Of all the Jefferson County schools pinning their hopes on the district’s bond and tax measures on the November ballot, few had as much to gain — or lose — as Alameda International.
The cafeteria is so cramped, the school spreads lunch over four periods and some students stand or sit in the hallways to eat. The gym locker rooms don’t have enough lockers. The school is lacking appropriate space to add career classes and teachers are forced to share classrooms.
When voters turned down the $535 million bond request this year for Jeffco Public Schools, Alameda International lost out on getting fixes to those problems as part of a $20 million renovation at the school that has been on hold since at least 2008. The district described the work that the bond would have covered as fulfilling a “past promise.”
Now the principal, Susie Van Scoyk, worries that some of the momentum of the school’s improvements from the last seven years will slow and that retaining teachers at the high-needs school will become more difficult.
The defeat stings more because the school is changing. Last year Alameda International expanded from being a stand-alone high school to including middle school grades.
“Our building isn’t built for younger students,” Van Scoyk said. “Middle school students have different developmental and social needs.”
Jeffco is working on updating plans following the failure of the district’s two tax requests — the bond and a smaller tax increase known as a mill levy override. Van Scoyk said she will continue to be a loud proponent for her school’s needs.
“I believe the students here deserve the same type of facility other students have,” Van Scoyk said. “But we will do the very best with what we do have.”
Alameda International, a school on Jeffco’s eastern boundary with Denver, currently has more than 1,200 students. More than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced priced lunch — a measure of poverty — and about 22 percent are learning English as a second language. It’s a different population from the suburban district’s average school.
“This is really more of an urban school, with the needs of an urban school,” Van Scoyk said. “I can’t go to my PTA and say ‘Hey, we really need to or want to buy new science textbooks or we want to get laptops, or iPads.’ We just don’t have that capacity here.”
The school’s preliminary state ratings this year show Alameda’s high school grades moved up to the performance category for the first time in more than five years. In part, the rating is likely influenced by the school’s rising graduation rate. In 2015, the state recorded Alameda’s graduation rate at more than 92 percent, up from about 71 percent in 2010.
“The students and staff really have been remarkable,” Van Scoyk said.
But lately she says she’s had countless conversations with younger teachers who say they can’t afford to stay in Jeffco if they can make more in neighboring districts. The district’s mill levy override — a second property tax request that voters turned down — would have maintained and possibly increased teacher salaries.
“I want to keep the really good teachers we have here,” Van Scoyk said. “We know what makes a difference for a child is a high-quality teacher.”
Jeffco’s school board members voiced the same sentiment at a recent board meeting discussing with staff what should be prioritized as the district figures out what cuts might be necessary following the defeat of the tax requests. Many said that teacher retention should be prioritized with what money the district has.
Looking back, forward
Alameda’s school building on South Wadsworth Boulevard has been expanded many times since it was built in 1961 to try to accommodate more students, but some original shared spaces like the lunchroom and the gym locker rooms haven’t kept up.
The school has two gyms, but the locker rooms don’t have enough lockers for students. Teachers require students to change for physical education classes, but assistant principal Williams said they can’t penalize students since many don’t have a place to store a change of clothes.
Outside the building, school leaders would like more open space for the middle school student’s activities. Right now, most middle school students play on an open space behind the tennis courts, but between the building’s additions, the bleachers and the tennis courts, the area isn’t easily visible to the staff watching the students, so it takes more adults to be outside watching kids around each corner.
Inside, staff and administrators closely monitor their radios because the school’s announcement system is old and doesn’t work in the cafeteria. If something else is being broadcast through the speakers in the school’s auditorium, the announcements won’t be heard in there either. That presents a safety issue if something has to be communicated in an emergency, such as an evacuation.
Some of those issues were expected to be fixed as part of the phase two renovations that would have been paid for by the district’s bond. The work was put on hold when voters in 2008 rejected the school district’s tax measures that year, too.
In 2012, voters did approve a $99 million bond request, but the smaller amount covered more immediate deferred maintenance across the district, not big renovation projects.
Alameda’s turnaround efforts started seven years ago centered on the rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Two years ago school leaders started expanding on the program by offering the IB program’s career classes too.
It started with health career classes. Students in the career pathway can graduate with a certificate in bilingual medical terminology giving them the chance to work in medical offices as translators who are proficient in language and the context.
Students also asked for an arts career option and one for STEM careers, representing those in science, technology, engineering and math. The arts classes just started this year. The STEM classes are now on hold. School leaders said they were hoping to use bond money to build or retrofit classrooms for engineering courses.
“To have a STEM pathway, we don’t have the type of facility and equipment that some of our neighboring schools have,” Van Scoyk said.
If the bond had passed this year, the renovation of the building also would have likely addressed the building’s layout that is causing stress on the new seventh through 12th grade model.
School leaders are juggling schedules and class locations to keep younger students away from older students. Although the building can house more students, keeping kids in separate parts of the school by grade level means space is short in some places where it can be enough in others. Williams, in charge of the master schedule, has three white boards in his office that help him track what teachers are in what classroom at what time.
It’s not ideal, but school leaders say they are managing for now.
“Kids keep coming everyday,” Van Scoyk said. “They have to be our focus.”