The school board of the West Contra Costa Unified School District will hold a special meeting tonight, March 27, to gather community input on improvements for Portola Middle School in El Cerrito.
Portola historically has been seen as an academically challenged school with periodic discipline problems, and a large number of students from district elementary schools that feed Portola go to middle school elsewhere, including private schools or public middle schools in other school districts.
And though there's a widespread recognition among the staff and parents at the school now that significant improvements have been made, the quality of what the school can offer remains a key concern.
"It's time to look at what our community really wants in its middle school," said school board member Todd Groves, who initiated the meeting.
The timing is opportune, he said, because the 525-student school is being rebuilt. Portola, which serves seventh and eighth grades, currently is housed in temporary buildings at its old site on Moeser Lane across from Cerrito Vista Park. The former school buildings were torn down after being deemed unsafe in a major quake.
A major problem for Portola, and afterward for El Cerrito High School, is the loss of potential students from the elementary feeder schools.
"There's a lot of outflow to other districts and private schools," said Groves, who was elected to the five-member board in November and is one of three board members who live in El Cerrito. He noted the relatively large number of private middle schools in the city, for example.
Board member Charles Ramsey, who also lives in El Cerrito, said between 100 and 150 students are siphoned off each year from the six elementary schools that feed Portola: Fairmont, Harding, Kensington, Madera, Stege and Washington.
School board President Madeline Kronenberg, also an El Cerrio resident, said the focus of tonight's meeting is on Portola because each school has distinctive needs that need separate attention.
"Each school has its own unique personality," she said.
One of the most distinctive challenges for Portola is that the schools feeding Portola cover a wide spectrum from the district's highest-performing schools in affluent communities to lower-performing schools in less affuent neighborhoods, she said.
"It's time for the board to address the Portola dilemma," Ramsey said.
The main purpose of tonight's meeting is to hear from the community, Groves said.
A message about the meeting also is posted on the Go Portola! website.
The meeting takes place at 6:30-8 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Lovonya DeJean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond. (The entrance is on Harry Ells Place.)
Also on the board agenda is awarding the contract to build the new Portola at the site of the former Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito.
The meeting agenda is attached to this article.
Don't miss any news on El Cerrito Patch. Get the day's headlines and events – plus any breaking news alerts – by subscribing to the El Cerrito Patch email newsletter.