Principal Gives BHS Good Marks in Annual Address By YOLANDA HUANG Special to the Planet

Tuesday January 17, 2006

Berkeley High School Principal Jim Slemp’s State of the School speech last week gave the picture of a high school that is ready to step into the future. 

Before 200 parents, many of whom were parents of 8th graders, Slemp outlined the vision for the high school and presented his accomplishments of the past two and a half years in his Jan. 10 speech. These accomplishments had eluded his predecessors for over a decade and range from the mundane—such as having clean grounds, clean bathrooms and improved security—to the less routine—such as making sure the high school that not too long ago received only conditional accreditation is now accredited until 2011. 

Slemp stated that this significant accreditation awarded by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools was based upon the new high school plan, which took two years to develop. The high school is now “goal focused” toward becoming a learning community where “all” 3,263 currently enrolled students would graduate with the skills to go onto a four-year college, he said. 

Slemp also reaffirmed the high school’s commitment to diversity, stating that all small schools and academic choice would reflect the diversity of the entire student body. There were several questions from parents about students who lived in the “wrong” zip code and were not accepted into a small school or academic choice. Slemp told parents that they are to “expect quality teaching” and that the “comprehensive high school still does good things.” 

Slemp stated that Berkeley High is “one of the top high schools in the country.” Comparison of Berkeley High’s college entrance SAT scores for high school seniors confirms that Berkeley High School’s combined totals for the SAT verbal and math scores are higher than most other public high schools in Alameda County, except for Piedmont High and Albany High, and compares favorably with other top public schools in neighboring areas. 

And while the scores of African-American students at Berkeley High were the lowest among Berkeley High School students who took the SAT test, these scores were still higher than the school average of the best of Oakland’s high schools.  

Slemp also cited the increased number of students who enrolled in advanced placement (AP) classes. Over the past year, the number of students taking AP courses at Berkeley High has substantially increased from 905 students in 2004 to 1,334 in 2005. This included a 35 percent increase in African-American students taking AP classes to a total of 97. Slemp said he was proud that the African-American students did as well on the AP exam as white students. 

Starting this September, Slemp said he wants to see an International Baccalaureate program added because he thought that such a rigorous and challenging curriculum would increase student achievement and help eliminate the achievement gap. 

Slemp said his goal is to monitor classroom practices by being in every classroom once every two weeks.  

Seniors Niles Dhar and Huey Lerer said that they see Principal Slemp frequently around the school. Lerer said that Slemp “actually cares about kids because if he sees you out of class, he doesn’t get you into trouble, he finds a place for you to go.” 

Dhar added that Slemp’s comment to students at an assembly the week before, that when other students are “messing up the school with graffiti, tell them how you feel, but students shouldn’t snitch,” was a good approach. 

Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield commented that the creation last year of on-site suspension, instead of sending students home was also a good idea, and that since transferring to Berkeley, he hadn’t gotten into a single fight. 

Juniors Melina Pauline, Alina Schanke-Mahl and Judith Joy all said that they regularly see Principal Slemp in their classes, but not for very long. Pauline stated that Slemp “pops in, waves and leaves.”  

All students interviewed agreed that graffiti is now hardly visible, and that the new bathrooms in the D building were nice. However, many students complained that the C building only had one bathroom for four floors of classrooms. 

Stephanie Allen, business agent for the custodial union, commended Slemp for advocating and obtaining additional custodial staff for the high school. She said that before the additional staffing, it just wasn’t possible to keep the huge campus high school clean. 

Slemp vowed to continue cleaning up the school and work his way into the classrooms.