Having been present during the BUSD school board process and vote on Monday, Aug. 10, I witnessed what a challenge it is for a community to grasp that disparities in achievement cannot be remedied solely within the school district itself, but rather will require a city-wide approach.
The discussion focused on the merits of whether the board should approve a $1 million federal grant to Berkeley High School to explore and implement a new small school and something I am particularly supportive of—advisories.
The BHS Advisory Program Proposal “…ensures that each student has an adult advocate in the school overseeing their academic progress and helping them create a plan for success.” A recommendation for advisories is included in the WASC Plan for Berkeley High School. WASC (Western Association of Schools and College) accreditation certifies to other educational institutions and to the general public that an institution (Berkeley High School) meets or exceeds established standards and is achieving its own stated objectives.
The advisories discussion, resulting in the vote and approval at Monday’s meeting, reflected the fear of change which always involves a certain amount of risk. We essentially have three very important reasons to support advisories for all Berkeley High School students.
1. Students have failed, been failed and continue to fail as a result of ineffective and unsuccessful programs/initiatives that are designed to assist students in having personalized academic guidance in our schools, but miss the mark.
2. Students do not have sufficient time to meet with a teacher or a counselor to learn how to navigate academic and personal needs. Currently, 10 academic advisors carry a load of 320 students, two college counselors can provide a junior and senior student with only 40 minutes for college advising.
3. Most, if not all students, would welcome an adult in school that can provide academic and/or technical counseling to deal with today’s challenges and mapping their plans through and beyond high school.
Far too many students are disconnected from their parents, school and/or a positive social life—and are essentially never ready and open to learn because of these challenges. Our school board member Karen Hemphill noted that 70 percent of African American, 60 percent of Latino, and 20 percent of white students are scoring at basic or below basic on state exams. This is not acceptable and should not be accepted by our community.
It is very important that the school board support and ensure that all stakeholders create and monitor advisories to be what they are meant to be—an opportunity for students to connect with trained adults/teachers that know how to promote what all youth need—someone to hear them and guide them respectfully, to decisions about college, academics, social relationships, navigating systems, promoting leadership, developing communication skills, creating a community of learners, and providing the real-time tools to be independent, successful, confident and responsible life long learners.
Advisories cannot be effective on their own as they are just one component of a much larger vision. They are also linked to the implementation of the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth—a resolution jointly passed by both the district and the city in cooperation with a coalition of community groups (United In Action). (See “Peeling the Academic Achievement Onion,” Daily Planet, July 3.)
The work of the resolution will unfold in an All-City Equity Taskforce that will address eight strategies for moving forward: 1) Plan for Educational Success for All; 2) Plan for Healthy Child Development for All; 3) Address Barriers to Learning; 4) Professional Development and Human Resources; 5) Parent/ Guardian and Youth Engagement; 6) Community Engagement; 7) Leverage local, state and national public and private resources; and 8) Shared Accountability and Measurable Outcomes.
The solution to the achievement/ opportunity gap requires that we step out of our separate silos and interests, and join together in a comprehensive approach. Advisories are part of that approach and are linked to several of the 8 strategies.
I look forward to working with the Equity Taskforce, and thank Principal Jim Slemp and the very credible Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools (BAYCES) for securing this much needed grant. Their job is formidable and we need to support them to the fullest.
The new small school and advisories will be positive steps toward attaining the world-class high schools Berkeley deserves.
Beatriz Leyva-Cutler is executive director of BAHIA, Inc. a pre-school and afterschool program for children ages 2-10, and a candidate for the Berkeley School Board.