About Berkeley High, Old (1999-2001 Discussions)

Archived Q&A and Reviews

These are parents' discussions about Berkeley High from 1999 to 2001 at a time when many changes were taking place.  For more recent discussions, see Advice about Berkeley High.

A Lack of Civility at BHS

Nov 2000

It was interesting to read the item on truancy at Berkeley High, not because of the truancy issue but because of the lack of civility the parent encountered as she talked to the people who run the school. Every time I go onto the campus (and that is thankfully not very often) I am appalled at the way the staff talks to the students. They are belittled and talked down to at every opportunity. Generally, there's no respect shown towards the students. When I've said something to my kids they've replied, it's ok, you get used to it. That, in itself, is very sad.

On the truancy issue itself, my son tells me that students are told to get off campus if they do not have a class. They are told they are a liability to the school if they have no class and stay on campus. Someone out there might be able to shed some light on this.


I certainly agree that the staff at BHS treats the kids very rudely. They don't set a good example. It's kind of like being at the DMV or some other agency with rude, cursory service. When I took my son to the Junior Prom last year, the Principal was meeting every student at the door with a metal detector. What a hostess! I understand concerns for safety but my feeling was that, for every kid who may have caused trouble, there were probably 500 who didn't and they should have been treated like the wounded veterans that they were. They went through a lot last year. There were oodles of security guards there that night. If a metal detector was necessary, it should have been anyone but the Principal who wielded it. I feel that she should have been greeting them with a big smile and kind words instead. Barbara


I wholeheartedly agree with the comments about the lack of civility in the way staff at Berkeley High interact with students - with some notable exceptions, since there are some wonderful people on staff who are respectful and helpful, but those who are not poison the atmosphere and and fuel the lack of civility on the students' part. It is part of the very unpleasant atmosphere at Berkeley High. With some staff members, both students' and parents' statements are met with suspicion, as if there is the assumption that the student is probably lying or guilty of something. I realize they are overworked and, especially since the fire last year, working in adverse, chaotic circumstances, but that doesn't make it any easier on the students or the parents. Anonymous


After reading about the uncivility of BHS teachers for several issues, I am moved to add some comments based on two years of personal experience. My son has never complained about rude behavior--in fact he has enjoyed civil and helpful relationships with many of his teachers. A few are not very responsive or helpful, but not disrespectful. I have had many contacts with teachers (because my son can be forgetful about assignments and turning in homework so my husband and I have to monitor his progress) and I have never been treated with disrespect or rudeness. Just the opposite. My personal experience is that most teachers are delighted with the parental involvement. They want their students to learn and participate. I hope other parents will speak out and correct the skewed perception that BHS is full of rude, nasty, uncaring teachers and staff. It is a great disservice (and disrespectful) to lump all teachers and staff into the "rude" category.


I am starting a Writing Center pilot project to support all students (as the program grows it will reach all students through their English classes.) My contacts with the English faculty have been not only civil but appreciative and helpful. MLC

RE: Rudeness at BHS: My issues about rudeness at BHS were not about teachers. With a couple of notable exceptions, the teachers we have had have been excellent and I have been impressed by their willingness to be respectful and encouraging to the students. My kids have really appreciated and respected almost all of the teachers they have had at BHS. It is the STAFF that treats the students like they are a big pain - they shuffle them around like cattle and show very little energy for helping them out in a courteous manner. It's not a pretty picture. Barbara


I didn't think the discussion about rudeness at BHS was about the teachers. My contacts with teachers at BHS have always been courteous and helpful, and some teachers have gone out of their way to be help my kids and others' kids. Ginger


I am one of the people who posted about incivility of staff at Berkeley High. After reading the last newsletter, I want to clarify that I have never experienced this from teachers. I was talking about other staff members, mainly office staff in the administrative areas. Anonymous


I must also say that generally I've been most impressed with the teachers and staff at BHS. I've especially been impressed with the enthusiasm and availability of my son's teachers after attending Back To School Night. Almost all of his teachers said that they are available to their students daily during lunch or after school. In addition, many of them distributed their home phone numbers in addition to their email addresses!!! I just hope no one takes advantage of this openness! We need to support these dedicated teachers and model for our children appropriate respective behavior. Shelley


I, too, have experienced rudeness and disarray in the administrative offices of BHS and have listened to my student be appalled by it. Besides being a parent, my job takes me into many schools in other districts. In many places staff is overworked, security is a routine part of the campus environment, there are language and cultural complexities, yet I have never experienced anything approaching the chaos that is routine in BHS front offices. Other schools often seem conventional and much less creative and vital than BHS but, even in schools that struggle with the same problems BHS has, staff is helpful and, most importantly, can find what you ask for. I've been aware of this for many more years than my child has been going to BHS and I've thought there are entrenched attitudes that don't change even though school principals come and go with the seasons. I've wished for some housecleaning. A. Non


I would like to ask whether the office staff 'incivility' people refer to in this discussion took place this fall, or in the past? I have found the staff in the administration trailers this year to be friendly and helpful, though also, naturally, very busy. I try to respect these constraints, and find I am treated respectfully in return. I also try to give the staff a hand when possible: e.g., making a few extra copies of the master schedule so that they have some to give to other parents, feeding back information about SAT test schedules when they don't have it at their fingertips. These people are riding a tiger -- let's help them out.


I also want to single out for praise the gentleman who serve as the administrative assistant for the counselors (wish I could remember his name.) Although the BHS counseling situation has a long history of chaos which is not yet cured, he did a lot in the first two weeks of school to bring some order and method to the system. The counselors themselves deserve credit for supporting this, as well.

Finally, I also think that if a staffer is truly rude or uncivil, you should take it to VP Lee, who is in charge of administration, or to Frank Lynch. Putting up with it just creates a downward spiral.


Art Projects in Academic Classes 

Nov 1999

"...I am horrified. I understand the desire to have neat work, but drawing is grade-school stuff. That part of my daughter's grade depends on little pictures or cutesy decorations is shocking."

Please do not be shocked. There are several theories that abound regarding the importance of students' connecting to their work by making it their own...One of the ways in which to do this is to have students place on their work creative expressions such as drawings, etc. Another is to have them write and rewrite what they have learned in a journal, still another is to have them teach what they have learned to another student or a group of students...Hope this is helpful. --Theresa Saunders

I am sorry to write that I am further outraged and horrified at this theoretical justification of *requiring* cute decorations to get a good grade in high school English homework! My bright daughter suffered patiently through one whole year of such nonsense at BHS where her English homework consisted of making picture-posters about the current English topic! Why in the world can't they just teach English?! Fortunately this year she has an excellent English teacher.

I would like to reply to Ms. Saunders' reply to my complaint about putting drawings on work. She wrote, "... There are several theories that abound regarding the importance of students' connecting to their work by making it their own...One of the ways in which to do this is to have students place on their work creative expressions such as drawings, etc." My daughter, and many others, already feel that their work is their own. High-school-aged students should be learning how to make their written work their own through verbal expression, not through drawings. If drawings are to be included, they should be optional. A grade should not depend on them. Frankly, it is "educational theories" like these that provide the fodder for the sneers of conservatives such as Deborah Saunders.

Drawing should be done for art classes only! Asking kids to draw for English is absurd. Strength in Numbers: I think if we go in individually and complain we will get nowhere. But if a group of us complain about the miserable math or the lack of writing in English, we may get someplace. This list could allow us to connect with each other and find our strength. Anybody interested?

I wish educators would make up their minds about whats's good and what's not. It's about as changing as fashion. My daughter was in a program (in Berkeley public schools) where she had to write an essay a day. At first she loved this. As she wrote she filled the margins with little caricatures that added meaning and depth to her writing (they were incredibly good!). She truly needed to do this. Her teacher became very aggravated and tried to repress this form of self expression eventually penalizing her by lowering her grade. My daughter eventually gave up her little cartoons and all the joy of writing the essays went right along with the cartoons. She hated writing them after that. She stopped drawing too. Now it turns out it's good???? Why does this make me feel bitter?

It was interesting to me to read about the poor instruction in math at Berkeley High in the same newsletter than talked about art work in English projects. Last year my son's Honors Geometry class had to do an art project that constituted a major portion of their grade. They had to CONSTRUCT a three dimensional object that was proportional to some everyday household object. This assignment took more than 10 hours and the only math in it was multiplying by 8 (which was the scaling factor).

When I called the teacher to find out what pedagogical value this assignment had, he never called me back. So if the issue of Art in English homework gets addressed, I'd generalize it to other academic subjects....

My son is reading Merchant of Venice in his freshman English class at BHS. That's great - he likes Shakespeare, starting with his positive experiences at Malcolm X, and he seems to be enjoying this play. But his homework the other night was to draw a cartoon illustrating Act 3. Not write about it - and believe me he could use the practice writing - but draw it. He can't draw a lick and he doesn't enjoy drawing either. So he told me what to draw and I drew it for him. It was a pretty nice drawing and I hope we get an A.

If I were a cynical person I might say that the reason there are so many drawing assignments in English is because drawings are a lot easier to grade than essays. I do not buy the argument that drawing is a reasonable assignment for high school English classes since it allows children (teens?) to express themselves better than writing. I started adulthood as an art major - I love art and I wish there were more art classes at BHS. But come on - these kids need to learn how to write. Would you hire a young person where you work who can make beautiful expressive drawings but can't write a report so people can understand it? I wouldn't.

sign me anonymous ( I don't want his 'A' lowered in case the teacher finds out I drew the homework!)

My son did this project at King, where it was part of the 7th grade pre-algebra curriculum. It isn't an art project, it is an exercise in scale in 3 dimensions, which seems legit. It wasn't _the_ major part of the grade, but was a focus for the 2 or three weeks the class was working on the relevant concepts. BTW, we still have the cat he constructed out of graph paper -- it's kind of cute.

I have been unhappy with the English program at BHS since my daughter was a freshman (now a junior) and while there are good teachers, English has become less important in this age of quick reads and computer literacy as opposed to English literacy. A blanket statement that art has no place in an English class targets the method, but not the problem. I believe art definitely has a place in an English class since many of the world's art movements from Impressionism to Modernism to Post-Modernism have inspired writers (examples: a famous poet, Mina Lay, involved with a modernist sculptor in which he created works from her poems; Gertrude Stein, famous for her art collection as well as writing). Through art as expression, teachers may be trying to reach students who find it difficult to use words alone to express their thoughts, perhaps because the student hasn't had the basic preparation for high school English in his or her elementary or junior high school. Don't bag the method, go to the problem and find a solution. Are there any English teachers at berkeley High School who require only writing for homework? I think it is pointless to ask them to draw for an English class. My daughter didn't get into AP English. She is capable, but others did better on the test than she did. I think she would have done better on the test if she had done more writing and less drawing over the years. And now another year of drawing? I am looking into Stanford's distance learning program for youth which includes AP and honors. Does anyone know anything about this program? Anyone tried it? (June 1999)

Personal note to the woman who did her kid's drawings: I've done something similar to make up for my kid's art deficiencies. I think it's pathetic to get a B- in English because you're not an artist. Both my kids have been told they didn't put in enough effort when they produced stick figure type drawings that they labored over while, for example, the girl who is now a professional illustrator whipped out a masterpiece and got an A even though she slept in class.

Feb 2000

My complaint involves the number of art projects that my dauther was assigned for finals. These included projects in honors geometry (!), English, Latin, and history. For history, the art project was the final exam. I find this a distressing trend for a number of reasons. Of course I would rather my daughter were performing academic work. It seems to me that goes without saying. But the second big problem is that it takes her forever to complete these assignments. For the history, she worked from the time she received the assignment until 11:00 the night before the assignment was due. If she had put in this same amount of time studying the material, I would be delighted. In geometry, she was actually graded down, not because of the matematical content, but because of her presentation. Perhaps the powers that be reason that if the kids can't read and don't know how to study, they will at least be artists. In my daughtrer's case, this approach is not working. Is anyone else unhappy with the amount of art work given? Is there any chance we could approach the school board about this matter?


Chicano courses at BHS

June 2000

I am writing to the BHS community to post not only my complaint but my continued dismay of disregard and undervalued actions of the principal at BHS for Chicano/Latino students. As the end of the year approaches and when students are leaving and parents are thankful the year is finally over, the decision to cut the Chicano/Latino history course and other courses is announced to students and the one Chicana Teacher at BHS! Latino students continually get not only no support from administration in hiring practices of more Chicano/Latino teachers, but no resources for classes and least of all respect.

I distinctly remember Ms. Saunders standing before the Latino families at St. Joseph the worker to promise her support for the Latino students and families at BHS. Well since day go, I have heard no support, seen and experienced a true disregard and disrespect for anything called community or support. Latinos continue to be the least educated minority group in the United States and still schools like BHS that have the potential to motivate, provide resource and support to Chicano/Latino students turns its back the students and closes the door to learning about what at the very least may inspire students to stay in school - learning about the value of their language and culture (finally!)

I hope the school board takes action and reinstates the Chicano/Latino classes at BHS and that Ms. Saunders opens herself up to the dialogue with Chicano/Latino parents and students to hear the where she stands with the community since she has come to Berkeley. I am very disappointed with the lack of support, understanding of Latino students at BHS and I know I am not alone in this.

At next week's school board meeting, Latinos will be present to voice our protest against Ms. Teresa Saunders decision. We will not be silent nor go away silently.

This is not a question of whether your Chicano/Latino or not? it has to do with the few peanuts handed to a community of students to feel part of the mass of students and community at BHS...now those few important life lines to learning are being taken away from students. Show your support for the students and for a large community of families in Berkeley that do not have access to the technology to be informed via the teens newsletter...write to the board and post your support for the Chicano/Latino classes at BHS. Gracias!

parent of a senior and 4th grader

I'm sorry to hear that a program you highly value is being proposed for a cut. Have you tried (repeatedly) to talk to Ms. Saunders and School Board members directly about it? My experience with the District and the High School is that there is so much going on (daily grind plus crisis, crisis, crisis), that unless a group is persistent about getting what they want, it often won't happen, even if the Board or Principal initially agrees that it's a good idea. Not because any of them have a lack of respect, or lack of interest, or a feeling that something is not important, but just because of the sheer overwhelming nature of events and pressure from other groups in this District to implement THEIR priorities. This is a place where you can't sit back and expect promises or commitments to be followed through on without your active encouragement and support over the long haul. This may be unfortunate, but it seems to be true. Try not to take it personally, because it most likely isn't personal....

I think its a great idea to go to the Board and bring this up. If the program is saved, be sure to bring it up often in the future, as an example of what IS working, or an example of what's not working and needs more attention before it gets to budget cutting time. You may also want to contact our Lieutenant Governor, Cruz Bustamante- he should be made aware of this, and he should press for more money for ethnic studies in all schools. I think it is really important for all kids and adults to learn to be more culturally sensitive and aware.


I want to respond to Beatriz's plea to ask Ms. Saunders to reinstate the Latino/a cousrese at BHS. I agree very strongly that this is an important area of study to have at BHS: for all students to learn the history of our country, and all the issues that surround the Latino/a cultures today, especially in this state where a large number of Latino/as live; these classes are not just for this group of students but for all students; I think it's important to have a separate area of study as well as integrate this history and current social, political, language, arts, etc curriculum into the main body of studies to address the needs of a group of students that on average comparatively don't do as well academically, therefore need support, encouragement, and inspiration to study in high school with evidence and validation that they are cared about

Ms. Saunders, please consider not only for these students themselves the importance and neccesity of continuing the Latino/a studies department, but also for the health of the school. I was horrified to see the Star test results in the spring showing how poorly this school, and school district, addresses the needs of ALL of its students. Thank you for your consideration to go back to making Berkeley High a model for the rest of the country to celebrate the diversity of this area by offering a variety of courses to address the needs of many different students, not leaving out anyone by only offering "mainstream"classes.


July 2000

In response to Lisa's comments in the July 16, 2000 Parents of Teens Newsletter: You will receive in your summer mailing the following list of courses which were not on the original MASTER SCHEDULE SHEET that was sent out with the orange 2000-2001 Schedule Form.

  • History Elective Courses: Chicano/Latinos in Film Fall and Spring Period 3
  • Introduction to C/L History Fall Period 4
  • Contemporary C/L History (P) Spring Period 4
  • English Course: Chicano/Latino Literature (P) Fall and Spring Period 7
  • Other: C/L Academic Orientation Fall and Spring Period 8

The courses with a (P) next to them currently fulfill the requirements for the University system. All may be used to fulfill Berkeley High School graduation requirements. Students will be able to add these courses to their schedule via their counselor in August. Flora Russ -- Berkeley High School

Double Period Science


April 2001

From: Terry Doran - President of the Berkeley School Board
Re: Double Period Science at Berkeley High School

Several months ago the Science Department of Berkeley High School started a conversation about keeping double periods for science. I responded that, at this time, the School Board had no intention of changing the science program and, in fact, students are now signing up for double period science for the 2001-2002 school year.

