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Science Labs Controversy and Other Governance Issues at Berkeley High

Raymond Barglow
Friday April 23, 2010 - 11:32:00 AM

Following a tumultuous time in March and the beginning of April, Berkeley High School’s science lab controversy seems headed toward resolution. 

Back in December, the school administration planned to eliminate before- and after-school laboratory classes from the list of courses available to students in the fall of 2010. When student families joined some science teachers in protesting this decision, a debate began between Principal Slemp and supporters of this decision on the one hand, and those attesting to the value of the labs on the other. Advocates of cutting the labs argued that this would free up funds to help close the achievement gap between high- and low-performing students. 

In February, district superintendant Bill Huyett intervened to help resolve the impasse. In meetings with the principal, science teachers, and other school community members, he worked out a compromise plan which would cut some but not all of the labs and the teacher time needed to staff them. 

The school community’s impasse in the science labs matter was made all the more difficult to resolve because of an overlapping issue. Berkeley High School is divided into six programs, so-called “small learning communities.” This division began back in 2003, with the intention of making education more personalized and effective for all students. But the six programs are not of equal size. Two of them have about ¾ of the school’s students, while the other ¼ is divided among the remaining four programs. The governance problem is this: how to give each of the six schools equitable representation in shaping school policy. 

The retirement of Principal Slemp is raising this issue anew. As outlined to date, the procedure for selecting a new principal calls for teacher representation on a “technical panel” to interview and evaluate candidates. But some teachers at the school are asking how the teacher panelists will be chosen in a fair way from the six small learning communities. 

This matter is relevant as well to the district’s deliberations regarding the implementation of a statewide requirement that public schools be governed by a “school site council.” Peggy Scott, a parent representative on the BHS School Governance Council who also sits in on policy committee meetings, said that the committee is working diligently and effectively to draft a governance structure for a high school site council.