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Small Schools at Berkeley High School
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"Big" Small Schools - Parent Reviews
We have a child planning to attend Berkeley High in the fall, and are looking for feedback from parents about the different schools. Our child loves school, loves learning, but has a significant math delay. We are not convinced that massive amounts of homework serves any purpose beyond torturing teenagers, but on the other hand our child loves being in a classroom with other motivated and interested kids. A few specific questions.
1. Can a child who does not excel in math (or likely chemistry) do well and enjoy
2. Is AC more of a catch all for kids who don't choose other small schools, or is it a place that kids affirmatively choose because they are interested in the program?
3. What are the teachers in AC like?
4. Will an academically-minded kid be frustrated in CAS, or inspired by it?
Hope someone can shed light on these issues. -Soon-to-be BHS Parent
She did have a friend who is an academically minded kid who was in CAS and was frustrated by the classes not being challenging enough. If you go on BHS's website, look at the accrediation report, there's lots of info about how the different small schools perform.
My answer is that kids choose it because they actively prefer it because they have more choice in what to take. AC is not a small school. See: http://www.bhsacademicchoice.com/docs/ACADEMIC%20CHOICEbrochure.final3.pdf This is a rather old fact sheet but it does spell out the differences.
IB is an excellent program, but it has many requirements, leaving little choice for choosing electives and leaving kids with a schedule so crowded they can hardly fulfill the PE requirement.
In AC kids get to follow their passion and their strengths - double science, double English, double art if they so choose, with room to explore things they have not tried before that could prove to be life changing (e.g. sports medicine, photography, literature & writing electives). If your child has a 504 due to math issues, it will be honored by math teachers who may need to reduce homework or give extended time on tests. (Mine had that accommodation.) If CAS is still using IMP math (please check on this) that is a severe detriment, IMHO. Good luck! former AC parent
Our daughter will be entering Berkeley High as a junior in the fall. She requested Academic Choice - this learning community seems like the best option for a transfer student, but she was assigned to BIHS. Wondering if she can meet the graduation requirements coming from a non-IB high school. As we understand it, there isn't much flexibility in the BIHS curriculum. Advice? Are there AP courses in BIHS? BHS newbie parents
I am about to move to Berkeley and sign my daughter to BHS. I am wondering what are the chances of getting our first choice in the lottery. We are mostly interested in BIHS. Our second choice is AMPS. Are there any AP classes at AC community? Would you recommend AMPS for a child interested in science? Is it possible to switch communities after one year? The website states that kids from South and West Berkeley are given priorities for biotechnoigy classes. I am going to live in North Berkeley and wonder if there is a chance for my daughter to take these classes. Catherine
1. Lottery: Information can be found here: http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/parents/information-for-prospective-families Read #4 closely to understand how to establish preferences, and for clear direction for how to get one of the large programs if a student only wants AC or BIHS. Meeting deadlines is crucial for getting any preferences. AC and BIHS are both challenging programs with different characteristics. Some kids would say BIHS is harder. It certainly has more required classes.
2. RE: AMPS, you can intuit something about small schools by looking at their comparative test scores. See http://www.berkeleyschools.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/04-25-12_packet.pdf This April 25, 2012 school board packet contains the school report on BHS. Scroll down this pdf more than half-way until you see the colorful Powerpoint report. For instance, see PPT pages 7-11.
When you consider small schools and want to know about how rigorous the classes may be, consider the proficiency levels of the students in that small school. For instance, you'll see that the math performance scores for CPA, now AMPS, are only 2% proficient so this tells you a bit about the teaching/learning level of those classes. (It may also be a reflection of how well/not well students learn that math curriculum.) This should help you decide if those classes will be a good level of rigor for your student. Also consult the school catalog to see whether or not, for instance, AP science classes are offered in AMPS. I think not but that may have changed.