I did raise some educational issues related to the present way Berkeley High School is structured, in that students spend twice as much time in lab science classes than they spend in ALL their other classes each semester.

I received many letters in response and I want to first thank all of you for your interest, concern for the well-being of BHS, and your thoughtful comments. There was almost unanimous support for the quality of science instruction at BHS and the desirability ( necessity?) of science classes to be longer ( each class period ) than our present single period allows. I agree completely.

So I would now like to pose the question of science instruction at BHS and the overall quality of the BHS education program in another way: "How can we reconcile the desire for long science classes with the benefits that would occur if ALL classes met the same amount of time each semester?"

I would go one step further and say: " how do we also equalize the workload for our teachers, while still offering science in large time blocks?" Right now science teachers see about 90 students a day, a reasonable amount, while the average student load, per day, for ALL other teachers is 150 students. How can we continue to justify this inequity? Many schools have maintained quality science programs AND solved these educational issues. I believe there are several models out there that would work well at BHS.

I also believe NOW is the time to start exploring these options. If enough people agree, as I do, that BHS would be a better educational institution if ALL classes met for the same amount of time, each semester, and ALL teachers had the same student load each day, we do have time, starting now, to carefully and wisely change BHS for the 2002-2003 school year. We may also have no further to look for one possible model than King Middle School? You can reach me: tdoran at igc.org

Feb 2001

At the Berkeley HS Open House last week we learned that the school is considering doing away with the two period science classes. Apparently, this would save the school money. According to the teachers, it also means that they cannot teach the two period lab classes necessary to give them a fundamental understanding of the topics and prepare them for college. If you are interested in preserving this option at Berkeley HS, contact the principal and the school board. It would be unfortunate if only the kids in private school were able to get an adequate grounding in science. Fred

Feb 2001

From: Terry Doran, President of the Berkeley School Board

Dear interested members of the Berkeley community,

The Berkeley High School Science department, recently, sent out a letter to parents urging them to contact School Board members to support double period science classes. The Science Department stated, in their letter home, that the School Board was discussing the possibility of eliminating double period science classes at BHS because of the financial difficulties facing the school district next year. I would like to set the record straight.

Neither the Berkeley School Board, as a whole, nor any individual School Board member, has indicated that they would want to eliminate double period science classes at Berkeley High School because of financial reasons.

The Science Department, at Berkeley High School, misunderstood statements I made at a recent School Board meeting and thought that was what I was saying. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am committed to a quality science department at Berkeley High School. Our students deserve nothing less. HOWEVER, what constitutes a quality science program, and how does ANY department structure at Berkeley High School impact the overall quality of education at the school, are some of the questions I have raised over the years.

I am the only board member who has questioned double period science classes, always in the context of looking at how to offer the best possible overall education for our children.

For example, Berkeley High School is the only high school I know of, in the entire State of California, that requires students to spend twice as much time each week, in science, than any other course they take, in order to receive lab science credit.

My question, therefore, to the science department, and to Berkeley High School; how do all the other schools in California, including the most prestigious, provide a quality science education to their students within the same timeframe as they do for math, English, History, and all their other courses?

Another question I have asked; what would be the benefit, or loss, to our educational program at Berkeley High School, if we could provide a quality science program to our students within the same amount of time allotted each week to math, English, History? How many more courses, honors or AP English, math, History, could a student take if this were the case? Could students take more electives if they didn't have to take science twice as long as other courses? would fewer students feel the pressure to have a "science oriented curriculum" when with more time in their schedule for other courses they could concentrate their studies in the humanities, if they so desired, and still satisfy all science requirements to the UC systems?

I have raised these questions, and will continue to raise these questions, in my desire to improve the educational programs at Berkeley High School. The bottom line, if any changes were to take place in the science program at BHS, it would take at least a year of planning to institute, a year from this June when decisions will be made for the next school year.

Thank you all again for your sincere desire to keep BHS the best that it can be, and I look forward to working together with you to continue our quest to improve the educational system for all our children.

Terry Doran, President of the Berkeley School Board

I want to second all of the thoughts raised by Terry Doran concerning double period science classes. I'm not yet convinced of either approach to the issue, but based on the experience of my older son, I am starting to lean towards single period science classes (except for the AP classes).

My older son is a senior and is currently planning on going to medical school after college, though he did not take the AP science classes. My feeling, and his as well, is that the double period science classes were not a good use of class time.

In chemistry the double period was utilized occasionally for labs, but the full time period was only used well less than a third of the time. In biology and physics the teachers rarely had enough material to fill 2 periods, and when they did then the next day was an "off" day. I know, for instance, that in biology they watched non-academic movies, such as "Austin Powers" on numerous occasions.

I think it would be a challenge to fit the full curriculum within the framework of a single period class (especially since BHS class periods are on the short side). However, I think the trade off of so much "wasted" time may not be worthwhile. When I was in high school we had double periods for chemistry and physics twice a week and had study hall, "health" (social living? ethnic studies?), driver education, etc. on the other days. I think the AP sciences should probably have double periods.


Why does science class get a double period but the other classes don't? Why aren't all classes double period? Anon.

Re: Double period science at Berkeley High and Terry Doran's statement about how "other public schools do it." There are a number of public schools in the Bay Area on this side of the tunnel, over in Contra Costa county, and on the penisula that have double periods for EVERY class and block scheduling. Every class isn't offered every day. But, all classes are offered 5 times a week. It seems to work for other districts. Something to consider. Carol

I can only speak from my own observations of my child's experience at BHS, but it seems that for her AP chemistry class a double period is essential. The amount of time spent going over assignments, class lectures, and discussion time easily fills the periods. In addition, on lab days the majority of the student's class time to set up, get the lab to run properly, clean up, and ask questions. On any day there does not seem to be a great deal of time left over to do anything more, much less watch videos.

I think we need to remember that when the current schedule was agreed to there was a great outcry as to its short length. Teachers, students, and parents all complained in this forum that the classes weren't long enough, so imagine having to do everything required in a lab science class during one period. The quality of the class will surely suffer. I think that rather than throw out something that works well for one group of students by saying that it is not equitable, we should find out what makes it work and duplicate the effort for all kids.


April 2000

It seems to me that there is a giant elephant in the middle of the room that no one is willing to talk about. And that is double period science.

As you may know, Berkeley Unified School District is drastically cutting back elective options for Berkeley High School students. In order to respond to a budget shortfall, they have made it more difficult for students to take many of the classes that have made BHS fascinating and unique. At a time when UC has added the requirement of two years of arts, BUSD has put out new rules that make fine arts and performing arts classes ever more difficult to fit into students' schedules.

Of course, we can and should blame the state for this ridiculous situation. In the greatest economic boom of US history, in the largest budget surplus in state history, we are seeing school districts everywhere cut back and squeezed, even by our liberal Gray Davis.

Besides pressuring the state to let go of some of that nine billion dollar surplus, what are we to do? Of course Berkeley High is one of the most attractive public schools because of the broad range of electives and because of such additions as double period science. Most school districts, with the same state money, do without such elaborate options and without double period science. Before we drop the arts electives, perhaps someone should rise to question double period science.

Ask yourself: Are students learning more at Berkeley High in science than those who are taking single period science at most other high schools in the state. A review of the literature (test scores, college achievement) a few years ago said no, the knowledge gained was essentially the same. Do college admission people think it is just terrific that we have double period science and favor BHS applicants as a result? Ask Rory Bled, I believe the answer is, on the whole, no. Do BHS science classes do more engaged and elaborate laboratory experiments than other high schools - as they ought to with all that time? Not really.

If you have a student in science, ask him or her: how many times do they watch South Park or other random movies? How much down time and dead time is there? Don't get me wrong. I think there should be bloc scheduling. It has proven to be great in science, math, English, and history. But why have we privileged science and are they using the time well?

The reason double period science is a shibboleth is that it is a favorite of what turns out to be the more privileged parents. They don't want to hear any of the questions. But we have to admit that this is a way that more privileged students are getting more resources from the school, in spite of our protestations of a desire for equity. After all, students in Integrated Science are only getting a single period class. That is more teacher pay, more scarce district resources, going primarily to the most wealthy.

Take some time to think: if we are cutting programs, sometimes drastically, can double period science not even get on the table as a subject of discussion?


I think double period science is great. I don't see how they could have covered all the material for the AP test without that extra time. No movies, no goofing off time that I heard about. Just a lot of information. I would hate to lose double period science. I think whether the kids are privileged are not is of little importance. I'm sure that all the kids use up resources.

At the same time, I really think the arts also need more support also. The new UC system requirement for art means that more kids will be taking more art. I hate to think that we need to take from science to give to art.


I am a science teacher myself so I may be biased(!) but teaching one period science is a travesty and BHS is to be commended for sticking with double periods. Science has to be a hands on experience. The students need to have a concrete experience with a concept before it is discussed theoretically. It is extremly difficult to set up, carry out and discuss a lab in 50 minutes. I always have to make very difficult choices about which labs we do. There is no time to carry out less structured labs or go much further even with the basic lab in which new concepts are introduced. I think the better question ought to be "why isn't integrated science a double period lab?"


It is interesting how negative the writer (Anonymous) is about double period science classes without actually backing up any of his or her assertions. I would love to get a reference to the review of the literature that showed you learned as much per year in science in a class that met 45 minutes a day compared to a class that met 90 minutes a day. Could you give us the reference? Also, is that your opinion, or Rory Bled's, that college admission officers do not favor more time in science classes?

I wonder if your child just had a bad teacher for science. Your beliefs do not match my son's experiences in science classes at Berkeley High. My son felt that all the time in chemistry and biology class was well utilized and he can't imagine how he could have learned as much in half the time. Indeed he feels it would have been a struggle to master chemistry in any less time in class. He also feels that it is impossible to carry out a lab in a 45 minute period. To him, that short of a lab would be a joke.

Only once in his 2 years of science at Berkeley High did a teacher ever show a movie. Apparently South Park was shown one year on Spirit Day.

Why does the writer assume that only "privileged" students are taking the regular double period science classes? Many students aspire to go to college and many hope to be accepted into the UC system. Some of these students want to learn as much as they can. Many are poor and see this as the means to success. Why do you ignore the existence of this group of students and pretend that only the wealthy are taking the regular science classes? Have you ever visited a science class at Berkeley High and seen the range of students there? No one forces students to take Integrated Science. Double period science classes are open to all.

It's fine to question the cost of any item in the BUSD budget. But I'd think the author's arguments would get a better audience if they were actually backed up by references or data and if they reflected a better understanding of the variety of students who take a variety of classes at Berkeley High.

P.S. The new UC requirement is for one year of art classes, not two.


What I said about double-period science was that the BHS articulation agreement with the UC system (the "a to g" requirements) recognizes our science classes as year-long courses, without noting whether they are one or two periods. I have indicated in the school profile which accompanies all transcripts sent to colleges that we are one of the few schools in California to offer double-period science. Rory Bled

My child experienced months of subsitute teacher's, movies, and wasted time. This was due to an administrative glitch, not the fact that it was a double period. When the chemistry teacher, Miss Haber, went out on maternity leave the school did not have her replacement lined up. Miss Haber is a great teacher, she was enthusiastic, willing to spend the time individuals needed with specific concepts, and returned calls. She gave plenty of notice about her departure so it's unclear why there was no one to step in when she left. Miss Gable is now the regular teacher for the class and she is also excellent.

Ask students who have completed a double period science class what they remember best, most will describe one of the labs or experiments that could not be done in 45 minutes. This hands on experience is doing what education should do, teaching complex concepts in a fun, visual way. Frances JBell

I strongly favor the opportunity provided in the double period science classes.We have experience with two children at BHS and that covers both AP BIO and AP CHEM. These classes would be very difficult to complete in time for the testing without the additional time. My daughter does not believe that they could no anything meaningful in lab during a single period. She also points out that Integrated Science is taken by 9th graders interested in a 4th year of science. It is the only offering to that grade level. I might add that when I was in high school (long ago!) we had single period 3 times per week and double period twice a week for lab work. My daughter says she has never been shown a frivolous movie in AP chem. I think Berkeley High has to meet the needs of all students on the spectrum. It is important to provide academic challenge to students at all levels of achievement. Unfortunately, my daughter finds challenge in far too few of her classes. AP Chem keeps her hopping!


Electives at BHS

April 2000

I have a request of you this week as we fill out the course request forms. If your child will be a sophomore and excels more in the humanities than the sciences, please consider Integrated Science 3&4 (AD35 ) that uses only 1 period instead of two. This class satisfies the UC and CSU science lab requirement as well as BHS graduation requirements. (No matter what grade your child is in or the strengths they exhibit, please look for opportunities to ask for electives in all areas.)

Requesting this will do two things. First, especially for the sophomores,it will give your child the chance to choose something they might delight in doing everyday. That breathing space may help them make it through the tougher subjects. It is the school's job of course to give them the basics. And it should also expose them to new areas of learning that they must sometimes be pushed to study. But the most important job of education is to develop if not a love, at least a respect for what learning does for them.

A desire to pursue new information and digest ideas will hold them in good stead their whole lives, no matter how they fared at high school. To do that, we must keep the delight of their talents and their loves in what we define as their "formal education." In that elective class, they might discover that learning can be very satisfying. They might get that sense that they can do something really well when they try. That's a vital lesson whether continue onto a university or not.

As a student myself, I remember that the school pressures were heavy. Still there were moments to enjoy, to breathe, to discover the wonderful sense of achievement that came from hard work, well done. For today's children attempting to be good students, I don't see as much room for exhaling, nor many opportunities for feeling they have done something to a fine standard.

Perhaps, it is because we demand they take *every* subject they are introduced to, to an advanced level. Rather than enriching or adding to their breadth of understanding, we may instead only be overwhelming them.

I also think we are sending them a message that they aren't valued if their gifts aren't everywhere. Yes, the colleges are demanding it. Do we let it continue?

The second thing demanding these classes will do, is send a message to the schools at all levels that we feel that the richness of electives are important to real education. It makes the whole experience more successful for a child. That's an important message to send.

We should have in BHS's large size the advantage of a wide choice to accomplish both the excitement that can be found in learning, and the exposure that leads to educational maturity. I worry that the cut-backs are happening in the humanities and the wonderful tastes of academic electives. It is taking from our children the important delights, leaving only the demands. It's hard to do only the grind without some joys as counterbalance.

So please, try to find a place for the electives. I have spoken with the counselors who have said we can put the electives we wish to request on the form in Section #3. (It is set up in Section #1 so that only the required academic core seems to have room for consideration). But they will look at all the classes requested.

If at each step of our child's education, enough of us demand a wider, more varied path of learning that respects each child's range of true abilities, attempts to encourage them to excel in that but also understands that some subjects will be secondary strengths,perhaps we can get it! Our children will feel they are valued for exactly who they are, not for how well they can be molded into some faceless universal student. Perhaps they will be more successful people for it.


The Grounds at BHS

April 2001

To all it may concern: I returned to BHS after spring break, expecting to find a trash free campus given the previous week's vacation. On the contrary, I saw trash along MLK, next to the track, that had been there since well before the vacation. Since I have picked up this strip myself many times, I know that it is a job which takes 10 minutes at most! I refuse to believe that the custodial staff is incapable of this task, for whatever reason or excuse, which will inevitably be the response of those at the helm. As is customary, the main courtyard was fairly clean, that is if you don't peer too closely into the vegetation, where you will find a veritable garbage dump. However, venture into Memorial Grove or, better still, walk through the upper Allston Way gate around the side of the Community Theater and what you will find is truly shocking. It looks as though someone has taken a couple of full to the brim trash cans ( examples of which are all over) and emptied them on to and behind bushes, into flower beds and all over the pathways. Although night-time security has been instructed to remove the homeless from campus, they have once again set up shop outside the stagecraft shop on Allston Way. They urinate, defecate, drink and use hypodermic needles here and discard the latter right there where students work on sets. Whenever we complain, security is vigilant for a while and then surveillance slackens off and we have to complain again. We are simply asking people to do the job for which they are paid, often very well! The campus at BHS is a disgrace. It is time to stop relying on volunteers to do the job which able bodied men and women are being paid to do. It is for this reason that I am not calling a work day to clean the school of garbage in time for the annual Arts Festival. I was asked by an administrator to do this and I apologize for going back on my word, but I am unable with a clear conscience to pretend to the citizens of Berkeley that the high school normally looks the way it would if we were to come along and clean it up for this event. The Grounds Committee and Adopt-a-Plot programs already look after the landscaping. It is too much to ask us to also pick up the trash. Corinne Eno, Chair Grounds Committee.

