Op-Ed: A Good Middle School Option Serving All West End Students

William Schaff served on the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2008. He is currently president of the board of The Academy of Alameda Middle School, a public charter.


Editor's Note: This Op-Ed is adapted from a presentation William Schaff made to the Alameda Unified School District Board on Jan. 24. He spoke about some of The Academy's achievements, including improvements in test scores at the school, now in its second year of operation.

I am speaking on behalf of the board of directors of , a California charter public school.

The board members are, in addition to myself, Ardella Dailey, a former AUSD superintendent; Carole Robie, a former AUSD assistant superintendent; David Forbes, a former AUSD board trustee; teacher Monica Packer; Ron Whittaker and Debra O’Farrell, parents; and Kirsten Zazo, supervising administrator representing AUSD.  

I point this out so that the community of Alameda will understand that our boardmembers' goals, whether serving AUSD or The Academy, have always been to improve student achievement for ALL students in Alameda.

We wanted to thank the AUSD Board again for approving The Academy of Alameda Middle School Charter over two years ago. We are now in the midst of our second year of operation. As the AUSD Board , there is still a misconception in Alameda that there is NOT a successful public middle school serving all students on the west end of Alameda. We beg to differ.

Historically, there has been a general community concern that not enough was being done educationally for the west end. We believe it is important that parents and community members understand that something has already been done, not only by the AUSD Board and Kirsten Vital, superintendent of AUSD, in approving and supporting our charter, but also by the staff and community that started and support, every day, The Academy of Alameda, a successful west-end, community-oriented, Alameda PUBLIC school, with a rigorous academic program, that serves ALL students. But sometimes numbers speak louder than words.

We are measured by API scores, whether we like it or not. So let me give you some perspective. In fiscal year 2001, the former Chipman Middle School had 506 students taking the standardized test. The school’s API score was 614. The two largest underserved subgroups, African-American and Hispanic/Latino made up 44 percent of the student population and 54 percent of the total student population was considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.

At that time, the African-American and Hispanic/Latino subgroups had base API’s of 544 and 517, respectively. By fiscal year 2010, the last year of operation as Chipman Middle School, and through the efforts of many highly qualified educators and administrators, the site’s API score rose to 739, a compounded improvement rate of 2 percent per year.

By fiscal 2010, the two major underserved subgroups made up 37 percent of the student population and 60 percent of the total student population was deemed socioeconomically disadvantaged. The African-American and Hispanic/Latino subgroups had seen their API scores grow to 635 (a compounded growth rate of less than 2 percent per year) and 652 (a compounded growth rate closer to 3 percent per year), respectively.  

As a school site, they fulfilled the federal mandate for minimum improvement for API growth, however they did not meet the minimum API improvement mandates for the subgroups. Thus, our charter school was created.

As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” In order to meet the needs of our underserved students, we had to try something different. We did. We are happy to report that, despite some of the usual startup hiccups of a brand new school and a new academic program, The Academy of Alameda served 510 students last year.

Our first year API score was 770, an improvement of 30 points over the prior year, up 4.2 percent for all of our students. This 30-point increase in API score represented the highest percentage increase in API within AUSD, and the second highest absolute numerical increase throughout the school district last year, second only to the ASTI program, which improved 31 points. We note that ASTI is filled with highly academically motivated students who wish to get their AA degree and graduate high school within their 4-year high school program.

We are especially proud that the African-American and Hispanic/Latino subgroups had API scores of 669 (up 34 points and over 5 percent year over year) and 742 (up 90 points and almost 14 percent year over year), respectively.

We realize one year does not make a long-term trend, but it is a very good start. We are NOT content to stay at this level. We expect — and will continue to work toward — above-average improvement at all grade levels. We believe that this PUBLIC school, supported by AUSD, is truly helping to close the achievement gap.

There is always some concern that charter schools are “selective” about the type of students they accept. To illustrate the point that The Academy of Alameda takes its position as a west end community public school seriously, serving exactly the same population that the former Chipman Middle School served, we reviewed the demographics of our student population.

