This is a letter I sent to the Berkeley school board about the scheduling process at BHS. I do not know very much about how it works, but I do know that my son struggled with it for 2 days this week and came home feeling very defeated and frustrated. I believe that this is a big enough problem that it needs to be solved at the district level, and that is why I have written to the school board. But I would appreciate hearing from other parents on the list who have more insight into it than I do. -- Ginger Ogle
Dear school board members,
It is time for the district to invest in a scheduling system for Berkeley High that can handle 3300 students.
My son, a BHS senior, waited 3 hours on Monday to see a counselor so he could change his schedule. He'd been incorrectly assigned to an 8th period science class despite turning in his schedule request on time, and noting that his team's practice takes precedence for 8th period. Not only was he given an 8th period year-long class, he was assigned none of the teachers he requested. When he finally got to see his counselor on Monday, he was told that the only alternative was a 5th period science class, which is full. So, the hours he spent waiting were futile. My son came home very frustrated, but the next day worked out a plan to shuffle all his classes around, and he returned yesterday to change his schedule. He waited nearly 5 hours yesterday - from 11am until 4:45, when he was finally able to see, not a counselor, but a teacher who was helping out, who made the changes for him. He told me that 30 or 40 kids he knew had been waiting since 8:30am, and finally gave up in the afternoon and left without making their schedule changes.
I would like to know why we are relying on a patched-together, volunteer-driven system to get our thousands of BHS students scheduled and registered. The registration process has become a nightmare of inefficiency and frustration for all concerned. The volunteers who put it together and who run it are appreciated, but this is not a job that should be assigned to volunteers. The technology exists to make registration simple, fast, and uncomplicated. Instead we are subjecting our students, teachers, and counselors to days of needless and pointless frustration. I would like to see the school board take an active role in getting a reliable and efficient system in place. A good first step would be for the board to visit UC Berkeley's TeleBears website to see an example of online registration and scheduling. Here's the web page for "Introduction to Central Asia" - there are links to a course description, enrollment status (full,waiting list), and actual online registration capability.
http://www-telebears.berkeley.edu:3400/cweb/?_InField1=CWEBN;_InField2=57406;_InField3=00D2 A similar system could be implemented for BHS, with registation at home or at school on an internet-connected computer. UC Berkeley has many times offered guidance and assistance to the Berkeley public schools. Why not investigate a collaboration with them to create a real, working scheduling system for Berkeley High? This will require that the district devote resources to the project, and take a leadership position in getting it implemented, but it will go a long way toward making the students and staff at BHS feel that the high school really does work.
I don't feel that the School Board responds well to issues unless there is potential of media exposure!! It certainly is the worst way to begin a new year, a clear indication that things do not work at the school, perpetuating the sense of frustration that already exists!! I appreciate your positive suggestions, and hope something can be done!!! Keep us posted, Lynn
The only concern I have about a UC type system with teacher choice at the high school level is that people at college (at least at UCSD-- I registered for my daughter this spring as she was in Madrid), are assigned a time, anytime after which they can start to register. Many students would not get around to registering just as many today do not turn in or fill out a full schedule. Although my older daughter always did very well at arena scheduling-- either during or after--- many kids did not. Classes weren't balanced. And whether I like balanced classes or not, they seem to be what the school requires.
Where this gets me is that a UC system for courses would work. But we would have to have a way of selecting teachers. At UC, if you don't get a teacher you want, you can choose to take the class with another teacher or another semester. In high school, most of the courses are very closely prescribed by year or semester and you don't have this option. So we would need an enhanced, fair, balanced way to do some selection.
Your son's experience is the usual horror story. I am sorry to hear it is still going on.
When my husband and I went to try to straighten things out, we were told by a very nice man that he would never have told her to sign up again, that he would have treated her with respect, etc. I certainly believe him, but my daughter had been waiting since 8:30 a.m. It was at that point 2:15. She hadn't eaten since breakfast. If she was somewhat less than rational, who can blame her?
When we finally got to talk to the counsellor, it turned out that one of the classes she wanted to change to was filled, so she decided to stick with her original schedule. Surely it shouldn't have have taken six hours of waiting to find this out. If any improvements can be made in this wretched system, I am all for them.
