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School Board votes to back Rebound program

By Ben Lumpkin Special to the Daily Planet
Friday February 23, 2001

Despite the adamant opposition of two of its members, the Berkeley Unified School District board of directors voted Wednesday night to give key financial backing to a Berkeley High School program for students failing two or more classes. 

“I’m very uncomfortable supporting a recommendation that puts these kids in peril of yet another failure,” said Board Vice President Shirley Issel, who abstained from a 3-1 vote to begin paying the four non-credentialed teachers involved in the program. 

The Rebound Program was implemented in January after grade estimates 15 weeks into the last semester indicated that as many as 242 Berkeley High freshman were failing two or more classes. Under the program, 46 freshman failing multiple classes are placed in special classes designed to improve their attendance and academic performance. Instead of one period of English and math each day, they have two. Instead of one teacher for every 20 to 30 students, Rebound students have one teacher for every 10 students. 

“The teachers give questions in a way the kids can understand,” said Corinne Thompson, a member of the parent group that originally proposed the Rebound Program, Parents of Children of African Descent. “They don’t talk over their heads. They go over it again and again until they get it.” 

Occasionally, team building exercises and field trips are substituted for classes to build students’ confidence and stir greater interest in academic subjects. On Wednesday, for example, the Rebound students participated in a challenging ropes course sponsored by the Berkeley Boosters. 

“We hope that physical action translates into an emotional and intellectual awakening,” said program supporter Beth Montano. 

But some board members remain unconvinced.  

Issel cited articles on education research Wednesday night that she said demonstrate conclusively that “the most critical variable in the achievement of at risk students is the hiring of effective teachers.” 

Although the original PCAD proposal called for hiring experienced teachers for the Rebound Program, the four teachers selected are not credentialed, Issel complained. 

“(The school board) is extremely vulnerable to the accusation that we are providing the least qualified teachers to the students most in need,” Issel said. 

Board director Joaquin Rivera, who voted against pay for the Rebound instructors, agreed. 

“I think the research is clear,” Rivera said Wednesday, expressing his concern that at risk students at Berkeley High have teachers who have worked successfully with at risk students in the past.  

“The only time these teachers were ever in a classroom was as students,” Rivera said in a later interview. 

Rebound supporters counter that the teachers’ energy and enthusiasm goes a long way to make up for any lack of credentials. 

“The rebound program is nourishing souls, and God knows we need to nourish souls at Berkeley High School,” said Niles Xi’an Lichtenstein, the board’s student director and a senior at Berkeley High. 

In an interview after the meeting, Berkeley High Principal Frank Lynch said the four Rebound instructors are college graduates who are eligible to be credentialed teachers and are in fact completing credentialing programs in the evenings after working with the Rebound students.  

They have also taken proficiency tests to obtain emergency credentials, Lynch said, but the results aren’t yet available. Until the teachers have emergency credentials, credentialed substitute teachers have been hired to supervise and assist them in the classroom as required by law. 

Because of the shortage of credentialed teachers, Berkeley High must hire non-credentialed teachers to meet its needs at the beginning of every year, Lynch said. These teachers are put through the same interview process used to select the Rebound teachers, he added. 

“You bet on the fact that you can read people pretty well,” Lynch said. “I think we’ve got four very good teachers.” 

In voting to pay the teachers Wednesday, school board President Terry Doran expressed total confidence in the selection process. 

“Every attempt was made to see that the program would be the best that we could put together in the time that we had,” Doran said, emphasizing the need to move rapidly to have the program in place by January.  

Doran said the teachers have a strong record of academic performance and a proven commitment to working with young people.  

Although Rebound supporters expressed satisfaction with the vote’s outcome Wednesday, many said they would like to see more support from the board in future, including more money to expand the program. 

Alex Papillon, president of the Berkeley Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, dismissed the $100,000 the board has set aside for the programs as a “paltry sum of money.” He said many more failing students at Berkeley need to brought into the program. 

“These students have experienced rejection throughout their life in public education and they have begun to turn off to public education,” Papillon said. 

Lynch said many of the students in the Rebound program today are students who habitually skipped their regular Berkeley High classes. He and others said the fact that these students are now attending class every day represents a major victory for the Rebound Program. 

Other supporters of the Rebound Program say one of its greatest strengths is that it increases parent involvement in their children’s studies. Rebound instructors call parents frequently to update them about students’ progress, they say, something that regular teachers rarely have time or inclination to do. 

“Parents feel that there is a door open for them now,” said PCAD member Debrah Watson. “They’re not afraid to come to school anymore.”