Berkeley High Gets Federal Grant To Explore Small Schools Expansion

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 09:57:00 AM

The Berkeley Board of Education gave Berkeley High the go-ahead to move forward with a five-year federal Smaller Learning Community grant that aims to expand small school programs, provide students with a personalized college prep education and work on closing the achievement gap. 

The $1 million grant will cover the first three years, Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp told the board. 

The activities mandated under the grant for the 2008-2009 school year include piloting an advisory program and longer block schedules, planning and developing a new small school, engaging students in professional development to close the achievement gap and continuing the growth in small schools such as the Berkeley International High School—which recently received accreditation—and the School for Social Justice and Education. 

Berkeley High has 3,300 students, with six small school programs on campus. 

A few board members expressed concern about the possibility of introducing new schedules and advisory groups but were informed that all changes would first have to be reviewed and approved by the board. Some board members also said they were worried about the financial sustainability of carrying out the reforms but agreed that the grant gives Berkeley High the opportunity to come up with solutions for the achievement gap. 

According to a report submitted to the board by Superintendent Bill Huyett, some of the changes could require agreements with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers and the Berkeley Unified School District for compensation and exceptions to contracts. 

Under the grant, the high school will also train its teachers to use the advisory program to help students develop individual learning plans and teach organization, time management, and research skills. The grant also mandates a college preparatory curriculum that meets the state’s college entrance requirements. 

Teachers will also be coached by the Bay Area Coalition of Essential Schools and participate in professional development related to the strategic use of student performance data. 

Slemp informed the board that all students will be offered support services, such as tutoring and social support by a student learning center and a ninth-grade accelerated reading program, to help them achieve grade level proficiency. 

Berkeley High will also expand its Academic Pathways project, which targets low- income students. 

The grant will allow the school to bring in more tutors, mentors and supplemental services to ensure that the project’s participants are ready for post-secondary education and careers when they graduate from high school. 

“There is lots of hard data saying small learning communities make a difference on schools,” Huyett said. “I am appreciative of the work you [Slemp] and your staff are doing. But change is difficult. We have part of a vision, but not full ... I would like the school to come back periodically with updates.”