Special Education & Learning Differences at Berkeley High
Our daughter is 2E, having a high IQ combined with ADHD, slow processing speed, and specific learning deficits in some areas, especially math and spelling. We knew she had ADHD by 2nd grade, but didn't understand the extent of her intelligence and deficits until several years later. She was in a private school through 8th grade and now attends Berkeley High, where she has a 504 plan.
Private schools are not required to deal with learning problems. Most will do what they can, but since they are typically small and operate on a shoestring, their options are limited. Our daughter's private school gave her the informal equivalent of a 504 and some additional help. We were OK with what we received, but some other parents of kids with ADHD were deeply dissatisfied.
The teachers our kid had at Berkeley High in 9th grade were uniformly excellent, and she loved them. In our short experience we have found BHS teachers on average to be as good as the best we encountered in private school. What gave our some difficulty was the sheer size and hubbub of BHS, because she's not very good at screening out noise and stimulation.
On the advice of the people who did her private, pre-BHS neuropsych assessment, we sought an IEP. BHS denied this because, even though in some areas our kid is at least two years behind what her IQ should allow her to achieve, she's not behind her average peers. Special ed at Berkeley High, moreover, deals with unilaterally and often profoundly disabled kids. While there are enough 2E kids at Berkeley High that they should be able to give them targeted support, given budget constraints this isn't happening. So far we are OK with her 504.
Regarding the choice between private and public schools: in general neither one is really set up well for 2E kids, and that's sad given the potentially unrealized potential of these kids. A private school may be more likely to listen to your concerns but won't be compelled to deal with them. There are a few private high schools out there for 2E kids but I suspect they're very expensive. Some friends of ours have found that Bishop O'Dowd High School has been quite supportive of their kids with ADHD. O'Dowd is a large parochial school and charges (I think) around 2/3 the cost of most local private high schools. For any private school, make sure you know what they can really do for your child before you hand over the money.
Finally, if your kid attends public school, you can put some of that private-school tuition money into targeted tutoring for your child. That's the choice we made.
I can only respond with personal experience about Berkeley High. My stepson had very specific special needs that were totally ignored and in fact exacerbated. He was nearly flunking out when we transferred him to El Cerrito High; once there, he got straight As, personal attention, and was no longer lost in the shuffle between in-fighting teachers and departments competing for students' time. I'm glad we got him out but the low grades were an issue at college-application time. As in, he didn't get into any UCs. That's all I can tell you.
Archived Q&A and Reviews
We are looking at transferring our daughter from St. Mary's High to BHS for Fall 2012 entering 10th grade and are wondering what kind of experiences people have had at BHS with the school providing accommodations for kids with special needs. Our daughter was diagnosed with ADD and has some other learning issues, and St. Mary's has been great about providing her with accommodations, extended time on tests, a quiet room to take tests in etc. I have heard that at BHS these kind of accommodations are not offered and would love to hear from parents who have had positive or negative experiences in relation to this issue. Thanks
My son had a 504 plan at BHS for extended time on tests and reduced work load. It boiled down to my son needing to speak up to his teachers to make these arrangements, or remind them of his 504 plan particulars, which he never did. My son was shy and unmotivated. The teachers do the best they can, but they have many students and many demands. I do think your child can get the accommodations needed, but he/she may need to participate in the process more than was needed at private school. Work closely with the counselor, and start early getting testing accommodations approved for the SAT or ACT. mom
My son was diagnosed early with ADD. He went through the Berkeley school system with some accommodation within the middle and elementary schools that helped. At high school it all fell apart with the raging hormones, the abundance of pot and the general chaos of 3300 students. The councilors made some interventions but the impression I get is that the resources are simply not there in public education due to lack of funding. In 10th grade he was getting F's. He switched to Berkeley High Independent Study (IS) which was a godsend. He graduated last year as a straight A student. IS is not for all students, just as the main school is not, but IS does provide quiet that can be helpful for the distract-able ADD kid. AM
My son is in 8th grade, and has been educated solely through private schools thus far. While I do not believe he is a good candidate for BHS because of his learning profile, I want to at least do my due dilegence and explore BHS opportunities. We had him assessed for an IEP through BUSD at the end of 6th grade, and he did not qualify. I would like to see if we could get him a 504 Plan to facilitate his potential education at BHS. Who do I contact at BUSD to set this in motion? I was given a name by the people who conducted our IEP but when I called that person last year I got nowhere. It is now time to get really serious about this, so if anyone can please steer me in the right direction I would appreciate it. Also, if you've read this far, if you happen to have insights into which small school at BUSD works best for kids with learning disabilities (slow processing, working memory, long-term memory recall, and executive function deficits) I would appreciate your thoughts. To succeed academically my son needs his teachers to know him and care about him. Is this possible at BHS? Thanks. Anon
