Predominantly Black school, Berkeley Technology Academy, left reeling after board-approved staff cuts

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Berkeley Technology Academy, or BTA — an alternative high school for which Black students make up 90 percent of the student body — is reeling after several changes implemented in January, according to BTA principal Ardarius McDonald.

The school is being restructured and consolidated, as the result of a unanimous vote by the BUSD board Jan. 10.

BTA aims to meet the needs of students who are 16 to 18 years old and are having difficulties in traditional learning environments by providing rigorous education to reverse their academic underachievement, according to its website.

This consolidation will involve a number of changes for BTA. The number of full-time teachers will be reduced from eight to five, the number of safety officers reduced from two to one, and the BTA academic counselor’s role will shift to include the 120 students at Berkeley Independent Study program, or BIS.

“The effects of the cuts will be the ultimate demise of this school as we know it,” McDonald said in an email. “The effects have devastated the morale at the school. Teachers and staff are looking for jobs elsewhere.”

As part of the restructuring effort, BTA will officially become a continuation high school, and Career Technical Education, or CTE, programs will be expanded. In addition, BTA students will be able to concurrently enroll in BIS and vice versa, according to the school board meeting minutes.

“I think that both (BIS and BTA) will be impacted positively — kids in each program will gain the benefits of the other, and students in both schools will benefit from expanded programs like CTE,” said Judy Appel, BUSD board vice president.

Low enrollment in BTA prompted this restructuring, according to McDonald. Appel said the board felt it could neither justify the current level of funding for so few students nor justify spending more per student on BTA students than students who she said were “just as needy” at schools such as BHS.

“We’ve been trying to increase enrollment at (BTA). They have great teachers and programs; students just aren’t coming,” Appel said.

Enrollment at BTA has decreased significantly in recent years. From 136 students for the 2011-12 academic school year, the enrollment decreased to 62 students in the 2016-17 academic school year, according to a presentation given at the Jan. 10 board meeting.

This year, only about 50 students are currently enrolled, with an attendance rate of roughly 70 percent, according to notes from the Nov. 1 board meeting,

“(BTA) is different from other local schools in that we are a predominately African-American school,” McDonald said in an email. “We are different in that Berkeley Technology Academy is more than a school. We are an escape route. A modern day safe house.”

Contact Luke Kopetsky at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @LukeKopetsky.