Portola Transforming

Portola has been in the news!… New building, new commitments from the District to support academic and enrichment programs – there’s a sense that we have the opportunity to bring some real and meaningful change to this school. GoPortola! is one of the many community partners committed to bringing about these improvements. We are currently running a survey to get your input on how our efforts should be focused. This is your chance to add your voice to the conversation. Please consider filling out this brief survey by visiting:

www.surveymonkey.com/s/GoPortola2013

The New Portola Middle School
The New Portola Middle School

With a new building breaking ground this Spring and a groundswell of positive action and interest, Portola Middle School is in the midst of a transformation. There is widespread agreement among current students, parents, faculty, and administrators that the school safety and culture has improved significantly in the past several years, and that the school is able to reap the benefits of its highly diverse student body and the richness of the surrounding community. Principal Burnham has created a goal for Portola to become a California Distinguished School by 2023.

One key factor that challenges Portola is the dramatic difference between the Academic Performance Index (API) scores of its highest and lowest incoming students—it has one of widest spreads in the State of California. Most middle schools have more uniform populations, which makes it easier to tailor an academic approach that works for their students.

At a special meeting of the WCCUSD Board on March 27, Principal Matthew Burnham and Board member Todd Groves presented complementary proposals for boosting the academic performance of all students at Portola. Both sets of proposals aim to address low academic performance, as well as the issues created by the disparity between incoming high and low academic performance. Burnham proposed that the school adopt a pilot academic approach: Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which is a differentiated learning model, and a Learning Center support the UDL with graduate tutors. Groves proposed a full-time Scholar-in-Residence also to support UDL, and to bring back instrumental music in the elementary schools that feed into Portola, a complement to the already-strong musical Arts program. The Board studied these proposals and voted to fund them on April 10, 2013.

At their two recent meetings, the Board approved a $43 Million bid for the construction of the new school at Gladys and Donal in El Cerrito and allocated money in the budget to fund Portola construction end-to-end. It is feasible that the project will take only two years and the new building can open in Fall 2015. The most conservative schedule has the building opening in Fall 2016. Today’s 3rd- and 4th-graders will attend school in the new building.

The Board also voted to accept the recommendation of the District’s Athletic Director to accept a PE waiver at Portola under strict conditions. This allows for children who are involved in rigorous extracurricular sports to take a second elective.

The bottom line is that Portola Middle School is going through a period of dramatic positive change. There is strong leadership from Principal Burnham and the WCCUSD Board, there is more involvement from parents of children attending, and there are the articulated expectations of parents in the elementary schools that feed into Portola. These factors are disrupting the old perceptions and putting Portola on peer level with other area middle schools—both public and private.

There are a number of ways to stay informed of the developments:

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  1. […] Portola Survey Portola has been in the news!… New building, new commitments from the District to support academic and enrichment programs – there’s a sense that we have the opportunity to bring some real and meaningful change to this school. GoPortola! is running a survey to get your input on how our efforts should be focused. This is your chance to add your voice to the conversation. Please consider filling out this brief survey by visiting: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/GoPortola2013 […]

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