It is very difficult to get and implement a 504 plan at BHS. You go through your child's counselor. It's hard to set up an appointment, then you have meetings and you give the counselor your documentation. We paid for a neuroeducational psychologist to evaluate our child and he gave us a document with results and recommendations. This is reviewed and the counselor emails the teachers. Basically all our son received was extra time on exams. The communication was poor between the counselor and teachers, so there were screw ups. Some teachers questioned the disability. BHS is too big for this to be effective. On the other hand, I have heard of parents and students who were satisfied with their experience. If your child takes charge of the situation and owns his disability, I think it might work better. My son eventually dropped out of BHS his senior year and went to Tilden Prep to graduate. Start early to get extra time for PSAT, SAT etc-you go through the college board-BHS ran out of forms for this, by the way, and we almost didn't make the deadline because we had to wait for them in the mail. Best of Luck. BHS parent
We were able to get a 504 plan for our daughter directly through her academic counselor. It is likely that the biggest hurdle you will face is that BHS often change students' counselors and each one varies SO much in how they operate. The original counselor that we started working with was really unresponsive, rude, and incredibly negative. When she was switched to a new counselor the process worked quickly and smoothly. The plan has helped her quite a bit although some teachers push the limits of following the plan requirements. Good luck. Write again with your contact info if you would like more info. Anonymous
After reading the responses to this post, I wanted to add my experience with a 504 plan at BHS. Until her sophomore year, my daughter was able to get informal accommodations-- mostly extra time on assignments to give her time to meet with her tutor--but her math teacher was completely rigid even though the tutor and I had met with him at the beginning of the year to lay out her issues and talk about how to help her succeed. He kept saying he couldn't (wouldn't) give her extra time on assignments unless she had an IEP or 504 Plan. She doesn't qualify for IEP, so I called her academic counselor, set up a meeting, brought copies of her assessments, and negotiated a 504 plan within three weeks, one of which was spring break. As others have found, everything depends on the diligence of the counselor and we lucked out with a good one. From then on, I copied her 504 plan on brightly colored paper, added an introductory cover memo, and put them in her teachers' boxes at the very beginning of school. Her final year I even put a photo of her on the cover memo. I then contacted her teachers to set up informational meetings to go over the 504 plan and her issues. I always brought extra copies of the plan. It was amazing how many teachers couldn't find her 504 plan even when I could see it (from the colored paper) in their file on her! Just like ''managed health care'' where you have to manage your own and your family's care yourself, you just have to persevere to get your student's needs met at BHS. Good luck!
We have had a good experience with getting and using a 504 at BHS. We went in early - the spring before - and delivered files to Diane Colborn. She gave no assurances but it was good to meet. She is busy and overloaded and not chatty so be efficient. I think it would have been harder if this advance work had not been done as counselors are outrageously overloaded and some are far better/kinder than others. Each year teachers have been cooperative and reasonable. Some have more strict rules and it has been fine that the students need to work within those teachers' different rules as long as the rules are in keeping with the 504, e.g. some do not stay after school, some do not offer lunch for extended time, but they will honor extended time. Some teachers forget the details and the student needs to remind them, good practice for learning to self-advocate. Have not met a stonewall yet. Some are cranker than others - good practice for the real world. Powerschool makes it easier to stay on top of your student's work. There is of course one very controversial counselor. If he was the problem for the person who posted last week or for others, the school and the PTSA say they want to hear it but of course it cannot be anonymous. Not a witch hunt, but this is a good time to step forward if that counselor did a poor job of serving your student or refusing to meet with you or was inappropriate in other ways. Anon BHS parent
I would like to hear from parents of kids with LDs who have IEPs about their experience at Berkeley High. I have a 7th grader in a very small private school (Raskob) and am wondering about the reality of Berkeley High. anon
My son spent some time at Raskob and some time at Willard for middle school. He is now a freshman at BHS. He loves it. He is extremely social and athletic. He has LD's which make life very difficult for him academically and BHS is a challenge that he meets with a lot of support!