Please sign me anonymous, as I have mentioned tears, which I am sure my daughter doesn't want her friends to know about. Thank you.
I love the idea of UC helping out, but from the few anecdotes I hear from students (and it's certainly not a valid sample), I get the impression that UC's own registration process can be pretty cumbersome. But maybe it's just because classes are so readily oversubscribed.
On the larger issue of the Board devoting energy and money to doing the simple, basic administrative functions of letting children sign up for classes and organize their days, I'm all for it. Let me know what further actions you're taking or how I might support your efforts.
Thanks for all the hard work we know you and the staff have put in to getting BHS ready for school's opening on the 30th. Based on the level of concern you're showing, we know you will want to address these three pressing concerns:
First, please take the time to visit the BHS class registration/scheduling process in action in Building H today. We suggest signing up to see a counselor, as if you are a student needing a schedule change (most do.) We think it's critical that you understand what parents and students are going through. It's really something- something that should not be tolerated. We are totally flabbergasted- almost beyond words. Clearly, replacing this "system" has to be a top priority for the 2000-2001 school year.
Second, please expedite installation of security cameras at BHS in student and Teacher areas, and on the perimeter of campus. Please! Don't continue to risk our child, 3000 + other student and teacher lives, our current Measure A investments, the potential passage of Measures AA and BB, and the support of the Berkeley community for our schools through inaction on this subject. I'm sure that most parents expected this to be taken care of after the 2 million dollar blaze last year. And just last week, a malicious prank cost us another $26,000. That's $26,000 we won't have for something else.
Third, please give the community an update on the readiness of BHS for the start of school. Anyone driving by the campus can see you've been busy--Is the communication/safety system now working? Are all of the portables in, and teachers and programs up and running and ready? The signs, the food court, the clean up...Let's get the word out on the status of all of the things Jack and Darrell assured us would be done.
Iris and Joan
I agree completely with your suggestion that scheduling at BHS be discussed, analyzed and a new, more equitable, swift, efficient method be instituted as soon as possible. You mentioned several alternatives, and I have a few to add. We need to put our heads together, soon, and go forward. Besides efficiency and accuracy in a system we must also take into account the needs of all the students at BHS. We have a diverse student body with a great range of resources available to them to help them schedule. Many, and I mean many students do not have access to computers, helpful adults in their life or the where with all to understand the complexities of BHS and the consequences of the choices they make. We also need a system that serves these students and insures their chances of getting the best offerings and choices at BHS. I really think this is possible, and with the help of concerned people like yourself we can make this happen. I am prepared to start working on this immediately.
Terry Doran, Vice President Berkeley School Board
p.s. I commented on this very issue at the last School Board meeting because of the seriousness of the issue.
I was not suggesting an at-home registration - I intentionally mentioned "with registation at home or at school on an internet-connected computer. " because it could easily be done at school. I believe BHS is getting a big technology grant that should boost the number of online computers in the school. Surely there are enough there now to allow students, teachers, counselors access at least on an occasional basis. And of course all our public libraries now offer internet-connected computers and help to novices. Visiting the library to change your schedule would be *much* preferable to the current system. Everyone has access to the library.
By the way Terry, it would be VERY exciting to see the school board spearhead an effort to get email and web access into all our students' homes. It is not necessary to get $2000 computers anymore. There are several companies now that are offering this (email and web only) extremely cheaply, if at any cost all. For example virginconnect.com. An effort like this would be such an enormous benefit to our students whose families can't afford computers and monthly ISP fees. Not just for scheduling, but for all the other benefits that we enjoy on the internet.
Very few high schools have teacher requests. We are a lucky bunch. I think the preservation of teacher choice is a miracle, given the problems it creates. I, for one, believe that teacher request is a non-negotiable point at BHS: it's one of the things that keeps us at BHS. Without it, we'd be somewhere else. There are too many teachers who are what I think of as "retired-on-the-job" or absolutely unprepared and uninspired. Ww try to avoid these teachers, though it's not always possible. Also, some kids like to take the toughest teachers for the challenge while others like to balance heavy work load classes with some fluff. Choice is essential.
