Back to School Feature

For anyone who is interested in the editing process, here is a story…

I wrote this BTS feature and many sidebars for Alameda Magazine’s July/August issue. I wrote one lead (lede), but for a slightly different tone, the editor–the fabulous Judy Gallman–edited it slightly. (I think hers is better; less rambling, more to the point.) Here’s the version of the opening paragraph I wrote, followed by the final version that you can read in hard copy available at newsstands across Alameda:

“School Days
Simplifying the Return to the Classroom”

A brand new school (in a really cool building) named after a heroic student who confronted segregation, charter schools that challenge old-school ways and the age-old fight of getting to class before the bell after the freedom of summer—Alameda students and parents have much to look forward to this school year ahead.

While 2006 started off with the dismal prospects of school closings and declining enrollment, the news took a turn for the better in the spring, and Alameda enters fall with a promising academic term. The new school, successful test results and API scores, burgeoning charter school programs and strong private and parochial offerings create an overall healthy educational outlook.

“School Days
Simplifying the Return to the Classroom”

While the 2006 Alameda school year started off with the dismal prospects of school closings and declining enrollment, the news took a turn for the better in the spring, and Alameda enters the fall under promising academic terms.
A new public school (in a really cool building), charter schools challenging old-school ways, successful test results, solid API scores and strong private and parochial offerings make for the Island’s overall healthy educational outlook.
“For me, there has never been a more exciting time in our school district than right now,” says Ardella Dailey, the superintendent of Alameda Unified School District. “How far we have come as a school district.”
The brightest news is the opening of the Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Bayport at 351 Jack London Ave. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate an elementary school in New Orleans in 1960, and she spent that school year alone in her classroom with the only teacher who would teach her.
“The promise of our future is symbolized by our new school, Ruby Bridges, named after a brave child who took a stand for her free public education,” Dailey says.
The new school building boasts three wings—one for kindergarten, one for first through third grades and one for fourth and fifth grades—plus a multi-purpose room and a media center for the community. Ruby Bridges consolidates three former schools and puts those students under one roof—somewhat of a daring move, because it unites divergent communities, bringing together low-income, immigrant, transitional military, moderate- and high-income families, says Rosalind Davenport, Ruby Bridges principal.
“It will be a challenge, but when you are challenged, you grow,” she says.
The diverse parents, teachers and staff, Dailey says, share the same goal of presenting safe, engaging and challenging education to their charges to improve their future.

Solid Improvement
This fall the district is still soaring on the results of the school rankings of the state’s 2005 Academic Performance Index Base Report, released by the California Department of Education in March. State rankings include an academic ranking that numbers schools from 1 to 10 statewide and a ranking of similar schools comparing a school’s performance with other state schools of similar size and demographic characteristics. Alameda public schools showed significant increases in their scores.
“This just illustrates the fact that Alameda schools are continuing to improve every year. It’s a solid, steady improvement,” reports Donna Toutjian Fletcher, the district’s public information officer.

New Frontiers
Alameda’s secondary schools are undergoing some significant changes, says Sean McPhetridge. He’s the acting director of secondary education and acting director of the Regional Occupational Program for the district. McPhetridge is also the principal of the Alameda Science and Technology Institute, a small new high school at the College of Alameda and one of the first “early college high schools” in California.
“High school reform is on everyone’s mind, and an early college high school addresses the crisis that’s happening in America,” McPhetridge says, who believes the college access Alameda students receive will help them be well prepped for higher education and career success.
A partnership between the district and the College of Alameda, ASTI graduates receive a four-year high school diploma and earn up to two years of college credit in the four years they complete their high school coursework. ASTI receives part of its funding from a grant by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Other noteworthy nontraditional learning options on the Island are the Alameda Community Learning Center, Bay Area School of Enterprise and Island High School.

Beyond Public
Alamedans have education choices besides public schools, with four Catholic schools (three elementary schools and one high school), two private Christian schools, a handful of Montessori schools and an academy within the city limits.
The Chinese Christian School on Bay Farm Island enters its fourth year with an Alameda campus. Development director Debbie Leong says administrators anticipate an enrollment of 200 for kindergarten through eighth grade, with parents attracted by the school’s reputation for academics and a protective environment.
“We work hard to create a nurturing and caring environment with teachers who really work to make sure that the students succeed,” Leong says.
On the east end, Saint Philip Neri Catholic Elementary School is one of three parochial grammar schools. Principal Marilyn Marchi says that the Saint Philip Neri approach stresses high achievement, safety and “core values that challenge our kids, providing a foundation that supports another 10 to 15 years of further education.” The school debuts a new science center this fall to coincide with a program that integrates science concepts throughout the curriculum.
No matter where your kids go to school, they have plenty to get excited about this year. It just takes a new start, some shiny new buildings and spiffy new school clothes to get and keep them motivated—at least, let’s hope, until Thanksgiving.

