Members of the community were shocked and dismayed, and many felt blindsided by the lack of communication, when it was revealed that Bay Farm Middle School may soon be closed. The school, recently recognized as a California Distinguished school with two other Alameda schools, is very popular with Bay Farm residents, and news of its potential shutdown led to immediate community organizing and protests. The school board is having another meeting this evening to allow for further community input before making their decision.
At the January 10 Board of Education meeting, Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi presented a Strategic Plan with Budget Proposals and Scenarios for the 2023-2024 school year. A critical discussion was whether or not the District would continue to offer all current educational options or whether some resources might better serve a wider District population.
Scuderi proposed exploring:
- Gradual phase-out of Bay Farm Middle School (BFMS) due to low and declining enrollment with a proposal that no sixth-grade class be assigned in August 2023
- Reduction in staff for the Teen Parenting Program at Island High due to few infants being cared for over the past five years
- Phasing out funding via the General Fund for the innovative art and science programs at Earhart and Maya Lin Elementary schools with a suggestion that alternative sources such as Proposition 28 funds pay for those programs
- Review of the long-term viability of the Alameda Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) due to comparatively low enrollment.
- Review of staffing at Ruby Bridges and Love Elementary in light of declining enrollment
Scuderi asserted that small schools are expensive to run and argued that AUSD has more schools than it needs, noting that the City of San Ramon has three times the student population of Alameda but only twice the number of schools. He noted that BFMS had only 28 fifth grade students signed up for 68 to 70 openings for sixth grade as of the day of the meeting. He proposed that General Fund savings from implementing proposed reductions could fund full-day kindergarten programs. He said the Board would decide on the budget at its meeting on January 24.
Over a dozen speakers spoke glowingly of the innovative programs at the elementary schools, commenting that the programs improved enrollment, supported critical thinking skills, fostered a caring attitude about the Earth, and garnered national recognition in the case of Maya Lin. Speakers urged program preservation. One favored preserving ASTI, noting that many graduates of Ruby Bridges Elementary were thriving there. Notably absent from the discussion were speakers on behalf of BFMS where the Superintendent proposed the most significant cuts for the coming school year.
BFMS parents and students say they were unaware that the Board was contemplating closing their school until they learned of it through hearsay after the meeting. Within days, the Save Bay Farm Middle School Facebook page was formed to organize interested parties, and a vigorous letter-writing campaign began. Many parents have shared their letters on the Facebook page or written to the Post.
Amanda called the decision hurtful to fifth-grade families who had settled on BFMS as their middle school and were now blindsided. Neil opined that AUSD was treating Bay Farm families inequitably by giving them so little time to raise enrollment before a decision to close the school would be made. Kate said a large “sink or swim” middle school environment is not the right fit for every student and could set some students up for secondary school failure. Lauren urged the Board to consider neurodivergent families whose children often thrive better in a smaller school environment.
On January 12, Scuderi sent a letter to Bay Farm School parents apologizing for the “absence of sufficient communication…” He noted that the Board has “long contemplated this issue internally,” but “our external communications have been lacking…” In response to letters received, he issued FAQs on Bay Farm Middle School and Other Program Considerations.
On January 23, BFMS students staged a protest in front of the school. Students held up homemade signs with slogans such as, “Covid was bad enough. Keep our school open,” “Sabotaging our school won’t help the others,” and “Do you care what we think?” Students shared heartfelt stories of what the middle school has meant to them educationally, socially, and emotionally and argued that closing the school would negatively impact the entire community. Fellow students wildly cheered their support after every speaker.
Superintendent Scuderi has informed parents that the Board will provide an opportunity for further community input at its Zoom meeting at 5:30 p.m. today, January 24 and will delay a final decision until its meeting on February 14.
Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.