BHS Small Schools Discussion Dec 3, 2001
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BHS Small Schools Discussion Dec 3, 2001
Re: 2001 Discussions about BHS Small Schools Proposal
To: Parents of Teens
Berkeley High Small Schools Discussions Vol. 2
Dec 3, 2001
This is the second special issue containing discussions about the
proposal to convert Berkeley High into small autonomous schools.
- Mixed feelings
- BHS Faculty still hasn't had the opportunity to discuss this
- Let's get through WASC first
- There are still some basic issues that haven't been addressed
- Small Schools can close the Achievement Gap
- Yes but Who's in Charge?
- A Parent's Doubts about "Small Schools"
- Current structure is the ultimate system of winners and losers
- Draft Policy on Small Schools Doesn't Meet All Families' Needs
- Clarifying terminology
- New small schools should grow organically, not en masse
I have such mixed feelings about the Small Schools initiative. I DO
believe that they have a lot to offer, especially if the teachers
involved are turned on by the notion.
However, I have some major concerns.
1. Moving to the top of my list of concerns has been the implication on
the side of the Small School supporters that "if you're not with us
you're agin us." I feel that those of us with hesitations or concerns
have been labelled "hills parents" (I am not) or worse, racist. We
would be good to remember that racism exists on the side of both "black"
and "white" and I think we would all be better off to leave the labels
at the door and assume the best of everyone! I am assuming that we ALL
care deeply about BHS and NOT just for the sake of our own children.
The way the discussion has been going I frankly don't feel safe
sharing my feelings openly. What kind of example are we setting for our
children? We want them to be able to discuss issues, learn to disagree,
and to trust that others will respect their contributions and opinions.
2. Being an administrative person for a living I am constantly
frustrated by the inadequacies of the administration at BHS. I do not
blame the individuals involved for this. I think there is not enough
money to hire the administrative help and talent required. Will
breaking the school into smaller groups create LESS need for
administration? With the budget woes on the horizon for BUSD this will
surely not improve! What I have read of the Small Schools research is
talking more about truly autonomous schools---each with their own
administrative group, no doubt.
3. I think it is inevitable that if small schools are established at
BHS there will become a pecking order for the schools. The small
schools with the most hard-working/visionary/creative/inspired teachers
will attract an equally inspired group of students and their families.
What happens to the small school whose leadership falls apart or is hit
It's too bad that the federal money is "now or never" because I just
don't think this is the time. My fear is that this will be one more
failure in a string of failures and will not move us forward.
Wishing I didn't feel I have to be....
BHS Faculty still hasn't had the opportunity to discuss this
I have been following the Parent of Teens discussion over the last few
years. The discussion re: the small schools proposal for Berkeley
High School again has captured my attention. As interested members of
the community and parents of BHS students, do not assume that the
staff at Berkeley High School has discussed or supports dividing BHS
into 8 - 10 small learning communities as is constantly alluded to.
This is not true. We as teachers have been singled out to fill out a
survey by an assigned committee member. Students were asked to fill
out a survey without knowing what they were doing. PLEASE NOTE: A
discussion by the staff on the issue of small learning communities has
still not taken place. We have been waiting since the beginning of
2001, and we are still waiting. We had a faculty meeting after school
on Wednesday, November 28th to discuss small schools. The meeting was
scheduled from 3:45 - 5:00 p.m.. Information and materials was
presented to us. At 4:55 p.m., the meeting was opened for faculty
comments with limitations of one minute per person. A total of 5
minutes for discussion or questions is certainly not enough time.
