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Study shows six period move at BHS won’t hurt too much

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday March 28, 2002

Most of the courses available at Berkeley High School this year will be available next year, despite the move from a seven- to a six-period day, according to a new study conducted by former BHS computer science teacher Peter Bloomsburgh. 

Some parents, however, are still upset with the shift, approved by the Board of Education earlier this year. They argue that the shift will involve unacceptable cuts to a successful double-period science program and reduce the number of electives available to students, while saving the financially-strapped district only a small amount of money. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence said the six-period day and increased class sizes at BHS will save approximately $300,000 for the district, which faces an estimated $5.4 million deficit next year.  

But she said the shift will increase students’ class time by moving from 47- to 55-minute periods and improve discipline by eliminating gaps in students’ schedules — so they aren’t wandering around campus during free periods. 

The study 

Working with BHS administrators, Bloomsburgh took students’ schedules from this year and plugged them into a proposed six-period schedule for next year. In doing so, he found that 198 of the roughly 3,000 students (7 percent) would face scheduling conflicts under the new schedule.  

Consequently, Bloomsburgh said if the district tightens the schedule and moves forward with a plan to offer some 900 students an opportunity to take electives outside the normal six-period day, BHS should be able to offer students most of the courses they are taking this year. 

Lawrence said the study re-affirmed her argument that the shift to a six-period day, while leading to the reduction of some electives, will not require wholesale cuts to any department. 

“I don’t see that any program is going to be decimated or eliminated,” said Lawrence, attempting to allay concerns that arts, African-American Studies and other electives will sustain significant hits. 


Lawrence said students’ course choices for next year, which should be complete in two weeks, will help the district decide where to make reductions. 


Science cuts 

One place where reductions will almost certainly take place is the science department. Starting next year the district will make significant cuts to its unique double-period science program. 

According to BHS co-principal Laura Leventer, students in standard science courses will be in class one period per day rather than two. But Leventer added, the science department has requested funding from the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (a special local tax) to pay for one extra period per week for some of those standard courses. 

Students in advanced placement courses will attend an extra period of instruction every other day, Leventer added. 

Science teachers have fought against any reductions in double-period science in recent months. But with cuts clearly in the cards the department will take whatever extra periods it can get, said BHS chemistry teacher Aaron Glimme. 

“I think we’re maintaining what I would consider the bare minimum to keep our program going,” he added. 

But Derick Miller, president of the PTA Council, an umbrella group for the PTAs districtwide, said the extra periods, dedicated to the most advanced students, do not serve the average pupil. 

“We’re abandoning the interests of the students in the middle,” he said. 


Equal teaching loads 

Lawrence has argued that a compelling argument for the reduction in double-period science is the equalization of instructors’ teaching loads. Currently, science teachers, because they instruct the same group of students two periods in a row, see less students in a given day than other teachers. 

The move to single-period science, Lawrence said, would spread out the teaching load, and provide students in other classes with more attention from their instructors. 

But Glimme noted that other teachers will see only modest reductions in their teaching loads.  

Some parents add that student success in the double-period science course should outweigh concerns about teaching loads. 

“Are our schools built on teacher equity or student achievement?,” asked Laura Menard, a member of the PTA Council. 

But, Lawrence said a uniform approach to teaching loads is a necessary first step toward other long-term reforms, such as a shift to a “block schedule” at the high school that could reduce workloads for all teachers.