In a recent union vote, local teachers overwhelmingly approved Berkeley High School’s controversial shift from a seven- to a six-period day, averting the financial cost and logistical nightmare of a mid-year switch back to the seven-period schedule.
“I can start sleeping nights,” joked Berkeley High Co-principal Laura Leventer. “We’re very happy we don’t have to switch back to the seven-period day.”
Teachers from all 15 of Berkeley’s public schools voted 297-54 to approve the switch during a two-week voting period, Oct. 14-25. A rejection would have required the high school, which has operated on a six-period schedule since August, to return to a seven-period day at the start of the spring semester.
Proponents say the move to a six-period day has saved the cash-strapped district money, increased overall classroom time for students and eliminated “gaps,” or periods without class, for most pupils. Erasing gaps, they argue, has cut down on the number of students roaming the hallways and improved safety.
Opponents complain that the move has cut into the high school’s successful double-period science program and reduced the number of electives available in music and African-American Studies. But district officials note that the overall number of electives has actually increased this year, with new classes in ceramics, photography, acting and other areas.
Opponents also argue that the shift to a six-period day, which eliminated teacher hall duty, has cut down on the adult presence in the hallways during class and reduced student safety.
The teachers’ vote ensures that the controversial schedule will remain in place at least through the end of the school year. But, with the current teacher contract set to expire in June, the issue will be on the bargaining table again in a matter of months.
“Who knows what will come out of the negotiations this spring?,” said Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) President Barry Fike, noting that teachers might re-assess the six-period day after a year of experience with the new schedule.
The Board of Education approved the shift to a six-period schedule in February and determined that it would go into effect in August, with the start of the 2002-2003 school year.
But the union argued, at the time, that the board could not unilaterally implement a six-period day. BFT held that the shift would affect the teachers’ contract and therefore had to be negotiated. This summer, an independent arbitrator agreed with the union, throwing the issue into formal negotiations.
On Oct. 7, after six grueling sessions, the district and union hammered out a deal. The union agreed to accept the six-period day in exchange for several small concessions. But the deal did not go into effect until the rank-and-file membership approved it with the Oct. 14-25 vote.
Initially, union and district officials had real concerns about teacher approval of the agreement. Shortly after inking the Oct. 7 deal, the union conducted a non-binding, informal poll of high school teachers who only approved of the agreement by a slim 62-46 margin.
At the time, Fike said opposition was rooted in general disapproval of the six-period day and concerns, among some, about the quality of the concessions the union was able to win from the district.
In the end, Fike said, fears of disrupting the Berkeley High schedule halfway through the year weighed on some teachers in voting for the deal.