3. AP classes - AC has the largest roster of AP classes and AC is the largest program.
4. Switching communities: it is *statistically very unlikely* that a North Berkeley student will be allowed to transfer out of a small school at any time. It is statistically likely that if a NB resident puts a small school on their list at all, no matter how low, they will be put there. Generally, small schools are under-subscribed by kids who live in census tracts with higher income/higher education level (which is what BUSD uses). While the district seems to want to correct this inequity they haven't figured out how because policy is that a student may not be placed in a small school against their will (as long as deadlines are met). This may be a sore point but for now, it is reality and many kids do not want a small school.
5. Double check on this but I think Biotechnology classes are reserved for lower-performing students.
Good luck. former BHS parent
Hi guys, we are still planning our relocation to the Bay Area and still want to choose Berkeley. We're coming out next month for our spring break to visit schools, etc. My 8th grade daughter is pretty upbeat about the idea of BHS, particularly the IB program (though she'd be great in the AC program as well, as she goes to a highly ranked independent school and is a good and well-rounded student). I don't really know all the ins and outs of the lottery process, but I fear that if we don't actually move til the summer, we'll have lost all the opportunities to get a spot in the IB program. Can someone explain to me (even in bullet points!) how this whole thing works? It's OK not to refer me to the website, b/c obviously I've already read their narrative, but I have so much on my mind and so many moving parts, I'd like a more digestible and real-world assessment of how it all works.
I imagine that your daughter will be fine no matter where she lands. Welcome to berkeley! Go Jackets!
My kid is starting Berk. High next year & we want to hear about your experience w/ Academic Choice, BHIS & Communication Arts & Science. He is into computers more than anything but also loves math & has a knack for reading. Writing is a forte but he gets writer's block & has hard time starting, so too many papers prove problematic. Kids from BHIS gave a great presentation at recent open house so son was interested but BHIS has less elective than AC. How much homework do these schools give? Any opinions on the teachers? How are the advanced placement courses? BHS Students reading this, feel free to answer so we can hear from the horse's mouth! need more info
OK, I am still quite confused after attending three nights at Berkeley High, the morning tour, and carefully reading this year's catholog.
AC is supposed to have more 'choices' then the IB program, but, from the catholog, what I see is that each program has the 5 periods each year filled in, with only a choice for performing/visual arts each for your sixth period. So where is the 'more choice' of AC?
Also, are the small schools less rigorous or not, and which ones are or are not? And how is the 'interactive math' compared to the geometry-algebra sequence of AC/IB?
And, are the IB and the 4 small schools more 'supportive' and you get less lost then AC, or not?
Lastly, on their website, Berkeley High writes about assigning incoming 9th graders by socioeconomic class/diversity. Is this assigned purely by the city block you live in, or/and by the child's racial background, as given when they entered K, or asked them now?
I will be so grateful for any clarification, bcause I am still quite confused! Thank you so much! Confused
2) ''Also, are the small schools less rigorous or not, and which ones are or are not?'' Small schools insist they are rigorous, but have far less homework, offer a lot of group tests, offer little in honors math. Talk to BHS students, they will tell you. The kids like the less- homework part but look at their proficiency scores. CPA and CAS were only 4% and 3% proficient in math CST in 2009. No one likes CST scores. But they do show something. Ask to see test scores. See if you can find any kids who got great SAT or ACT scores who took IMP math. the CAHSEE is not a very high bar; a high percentage of kids pass the first time. (kids who do not pass the first time need lots of help.) Some parents report their kids who took IMP math have trouble passing engineering entrance tests or college math placement tests but I don't know.
3) ''Are the IB and the 4 small schools more 'supportive?'' Counselor ratio in AC is worse. Small schools are a cozier community. The catalog says AC will have houses next year to increase personalization.
4) ''assigning incoming 9th graders by socioeconomic class/diversity...assigned purely by the city block you live in, or/and by the child's racial background, as given when they entered K?'' Lottery assignment is PURELY on census data of your street address. However transferring out of a small school if your child is unhappy might actually involve finding a student of their race who wants to transfer in.
