Berkeley High School is at risk of losing its accreditation. Should this happen, the consequences for our community would be disastrous. Accreditation insures that when a student transfers to another high school, or applies for college admission, credit will be given for work completed. Without accreditation, our community and other schools and colleges will have no basis for confidence in a student's grades or learning.
Who accredits our schools? The Western Association of Schools and Colleges is one of six regional associations that employ common standards of quality to evaluate and accredit public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the United States. Berkeley High School was the first California high school to get WASC accreditation.
How does WASC work? The WASC accreditation process is on going and begins at the site with a self-study. A WASC team comprised of teachers and administrators from other schools evaluates the school based on the self-study report and their own intensive observations over four days. The commission reviews the visiting team's report and issues an accreditation term.
What brought us to this point? The last time the commission awarded us a full six-year term of accreditation was 1990. The 1996 visiting team found serious problems, including: "the absence of an orderly decision-making process and a clearly articulated vision . . . major maintenance problems and graffiti . . . a lack of trust, cooperation and collaboration.” We received a three-year term.
In May, 1999, the returning team found "little progress." They spelled out 11 "critical areas" to be addressed and took the "extraordinary step" of naming a team to help us. We received a two-year term. The first year of that term was consumed with fires and the next began with a newly appointed principal. Frustrated by a decade of stagnation and failed reforms, some groups lost patience with the WASC process and proposed their own solutions which further divided the staff and failed to address the "critical areas." In March 2001 we earned a one-year extension. This represents WASC's "most severe warning:" we stand to lose our accreditation.
Why doesn't student achievement count? The outstanding performance of some students is of limited interest to WASC if the school as a whole hasn't addressed the achievement of all students. Also, WASC looks carefully at an organization's capacity to generate "continuous improvement." This capacity rests on reliable administrative systems and procedures that staff can employ to measure progress, identify problems and take corrective action.
Doesn't the High School need fundamental reform? As I see it, developing the capacity to generate improvement is fundamental. To construe the WASC process as tangential or irrelevant is to misjudge both the seriousness of our situation and the significance of their recommendations. It's important to understand that these recommendations reflect not only WASC's views, but also a broad national consensus on what practices are best and necessary if schools are to deliver educational equity and excellence.
What's next? Committees have been formed to address critical areas. They must: State their mission clearly, measure progress toward those goals, align curriculum and instruction with state standards, and focus professional development and student support toward academic proficiency; use standardized tests to refine curriculum.
Articulate a governance process and use it; construct a communications system and employ it; set behavioral standards and enforce them; provide a clean, safe campus.
To participate or learn more about this important process, please contact Vice Principal Mary Ann Valles at 644-4566.
Additional information is also available from the WASC page on the BHS web site: http://www.bhs.berkeley.k12.ca.us/WASC/index.html