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Student help program still questioned

By Michelle Hopey Special to the Daily Planet
Friday February 09, 2001

In the wake of last week’s rough launch of Rebound, a program to support ninth-graders who are not meeting class standards, the school board and community continue to question the development of the intervention plan. 

At Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Director Joaquin Rivera said, “It is clear to me that we need to hire experienced, qualified credentialed teachers. As of Friday those teachers have not been identified. At risk kids need experienced credentialed teachers. For me this is not negotiable.”  

The program, named Rebound last week by the 50 or so youngsters in the program, was developed by a group of residents who call themselves, Parents of Children of African Decent. They designed the program to help ninth-grade students failing core classes. 

Although it wasn’t on the agenda, Rebound proved to be a hot topic at the meeting. References to the week-old program were made throughout the evening. 

Approved by the school board on Jan. 23, the program hit a bump in the road last week when parents learned that the teachers hired for the program, although college graduates, did not hold proper teaching credentials. But that problem was mended quickly when substitute teachers were called in to work side by side with the non-certified teachers.  

So the intervention program began, but the board and community continue to raise questions: have student needs been assessed? do donations to the program actually reach it? who is really in control of the program? 

Rivera said the proposal he voted for included an assessment of the skills in which the students are deficient.  

“This is major and essential to this plan,” Rivera said, adding that not assessing student needs defeats the purpose of the program.  

“I want to see assessments – that’s imperative,” said board member John Selawsky. “But I see this program as an opportunity not only for students, but for the staff, board and community. I want to remind everyone that there will be ups and downs and bumps in the road, but we must view this as an opportunity.  

Proponents of the intervention program say that its uniqueness is in its structure. At risk students are placed in intensive courses with a low student-teacher ratio. In addition, students in the program must abide by an aggressive attendance policy and are closely monitored by teachers, mentors and parents. All efforts are made to ensure that participants do not slip through the cracks.  

Michael Miller, an active PCAD parent said Thursday that the program has already shown to be a success and that students are responding well to the undivided attention they have received from teachers.  

Miller said he is not sure who is responsible for the program at this point. He said he knows Dr. Charles Martin was named coordinator, but he said he wondered to whom Rivera was addressing his comments at Wednesday night’s meeting. 

“We (the parents) agree completely that this needs to be a part of the plan,” Miller said, referring to the need to make sure teachers are credentialed and that students are assessed. “I don’t know if it’s true, but it sounds like people are saying ‘it’s you, the parents of PCAD that aren’t doing what you are supposed to.’ ”  

Miller underscored that the program is now part of Berkeley High School and does not belong to the parents’ group.  

When the proposal was accepted by the School Board, Miller said he thought that meant that the school district would put the various support personnel in place, and that the School Board would be more involved in the actual implementation process. 

“We expected to have a lot more people involved,” said Miller, adding that Principal Frank Lynch has been a great help. “We expected to have the district put in place the various individuals. Through their expertise, the school board is the best at being able to identify what needs to happen – none of the parents is qualified to direct these kids.”  

Terry Doran, president of the School Board, said the high school is indeed in charge of the program. He said that Principal Lynch has been exceptional at managing the program so far and trusts him to make decisions and enforce the programs’ rigors.  

“ It’s fair to say that Director Rivera has legitimate concerns,” said Doran on Thursday. “I personally trust the principal to select qualified teachers. I have no reason to doubt him and I’m confident that he’s moving the program right along.” 

Doran said that Lynch will enforce the students’ skills assessment and make sure that all the teachers are qualified.  

“It’s an on-going process, said Doran. “It’s going to take a while for us to collect resources. Eventually we’re going to hire a counselor to help in assessing these students.”  

Miller said there is also a question of making sure funds get to the program. If the program receives a monetary donation, who makes sure that it goes to the program and not into the Berkeley Unified School District general fund? he asked.  

Early in Wednesday’s meeting, a few Berkeley residents voiced their dismay with the School Board’s approval of the plan.  

Resident Bruce Wicinas said he is disturbed with how quickly the proposal whizzed by the school board. He said he’s not sure if he agrees with the school board allocating $100,000 for the program, pointing out that Berkeley High School needs help in other areas such as building maintenance. He further noted that several tutorial programs for underachievers are already in place at BHS, but don’t get used by students.  

“There are a lot of resources that are under utilized,” said Niles Xi’an Liechtenstein, student board member. Discussions around the intervention program has brought out that fact, he said. “I see a lot of good coming from this.”