Photograph by Allyn Suzuki
For the beginning of the 2018 school year, the middle school division of Revolutionary Education And Learning Movement (REALM), the only charter school in Berkeley, temporarily relocated to the facility that formerly housed Tehiyah Day School, a Jewish private school in El Cerrito.
Due to construction delays at REALM’s soon-to-be permanent site, at the Pacific School of Religion in the Berkeley hills, REALM administrators scrambled to find a temporary location for its middle school to start the school year, while the high school remains at the corner of University and Chestnut in central Berkeley. REALM had been renting the previous property from the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).
The construction delays at the Pacific School of Religion were related to seismic requirements and other building standards.
“We are improving the strength of the building to withstand an earthquake and we are using the highest standards set by the Berkeley Building Department,” said Victor Diaz, REALM’s executive director and current principal of the middle school in an update for REALM’s middle school families. Luckily for REALM, the Tehiyah building is available for a short-term six to eight-week lease until the sale of the property is finalized.
“We didn’t have to do anything to the site because it had already been zoned as a school,” said Emily Nathan, former director of operations at REALM. “The timing worked out really well for REALM. As you can imagine it’s very challenging to find a space to house a school.” REALM hopes to be in their new location at the Pacific School of Religion by the end of September.
The new facility at the Pacific School of Religion offers many benefits for REALM, such as being close to University of California Berkeley and hopefully attracting new families. Although many of REALM’s families actually live in Contra Costa County, closer to the old Tehiyah facility, which stands at Tassajara Avenue in the El Cerrito hills, Nathan mentioned that REALM has purchased a bus to shuttle students to and from the new permanent location and make the transition as smooth as possible.
The decision to close Tehiyah, which previously educated kids in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, was made in July of 2018. According to an email sent out by Tehiyah, the reasons for the closure included declines in enrollment, the serious financial aid needs of many families and the constant pressure to fundraise.
Cela Parker, a Berkeley High School (BHS) junior, attended Tehiyah from kindergarten through eighth grade. She said she enjoyed her time there very much and was able to bond with her classmates and enjoyed the tight-knit community. Parker said that while she was a student there, the changing enrollment wasn’t apparent to her. “It was only after I graduated that the change was noticeable and I became aware of how much the enrollment levels were decreasing,” said Parker.
Tehiyah isn’t the only school facing financial uncertainty. REALM, too, is dealing with financial pressures that make its future uncertain. According to Nathan, the two biggest challenges are the financial concerns that come with enrollment and moving to a new site. “Our funding, like all public schools, is directly connected to enrollment. We are hopeful that with a new permanent facility for the middle school along with rigorous projected based instruction enrollment will continue to increase,” Nathan said.
By the 2020-21 school year, REALM hopes the current amount of students enrolled, now roughly 520, will grow to around 680. Some members of the board of BUSD are skeptical of this projection, but REALM remains hopeful.