Page One

Higher hopes better

Joan Blades Berkeley
Wednesday January 09, 2002


Your article about the new Berkeley School Board President, Shirley Issel, (“Bathroom mom takes reins” 1/5-6) quotes her as saying “that a school which cannot even take attendance properly is at least six to eight years away from administering major reform.” Why do we have such low expectations for our schools and school leadership? Businesses execute turnarounds in quarters, not years. Any business with expectations this low would fold before they made the necessary changes.  

We need school reform now. It’s time to stop moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. I believe that small schools are our best opportunity to improve the experience of all the students at Berkeley High. Kids need better connections to their teachers and their peers to thrive. Small schools support these connections and in the process support higher achievement, and safer and more satisfying school experiences for kids, teachers and parents. Decades of research support small schools. Most teachers at Berkeley High support the creation of small schools. 

This is a moment of opportunity. But the high school and district leadership isn’t listening. Following the Columbine massacre the federal government put forth a program encouraging high schools of over 1000 to investigate and implement small schools. (This is a very important connection to make. Alienated unhappy kids are a danger to themselves and others both academically and physically.) Berkeley High got a federal planning grant. We are now poised to walk away from implementation grant money. I think we need small schools grant or no grant. I’d kinda like the extra money for our school myself. 

Parents are outraged that kids of all backgrounds are lost in our huge impersonal high school. Numerous African American boys that attend Berkeley High fail to graduate. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. I personally know many kids who thrive at Berkeley High, but I also know many others who, even with all the advantages, don’t make it. I worry about my own son going to a school where it’s so easy to get lost. We can create a school where most kids do wonderful work. We must try. Better attendance taking is nice, but I think we should expect and even demand much more. 


Joan Blades