Berkeley High School Governance Copes With Cuts and other Issues

By Raymond Barglow, www.berkeleytutors.net
Saturday June 05, 2010 - 04:00:00 PM

As the academic year comes to a close, the School Governance Council (SGC) at Berkeley High, which last met on May 25, continues to grapple with major issues, including replacement of the SGC itself by a newly formed “school site council” (SSC). 

To comply with the California Education Code, the district is designing an SSC governance structure that will assure parity between school personnel on the one hand and parents and students on the other. District Superintendent Bil Huyett, BSEP Manager Monica Thyberg, and BUSD members Shirley Issel and John Selawsky were present at the SGC meeting to discuss the new structure.Its most controversial provision is the one for teacher representation on the SSC.Huyett explained that the BUSD is considering three options for choosing the ten teacher members: 

A. 1 teacher from each of the 4 smaller schools (4 reserved seats) 

2 from each of the two larger schools (4 reserved seats) 

2 at large 

B. 1 teacher from each of the 4 smaller schools (4 reserved seats) 

1 from each of the two larger schools (2 reserved seats) 

4 from the leadership team 

C. 10 at large 

A concern that has been voiced by parents and teachers is that the reserved seat provisions in options A and B would result in the two larger schools – “AcademicChoice” and “Berkeley International High School” – having too few representatives.The alleged problem is that the two larger schools, in which about 73% of the students are enrolled, will be under-represented in comparison to representation for the four smaller programs, which between them enroll about 27% of the student body.  

Alex Angell, a history teacher at BHS, spoke from the audience and commented that he’s concerned about equitable teacher representation on the School Site Council (SCC) that will be replacing the SGC.He said that one of the motivations for creating the new council – to correct imbalances in representation – may be thwarted by the current plan, resulting in “a disproportionate representation of some schools and programs over others, by means of a reserved seat scenario.” 

One rationale given by Huyett for options A and B above is that strict proportionality of teacher representation would make the school site council too large and unwieldy. 

Annie Johnston, academic coordinator for the Community Partnerships Academy, said that finding teacher representatives to the SSC may be difficult, since the teachers don’t have the time to take on this additional work. Teachers in the four smaller schools, according to Johnston, are “loaded down with responsibility.”Upon polling the staff in her program, she said, no one offered to volunteer as a representative to the SSC.  

Principal Slemp too expressed a “concern about teachers being asked to do more without compensation.”Huyett commented that there may be a prospect of stipends for teachers doing this work.Teacher Phil Halpern also addressed the matter of teachers’ capacity to serve on the SSC, saying that such service “pulls teachers away from their classrooms.He added that “It’s hard to ask teachers to do more, stipend or not.”  

Huyett responded by saying that all the public schools in California confront this problem but manage to cope with it.Frequency of SSC meetings, for example, is flexible and can be arranged to meet teachers’ needs.Huyett said that much about the functioning of the SSC is not prescribed by its bylaws and will be left up to the high school itself to decide.  

Shirley Issel explained the underlying ethical rationale for school governance by a site council representing the entire school community, “Together we set policy and govern our schools.”This is a participatory value, Issel suggested, that is quite appropriate here in Berkeley. She added that “governance is one of the highest forms of community service,” and she expressed confidence that teachers will be found who are willing to serve.  

The BUSD will discuss the school site council plan at its June meetings and aims to approve the school plan by the end of the month. The California Education Code specifies, however, that “ A school plan shall not be approved unless it was developed and recommended by the school site council.”In the case of Berkeley High, this approval has not been given this year.The Berkeley Daily Planet has tried during the past week to find out more about the BUSD’s certification to the state of this approval, but Christina Faulkner, Board Director of Curriculum and Instruction, has not responded to phone calls or emails. 

Although the SGC voted to postpone evaluation of the School Plan until the WASC review gets underway in the fall, the meeting attendees did divide themselves briefly into several subgroups to take a look at the “Action Plan” for evaluating and improving the high school.Upon reconvening as a whole, several of the subgroups reported that improvement processes have taken place and goals have been achieved. 

The curriculum subgroup, however, expressed the view that a number of tasks checked off as “completed” have in fact not been accomplished. Sherene Randle, Co-Lead of the “Academic Choice” program, with the agreement of others in this subgroup, said that the school curriculum needs to be revised to meet State standards, in keeping with School Plan Task 4. Also unachieved, according to this subgroup, is the directive to “Implement an assessment system to insure that all teachers are using these standards as a basis upon which to build their curriculum.”Parent rep Peggy Scott said that establishing equitable average class sizes, as specified in the Plan, is another task that remains undone. 

Given the many unresolved issues and questions raised at this SGC meeting, including the drastic cuts in funding that are affecting all public education in California, the newly constituted SSC will have its hands full when it convenes in the fall.