Research nor WASC indicate that the creation of small schools is a
"cure-all" for all the ailments in public education and Berkeley High
School. The creation of BHS into small schools is just another
Band-Aid. Let's look at the whole picture. Research indicates a
COMBINATION of key ingredients for ALL STUDENTS to succeed: It is a
combination of a common vision, strong leadership, high expectations,
accountability, a highly structured environment, high academic
standards, a close monitoring of academic progress, community
involvement, and professional development. The search should not be
for the one key ingredient. Berkeley High School should focus on the
inclusion of all of the essential ingredients for all students to
Joan B. Horikoshi,
Social Studies Teacher, Berkeley High School
Let's get through WASC first
The issues are very clear, though the priorities of some are very
troubling to me. We have a school that doesn't function particularly
well for a significant number of students. We also have a school
which has serious administrative problems, though some things have
improved since Mr Lynch's abrupt departure(kudos to the acting
principals). We have a new superintendant of schools, an intelligent
thoughtful person, who ought to be given a chance to solve some of the
problems. We have WASC breathing down our necks. We have one
successful small school run by an extraordinary person. There aren't
so many others like him around. I think that more smaller structures
and more individual attention would be very helpful to all students
and especially kids who are unsuccessful but is this really the time
to be pulling out those particular stops? '04 parents are a strong
energetic group but attention and energy are being diverted from
issues which if they could be improved might then provide a better
launch for a differently structured school. It would, I think, be
more helpful to the school community to help them get through WASC and
put some better administrative structures in place. Instead of having
a single(and at this point somewhat divisive issue) be the reason for
having a school "hug", I wish we could have a more inclusive event in
which the community could wholeheartedly show their support for the
school. Sadly we have been placed in a polar "if you are not for us
you are against us" situation and that is a huge mistake for the
school community which very much needs all our support.
Caroline Lehman (O4 parent)
There are still some basic issues that haven't been addressed
I haven't digested the entire argument for small schools, but I have my
doubts about how it would work and why its necessary. It seems that there
are some BASIC issues in BHS that have never been addressed (and I've
followed BUSD politics for more than 20 years and view with trepidation
sending my "needs ALOT of structure" middle schooler to BHS). The STILL
open campus, lack of counselors, overly large class sizes, lack of a culture
that demands discipline, excellence, and basic courtesy from all, the racial
divide, the DIRE need for teachers/counselors and other role models of color
(especially male), and a realization that "New Age" education/liberalness
just doesn't cut it for the average kid (and believe me I speak from
experience as a "survivor" from a couldn't be more 70's public high school
where teachers were "facilitors" and students were expected to "follow their
instinctive urge to learn") have never been seriously tackled in my opinion.
The administrative complexity to develop and maintain the small schools
concept seems like it would take away from the basic needs of BHS.
For example, would the CLASSROOM adult/student ratio decrease or just the
number of kids in each "academy" - how would administration be coordinated?
how would counselors, etc. be distributed? Would there be a distribution of
adults of color throughout EACH school? Would you end up with segregated
mini-schools? How would each school deal with special educ., remedial
academic needs, AP needs, and bilingual needs? How would parental
involvement be structured - individual mini-school level vs. campus-wide?
I would like to see BHS focus on CLOSING THE CAMPUS, increasing
teacher/counselor/role model ratio (especially male staff of color), having
a hard look at the racial divide, and fostering a culture of expected
excellence and discipline for ALL. I've not been convinced that the small
schools concept will do any of this.
Small Schools can close the Achievement Gap
I am a parent with two children in Berkeley Public Schools, my son is a 6th
grader at BAM and my daughter joined BHS as a Freshman in September. I
heard about the "cracks" (referring to the disparity of achievement) and
the other problems like the violence, lack of consistent administration,
teacher turnover, WASC accreditation, etc. However, out of the many
problems the school has right now, the alarming rate of our students of
color failing concerned me the most. It also concerns me that those with
the opinions that BHS should not be changed are not taking into
consideration the crisis state our youth of color are in RIGHT NOW!
