Berkeley High Parents, Teachers Discuss School Governance

By Raymond Barglow, Special to the Planet
Thursday January 21, 2010 - 09:13:00 AM

Berkeley High School’s Parent, Teacher, Student Association met Tuesday to discuss alternative models of school governance. Present to discuss the models were Superintendent Bill Huyett and School Board Policy Committee members Shirley Issel and John Selawsky. 

The high school is currently out of compliance with the California Education Code, which requires that public high schools be governed by a school site council consisting of 50 percent staff, 25 percent students, and 25 percent parents. 

According to PTSA President Mark van Krieken, governance of the high school is improperly constituted. “Parents and students, the consumers of education, have a far smaller voice in providing oversight of the school’s progress regarding student achievement than is required by the Education Code,” said van Krieken.  

Superintendent Huyett said the school site council does exist and is embedded in the School Governance Council (SGC). But Peggy Scott, parent representative to the SGC, said, “Last year the School Site Council never convened, never voted; it doesn’t even have official members this year; it doesn’t exist except on paper,” Scott added. 

Huyett noted that separation of the school site council from the SGC could be problematic. “If you … have them meeting independently … it can be very hard to get staff to participate in the School Site Council,” said Huyett. “They don’t see it as time well spent.” 

The high school is divided into six separate programs, also called “schools,” which complicates policy-making for the high school as a whole. Science department teacher Evy Kavaler expressed two concerns.  

First, teacher representation in the SGC is not equitable. What bothers many people in the high school, she said, is that the four small schools are overrepresented and the two larger schools are underrepresented.  

She also said that bloc voting by teachers on the SGC undermines democratic process. 

By all accounts, high school governance issues are complicated ones. The meeting on Tuesday enabled the superintendent and school board members to explain these issues to community members and to hear their views about alternative governance structures. Huyett and the policy committee members explained at length the history of the current governance predicament and possible ways of correcting it. But several audience members commented that they did not have enough information to make an informed decision on this matter.  

The proposal to drop the before- and after-school science labs at the high school was only briefly discussed at this meeting.  

“We have come up with a proposal [about the labs] that will go to the school board,” Superintendent Huyett said. “The proposal that we are making to the board is different than the proposal the School Governance Council heard.” The board will hear testimony on this matter at its Feb. 3 meeting. 

The proposal to drop the science labs, which is part of the current school redesign proposal, is related to the issue of school governance. Without the existence of a site council, as mandated by law, some parents believe that the science labs questions cannot be properly answered. Peggy Scott said that “The School Site Council has jurisdiction over the [official] school plan, and since the current redesign proposal modifies the school plan, it should have been voted on by the School Site Council.” 

Another parent, Natasha Beery, pointed out that the current before- and after-school science labs at Berkeley High are funded by the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP), which draws all of its revenue from a Berkeley parcel tax measure passed in 2006. So it’s fitting, according to Beery, that decisions about retaining these labs be made with input from the tax-paying public. The School Site Council, she said, is specified by California law as the governing body that directly represents the public in school governance matters, and might therefore be an appropriate authority within the high school to weigh in on the science labs issue. 


Raymond Barglow is a founder of Berkeley Tutors Network.