I want to start by correcting an inaccurate statement made in Peter Kuhn’s letter to the editor. The School Board did not vote against implementing an advisory program at Berkeley High School (BHS). The School Board did not take any action. The presentation on advisories that Mr. Kuhn is referring to was given to the board for comment so that BHS staff would have a framework to develop an advisory proposal that would represent the best approach to address the needs for all BHS students. At that meeting, Board members, including myself, stressed the need for the high school to develop an advisory proposal that included specific expectations, detailed curriculum and activities, and methods for accountability/evaluation. Only with this information, can the School Board competently vote on whether to approve advisories at Berkeley High. While I personally believe that some type of advisory program is needed throughout BHS to provide a more personal and consistent connection between students, teachers, and parents, I will not support advisories without having such a detailed understanding of the purpose, content, and expected outcomes of advisories. I understand and share concerns that good intentions do not necessarily result in good deeds. But, it greatly disturbs me to read that some people are taking public positions against advisories without even having seen an actual completed proposal.
So, just what is the board’s purpose in considering advisories for all students? In short, the goal is to help raise academic achievement through establishing consistent, personal, and supportive connections between teachers, students, and parents. This has been shown to be the highest predictor of success not only in academics, but in life.
I will use the Community Partnership (CP) Academy as an example of how such consistent and supportive connections can make a difference. (My elder son graduated from that small school in June 2008 and is now attending a prestigious four year college with a full academic scholarship). In CP Academy, the advisory program serves many purposes—including providing opportunities for at-risk students to receive additional academic support, providing all students with guidance in fulfilling college requirements and assistance in applying to college, furthering a sense of community, and connecting students with positive role models and adult advisors that uphold and extend family values and expectations.
And the result? Contrary to Mr. Kuhn’s assertions, CP Academy—one of the longest established small schools at Berkeley High—has had amazing success that I believe is due to the relationships that have been built between teachers and students (as well as between teachers and parents – it is much easier to sit down with one “gatekeeper” teacher than try and track down five or six teachers, even in a small school).
• As of Spring 2008, 86 percent of CP Academy juniors were on track to complete the math requirement for four-year college admission even though 66 percent entered into ninth grade below the proficient mark according to standardized tests.
• From 2005-2007, 98 percent of CP Academy students have gone on to college.
• 100 percent of CP Academy juniors and seniors take Advanced Placement English-based curriculum (with those wishing to test for AP credit taking a zero period supplement).
• 95 percent of students since the adoption of universal AP-based English curriculum have received at least a C in College Freshman English and 100 percent received an A or B in College Freshman English if they took the class for AP credit.
• In 2007, 16 percent of CP Academy students were accepted to the University of California and in 2008; 22 percent of students were accepted.
• Finally, during the past four years, three out of the four students that received the UC Berkeley Incentive Award (four-year full academic scholarship) graduated from CP Academy.
By any standards, this is a success story and one that has not occurred in Berkeley High as a whole, especially for students of color and/or students that have persistently tested below proficient on standardized tests.
In addition to promoting academic success, CP Academy staff also identified and diffused situations between students that could have easily have ended badly, identified students at risk for personal and/or social issues, encouraged troubled and needy students to turn to family and/or referred them to professional help/social services, and were there for students that just needed someone to listen to them or help them talk through life issues and decisions (the serious as well as the not-so-serious).
All of this success happened because CP Academy promotes community and personal connections—between students and teachers, students and students, and parents and teachers. That’s what school-wide advisories are supposed to accomplish and all students, whether high achieving, average or struggling; whether in a small school or in one of the comprehensive school programs, could use such personal connections to help them achieve academic, social, and personal success.
Karen Hemphill is director of the Berkeley Board of Education.