Berkeley school board considers consolidating REALM Charter School

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Xiaoye Yan/File

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At their meeting Wednesday, Berkeley Unified School District Board members discussed proposed expenditures, as well as a measure that would consolidate REALM Charter Schools into one school for sixth through 12th grades.

According to REALM’s executive director and founder Victor Diaz, REALM operates as two separate charter schools — a middle school and a high school. A request to consolidate REALM Middle School and High School was submitted Feb. 23.

For the 2018-19 school year, Diaz proposed that the charter school serve grades six through 12 and operate under a single charter. The board will have a special meeting Apr. 17 to vote on the consolidation.

“I don’t know that there is any real reason for the district to deny it,” Diaz said. “I don’t know that there has ever been a material revision denied in this area, so I’m curious to see what feedback they give.”

Diaz said federal laws prohibit REALM from guaranteeing current eighth graders enrollment into ninth grade at REALM High School. Consolidating REALM, he said, would guarantee high school enrollment to students already enrolled in the middle school, since it would be one entity. He added that the consolidation would help with financial issues.

In recent years, REALM has faced financial struggles including an operating deficit and cash flow difficulties, which required it to obtain additional funding.

“It wouldn’t change the operation, the programs, anything like that,” Diaz said. “What it will do is it will strengthen our financial picture more quickly because then we’re viewed as just one solid entity versus two separate individual financial entities.”

The board also discussed proposed one-time and ongoing expenditures including technology improvements, screening tools and classroom technology supports for mathematics and a high school mathematics coordinator. The board will vote on the expenditures at its April 25 meeting.

“The easy one for me is the high school mathematics coordinator,” said Director Karen Hemphill during the meeting. “When we have 25 percent of all ninth graders failing Math 1 and 50 percent of all Black ninth graders failing Math 1, it’s a crisis.”

Berkeley Parent-Teacher Association Council president Christine Staples spoke during public comment in support of funding the math coordinator, who would develop a cohesive curriculum for Berkeley High School.  She said the middle schools have done a good job of aligning curriculum across grade levels.

Staples added that well-prepared students are arriving at Berkeley High School and are failing their math classes.

“This is truly heartbreaking,” Staples said. “Berkeley High needs to do similar work to the work that was done at the middle schools. … A dedicated outside math coordinator to do this work has the potential to make a real difference for high school students.”

Ella Colbert covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.