Lack of Admin response at BHS

I need help and am so frustrated.  My daughter, who is a junior in high school, has consistently been an A and sometimes B student. She loves learning and used to love math.  This year her math teacher's teaching style is very difficult for her and she lost all confidence and was failed by 1.2 points.  At first I reached out to him to see if she could do any work to pass.  He was rigid on his stance.  She feels belittled by him and didn't want to even go to school.  I reached out to admin to ask for her to be switched to another math class. No response.  I called. Nothing.  I finally spoke to an admin who said they'd work on it and promised to call me in two days and meet with my daughter.  Nothing.  No call, no meeting.  I wrote to the principal.  Nothing.  I wrote to the Superintendent--nothing.  All I want at this point is to just drop the class.  No one seems to care or be responsive.  I feel so sad for my daughter and very disillusioned.  She is extremely stressed.  Any advice?

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I just saw your post after posting about my son’s experience with BHS math (maybe I shouldn’t have named the teacher?) The sense I’m getting is that MANY families are asking to be moved out of this teacher’s class or to drop the class all together and the administration is trying to stone wall all of us. They can’t let a bunch of students transfer to other math teachers (they say there is no room) but they refuse to address the problem. I’ve found many families who posted about serious issues with this teacher for years and complained to the school. Many kids who loved math and had always done well struggling and dreading going to school. It appears that nothing is being done. Sorry I don’t have positive advice to share. We’re in the same boat.

Hi there,

We are also having struggles with the math curriculum at BHS. It seems to have come to a head this year with Math3. My daughter also used to love math and this year has been awful. Her math teacher's style is hard to understand and many students are struggling. Among other things, her teacher was very late in returning homework to students. They took quizzes and exams without feedback from their work so they could target their study for tests. I'm really upset about this new math curriculum and I suspect my daughter's teacher is not too keen on it either, hence his crappy attitude and style. We have spoken with her counselor and with Ms. Phillips, the administrator for the math department, and they supposedly talked with the teacher, but nothing changed. She was not allowed to switch classes -- the other class offered during the same period had even more students than hers -- or drop the class. Their solution is the math tutoring after school, but there are too many students who need help and it's overcrowded. I emailed her teacher several times and he never bothered to respond to me. Finally, we gave up and we're paying for a tutor at Classroom Matters. The coordinator there has shared with us that they are seeing a lot more students from BHS math, especially her teacher. The coordinator emailed the teacher and asked for my daughter's homework, so she could study it over the break, and the stack was 2 + inches high. The good news is, my daughter got a B after busting her ass over winter break, thanks to help from her tutor. She feels a lot better about making it to the end of the year and is planning to take a summer course at BCC so she won't have to take math at BHS again. It just sucks that 1) my daughter has to spend time out of school doing this stuff that should be covered in class, and that 2) only families with financial resources can get this support. 

My friend's child failed first semester Math3 and was allowed to drop the second semester, and will take Math3 in summer school. While she was waiting to speak to the counselor about this drop, there were 4 other students with the same request, same teacher (not my daughter's). My advice is to go in person (if you can) to the school and speak to Ms. Phillips, your student's counselor, and raise a stink. Ms. Phillips is a very busy administrator and sometimes she is out of her office, so you might call the front desk and check if she's around first. I find her very open to listening, but not sure why she's so inflexible about respecting the needs of the students with this math thing. Someone suggested it is probably difficult to find math teachers these days, which is probably true, but BHS math has had problems for ages. I'm really sorry your daughter is having such a terrible time and I feel your pain. I am working on writing a complaint but don't know if it will make a difference. Feel free to contact me if you need more support.

My son also is having a terrible year in math 3. As far as we can tell, the teacher does not teach and tells the kids to figure it out for themselves. His grammar is so atrocious that no one can decode his exam questions. He rarely updates grades so the students don't know where they stand, and he doesn't respond to emails from students or parents. My kid aced math 2, but has struggled to do well this year even though he puts in hours daily. BHS needs to deal with this!

This sounds very familiar. Our daughter is a junior, straight A student who has always done well in math and enjoyed it, and she was forced INTO this teacher's section mid-fall quarter because so many other students were moving out and the counselors apparently thought our daughter would manage and not complain. We were told there was no choice. She immediately felt like she was swimming upstream, felt the teacher was not able to explain the material in a coherent way, and has struggled. The school seems to not care this is affecting some of their best students' future college opportunities. I went through this with another BHS math teacher a few years back with our other child, who would stay up until 1am doing the endless, every-day math homework, go to every tutoring session possible, and ended up a hair's breath below an A, which the teacher refused to raise the grade to. I'm a college professor who rewards effort and also offers extra credit assignments because I believe grades should be about growth, not raw test scores, and I couldn't believe BHS has math teachers so devoted to their little numbers.

