Students stand with protest signs
Alum Rock Union School District students protested the partial closure of Aptitud Academy at a district board meeting. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

One group of educators and parents is fighting to stop the closure of a neighborhood middle school in East San Jose.

At last week’s Alum Rock Union School District board meeting, teachers, parents and students showed up to save Aptitud Community Academy at Goss, a TK-8 public school, after the district’s decision to shut down grades 6-8. Advocates said the closure will hurt the school and the community it served.

Alum Rock Union School District Superintendent Hilaria Bauer said a recommendation to cut the grades at Aptitud will go to the board this spring. If approved, it will go into effect in August.

“These are very difficult decisions. I feel for the parents because nobody wants to move their students,” Bauer told San José Spotlight. “Unfortunately, we need to make adjustments to be able to afford our sites. We have declining enrollment, not only at Aptitud but districtwide.”

At the board meeting, teacher Lonny Lovins said the board’s decision to close Aptitud is based on the school having low enrollment and struggling students. According to California School Dashboard, Aptitud has 422 students, of which 160 students or roughly 38% of the population is enrolled in grades 6-8.

“When you look at the dashboard… we are the only school that serves as a middle school that is growing in every single academic category,” he said, adding it won’t benefit the district financially to close the school. “You’ll see a financial impact when our parents take their middle schoolers and their younger brothers and sisters out of our district, or to a charter, which they’ll do.”

Students in a traditional middle school have better opportunities to access electives and sports, Bauer told San José Spotlight. Bauer said she met with teachers and parents in the fall and plans to meet again in the spring.

Aptitud teacher Lonny Lovins said the board’s decision to partially close Aptitud is based on false premises of it having low enrollment and struggling students. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Teacher Kathleen Garcia said Aptitud students’ grades have improved in English language arts and math, as well as for English-language learners. She said the partial closure is due to small class size, but that’s what the parents want. Garcia said the board was prepared to vote on removing the middle school grades last year, but the teachers union vice president protested, saying the school community hadn’t been notified.

“Our kids are very concerned,” she said. “A lot of parents chose our school because it was a K-8 model… with smaller classrooms and more attention on the kids.”

Garcia said the community is worried if the middle school closes, they’ll lose the elementary school as well, due to low enrollment. The students are scared to attend a large middle school and don’t want to go to one farther away, she said, adding two of the district’s four TK-8 middle schools — Adelante Dual Language Academy and Adelante II Academy — are for Spanish speakers only.

“You walk onto a traditional middle school versus our middle school and there’s just a huge difference,” she told San José Spotlight. “We have eighth graders that play with the little ones and buddy systems. It creates a sense of community and family and to take that away from our kids is very unfair.”

Parent Teresa Lopez said other local middle schools have higher truancy and suspension rates.

“Even if it’s just a closure of the middle school, it’s a downfall. It shows the superintendent is not showing care for the people who live nearby,” she told San José Spotlight. “My children have grown up with their peers, since attending preschool on campus. They’re breaking that bond.”

Student Derek said it would be so heartbreaking if the middle school closes. He said it would be stressful for parents to have to drop off students at different locations.

“Some of the students walk together to school to be safer,” he said. “This will change if we go to another school.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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