The following are facts and statistics to help illustrate the magnitude of
this problem and why it is crucial to change the existing structure now:
Students of color at BHS, particularly African-American and Latino students
receive grades that are significantly lower as a whole than the grades of
White and Asian/Pacific Islander students. In 1996 a team of over thirty
teachers, staff, administrators, students, parents, school board members
and University of California researchers formed to find out why this was
happening and what could be done about it. This team formed the BHS
Diversity Project and conducted a four-year study of the class of
2000. The following are some statistics from the report:
At Fall 2000, the general breakdown of the student population was:
37% - White
37% - African American
11% - Latino
9% - Asian/Pacific Islander
5% - Multiracial
1% - Filipino
Class of 2000 students graduating with a 3.0 or higher Grade Point Average
74% - of White students graduated with a 3.0 or higher
70% - of Asian/Pacific Islander students graduated with a 3.0 or higher
28% - of Latino students graduated with a 3.0 or higher
21% - of African American students graduated with a 3.0 or higher
By junior and senior years, Class of 2000 African American and Latino
students were greatly under-enrolled in Advanced Placement (AP) classes,
while White students were greatly over-represented. For example, in AP
English classes, 75% of students enrolled were white.
Results of the Class of 2004's exit exam:
-- The exit exam stat's from the test given in 2001 indicate that 71% of
African American Students and 46% of Latino Students did not pass the
Mathematics exam in comparison with the 90% of Caucasian Students who did
pass; Forty-six percent of African American Students & 38% percent of
Latino Students did not pass the English exam in comparison with the 97% of
Caucasian Students who did pass the English Exam.
As much as we like to believe that Berkeley is different than the rest of
America, the well known "cracks" at BHS are turning into a major fault
line falling directly into the growing trend of resegregation in public
Here are a few identified reasons why this is happening:
-- The way schools are structured prohibit communities of color to participate
-- Eurocentric curriculum
-- The pervasive "whiteness" of the classroom
-- Racial and cultural differences of student behavior and participation in
-- Academic intimidation
-- Peer pressure
-- Still show cultural bias by assuming English language usage, proficiency
-- The rise in academic standards now has teachers scrambling to have
students pass the tests, focusing on "traditional" educational practices
and does away with multicultural issues
-- Studies have shown that students from lower income communities have less
access to what it takes for academic achievement, such as personalized
attention, guidance and support
English language proficiency:
-- There are 40 identified language groups represented at BHS and for these
students access to quality services and participation in the overall school
In addition to these problematic areas are the attacks on our youth:
-- The demise of Affirmative Action
-- Criminalization and demonization of youth of color has been made a
reality in California by the passage of Prop. 21, which does the following
to our youth:
-- Gives prosecutors (instead of judges) the option to file juvenile cases
in adult court, and puts 14 yr. olds into adult prison
-- Condemns juveniles to death for certain crimes if gang-related
-- Defines a gang as an informal group of three or more people wearing
certain clothing, as decided by police (gang-profiling)
-- Abolishes confidentiality rules that allow young offenders to go back
to school or find jobs without being labeled as criminal
Young African American and Latino males are increasingly being incarcerated
into prisons and jails whose populations are growing. Between 1983 and
1998 the number of prisoners in the U.S. increased from 650,000 to 1.7
million. About 60% of that number are African Americans and Latinos. More
than one-third of all young black men in their 20's are currently in jail,
on probation or parole, or awaiting trial. In California, approximately
22,555 African Americans attend a four-year public university, while 44,792
African Americans are in prison, and this figure does not include all the
African Americans who are in county jails or the California Youth
authority, or those on probation or parole. Nationwide spending for
correction facilities has increased over the last decade, while spending on
education decreased. In May, 2001 the California Board of Corrections
allocated $131 million to build or renovate juvenile jails throughout the
state. California schools, once a model, now stands 41st in educational
spending nationally. What kind of message is this sending to our
children? Does it look like we care that more youth of color are being
sent to jail instead of college? If we don't care, why should they?
