Board approves continued development of 9th-grade redesign at Berkeley High School

Joshua Jordan/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education unanimously passed a motion Wednesday to allow members of the Design Team at Berkeley High School to continue to develop its proposal to redesign the ninth-grade course structure at Berkeley High School.

The redesign would involve the creation of a universal ninth-grade program consisting of six heterogeneous “houses” of about 120 students, elimination of the eighth-grade lottery and collaboration between ninth-grade teachers, among other changes. The goal of the redesign is to foster greater personalization for students, as well as improve the transition from eighth to ninth grade and overall student outcomes.

If approved by the board, the changes would go into effect fall 2018.

“(The redesign is) a chance for us to really try to improve student outcomes and student experience for all students at the high school,” said school board President Ty Alper.

Students, parents and teachers who expressed support for the proposal stated the redesign would allow for greater connection and integration among the student body, in contrast to the school’s currently fragmented nature. The school is divided into five smaller learning communities that offer different curriculums and paths for students, which students are placed into during the ninth grade.

“It’s my feeling that the segregation of the school and the central tracking that the programs allow doesn’t do anyone any good, and as a community, we need to build over time the understanding of each other that only spending time together can develop,” said George Spies, a parent of a Berkeley High student, during the meeting. “I think that the universal ninth grade and the other elements of the redesign can help make that happen.”

Various other changes included in the redesign would involve the introduction of a block schedule that would apply to all grades as well as the creation of Academic Development periods that would allow teachers to interact and provide assistance to high-needs students.

During the meeting, members of the board raised questions and concerns to the Design Team about how the houses would be structured, what the Academic Development periods would look like and how the implementation of a block schedule would impact 10th- through 12th-grade students.

In addition to directing staff to continue with development of the proposal, the board requested that in the final proposal, the team specify how the needs of special needs children would be addressed in the redesign and outline a specific budget for the proposal, among addressing the other concerns brought up during the meeting.  

The Design Team is expected to deliver a final proposal to the board May 17 and hopes to have the proposal approved at the scheduled June 14 meeting.

“(The design team) put so much work into this. … I’m looking forward to seeing the details,” Alper said. “I’m really proud of how inclusive and … deliberate the process has been to come up with a proposal that serves the needs of all of our students.”

Sydney Fix is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sydney_fix.