[Editor note: the preceding letter was sent to BHS school officials, the School Board Directors, Berkeley mayor, and others. I sent a separate request to BoardofEd at berkeley.k12.ca.us asking for a response to Corinne's letter as this topic has come up so often in our newsletter. Principal Frank Lynch replied that the BHS campus would be cleaned for the festival, and a reply was also received from Gene LeFevre. No response was received from School Board Members.]

Dear Corinne, I agree with you 100 %. It is completely unfair to ask parents & other volunteers to do the custodial staff's work for them and then have to see their efforts ignored and undermined by indifferent staff and students every day. This situation is a complete disgrace. How can we expect our children to do their best in an environment that continually tells them that they're trash? Thankyou for taking the time to write. Yours, Amy March 2001

On Saturday, Berkeley High hosted a series of Lacrosse games. I was embarrased for Berkeley because of the amount of garbage around the field and Berkeley High . I am not talking about construction debris but bottles, cans, newspapers and just plain trash, piles of it. Is there not a program to clean these areas? Alan

As chair of the Grounds Committee and Adopt-a-Plot programs at BHS, I and many of the parents and students at BHS share your sense of embarassment. In fact, I am frustrated and angry as well as embarassed. Picking up trash at the high school is always a bone of contention among the custodial staff and it is carried out in a haphazard and lackadaisical fashion. Even then some areas are never touched. The beds around the Community Theater are full of trash. I have pulled mattresses, kerosene stoves, liquor bottles and syringes from these areas. It is not only an issue of aesthetics but one of hygeine and safety.

The school needs to address the problem from several angles. First, we need to ask them to have a consistent policy regarding students who litter in the first place. At lunchtime, it would be very easy for security to ask kids who litter to pick up their trash. Right now security does nothing. Secondly, the administration needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards custodians who refuse to do their jobs. Thirdly, night-time security must be vigilant regarding people carousing on school property. Finally, we as parents and members of the community must stand up and refuse to accept this sad state of affairs. E-mail the following people and demand that something be done: Frank Lynch, Principal, BHS flynch [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us Dorothy Dorsey, Head of Maintenance, BHS ddorsey [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us Gene Lefevre, Head of Maintenance, BUSD gene [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us

I don't have the superintenedent's e-mail, but we should really lobby him too. In the meantime, come to the work days sponsored by the Garden Committee. If you prefer, you can simply pick up trash. Many people do. There is one scheduled for this Sunday at 10 a.m. Enter via Allston Way, lower gate or gate on MLK and Bancroft. I'll supply garbage bags and latex gloves. Nothing will change until enough of us refuse to put up with it any longer! Corinne

January 2001

I am puzzled at the request for parent help to maintain the grounds at Berkeley High School. While I understand at the moment it may be necessary on an interim basis, why is this not a class at Berkeley High: Horticulture and Landscape Gardening with credit? And also, why are the students not, (or maybe they are and I don't know about it) scheduled to clean up grounds, pick up trash, etc.?

This seems obvious to me but it must not be obvious. Many of the Berkeley public schools are now part of the Food Systems Project in which students, parents and teachers are preparing gardens. These are related to food issues. But in a few years Berkeley High is going to see some sophisticated gardeners arrive as students. Why can't this become part of the curriculum so Berkeley High could have lovely landscaped and well maintained grounds via student energy and learning.


We are currently sending to the Board a proposal for a series of classes in Ecology that would allow us to have students tend many of the area of the school grounds. Also, beginning in February students will be assigned to Saturday School as part of our detention process. These students will be working to tend the grounds as part of their "service" time at school.

Theresa Saunders, Principal

A reply to the person enquiring about the grounds at BHS:-we all wonder why parents need to take over the gardening at the high school, but after 5 years of watching it get worse and worse, I decided to enlist the help of parents. There are not enough gardeners in the district to maintain all the grounds and so I am hoping that the Adopt-a-Plot program will maintain and enhance those at BHS. Parents are ready and willing to do this. It builds community in a very large place and makes parents feel better about the school. There is an eco-literacy program at the school and I think you will soon see an expanded program similar to the ones you described. For more info. on that aspect, you could contact Dana Richards, the teacher of this program. He is on the ground floor of the B building.


Integrated Science at BHS

Aug 2000

A friend has asked me about Integrated Science at Berkeley High. Without meaning to offend anyone, I've always heard and/or have assumed that this is basically "bonehead" science. Does anyone (whose child has taken Integrated Science) have any feedback in agreement or to the contrary? Was the course helpful in providing a transition or background to chemistry or biology as a sophomore? Sally

good question...I had planned on my son taking it because I thought it would be good to take science every year. But when I learned that it does not count toward college requirements, I changed my mind. Then I was told that it was basically a remedial class My older son had gone to three years of high school in VA and took Earth Science which did count toward college requirements. Seems to be they need to upgrade their offerings at BHS. MaryAnn

I think this probably IS bonehead science. But the students get so little science in middle school, it is nice to give them an overview before they get into a serious class. If they taught a bit of chemistry and physics along with sex and drugs in 6th, 7th and 8th grades, kids would be better prepared for high school science. Many kids can handle biology, physics, etc without first taking integrated science. But for some I'm sure it would be a welcome prep class. Anon Please

Integrated Science 1 & 2 can only be taken by freshmen. It does count as an "F requirement, an elective" in the U.C. a-g scheme.

Integrated Science 3 & 4 can be taken by students 10th-12th grades. It counts as a "D requirement, a lab science" in the U.C. a-g scheme. It is a single period lab science and counts as a U.C. lab science credit just as the double period sciences do.

Flora Russ --
Computer Technologies Department & Computer Academy

I am working on my third child going through BHS, and the kids and I are all interested in them being UC eligible. (My oldest is beginning her third year at UCSB.) My understanding regarding Integrated Science is that if your child is on "track" to the UC system, Integrated Science (which was originially intended to be taken in both ninth and tenth grade) was not the way to go. Your child would not take science in the ninth, but would begin with Chemistry in the tenth after completing at least Algebra in the ninth grade.

Depending on my relationship with the teacher or administrator, I have been told different things about the intention of Integrated Science. I do not have the BHS catalog at hand at this moment, but I thought that it was accepted by four-year institutions; although I have been told (and told to keep it to myself) that UC Berkeley does not think highly of this course.

But, since science is required to graduate from BHS, many students are not prepared to take any of the other science courses. So, by placing "at risk" kids in this course in the ninth grade, they can continue it in the tenth grade and thereby satisfy the science requirement for high school graduation.

When I am talking to the friends of my children about their plans for college, I am upfront with them about how prepared they must be to follow that track. It's not only choices about science, but choices about math courses that must be made. They go hand in hand. Not all students quite get it, nor do they all have access to an adult who has things figured out.

I was at one of the middle schools earlier in the year, helping students with their course selections for BHS. The two administrators from BHS were promoting Integrated Science, and I got the impression from them that they were really trying to get these kids to sign up for it. They used tactics (which may or may not be appropriate) such as "When you get to the tenth grade, you're going to really be behind the other students if you don't take science in the ninth grade." I watched as most students, who did not have a parent there or another significant adult who was looking out for their interest, struggled with whether or not they would sign up for that class. Of course most kids that I checked with did have it as a selection. However, those kids who were taking classes such as Honors Geometry were not. Now, I did not conduct a formal study, but it would be interesting to note who are the kids with the information. I don't necessarily think it's an accident. Parents who are inquisitive about their children tend to be more involved with what goes on with them at school. And those are the children who have a better chance at succeeding and moving on.

Therefore, if your child is college bound, then you may not need to push him/her into this course. If your child isn't quite sure which direction he/she may go, then have them get their science requirement out of the way.

Just my observations.

As an addendum to my previous response regarding Integrated Science.

Just this evening the topic of Integrated Science came up in a discussion I had with a parent who does not have access to the Internet nor this newsletter. And I realized how freaked out a parent can become if she feels her student has been inappropriately placed in this class. I think many of us are learning how to become more proactive about the choices our students make, and some of us are just at different levels. But, this parent was beginning to think that if her child was planning to go to college, then he should plan to take Chemistry next year with the other students who will be in his Geometry class this fall. Afterall, he performs well in school and there's no reason to suspect he would have any more of a difficult time than his peers. She felt that it was a waste of his time to be in a class that continues into the tenth grade. (It is true that you can also choose to take either one of the two years of Integrated Science.)

But based on information from the BHS catalog, although the first year of Integrated Science will not satisfy the UC Science requirement ("d"), it will satisfy the "f" requirement. Therefore, this first year of Int Sci is not necessarily a "waste" and should be considered as an elective and not as a science course (even though it is science that the student is getting.)

The second year of Int Sci does satisfy the "d" requirement, but the student will still need another year of a science with lab since UC requires a minimum of two years of lab science. Therefore, the two year course of Integrated Science is not enough for UC. The student who takes Int Sci in the ninth grade, just as is the case with a student who does not take it, will still need to take another science course in the 11th and/or 12th grade.


To counter the comments about Integrated Science of the last couple of newsletters:

Please don't dismiss the Integrated Science 3/4 class offhand without some consideration. On page 54 of the course Catalog from last spring, it states that Integrated Science 3/4 is a P (College- Preparatory) class that satisfies the UC "d" requirement for a lab science and that it also qualifies as one of the two years of lab science required to graduate BHS. To be in it, a student must have a "C" or better in both semesters of a first year college prep math, like Geometry.

So it does indeed make the grade as a lab class for both UC and the state system, but it is only one period long. That can have advantages in fitting things into your child's schedule. Rather than go into great depth in one subject, it introduces the students to chemistry, ecology, space science, human biology, geology and mechanical physics.

If your student has a defined interest in one science, then a focused lab is great. But if your student is like mine, she had her fill of physics in 7th & 8th grade that turned her off science in general. This kind of class has piqued her interest. She hopes it will let her discover a science she does wish to learn more deeply during her second year of lab science.

The class serves its purpose, meets college requirements and shouldn't be labeled a class for less-thans" simply because it's not intense. Our kids have lots of opportunity for intense at BHS, academically and otherwise. If a non-major wishes to explore the sciences, why not use this? I was told by a teacher, whose opinion I value, that the teachers in Integrated Science are excellent and stimulating. What more could you want for your student?


I'm replying to the question about Integrated Science at Berkeley High. My son took this class last year. I had heard the same thing that the author of the message had heard, that is, that this class is a "bonehead" class. However, even though I didn't notice that it was demanding or challenging as AP Bio or Chemistry, etc. are said to be, my son really enjoyed this class. It gave an overview of many different fields of science, from astronomy to geology, biology, chemistry, etc. This coming year my son is taking AP Chem, which may be a very rude shock in terms of challenge and amount of work compared to the class he just took, but Integrated Science awakened in him an attitude that science is intriguing and interesting and gave exposure to many varied aspects.

I think a lot of kids take Integrated Science to give them an easy science credit for high school graduation requirements, and perhaps this is part of the "bonehead" reputation it has. The teacher who taught my son this class last year, Mr. De Jong, made it interesting, informative, and enjoyable.


One of the posters asked how some students seem to "know" whether or not to take Integrated Science, and suggested it was parental guidance that made the difference. Speaking as a parent without a clue about these things, it was my daughter who took the initiative to find out what classes would be considered rigorous enough to qualify her for a high-level college. Students talk to each other; and I expect information from older siblings and parents gets passed around. After reading these postings, it appears to me the information gained this way is pretty accurate and it is available to anyone who asks around. Louise

I would just like to add my opinion on integrated science. I am a very serious, college bound student. I am in Honors Algebra 2 in sophmore year. I am also taking integrated science. The main reason for this is that I (as of yet) do not have an incredibly strong interest in science. Why should I spend two periods out of my day doing stuff I don't even like? Instead, I am able to choose an elective that I really enjoy. Also, I hope this year to be able to find an aspect of science that I actually like. Then, when I take a double period next year, I will be able to pick that aspect and really go in depth with it, and I won't have to spend two periods for a whole year doing something I hate. Not only that, but I will have fulfilled my collage requirements for science. Meg

I thought the best reply to the concerns about Integrated Science was made by a student, Meg , a sophomore. Meg's solution, for herself anyway, sounds so sensible and she articulates it so well. However, I would like to express my concern that parents get too worked up over what colleges want from students and not what students want from college and education overall. For example, a parent's comment that UC looks down on Integrated Science is just an opinion expressed, and not the overall picture of what UC will look for in admitting a freshman student. If a high school student takes Integrated Science because of a total lack of interest in science, but pursues his/her express interest in art, language, music, English--in other words, the humanities approach--and has grades in those courses which are outstanding, then colleges will not "look down on Integrated Science." Even UC wouldn't "look down" on it if the student's SAT scores are high, and if the student can articulate and show on a college application his/her focus and passion for these interests. The point is that the student should show consistency throughout his/her academic career, whether it's top grades in all subjects, or a passion for extracurricular activities balanced with good grades. It is very important that the student is able to relate to an admissions officer his/her abilities and fitness for the intellectual rigors of college--and not all students will be applying to the College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Now, for the comment that BHS advisors were pushing 8th grade students to take Integrated Science in the 9th grade, without their parents there to advise them (like having your lawyer beside you at all times so you don't say anything self-incriminating), I feel it's extremely important for parents to remove themselves at this point from the process and begin to let their kids decide what advice to take and what advice not to take in terms of their high school curriculum. Always helpful are parents who are well-informed, but I remember telling my child to take some course that in the end, if my child had listened to me, would've been totally wrong considering my child's other interests. The rationale, I believe, for advising students to take IS in 9th grade is that if a student does not take it as a freshman, then jumps into a double period science like Biology or Chemistry in the 10th grade, especially AP, they may find themselves at a loss because of so little exposure to science. If a student is very strong in math and is very strong in reading and English, then not taking IS as a freshman will probably not hurt, and they are then free to pursue other electives. (A note: on the other side of "bonehead," those of us with strong liberal arts backgrounds have always used the words "geeks" and "nerds" for those who were tops in science and math--somewhat derogatory--however, we're talking apples and oranges and both are good for you.) --jahlee

Large Class Size at BHS

October 2000

Large class sizes @ BHS - I went to back to school night @ BHS and, once again, was shocked by how many kids are in the classes, 38 in my daughter's Spanish class. I think this is one of the biggest problems in the school and needs to be addressed. I also thought one of the purposes of BSEP was to keep classes small, around 28. I do intend to go to the PTSA about this and will email the school board members. Does anyone know of any group that is dealing with this problem? If not, I intend to start one. Toby

I am also concerned about the large class size at Berkeley High. I came back from Back to School Night discovering that my daughter had 36 students in her history class and no less than 32 students in ANY class. Her history class does not have enough text books so none have been handed out. Her chemistry class has more students than can be accomodated in the lab. I would like to hear both the current school board and candidates for the school board explain why we continue to face crowded classrooms and lack of textbooks at Berkeley High despite the community support through funding of measures A and B. I would like to hear about both long term and short term solutions. After 10 years in the Berkeley schools I am tired of waiting for the next long term process laden proposal. How can we fix this now?

I would also like some simple explaination why we in Berkeley, who tax ourselves to achieve lower class size end up having higher class sizes than other bay area districts. It just seems unfair and I would like an accounting of where the money is going.

That said, I hope the money is going toward teacher salaries because they certainly deserve it (especially since they have to deal with these very high class sizes!) Paul

Letter from an English Teacher

November 22, 1999

Dear Parents of Teens,

As a parent of a Berkeley High student as well as a teacher at the
school, I have been tempted many times to jump on to this discussion
group but have never had the time to develop all the points I want to
make adequately.  Many writers to "Parents of Teens" have complained
that writing instruction is inadequate and the curriculum is not
rigorous enough.  The fact that students are sometimes doing art work in
English has come up again and again as evidence of the weak instruction
at the school.

First, I'd like to plead guilty to many of the charges laid against the
English department.  Writing instruction is inadequate and the
curriculum is uneven.  Sometimes students are pushed and sometimes they
are passed through with very little challenge.   I'm not happy about
this and I and my colleagues work on making it better.  Of course, I
can't help but wonder if we are projecting some idealized views on the
past.   Reading a recent excerpt from Frank McCourt's "'Tis" about his
teaching experience in New York in the 50's was a good reminder.