Janet H's answer to another post (see List IB as only choice to guarantee entrance?) was right EXCEPT for round #2 lottery students. Because if the 2 large programs fill up, and they often do, the round 2 kids mostly get small schools. So if a student only wants AC or BIHS then get into the round 1 lottery. This is why so many exchange students are in small schools (because they enroll after lottery and AC/BIHS are full.) Satisfied BHS parent
BIHS also mandates which English and which Social Science courses its students take. In addition, BIHS freshmen must take either a performing art or the BIHS Creative Arts course (AC students can fulfill the art requirement in a later year if they choose and can take any art course to do so, such as drawing, ceramics, or photography). BIHS also requires two additional full-year courses: Comp.Values/Econ sophomore year and Theory of Knowledge senior year. You'll see the impact on choice when you map out potential course options for each year, including BHS/UC/CSU math, science, and language requirements. Happy AC mom with happy BIHS friends
My second comment is regarding rigor. Teachers in the small schools vary just like they do in the large programs. My daughter has challenging teachers and weak teachers, but her weakest teacher is not in the small school, is in the large school, and her strongest teachers are in the small school. They work together and they know their students. They are caring, creative, and committed teachers. She is learning a lot, is getting enough homework that she is doing regular essays and research projects, but still has the time to do extracurricular activities including sports and volunteering. She has taken one honors class already, and will be able to take five AP classes, including math, science, English and art. Her peers in her small school are a varied lot and she gets along with most of them very well. She learns a lot from being in a program with all kinds of students. She gets quite irritated when friends in BIHS or AC tell her that they have more rigorous programs than she and therefore expect to get into more prestigious colleges. She doesn't believe it, and the College Counselors tell her that students from all the small schools get into all types of colleges. I have no doubt she will be both well prepared and have excellent colleges to choose from. Annie J, small school parent and teacher
Then go to the archives and read INCOMING FAMILIES: Next steps for incoming 9th grade students - posted on 02/22/11. Here is what it says about the lottery: QUOTE- Small school preferences. Students must rank at least two, and may rank as many as six, small learning communities. Academic Choice and Berkeley International High School "the two larger programs" must be ranked even if a student is only interested in one of the small schools. If a student is only interested in the two larger programs, they will only rank the two larger programs.-end quote-
Course choice is largely determined by which learning community the student is in. Each SLC has required courses and may allow for some choice. My daughter, now a senior, is in Academic Choice; its emphasis on CHOICE has been great for her. Kids can take on challenges that play to their strengths and try new things. She chose AP English but regular history junior year, took AP Econ. but regular Chem, great senior English elective, plus had space in her schedule for eclectic choices (Sports Medicine, African American History, Adv. Photo.) Honors math is avail every year (need to test in) and AC offers the most AP classes @ BHS. AC=Choice in Academics; it worked great for us. She already got in to 3 colleges. Whoo hoo! FYI her friends in BIHS would also recommend their program but she says she would not have liked it as much. (And remember those extra science labs - they can help pull a C up to a B or A. Good modeling for learning to work hard too.) Peggy
I recently found out that my son, who is now a sophomore, did not get his request granted to transfer out of the School of Social Justice and Ecology at BHS and into Academic Choice, his top choice. His original placement was random and this year he didn't ''win the lottery.'' He will be entering his junior year and wants AP classes, Honors math, and a stimulating class climate. I've talked to teachers and counselors and hit brick walls. I haven't gotten a response from the VP. I'm afraid his opportunities for college and his emotional state are in jeopardy. I feel frustrated. He is a GATE student and formerly a high achiever in math, but due to the pace of his math class this year he's falling behind. Any tips from those who have fought their placement decision? Any inside info on why there is such resistance? He wants to stay at BHS and not go to a private school. Any support would be appreciated! Thanks. Frantic Mom of Math Geek
Help! Has anyone successfully exited a small school? My son transferred into BHS this year as a sophomore and was arbitrarily assigned to the School of Social Justice, which limited his math choices. At his previous school, as a freshman, he was a GATE student and advanced in math. He wanted to take Honors math, but it was not available in the SSJE. He wants to be in Academic Choice. I've talked to his teacher and counselor and have been met with resistance. He wants to be on an advanced math track! He is bored in math and getting A's. It pains me to think he is missing out on an opportunity. Who is the appropriate person to contact? Bored in Berkeley
I'm so glad that you emailed me. I have great news. I've been meeting with the Principal and the Math Department and next year SSJE students will be able to passport out for Honors. So your son can take Honors Algebra 2 next year if he takes the test in the Spring. Please spread the word and let me know how I can get the message out there. Thanks Kate Trimlettsign me as, BHS-SSJE parent
Some people refer to all programs at Berkeley High as small schools; others make the distinction between the 4 small schools and the 2 big schools - AC and BIHS. If your child does not want to be in a small school and you enter the lottery on time, only fill in choices #1 and #2 between AC and BIHS, and you will get one of the large school choices. Right now, from what I hear from my daughter and her friends, both programs are relatively fine as long as you get good teachers (which is always the catch.)
