Hi all- as many of you know, I’ve been involved for the past year or two with a group of concerned parents regarding the direction of Portola Middle School. After last week’s surprising school board meeting, this core group met over the weekend to discuss options and talk about what we feel is best for our kids and our community. The meeting included about a dozen parent leaders, including five PTA presidents, and other parent leaders from Harding, Kensington, Stege, Portola, and El Cerrito High School.
To help the board understand the feelings of parents in the community, and realizing that many won’t be able to make it to this week’s community meetings, we’ve prepared the attached surveys. Please download, share, and complete the survey and return to the Madera office BY THIS FRIDAY, JANUARY 15th. You can leave the forms in the PTA President’s mailbox. Sorry for the short notice, but next Wednesday the board is slated to make a decision that will determine the direction of middle school students for the next five years, so timing is critical. You can also email your completed form directly, and room parents can forward this to their classes via hard copy or e-lists.
We’re concerned that the options presented- either NO middle school in our community at all, or a vague plan to spread middle school students among 8 or 9 other schools for four years is a false choice: it does not clearly describe the costs and ramifications of this proposal- because they haven’t been prepared- and it eliminates other options- notably, keeping the middle school intact in the lower playground at the Portola site while Castro is rebuilt.
Portola has received a tremendous amount of bad press lately- there are clearly serious issues there that need to be addressed. However, there are many good programs that would be lost completely if the school community is broken apart. The band and music program, wood shop and industrial arts, math and drama clubs, art and leadership programs, collaboration with the City of El Cerrito and the rec center, and interaction with El Cerrito High School programs would all be eliminated. Middle school students have higher PE requirements than elementary students- and there has been no consideration given to how this might be accomplished if Stege, for instance, is converted to K-8, as has been proposed.
There has been talk about converting Madera to a K-6 school, which is something I think all Madera families would support- but it hasn’t been explained how this would happen. I’ve been told for years that the building and site simply aren’t large enough. How has this changed? One suggestion has been to revoke transfers from outside the Madera boundaries– more than 145 Madera students are currently transfers at our school, and this would completely change the character of the school. By many measures, Madera is the most successful school in WCCUSD, and I think the diversity of our student body and the commitment of our parents is a big factor in this. Turning away these transfers, who include some of the most active parents on campus and in the PTA, would have a devastating impact on the school culture and on our success– and to turn out families who have transferred to Madera under the name of “parent choice” is ironic, at best.
I hope that many of you will attend the meetings this week and come to next Wednesday’s board meeting. I encourage you also to write to our school board and district leaders (contact info below). If you contact the school board, it’s VERY important not to characterize this as an El Cerrito issue: there are some on the school board who have said that El Cerrito has received TOO MUCH- a new High School, recent rebuilds at Harding and Madera. But this ISN’T an El Cerrito issue– just as Madera students come from Richmond, Hercules, and Pinole as well as El Cerrito, Portola also draws from a larger area- from Pt. Richmond through El Cerrito and Kensingto to Richmond Heights. Please do not limit this to an El Cerrito issue- it affects all of us in the community, whether you’re west of San Pablo, east of the Arlington, or north of Barrett. It’s very important to stress that Portola and Madera serve families from other communities besides El Cerrito.