First every child is different, so what works for mine, might not work for yours. All LD's are not created equal. My son repeated Algebra, and only took 3 academic courses this year. He keeps his grades up but has tutors for each subject who essentially help him do his homework. He has an IEP and so far the school district via Diane Colburn (BHS special ed manager) has been pretty cooperative with providing good teachers and understanding his needs are not the typical profile of the kids they have in CLC (the special ed study hall so to speak).
Being different or known as someone who uses special ed resources is a huge source of conflict for my son. He's OK with the tutors but not any obvious aid sitting in class with him or working with him in public places.
He has lots of regular ed friends who are great and the sports outlet certainly helps to motivate him and keep him on task (to the best of his ability). It is not easy for us or for him, but in general he seems to enjoy his classes. Some of his teachers are great, some engaging which save the day, and some horribly in his face (which is a complete turnoff) although they care greatly about his success. So that all being said, we are taking it day by day. Sometimes I freak out about sophomore year where he will be doubling his academic workload and then there is the question of a language. His therapist/mentor tells us not to future trip. Each year gets a little better, so we try to chill, but as a parent it is difficult.
So our experience so far is that BHS is doable with a lot of help. There aren't too many good choices out there. All I can recommend is that knowing your child, you get what you need to make it work for him or her. BHS is a BIG school with lots of kids in a class. It's great if your kid can navigate it. Terri
Would like to hear from other families who have experience with BUSD in supporting their teen at Bay Hill HS. Would like to hear from parents that were both successful and those that were not. welcome advice asap!
Our son (bright with good grades through middle school) bombed at Berkeley High. We spent two years trying to get him appropriate services for his learning differences and finally hired an attorney (Lynn Hansen in Oakland) and went through the mediation/fair hearing process to get the district to pay for Bayhill. It took a long time and was extremely stressful, but better than watching our son flounder and fail. (Not sure what the tuition is but it's in their information packet.) Good luck!
Re: Student with mild aspergers looking for high school
As an MD and parent of two teens, one with mild LD, one without; one currently in BHS, one who went to a competitive private high school and is now a junior at an Ivy League college, I wanted to respond both to the HS for ''mild AS'' question and the private vs public HS, because I think there are some key principles here:
1) knowing your child and what they need for both support and appropriate challenges (and helping them recognize and advocate what they need for themselves)
2) recognizing that our understanding of LD/ADHD/AS/ASD is primitive; that diagnostic labels are imprecise shorthands for complex individuals who have a wide spectrum of specific difficulties and strengths, which also vary from quite mild (and occasionally overdiagnosed) to profoundly challenging.
So our child with LD/AS feels great about doing well academically at BHS. He has done well in part because of the study skills and routines he learned at his private elementary and middle school; in part, he has been in one of the small school programs and has had excellent responsive teachers--as good as most of those we have had in private schools. BHS has been accepting and even welcoming of his social eccentricities.
We expect we will be utilizing tutoring help in the future, and he has done pragmatic speech groups for social skills work. We looked at Orinda Academy, which I think would have been excellent for him, but he felt he did not need that level of structure--so far, he seems to be correct. But for other teens, Bayhill or Orion may be the environment in which they can thrive and learn.
Our experience of private schools has been positive--but far from ''real world''--of course there are great kids, families, opportunities--but the one overwhelming impression that sticks with me is--too much money and consumerism. Our older son felt underprivileged (FAR from true) when he wasn't spending spring break in Barbados. Of course your family is the primary determinant of culture--but I was troubled by the peer messages... even more true in private colleges--the amount of spending money many kids have is striking. And in retrospect, I'm sure our older son would have done just fine in public high school with good AP classes. learning as we go....
Hello, Berkeley Parents of Teens -- I'm a brand-new parent of a teenager, as I've just been named the guardian of my godson. He'd been attending high school in Contra Costa County, but to my great joy, I managed to enroll him in the 11th grade at Bayhill High School, and he began classes last week.
As some of you may know, Bayhill (www.bayhillhs.org) is a private high school on Lake Merritt dedicated to students with diagnosed problems in reading (dyslexia), auditory processing, etc. As such, my husband and I would like for the Berkeley Unified School District to pay his tuition.
