District Seeks New Home for Independent Study

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday May 11, 2007

The Berkeley Board of Education delayed its vote on a controversial proposal to establish a Community Day School on the B-Tech campus Wednesday. 

Superintendent Michele Lawrence recommended that the Independent Study program remain at the B-Tech campus at Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Derby Street for the time being, while options for moving the program are considered. 

She asked the school board to hold off on the decision to move the Independent Study program to the new Adult School at San Pablo Avenue to make room for the proposed Community Day School, which would enroll middle-school students who have faced expulsion from school, have disciplinary problems, are on probation, have attendance or adjustment problems, or require a smaller school setting. 

“I felt it was necessary to pull the plug on this today,” Lawrence told boardmembers, and added that Berkeley Unified would continue to look for a viable place to relocate the Independent Study program so that the Community Day School could be esablished as early as the spring 2008 semester. 

The board discussed the proposal at great length after Independent Study parents and staff vehemently opposed it at the meeting. 

“We have needed a Community Day School for sometime now,” Lawrence said. “We don’t have an appropriate place to put children who are troubled or need special attention. We have a wonderful Independent Study program but students can only go there independently. We cannot force anyone to go there. The continuation school [B-Tech] cannot be used for middle school students. As a result there are very limited options.” 

Lawrence added that the school district did not have school campuses that could hold the administrative offices, classrooms and conference rooms required at the Community Day School. 

“We looked at Willard Elementary School but it was horrifically cramped,” she said. “We looked at West Campus but that made no sense. The classrooms are leaking, unhealthy and we are intending to knock that place down. We did go to the current Adult School site but that did not work out either.” 

The proposed plan for the Community Day School recommends that the program be housed in the current location for Independent Study, which is on a separate part of the B-Tech campus. 

“No sufficient planning has preceded this proposal,” said Robert Young, a Berkeley teacher. “Moving 170 Independent Study students to the Adult School which does not have adequate light is not a good idea. B-Tech parents and students have not been consulted either.” 

Gordon Stevens, an IS parent, said that tampering with the Independent Study program could jeopardize his daughter’s future. 

Cathy Campbell, vice president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said that while the union supported the creation of a Community Day School, curriculum should not be harmed in the process. 

“Many attend Independent Study because they need a smaller learning environment or are in a transitional phase in their lives,” she said. “Moving this program to the Adult School would mean a loss of 1,000 square feet for Independent Study. There is zero natural light, insufficient acoustics and the rooms are currently only used for Traffic School and testing. The bathrooms are also located a distance away.” 

Board Vice President John Selawsky said that he had heard in the past that the Independent Study site was getting crowded and not considered a good fit for its current students. 

“So there is some kind of double talk going on,” he said. “Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown. However, it’s important to know that we live in a built-out city and a built-out district. We have very little space to move our programs and our students around. It’s the curriculum, the people and the sense of purpose that builds a good program, not the facility itself. The facility can enhance the program. I would ask faculty and parents at Independent Study to keep an open mind.” 

Lawrence said that the partnership between the proposed Community Day School and B-Tech made sense because students at both schools would need counseling and education support services as well as an administrator.  

B-Tech principal Victor Diaz would oversee the curriculum, staff development, day-to-day discipline and supervision and evaluation of staff at the Community Day School. 

“I need to let our Independent Study program know that we don’t have any other space to put the Community Day School,” Lawrence said. “We need to look for another place to put the Independent Study in.” 

The Community Day School would initially enroll seventh- and eighth-graders and would expand to serve sixth- through ninth-graders in the future. 

2007-08 consolidated school plans 

The board unanimously approved the 2007-08 consolidated school plans which outlines a three-year plan for student achievement at each school site. 

Selawsky commented that although progress had been made in creating the plans, inconsistencies were present from site to site. 

“A lot of thought was put into most of the plans, but there were a handful of sites where there was no mention of any plans,” he said. “I expect some of these sites to do some more work.” 

Lawrence said that the plan had become more inclusive and was considering the needs of every child in the district. School board member Karen Hemphill said that the plans should be shared with the community. 

“We need to celebrate what the schools are doing for the our children,” she said. “We should give the public the opportunity to see what we are getting to see.”