In our first full fiscal year, the two major underserved subgroups made up 39 percent of the student population, 2 percent higher than the prior year as Chipman Middle School. Also, 61 percent of the total student population was socioeconomically disadvantaged, essentially the same as the prior year. 

In addition, 33 percent of all students were English language learners and 14 percent of all students had disabilities — slightly higher than the average for middle schools within AUSD. We are proud to say that The Academy of Alameda serves ALL students.  

Much of our early success can be attributed to more instructional minutes per year (though we have more instructional minutes per year to begin with, The Academy of Alameda had an additional benefit last fiscal year as we had no furlough days despite the horrible state budget).

We also attribute our success to flexibility in program scheduling, a highly collaborative and cohesive learning environment driven by our excellent teachers and administrative staff, involved parent and student communities, and great support from AUSD. We are a fiscally sound educational institution, a fact supported by our first independent audit. Most importantly, our academic program pushes students at both ends of the achievement spectrum to grow and succeed.

This is the sort of school the AUSD Board and superintendent had in mind when they approved our charter, and we believe that our early results are indicative of the great potential of the academic program offered by The Academy of Alameda, your west end community public school.

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Sherice Youngblood February 08, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Although I was always taught not to listen to what others say.. but find out for yourself..I fell for the trap as a new family on the island I stayed away from Chipman/The Academy as I was told. I have since apologized consistently to my son..now an eighth grade student at the Academy. I have NEVER met such a caring dedicated staff with a more diverse student population. I'm proud to be an AoA parent and my son is thriving under the care and dedication he's receiving..I have two small children in the wings and I'm honored to be a part of the movement to provide consistent, clear education standards to not just west end kids.. but all kids at the Academy...Kudos to Mr. Huxley, all the parents, staff and kids for all your hard work..Let stay focused and continue to show and improve!! WE BELIEVE IN ALL OUR KIDS AND HONOR THEIR DIVERSITY!!!!!I
Kathleen Seabolt February 09, 2012 at 02:24 AM
I am the proud parent of a SPED student at the Academy and our almost two years experience in this emerging learning community has only convinced me that we made a very good decision. In addition to rising test scores, the dedication of this staff to meeting the social-emotional needs of every student in our diverse student body is beyond question. We are not perfect, but we are dynamic, engaged and seek excellence, and I am tremendously proud of our Academy's achievements. I can only feel sorry for those who fling vitriol behind the safety of a pen name. AUSD needs to wake up and support the outstanding PUBLIC school option that already serves the West End.
Amy Price February 09, 2012 at 06:59 PM
As another proud parent of an AoA 6th grader, I am thrilled and amazed by the dedication, creativity and overall excellence of the leadership and staff and their commitment to address the needs of all kids. Whereas Mr. Schaff points to the increase in the all-important standardized test scores (which, as Kris points out, will likely continue to increase), AoA looks at the well-being of the whole student and actually uses assessment to identify the educational needs of students and develop programs to meet those needs. In the first few months of the school year, for instance, they created at least 3 additional math classes to challenge higher performaning students AND provide a stronger foundation for students who were not prepared for standard middle school math classes. With extremely limited resources, they also have set up a strengths-based mentoring program to support students with behavioral challenges to give them a chance at educational success and ensure that all students have an environment conducive to learning. In sum, I am thrilled that my daughter can be challenged academically and feel safe (physically and emotionally) in a school as diverse as AoA. As a community member, I am pleased that AoA is among the good public school options available in Alameda. Finally, to Greg's point, I commend the fabulous progress being made at Ruby Bridges and think the entire community should be responsible and accountable for the success of all of our children.
Ryan Ward December 28, 2012 at 02:49 PM
These are some really encouraging comments and am really pleased to hear such positive attitudes from teachers and parents alike. As a father with a 5th grader trying to decide where to place her next year, AoA just rose a few notches on the list! Thanks for the article and comments.
Tania April 25, 2013 at 04:07 AM
These comments were very helpful & I'm glad to say my daughter will be joining AoA next year for the 6th grade. The article above helped us make a decision to better our daughter education. Thank you!


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