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BHS Small Schools Discussion Dec 19, 2001
Vicki Bonnell's statement at December 5 School Board meeting:
I speak as parent, teacher (25 years UCB faculty), longtime Berkeley resident. Point 1: A relatively small and more personalized learning environment can be beneficial for some students, but other students flourish in large eclectic learning environments (at the university level, this is the difference between UC Santa Cruz with its college system and UC Berkeley). I have taught on both campuses and I can attest to the fact that one size does not fit all students. Why should we settle for an "either/or" situation at BHS? The optimal situation, I would argue, is one in which students who want to swim in a small pond can do so but those who like rivers or even oceans have that option as well. Point 2: Real question is not whether small schools are beneficial but WHAT KIND of small schools will enhance the educational experience for all students at BHS. We already have a number of small schools, with considerable variations among them. I want to emphasize that current and future small schools at BHS should be: 1) optional not mandatory for teachers and students 2) self-selective (initiated by teachers and students) not imposed 3) created WITHIN and not INSTEAD of the comprehensive school 4) they should be accountable to the BHS principal, the School Board and the Superintendent and not autonomous with respect to budget, curriculum, instruction, assessment 5) they should challenge students academically and not subordinate instructional opportunities to artificial quotas based on demographics Point 3: I support the draft proposal of the School Board on Small Schools. It takes a middle ground; it charts a moderate and constructive course. It does not embrace sweeping and potentially disruptive proposals for structural change in a school that, with all its problems, still does a pretty good job of educating most students and placing them in quality colleges and universities. After all, BHS is magnet for students in other districts who transfer in droves to Berkeley High for the superior quality education. Here's what I like about the approach in this draft: 1) BHS students will have a choice between small schools and a comprehensive school and they can combine the best elements of both, if they wish 2) The draft establishes specific procedures for evaluating proposals for establishing new small schools and evaluating their performance 3) The draft emphasizes inclusiveness and diversity in small schools 4) Small schools at BHS will henceforth be subject to supervision and review by the Shared Governance team, principal, School Board, Superintendent To convert BHS entirely into a multiplicity of small schools will jeopardize the rich and varied BHS curriculum (an exceptional and precious aspect of the school) and it may Balkanize Berleley High, pitting small schools against each other in a struggle for students and for funds. At a time of diminishing sources of support for education, we should not fragment our resources. BHS has many problems to deal with (summarized ably in a recent communication by Michelle Lawrence). Let us address those issues rather than focus on risky schemes for major reorganization.
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