Los Altos School District officials hosted a community forum last week to clarify how Blach Intermediate School and Bullis Charter School will execute their campus-sharing plan next year.
The meeting outlined the district’s offer to house 129 in-district charter school students on the Blach campus. District Board of Trustees President Doug Smith said the district crafted the offer under the assumption that the charter school would use the Blach space to serve its sixth- through eighth-grade students.
Bullis Charter School’s exclusive space on the Blach campus includes five classrooms (three for sixth-graders and two for seventh- and eighth-graders), an existing home arts room, an existing annex room for a computer lab, one specialized teaching area, an administrative building, a library portable, locker rooms and bathrooms.
The district’s offer relies largely on the use of shared space at Blach. It allocates use of a science room (2:10-3:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; 2:15-3:30 p.m. Wednesdays), a drama/chorus room (8-9:45 a.m. weekdays) and a multipurpose room (eight days throughout the year).
Smith said that while the final offer includes language with a specific schedule for sharing the multipurpose room, the intent is for administrative leaders at the schools to communicate to develop a flexible schedule that suits both parties.
The offer also outlines a proposal for shared physical education space. For various lessons throughout the year, Bullis Charter School students may use the gym (16 weeks), multipurpose room (two weeks), blacktop (eight weeks), tennis courts (two weeks) and track and field (10 weeks).
PE facilities are available to charter school students during periods 1-5 Mondays and Tuesdays and through 9 a.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.
“Charter school students will have access to the gym, multipurpose room – everything our students have access to for PE,” Smith said. “The intent is to share these spaces equally. To the extent that either program wants to make a change, the administrators or teachers can talk to each other and it should be resolved locally on site.”
The parking lots at Blach will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, with 10 spots allocated to the private Stepping Stones Preschool & Infant Care facility, six for charter school officials and six for Blach officials.
After detailing the shared and exclusive spaces at Blach next year, the forum addressed parents’ and neighbors’ questions. Blach Principal Sandra McGonagle was on hand to offer input.
One parent asked if students were supposed to take a certain path to get from point A to point B on the campus. McGonagle said students should take the path of least resistance when traveling on campus – there are no Blach-only or charter-school-only paths.
Responding to a request for clarification on the total number of students anticipated on the Blach campus next year, Smith said the district expects 509 students, coupled with the charter school’s 129 for a total of 638 students. He added that the schools are working to shift the start times in an effort to reduce traffic, increase student safety and to be a good neighbor to the community.
As for sharing PE facilities, Smith said the district plans to install keyless access pads for entry, guaranteeing access when needed.
The plan to share the blacktop is the primary reason Smith organized the meeting. While the final offer designates a portion of the blacktop for exclusive charter school use and a portion for Blach students only, Smith said the plan calls for students from both schools to share the blacktop during recess and lunch breaks.
“It is our intention to have a mix of students,” he said. “The kids should be able to do that together. It is our goal that all the students interact with one another.”
One charter school parent said Egan Junior High School students heckled her and her child as they walked across the campus, which currently houses the charter school. Smith encouraged the parent to share the incident with charter school leaders, who should then confer with Egan’s principal.
Smith said there are still logistical matters to resolve with Blach/Bullis Charter School split, including emergency procedures, supervision of students during recess and lunch, student discipline issues, familiarity with both schools’ staff members and the presence of adults on campus.
“What I would really like is to have the kids come together,” McGonagle said. “Student leaders from both campuses could come together and discuss how to cohabitate.”
While no further meetings are scheduled at this point, McGonagle said she is confident the remaining matters will be addressed over the summer.
In the wake of construction delays last year, one parent asked if there were a contingency plan in the event that construction on the Blach campus does not finish by the time school starts.
“It is happening,” Smith said. “I’m not trying to be glib about it. When we land, nothing works because it never can, but we are trying to get it done. Last year we got surprised by a lot of soil work – we hope this is not the case this year.”
Smith added that while there is no official contingency plan, if there is a delay, four portable classrooms and other spaces on the Blach campus are available for the charter school.
“I want to welcome our new neighbors into this,” Smith said. “We want this to work. We need to approach it with the spirit of doing the best we can. When things don’t work, we will have a civilized discussion. There will be bumps in the road, but if we go into it with the thought of sharing and getting along, it can work.”