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December 5, 2007 > Union City Middle School Changes

Union City Middle School Changes

By Emma Victoria G. Blanco

Most Bay Area school districts are currently experiencing a distressing phenomenon - declining enrollment at our elementary and middle schools. Families have chosen to leave the area for communities with more affordable housing.

One of the school districts feeling the staggering punch of enrollment decline is the New Haven Unified School District, which includes Union City and part of south Hayward, Alameda County. The district, which has received five federal "Blue Ribbon" awards, has lost about 1,000 students over the past 10 years. One of the elementary schools, built to accommodate 900 students, has an enrollment of less than 600. The middle schools, which can accommodate 1,500 students, now average 750-1,100 students.

The decline in enrollment means less money received from the state, which funds schools at a "per student" rate. The district, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Patricia Jaurequi, has had to make some drastic changes: to close under-enrolled facilities and consolidate schools. "Everyone loves neighborhood schools and though the closures are not pleasant, they are necessary and had to be implemented immediately," stated Rick LaPlante, Public Information Officer for New Haven Unified School District.

In May 2006, the Board of Education decided to close one elementary school and one middle school. In December 2006, the Board of Education voted to close Cabello Elementary School at the end of the 2006-07 school year and Barnard White Middle School (BWMS) at the end of the current school year (2007-08). "The closing [of Cabello Elementary] went as well as can be expected when you're closing a school. We hope to have similar success at the middle-school level, but it's a little more complicated," added LaPlante.

In an added twist, the long-awaited modernization of Cesar Chavez Middle School (CCMS) will take place during the 2008-09 school year, at which time CCMS students will be temporarily relocated to the BWMS campus. Construction can be expedited and completed within the year. Students can then return to a "modernized" campus the following (2009-10) year. Modernization of CCMS includes the building of a new gym and the refurbishing of classrooms, office areas and air-conditioning and heat ventilations.

After the current school year, displaced BWMS students will attend one of two schools based on where they reside relative to the I-880 freeway. Students residing on the west side of I-880 will attend Alvarado Middle School, and students who live on the east side of I-880 will attend Cesar Chavez (other east side students may go to Oakland-Alvarado Middle School). BWMS teachers will be re-assigned to either Cesar Chavez or Alvarado middle schools. Current BWMS Principal, Karen Saucedo is retiring. The school district is working diligently to minimize any staff lay-offs and is looking to re-assign staff elsewhere in the district.

The District has been forthcoming about these changes and has kept parents and the community abreast with up-to-date information. The topic at the November New Haven Community Forum (held Nov. 27 at CCMS) was "Middle School Changes for 2008-09" and over 50 students, parents, teachers, classified employees and administrators heard presentations and exchanged ideas. Also discussed at the Forum were ideas for future uses of the BWMS campus. Among the suggestions were fee-based summer enrichment programs, outreach programs, Community Center/Recreation Center, magnet school for fine arts and/or science, Regional Occupational Center, and dual immersion school. The New Haven Community Forum is designed to give parents and the community access to information and an opportunity to contribute ideas. The 2007-08 schedule and summaries of past meetings are available online at www.nhusd.k12.ca.us.

The changes, though painful for those directly affected by the school closures, appear to be short-term inconveniences. It also appears that the school district has committed to working closely with the community and has made decisions that will help expedite the transition process.

LaPlante said that commitment extends, "to improving student achievement by redirecting every dollar possible from operations to instruction. Closing schools is just one of several changes we have made to reduce spending on facilities and operations and ensure that the maximum amount of money is being spent on teaching and learning. It's the same reason we established staffing ratios for site administration and clerical staffs, the same reason we made changes in transportation, the same reason we are moving to solar energy at as many sites as possible. Last year, for example, even as we received less money from the state, we were able to spend about $750,000 more than in 2005-06 on teaching and learning."

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