Why Berkeley High's current structure adds to the achievement gap:
The Diversity Project's summary states the following: "A primary problem
pertaining to student failure and apathy at BHS is the lack of personalized
attention, guidance and support for BHS students and results in the "fend
for yourself" culture that emerges among students. For the students with
few family and community connections to the high school and higher
education -- disproportionately immigrant students and students of color--
this problem of a large and impersonal school atmosphere is particularly
damaging. This problem not only leads to inequitable levels of student
academic achievement and college preparation, but also contributes to the
continued marginalization and disengagement of these students."
In a day at BHS, an average student will be in classes of approximately 30
students for 7 periods. That is, the student will be in contact with about
210 students a day. In a day at BHS, an average teacher teaches 5 classes
of approximately 30 students. That is, the teacher will be in contact with
about 150 students a day, will have 150 names to learn, and 150 papers to
grade. Each counselor at BHS has a caseload of around 500 students and
each student has access to their counselor for approximately 20 minutes per
How are our children supposed to succeed in the aforementioned
conditions? Patches and quick fixes won't change the fundamental
problems. These glaring statistics are appalling and clearly show
that major change needs to happen at BHS, and after 5 years of
research and study, smaller schools that meet the requisites of the
WHOLE student population are a feasible part of the solution to these
problems. And, the overall success of the smaller learning
communities already in existence at BHS as well as the REBOUND program
last year demonstrate that they can be a viable structure for
addressing the most serious problems at BHS.
In a broader perspective:
Berkeley High is a reflection of the changing demographics in
America. Maps showing "minority" enrollment across the U.S. indicate that
the big cities of the South and West have far higher concentrations of
non-White students than the rest of the nation. Both of these regions are
likely to have White minorities within the next few years. The United
States has the most diverse group of students in its history, and all the
basic trends indicate the diversity will become even greater. Among our
school-age population we are only a generation away before the entire
country becomes a majority of non-White or non-European students. If we
don't make change in our educational system we will be facing the
consequences of very serious ethnic polarization, reinforced by educational
It would be a mistake to underestimate the intelligence of our youth. With
or without us, our youth are educating themselves and organizing to assert
their right to an equal and relevant education. This is not a threat, it's
a reality. Just as students led strikes on the campuses and motivated the
communities in the 60's and early 70's to demand equal and relevant
education, history will repeat itself, but the numbers are greater now.
The question is, have we learned anything in the last 30 years? This time,
are we going to work with them, or let history repeat itself?
Smaller schools is not the total solution, it is only part of the process
of change if our vision is to build BHS into a multicultural, anti-racist,
pro-justice school where ALL students can have equal access to academic
achievement. It means working together, building partnerships between the
school, curriculum depts., teachers/union, parent/student groups and the
community. And in return we will be affecting the larger society to
manifest these same values through the future leaders and contributors to
society, graduating from BHS into the world.
A parent in the Berkeley parent coalition for equity and excellence in our
Yes but Who's in Charge?
I agree that BHS has become so large that it is hard to manage. It
makes sense to talk about breaking BHS into smaller more manageable
administrative pieces. But the idea of suddenly reverting to this new
model scares me. I am very worried about how the plan will actually
be implemented and who will guide it through. Such a dramatic change
at our very large high school is going to take strong, committed
leadership to bring it off, and I don't see where that's coming from.
Who's in charge? There is no one in the driver's seat. No principal
currently, a past history of rapid principal turnover, and a slate of
School Board Directors who are strangely silent whenever a difficult
issue needs their attention. The impression I get is they are
unresponsive to crises, unsupportive of the principals, and apparently
unable to provide any leadership. The new superintendant on the other
hand seems to have a firm grip, and I was impressed by her response to
the principal's departure and the WASC crisis. She seems like a
person who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. But it is unrealistic
to expect her to lead up such a radical change in her first year on
Any big change like this is bound to create a multitude of new
problems, and there are already so many old problems that still need
to be dealt with. Let's stop and take a deep breath and figure out how
to do this in a more realistic and more gradual way.
A Parent's Doubts about "Small Schools"
I was shocked to learn at the November 7th forum that the Small Schools
advocates expect Berkeley High to be completely divided into "Small
Schools." In addition to the present five or so optional small schools,
about 15 more would be created. All faculty and all students would be
required to choose one.