The complaints on the parent list parallel the article in November's
Harper's by Francine Prose ("I Know Why the Caged Bird Cannot Read.").
Indeed that article, which decried the state of English teaching today
for its lack of rigor and challenge, was copied by BHS English teachers,
distributed and discussed.  For a fun read, check out the December issue
which features pages of letters responding to Prose's attack on this
easiest of targets, public education teachers.

When I put down my Harper's yesterday, I picked up the Quarterly put out
by the National Writing Project.  Theresa Manchey contributes a
fascinating article which would make the people who write to the Parents
of Teens blanche, "Drawing:  Another Path to Understanding."  Now
there's an interesting read.  Dare I broach the drawing issue?  Well,
let me try.  Let's see.  I could mention the graduate program I did in
which drawing was part of the curriculum.  No, not an art class.  It was
in media and government.  Or we could talk about the time I taught high
school kids about making comics, had a guest speaker from Dr. Comix come
in, studied Maus, and had students draw strips.  The main thing is that
we are trying many ways to develop ideas, real ideas, original ideas in
young people.  Teaching structure is one thing.  But teaching from
structure only is dangerously stultifying.  Often pictures and art work
are great ways to engage students and to deepen discussions and, yes, to
inspire good writing.

Now, if you'll excuse this disorganized piece of writing, I will touch
on a few more points.   While I will say something about our obligation
to make school successful for all students below, I want to touch on the
preparation of the academically strongest kids.  Sometimes I get tired
of hearing the complaints and facing the hand-wringing from the most
privileged parents.  With all of our flaws, let's face it:  last year
BHS had seven students accepted at Harvard.  Seven.  That's the highest
number of any high school in the country.  That's seven more than CPS
had accepted.  And the same acceptance numbers come in on colleges all
down the line.  Talk to college admissions officers.  You know why they
love Berkeley High students?  Because they come from a diverse school,
because they have an edge, because they are critical thinkers.

Talk to students who come back after one, two, or three years.  Were
they prepared?  Well, many of them are amazed at how much they have to
read.  I certainly was when I first went to college.  And they are
challenged by the long writing assignments.  But they make it.  I know
quite a few teachers who teach freshman composition in college.  They
have the greatest complaint for the students from elite, suburban high
schools who write bloodless, if orderly, prose, who are timid and
grade-grubbing and dull in their writing.  Our writing program could be
greatly improved, no doubt.  I worry that my daughter's writing is still
more a product of obligation than inspiration.  But I see the problems
of teaching reading and writing to her and others more from the inside.

Which leads me to a point about bad English instruction.  I have read
ten or fifteen critiques of the English teachers.  But I have not read
one suggestion that parents should lobby for better pay, smaller class
size, or fewer classes for English teachers.  My father used to say that
education was not a problem you could just throw money at.  But, you
know, throwing some money would help.  As I write this, I am finishing a
weekend that included 20 hours of grading papers.  That was 60 papers
which got 20 minutes each.  English teachers have 120 to 150 students.
We try all kinds of ways to get expression out of students, including
journal writes we don't grade carefully, group writing, art work, and
direct essays.  We also put our own money, in many cases $1,000 to
$1,500 into our classrooms and teaching materials.  When we are berated
for our bad work by parents who make two to five times what we make, we
often feel like the hired help receiving a scolding.

Yes, we should assign more writing.  We work on writing instruction
techniques all the time.  Most of the English teachers meet in Ms.
Cook's room every Tuesday during our 40 minute lunch to continue working
on writing instruction methods, on articulation, and on rubrics and
standards.  But we are overwhelmed with the work load.  Yes, Berkeley
has wonderful support, from the Development Group to the BPEF, and a
community willing to raise money for the schools through BSEP.   But we
are overwhelmed.  Many schools are moving to having English teachers
carry four classes instead of five in recognition of the paper load.
Berkeley has chosen to support double period science.  It should not be
a trade-off but that's what has happened.  A few days ago I came upon a
group of five teachers sitting talking after school.  These were young
teachers, inspired teachers, smart teachers.  They were discussing where
to go, next year, because they can't take another year teaching under
current conditions.

And another thing.  I've been defending the teachers here but sometimes
I worry about the students in this situation.  I worry about students
whose parents hover too much.  I worry about students who hear their
parents decry the school every day.  I get essays with extensive parent
editing on first drafts.  That's often fine.  But I also get essays in
which the parents have written whole sentences, whole paragraphs, by
hand on the early drafts.  It certainly results in a great essay.  But
is that the only goal?  I know this kind of worrying is a way parents
are expressing love but sometimes it helps to step back, to look at the
whole picture.  Sometimes we should have a broader discussion:  What is
an educated person?  What kind of teenage years should our kids have?
What stage of development are they in?  Sometimes your child has decided
he hates chemistry, or writing, not because of an evil teacher but
because she is trying to figure out who she is.

And finally, I leave you with one last plea.  We talk a lot about
diversity at Berkeley High School, about struggling to make the school
work for every student.  The shame of our school is that it is still two
distinct schools, one which works quite well for the more privileged and
mostly white students, and one which represents failure and
frustration.  I suppose it is part of the hypocrisy of liberal Berkeley
that we all love bragging about our integrated high school but we put so
much focus on erecting the barriers.  Think about what you are modeling
for your student.  If you are a white parent who spends all your energy
positioning him/her, pushing for the highest AP class, complaining about
the lack of rigor - and you never ask your student how the African
American students in his/her class are doing, how he/she is getting
along with Chicano/Latino students - perhaps you are modeling everything
we are trying to work against.  We need to build real community at the
high school because that is the kind of world we want our children to
live in.  If we want them to simply excel, to leave classmates behind
and live in gated communities, then we should only push for their
success.  But teenagers can dream, and they dream of a better world.  I
like to think most people who go into teaching do it because they want
to help young people create that world.  We could use a little help

Anonymous Teacher X

Parent Responses

BRAVO, BRAVO  to Teacher X
Thank you for taking considerable time to express so many important
thoughts and values so succinctly.


Dear Anonymous Teacher X:  Thank you for writing an excellent, thoughtful
response to the frustrations and challenges you face.  Many teachers have
been providing a fabulous education at BHS; I appreciate them all.  I
agree, teachers need more time and more support if we, as parents, want
them to spend more time grading/responding to papers.    Anonymous Parent X


A reply to Anonymous Teacher X,
I hear you loud and clear. You touched on many points, the most
important one for me being this- "The shame of our school is that it
is still two distinct schools, one which works quite well for the more
privileged and mostly white students, and one which represents failure
and frustration." As a white middle class parent with 2 non-white
children, i have a very unique window into this reality. Many of my
white friends have the high achieving AP students, whose experience at
Berkeley High was wonderful, with the best teachers and most
challenging classes, and who ended up in great colleges. My daughter
is latina, and graduated from B High last year. Through her friends,
who were mainly latina, not middle class and not high achieving, i got
an up front and personal view of what life at B High is like,
especially if your parents do not speak english, perhaps never even
graduated from elementary school, and cannot be your advocate at B
High, despite their love and concern. Its as if these two schools
exist in parallel but totally seperate universes- and the parents of
the high achiever/AP kids have absolutely no contact with the parents
of the other group, so they really have no idea of that other
reality. And i think that is really the essence of the dilemma- that B
High mirrors the real class/race division in this society, and that we
as parents need to figure out how to bridge this division- and it is
not easy.  Thank you for your letter. I would love to know who you
are, because my son, who is Vietnamese and in 7th grade, will probably
be coming to B High in a few years. Please email me,


Thank you to teacher x for voicing the viewpoint we need to hear and don't 
often hear from the classroom. The gripe session in the newsletter does get 
to be a drag.  We do need to work together to make the entire student body 
successful. My son's experience with BHS English classes is frustrating 
because he complains of the lack of respect the students have for the teacher 
and school.  He says he is not challenged enough, but his writing - essays, 
position papers, poetry, debates, book reports is fabulous. Far beyond 
anything I can write! As for drawing in class, language Arts classes include 
all forms of communication, not just writing.  Howard Gardner has done 
extensive research on the different intelligences, and though cartooning 
isn't one of them, reading and writing aren't enough.  Education needs to 
include all modalities of teaching and expression.  Parent and teacher G


Thank you to teacher X. Thanks for the gift of your time - a lot of
thought has gone into this letter, which is inspiring, thrilling, and
poignant. I was one of the parents who ridiculed the drawing
assignments; you make a very persuasive and eloquent argument in favor 
of including drawing sometimes.
I am so proud that we have teachers like Teacher X at Berkeley High
School.  What can we parents do to get these teachers the support they
deserve?  How can we help?


What a great letter by the BHS High School English Professor!!!!
    I loved it and it was right on and a pleasure to read.  My sentiments 
exactly!  As a parent who has had 3 children go through the system, I think 
the schools are doing a great job given where they are coming from (the 60's) 
and where they are going (the 00's). Sometimes I wish my kids could have gone to
smaller, country school but then where would the diversity, the dialog, the 
great moments in teaching be?  They have all loved their years in school in 
Berkeley, with some exceptions.
    I think the schools need to spend more money on personnel/ 
machines/maintence at the schools.  The student/teacher ratio is too large 
and some students have major problems that make teaching difficult.  The 
district spends too much money on rebuilding schools when the people that 
work there have terrible working conditions.  Theresa Sanders has no personal 
secretary.  There are only two working copy machines.  Bells, don't work, 
phones are never answered by real voices.  These are things that should be 
taken care of by the administration of the district -- the maintenance crew, 
gardeners, etc.  There is only 1 plumber in the district -- who refused to 
fix my perpetually running faucet in my classroom because he said there were 
more pressing problems in the district even while he stood in my classroom 
discussing this.
    I worked in an office by myself at the University that has more machines 
than my whole school in the BUSD.  A personal computer w/ my own 
e-mail/Internet, a scanner, a 2 line phone, a copier, a fax machine, a coffee 
pot and a microwave.  I bet most of you have the same facilities at your 
    Whole departments (or nearly) leave BHS at the end of the year because 
the demands are just too great -- especially for young unskilled teachers, 
who are paid about $13. an hour for their 80 hour a week job.  The inner-city 
youth are a lot to handle.  When I have worked at BHS, I am amazed at the 
talent and intelligence of the ordinary student.  I am repelled by the 
disrespect of many disadvantaged youth, who hate me and see me as "Whitey" -- 
the last class sang Ms. America to me and did gigs in the aisle and wrote slut 
and fuck all over the sign-in sheet, and this is before I had gotten two words 
out of my mouth, which were "Sit Down and we will begin the day's lesson."  I 
know this is not the usual, I was a hated sub, a foreigner in a foreign land.
    These things are going on all over the US.  This is our slice of the pie 
- My first went through B. schools, made the jump into high school where they 
compete with students from private schools for AP classes, graduated and went 
through Cal and is employed.  My second went to BHS, floundered and went to 
Independent Studies and did great -- loved the atmosphere, the smaller 
environment.  It is often more challenging than regular BHS because they have 
more time on their hands, graduated, went off to college (I think it is 
treated like a regular part of BHS when applying to Universities).  
    My third is now in the CAS program at BHS.  It is a great program. 
(See CAS Discussion.)

 Thanks, an employee of the district


Clarification to the letter of "Anonymous Teacher X"
I would like to correct some information in your letter that is wrong: 
Last year several of the 75 seniors at CPS were accepted to Harvard, and
one chose to enroll.  Otherwise, thank you for your letter, you touched
very good points that had been overlooked.
Victoria, mother of a King 6th grader and high school teacher.


Three cheers for you and your colleague who was also understandably
reluctant to sign his/her name!!  I have long felt that teachers are
overworked, undervalued and underpaid for the huge responsibility they
have of educating our children .  You deserve so much more respect and
support than you are given.  Teacher X - you raise many important
points, but the one which touched me most was in your last paragraph,
where you talk about BHS being two distinct schools and you ask parents
to think about what they are modeling when so much emphasis is placed on
their student's academic achievement and so little on concern about how
their less privileged classmates  are doing.  The white middle class mom
of two non-white children also describes very well this problem when she
writes of the lack of contact between the parallel but separate
universes of BHS.  My children, thanks to the diversity of Berkeley
public schools,  have close friends from both universes and our family
has been enriched by this experience.  We've seen up close the
challenges faced by children from families of non-English speaking
immigrant parents who struggle to give their children the middle class
life and at least some of the amenities which students from the other
universe have such easy access to.  Too often the children from the less
privileged situation end up needing to work many hours at a job  - this
makes school success even more of a challenge.  What I'm trying to say
here is that all of our children need to learn from us parents that
education has to do not only with academic achievement but also with how
to appreciate and care about people from all walks of life.   What
better place to do this than at Berkeley High?


I refuse to feel guilty for seeking a better education for my child. And I
still think the students should not be drawing. If they are inspired by art,
let them listen to Britney Spears or look at Georgia O'Keef paintings. I
think the number of essays required each semester should be a school policy
that everyone knows. And the kids should be turning in vocabulary in any
week an essay isn't due.



I am very concerned about the idea that by demanding some sort of standard
in classes, we are hurting less privileged kids. I think in fact we help
them by insisting that teachers adhere to some sort of public policy.

I think there are certain kids that will do well no matter what happens in
English class. Their parents will take them to Italy, have them write a page
in their journal every day, and correct it one-on-one. Other kids will not
do their homework no matter what. It is the third group, who  could do well,
that is helped by the standards. They need to write those essays. If they
write enough, they may be able to get by in the business world. They may be
able to transfer into a four year college after they finish a community
college. These are the kids that Jaime Escalante tapped into in the barrios
of LA. And these are the kids that really benefit when parents speak up and
ask for standard old-fashioned math or an essay every week in English.

If parents insist on more AP classes, that means that not only will those
classes be available for the many privileged kids who want to take them, but
for the very few less priviliged who are trying to pull themselves up by
their bootstraps.

The real problem lies in the one-size-fits-all education.
   Anonymous please


I want to thank the teacher who spoke up about his/her concerns about the
proposed Monday schedule, "Teacher X", and Laura Leventer. Having your input
here is invaluable. I appreciate the time and care you've taken in your
letters. It made me realize, again, how few opportunities there seem to be
for parents and teachers to connect and talk--and what a difference that can

For 9th and 10th grade, my son was in the CAS program. This year he decided
not to continue, because he wanted to fit in a different elective, and
couldn't make it work in his schedule without dropping CAS. He has missed
being part of that community and it's programs, and I've missed being
included in that community. There were several CAS events throughout the
year when students, teachers, and families got together for a picnic or
other gathering, and there are committees on which teachers and parents work
together. I so appreciated the chance to get to know those teachers a bit,
and to have chances to ask a question about something in the program without
it having to be an "issue/problem" that's likely to prompt a phone call.
I think BHS would benefit tremendously from some additional
"school-within-a-school" programs that build this kind of community--and
from other formats in which teachers and parents can talk. (Back to school
night, with 10 minutes in a class, is a bare beginning, but only that.)

Perhaps there could be some presentation/discussions to talk about "math at
BHS" or "English at BHS" or "science at BHS"--events that would both provide
information about the program, and give parents (and students) a chance to
ask questions, have discussions--a place to talk about what works and what
doesn't, from all perspectives. Or perhaps such events could be targeted in
specific ways--"Helping our students: getting the most out of math, when
math's a struggle." I know the teachers are swamped, and imagine that having
such an evening might sound like the last thing they want to add. But some
parents and teachers could jointly plan such events, so that all the effort
doesn't fall on the teachers. (Is this the sort of event that would be
typically done through the PTSA? I don't remember any quite like it. Or
perhaps the new Parent Resource Center could be a vehicle for this.)

Or perhaps small groups of English and History classes, or Math and Science,
or whatever groupings make sense--could all decide to host a potluck, for
the students, teachers, and families? Even without a formal structure such
as CAS, we could make those kinds of events happen.

On a different note, I was particularly distressed by the mention in a
couple of recent letters about how it hard it is to keep new teachers at
Berkeley High, because the working conditions are just too hard. **WE NEED
TO CHANGE THIS**. We do need to push for better pay, smaller class size, and
better working conditions.

Teachers--what do you need? How can we can we parents help? As parents, we
don't see all the problems...often only the symptoms, as they come to us
through our kids. I hope you will let us know the specifics of what you see
that needs to change, and the best ways we can help.