Has any of you succeeded in getting the BUSD (or OUSD) to pay for your child to receive receive the kind of skilled teaching and attention not available in the public school system?
If so, I'd greatly appreciate hearing from you. Thanks in advance. LM
Hello, Please note that I am speaking not as the parent of a child with an IEP, but because I know several parents (both BUSD and outside of) who have navigated (or are navigating!) these issues. If the experience of these folks is at all ''the norm'', you are in for a very long, very expensive proposition.
First off, does your student even have an IEP? If not, that's the place to start. BUSD will have their own people evaluate him; you can also hire private professionals to do the same, and those evals may or may not be ''accepted'' or used by BUSD. BUSD will try very hard to have your student stay within BUSD, by providing whatever ''special'' or other educational components he needs, before paying to have him go outside of the district (particularly if its to a private school, rather than another district's public school; not sure which yours is that you mentioned?) You may end up in a legal battle over the whole thing; you'll likely need ''advocates'' on your side (and there are people who do this kind of work, but for a fee of course) - psychologists, educational specialists, an attorney, etc. etc.
I'm sure there are resources on the web to learn more about some of this; wish you the best of luck and your son a successful schooling! Know only 2nd hand
I didn't see the original post, but navigating the special education process is thorny. However, there IS free help. Every state has Parent Training and Information Centers, and the one for Alameda (and Contra Costa) counties is the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF). They have terrific Education Advocates, all of whom have children with disabilities and therefore understand exactly what you are going through. Call 510-644-2555 and ask for an Education Advocate. You'll do a brief intake and then an Advocate will call you back. Check the website, also: http://www.dredf.org/special_education/index.shtml. DREDF can walk you through the process. (I work there, and it is a fantastic resource--my daughter would not have completed high school without it.) Julia
My son, who has attended private schools since kindergarten, has dysgraphia and a social skills deficit similar to NLD. He is now in 8th grade at a very small school. He is a highly- motivated person who does well in school with accommodations and forms close bonds with his teachers. He is just this year starting to learn about advocating for himself. My question is whether anyone has a child with similar characteristics who went through Berkeley High. He would need to use a computer in all his classes for note-taking, assignments, and tests. I'm concerned about getting his accommodations and also about whether a kid who cannot read social cues would be safe there
I\xc2\x92m a BHS grad with NLD and vision issues who attends Cal . Your son and I sound very similar in terms of both are strengths and weaknesses . After the first few weeks of Ninth grade I was able to find my way around BHS and also find a group of kids that I got along with well. The programs at BHS you should look at are Academic Choice and BIHS because these in my experience would be the best choice for a kid with NLD or similar issues. If he were to take a language, I would recommend German because of the teacher is knowledgeable about neurodevelopment (she was trained as a doctor in Germany). Academic Choice and BIHS both have strong Academic liberal arts focus. Although AC is large, the teachers are willing to work one on one with students. You should check in to if your son is elegible for an IEP or a 504 Plan. Also, the singe reason I was able to maintain a \xc2\x93B\xc2\x94 average in math was that I took it at Independent Study. You may have to have a letter to Independent Study to explain why you think for your son his only option to complete math successfully would be to go to IS. I was safe at BHS even with my issues,I am a female. He make be able to get an Instructional aide who is one on one with his needs.
BHS Grad \xc2\x9104
Hello, I have no first hand knowledge about BHS and LD, but I wanted to tell you about Orion Academy. It specializes in working with students with NLD and Aspergers. You may already know about the school, but if not, you can contact Orion at orionacademy[at]worldnet.att.net. Jamie
My son, currently in 8th grade at a small independent school, really wants to go to Berkeley High next year. I would like to support this, but I am worried about how he would handle it. He was diagnosed a few years ago with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, which means that he has a great deal of difficulty organizing, negotiating complex situations or directions, and is not highly attuned to social cues. He often forgets to write down assignments and isn't good about seeking help -- he'd rather cruise under the radar and hope that everything will turn out okay. On the plus side, he's a very positive kid, works hard and wants to do well. He's a voracious reader who delves deeply into politics, history and geography in his free time. Since we are at a small school now, we can work with teachers to make sure that they understand his limitations and can bring out the best of his abilities. My concern about Berkeley High is that he would get lost. What kind of support does the school offer to ensure that this doesn't happen?