A high school of "small schools?" My heart says "yes." But my head says
SMALL SCHOOLS WILL MULTIPLY THE COMPLEXITY OF THE HIGH
The school's present problems, I believe, have to do with too much
autonomy, too little consensus among staff, and absence of
standards. "Small schools" will relieve the staff of the need to
THE RATE OF CHANGE AT THE HIGH SCHOOL IS ALREADY A BIG
Not only does it make the place impossible to administer and stressful
for everyone, it also relieves the staff of ever needing to
agree. "Don't deal with an issue; something else will take top
priority next year." I think the high school has been running like
this for a long time.
SMALL SCHOOLS CREATED BY BUREAUCRATIC FIAT WILL NOT EQUAL
ONES. Each of the present small schools is invigorated by a zealous
individual fired with mission. The current small schools are "cool"
partly because they're an alternative to the mainstream. When every
student is in a "small school", they lose that distinction.
SMALL SCHOOLS WILL ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY WITHOUT
the current ones have, small schools seek almost total responsibility
for student's high school education. Yet the leaders of the respective
small schools are not answerable to the state; the high school's
administrators, the BUSD Superintendent and the school board are.
INCREASED ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF NEEDED. Even if the small school
and administrators can agree about oversight, it is not clear how it
could happen without more administrators. The small schools advocates
claim to have addressed this; I claim that the problem has been grossly
underestimated. Even the current small schools extend beyond supervison.
THERE WILL BE "WINNERS" AND "LOSERS" AMOUNG THE SMALL
Much time at future board meetings will be spent troubleshooting the
respective small schools, like the administration sometimes has to do
for our K-5's. The District will debate how to improve the poor
performers, and how to keep them from racial segregation. Of course,
this unevenness favors families who are good at "gaming" such
situations; they will get a good deal and be very happy.
WE WILL LOSE CHOICE WHICH WE NOW HAVE AT B.H.S. The choice among
schools we will exchange for our current exceptional range of choice
of course, program and teacher. Within a small school students have
little choice. In our current ones students are pre-assigned
sections. Student have little elective, PE, science or language
choice. The "choice" among small schools will fall short of the dream,
because the popular ones will be over-subscribed.
AMONG THE SPONSORSHIP I SEE SOME NARROW AGENDAS. This "reform"
advocated by the District, but neither is it a "grass roots" movement.
Its support is an articulate, zealous coalition representing diverse
agendas. The agendas I see are narrower than my own.
WE MUST WAIT SEVERAL YEARS TO ASSESS OUTCOME. The small schools
"solution" entails a long timeframe. To elect it is to start a clock
that must run for several years. Once begun, doubters will be told,
"give it 'til year 200X before you judge". Many of us won't still be
around. Over time, the charge, vision and commitment must be passed
intact from team to succeeding team. This is hard to do.
WILL IT IMPROVE STUDENT PERFORMANCE? We are entitled to our opinions.
There is no way of knowing without trying this very costly and risky
experiment. Will it improve student COMFORT at the high school?
Probably yes - at least for students in the "cool" schools. Will it
erode the means of MEASURING relative student performance? Definitely
When I read threats to "go charter and leave", as Small School leaders
have declared to the press, I'm not hearing rhetoric about putting
students' interests first. This is carving the high school into "fiefs",
beyond administrative control. Let's not do this!
Bruce, BHS parent
Current structure is the ultimate system of winners and losers
It is a truism that at Berkeley High School the motivated,
self-directed student can have a great experience but other students
often fall through the cracks. But why is this so, and what exactly
does this mean?
Berkeley High School is organized by function or department. That is,
the organization is constructed around the work of the adults. For
example, the Math department will work to produce a better curriculum
that is aligned with state standards, select textbooks, and improve
teaching strategies. If the department is cohesive and has good,
strong leadership, the department may also succeed in creating a sense
of teacher belonging and improving morale. Department heads meet on a
regular basis to share information, and this information is then
filtered down through departments.