Thanks to Sally Nasman, and Ginger Ogle in her absence, for hosting this
newsletter. It's a real service, for which I am very grateful. I'm also
acutely aware that there are many, many parents and families who would find
it valuable, who don't have computer or email access. We need to change
that, too.



Happy New Year Parents of Teens!

A look from the inside out is very revealing after reading Anonymous X's
response to the general dissatisfaction from parents about English, and
also the response from the Math Chair Laura Leventer.  Scheduling later
Mondays seemed like a good idea until I read the teacher's viewpoint and
how it further reveals BHS needs more communication between its teachers
and the administration.

My main fear is that BHS will become more splintered because of its image
as diverse, yet revealing within its diversity the separatism among its
students (not much has changed since 1969 when I was in high school).
Students bring from home their socioeconomic values--it stretches from
those kids who have overcaring, intrusive parents to those kids who have no
one, or worse, parents who care little for their success as people, and the
anger comes to school with them.  It's a very fragile relationship,
teacher-student, parent-child, and as a parent I want to support the
teachers as much as possible because all children need adult role models
beyond their parents.  Teachers are there on the frontline--they do need
more pay, they do need more support (in Japan, teachers are treated like
gods); however, among gods and people there are the good, the bad, the
ugly.  I look to the future and hope students' voices will be heard--to
have great teachers, to be encouraged to go to college, to learn about who
they are.  I hope administrators will fashion a school for all to feel they
can succeed, as teachers and as students, allowing teachers to teach to the
highest level of a student's intellect, to enlighten and turn on the
lightbulb even if it reaches just one child, but regardless of a sutdent's
socioeconomic background or color.  I believe AP classes should be
available to any ambitious child who wants to learn more and is curious.
Let the teachers teach and parents can gripe about art in English classes
and CPM Math, but these methods and problems should be used in the
elementary and middle schools so students come into high school prepared
for a college prep English course, where expository writing can be taught
and students learn to read with a critical and analytical eye--all
necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

I've learned a lot from the parents who've written the e-tree, how
thoughtfully they grapple with the problems that face their own teens and
all other teens today--drinking, drugs, underachieving, alienation--they're
our children and society's future.  I need support too, and the resources
and wisdom the many parents bring to this e-tree have opened my mind and I
am grateful for it.  I've been left with so much to think about as I've
read every one of the e-tree newsletters.  So, many thanks and wishing you
all good cheer, and a happy, safe millennium -- will read you in 2000!

Letter from the Math Chair at BHS


Mathematics is the subject everyone loves to make fun of. It is accepted to not like or understand Math - just listen to music, watch popular tv shows, commercials, or listen to dozens of parents say "I can't help my son/daughter with his/her homework, I'm just not good at Math." Although almost every adult I know can't remember any Math s/he learned in school and shudders at the thought of the quadratic formula, those very same adults want Mathematics to continue to be taught the "old-fashioned" way. The way that only a very few understood in the first place!! Yes, it obviously worked for me (a product of traditional Math at BHS in the 80's) but it didn't work for the vast majority of students.

The BHS Mathematics Department is concerned with students understanding and internalizing Mathematics in a way which allows them to apply the Math to new situations. We are not interested in students regurgitating the formulae in cookbook problems which they don't understand.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Educational Research and Improvement appointed a panel of 15 mathematicians, scientists, educators, and policy makers to look at new math programs. They recently nominated 10 programs as promising and 5 of those as "exemplary." Among the 5 are IMP (Interactive Mathematics Project) and CPM (College Preparatory Mathematics). These programs are both currently in use at BHS and around the country. We use the CPM for Algebra I and Geometry ONLY. All three Berkeley middle schools use the CPM Algebra.

Both programs use more of a guided instruction method. Teachers do not just expect kids to "figure it out" but they do want the students to attempt problems in groups and discover patterns and learn from that discovery. The teacher reviews progress through warmups, does sample problems and gives brief "lectures", walks around the room assisting groups on their discoveries, etc. Students are encouraged to work in teams and to ask group members for help. This doesn't mean the teacher won't help. It means the teacher and students time is more productive when the teacher is helping a group or team of four students who are working together. Many studies have shown that we learn the best when we explain it to someone else. Students can often explain something BETTER because they speak that same language (teenagerese). This is NOT meant to replace the teacher, it is a supplement.

The decisions about WHAT is taught in Math is made by the State Mathematics Framework, which the district (School Board) has adopted. HOW it is taught is decided by the BHS Mathematics department, although textbooks must be approved by the School Board. We have yet to find the perfect textbook for any course. Even the Math Analysis textbook which I spent hundreds of hours selecting using student and teacher input (for my Master's thesis), isn't loved by all. Each course (Algebra, Geometry, etc.) has meetings at least once a chapter so that teachers can discuss strategies, pacing, etc.

A summary of the programs at BHS: IMP is a non-traditionalcurriculum which is more problem-based. Units revolve around learning the Math necessary to solve a particular problem. Students take IMP1a,b - IMP 2a,b - IMP3a,b - IMP 4a,b. They may take A.P. Statistics after IMP 3b or 4b, or A.P. Calculus AB or BC after IMP 4b. The more traditional layout is Algebra 1a,b - Geometry a,b or Honors Geometry a,b - Algebra IIa,b or Honors Algebra IIa,b - Math Analyis a,b - A.P. Calculus AB or BC. Students may also elect to take A.P. Statistics after Algebra IIb, Honors Alg IIb, or Math Analysis b. Algebra Ia,b and Geometry a,b are taught using CPM textbooks, which are discovery based but are not exclusively so. Students cannot switch from IMP to "traditional" or vice-versa because the curricula do not match up. Students who do not pass Algebra 1b, Geometry b, or Algebra IIb in the spring may take them over in BHS summer school (provided we have enough students sign up for a full section). Both IMP and traditionally ordered courses are accepted by UC and CSU systems as college prep classes. SAT results are similar.

No curriculum is going to work for every child. The teachers at BHS work together extensively, making suggestions for methods of presentation, altering the assignments this way and that, all in order to have successful students. We are constantly improving and reassessing what we do. With the new High School exit exam and Algebra for all in eighth grade, it is crucial that we have a curriculum which helps as many students as possible. This is our goal.

-Laura Leventer, BHS Mathematics Department Chairperson

Responses to the Math Chair

re: Math bashing?
I'm a parent who likes math. I am an engineer, so I have a math background. I remember a lot of math I learned in school the "old-fashioned way". I bet most of us can remember what 5 times 6 is because we had to memorize it. I am not complaining about math instruction out of a dislike for math. I am complaining because my children cannot learn math using CPM. Since there is no other alternative, they are not learning math. Engineering will probably not be an option for them, because they will not have the math background for it.

re: kids learn better from each other
I asked my kid "how's it going with CPM so far this year?" (he hated it last year). He replied "It's a lot better this year because two of the kids in my group have tutors, so they can explain the hard stuff."

That speaks for itself.

I too am very comfortable with math. I did well in math in school, and remember it and enjoy using it. I do research. I learned math the traditional way. The "aha" moments were good, but there was a lot of practice and drill, and we got to the point where we could rapidly solve a variety of math problems, and gained an ability to quickly change our line of attack if one approach was not working. This requires speed in thinking, and some of the gain in the speed came from -- guess what -- drill!! One of our kids attends BHS. Her advice: don't take CPM if you can avoid it. It leaves important holes in your understanding of math.

I'm the parent who wrote about CPM math at Northgate High and I could not agree more with the engineer who wrote that she or he remembers the math learned the "old-fashioned way" in high school. So do I, and moreover as an architect I use algebra, geometry and trig regularly. If I don't remember just how to do a particular kind of math problem, I need only refresh my memory with a reference book and I'm off and running. Despite the previous thoughtful post by the math teacher, the fact is that CPM math doesn't work. Sooner or later the education system that experiments on our kids, to their detriment, is going to have to bow to this fact.

Hi, I just wanted to join the group that would like CPM math to be replaced. My son is an above average student except in CPM Math. Last year he didn't do very well in Algebra. This year, he was getting some help from the Geometry teacher and some help at the tutoring center, but I guess not enough, so we finally decided to get a great tutor, so things are getting much better.

My high school junior (St. Mary's High) went all through public schools in Berkeley through eighth grade. He experienced one poor year of Algebra with a brand new teacher in 8th grade, and we found a super, young, bright high school senior (BHS) to tutor him privately the last third of the 8th grade year. It brought his understanding and his grade up, and then he took Algebra 1 (again) his freshman year and sailed through with an excellent woman teacher at St. Mary's. I feel that there is no shame in taking the class twice and getting a really solid grounding. He did really well in Geometry (sophomore yr--with the same teacher as Algebra 1) and now is secure with Algebra 2 (current junior year). I endorse today's writer who recommends that parents find that young (or old!) tutor who can connect well, on a weekly basis, with your student. This does not need to be a super expensive professional adult tutor. Often the school counselors have names (at King, the after school Homework room coordinator provided several high school student names and we went with the first that said he had the time, $10/hour). they played ping pong when done with an hour or so of tutoring.

Letter from Friends of the BHS English Department

March 14, 2000

NEW! Parents Organize to Support the BHS English Department

Join Friends of the BHS English Department

  • Want to improve the experience of every student at BHS?
  • Want to feel more a part of the BHS community?
  • Want to improve computer access for all students?
  • Want to guarantee more feedback on student writing?

Here is an opportunity just for you!

At a recent Back to School Night, parents asked the faculty of the English Department to identify ways that parents could support the vital work of this BHS department. The English Department serves every single student at Berkeley High School, so when you support the English Department you are serving the entire BHS community.

Read the list below and contact the committee chair listed to sign up for a committee. Several committees still need leaders. Think about sharing responsibility with a friend.

Faculty has committed to participating on each of these committees so you need not feel you are on your own. Please volunteer to give whatever time you have (no amount is too little). Some of this work can be done before or after school, some during, and some evenings.

1. Facilities--Contact Person: Cathy C

Faculty has suffered major losses in the recent fires. Help restore the use of the teacher workroom space, faculty computer facilities, and the English book room. Furniture, bookshelves, refrigerator, microwave and furnishings to provide a place to meet and work are urgently needed. Donations of working computers (any that will run word processing software) and related equipment, especially a copier and a scanner would make the work of this faculty easier. The Facilities Committee of the Friends of the BHS English Department created the following wish list of needs and wants.

  Dictionaries Encyclopedias Novels for sustained silent reading Supplies:  overhead transparencies Framed posters & artwork Refrigerator Microwave Coffee machine Bookshelves (any size!) Computers, printers (P.C. or MAC) Couch Copy machines Comfy chairs and tables Fans Overhead projector screens VCRs Monitors/TVs TV Carts or book carts Cabinets Fax machine Bulletin boards Binding machine Help with pick up and delivery of these items 

2. Clerical-Contact Barbara C

This committee needs an organizer/contact person. Assist the Department Chair with book orders, testing and other materials; provide copy room support to teachers.

3. Technology-Contact Barbara C

This committee needs an organizer/contact person. Assist with website development, computer software/hardware training and support for faculty, developing and maintaining an online curriculum bank. Help make sure the English Department can take full advantage of the newly developing computer facilities at BHS.

4. Political Advocacy-Contact Barbara C

This committee needs an organizer/contact person. Research and pursue avenues to address English Department concerns such as class load.

5. Fundraising Contact Barbara C

This committee needs an organizer/contact person. Assist with identifying sources for grants and with grant writing, soliciting financial support for donation of equipment and materials such as books, supplies, equipment. We also discussed the possibility of applying for a grant to fund stipends for BHS students who can help with technology development over the summer and possibly computer lab assistance during the school day (with parent supervision).

6. Classroom assistance-Contact Wendy B

The English faculty wants your help with important jobs you can do during school, after school, and evenings. Faculty is planning to train parents to read and annotate student writing. If you have talents in this area, identify yourself and help students get more feedback on their writing. Or work directly with students under the direction of faculty. Parents are needed both during class time and before and after school and lunch. Students need adult supervision to use the computer lab during class, first period (7:50 AM), during lunch (11:30 AM) and during 8th period (2:20 PM). You can make the world of computer editing and word processing more available to students who do not have a computer at home simply by supervising the computer lab. You won't be alone, there is support from a technician, but one person cannot make the lab fully accessible to English students. There is both a Mac lab and an IBM lab. A training and organization meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 21 at 7:30PM in room C224. 

7. Leadership/Communication -Contact Samuela E

Organize and communicate with teachers and other parent volunteers via e-tree, phone, PTSA newsletter about English Department events, committee needs etc.


Overenrollment in BHS Classes

September 1999

We recently were distressed by BHS method of dealing with overenrollment of 9th grade AP geometry. In an effort to be fair, they randomly selected students (my daughter was one) and withdrew them from their current AP geometry class, rearranged other classes in order to put them in the less enrolled AP geometry class and said "sorry, you have no power," when I went in to complain.

It is three weeks into the semester, my daughter had to drop her favorit e class (which is dance in PE--which doesn't rank as being as important as academics, but which she totally loved) and rearranged her schedule. I spent two hours trying to figure this out with the counselor, but to no avail. All the classes my daughter would like to take are "All full now." This is really frustrating.

Couldn't they see this coming? Did it suddenly overenroll? Didn't kids have to pass a test LAST year to get in? Why is it suddenly a crisis-- Forcing kids to rearranged their schedules and taking away a class that they are really happy in doesn't seem like a great thing to do to kids. Any suggestion on how to handle this? How do other parents and kids feel who also got bumped from their classes?

Anne (9/99)

It seems to me that the district has a really big problem in their "demographics" department: BHS is overenrolled, causing over 350 students to have their schedules messed up, Willard is underenrolled, causing teachers to be transferred out of the school and a bunch more students to have their schedules messed up, and, as usual, the elementary schools had their enrollments changed at the last minute, causing the rearrangement of classrooms, split classes, and the hiring of teachers the day before school started. I realize that we're public and it's hard to predict who will come, etc., but it seems no one is monitoring demographics on the district-wide level.

As to the particular question of the BHS geometry classes, here's another piece of the picture: my daughter was supposed to be in Honors Geometry, but when she got her schedule at freshman orientation, it was so messed up that we spent four hours in line waiting to see a counselor to have it fixed. We finally talked with Kirk Black, the Freshman Dean, who was very nice once we got to him. However, when I asked how it could be that my child 's schedule was such a mess (wrong math, no language, not enough classes, wrong electives--I mean really a mess) considering that she filled out the thing last March, he said he assumed her schedule has just gotten lost and she'd been programmed into a "generic" freshman program on the assumption that it would need to be fixed "later."

When he did put her into a geometry class, I happened to notice his computer screen: "This class should have 28 students, it already has 37 students enrolled. Are you sure you want to add another one?" Yup, he added her, and mentioned that he thought they would need to open a few more sections of geometry (he'd already passed by another geometry section in our quest for a schedule; I assume that section had even more than 38 students in it). I don't understand how they could have been that far off on their estimates in this particular set of classes without noticing it, unless, as I suspect, even though the kids had to fill out their schedules in the spring, no one looked at them until the day or two before classes, at which point they needed to go looking for extra classrooms and teachers, finding them several weeks into the school year.

I had a similar frustrating experience. My daughter did not get into AP English, even though according to UC rules, she had scored high enough for a college class. I tried to talk to Mike Hassett, the English Department Chair. He wouldn't return my phone calls. My husband talked to the principal. She just said "Too bad, no room."

My daughter had the choice of taking regular English, taking a distance learning class from Stanford (very expensive), or going to Vista. She chose Vista. That is working out okay, but her schedule is a mess.

The school had alternatives, from my point of view. They could have put more kids in the classes, then hired a reader to take some of the pressure off of the teacher. They could have started an honors English class. They could have let some kids take the class Fall semester, others in the Spring. But it was as if the whole thing was written in concrete.

Hi everyone...

Just a response to the concern about students having their schedule changed... Yes, we did plan for this... we looked at 10 YEARS of data on growth at BHS and determined that it would be approximately 150 - 200 new students... This was done collaboratively - Charleen Calvert, Cathy James and I... but we were wrong... NOONE knew that we would see alomost 500 students and only drop 185... We even had registration for new students available ALL SUMMER and we only got 82 students...BUT from September 1st - 7th we were inundated...We have planned to handle the additional (and anticipated) 100 students but we had not planned on handling 400 more...Everyone regrets the inconvenice and disruption this has caused our school, students and staff...If there are suggestions about what we might do next year... please let me know... we will again try to estimate growth and will surely take into account a contingency plan for 400-5000 new students...any other ideas? T.
Theresa Saunders (Principal)

it appears that this year is just a continuation of what i consider the root of BHS problems- there are just too many kids, and not enough staff to deal with the situation. I have experienced variations on all the themes mentioned as my daughter made her way through BH - she graduated 99 and i have several years before i will be back again- and i honestly feel that the real solution would be creating another high school.