8th grade mom
The difficulties you described that your child has with school are exactly the kind that will cause him to fall through the cracks at Berkeley High. BHS is an amazing experience for motivated, organized kids who can advocate for themselves and navigate a complex and gigantic bureaucracy. Kids who want to be below the radar will be allowed to stay that way, even if they are failing. The average teacher at BHS has over 150 different students each year and really reaching out to and/or keeping track of those who pull back is extremely difficult. Unless you can get into one of the small schools, I would seriously reconsider.
-- a BHS teacher
Dear 8th grade Mom,
I\xc2\x92m a BHS grad with NLD and vision issues who attends Cal . Your son and I sound very similar in terms of both are strengths and weaknesses . After the first few weeks of Ninth grade I was able to find my way around BHS and also find a group of kids that I got along with well. The programs at BHS you should look at are Academic Choice, CPA and BIHS because these in my experience would be the best choice for a kid with NLD. If he were to take a language, I would recommend German because of the teacher is knowledgeable about neurodevelopment (she was trained as a doctor in Germany). Academic Choice and BIHS both have strong Academic liberal arts focus. Although AC is large, the teachers are willing to work one on one with students. Also, the single reason I was able to maintain a \xc2\x93B\xc2\x94 average in math was that I took it at Independent Study. You may have to have a letter to Independent Study to explain why you think for your son his only option to complete math successfully would be to go to IS.
BHS Grad \xc2\x9104
I would like to start a dialogue here about the experience of BHS parents with the special ed program. What's good, what's not, what could be improved and how?
Some background: I am the parent of a BHS freshman special ed student -- a bright essentially mainstream student who suffers from some specific learning disabilities, neurological and emotional issues that resulted in special ed placement (regular classes, with accomodations). My child went to King Middle School and the special ed folks there were great, especially Elaine Eger (who wears at least a couple of hats in BUSD -- resource teacher at King and head of the District assessment team) and Bill Liebman (King school psychologist). Looking forward to the demands of high school, and having been through a rocky 8th grade year, we established an IEP (individualized education plan) specifically aimed at getting our child off to a good start at BHS. A primary part of the plan was that there would be a meeting or meetings between BHS special ed, our child's teachers and us within two weeks of the beginning of the school year in order to educate the teaching staff about the situation (our child's problems are not self-evident) and to establish a clear understanding about accomodations and lines of communication between teachers and parents.
Needless to say, since I'm writing this, none of this happened. It is now after Thanksgiving and we are still trying to set up the "initial meeting." Meanwhile our child is in the midst of a spectacular flameout. On an ironic note, I heard Principal Saunders tell a group of parents (I think at the last PTSA meeting in the Spring, but maybe at frosh orientation) that teachers would be proactively calling any parent whose child was having problems in class. So far no teacher has contacted us even though half our kid's mid-term grades were D/F -- the rest were A/B.
My impressions of the BHS special ed department so far are ones of overburderned (27 kids per resource teacher) well-meaning resourse specialists in the midst of complete administrative breakdown and chaos. All freshman special ed students were assigned to a "long term substitute" with NO special ed background (he's a math teacher) and no particular personal qualities to recommend hiim for the job (no offense, a nice guy but not a hire anyone but a bureaucrat filling a slot would try to justify -- round peg in a square hole). Then the administration forgot to tell him this was a long term position so he made other plans and left after a month. Apparently the department has been interviewing to fill the position permanently since the summer (the inside word is they're dragging candidates in off the street, more or less).
So, what gives? Parents, what has your experience with BHS (or BUSD) special ed been? Is this year unusually fouled up? If so, why? Principal Saunders, what gives?
Let me say in conclusion that it is not my nature to rouse rabble or throw bombs, so to speak. I am prepared to tolerate quite a lot and to work within practical limits. At the moment, however, I wonder whether BHS and BUSD are prepared to make any real effort.
To the parent inquiring about BHS & BUSD Special Ed:
I would suggest writing a letter to BUSD Head of Special Ed, Joan Biondi, Program Supervisor for Secondary, Sharon Pincus, & BHS Special Ed folks expressing your concern about lack of adherence to your child's IEP. You can also call for a new IEP to address these issues.
There is a legal advocacy group in SF that helps families with special ed kids. I highly recommend CASE (Community Alliance for Special Education) in San Francisco at (415) 928-2273 as an advocacy group and legal resource for families with children in special ed. The attorneys and paralegals are very helpful.