From what I understand, the computer scheduling system in place attempts to give everyone a chance at their first choices by running eveyone at once. This seems to me to be an exemplary feature not to be taken lightly. When I was in college people registered in a random order, much like the line-up for the old BHS arena scheduling. THe first called took away the riches and if you were last you couldn't even get a schedule that gave you your necessary classes.
This is the siuation with which we are presented: We have a large student body, we don't have sufficient resources, people and dollars, a short time frame and a population that insists on teacher choice. Given these criteria I see several things we can do: (1) invent as a parent body some creative solutions, including increased targeted donations to generate the dollars available to pay for competent computer technicians and systems, (2) instruct counselors and students (and their parents) to priortize scheduling problems: if the counselors did some triage-- deal with true scheduling errors on the first 3 days, then the optional problems of disappointing teachers, a gap in schedule that requires a proctor, an unwanted 1st period, things might not be so nuts, (3) demand that the school figure out a solution to hire higher quality teachers, which means paying them well.
I think that there are too many of us, myself included at times, who hope our kids can have a royal flush-- 7 star studded periods. This is not reality. No system can guarantee this. Winifred
I was delighted by your response to Ginger Ogle's letter to the Board regarding scheduling. I just want to add that, at San Jose State University, we have scheduling by phone as well. This is a very simple system and could easily be incorporated into bhs scheduling so that not all students are required to use a computer. In addition, if students are away, it might be easier to have phone scheduling as well in case no computers are available to them.
Having experienced the nightmares of scheduling problems when my daughter was a freshman and watching the unnecessarily extreme frustrations of both students and parents while volunteering this week, I'd be more than willing to work with you on improving the scheduling system.
I would hope that any group working on changes would be sure to obtain the wise counsel of Terry and Peter Bloomsburgh who were able to make dramatic and significant changes from arena scheduling to computer scheduling and who have been coordinating the entire volunteer process.
Also, my daughter (who waited a total of 5 hours over two days to see a counselor for one minute) noticed that kids with parents seemed to get seen a whole lot sooner than kids on their own. She points out that, while parents have jobs and lives to get on with, kids do too. I feel pretty angry about this because I am not able to get away from my job to help her in this way. I also think it should not be necessary. Louise
HISTORY OF SCHEDULING AT BHS: Prior to spring 1998, students scheduled in an "arena." Specifically, they went into a large room and picked their teachers; counselors and volunteers were available to assist them. This approach was very controversial, with many enthusiastic supporters and others who wanted the arena to be eliminated.
During the fall of 1997, a group of us researched the pros and cons of several scheduling approaches. Three public forums were held to obtain input, each attended by over 100 people. We visited two local high schools which allowed teacher choice: Lowell and Acalanes. We studied UC's TeleBears system, but concluded it would not work because of class imbalances by ethnic group and ability, unfairness for students who schedule last, cost, and technical support (Cherry Creek High School in Colorado uses a system like this).
The outcome of these discussions was that I was asked to develop the computer software currently used at BHS. It was designed to accomplish the following: teacher choice; class size balancing; class balancing by ethnic group, ability, grade and gender; creating 9th grade core groupings; minimization of gaps in student schedules; and assuring students get important electives unless scheduling conflicts make that impossible. The system was not designed to give every student every teacher they requested. Instead, a very high priority was placed on giving students their first choice teacher for the course they said was most important, and the system gives them other requested teachers whenever possible without compromising other objectives. This software was used in scheduling for spring 1998, fall 1998, spring 1999, fall 1999, and fall 2000.
RECENT PROBLEMS: This approach was well received the first three times it was used. However, during the past two years, there have been many complaints. I, too, have been very unhappy with how scheduling has been done during the past two years and hope these problems are resolved before scheduling is done for the fall of 2001. Having said that, I would like to state that many BUSD staff and parent volunteers worked very hard this summer to make things the best they could be, and I hope people will appreciate their efforts.
