A proposed shake-up of the Berkeley Unified School District’s Independent Study program, which serves about 200 students, is in flux.
Pupils in the 10-year-old program receive several hours of one-on-one instruction per week from certified teachers, but do much of their coursework at home.
Superintendent Michele Lawrence, as part of a $3 million budget cut proposal released Jan. 15, recommended laying off the Independent Study director, moving the program to the district’s adult school on University Avenue, and assigning administrative duties to Berkeley Adult School principal Margaret Kirkpatrick, for a savings of roughly $81,000.
But Lawrence told the Planet Wednesday that the program, currently housed at Berkeley Alternative High School, will not move to the adult school.
“It’s clear that moving it to adult education is not going to be a viable option,” Lawrence said. “So it’s back to the drawing board.”
The superintendent said concerns about adequate space at the adult school and the wisdom of putting young children alongside adult students have convinced her that the University Avenue facility will not work.
Lawrence originally proposed moving the program from the Alternative High School to make space for a “continuation” school on the campus.
A continuation school, required by California law, provides academic support and vocational education for struggling high school students.
Berkeley has not had a continuation school in place for several years, and has attempted to fill the void through programs at the Alternative High School. But Lawrence is insisting on full compliance with the law.
The superintendent said Wednesday that one possibility would be housing the Alternative High School, continuation school and Independent Study program all on the same campus.
The idea has drawn mixed reaction. Alex Palau, principal at the Alternative High School, said the facility could not handle all three programs. But Carl Brush, who heads up the independent study program, said all three programs may be able to co-exist on the same site.
Brush, who will retire at the end of the year, is currently sharing director’s duties with Sara McMickle, an English teacher in the program who spends three days working as an administrator and two days as an instructor.
Brush, McMickle and independent study teachers said the program will need a full-time administrator next year. Turning over duties to the Adult School principal or any other administrator who already has a full plate would be a mistake, they argued.
“It would be a catastrophe,” said Doug Healy, a history and English teacher. “Running this program is a full-time job.”
The director, among other things, meets with parents and students, coordinates professional development and deals with the program budget.
One of the director’s chief duties is keeping track of the program’s extensive paperwork in order to ensure continued state funding.
Traditional schools receive state funding based on attendance figures. Because students in the independent study program only meet with their teachers a few hours a week, instructors must quantify the work that students do on their own in order to develop attendance records.
The director must get all the paperwork in order to ensure that the program passes muster in state audits.
Independent Study staff said they have concerns about a part-time administrator keeping track of all the documents and ensuring continued funding.
“There’s this incredible bureaucratic paper trail that we have to keep in order,” said McMickle.
Lawrence said she is sensitive to that concern. “There needs to be someone, clearly, who monitors the compliance issues,” she said.
The Independent Study staff has recommended that the district employ a full-time “teacher on special assignment” who would run the program day-to-day, with a credentialed administrator providing oversight and support.
The “teacher on special assignment,” they argue, would not receive the pay of a credentialed administrator, so the district would still save money. McMickle has expressed interest in applying for such a position.
Lawrence signaled support for the idea in the Wednesday interview, but suggested several other scenarios, including a part-time teacher, part-time administrator or a highly-paid clerical employee.
The Board of Education, which must make about $6 million in cuts total to balance next year’s budget, was scheduled to vote on Lawrence’s $3 million in cuts Wednesday night, after the Planet’s deadline.