I realize this is a huge undertaking- but if we look down the road, there are going to be more and more kids each year during this baby boom #2 period, and as we all know, the numbers are not just coming from Berkeley. Up to a point, the school can, with better planning, create more classes to accomodate, but eventually they will run out of physical space- from what i hear, they already have- and who really believes that a school this size can really give the kind of individual attention that our kids need- or even group attention?? Especially the attention needed by the non AP kids! At any rate, I have not thought this through but wondered if others were feeling the same way. I must say that i am not looking forward to sending my son there in 2 years time, given the feedback i am reading!!
Lynn (10/99)

Some of us find it hard to believe that 400 legal Berkeley residents came into Berkeley High School to register after Sept. 1st. Since all students in the district schools are already registered or their numbers should be antipated and private school parents enroll their students early, where did these 400 new students come from?

We all know that there is an endemic problem in the Berkeley School District that students from any other district are welcome with no questions. Right from the Superintendent's Office is the message that the District wants to ADA for every student we can get, no matter where they live. We also all know the the State ADA does not pay for anyone's education in Berkeley. Berkeley residents have taxed themselves twice to pay for buildings and education of our students. We pay the highest property tax rate in California to support our schools. In addition, parents volunteer hundreds of hours, fund raise and pay for many of the activities that attract students to the Berkeley Schools, activities and classes that neighboring districts do not offer. That's what covers the education of Berkeley students and the additional ADA for out-of-district kids is not worth the money that ADA pays considering the havoc is clauses in our schools at all levels.

Starting in the elementary schools, out-of -distict kids are enrolled without proper documentation and no one can find their parents or guardians for an emergency or to address problems because their registrations were not adequately screened in the first place. Berkeley does not have an obligation to take every child from the surrounding school districts. You won't find Piedmont doing that! We have an obligation to take those that can be legally documented, have particular circumstances, and others of the basis of space availability.

I have raised this issue with School Board members and would like to see them address this problem of enforcing an appropriate district policy, and adequately screening documentation on new students so that our schools are not overcrowded.

Anonymous (10/99)

Over-enrollment from another perspective

While working with Mayor Elihu Harris in Oakland, I facilitated a public meeting in downtown. Several attenders complained that they couldn't find close, free, on-street parking, because all the spaces were filled. The Mayor responded: "from my perspective, that's a good problem for Oakland to have! We want more people downtown!"

Remembering that, I feel similarly about the over-enrollment problem in BUSD - "it's a good problem to have" when more people want to get in to our public schools than out. I sympathize with the students who are being affected right now, and Principal Saunder's immediate challenge to reorganize. However, I believe the great performance reviews about Principal Saunders over the past year has influenced many parents to try sending their children to our public school. This is really actually wonderful news! Hopefully, Principal Saunders can work out this problem satisfactorily, and plan ahead for another "over-enrollment" next year! Go BHS!

Iris (10/99)

Parent Notification about Fires?

Oct 2000

Last night at the Back to School Night at BHS I was given a copy of the Sept 22 edition of the Jacket. Inside there was a story with the headline "Teacher discovers fire in portable" about a fire set on Thursday, Sept. 7 between third and fourth periods in Portable 1. This fire consisted of blazing papers in a cardboard box which was discovered and put out by the history teacher, Eric Peterson. The new principal's reaction was blasi: "...it is natural for me to see small fires set in lockers and wastebaskets and that type of thing."

I was unpleasantly surprised to discover there had been a fire I knew nothing about, considering that I read this newsletter, the BHS e-tree, the Daily Planet, the Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times.

But even more disturbing was the editorial on the next page which claimed that the administration had been asked by the police to deliberately keep silent about the fire. So silent that even the Jacket didn't report on the NEXT fire, which according to this editorial (and that is the only source I have) occurred on Sept. 18 -- last week! Which is all the information they give.

I suspected that communication between school and home would be bad. But this goes beyond that. What's going on here?

I suspect that publicizing a fire encourages copycat activities, as well as rewards the perpetrator. ("Look what a big deal I caused without even getting caught!") The silence is probably a tactic to take away that fuel for the flame of publicity that could be the real motivation of the fire setter. Anonymous

Parent Resource Center

Parent Resource Center
Old Gym, Room 1 (near Milvia and Durant)
644-8524 (leave a message)

(reprinted from the Dec99-Jan00 PTSA newsletter)

"Parents are the most important advocates our kids have," said Pedro Noguera, guest speaker for the event and one of the originators of the project. "Parents who get lost in voice mail can't advocate for their kids. What parents need to negotiate their children's success is access to information."

And now, ready to assist parents in filling that gap are two new Parent Liaisons who will staff the Resource Center: Lanita Mims and Beth Montano. Parents who have been frustrated or discouraged in past approaches to the school have a big surprise ahead. "The first thing you'll see is my smile," says Mims. "I want parents to feel welcome and secure. I want them to come in and see the surroundings, see for themselves the change in the tone of things. That includes lounging while their children are in school, having some coffee, tea or water, reading a parent magazine. Then we'll work on the problem. I'm a parent, too. The problems they have, I have overcome. The doors are open with any concern or question."

"A frequent problem," says Noguera," is that students lead a double life at home and school. They will do things at school they would never do at home if they thought their parents would know and their parents DO need to know. We need to reduce that separation."

Parent Liaison Montano sees herself as that bridge between parents and teachers. "I want to build a support system for parents that is enjoyable and productive. Parents, teachers and the entire school community need to function together like a small ecosystem in support of the students. We've put our youth in jeopardy." Montano knows what it feels like to be marginalized at school. Recalling her own early years, she says, "I remember being alienated at school. I had to learn English with no support. It gave me a dismal start and affected my later academic development. When kids get a bad attitude about themselves - get discouraged - they are likely to feel they can't succeed and that will certainly keep them from succeeding. I want to be a lighthouse for the parents."

The parent liaisons will also assist teachers learn how to communicate with parents. Frequently they don't know what kind of information parents need. At other times they are reluctant to call parents because they anticipate an unpleasant response. The Parent Resource Center hopes to address this issue in a workshop in the spring. Other workshops will be developed around topics that parents request.

M-F, 9:00-1:00, staffed by Lanita Mims
M-F, 5-7:30 pm, staffed by Beth Montano
Saturday by appt. only

The Resource Center is located in the Old Gym, Room 1, near corner of Milvia and Durant, across the street from the tennis courts. To leave a telephone message at the center, please call 644-8524.

Pep Band

Jan 2000

If you currently have or in Fall 2000 will have a BHS student musician, I'd like you to know about the BHS Pep Band - a small three-year-old student group (after school club) that has a great time performing fun music for sporting and community events, enjoys the benefit of being part of a small student group - finding a niche at the school.

The Pep Band is a group of friendly kids who enjoy making music together and having a good time in the process. The kids share administrative responsibilities within the group under the direction of Karen Wells, orchestra teacher extraordinaire, and a three primary adult volunteers (Rick and Marla Faszholz and Wendy Morrison). Karen just joined the Pep Band this year. Rick, Marla and Wendy have been supporters of the band since it's inception three years ago (revived after having been cut from the music program after the late '70's.

If your son or daughter plays a musical instrument and would like to play in a casual, friendly environment, please encourage them to check us out in the Fall. This music group has many kids are in the orchestra, one is in the jazz ensemble, others are in neither but want to continue their music involvement.

Because 95% of the band are graduating seniors, they could not only have fun being a part of this group, but they could also do a great service to the high school - be part of the continuum of this aspect of campus life. Don't forget that your involvement as parents will be an important factor - and a gratifying one. Rick, Marla and Wendy can attest to that . As a matter of fact, please call Rick or Marla at 525-5789 if you'd like to hear more, If your son or daughter would be interested in attending a rehearsal, if your son or daughter would be interested in talking to one of the kids, or if you'd like to come to a game and see the group in action.

It's a great way to have some fun, do something worthwhile, find a niche at a big high school, get in free to the sporting events. As a matter of fact, this group has been invited to Japan to the Wasshoi 2000 worldwide music festival this summer - you just never know what will happen next!"

Showing Movies in Class

Nov 1999

My child reported that her class watched the Disney movie "Hercules" in their 7th grade English/History class @ King Middle School. I inquired if the movie was shown in the context of other translations or tellings of the greek myth. "No," was her reply. While I have not seen the Disney picture, I have read reviews lambasting Disney's transformation of the myth for its own ends. This has otherwise been my impression of Disney product, which I consider to be a 20th century artifact. While it is true and interesting that any interpretation of history is colored by the perspective of the scholar and his/her time, I find it very disturbing that this film was presented to children studying ancient Greece, without any other reference material (e.g. Bullfinch's Mythology), or larger discussion about perspective in the study of history. Not having been in the classroom myself, perhaps I am unnecessarily alarmed, and the relevance of primary sources, and issues of alteration of source material and creative inspiration from that material have been, or will be, addressed. (These are precisely the issues raised by the recent Morris biography, "Dutch".) However, I wonder if, in our interest to reach the kids with material that seems relevant and contemporary to them, we have not abandoned the study of history/classics entirely, for the consumption of popular culture. I would prefer a reading selected from one of many available translations of the Odyssey, or one of the classic Greek tragedies. These are examples of incredible storytelling and/or melodrama, still relevant today, provided that the language in the edition used makes the content accessible. It is the content, rather than the language, that has been pre-digested, when Disney is selected for the syllabus. What are the reactions of other parents?

Get this! My daughter was shown the movie "Something about Mary" in Biology on "Free Day". A parent complained (I wonder why? I also wonder which part had to do with Biology as we see fit to teach in school that is). Since a parent complained, the next "Free Day" they were shown "Little Mermaid". What is going on over there??? Was this perhaps marine biology and the previous movie related to Sex Ed? How is it that they are showing movies in school and how is it that a teacher can show an R rated movie to a child under 17?

I encourage all parents to complain to the head of the dept. when an inappropriate movie is shown in class. Of course, that is subjective, so , as a blanket rule, no 'R' movies should be shown. Yes, many 'R' movies are ok to some parents but we can't judge it on a case by case basis. (After all, most high school kids are under 17. ) I complained vigorously when the "underground" Jerry Springer tape was shown in a free day Science class and the dept chair seemed grateful to have the information. If we don't tell them, they don't know!

My son has just reminded me that the teacher who showed the movie "Something about Mary" in class (refer to complaints about this in a previous newsletter) also happens to be a very highly recommended biology teacher at Berkeley High School. You can see numerous recommendations for him at recommend/schools/BHS/teachers
Therefore, I would like to offer the following comments:
1. Do I think "Something about Mary" is appropriate for *all* high school students? No
2. Do I think it's a hilarious movie? Yes
3. Am I upset that it was shown in class? No, given that 1) this is one of the great teachers at BHS and 2) this teacher makes his students work VERY hard and in return gives them small breaks like movies. I think we should all cut Mr. Panashenko some slack and give him some leeway about how he conducts his class. He seems to be an excellent teacher and I for one am grateful for the effect he's had this year on my child.

There's definitely two problems here: what's considered appropriate educational material and who gets to determine this. I hope that there's some departmental overview of lesson plans which include inappropriate material. I personally agree that parental permission should be asked for by the school whenever any R-rated movies or explicit lyrics or programs are proposed. I'd like to know what controls are in place.

This has always amazed me within BUSD and has been a problem throughout my son's student career, but especially in Jr. High & High School. My son has been shown R-rated movies and trashy comedies in class since 7th grade and teachers treated me like I was from another planet when I complained. I did not give permission for my son to attend the R-rated version of Othello trip with his 7th grade class, but even that at least had a literary purpose (unlike Murphy's "Nutty Professor" which was shown for an 8th grade Drama class)! Movies made up most of his writing class in BHS summer school - "But Mom, we watch the movie to inspire us to write!" When they didn't have movies, they were listening to rap ("Mom, they PLAY them for us in SCHOOL so you should let me buy the explicit lyrics CDs!"), again for inspiration. I saw very little written work come back. I think my son learned not to say anything after that, because I haven't heard much about movies shown in the regular classes.

STAR Test Results (1999)

I am a parent of a sophomore at Berkeley High School, and I teach the AP Computer Science class at the school. I recently analyzed the spring 1999 Berkeley High School STAR test results for three ethnic groups, and I thought many of you might be interested in the results.

In reading, 27% of BHS African American students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 31% James Logan High School
  • 27% Berkeley High School
  • 22% Alameda City Unified
  • 20% San Francisco Unified
  • 20% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 19% State of California
  • 18% Alameda County
  • 17% El Cerrito High School
  • 14% Oakland Unified

In math, 43% of BHS African American students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 43% Berkeley High School
  • 37% James Logan High School
  • 31% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 27% Alameda City Unified
  • 26% San Francisco Unified
  • 25% Alameda County
  • 24% El Cerrito High School
  • 24% State of California
  • 19% Oakland Unified

In reading, 32% of BHS Hispanic Latino students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 32% Berkeley High School
  • 27% James Logan High School
  • 24% San Francisco Unified
  • 23% Alameda City Unified
  • 21% Alameda County
  • 21% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 16% State of California
  • 14% Oakland Unified

In math, 50% of BHS Hispanic Latino students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 50% Berkeley High School
  • 40% James Logan High School
  • 37% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 34% San Francisco Unified
  • 33% Alameda County
  • 31% Alameda City Unified
  • 27% State of California
  • 25% Oakland Unified

In reading, 87% of BHS White students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 88% Piedmont City Unified
  • 87% Berkeley High School
  • 79% Albany City Unified
  • 78% Acalanes Unified
  • 71% San Ramon Valley Unified
  • 65% San Francisco Unified
  • 60% Oakland Unified
  • 59% El Cerrito High School
  • 58% Alameda County
  • 53% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 53% Alameda City Unified
  • 52% State of California
  • 48% James Logan High School

In math, 91% of BHS White students scored at or above the national average. Results for other local schools, school districts, Alameda county, and the state were as follows:

  • 91% Berkeley High School
  • 91% Piedmont City Unified
  • 87% Albany City Unified
  • 83% Acalanes Unified
  • 82% San Ramon Valley Unified
  • 73% San Francisco Unified
  • 67% Alameda County
  • 65% Mt. Diablo Unified
  • 64% Oakland Unified
  • 64% El Cerrito High School
  • 61% James Logan High School
  • 61% State of California
  • 60% Alameda City Unified

The above figures were based on averaging the "% Scoring At or Above 50th NPR (National Percentile Rank)" for grades 9, 10, and 11 (ex, 49% for 9th grade, 47% for 10th grade, and 54% for 11th grade averaged to 50%). All of this data is publicly available on the California Department of Education's web site at "".

These spring 1999 Berkeley High School STAR test results are encouraging. Our results were among the best for every ethnic group. This level of performance reflects the commitment and hard work of teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Hopefully, these results will help inspire us to find better ways to work together to significantly reduce the number of students scoring below average and to assure all students are challenged.


Teacher Recommendations (1999-2001)


I have two general comments. 1) Like any recommendations, you have to remember that these are often just one person's experience. In elementary school at Jefferson my son had a not-so-sought-after teacher and had a fabulous year. She wasn't very creative and her room wasn't full of visual appeal but for him she was just the ticket--steady, kind, quiet, etc. 2) I think the kids share a lot of the info among themselves at Berkeley High---who is easy, who's "da bomb", who's crazy, etc. and they are probably the best source for this info. --Sally

Tammer is an outstanding (very experienced) English teacher- she literally transforms the meek into the outspoken, motivates writing voices to blossom and really ignites the most apathetic teen creatures into loving the rich study of language arts. Try to get your kid to her and be sure to bring her flowers. My own kid was so lucky to have her! Jan


My daughter has Ms Friedman for Spanish 5/6 and LOVES her. She has to work because she is really learning Spanish. Ms. Friedman really talks only Spanish (from day one in the class), but she does it in such a way that the students really do understand her. My recollection is that in the beginning if they were really stuck, she would use English (IF they first asked, in Spanish, for help). My daughter is excited about Spanish this year and hopes to become fluent in it. She wants to go to Mexico to REALLY get it. It seems to me that Ms. Friedman is demanding, but she is also fair in her dealings with students. The class definitely holds my daughter's interest.

