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Berkeley High accreditation extended three more years

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Wednesday July 17, 2002

School had been told to make improvements School had been told to make improvements 


The Western Association of Schools and Colleges has extended Berkeley High School’s accreditation by three years, providing a long-awaited vote of confidence in district plans to reform the school. 

“It’s very good news,” said Superintendent Michele Lawrence. “I’m very proud of the entire staff and the community for their support.” 

WASC, a Burlingame-based regional accrediting group, identified 11 problem areas at the high school in 1999, ranging from student safety to the “achievement gap” separating white and black students, and warned that it might remove its seal of approval unless improvements were made. 

As recently as March 2001, WASC warned that the high school administration was making “spotty” progress toward reform. But in May, a five-member WASC team visited Berkeley High, reported several improvements and praised the staff for its commitment to reform.  

At the end of June the WASC Commission, composed of educators from California and Hawaii, extended Berkeley High’s accreditation by three years, the maximum extension allowed. The decision was not publicly available until this week, when WASC sent a letter to the district informing it of the commission’s ruling. 

The commission had the option of terminating accreditation or extending it for one, two or three years. Most Berkeley parents and educators said they were pleased with the three-year accreditation. But many said a shorter extension may have pressured the school to continue its intense reform efforts. 

“In my experience at the high school, unless you are working in a crisis mode, it seems like things get in a rut and don’t really happen,” said Irma Parker, coordinator of Berkeley High’s Parent Resource Center. 

School board President Shirley Issel said the district will not get complacent. 

“The next step has to be taken,” she said. “We have to do it for ourselves, not because people are waiving fingers at us.” 

“I want to believe that we have a committed administration and staff to make that happen,” said school board member Terry Doran. “Only time will tell.” 

English teacher Rick Ayers welcomed the three-year extension. He said the WASC process, while providing a “wake-up call” for the high school, had turned into a distraction for many instructors, soaking up valuable staff development time.  

With a three-year extension, he said, the school may be able to shift from planning reform to actually making significant change. 

“I think it’s time that we be given some time to try some things out,” Ayers said. 

The 11 areas identified by WASC include, among others, the achievement gap, student safety, the decision-making process, communication with the community, and staff development. 

The school has already taken steps in some areas – improving communication through an e-mail tree for district parents and putting new security measures in place in the spring, for example. 

But the WASC team that visited in May identified several lingering problem areas, including an incomplete staff development plan, a lack of assessments to judge high school programs and the achievement gap. 

Lawrence said she convened a group of teachers at the close of the school year, representing all the grades, to discuss a comprehensive, district-wide staff development plan. She said the plan, still in the works, will likely focus on literacy, math and “differentiated instruction” – tailoring teaching to the skill level of every student. 

The superintendent said a newly-created district position, manager of research and evaluation, should help with assessment efforts. 

Lawrence, while acknowledging that there is room for improvement, added that the district is “moving in the right direction” on the achievement gap. She cited efforts to get minority students into Advanced Placement classes and a widely-respected tutoring program, focused on writing skills, that serves students of all backgrounds. 

Still, parents and activists said the high school has a long way to go to close the achievement gap. 

“We all recognize that there has to be additional, on-going work on the achievement gap,” said Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Association President Joan Edelstein. “That’s been a long-standing problem that must be addressed.” 

School board candidate Cynthia Papermaster said a key will be developing intervention plans for struggling students that get their parents involved. 

School board candidate Sean Dugar, who graduated from Berkeley High in June, criticized the district for cutting Rebound, an intervention program focused on black students, last year. He also warned that the move from a seven- to a six-period day at the high school, scheduled to take effect next year, could lead to harmful cuts in African American studies courses. 

The actual effects of the shift to a six-period day are unknown at this point, but administrators have warned that there will be some reductions in electives courses, like African American studies. 

Berkeley High administrators are on vacation and were unavailable for comment.