BIHS has a strong program and is no longer brand new, but fewer choices for electives. If your child plays no BHS sport after school, it is hard to complete the PE requirement AND take science AND foreign language. This is a funky wrinkle and maybe they will fix it.
My daughter is an athlete and does well taking PE or dance everyday so is glad to be in AC. I loved their freshman curriculum and sophomore is fine too, so far.
Here is my pitch for excellence at Berkeley High - teacher performance reviews, peer reviews, and anything else that will improve teaching in all subject areas at all levels. There are some terrific teachers there and many who need a whole lot of help. Good teaching is the greatest factor to help close the achievement gap and will help *all* students, those who struggle and those who excel. Demand excellence, give teachers support to improve, and watch what can happen... Peggy
I have a child who will be entering BHS in Fall 2007....I have some questions that I couldn't find answered on the archives (although maybe the moderator will point me in the right direction).
1. What is the ''small schools'' thing at Berkeley High? Are all the students in small schools, or is this system separate from the general high school population?
2. What is the procedure for getting into these small schools? I have heard that it is very difficult to get into the ''most academic'' one. What are the eligibility requirements, or how do they determine who gets into which school?
3. Is getting into small schools different for kids with disabilites? My child is a very high-functioning autistic young man....I guess I am wondering if his disability status will make him any more or less likely to get into a particular ''small school.''
Thanks for your help! anon
The small schools kids are not kept separate. They just mostly take classes together.
You get into a small school by indicating your preferences and entering a lottery (see http://www.bhs.berkeley.k12.ca.us/smallschools/lottery.html). I don't think disability status would make any difference at all.
I think the small schools have overall been a success at BHS. John
If you'd like further feedback from parents of students with similar disabilities, there is an etree for parents with special needs students within the Berkeley district. To join, I believe you can send email to BSPED[at]pacbell.net. anonymous
My son is an 8th grader on his way to BHS next fall. I need some feedback on the small schools, of which I believe, there are five. Can the readers of this site recommend any of these schools for a bright boy who gets bad grades because he lacks discipline? The Community Partnership Academy impressed me as the one that might do him the most good. But this is only based on the March 3 intro night we attended. thanks. RA
Editor Note see Community Partnerships Academy for a review submitted in response to this question.
I want to start an informal discussion of the Berkeley High small schools program and whether these programs are really going to ''fix'' substantive proplems in the school. It seems like the idea was tried years ago, and the ''big school'' was meant to be an improvement... and now we're back to small schools.