Ms. Plettner (History) is terrific and Ms. Crawford (English) is also very good, according to my daughter. I know more about Ms Plettner than Ms Crawford. Ms Plettner has a very deep respect for her students and makes her classes very interesting. She makes her students THINK, rather than just reguritate facts. So it will only work for students who want to think about things.

Amy Crawford -- US Literature, Womens Literature -- my choice for best English teacher at BHS. She's young, energetic, caring, relates well with the kids, non-structured, thought-provoking, and all around great teacher. My daughter had her for two years before she graduated; my son has her now.

Mr. Glimme (?) -- Chemistry -- my daughter loved him; she thought he was tough but fair and made Chemistry interesting and fun.

Mr. Teel -- History -- I wouldn't mind taking a history class from him. He mostly lectures, so you have to take lots of notes; he expects you to work on your own; is very demanding; is one of BHS's veteran teachers. Shelley

These are my daughter's recommendations: Mr. Richards (Ecoliteracy, Comparative Religion), Mr. Jegers (Math), Mr. Kopish (Biology), Mr. Ahlgren (English), Natasha Fuksman (Photo), Ms. Stahl (Art). My daughter said that she won't make decisions based on what anyone says, but maybe this will help other parents and kids. Toby


There is so much griping going on about the terrible teachers, but what do we do for those special teachers? I know I haven't given it a thought , but will sit down tonight and write a note to those teachers that have MADE MY SON'S EDUCATION at BHS exceptional - Mr. Dale for History, Mrs. Boley for Chemistry, Mrs. Herndon for Latin,Mr. Hamilton for Jazz, Ms. Wells for orchestra, etc. My son has only had a few teachers that he didn't click with, but he managed to transfer out and find great teachers in other periods. I am very pleased with his BHS education, although he thinks it should be more of a challenge. As to the science classes, every teacher we heard speak at back to school nights kept going over the available tutors at school and their hours. Each teacher was also available for help.


Off-the-top recommendations for teachers at BHS:

  • Good: Spanish: Mr. Wolff
  • English: Ms. Anderson
  • African American Psychology, etc.: Ms. McClendon
  • Physics: Mr. White
  • Biology: Ms. Marantz (does she still teach this?)
  • Math: Mr. Lee
  • Calculus: Ms. Bodenhausen (very tough but good)
  • Art: Ms. Stahl (wonderful metal sculptures)
  • Journalism/English: Mr. Ayers
  • P.E.: Ms. Carey
  • English: Alan Miller
  • Math: Mr. Fritzinger
  • Latin: Ms. Herndon
  • History: Mr. Teel
  • English/French/Yearbook: Ms. Newman
  • Dance: Ms. Singman

Use this info as you wish. With 150 teachers at BHS it's still only a drop in the bucket, but we need all the help we can get, bearing in mind that a personality that might drive one student crazy might be compatible with another...

I have had very little contact with BHS teachers. I think you are right about the kids deciding amongst themselves. I almost started WW III by questioning my son's schedule yesterday, and asking him about teachers. He was very offended that I would think of interfering. The ones I've heard him talk about are Mr. Dale - History - He had Mr. Dale for freshman and sophomore history and loves him - I like him too - he comes across as interested, witty, and engaging and he apparently grades "easy". There is a new Science(Biology) teacher Ms. Benke (something like that) - she worked at LBL for a while and I was very impressed with her - very enthusiastic and energetic. My son likes her too. She phoned each parent the 2nd week of school last year just to say hello and introduce herself!

Recommend: Bill Pratt, History (he's very good) Rick Ayers, English/Journalism (great if kid is independent thinker, I think not as structured as my kid could have used) Anneliese Williams for math (for future reference, if she returns from maternity leave...she's not on the fall list)

Mr. Harmon is a very good and dedicated math teacher as is Mr. Panasenko. My son has had wonderful teachers, all around better quality than those my daughters had when they went through Berkeley. I really think and thank the CAS program for that. I see other friends, whose children have gotten whomever/whatever was "thrown" at them these past two years ( those not in CAS). I am eternally grateful to CAS for providing steady, caring and dynamic teaching. The higher levels of classes that you can get your child/young adult into, the better they will do. For example, AP classes have a more focused group of students, therefore better teaching can happen. Advanced is better than regular ( as in biology and chemistry). I agree that the principal seems to be really trying to turn things around at Berkeley. We need to help any way we can.

I say to friends that BHS has teachers as good as any you would find at the best public or private schools in the country and also teachers who shouldn't be teaching at all. My oldest child just graduated, my second just finished ninth grade. They've had both kinds of teachers, but I think that parents and students have to be very attentive (and assertive) taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible to be involved in teacher selection. It's also been the case that a teacher who was a poor match for one of my children was great for another.

Among the best (challenged the kids, communicated with parents, available for help during lunch or after school, high expectations, fair, personally engaging, PLUS the kids learned a lot): Herndon (Latin); LeBlanc, Harmon (Math); Hansen, Glimme, Panesenko (Science, but I hear Ms. Hansen is leaving to be VP at Albany High); Bye, Theodore, Miller (English); Pratt (History); Washington (Afro-Haitian dance), Hamilton (Jazz bands, piano). -- Emily (6/99)

Discussion about Negative Teacher Recommendations

Spring 2000 

Dear Parents of Teens,

I am a teacher at Berkeley High School who is very interested in improving the quality of education at our site. I am impressed with much of the discussion that I've seen on this mailing list and am grateful that teachers are welcome to participate in this forum. However, I feel the need to express my discomfort with the practice of individual parents posting their recommendations of which BHS teachers to choose and avoid.

I find this practice inappropriate due to the public nature of this forum. It makes me feel like I've accidentally listened in on someone's private conversation. This is a real morale-buster, whether or not one receives a good recommendation or the dreaded "avoid this teacher" label. One student's negative opinion posted here can easily tarnish a good teacher's reputation.

This is not to say that I believe that parents should not use this forum to explore the various course offerings and teacher options at BHS. Rather, I would like to suggest a more private and polite way for you to share your opinions. Perhaps you could merely send a message to "Parents of Teens" stating that you can be e-mailed for detailed information about your preferences and let the interested parties contact you. I realize that this would create a bit more work for everyone involved, but in the interest of good will between teachers and parents, I feel it would be well worth the effort.

Mary Patterson, BHS Spanish Department and New Teacher Mentor

Reminder from the Moderators:

We have a policy on negative recommendations for the newsletter that we've developed over the years. It's on the website at FAQ#neg

The gist of the policy is that recommendations good or bad are meant to be helpful to parents. Criticism must be accompanied by concrete examples of why a bad review is being given. We try to be careful about weeding out mean-spirited letters or those that are really just complaining or venting. We continue to re-think our policy all the time, and maybe it will not always be as it is now, but our underlying goal is to give parents information that they could not get any other way.

Parents of Teens is, well, for ... parents of teens. Different perspectives from different parents on different teachers is exactly the kind of information that parents discuss. The quality of our children's teachers is very important to us. Yes, it would be great to have these discussions one-on-one, but as our kids move up through the grades the opportunities for us to mingle diminish. We are running all over the place and our offspring are, frankly, not so keen on having us hang out at THEIR schools.

We understand that as we read a comment (positive or negative) about a teacher that we are not reading some definitive study, but rather an opinion. I value gathering insight on the many different teaching styles discussed in this e-tree. As long as the discussions are constructive, I do not think that parents sharing their opinions should be censored. - Anonymous

I think you are going a great job on the website! I remember that at UCB in the late '60's the professors were being "reviewed" by the students in a critique booklet. It was very controversial. But it prevailed. Freedom of speech. Anonymous

I find the section in the newsletter re: Discussion - Teacher Recommendations-not really a discussion. It seems to be a forum to critique Berkeley High School teachers in a negative or positive manner and then put a biased label, perhaps by one individual, on that individual teacher's reputation. On the other hand, I think it would also be inappropriate if teachers used this forum to post their recommendations of which BHS students to choose and avoid. Please, let's avoid "labeling" people, and begin looking at other positive avenues of communication between parents and teachers. Anonymous

I wish to respond to Mary Patterson, the BHS teacher who finds the idea of teacher recommendations to be inappropriate for the newsletter. She mentions that a discussion of this type is a "real morale buster". I certainly feel for teachers that may get their feelings hurt by any negative comments they might read about themselves on the newsletter, however, one would hope that instead of getting hurt feelings, they might use the comments to look for ways to improve their quality of teaching, which would be a very positive effect of the newsletter. What would be ideal would be if the school department chairs would read the newsletter and then use the information posted about a teacher to help that teacher improve their teaching skills. I think it's an extremely powerful way for parents to help their children to get a good education, which is not an easy task.

There needs to be a way to communicate to other parents and teachers about the quality of the education their children are receiving. As another way for possibly improving the quality of teaching, I would also like the school to distribute evaluation sheets to the kids at the end of the year so that their comments can be heard, but there then needs to be a system in place for any needed corrective action to occur. In other words, the evaluations need to be compiled and used as part of a teacher's performance evaluation so that any problems can be solved. For several years now I've heard rumors about BHS doing this, but haven't seen anything concrete. Toby

Hello. I am a teacher at Berkeley High School, and I am writing to ask that the UC Berkeley Parents Network revise its policy regarding teacher recommendations from parents.

In the short time that I have been a member of the Parents of Teens Mailing List, I have been very impressed with its quality. This mailing list and the larger UCB Parents Network are both powerful communication tools that give parents and teachers the ability to share with each other in ways that were literally unimaginable just a few years ago. The sense of community that this Network fosters is critical to Berkeley High School's development, and I applaud the efforts of everyone who contributes to and manages this resource.

I am VERY concerned, however, about one aspect of the Network: the posting of negative teacher reviews. Recently, the mailing list posted an anonymously authored critical review of one BHS teacher, and on the "Teachers of Berkeley High School" web page, one finds anonymous postings critical of other BHS teachers. In these postings, teachers are listed by name under the categories "not so hot" or "avoid", and briefly given a short description, including: * "not very challenging" * "no sense of humor" * "vindictive" * "nice, but waiting out retirement" * "space cadet" Other teachers are vaguely listed as ones that someone's son had "a difficult experience with," or even listed as being bad teachers with no justification at all.

I strongly favor formal teacher evaluations, both by administrators and students, and I believe teachers, students, and parents are all partners in the learning process and should be held accountable for their participation in that process. But I, and many of the teachers and parents I've spoken with regarding these negative teacher reviews, find such comments of no real value, personally hurtful, and ultimately damaging to parent-teacher relations and the educational community.

Anonymous postings from a single parent that didn't happen to like my sense of humor, or who thought I didn't challenge his/her child enough, are not legitimate evaluations of my teaching or the educational environment in my classroom. Vague descriptions of a "difficult experience" that a student had with me might refer to practically anything, from a tardy detention that a student felt he or she didn't deserve to more serious problems in the classroom -- without any elaboration the description of a "difficult experience" is useless. And there is absolutely no excuse for maliciously referring to any teacher as a "space cadet."

The Network's policy, as stated in the "Frequently Asked Questions - Parents of Teens" section of the web site, requires "specific reasons" and "specific examples" of bad experiences that parents have had with teachers, and explicitly prohibits "name-calling." Clearly, that policy is not being followed. Even the gracious disclaimer from the Network and from parents that 'different children may have different experiences with a teacher' does nothing to repair the damage done to teachers who unexpectedly find themselves labeled as "not so hot" or "avoid." Sadly, the biggest losers in this game may be the students: there are several 'bad' teachers listed on the Teachers at Berkeley High School web page that are strong, competent, and generally well-liked by students. It's unfortunate that students might be discouraged from enrolling in these teachers' classes because of one vague, anonymous complaint, however well-intentioned that complaint was.

In the interest of encouraging communication in our educational community, and simultaneously strengthening that community, I strongly encourage a revision of the UCB Parents Network's policy regarding teacher recommendations. I suggest that: 1) positive teacher reviews continue to be allowed; 2) negative teacher reviews should NOT be published, either in the newsletter or on the UCB web site; 3) students and parents who have concerns regarding the performance of a teacher in the classroom bring those concerns to the teacher and, if necessary, to the school site administrators; 4) parents who wish to share their negative teacher experiences with each other do so privately.

I would like to see the UCB Parents Network continue to grow as an important means of parent-parent and teacher-parent communication, resulting in a stronger, more cohesive, and more effective educational community. Publishing negative teacher reviews puts that community at risk. It should be stopped.

Thank you for your consideration.
Richard White, Berkeley High School Science Department

Reply from the Moderator:

I have been very sloppy about enforcing our negative review policy. As Richard White points out in his letter, our web site had a message that included a string of one-liners about teachers, such as "space cadet", with no other explanation. This is not allowed for two reasons under our policy:
- negative statements must be backed up
- no name-calling

I apologize for this and I have removed the remarks from the web site. They never should have made it into the newsletter and certainly not on to the website. I promise to be more vigilant in the future and I hope others will call other gaffes to my attention.

However I want to say why I think it's important to continue the practice of negative reviews, as long as they conform to our policy:

- This newsletter is for parents. While we welcome teachers and students and administrators, the function of the newsletter is to be a useful tool for parents.

- It is useful to hear about bad experiences other parents have had. How are we to learn otherwise? Wouldn't you like to know about a bad experience another person had with a doctor, so you can make a more informed choice?

- None of us is going to agree 100% with another's opinion, and we all have different tastes and needs. The more opinions we hear, the better informed we are, and the more likely we are to find the thing that best suits us.

- If you disagree with a review, please post your own opinion. If anything, you have a *better* chance of righting wrongs than with the traditional whisper-over-the-phone method.

- Utility is the goal, and hopefully the scale is tipped toward utility, even when criticism is in the balance. It's sometimes hard to find the line between constructive criticism that is helpful, and hurtful criticism that has no other purpose than venting or even maliciousness. But that is what we try to do.

An email newsletter makes it possible for everyone to be informed, no matter how busy they are, or how well connected. Traditionally, there is a group of parents at a school who are "in the know", plugged into the grapevine, who know which teachers to request and which to avoid. They do not have to learn the hard way, by trial and error, because they benefit from the advice of others on the grapevine. We owe a lot to those involved parents, and maybe they *should* get special perqs. But there are a lot of us out here who don't have time to be very involved, to build relationships with teachers and other parents, volunteer at the school, make phone calls, go to meetings. We aren't on the grapevine - we are on our own. For us, a wrong guess can be a very expensive mistake - maybe a year with a terrible teacher when there are only a few years of school left for our kid.

This newsletter gives the rest of us the chance to benefit from the wisdom (or folly) of others. Hopefully in another year or two, all parents will have email and everyone can participate. Even though it means that criticism becomes more public, it also means that informed decision-making is no longer restricted to a small group of people, and that it becomes possible for all of us to benefit from the biggest possible pool of experience.

Ginger Ogle

I wanted to say I AGREE with you completely about the teacher reviews. It must be painful for a teacher (or anyone) to read these reports. We recently instigated "reverse" performance evals in my department and now I receive reviews from the staff who report to me as part of my performance reviews from my boss (and she gets my eval and those of the others who report to her, etc.). These can be anonymous, and it can be a little scare-y. But, it also helps me to know if I have mending to do with someone who reports to me.

In re. to Mr. White's suggestion: "... students and parents who have concerns regarding the performance of a teacher in the classroom bring those concerns to the teacher and, if necessary, to the school site administrators" Right! Of course! Why didn't we think of this sooner?? Just take the problem to the teacher. Teachers aren't at ALL defensive, their teaching habits and personalities are flexible. They are completely open to suggestions about the way they teach and/or relate to students. And they love to hear from parents about their concerns. Oh, and of course, administrators are open to parents' concerns too, and have authority over teachers and work with them to improve their teaching.


What Mr. White suggests is, of course, the official way to deal with problems, and in some cases it might even be worth a try. (I'd be interested in knowing if any parents on the list have EVER seen a change for the better after sharing a concern with a teacher). I've been watching the way the public schools work for eight years now and have observed that teachers simply don't listen to parents, and they don't change their teaching habits for anyone, including a parent. Yes, talk to the teacher when there is a problem. But don't be surprised if your concerns fall on deaf ears. And don't forget--administrators are former teachers.

The schools have always tried to keep parents from discussing teachers and problems. As if!! Long live freedom of expression! Our children are too important not to discuss what seriously affects their lives and futures. But we need to be smart consumers. Everyone's experiences are different and subjective, every student is different, so listen to other parents--but make up your own mind based on your child's needs.

