Berkeley High School redesign team has final meeting before June 14 vote on plan

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The Berkeley Unified School District School Board, parents and employees gathered at 1231 Addison St. on Wednesday to discuss a proposed Berkeley High School redesign — the last meeting before the plan is officially voted on by the Board on June 14.

The redesign team has been meeting regularly since August 2015 to discuss ideas to amend the current learning communities structure, which requires all incoming ninth-graders to choose a community upon entering BHS. The proposed changes are meant to facilitate greater success for all students and alleviate concerns of segregation at BHS — allegedly aggravated by the learning communities — by eliminating the communities for incoming freshmen and creating a universal ninth grade.

“I am very fresh from the process of the learning community lottery system for both of my children (and their friends) and found it to be an ineffective way to maintain the goals of integration, equity, and success at Berkeley High,” said Mia Masia, a parent of a current freshman at BHS, at the meeting.

BHS is currently split into five learning communities — Berkeley International High School, Academic Choice, Academy of Medicine and Public Service, Arts and Humanities Academy and Communication Arts and Sciences.

Depending on final staffing needs, a universal ninth grade program is projected to cost BHS between $500,000 and $600,000. The costs are because of the additional teachers required for the proposed seventh Academic Development period and teacher collaboration time.

“For parents of advanced learners our goal was to not take away any advanced opportunities that currently exist,” said BHS Principal Erin Schweng. “Advanced Math 1 is just the same as it is, that remaining the same was really important.”

School board member and BHS student Petra Silvey said she supported the redesign, but conceded that no matter what was decided on not everyone would be pleased. Silvey’s concerns included maintaining the close-knit atmosphere created by the learning communities, and whether or not its elimination would effectively support high-achieving students and those that need extra support.

Under a universal ninth grade, students would instead be placed in intentionally diverse “houses,” rather than the learning communities. Houses would be composed of 112-120 students and four core teachers.

In the house structure, students would interact with the same students everyday and eliminate the ability to choose a preference for their learning community until they are incoming 10th graders.

“We believe that the plan outlined here will bring more personalization to the 9th grade through houses and common teachers, more targeted interventions for our most struggling students, a resolution to our flawed student assignment system, and a more unified and integrated school culture,” reads the BHS website.

Christine Lee contributed reporting to this story.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.