This is a perfectly valid way of structuring any organization. The
strengths of this system are the flexibility that it allows individual
students to construct their own education. Students can pick and
choose among courses and teachers, and individualize their course of
study. The disadvantage is that if the system is complex and
bureaucratic, as it is at BHS, if it does not have very strong
connecting mechanisms (counseling, communication, and information
systems), and BHS does not, and if there is not a clear sense of
shared purpose, like at BHS, students will need to bring significant
outside resources with them to be successful. Students will need to
have a particular set of organizational and motivational skills,
parents with the time, experience and willingness to serve as a
personal advocate and guide, and/or strong peer and personal
information networks in order to participate properly in the offerings
of the school. In effect, the system strongly rewards those students
who enter well prepared and who have strong external supports.
Students who do not have these assets are heavily penalized.
For the entering 9th grade student who will be very successful at BHS,
many will attempt to enroll in a small learning community, make sure
they try out for a sports team, or participate in a music program. In
this way, students will find a social group to belong to, and in the
case of the Small Learning Community, have some teacher
guarantees. They and their parents, will figure out how to arrange
their 4 years of high school so that they can meet their graduation
and college requirements, snag the perfect class combinations, and
leave a little room for exciting electives. By the time these students
are entering 10th grade they will learn the fine points of the teacher
choice system, and figure out how to pick and choose their way around
the undesirable teachers. Also by 10th grade, many of these students
will have distinguished themselves enough to be segregated into
classes for higher performing students with smaller class sizes, fewer
disruptions, and more experienced teachers. They will be enrolled in
specialized courses such as double period science classes, second
language courses, and honors math classes. As they continue up the
pyramid of success at BHS, they will find that they are in effect in a
small school, comprised predominantly of white, high performing
students. When people say that the thing they like about BHS is that
you can get a private school education at a public school, this is
what they mean.
The entering 9th graders who are least successful at BHS enter en
masse to Berkeley High School, and they are told "Go!" With two
freshman counselors and about 900 students, the counseling department
is unable to provide remotely adequate counseling services to
students. Students with the most fragile academic skills end up
enrolled in the wrong courses, in insufficient courses, and/or in
irrelevant or undesired courses. Many students will finally get their
schedules finalized several days into the semester, and join classes
after the critical first few days. These students will likely not
participate in any organized extracurricular activity that provides
them with a positive niche to help the transition to high
school. Students not assigned to classes with old friends may feel
they need to cut class in order to achieve social contact with people
they know. These trysts can quickly become habit, and students start
missing significant academic content. By the end of the first semester
these students will have accumulated many failing grades that will
require that they repeat classes, or that will consign them to
struggling for the next 3 -1/2 years to obtain enough credits to
achieve graduation. In the 10th grade these students will begin
repeating classes with students who have similar profiles. A
relatively small number will even complete their teacher selection
forms. The elective offerings available to these students will become
slim as the realities of failure set in. Students perceiving their
failure and their second class status look to construct alternative
systems of success and identity outside of the classroom. When the
numbers of these students are very large within any particular peer
group, norms of underachievement set in, and a culture that is hard to
permeate becomes established.
Whether through the free-add electives, the double period science
classes, the number of specialty elective classes taken, the
experience and cost of the teachers teaching the higher end academic
courses, the smaller class sizes encountered by students at the top
end of the school, or other factors, in 4 years at BHS, a struggling
student who makes it to graduation will have had way less financial
resources expended on their education than a very successful
student. This is inequity in terms of inputs.
More than 50% of the African-American 9th grade students in the Class
of 904 completed their freshman year with below a 2.0, a failing
average. Less than 10% of Caucasian 9th grade students in the Class of
904 completed their freshman year with below a 2.0. Less than 10% of
the African-American 9th grade students in the Class of 904 completed
their freshman year with a GPA above 3.5. More than 50% of 9th grade
students in the Class of 904 completed their freshman year with a GPA
above 3.5. This is inequity in terms of outputs.