If you read parents' stories on this list you know how scary and frustrating it can be to try to talk to teachers. It isn't like choosing a doctor or mechanic-- teachers don't have to answer to anyone, they're not running a business, they have a captive audience (our children for heaven's sake!), and there is very little, if any, evaluation of teachers.

There should definitely be a system for students to evaluate teachers. Why shouldn't teachers be accountable to the students they serve and to our community? Just because our kids go to public school doesn't mean we've abdicated our power or that we stop advocating for our kids. Surely teachers must understand that. Anonymous

I strongly support the Parents of Teens newsletter's policy of posting parents' negative or positive comments about teachers. I think Ginger Ogle outlined the reasons quite nicely.

As a teacher, I can sympathize with the discomfort one feels when being described as "without a sense of humor" or as "scattered." And yes, it would be wonderful if parent complaints about teachers were dealt with in a forthright manner by the teacher or department head. But in truth, this does not occur in many cases. Some department heads do not return phone calls (although others are quite good at a prompt call-back). However, my experience is that many times department heads respond with weak excuses and defensive postures when teachers in their department are criticized.

Negative comments can serve as a "wake-up call" to teachers that their style of interacting with students or their teaching method has its limitations. One would hope that a good teacher would try to improve, or if not possible, find a way to compensate for weaknesses. Certainly one can think of teachers one has had who, for example, lacked a sense of humor but showed their concern for students in other ways.

In the meanwhile it is most helpful for parents to be able to share this information about teachers, understanding that it represents only a single person's point of view. Having teachers' post their perspective or point of view would also be quite useful; that would enable parents to have a better idea of the teacher's perspective and how well it matches up with their student's learning style. Anonymous

The guidelines for teacher reviews are good ones so let's keep the feedback coming. For me, this forum is the (more efficient) equivalent of standing in the hall after a PTA meeting and getting personal experiences from other parents.

I've been reading some specific reviews of teachers (negative and the positive; some have taught my child). I particularly think it is far more helpful to get the positive reviews along with the name of the teacher. It's supportive if the teacher reads it and helps parents get to know what teachers are really with it. Negative reviews tend to go over the edge with a parent's comment so personalized because their child had such a bad experience with the teacher that there is just no fair or in-between way to evaluate, and therefore such negative reviews are not helpful oftentimes bordering on defamatory or libelous. I realize this discussion could go on for many newsletters. The one thing I've noticed is that the students themselves quickly get the word out about a really bad teacher that no student should take--and I would rely more on the students taking that initiative than the parents taking it on for them. Just a reminiscence as one who survived public school for many years--I had several very bad teachers and a couple of bad years academically (in high school I practically flunked out of Civics, as it was called back then, because there was so much animosity between me and my teacher), however, I was still accepted at several UC's, and it didn't ruin my college career or my life, at least I would never blame my bad teachers for ruining my life--I was able to do that on my own. I am, as always, more concerned about the overall curriculum--how to improve Math and the English curriculum, programs such as CAS which is relatively new and seems very dynamic--how to keep it going and improving each year, issues with teachers that the administration should handle (perhaps at this time more difficult because of a possible strike over salary). Also, issues brought up in this newsletter--absences, complaints about teaching styles (lacking a sense of humor doesn't really count)--should be taken into account by each academic department, and from the inside evaluate and critique their teachers. I hope this is being done, and wonder if a BHS administrator, teacher, or department head could write the e-tree and outline how teacher evaluations are handled from the inside.

To be honest, I don't know how high school teachers keep their energy and enthusiasm up over the course of a school year, handling approx. 30 high school teens, teaching approx. 4-5 classes a day. As a profession, they definitely don't get paid enough. The demands of teaching are incredibly weighted with the idealism teachers came out of college with and the realities they have to deal with on the job, a career that can be rewarding, exhilarating, and a total burnout. --Jahlee

On the debate over negative reviews of teachers: While I do find it somewhat unprofessional to print negative reviews of teacher (especially when the objections are not clearly explained and sometimes seem to reflect personal grudges), I do see how they can be helpful. My only problem is when these negative reviews are that they are usually unsigned. I find it almost childish the way some parents feel they can attack and criticize a teacher's performance, pass it off as a legitimate job evaluation, and not disclose who they are. It shows a lack of courage and makes me think: If these parents believed enough in what they were saying, and thought they had a well-developed, legitimate concern, why won't they take credit for it? It is extremly unprofessional and very unfair to the teachers for such anonymous postings. - Russell

Note from the moderator: Just want to repeat that ...
- we reject negative reviews that are not objective, that aren't explained, or that are just "venting"
- please let me know if you ever see any like that in the newsletter that slip by me
- please post your own opinion if you see a negative review you disagree with

RE: anonymous postings

We once had a policy that negative reviews could not be anonymous. However, people pointed out that identifying the reviewer can sometimes damage existing relationships with doctors, teachers, childcare providers, etc. Many people will not share their bad experiences if they must sign their names.

In the UCB Parents newsletter a few years ago, a subscriber wrote a very mild negative review of a doctor who'd already received several other very critical reviews. This review ended up in the person's chart, and the next time she visited her doctor, she was shown her letter and told to find another doctor (thus confirming the criticism!)

This experience taught us two things: one, we should allow people to post anonymous reviews, two, we should all be very careful about what we say in email, because you never know where it will end up.

This newsletter tries to err on the side of usefulness - if the anonymous review follows the policy, then we print it on the theory that it will help more people than it hurts. Besides, as Russell points out, most readers will put more credence into a signed review rather than an anonymous one, good or bad.


Please also post this about the teacher reviews: Just a comment on the latest ongoing discussion about positive/negative reviews of teachers, I find it interesting that so many people have commented on the pros and cons of this practice, but only a couple of people have actually posted teacher comments. Last year we had a nice exchange of this information with no controversy. Quite interesting.

My son was taught a very valuable lesson in second grade. Besides reading and math I think this is one of the most valuable things he has learned in school. His class was taught the difference between fact and opinion. It was explained to them and then they had to do exercises identifying facts and opinions and later stating facts and stating opinions. He is now in fourth grade and this lesson has never been forgotten and many incipient fights have been resolved by the children realizing they are discussing opinions not facts and it's OK to have different opinions!

All teacher reviews here are OPINIONS. They may be backed up by facts - or by interpretations of facts. They are still opinions. We would all like for everyone to share our opinions on things, but that's not the way it is. I've often loved a teacher no one else seems to like and though one of my children once got the teacher everyone was practically having fist fights over I was left at the end of the year wondering what all the fuss was about. I've also realized that what I consider a good teacher does not always match with the kind of teacher with whom my children do well.

My older daughter had what I considered a rotten English teacher who just went on and on about the five kids in her class that were into Shakespeare and how wonderful they were (this was at back to school night) and she said not one word about the rest of the kids in the class. (They were not studying Shakespear at the time) My daughter could not stand the teacher and hated Shakespear, at first I thought it was her, then I talked to the teacher and I could not stand her either and I realized that she really did not like my daughter- But you know what? The parents of those five Shakespeare lovers thought she was the best!

So, for those teachers whose feelings have been hurt, read the opinions with an open mind. If it's pointing out something about you, you don't agree with - then why worry about it? On the other hand if it's something that maybe needs improvement - then hopefully you can do that. All of us understand how hard it is to be a teacher these days, but you are dealing with our precious children and we will always try to find a way to give them the best. At least here on this list you know what is being said about you whereas in the halls.....?

Re: Kids giving the teacher recommendations to each other: -I've learned from my 16 year old that she considers one of her teachers great because they show movies in class. Another is rotten because he gives her detention if she's "just one little minute" late back from lunch. (Do you really want to trust her reviews of who's good and who is not?). I've picked this information up from the conversations that go on in the back of the car as she shares her wisdom with a friend that is one year behind her in school.

I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the notion that teachers who read the parent's newsletter are offended by our discussions. After all, this is the PARENT'S newsletter. I hardly think there's massive teacher bashing going on and what discussion there is seems pretty straight forward and slanted towards people's individual experience, i.e- anecdotal and based on their own child's experience.

I consider myself intelligent enough to read what someone says and fit it to my child's needs. Two of my children had one of the most feared and maligned teachers in the school and both liked him, and even THRIVED. I don't actually care if my child likes his teachers. I care if the teacher teaches. I care if there's a curriculum that's relevant, stimulating, useful and on-target (by on-target I mean learning history in history class). I want my child to finish the term having a wider and deeper understanding of the subject and not just have warmed a chair and gotten an A for it. I also look to see if the grading is fair and based on quantifiable and clearly defined expectations. Even a grumpy or uninspired teacher who teaches their subject with competence is, if not ideal, certainly just fine with me.

Why is there such a fuss about teacher evaluations? Teacher performance isn't a secret. One parent already said: stand outside the PTA meeting or on the courtyard and whom to avoid and who's a great teacher are common knowledge. When kids used forum registration (running from department table to department table) it was clear as day whose cards were first to be grabbed up. People nearly came to blows over the last card for a certain beloved English teacher. My son's college has a student access only web site with set of teacher evaluations that go into great detail about grading, workload, interest, organization, curriculum, lecture style, amount of discussion, teacher accessibility, and general overall experience. It's very useful.

As we approach teacher choice time I'd like to see more people submit recommendations and caveats. The most helpful ones include specifics. "My child was bored" is way too vague and could have more to do with the student than the teacher. I'd love to hear from some kids, too, about who they recommend and why. It will add an additional element on top of calling around to the kids you or your kids know who are one grade up the night before the request forms are due.


My stomach turns everytime I read parents judging teachers. I agree with the writers on today's newsletter regarding anonymity and the previous person's comments. Some of the things I have read about teachers are just down right inflammatory. Has anyone checked with lawyers about libel against this medium or those responsible for posting such nasty stuff? While this newsletter has been very helpful and useful, the negative teacher evaluations have tainted what is an outstanding way to communicate with parents. Let's keep it positive and give constructive criticism only PLEASE! Robert

Editor reply: I haven't seen anything inflammatory in the newsletter. What "nasty stuff"? I don't recall that either. About libel - as far as I know it is still OK for people to express their opinions, in email, in person, or anywhere. Ginger Ogle

Just to flog an issue to death: the students at UC Berkeley have put out an illustrative book evaluating professors who teacher undergrad courses, for 1999-2000, "Cal FACTS (Feedback and Course Tips for Students)." It's a very sophisticated guide (I believe they just use Word and PowerPoint software). Its presentation is very easy to read. I've excerpted an actual sample of a professor being evaluated (note the professor, Pedro Noguera, and the huge class size, with about half responding):

Class:  Education 40AC
Instructor:  Pedro Noguera
Class Size: 369
No. Responding: 177

Comments [they are all one-liners]:
* inspiring, good professor
* deeply fulfilling, eye-opening, engaging, and will change someone's career
* reading intensive
* invaluable
* thought provoking
* controversial
* very applicable to my life and other courses
At the bottom is a pie chart (a great way to see how the values are
disseminated (from 1-5, with 5 being the best) dividing up the results of
the five questions asked of the responding students:

1) Amount learned (the pie chart shows 72% with a 5 - learned a lot)
2) Difficulty of course (46% with a 3 - middling)
3) Recommend prof.?  (92% with a 5, a very strong recommendation)
4) Recommend course (83% with a 5)
5) Hours spent on course (43% with a 3-5 range - middling)

Of course, high school students will not have this level of sophistication and education along with the time and know-how in putting teacher evaluations in writing. Word of mouth works best for teenagers, but their opinions count, and if they show their intellectual immaturity, so what? When does intellectual maturity begin--it's very individualized. Teacher evaluations are useful and getting a representative sample of students' opinions would be more valuable because it's a first-hand look, not a second or third hand look. --jahlee

[Ed] In response to my questions about the evaluation, Jaylee replied:

it was free for as long as there were copies (they were handing them out in front of Sather Gate). The ASUC Academic Affairs Office and volunteers labored over 6,000 hours to put this out -- it is student-initiated and a student-run program under Academic Affairs (began last Spring). Survey questions are distributed to every departmental office on campus during the latter part of the semester, then distributed by departmental staff to individual professors, who then administer the Cal-FACTS Program and send the completed forms to the Cal-FACTS office. The editors note that they selectively do not publish inappropriately offensive comments that would disrespect or embarrass faculty members, but rather try to provide constructive yet honest feedback to help students make informed course choices, and it is put out in cooperation with faculty members, administrators and students. It's the first year and quite an undertaking. There's no mention of it being on-line, only hard copies were only available. The funding comes from the ASUC (student fees) and cost in exccess of $33,000. --jahlee

8th Period

June 2000

Dear Berkeley High parents,

Please consider asking the school to allow the use of the 8th period 'free-add' slot for PE classes. It offers the students several advantages: 1. It offers another time slot for students to use to meet their 2 year PE requirement. For children who have summer commitments, or many class interests, this allows them to pursue their intellectual interests and still meet the physical education needs for graduation during the normal school year. 2. Many coaches and PE teachers are there for after school team activity, so it can work well for the PE teachers involved. 3. Students can use an 8th period PE class as a warm-up, if they also participate in an after school team, which is always good to protect against injuries. 4. Many students hate the idea of getting sweaty, or having to shower at school, etc during the school day and then attending classes afterwards. Slotting 8th period for gym would allow them to sweat-up at the end of their day. This may also encourage them to put more into the phyical exercise. They will know that they head home from there, rather than have to sit by some really attractive student next period feeling "reeky." 5. It may actually help re-energize the students at the end of the day, or help them shake-off the stresses of all the class expectations. We may get happier children back after school, more prepared to cope with homework and other after-school commitments. What do you think? If enough feel it a good idea, it might be more powerfully presented en mass to administration. I think it would be a good choice for all involved. In a time when we seem to be losing flexibility, this may give us a bit of breathing space back for the children's schedules without cost. Loni

I think Loni Gray's idea of 8th period PE makes tremendous sense. Also, I have been trying for three years to get the school to give PE credit for outside physical education because my son already puts in about 16 hours a week in martial arts, but they refuse to consider it. I know the independent study kids do it that way. Anyone know a way around that one?

Eighth period P.E. sounds great to me. We've plotted out my eight (soon to be ninth) grader's next four years and I can't figure out how to get in those two years of P.E. Plus, he's not really athletic enough for team sports, but really needs the exercise.

I think it is a great idea to let kids take PE eighth period. I don't understand the "without cost" part though. It surely will cost something. But why not also offer ceramics, photography, language, computers, etc? Why limit it to PE?

I would like to support the idea of an 8th period PE "free-add" class for all the reasons given by Loni in the newsletter. I have an entering 9th grader and it is hard to see how to fit PE into the 6 period schedule. PE gives kids an opportunity to try a wide variety of sports which is something to be encouraged. Also as the sports teams become more and more competitive (a serious malady afflicting all American educational institutions) where is the opportunity for recreational sports and those who are not ace atheletes but enjoy playing?

Here's the letter that I wrote to Ms. Saunders, and here's what she wrote back. If other parents have an angle that might work for opening up class space, please approach Teresa now with your ideas, so she sees that we feel it is important that she pursue these and other ideas.

[Ed: I've excerpted Loni's letter in the interest of saving space]

  Dear Ms. Saunders,         

I think I have an idea, or two that would be helpful to the student scheduling for next year. [...]  Please consider first, allowing your BHS families to use 8th period 'free-add' slot for PE classes. It offers the students several advantages:  [Ed: Loni listed 5 advantages referred to in her letter to Teens]  Allowing PE into 8th period should not add to your budget costs and would help quite a few children fit all the necessities in without summer school,.. or two gym periods their senior year. It might actually add to the attendance dollars the school earns because children would be taking the additional class each day, rather than simply substituting a different kind of class during the same number of periods. If we allow those children who aren't sports-team oriented to add on an 8th period, hopefully some additional revenues would be earned by their longer day attendance.            As a second yet related idea: It seems only just that if athletically gifted students can use activities after school as the 2 year PE requirement to open up an additional school day slot for their needs, that the other students should have the same after school opportunity, even if they are not team oriented.  [...]  Please consider 8th period PE and off-campus PE substitution.  Thank you,                                                                                      Loni  

Reply from Theresa Saunders: 

Thank you... Currently, we have Phys. Ed. during 8th period as part of the athletic program. Students who are part of a team get Physical Education credit for their participation. We can not offer regular Phys. Ed.  classes during this time period because we have no space...Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a free ad... every teaching position costs us in the schedule...We allow students to take the Visual and Performing Arts classes because they would die without the support... Physical Education is not such a species... I will, though, bring this to the shared governance committee for next year... Thank you again, for sharing your ideas... T.