School Board Asks Berkeley High to Weigh in on School Governance Reform

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 18, 2009 - 09:49:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Education will seek input from Berkeley High School before crafting any kind of policy seeking to reform its School Governance Council. 

Complaints from parents about the council’s noncompliance with state and federal laws prompted a board policy subcommittee Wednesday to recommend aligning it with the model of the district’s K-8 schools. However, others on the board said they would first like to get the high school more involved in the process. 

Bylaws adopted by the Berkeley Unified School District for its elementary and middle schools in April 2008 mandated that a single committee be created to analyze school data, develop an annual plan, allocate supplemental funds and oversee other activities. 

But Berkeley High’s complicated makeup prevented the formation of a single committee.  

Instead, the school has two separate committees—the School Governance Council, which also acts as the School Site Council, and the Berkeley School Excellence Program (BSEP) Committee, which oversees expenditures raised under a special local assessment.  

Some parents and at least one board member have complained that the current School Governance Council lacks parity and transparency. 

The policy subcommittee—comprised of school board directors John Selawsky and Shirley Issel—recommended that instead of the current “hybrid” which exists at Berkeley High, the school form a “Leadership Team” and a “Shared Governance Committee.”  

The responsibilities of the “Leadership Team,” the policy subcommittee said, would include curriculum issues, professional development and evaluation of student performance while the “Shared Governance Committee” would monitor BSEP expenditures and the Safety Committee, among other things. 

Superintendent Bill Huyett suggested that the high school be given a chance to evaluate both the current model and the proposed model to see what suits them best. 

Huyett acknowledged that the “hybrid they have right now brings parents and staff together but doesn’t have clarity.” 

The committee also said they would like to discuss the future of the school’s BSEP Committee to consider whether it should remain as it is or become a subcommittee of the “Shared Governance Committee.”  

While announcing the policy subcommittee’s recommendation to the board, Issel said that changing the current governance at Berkeley High would help parents who had already been trained in K-8 governance. 

“Parents and staff would not have to learn a new governance model by aligning the high school with K-8,” She said. “It will be aligned with the board’s policy and state and federal law. It’s embracing a model which will distinguish the role of a governance team from the role of the leader.” 

Selawsky called the current model “disadvantageous,” explaining that it led to confusion at the high school, and “uncertainty when parents moved from other schools to Berkeley High.” 

“Merging of administration and governance is an unreality to me,” he said. “I would like to see the leadership team bifurcate.” 

Board Vice President Karen Hemphill said she would like the high school to get an opportunity to come up with a plan themselves, adding that if they failed to do so by January 2010, the board would step in. 

Board President Nancy Riddle warned that it would not be appropriate to make any kind of decision about the subcommittee’s recommendation at Wednesday’s meeting because community members had not been adequately notified about the issue. 

Riddle said that although there were some pros and cons to the current model, more information was required to figure out whether the policy subcommittee’s proposal would work better. 

“Even if we thought it was the best idea in the world, it would take a long time to craft a policy,” she said. “As much as people want a solution, I think it will take a while.” 

Huyett suggested that he was expecting the high school to look at the two models carefully once school was back in session in the fall. 

“In the end the board will make some choices, but we should hear from the school first,” he said. “I would like the high school to do it during school hours, but we could also be ambitious and get a dialogue going.”