Parents Complain About BHS Scheduling Committee

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday April 23, 2009 - 07:17:00 PM

Some Berkeley High School parents are complaining about the lack of information they have received about a new committee charged with planning the second phase of a new organizational design for Berkeley High. 

In a letter sent out to 2,700 Berkeley High families last week, the school’s Parent, Teacher and Student Association President Mark van Krieken said that there was “no communication with or input from the PTSA in the process of involving parents or with any other parent group that the district or the PTSA were aware of” regarding the new committee. 

Known as the scheduling committee, the group is supposed to be crafting a new schedule for the high school, as directed by the Berkeley Board of Education when it approved the redesign plan in February. One aim of the plan, among others, is to close the achievement gap at the high school. 

A large number of parents spoke at the February public meeting, and some said then that they were disappointed by the lack of transparency in the process. 

Others said they were supporting the plan with the hope that the next stage of the redesign process would be done with a significant increase in transparency, communication, and involvement of the parent community.  

At that time, with guidance from District Superintendent Bill Huyett, the board approved changes to the original version of the redesign, including the implementation of late-start Mondays for professional development of teachers in the fall of 2009, “regularly scheduled” advisory programs in the fall of 2010, development of a new schedule, which will provide benefits such as “additional offerings, academic support, personalization and better student and teacher working conditions,” and development of a new small school which would start in the fall of 2010 or 2011.  

Huyett recommended that, rather than adopt a block schedule right away, the board should support the creation of a different schedule from the current six-period model, to help incorporate more courses annually and to provide time on a regularly scheduled basis for advisory programs and academic support. 

The board approved Huyett’s recommendation and asked that the high school and the district work together over the next six months to figure out a schedule and a funding model, as well as negotiate contract issues with the Berkeley Federation of Teachers before Feb. 1, 2010. 

The new schedule is not expected to be in place until the 2010-11 school year. 

Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp did not return calls for comment. Huyett told the Planet that the committee had been formed in order to plan out a viable process for communication with parents. 

“It’s primarily a staff committee,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the same process is going to be used as the last time. We will ask for public comment.” 

The committee had its first meeting April 15. 

“Without a nominating or election process, there is no way of knowing whether the various viewpoints of the parent community are represented on the committee,” van Krieken said in his letter. “There has been no communication by the Berkeley High administration with the parent community informing them of the creation of the new committee, its makeup or mission, a schedule of meetings, a timeline for goals, or any acknowledgment that a process will be put in place for keeping the community informed or involved.” 

Van Krieken said the new committee members—including two parents, two students, five teachers, the superintendent and Slemp—had been handpicked by the principal. The PTSA president told the Planet that names of committee members had not yet been made public. 

“There are no parents of color on the new committee, so there is no representation on the committee by parents whose community’s needs the committee aims to address,” he said. 

“The Berkeley High administration likes to work in secrecy,” van Krieken said. “When they started the last redesign committee, we knew nothing about it. A lot of parents and teachers were divisive and bitter. This is just a repeat.” 

He said he had called up the superintendent after hearing rumors about it. 

“And lo and behold, he told me it was indeed going on,” he said. “How you can do something like this without involving the parent community is beyond me.” 

Margit Roos-Collins, another parent at Berkeley High, said she hoped the high school would involve more parents. 

“The only way to bring along the community in building momentum for a particular change is to actually bring them along, offer opportunities for some to sit at the table and for all to attend and listen and speak during public comment,” she said. 

“Given the passionate level of community interest in how we instruct our children and in what we expect of them, it would strongly behoove the school to create a venue in which all interested parents and teachers could connect and band together to work on aspects of this challenge and divide up the work.”  

Peggy Smith, another parent, said she was not surprised by the decision. 

“The handwriting was on the wall for how this might move forward in the worst possible fashion, but I really thought someone from the district would intervene and not let it happen again, and insist that this phase be more inclusive and in compliance,” she said in an e-mail to the Planet. “So far, my worst fantasies are proving true.”  

Berkeley Board of Education Director John Selawsky said he understood the parents’ concerns. 

“I share some of the concerns,” he said. “The superintendent is part of the committee to monitor and hold people accountable. That said, Jim is the principal of the high school. He gets to choose his committee to some degree. And if not Jim, then who?” 

Van Krieken also said that according to Slemp, the committee’s meetings would be closed to the Berkeley High community. 

“I hope that’s not the case,” Selawsky said. “I hope the meetings will be open and posted and that people can make comments. I plan to discuss this with the superintendent. Maybe these are just rumors going on.”