Web Sites
Chinese Christian School:
Saint Philip Neri:

Enrollment Check List
Enrolling your child in the Alameda Unified School District isn’t too tricky, but here are few specifics to make sure it’s a cinch.
Know your zone. Find yours based on your address on the district’s zone map.
Pick up a package. Pick up an enrollment package from your school.
Prove it. When you visit your school, you must prove your residency with three documents, including a lease or mortgage document and two bills posted to your street address. Also, bring along a copy of your child’s birth certificate.
Visit the doctor’s office. Make sure your child’s immunizations are up to date.
Beat the deadline. As a resident, your child is guaranteed a spot in an Alameda school, but it may not be the one in your neighborhood if the school is full, so act early.

Must-Know Dates
Aug. 28: First day of school
Sept. 4: Labor Day Holiday
Oct. 13: Non-student day (no school)
Oct. 30: Staff Development Day (no school)
Nov. 10: Veteran’s Day Holiday
Nov. 22–24: Fall Recess
Dec. 18-Jan. 1: Winter Recess
Jan. 1: New Year’s Day Holiday
Jan. 15: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Holiday
Feb. 16: Lincoln’s Day Holiday
Feb. 18: President’s Day Holiday
March 16: Non-student Day-Trimester Break (no school)
March 19: Non-student Day-Trimester Day
April 9-13: Spring Recess
May 28: Memorial Day Holiday
June 14: Last Student and Teaching Day

Dog or Cat?
Sharmaine Moody knows junior high school kids. She’s been teaching them at Lincoln Middle for 17 years and has an eighth-grader of her own. When she gives advice, parents listen.
“Elementary school kids are dogs and junior high school kids are cats,” she says. Think about it, she challenges; how would you characterize a dog? “Loyal, loving, affectionate, kind, responsive, happy. These are all adjectives that also describe most elementary school kids.”
Junior high school kids are a different matter. “They are cats, and like cats, they are aloof, unresponsive, only want to have anything to do with you when there is food involved and are affectionate only on their own terms.”
But Moody says that “your dogs will come back to you one day.” Just don’t take it personally and understand their junior high schoolers have a busy and physically exhausting day.

Time Savers
Kathy Hennigh, a mother of three young children, is a fifth-grade teacher in Alameda with some practical and timely tips:
• Re-set their clocks. Start kids on the morning routine a week or so before school starts. • Get into the routine. Plan a field trip or outing a week before the first day to help practice getting up at the designated time and going through the morning routine: dress, brush teeth, eat breakfast, get out the door.
• Pack it up at night. Get in the habit of doing as much as possible—picking clothes, packing nonperishable lunch items, making sandwiches—the night before.
• Post it. Display a poster that outlines both the morning and after-school routines: Wake, Dress, Brush, Eat, Leave, Snack, Homework, Chores, Prepare for the Morning.
Talk about it. The week before school starts, sit down with your child and discuss going back to school.

You Are What You Eat
It’s tough to get your kids to make healthy choices when it comes to food, especially when you’re not there to guide them. You might send a lunch with them every day, but what they do with can be a mystery. Smart Alameda moms sneak healthy foods like these listed into their kids’ backpacks.
Fresh fruit
Peanut butter on a bagel
String cheese
Hard-boiled eggs
Trail mix
Dried fruit
Tortilla wraps
Pork buns
Mini-bagel sandwiches
Mini carrots and low-fat dip

Gotta Have It
Razor or Slivver cell phone with built-in iPod
Laptop computer with high-speed Internet connection
Messenger bag
Scientific calculator


2 thoughts on “Back to School Feature

  1. Sean McPhetridge

    Dear Mary Lee:

    Thank you very much for your recent “Back to School” article.

    Alameda has a great school system with a great range of options for high school students, and I really appreciate you highlighting what AUSD’s unique Early College High School ASTI (Alameda Science and Technology Institute) has to offer.

    See you in the fall!

    Best regards,

    Sean McPhetridge

  2. Sean McPhetridge

    Dear Mary Lee:

    Thank you very much for your recent “Back to School” feature in Alameda Magazine.

    Alameda has a strong school system with a great range of options for high school students, and I really appreciate you highlighting what AUSD’s unique Early College High School ASTI (Alameda Science and Technology Institute) has to offer.

    See you in the fall!

    Best regards,

    Sean McPhetridge


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