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BHS Small Schools Discussion Dec 8, 2001
I have been following the Small Schools issue and appreciate the space Parents of Teens has provided to the discussion. I tried to sign up for the Small Schools email list a while back and was unsuccessful. I think I may be on the list now, but either there is not much activity on it or else I am still not on it. Can someone please provide the email list information and web site for all of us who want to be informed? Is the Small Schools proposal for Berkeley HIgh posted on a web site somewhere? Can it be posted if it is not? Is the small schools email list an appropriate place to continue discussions about the pros and cons of the small schools concept? I personally like having the Parents of Teeens covering this issue, but it may become burdonsome to the moderators to continue to do this. Lissa Miner -------- I saw in a previous edition the link to sign up to be on the Small Schools discussion list. I think a more helpful link for your subscribers would be the Action Forum that allows for much more engaging discussion, and where people can contribute their perspectives without having to sign up to receive a lot of mail they might not want. The address for the Small Schools Action Forum is http://www.actionforum.com/forum/index.html?forum_id=209 I would greatly appreciate it if you would announce this forum in the next edition of your newsletter, and perhaps encourage others who submit additional comments to you, to post them on this site. Currently all the comments on the site are generally favorable to Small Schools because it is a new site, but all perspectives are welcome. Thanks, Katrina Scott-George Topic: Student opinion about small schools proposal I've been a science teacher at BHS for 15 years. I left last year to work at Albany High, a small school (about 800 students) in a small, fairly cohesive and close-knit community. I'm back at BHS this year for rather complex reasons that don't relate to the small schools issue. I believe Albany High helped students who were not high academic achievers much better than BHS does. High achievers get a good education there, too, though not as rich and varied as that at BHS (the science classes are not as rich, there are fewer advanced language opportunities, etc.). In part, the superior help for lower achieving students comes from the smaller school size. For instance, students who pose behavioral problems get more consistent, coordinated feedback from adults and they don't "slip through the cracks" because the adults are watching them more closely and talking to each other about them. (I am aware that I'm making some rather simplistic remarks about the very complex issue of student motivation, so please don't take my remarks about student discipline as an indication that I am only interested in discipline.) I held a small-schools discussion recently with my Chemistry 1 class at BHS. When my students heard my perspective ( it's easier for teachers to improve discipline and correct poor student behavior like cutting, etc.), they were apalled. They relish the relative freedom from coordinated adult control that they get at BHS. In a straw vote about their preferences at the end of the discussion, only two of 32 students definitely liked the small schools porposal. Three or four were unsure, and all the rest were against the proposal. Here is a summary of their comments as filtered through my memory: They see the large size of BHS as a strength: You can find your own "niche" at BHS. There are no dominant cliques like there are at small schools. There are so many different kinds of students that you can find friends. BHS has lots of course choices as a result of its large size. They raised lots of reasons why the small schools proposal is flawed: -The best teachers would gravitate toward the best small schools and the best students would follow them. We would end up with more, not less, academic segregation. -The current small schools give opportunities for students who want them. Imposing small schools on the entire student body would eliminate their choice to stay with the larger structure. -If they split the school up it would be like "my old small school" and teachers would talk to each other about you. Your reputation as a student would precede you and the teachers would pre-judge you based on comments from other teachers and past experience. If you did poorly last year and you have the same teachers again, it's harder to redeem yourself. (I was surprised to learn that at least half my students have had teachers who they think "did not like" them. Several of the students were afraid that they'd end up stuck with teachers who do not like them or who pre-judge them.) -You'll have to choose a small school and I don't know what I want to do. If students in college don't know what they want to do, how do you expect us to know? Also, what if you don't get into the small school you want? My students also had several comments about the need to fix the current system: -BHS certainly doesn't work well for some students. There is a need for improvements. -It's a good idea to have some adult to talk to: let's get more counselors. -Teachers should make it their business to get to know who you are. -BHS keeps trying new things and then dropping them. For instance, CORE probably would have worked if the theachers actually talked to each other, but core was dropped (I think core just is in the 9th grade. This students thinks it was dropped.) -Work on other things before they change the rules and impose small schools on us: fix the administration, fix the bathrooms, do all the small things that would make student life easier. -Concentrate on getting organized before you make wholesale changes. Finally, a word about who these students are: Chemistry 1 is a college prep class that requires you to have had good grades in math. The students in the class are mostly successful in school, though many would not describe themselves as being excellent in science. They clearly think that the current big school has good attributes as well as bad. They most definitely do not want to have a small-schools proposal forced on them. They were glad to hear that I would try to post their comments on the web, since they feel that not many people are asking them what they think about it. As you can see from my introductory paragraphs about Albany High, I myself see the good side of small schools; and I also consider the achievement gap to be a national tragedy and scandal. In spite of my desire to see change and my own positive experience at a small school, I am leaning toward voting against the small schools proposal in the teacher referendum that is planned. I hope that the proponents of small schools will not consider teachers like me to be against change or against fixing the achievement gap if we vote against the proposal. steve brand
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