Antioch School Board to consider creating new K-8 virtual academy named for city’s first Black resident

Antioch’s first Black resident, Thomas Gaines. Photo: City of Antioch

Special Friday noon meeting on Thomas Gaines K-8 Virtual Learning Academy, if approved will open Monday, June 14

By Allen Payton

During a special meeting, today, Friday, June 11, 2021, at noon the Antioch School Board will consider approving a new virtual learning academy and name it for the city’s first Black resident, Thomas Gaines (1821-1896). (See presentation, here)

In 2016 the City Council declared Feb. 9th as Thomas Gaines Day for the emancipated slave and Antioch’s only Black resident between the 1860’s and 1940’s. (See related article)

According to the staff report on the item, “The District is seeking approval to form and establish the Thomas Gaines Virtual Learning Academy as an Alternative School of Choice (ASOC) to open in the fall of 2021. The Thomas Gains Virtual Learning Academy will provide a virtual learning option for students and families who would benefit from such an instructional model. The Thomas Gaines Virtual Learning Academy will serve students in grades K-8. Enrollment is entirely voluntary. The school will be virtual in instructional delivery but will include opportunities for in-person experiences as well. The Thomas Gaines Virtual Learning Academy will be housed in a currently existing school location. Enrollment will open on June 14, 2021, and staffing will be assigned based on enrollment numbers. All families who wish to enroll their student(s) in the Thomas Gains Virtual Learning Academy will be able to do so.

Alternative schools of choice (ASOC) were established under California Education Code (EC) sections 58500—58512. Each ASOC must meet all the requirements of the law, including:

  • All students and teachers are selected entirely from volunteers (EC Section 58503).
  • The school is maintained and funded by the school district at the same level of support as other educational programs for the same age level operated by the district (EC Section 58507).
  • The district annually evaluates the school and forwards the evaluations to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (EC Section 58510).

From presentation. Source: AUSD

“I think it’s a phenomenal idea honoring the history of Antioch,” Board Vice President Dr. Clyde Lewis said when reached for comment. Asked if this is just for the summer, he replied, “It will be an ongoing academy.”

“It’s a perfect marriage between past and present, connecting Antioch’s history with the current state of student learning through a virtual learning space,” he continued. “Thomas Gaines was an upstanding African American who contributed to our city. I’m hoping our students will follow in his footsteps and contribute to the future of Antioch.”

An effort to reach Board President Ellie Householder, asking her what the focus of the academy will be, was unsuccessful before publication.

However, Trustee Mary Rocha was reached and said, “In the past three years, they’ve been working to change Black Diamond Middle School into an academy. At this time that distance learning has become a big issue, many students do well, but not everyone. We’re going to put a piece of that in there. The school will be both online and in person. They will work on the curriculum and part of it will be distance learning. Since it’s opening Monday, it’s just the distance learning that will be tied to it. We need to accommodate our students who want to learn that way.”

In addition, Superintendent Stephanie Anello said, “the focus isn’t going to be on a specific discipline, but because some of our students really thrived in distance learning and some of our parents want to continue their educational experience in that manner. We want to continue offering that choice. It’s completely by choice.”

The meeting begins at noon and will be livestreamed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QspiIc_NPME. Those wishing to make a public comment on the agenda item can submit their comments until 11:00 a.m. on the day of the meeting. Comments can be submitted via an online form at https://tinyurl.com/ausd-public-comment-card or by email tokelliecavallaro@antiochschools.net. Comments received by 11:00 a.m. will be read to the public during the meeting.

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Goals of Alternative Schools of Choice


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