BUSD discusses updates to new 9th grade program, hiring timeline

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BUSD discussed updates Wednesday evening for the “Universal 9th Grade” program that will be implemented into Berkeley High School, or BHS, for the 2018-19 school year.

The program, approved by the board in May, separates ninth grade students into seven “hives” of 120 students each, who will share four teachers. Students will be offered classes in math, English, and physics, an ethnic studies/social living seminar and two electives. Options for electives include world language, physical education and art.

BHS Principal Erin Schweng presented on this program and said the school has conducted two ninth grade information nights about Universal 9th Grade. The program coordinators also plan to make three visits to the middle schools that feed into BHS. Schweng said the feedback she has received recently has been “curious and positive.”

“We’re looking to create a common culture and sense of pride of being a BHS ninth grader,” Schweng said. “We really want to make sure that our ninth graders have a common experience and that they’re in a smaller grouping than they are now for many of our students.”

Board Director Karen Hemphill said the changes proposed for BHS with the implementation of Universal 9th Grade may result in fewer students going to Berkeley Technology Academy, or B-Tech, a continuation high school diploma program for students deemed “at risk of not completing their education,” because their needs will be addressed at BHS.

During public comment, students, staff and parents from B-Tech urged the board against budget cuts. B-Tech Principal Ardarius McDonald said the board voted in January to restructure the school, cutting three of eight teachers and one of two safety officers.

“This restructure saves the district $450,000, or roughly 20 percent of its budget reductions for the 2018-19 school year,” McDonald said during public comment. “I’m here to focus on that word, restructure. What exactly are we restructuring, and for whose benefit?”

Schweng said it is too early to say if the Universal 9th Grade program will replace B-Tech.

“We hope that it will eventually lead to students feeling more included and belonging at Berkeley High School,” Schweng said.

In her presentation, Schweng urged the board to strongly consider moving up the hiring timeline, an action that was presented to the board by the Teachers of Color Network in a Jan. 24 meeting.

According to a presentation given by the district’s Human Resources Department, most teachers were offered positions at the end of May for the 2017-18 school year. The board discussed a new hiring timeline, which will offer positions to most teachers by April. The goal of the new hiring timeline is to “hire, retain and recruit … qualified teachers to meet needs of (a) diverse student population.”

“I really hope that that all comes to pass,” Schweng said. “That will really help us if it does.”

Ella Colbert covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.