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BHS Small Schools Discussion Dec 3, 2001
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. Contents: - 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 Mixed feelings ----------------- 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 by crisis? 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.... Anonymous 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 succeed. Sincerely, 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. Karen 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 (GPA) 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 schools. Here are a few identified reasons why this is happening: Institutionalized racism: -- 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 class -- Academic intimidation -- Peer pressure Standardized Tests: -- Still show cultural bias by assuming English language usage, proficiency and literacy -- 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 Economic disparity: -- 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 is prohibitive 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 year. 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 equality. 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. Yours truly, Miyoko A parent in the Berkeley parent coalition for equity and excellence in our schools 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 the job. 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. C. S. BHS Parent 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 many "nos." SMALL SCHOOLS WILL MULTIPLY THE COMPLEXITY OF THE HIGH SCHOOL. 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 agree. THE RATE OF CHANGE AT THE HIGH SCHOOL IS ALREADY A BIG PROBLEM. 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 THE PRESENT 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 ACCOUNTABILITY. Like 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 leaders 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 SCHOOLS. 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 small 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" is not 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 yes. 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! Sincerely, 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. Katrina 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 students); (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. --Juliann Clarifying terminology ------------------------------ 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. Sincerely, 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. --Anonymous --------------------------------------------------------------------- These discussions are from the Parents of Teens newsletter
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