THREE RECOMMENDED NEXT STEPS:
1. POST MORTEM REGARDING FALL 2000 SCHEDULING PROBLEMS: There are four major steps in the scheduling process: (1) data entry of course requests which reflect what students want and need, (2) deciding who will teach what courses and when (called the "master schedule"), (3) scheduling students into classes, and (4) resolving concerns students have with their schedule. Doing a good job on the first three steps would reduce the number of students who have concerns with their schedule. The problems identified during the fall 2000 scheduling process need to be analyzed to determine which step caused them. I believe that most problems were caused by steps (1) and (4).
2. DECIDE WHETHER STUDENTS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CHOOSE TEACHERS: Some people strongly believe that students should not be allowed to choose their teachers. I hope that BHS staff, students, and parents will have an open discussion on this issue. Only after answering this question can a decision can be made regarding what scheduling system should be used. I spent thousands of hours as a volunteer over the past three years because I strongly believed that students should have some control over their lives at BHS, including their schedule. I disagree with those who say that teacher choice is an administrative burden on the school, because BHS staff do not spend significant extra effort to allow teacher choice.
For fall 2000, 95% of students received their first choice teacher for the course they said was most important, and students received an average of 87% of the teachers they requested for their three most important courses.
3. DECIDE HOW TO IMPROVE SCHEDULING: Major changes need to be made before scheduling is done for fall 2001. I have several ideas that I hope will be seriously considered. First, I strongly believe that each student should discuss their schedule one-on-one with their counselor; I have talked to a school in Southern California that does this even though they have 1,000 students per counselor. Other ideas include clearer scheduling instructions for students, handling requests for schedule changes without making students wait in lines for hours and hours, and perhaps signing up for courses via the Internet.
In addition, BHS should re-evaluate what software to use to schedule students into classes. Obviously, there are significant disadvantages to using computer software developed and maintained by volunteers. However, I hope that this evaluation carefully considers whether other student scheduling software systems include capabilities important to BHS, such as: balancing by ethnic group, ability, grade and gender; minimization of gaps in student schedules; assuring students get important electives unless scheduling conflicts make that impossible; and teacher choice. The last time I checked, the SASI system currently used at BHS had none of these capabilities.
After watching and supporting our daughter for almost four years, we strongly support the opportunity for teacher choice. It has helped make her take responsibility for her education. She's learned to "work" the system -- we've never accompanied her to registration, although we did accompany her to post-schedule meetings last year when she got caught in a battle between Ms. Saunders and one teacher. We, too, wish the system were more sane and more fair, but it has taught her to take initiative, be savvy, fight for what she wants, and evaluate her options. We have no doubt that she'll be better prepared for college than if she had had no teacher choice. We think high school students are mature enough to make choices about teachers and experience the consequences.
Our daughter's problems seem to be associated with (1) the 8th period
"hold" for varsity athletes (so they won't miss important classes for away
games), and (2) the lack of ranking for corrections and changes -- i.e.,
the order in which problems are corrected -- using the available slots to
solve problems with the highest priority first, next highest priority
second, and so on.
As to balancing the classes while still accommodating teacher requests, that is the kind of task that computers do very well. Maybe better than humans. In fact, a smart scheduling program is probably going to assign classes a lot more fairly than counselors under pressure from those parents who are able to come in person to advocate for their kids. Anonymous Dad
When my daughter went to Berkeley High, there was still self-scheduling, I guess what is being described as "arena scheduling". As much as it was a bit of a zoo, it worked for her and she was able to get much more of what she wanted with a lot less hassle - imperfect though the system was - than students seem to be with the current system.
Both my kids had the experience of having grades recorded incorrectly and trying for months before it was corrected. I have to say, though, that my daughter had the same experience at UC Davis.
An obvious problem that no one has mentioned is that the school is just TOO BIG to work. I recently visited my midwestern home town. With a population of 70,000, they have two high schools and about six middle schools. They probably have better funding for education also. Is anyone considering the possibility of another high school in Berkeley?
I have spent many years defending the Berkeley public schools to people whose kids go to private schools. I do think there is a lot to be said for the diversity one gets in the public schools, and appreciation of diversity has been an important lesson for my kids. And Berkeley High has some wonderful teachers and programs for those who can handle other aspects of the school environment. But looking back, seeing the problems my son had starting in middle school, I very much regret that I didn't beg, borrow or steal to get him into the appropriate private high school.
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