My personal concerns (in no particular order) are currently that:
a) Common Ground seems to have disappeared w/o a ripple -- what happened there? Will other programs vanish in mid-course? What happens to those kids?
b) CAS is well reputed but may have some problems bending UC reqs to their curriculum. I also don't understand their relationship to AP classes. CAS is also the most popular, too bad for kids who don't get in. Hopefully someone is working to replicate the good parts and fix the bad.
c) CPA kids can't take English or History APs, and the courses offered in place seem to suffer 'the soft bigotry of low expectation''. Easier courses, with gut finals and higher grades than outside CPA. Also CPA doesn't not to meet the ''diversity guidelines'' for the district, but because they have more kids of color no one seems to care. Unlike,
d) Academic Choice (not really a small school), which has been hammered by the district, for not having enough students of color, even though their program is the only one in the school that was previously open to ALL students choosing to enroll (until now). By the districts rules AC will now enroll kids by the new ''system,'' and be forced to stop accepting students when they run out of applicants from any one of the district identified racial groups. In theory that means the program next year will be EQUALLY represented (or under-represented) by all ethnicities... and size of the program will be limited to 3 times the number of the most under-represented group in the pool.
AHA and SJE are still unknowns.
The obvious advantage of small schools is the continuity and potential for smaller communities and closer relationships with teachers and fellow students. The advantage of the big school seems to be avoiding the disadvantages of the small schools.
When did school stop being about academics and become heavy-hand social engineering? Where do kids go who just want to be educated in a safe environment where most of the challenges are academic?
Anonymous at present
You didn't say whether you currently have a student at BHS or are considering the school for the future. I think you'll find the school as a whole has improved immensely. Also, there are lots of other ways to create a 'small school' for yourself: Through the arts, certain sports, certain academic subjects like Latin. A strong commitment to any one of these often forces you into certain scheduling choices with like-minded students, creating an unofficial, but real, community.
Also, the great thing about CAS and the other small schools, so far, is that they are NOT exclusive; students do participate in the diversity and excitement of the community at large.
Yes, CAS has developed a strong social-political component. Yes, there need to be a wider range of choices in small schools, for families who don't want that. But for many many of us CAS families, parents and students alike, this is the best part of the program.
And finally, being part of an academic community for four years resulted in a really meaningful and supportive college application process, from help choosing appropriate schools to apply to, to strong guidance through the essay-writing, to letters of reference from teachers who really really knew my kids. Once at college, my kids felt like they had a tremendous head-start, both academically and socially, over other freshmen.
It is true that CPA is not as ''popular'' as CAS. There is less publicity - no trips like to Cuba at this time - and when CPA started as a PROGRAM rather than a full small school CPA's emphasis was to assist underachieving students to succeed - and for some this has translated into a fear that as a small school, CPA would settle for less academic rigor. I would say that CPA does have more of an emphasis on ''bread and butter'' than ''jelly'' than CAS but that approach has merits as does a more ''creative'' type of emphasis. Definitely, CPA is fully aware that the curriculum has to address the needs of students at all current achievement levels - because that should be the goal of ANY small school or BHS program AND that it is needed for CPA to be sustainable within a community that absolutely values the highest academic achievement (and after all - families of children that are not achieving aren't looking for the minimum either). I certainly expect my CPA child (who has always been an honor roll student) to be competive for UC or one of the better private schools (in terms of my child's ability and from his academic and personal preparation - and so far, I have seen the type of growth at CPA that would make him successful with that goal). In terms of diversity - as a true small school (as opposed to the program it was before this year) CPA must now enroll students using the same diversity formula as any District school (zip code, socio-economic, etc.) and is mandated to reflect the demographics of the BHS as a whole.
There is a CPA Parent meeting on Monday, February 7 at 6:30pm. in the room across from the library. Perhaps some of your questions/concerned can be addressed by attending this meeting or requesting a meeting with Flora Russ, the Director.
anonymous for my kid's privacy
However, I'm disturbed by the atmosphere of intolerance for open discussion that surrounds this revolution. I do not understand the antipathy towards those who want to preserve more demanding academic programs that seem to work for some of our children nor the antipathy towards those looking for new ways to engage our students. Why should access to any programs be limited by racial barriers instead of open to all? Why can't we find out which approaches attract our children, while meeting the requirements of various education and career choices, and then assign staff appropriately? Why should any respectfully-stated opinions need to be anonymous? I would hope that these discussions can find a place in the open, as well as in these pages. I would be interested in knowing about or creating public, constructive, non- antagonistic discussions of these issues at the high school.
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