The Berkeley Unified School District is comprised of approximately 37%
African-American students, 32% white students, 14% Latino students, 8%
Asian students, and 9% all other ethnic groups. The School Board has
0% African-American board members, the senior district staff
(Superintendent and heads of departments) has 0% African-American
staff. The Berkeley High senior administration (principals, and vice
principals) has 0% African-Americans. This represents inequity in
terms of formal power.
Let us be honest, this community has been able to excuse the
underachievement of children of color, because of the strong
association of poverty with these communities, and the deeply held
belief that closing the "achievement gap" is simply utopian. The
inequities that are built into the structures and systems of the high
school go unnamed. They are permitted to remain, are in fact defended,
because the expectations for children of color are extraordinarily
low. This is not unique to Berkeley, it is simply what it means to be
black in America. Still, after all these years.
The way Berkeley High School is currently structured creates the
ultimate system of winners and losers. When you are used to a
winner/loser construct, and you are winning, you are probably quite
content to stick with that system. In fact, you would probably fight
to retain that system because change might mean you are going to lose
something. Even if you are just entering the system, you might be able
to assess your chances of winning, and the rewards of winning
(prestigious college acceptance) and feel very comfortable with things
the way they are.
The problem with this is that the costs (to us all) of having a system
where we have some who are winning so much and others who are losing
so much, are huge. We were supposed to have learned that lesson
already. Does it have to come crashing in on us for us to actually
recognize some of that cost? When our children go to school with other
children who beat them up for no reason, or worse, when our children
go to school and beat up other children for no reason, do we realize
that something is seriously wrong? Do we identify the perpetrators as
soulless children? Do we try to identify where they lost their souls
and why, or do we just act to eliminate them, to clamp down on
discipline, to hire more security guards? Is it even normal to have
our children going to schools with security guards?
Small schools is not a progressive idea, nor a radical idea, nor a
traditional idea. It is not a panacea or a magic bullet. It is simply
a way of organizing schools around students rather than subjects. In a
small school, the strong and the weak students would be well
known. The good and the bad teachers would be well known. The problems
would be out on in the light of day, where we could actually try to
solve them, and the scale and number of small schools would give us
opportunities to really try a variety of approaches.
The way things are is not OK. We need to act. Please come to the
Community Action for Small Schools on Saturday, December 1st from noon
- 3 pm to show your support for transforming Berkeley High School into
small schools, where all students can have a more personalized,
engaging and quality education..
Also, visit the Berkeley Small Schools website at
http://berkeleysmallschools.org to continue the discussion about Small
Schools on a dynamic action forum.
Draft Policy on Small Schools Doesn't Meet All Families' Needs
I wanted to clarify that in our letter to the Berkeley School Board, which
was posted in the 11/22/01 Parents of Teens Newsletter, we commented
specifically on the draft policy dated November 13, 2001. The draft policy
is not written in a way that accounts for all families' needs. It
represents a significant net loss for families who place the most weight
and value on the range of currently available courses at Berkeley High
School -- because:
(1) it forces accomplished and motivated students to be split up into
separate schools (those students would not have the same choice as other
(2) it divvies up teachers and classes into separate schools;
(3) it expressly allows schools to have distinct, autonomous, and
uncoordinated calendars and schedules;
(4) it aims to reduce student load per teacher, without guarantee of funds
to hire more teachers.
This is not "hills parents" holding out against "flatland parents"
mentality. Nor is this a lesson about racism. There are families who do
not live in the hills and/or who are not 100 percent Caucasian who benefit
from the wide range of academic courses at BHS. We are one of them.
In principle, small schools could work at BHS, but the draft policy of Nov.
13, 2001, has many problems. Overhaul of the educational system at BHS
needs to take into consideration everyone's needs, not some families' needs
at the expense of others.
