstock campus.
Understandably, some ACLC parents are upset about this. Moving a school can be exhausting and expensive. But when I take a step back, I see that the controversy isn't just about having to move. It's also about concerns that "the district" doesn't support the school. Interestingly, Wood parents have long expressed concern that the district doesn't support them either.
Let me say first that my staff and I support these schools. We are not trying to close them. Rather, we are trying to balance the needs of two sets of students, as well as the state and federal laws governing what the two schools need to thrive. We want to give Wood students and staff every opportunity to succeed with their new program. We also want to provide a suitable, long-term facility to ACLC. After much analysis, it seems that a second (and more permanent) move for ACLC may be in the best interests of both school communities.
When I step back still further, I am distressed by the content and tone of some of what has been said during this debate. I understand it is hard to remain calm when people feel passionate about a topic -- and we are all passionate about our children and our schools. But I also have heard too many personal attacks throughout these conversations -- attacks on parents, district staff, even the students at these two school sites. This is not constructive. Rather, it disrupts healthy communication and collaboration. Effective advocacy doesn't come just from volume and sharp words. It comes from an ability to listen, empathize, engage and be respectful. Put another way, effective advocates inspire people by encouraging them to move collaboratively in a positive direction and toward a viable solution.
In closing, I would like to note that I have been so impressed by the comments of the young people who have spoken up on behalf of their communities. Their insight, eloquence and courage are truly inspiring! I salute these young people for being willing to stand up, and I hope that as adults we, too, will model behavior from which the children in our community can learn and be inspired.
If you have questions about ACLC's potential move -- or anything having to do with our facilities, Facilities Master Plan project or other district issues, please feel free to contact me at 510-337-7060 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kirsten Vital is superin- tendent of the Alameda Unified School District.