School Board Favors Fire Science Curriculum for BHS Students By Riya Bhattacharjee

Friday March 10, 2006

Berkeley School Board members at Wednesday’s meeting were in favor of introducing a fire science curriculum at Berkeley High School. 

Hank Silver, a member of the Berkeley Personnel Board, said that students would benefit greatly from this program. 

“It will help develop students’ academic and technical skills and prepare them for entry-level employment, college, as well as advanced training,” he said. “It’s good exposure for high school students and will help explain the complexities of this particular profession.” 

Berkeley Fire Chief Deborah Pryor also attended the meeting to show her support for the program that includes courses on fire science, use of fire fighting equipment, rescue methods, and emergency procedures. It is a regional occupational program. 

The proposal was moved to the consent calendar from the action items agenda by Director John Selawsky. 


Year-round school 

The topic that sparked debate at the meeting was the allocation and use of time in improving student achievement. 

Neil Smith, director of Educational Services, told that board that according to a research by the Educational Priorities Workgroup, “a reallocation and/or extension of time within the school day and/or year can be an effective component to improving student achievement.” 

According to the workgroup report, “the district should extend the K-12 school day,” and that in order “to implement a high-impact, high quality professional development program, school sites will need more time than they currently have.” 

The board deemed this as a viable approach but acknowledged that a longer school day and year would mean additional expenses.  

Shirley Issel, director, said that she “would not recommend a proposition for year-round school at this moment.” 

Issel further said that since student achievement had gone down in the last three years, she approved of changes that had immediate effect on professional development and in the classroom. 

District Superintendent Michele Lawrence commented that although year-round schools had some merit, lack of a sequential curriculum or solid staff would mean that “poor teaching would remain poor teaching.” 

School Board President Terry S. Doran acknowledged that “talking about change is difficult not only in this community but in all communities.” 

He lauded the fact that carving small schools from Berkeley High School had benefited students who had moved there. 

“Moving to year-round schools would be worthwhile and I welcome it. I hope that the reports presented would stimulate further discussion on this subject,” he said. 

Clarifications about the BHS Small Schools Lottery process were also made with regards to the ranking system. The board asked BHS Principal Jim Slemp why students were asked to rank up to six schools when most of them were admitted to any of their top three choices or did not even want to attend most of them in the first place. 

“It is always students who are the least engaged and whose parents are marginally involved who are the most confused by these choices,” the board said. 

According to the board, the two school choices, academic or international, which students had to select when they chose a small school were also confusing and they hoped that it would be cleared by next year. 


Other matters  

The board also approved the schematic for landscape design at Berkeley Arts Magnet’s playground project. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer. 

Toward the end of the meeting Nancy Riddle stated that it was important to understand that the state educational budget was in crisis and that the board was required by law to declare fiscal emergency for the 2006-07 fiscal years as had been the case in the last few years.