I also think that in any proposal for small schools to be voted on by the
School Board, concrete details should be included. For example, Rick
Ayers' posting, which discusses the possibility of offering classes from
7am to 1pm, 12 noon to 6pm, and also at night, should be fleshed out in
further detail. (I'm not convinced that students, parents, teachers, and
staff would favor having classes 'round the clock.)
In the meantime, why not explore strengthening the counseling services at
BHS? There are too few counselors for the numbers of students. Parents
have been known to accompany their children in person to ensure that
counselors will even see the child briefly to make necessary schedule
changes, much less offer real, proactive counseling. Better counseling
services would help all students across the board.
Dear Parents of Teens,
We'd like to clarify our earlier note on Small Schools. Far from leveling
charges against the CAS program and repeating rumors, our comments on AP
Algebra and scheduling were based on first-hand experience. But our
comments were communicated with terminology that was not precisely correct.
In our earlier note we obviously used the wrong terminology for Honors
Algebra II (refering to it, incorrectly, as AP Algebra II). If we offended
anyone by this mistake, we appologize.
Last summer Margie responded to a request to help code for teacher choice.
On the evening that Margie arrived to help code teacher choice, students had
already been assigned to their classes. The only thing volunteer parents
were able to do was enter teacher preferences. During the coding process,
questions arose when CAS students had requested Honors Algebra II teachers
but were assigned to regular Algebra II . On that evening, volunteer parents
were told that Mr. Ayers wanted the CAS students to be together and that if
any student wanted Honors Algebra, then they had to take the Honors Option
within regular Algebra II. We do not know what instructions were given on
other nights. No reference was made to CAS single classes being given
preference to math classes.
We would also say that we respect Rick Ayers' energy and committment to
small schools. His frustration with the status quo is eloquently and
passionately communicated in his letter.
Richard & Margie
New small schools should grow organically, not en masse
Dear Parents, Students, Teachers & Staff of Berkeley High,
Although the idea of converting dear old lumbering Berkeley High "en mass"
into Small Schools, where each of our children would be "known well and
pushed hard," is extremely tempting, I have much trepidation about it. I
feel about it much as I did about the old Gilbert & Sullivan program at
Malcolm X. A marvelous program, wonderful for the kids enrolled, full of
energy & compelling reasons for kids (& their parents) to feel connected
to school, and to give their all to it. The effects of such a program
endure, remaining the strongest positive memories a student carries into
adulthood. What's not to like?
But wait a minute---these wonderful programs are started by visionary,
brilliant teachers, who attract super-committed and involved families and
their children. Yes, the enrollment crosses ethnic and class boundaries
(which is great), but one common factor of those involved is their high
level of energy and commitment to their kids' education. This is a
self-selected group, of both families and teachers, who combine to make
the programs extraordinary.
But can this be replicated throughout the school, with "ordinary" families
and teachers? I very much doubt it. As we well know, BHS has its share
of "so-so" teachers, not very inspired, and definitely not equipped to
carry the mantle of a new Small School. Likewise, there are plenty of
parents who are" maxed out" as things are, and probably wouldn't be the
mainstay of involvement that Small Schools require to thrive.
For this reason I believe that we should go slow. Let an additional Small
School or two grow organically, the brain-child of visionary teachers,
supported by committed parents and students who are attracted to that
special vision. But don't try to force the model on the whole school at
once. That would be a recipe for failure, something Berkeley High just
doesn't deserve right now. Let's put some of this "fix-it" energy into
creating a workable administrative model where teachers are evaluated
regularly, good ones praised to the heavens, weak ones nurtured and
empowered, and bad ones shown the door. Let's attract a visionary
principal who can lead the whole school, not leaving anyone out. If we
can do that, we can make Berkeley High a Large School that everyone,
parents, teachers, students, and staff, will flock to and love.
These discussions are from the Parents of Teens newsletter
this page was last updated: Apr 28, 2009
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