I just wanted to let folks know that we're having the same issue at Oakland Tech with one of the 9th grade math teachers, a guy who has been there 30 years and has an old school style that does not include actual teaching, from what I can tell.  My son experienced the same downward trajectory as your kids.  The administrators at Tech are very sympathetic but the bottom line is there are no teachers able to pay for housing while working for peanuts.  The issue of trying to get qualified math teachers in public schools that are as woefully underfunded as they are in the bay area relative to cost of living will not go away until we figure out how to equitably fund our public schools and address local affordable housing.  Sorry so many kids are going through this.

Please see my response re: Mr. Henri. My daughter's counselor was able to switch her to another math class where she's excelled and is getting her tattered self-esteem back in place. 

My student had a lot of math class troubles at her public high school. She took some on-line classes instead and also two math classes at Tilden Prep on Solano. It cost us, but it was worth it. Bureaucracies like giant public schools

can be so very hard to navigate. Good luck! 

Perhaps you and I have daughter's in the same class/same teacher.  We are in the exact same position.  My daughter, who's a junior, was also an A//B student and failed first semester math, despite tutoring.  The teacher is very draconian with his grading. We've tried to communicate with the teacher and begged for a way to earn a better grade and the teacher is belittling and dismissive, uninterested in seeing student succeed and completely unempathetic that he's fundamentally diminishing her options for college. We begged for a drop and are still in negotiations about it.  Even a drop is less than ideal- the bad grade stays on their transcript, they have an empty spot in their schedule, and then have to figure out the logistics of retaking the class at another time.  Terrible!

Is there a way parents could collectively raise the issues regarding the controversial teaching and grading approach in this math class with first the principal, and if there isn't a helpful response to the issues, as a group make the district superintendent aware that student needs aren't being addressed?
 

We have had this teacher 4 times across my 3 kids at BHS - Please file a complaint with the math department. I'm afraid we had to just suck it up and pay a ton of $ for private tutors to make it through the class, BUT a bunch of parents went to the head of the math department and then to the district about this specific teacher. Please please please file a complaint - it's the only way we're going to be able to remove this teacher from BHS as he's well ensconced and protected by the union due to seniority. Also document everything you can. Parents and kids have been complaining about this teacher for years and at some point they have to do something about him if there's year after year of outcry. 

I am so sorry to hear these experiences with Math at BHS.  I have two suggestions.  First, my oldest son, Jasper, had Mr. Henri for 2 years and did well in the class.  He is now a sophomore at Yale had has been tutoring a friend's daughter in math (from an Oakland Tech teacher who is also very uninstructive).  He is open to more tutoring.  If you are interested, please email him at jbsfeinberg [at] gmail.com.  He is a great tutor, with references and rates considerably less than Classroom Matters.  

Second, my experience of getting administrative help at BHS has sadly been similar to yours.  I ended up camping out in the office until the VP I needed to talk to returned.  She made an apt but ended up double booking so I camped out and ended up talking to the Principal.

Since there seem to be a group of you in similar situation, I suggest teaming up to talk to the principal.  If Schweng won't meet with you, go en mass to the School Board, write an op-ed in Berkeleyside and generally call attention to your group situation.  

Best of luck.

I just noticed two opinion pieces posted this week by BHS parents on Berkeleyside that address this very problem:

I'm so sorry to hear about this, but you are obviously not alone. Parents from the Academic Choice Advisory Council put together a website including a page on the complaint process. This information comes from parents who've experienced precisely what you are going through with the same teacher. In the official process, they expect you to meet with the teacher, then the VP or principal before you can file a complaint at BUSD. However, if you feel a meeting with the teacher is a problem due to a hostile relationship, you are allowed to skip it. If you can, I suggest meeting with the teacher to check that box, then meet with the guidance counselor to insist on a transfer, and send an email to the VP and principal to request a meeting now. If they don't reply after 3 tries, go on to the BUSD official complaint. Another option is to do an online course. A junior can be a proctor for the free period and you can insist on this. BUSD has heard this all before and done nothing, but we're in an age when the voice of the people is bringing about change. I also suggest each family files its own complaint. Group complaints are treated as one. Here's the website with details: https://bhsparentadvocate.wordpress.com

Hi,

I would suggest you contact the math department liaisons (of which I'm one of them) at bhsmathassist [at] gmail.com .  The math department liaisons were set up in part to help with this sort of thing (see the bottom of this page: https://sites.google.com/berkeley.net/mathematicsdepartment/student-and-... ).

Separately, it appears that a number of students are having a hard time in Math 3.  BHS math assist is interested in seeing whether there might be a way for the community to provide additional resources to supplement learning for students who are struggling in math 3.  We encourage interested parties to contact us at bhsmathassist [at] gmail.com with the header "Math 3" and describe their situation.  We'll do our best to help.

Good Luck.

Zeph Landau (on behalf of bhsmathassist)

https://sites.google.com/site/bhsmathassist/home