Here comes the neighborhood

This past spring, the Sacramento City Unified School District changed its logo. The familiar red apple will be replaced with a green apple—to remind everyone that the district is “going green.” At least, it will be as soon as the old stationary runs out. It’s a small gesture, but an important one.

A bigger and more important gesture would be to bring back the idea of the neighborhood school.

That’s the notion behind the Sacramento Comprehensive High School Coalition—a group of parents in the central city and East Sacramento trying to create a public high school in their neighborhood. They aim to replace the one that was lost when Sacramento High was handed over to Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope organization to run as a charter school.

Their argument for a “pedestrian-friendly comprehensive high school” seems pretty reasonable and straightforward to Bites.

After all the Bitescave was chosen for similar reasons— it’s in a neighborhood that will allow Nibbles and Bits to walk or bike to decent schools all the way through 12th grade. (Plus, it has weird decrepit strip malls, tasty ramen joints, public transportation and hella trees.)

The coalition wants to swap the high-performing West Campus High with St. Hope’s charter school at Sac High.

West’s current digs would be a cozier fit for the under-enrolled charter school, while the bigger Sac High building would allow West Campus, which has a long waiting list, to expand.

The swap could also mean a much needed high-school campus for students who now drive to other neighborhoods, even other districts.

“What other entity is putting so many cars on the road?” asks James Broderick, who has been working the environmental angles for the coalition.

Broderick’s own kids carpool to Rio Americano High, in the neighboring San Juan Unified School District.

That’s his choice—no one’s twisting his arm. But lots of parents are doing the same. Last year, SCUSD granted more than 600 inter-district transfers for high-school students who wanted to go to school outside the district. That’s a costly situation for the district, which loses about $5,000 on each student who transfers.

Throughout the district, parents are also abandoning their neighborhood schools to drive their kids to what Broderick calls “far-flung specialty campuses.”

For proof, he points to a set of “scattergrams” generated by the district, which show that a few boutique schools—like West Campus—draw huge percentages of their student population from far and wide, disregarding neighborhoods and school attendance areas.

Broderick figures, “No single entity in the entire Sacramento region is directly responsible for more air pollution and traffic congestion than SCUSD.”

For example, droves of people haul their kids to the elite Sutter Middle School in East Sacramento—many from neighborhoods like the Pocket and Greenhaven, when those folks have a perfectly good middle school in Sam Brannan.

Of course, Sutter parents flipped right the hell out when school board member Jeff Cuneo suggested moving Sutter to the under-enrolled Kit Carson campus, and making it more of a neighborhood school. That would free up the Sutter campus to serve as a small high school for the area.

West Campus parents hate the possibility of changes, too. West has an application process, and admits students in part on their academic record. The new school would have to accept at least some kids based on geography, not grades.

Sac High supporters have mobilized, too. The Sacramento Bee last week dusted off its perennial “don’t mess with success” editorial. Mayor Johnson’s Stand Up Sacramento education organization last week flooded Bites’ email with AstroTurf form letters demanding that the charter school be left alone in its prized facility.

And there’s a good chance the status quo will win the day. Too bad, though, for the idea of the neighborhood school.