Study Session, Forum Planned for Berkeley High Redesign Plan

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday January 28, 2009 - 07:24:00 PM

The proposal for the Berkeley High School redesign—which has generated controversy so far but has been moving at a brisk pace since it was first unveiled in November—is scheduled for public discussion to give the community and district officials a chance to comment on its strengths and weaknesses. 

Berkeley Board of Education director John Selawsky said that he could understand the sense of urgency on the part of high school officials to understand better where the plan was headed, since they were intending to implement it in the new school year starting in August. 

The first of two public sessions was scheduled for Wedneday. The next one is planned for Wednesday, Feb. 4. 

District officials have described the advisory programs in the redesign as an important part of the 2020 Vision—an effort by the school district, the City of Berkeley and some community groups to close the achievement gap. 

The Berkeley High School Governance Council on Jan. 21 approved a revised version of the redesign plan, which will be presented to the School Board at a special study session Wednesday. 

As to whether the board was going to take any action on the plan that day, Selawsky said there was still some work left to be done before that could happen, adding that that it was more likely that it would be brought before the board for action on Feb. 11. 

Under the revised plan, the advisory periods and the community access periods would be combined into a single period within the eight-week block schedule. 

Two of the combined periods per week would begin with a 30-minute advisory, with the rest of the time available for the community access period—which would be supervised by advisors, who would be able to assert more control over the entire process. 

Some parents had earlier been concerned that if students were unsupervised during the community access periods—as outlined in the original plan—it would lead to chaos and confusion, and maybe even a complete waste of time. 

Also, under the new version, advisory programs would occur by grade level, and advisors would work with each group of students for only a year. 

Professional development would take place on Monday mornings instead of Wednesdays, and the Tuesday-through-Friday schedule would be the same every week, with late-start Mondays alternating between periods 1 through 4 one week and 5 through 8 the next. 

Ninth- and tenth-graders would take eight classes—including the combined advisory and community access period—which would give students an extra elective. 

Juniors and seniors would be given the option of doing something similar. Students would also be able to combine their community access time with another period if they were interested in attending class at a community college or pursuing other interests. 

The exact details of this aspect of the proposal are still being worked out, according to an e-mail sent out to the Berkeley High community by the school’s Parent, Teacher and Student Association president, Mark van Krieken, Thursday. 

Another feature, which has created some amount of discomfort among a group of parents, is the elimination of science labs by including them in science classes. 

Science classes that have traditionally had a zero- or seventh-period lab will now have to fold it into a regular class, which would result in a 33 percent reduction in instruction minutes for students in AP classes. 

Teachers have been asked to submit proposals for double periods to address this. 

Although the revised plan has been called “tighter” than the original one by some board members and parents, others remain skeptical about the loss of instructional minutes. 

Parents and other community members will be able to comment on the redesign at a public forum being hosted jointly by the Berkeley High administration and the PTSA on Feb. 3. 

Speakers from within the district and elsewhere are expected to be present to give an overview of how the plan will benefit students at Berkeley High. 

The Joint PTSA and BHS administration public forum will be Feb. 4, 7 to 9 p.m., at Berkeley High School Library, 1980 Allston Way. 

For more information on the Berkeley High redesign plan visit: