Parents' Comments about BHS (2005 & earlier)

Questions Related Pages

2004 - 2005 Discussions

How to find out info about starting Berkeley High

Oct 2005

Re: How do I apply for the Academic Choice program?
Berkeley High schedules a series of information meetings in the spring both at BHS and the three BUSD middle schools for incoming 9th graders and their families which include information on the small schools, the math sequence, PE requirements, electives, how to register, etc. The dates for these meetings have not yet been set. For families not yet enrolled in the district or contemplating private schools, an earlier meeting has been scheduled for November 15, 2005 in the Community Theater at 7 p.m. If you are interested in visiting the school, parent led tours will start following the November 15 meeting. Tours, by appointment only, leave the front office at 9:45 a.m. on most days. To sign up for a tour, please contact Janet Huseby, the BHS volunteer coordinator, at jhuseby [at] These tours are not geared towards students though students are welcome IF accompanied by a parent or guardian. Janet Huseby

2002 - 2003 Discussions

January 2003

Berkeley High is a mess but survivable. The best thing about it is that there are some fabulous students there. There are a few good teachers. There are also some dreadful kids, and some positively dreadful teachers. My child is on the academic track and there is nothing fun about the school. It's all quizzes/lectures/tests then hours and hours of homework (as much as 6 hours a night as a Junior!). The work is not particularly inspiring and my child has not developed either a love of learning or a capacity to think. Most of the learning is done at home through homework, particularly the math. Surprisingly the Latin classes have been the most 'fun' of all the classes - probably because the teachers are wonderful. English, until this year, in Academic Choice, has been a joke. History is almost non-existent unless you luck out with one of the few good teachers. I have heard that CAS provides good English and History classes, but they weren't looking for any 'smart white males' when my son thought of applying and Academic Choice wasn't available for him until this year (it does have the good teachers, but also a TON of homework.) If we had any choice my children would go somewhere else.
I was disappointed to read the write up on bhs and so am publicly adding our experience.

My daugher is a senior who entered bhs in the 9th grade, after an Oakland Public School education (and a private school at St. Paul's for 7th and 8th grade). She has had a wonderful variety of experiences, both socially and academically. She was in CAS, a small school, from 9th -11th grade so had classes both in the small school setting and the larger school. She has been very active in dance and cheerleading; this year there was a major conflict in scheduling between CAS and Dance so she opted to continue dancing and is part of the comprehensive high school program.

My daughter has had a very diverse group of friends, including some who were gang affiliated. She is now in a group of terrific kids, all of whom I truly like and enjoy. She feels completely safe at the high school and, quite honestly, I feel safe having her there. This is no mean feat for me. My daughter is 5'2, naturally blonde, blue eyed, and has a well endowed figure and I would generally feel safer not letting her out of the house!

Yes, she has had some bad teachers - where doesn't one? But overall, she has had an excellent, well rounded education and I'm more than pleased. She is not a 'super-academic' e.g., she took no AP courses until this year when she left CAS. But she does get her work done and she is bright. She has a 3.64 GPA and has already received acceptances from Tulane and Rutgers. She is well prepared for the world, has a good sense of moral integrity (which I realize originates from home but was definitely enhanced at bhs). She knows how to 'work the system' has good self confidence, feels that she belongs, and knows her place in the world. In the midst of all this, she has managed to maintain a balance between schoolwork and social life, with social life having the higher priority.

What my daughter had to say when she was recently asked if she 'couldn't wait until the year was over and she was out of there' said it all. Her response was that she's is no hurry to leave bhs - she loves it there; she has had a great experience -- it's gone too fast, and she could easily stay on. I have absolutely no regrets having sent her to bhs and would do it again in a flash. I also encourage other people I know to seriously consider bhs as the majority of students who choose to go there do very well.

Looking forwrad to some more positive (or mixed) reviews - I know they're out there! Joan

I have two sons at BHS, a sophomore and a senior. After reading a couple of the reviews I wanted to give a different point of view. While it is not idyllic in all respects, both my kids have had valuable and interesting social and educational experiences there. The music program is GREAT, both orchestra and jazz lab band and ensemble, as is the dance program. The visual art department is fantastic, offering an incredible array of different classes, and has the facilities to do so. History and English are mixed, depending on the teacher - some have really inspired and stretched, others have been dull. There is a philosophy in those departments of heterogeneity (there's upside and downside to that approach), so how the class goes depends a lot on the individual teacher. My kids' favorite and most disliked classes have each been in these subjects. The math and science is super challenging at the high end - it's nice to see a chance for an academically rigorous road if that's what you are looking for. There are three levels of these subjects too, so you can find what you want.

Socially both my kids have felt good at BHS. Both have made friends they like. Sports and clubs offer a huge number of choices to suit every interest. The social atmosphere doesn't consist of a hierarchy. People of different social groups interact relatively well. The selection of classes is unmatched in this area.

The BHS bureaucracy is daunting, although many individuals involved are helpful and sympathetic. You have to learn to fend for yourself in the system. If you learn how, it's good training for life. sb

My daughter is a freshman at BHS and is enjoying it so far. Before the school year started, I had heard worrisome stories about safety issues, but I've been pleasantly surprised. I'm in the school every week as a writing tutor, and what I've seen makes me a lot less concerned. The halls are noisy, there are definitely alienated students, but things manage to work somehow and people learn--thanks to many dedicated teachers. The social atmosphere is open and unpretentious, and as one would expect of Berkeley, there are loads of bright and interesting students. My daughter is involved in Amnesty International and debate, and both groups are quite active. Her classes have mostly been fine, except that her French class at 35 students is way too big. Art, Identity & Ethnic Studies, and English have all been great. Ted
I am surprised not to see more dissatisfaction amoung the current Berkeley High parents. We have a child who is a senior and another who is a freshman. My older child enjoyed Common Ground last year (the first enjoyable experince of any kind at Berkeley High). Despite many problems over the years- particularly unresponsive teachers- she wanted to continue at the school because her friends were there. She did threaten to quit school for almost 2 years as the problems seemed insurmountable and she would not consider private school. This year she has a teacher who still knows no ones name in the class and is known to give out all B's, another teacher who has attended class maybe 1/2 a dozen times this semester who randomly gives grades (one boy who has never attended a class has an A).The problems go on and on with little or no response from the administration. I'm very discouraged about our younger child who is in a similar situation- particularly with Common Ground English. He objected to the rhetoric he was getting early on but the teacher has been out of school on disability for quite some time now and he has had a series of substitutes. He has lost a whole year! I am beyond frustrated when he comes home and tells me he ''just wants to learn English''. I have told him we must figure something out or he will have to attend a private school. With my oldest beginning college next year that will prove very difficult financially. He loves some of the extra curricular offerings unique to BHS and doesn't want to give that or his friends up, but the level of teaching and care has become preposterous. Forget the fact he and his friends are approched daily to empty their pockets or get beaten up! Some one must be having similar issues with their children. How are you handling it?
My son, a sophomore at BHS this year is challenged by his Academic Choice classes in APChemistry, World Literature, and World HIstory as well as his Honors Algebra class. His freshman year, he was resistant to Social Living which had no assigned reading and only one homework assignment for the entire semester and a teacher with poor English skills. Being on sports teams has helped with meeting new friends, being included, and doing something he's good at.Also, last year, a friend of his was assaulted in the boy's locker room.( Being in Honors Algebra freshman year was challenging.) His Spanish classes have been too slow paced and not challenging enough. jf
Two of my children have gone to Berkeley High. My children, though bright, are not academically motivated, so I'd like to give a perspective on what it's like at BHS if you have that kind of kid.

First my oldest kid: his BHS friends were all very academic and self-motivated and are now in top colleges. BHS is an excellent school for this type of kid, maybe the best in the East Bay. My son is not like that. He just wanted to do the minimum. He cut class, flunked some classes. He never connected academically with any class in 4 years. He also is not gifted in sports or music or art, but because of the wonderful sports program at BHS - there is something for everyone! - he played on a team, made close friendships, grew in maturity and confidence, and loved his time at BHS, still does. He was applying to colleges with a 2.something GPA, but was accepted to a big university in another state, is very happy there and doing fine academically! When he comes home for breaks, he gets together with his BHS friends, they hold ''alumni'' games at BHS against current students.

My second child is equally unmotivated but does not like team sports or any other kind of group activity. His first semester at BHS he made Fs in all the required classes. He then went to a small private school for the rest of 9th grade and all of 10th grade. By the middle of 10th grade he was deemed unsuitable for the school and asked not to return for junior year. (This was our second experience with this kid and private schools. Never assume that private school is intrinsically better! For us, it was worse!) He is now at Berkeley High Independent Studies. It has been very rocky grade-wise, but due to a some very dedicated talented teachers, it is working out and he is even engaging in academics. I think he would have dropped out if he was still at BHS or a private school.

Dealing with the BHS administration is like going to DMV to do something complicated on a busy day without an appointment. You can get it done usually if you can stand the frustration. On the other hand, many's the time that a BHS teacher has phoned after hours to tell me about missing work. It also holds so many opportunities for a kid to grow and learn and get off to a good start in life. If you have a smart motivated kid, you can hardly do better than BHS. If you have a smart unmotivated kid, get her/him on a sports team or into a music or theater group right away! BHS mom

the commentary on BHS seems to be following the often-heard advice that how the school will work out for your student depends on what kind of kid he/she is. Our academically able and ambitious sophomore is having a blast, and we are very happy also. My advice to private school parents is that if your son or daughter has any chance of being admitted to a more selective private high school, you should save your money - you have nothing to fear from Berkeley High. There is a private high school's worth of like-minded kids there, all as busy as a beehive with AP and honors classes, either taking Latin and a second language, or art, dance, drama and a foreign language, & etc., playing sports, running around to clubs at lunch and after school, playing music. Our sophomore has lost all sign of the boredom that dogged middle school and I have lost the sense of foreboding with which I approached my first experience of BUSD. My thanks to the many fine hard- working teachers, and to the co-principals and staff. anonymous
I have 2 sons at BHS, 11th ad 9th grade, one in Academic Choice, the other in CAS. BHS is a reflection of the Dstrict, wich has been in chaos, disorder and disfunction for 25 years or more! The administrators try to keep it together with duct tape and bad financial figures. The superntendent is now creating a tightly controlled hierarchical pyramid with herself at the top. (Maybe this is the political vogue, ala Bush and Ashcroft) The BHS administration is a good example of duct tape leadership:no principal, no one with any qualifications applying to be principal, a superintendent who is facing fiscal crisis and is trying to run the high school as well, new ''systems'' every year. Two aspects of BHS which worked before was the ability of students to select teachers, and the double period science, which provided challenging and interesting science classes. Teacher choice and double period science were axed by the superintendent. This is a good example of district actions to make matters easier for administrators (smplify scheduling) rather than to really benefit the kids. With the upcoming budget crisis, if the district only considers cuts, there won't be much left and students will leave. For example, as part of last year's cost cutting, PE is now part of the required 9th grade core curriculum. My son's PE class has 40+ students. There's insufficient facilities, they sit around.THey watch videos. So this was good cost cutting but bad education. One parent's analogy of BHS as trying to negotiate something complicated (an education)on a crowded day is apt. However, BHS and BUSD schools can be more than just mediocre. BUSD needs to be student and parent friendly. Evaluate decisions by the impact on students. Of my kids, one is motivated and the other does the minimum, and my motivated one is considering ditching his senior year by taking the GREs. So, BUSD, you depend upon students enrollment and attendance for your income. Don't just cut the budget, focus on increasing income. It's estmated that 25% of the elementary school students who live in Berkeley attend private schools. Develop programs that will encourage people to come to BUSD schools - dual immersion programs, good music programs, aggressively go after grants. Hire a real principal for BHS and have the superintendent fix the district. Support good teachers. Cut your district administration costs. anonymous
Berkeley High School has created problems rather than solutions for our two sons. I cannot recommend it for kids who are college bound, yet are not academically talented. (Nor can I recommend it for kids who have vocational interests.) The academic stars find each other in their honors and AP courses, and they create a community that works really well for them; most of the contributors to this newsletter seem to be parents of these kinds of students. But if a kid is a B/C student, enrolled in no AP courses, he's ignored by teachers, and he can easily fall into a crowd of kids going nowhere fast -- kids who ditch classes, do the minimum homework, and much more I won't describe... Our older son is fine now, very invested in his major in college and increasingly confident about his academic capacities, but no thanks to BHS. We cross our fingers that our younger son will find the same opportunities in college to turn himself around.
I totally agree with the Anonymous writer who said BHS is being duct-taped to make things easier for administrators, and that the needs of students are being put on the back burner (examples, no class choice and double period classes being axed). The few things that worked well for my son freshman year were thrown out this year. And it's been made very clear that parent involvement is not welcome on any level. This is very frustrating, and leading many of us to just close our eyes and ears, hold our breaths and be glad when our kids are out of the system.

P.S. My son makes very good grades and seems to be learning from those teachers who have something to offer, so this is not just a case of sour grapes.

I have a freshman at BHS and I have found many ways to become involved in the school. Some of the meetings I attend that are open to all parents have a pretty sorry turnout. Put yourself out there if you are worried about how your kid is doing at school. It will make you feel a lot better to be involved in the school in some way. Do the Writers Room-you get to be in the classroom with these kids. Go to PTSA meetings and budget meetings. Get some parents together and brainstorm about ways to raise money to offset the budget cuts. Get on a commitee. Go talk to your kids teachers. Show the administration and faculty that you are interested in the success of the school. There is a lot of opportunity for parent involvement at Berkeley High and people there do listen. Berkeley citizens with or without kids in schools need to come together to support their only public High School!!!!!! w

Son's negative experience at Berkeley High

April 2002

My son is a senior and about to graduate from BHS - but in hind site I consider the last three years very detrimental and think we should have removed him - if only to take the high school equivalency exam and move on. He has been cutting class (significantly) since his sophomore year - and no one gives a damn. He has been very depressed and has received an unbelievably poor education. In his first two years of English - they read maybe six books (one of the small schools).

Through monumental efforts on our (the parents) part he is going to a private four year university, but considering his negative experience and what he has learned at BHS (you don't have to do anything - and who cares) we have no idea how he will manage.

If we could do it again - we would have removed him from BHS - at least to independent study (where he is completing his senior year).

My advice is - if your kid is struggling, unhappy, truant or depressed - get him out of BHS. I do think Michele Lawrence will turn things around given time - but having a healthy, happy and confident kid should come first - even before high school.

sign me anonymous

Advise to BHS parents - My son wanted to attend Berkeley and I was quite happy to give it a try. He started off good, but as time went by his grades dropped from A's to C's and D's. He played truant, locked himself in his bedroom and refused to come out. In the beginning like most parents we thought it was his teenage mood swings, but then it became obvious something was really wrong when he began to slash his wrists.

He hated the B.High culture and claimed school was a waste of his time as far as getting an education. The depression went on - we sought counseling - like many parents we thought what the hell can I do. I can't afford a private high school on my salary.

Then one day - our relationship with B.High was over - my son was asked by a group of three males for a 'pocket check' that is 'empty your pockets' he said and 'no' and consequently got beaten up pretty bad. Clothes torn, black eye etc. Might I add that it didn't help the fact that he got so depressed he stopped hanging out with his group of friends and was alone while this took place. Nevertheless, I cried, how could I let my son go to a school where his physical safety was at risk.

Cut a long story short - I somehow found the money to send him to Bishop O'Dowd. As much as it is a hardship for us to find the extra cash - I can honestly say in the three months that my son has been there I have a totally different child. He has gone from failing and falling through the cracks to being an up beat motivated kid that loves school. His grades this semester are four A's one B and a C - such a miraculous improvement over B.High.

What is the difference - lower class size - strong values for respect for each other - child held accountable by the school - text books (which we have to buy of course) - closed campus - high levels of professional security - more counselors per child and the obvious no government budget cuts.

What more can I say those stories you here are true and there is no denying that there is something terribly wrong with our school system - that is not to say that all kids are miserable and physically threatened at B.High.

Bottom line - I think you just have to listen to your kid and find some way to get them out of B.High if you have to. Anon

2000 - 2001 Discussions

Sept 2001

Parking is a big issue in downtown Berkeley. However, one sector rarely raised is bicycle parking and bicycle parking theft. Bicycle riding is good exercise, non-polluting, space saving *compared to car parking), and yet, not promoted, or supported. My son, in his first week of school aat bhs had parts stolen off his bike. We're taking a chance since during school his bike is parked for 7 hours a day in the same spot, an easy target. What can be done? Anyone out there on the Planning Commission? Yolanda

The garage on Central has bike racks. I do not know if it cost money to park a bike at the garage, but the bikes are in view of the attendants at the garage. Angela
re:bike riding to BHS. My older son used to park and lock his bike in the bike racks at the police station or right out in front of the courthouse or City Hall. He used one of those U shaped locks and took his helmet with him. Wfred
BHS is purchasing 40 bike lockers for teachers and 20 for students that will be placed on the lower courtyard (outside the Good Food Cafe). These lockers are the type you see at BART stations, and should provide protection from theft and theft of parts. While the 40 for teachers is probably about enough for us, the 20 for students is clearly just a start. I would suggest that (parents of and) students who ride to school let the administration know how many of them ride and ask for more lockers. Perhaps a petition could circulate with "I'll use the locker..." type wording. With the BUSD budget where it is, additional lockers probably won't be purchased soon, but maybe will be able to be placed in some sort priority list. Lee
There is a secure and attended bike station at downtown BART. It's open from 6.00 am to 9.30 pm on school days. It's run by the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition (BFBC) as a free community service and they safety check bikes for free as well on Fridays. They welcome BHS bikes so long as the kids are respectful, pick up the bikes themselves, etc. For further information call 549-RIDE (7433). BFBC is supported by memberships (money or volunteering), for which you get an excellent newsletter. Call 898-0864 for further information. Roger

Son against BHS, feels it is "too big"

March 2001

My son is adamantly against attempting Berkeley High, as he feels it will be "too big." His second choice is Skyline, although he really wants to go to a private school (we are awaiting acceptance.) Can anyone tell me/him about Berkeley High and whether it is "too big?" Elaine

I asked this question of both of my sons (and also other friends) as they were entering BHS because the size of the school did seem overwhelming. One son has graduated and the other is a freshman. They both said that while it is indeed very big they enjoyed the advantages more than they were hampered by disadvantages . The advantages they mentioned were larger and more equiped labs, clubs and activities. It is possible, due to the size of the school, to have very good and more diverse performance, arts and sports opportunities. The drawbacks we've experienced are mostly to do with administration, scheduling classes, finding needed information, getting a chance to talk to staff. It seems to me that "self initiated" types of students tend to thrive at BHS. But I do know students that get lost in the shuffle. We have found that the teachers were, over all, very committed and qualified. For me this was the factor that made the school size managable. It is, after all, the personal experience of the individual student with his or her teachers that makes it work or not.

People report to me who observe Berkeley High graduates that they seem to thrive in college. They have commented that the BHS students are so much more "savy" and ready to deal with the responsibilities of living in a complex community. I have not seen a loss of idealism either. They seem to still feel they can do something worthwhile with the education they are getting. My youngest (9th grade) says his freshman year at BHS has been the best year of his school experience so far.


Elaine~ Sounds like it is too big for your son. He sounds very clear...and that is a gift. I find that our kids usually do know what is right for them. I had thought BHS would be too big for my younger son, but he was very clear that he wanted to attend... MAB
I write to you as a BUSD parent for the past nine years. I stand on the brink of finding out, first hand, about BHS, as my older child is an 8th grader at King Middle School. But I also write to you as someone who is studying the possibility -- I would say necessity -- of creating more small learning communities within Berkeley High.

Our children in Berkeley public schools attend small schools in grades K through 5. I speak for those who have had the good fortune to find that we can create a great community in a small school. Families, teachers, students, and staff can work together to form partnerships in our children's education. We get to know each other well, and can form the logical links of "who can help in this situation?" easily, in a small school. Learning happens on a human scale. Education is personalized. Community quilts are made in hallways after school. Teachers and families bring children together outside of school hours to look at the planets, to count birds, to explore their world. Children are drawn into activities that fuel their interests, and help them grow. Teachers and families collaborate.

By middle school, our kids are attending larger, less personal schools. It's a little harder to stay involved, especially since our budding teens often don't want to be seen in public with us! By high school, many of us feel that we are entering a foreign land, one that is often hostile to our needs and those of our children. Yet there *are* small learning communities at Berkeley High School, and those children who find them, I believe, benefit.

There are the well-known small learning communities at Berkeley High: Communication Arts and Science (CAS); The Computer Academy; The Biotech Academy; Common Ground. But if you look deeply within Berkeley High, you'll also find communities being built in Independent Studies, Village 9, Berkeley Alternative High School, Special Education, ESL, AVID, REBOUND!, the Student Learning Center, African American Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Asian American Studies, Advanced Placement, Freshman-Senior Bridge, and in many after school activities.

I believe that every student and family needs to find a niche in such a large school community, a foothold, in order to succeed. We want every child to succeed, and every child and family to find that foothold. It should be our goal to close the cracks that kids fall through, to help set standards for Berkeley High in important areas -- scheduling, counseling, mentoring, orientation for kids and families, continuous support, and so forth, so that our children are not lost in a hostile environment.

If you are interested in joining in a community discussion of the benefits of and possibility for creating more small learning communities at Berkeley High, please e-mail me and I can put you in touch with the parents, teachers, and students who are studying small learning communities at Berkeley High.

We can help cast the connecting threads that strengthen the educational experience at Berkeley High for all of our students.


My sophomore is cutting 5-6 classes a week

December 2000

I am a father of a sophomore who has recently discovered he can cut selected classes with impunity. He has heretofore been a student with a very good attendance record and high academic performance. Over the last two months we have just discovered he has an average of five to six class cuts per week. His response, I just cut classes I can't stand and are fairly useless and where the grade is not effected by absences. We would not have known had the BHS not just recently reactivated their absence phone call system. There apparently is no real consequence to cutting some classes and the school doesn't seem to have any procedure for truancy offenses. I am interested in other parents' reactions and experiences with this problem. Is this just another example of the BHS "soft anarchy" we've heard about? Does anyone have a suggestion for the best administrative person to talk with about this? It's tough holding the line as a parent with the school being so uninvolved with the truancy issue.

Regarding the truancy policy at BHS, I find it to be a strong interventional program. We were informed of our child "cutting classes" and, at the same time, the school obliged him to attend detention. While in detention, he was asked to write on the consequences of his behavior.

I think this BHS, despite being stretched with regard to resources it has, is making a strong effort and statement, not only to inform parents of problems with a student's behavior, but also to let students know what is considered responsible behavior and the consequences of other choices with regard to their actions.

I would suggest that you support the stance BHS has taken with regard to truancy. If you don't like the program, work to change it. In the 7 years I have had children at BHS, I have never met a teacher or administrator who has not been receptive to discussing problems or appreciative of suggestions, this year especially. Ask to help or volunteer and this school becomes a totally different experience from the perspective of a parent. Anonymous

Unfortunately, I have found out the hard way that BHS does not deal at all with truancy. Yes, you get a recorded phone message when your child has been absent from a class but that is it. Truancy is a problem that you, as a parent, have to deal with directly with your child and his/her counselor and teachers. But, ultimately, the problem has to be resolved between you and your child. The consequence is that with too many tardies and absences your child may fail their class(es), especially if they are not good students to begin with. Do not expect BHS to do anything except give you an attendance print out. You can ask the Attendance Office for this and then confront your child. I have found that many of the techers will help try to get your child back on track by trying to keep in contact with the student and parent but you need to get involved RIGHT AWAY. BHS is a great school for kids that are self-motivated, good students, and responsible but for a child that has tendencies to get sidetracked with other issues (drugs, alcohol, hanging out, etc.), it can be deadly. If truancy persists, you may want to consider another school, Alternative High School, Independent Studies, etc. If I could turn back the clock, I would have enrolled my son in a smaller, private school from the 9th grade, as I think it would have worked out best for him. The truancy problems began in his sophmore year but I think he needed our intervention in the 9th grade. Don't blame the school; it will not get you far to do this. Instead, connect with your son and his teachers and see if you can resolve things early. After a semester of intervention with his teachers and counselor to no avail, we decided to switch to Independent Studies this year and things are much better, and he wishes we had done this sooner. Good luck.
I have found the Attendance Office Person, I can't recall her name, to be quite helpful. I received a call when my son cut one afternoon. We had a frank discussion and my son was immediately signed up for detention the next day. Perhaps she knew me only by name, because since my son began BHS in Fall 1999, I had religiously and immediately called that office to clear all absences and medical appts. (In addition, my son always asked to make up missed classrm. and homework assignments.) In retrospect, when I received the call from the attendance office, I had realized that what my son had told me about his afternoon had not made complete sense in terms of what he had said he had done in such a short amt. of time after school. As a parent it's important to listen to your kids w/your ears open. Also look at the absences that are recorded on the progress reports that are sent home. A parent should eas! ! ily be able to figure out roughly the number of absences (field trips, medical appts., illness) over a grading period. Again, I'm assuming the teachers are keeping careful attendance. I know for my son attendance and frequently, tardiness figures into his grade for several of his classes. Lastly, I think it's important to share w/our kids that unexcused absences cost BHS in lost attendance money from the state. In summary, you can't just look at BHS to solve/ deal with the truancy problem. Anonymous
When my daughter was a sophmore she discovered "cutting" and also did it with impunity. Her excuse was "the teacher marked me absent" "I was late and we had a sub" "the teacher never showed up." Most of the time she went to Mels or Lock Stock and ate food with other people were cutting. I got fed up and went to the attendance office. They were able to print out a report which showed a breakdown of tardies and absences on a period to period basis for a number of months. All in all she had missed about 40 hours of class time in a semester. I told her she owed 40 hours of community service and had her clean animal cages at a local animal lab for 6 months every weekend to make up for all those bad teachers who didn't know how to take attendance. Needless to say, she cut about 2 times in her junior and senior year. Sign me, Anonymous
BHS was very responsive to my daughter's severe problem with cutting class at BHS. I spoke with Donna McKinney in the Attendance Office. She set up an appointment with me, my husband and my daughter. It was great. At a time when my husband and I were seen as the 'bad' guys in so many of the interactions with our daughter, we appreciated Ms. McKinney playing that role on the attendance score. She read my daughter the riot act, told her she had to have every teacher sign off on a form every period of every day. The form had to be turned in on Friday afternoons. If there were unexcused absences, my daughter had to get to the Attendance office for detention at 7AM! After this, either she had a pretty good attendance record or she got much more savvy in cutting without us knowing. In any case, she got back on track and is now in college.

October 2000

I'm the parent of a Berkeley High School freshman and I have occasion to be in the neighborhood of the high school many mornings during the week. When I'm leaving my morning appointment, between 10 and 11 am, there is generally a group or two of high school age youngsters (5 to 10 in a a group) congregating in one place or another within a half block of the BHS campus. I find myself wondering: who are these young people?; are they enrolled at BHS?; why aren't they on campus, if not in class?; why is there no one patrolling the area around the school to insure that students are where they are supposed to be? If these teenagers are, in fact, BHS students, they appear to be missing out on a substantial portion of their education by loitering in the streets. I'm baffled as to why this isn't being addressed by someone in a position of authority. I can't be the only adult/parent who has seen these groups of kids. Can someone offer an explanation? Anonymous

Having cause to be at BHS repeatedly the first month of school for meetings from 8-9 a.m., I noticed as I left a group of nice-looking girls leave campus, walk down Bancroft and sit on Berkwood-Hedge's Elementary School's front steps smoking marijuana. A loss for the kids who are out of it before 2nd period even begins, and probably not pleasing to parents/teachers of the elementary school kids. Anonymous
Suggestion for Curbing Tardiness @ BHS

My daughter attends high school at Armijo High in Fairfield. The campus covers 64 acres of land. The passing period for Armijo is 8 minutes. At the end of the passing period, the teachers close their classroom doors. Late students who do not have hall passes are directed to the "Tardy Tank". Each period a different classroom/area is designated for the Tardy Tank. The student receives an unexcused absence from the class in which he/she is late. If a student is consistently late, it will result in suspension (3-day, 5-day), Saturday School, or referral to the truancy officer/program. Teachers take role everyday in every class. Students are not given this responsibility. Tardy Tank is run by teachers, principle, site supervisors, etc. and role is also taken in Tardy Tank to account for each student. If a student does not report to tardy tank, when late, they are immediately referred to the on-site truant officer for further action. If a student reports to Tardy Tank 30 minutes late, they are directed to the counselors' office or the truant officer. If this same student appears in another class that day but did not report to Tardy Tank in previous periods and there were no scheduled doctors' appointments, that student could be suspended from school. Students cannot arrive on campus late without reporting to the attendance office with a parent/guardian or a doctor's slip. This school, ironically has an open campus during the lunch period (38 minutes), but they are seriously rethinking this issue at this moment.

Students that drive to campus, must purchase and display parking permits. Beginning this year, students were assigned designated parking. During the first period, a site supervisor checks the lot for attendance. After lunch the lot is checked again to ensure that student drivers have returned. If a car is checked in during the morning role and does not show up in the afternoon, the student's class attendance is checked, as well as Tardy Tank. If that student is not present, he/she is considered truant and the issue is pursued from there.

Both high schools in Fairfield, have a high police visibility in and around the campus. At Armijo they have hired staff called site supervisors who are paid to monitor the school grounds whenever there are school related classes/functions taking place. In addition to that, each school has a sworn police officer assigned to the high school to take care of more serious problems such as theft, vandalism, violence and other arrestable offenses.

Armijo and Fairfield High Schools each have approximately 3000 students at each school. I'm not sure how this school's size relates to that of BHS but perhaps some rules from Armijo can be beneficial to Berkeley. There are some serious drawbacks to having a high police presence at school, especially as it relates to students of color, but there has to be some solution that works so that our public schools are places of learning where students feel safe, not incarcerated. There has to be some viable middle ground. That's my two cents worth. Kimberly

Today, for the second time, I reported to the Berkeley Police Dept. and Berkeley High that there are groups of high school age youngsters frequently loitering on the stairs at the Kittredge St. garage between 10-11 am. These young people are smoking dope and blocking passage of garage patrons to access their cars. The garage attendant said she calls the police daily. The police said they'll send a patrol around to check and perhaps station someone nearby. The high school's response was "maybe they have a free period". WHAT?! When I reminded the woman who answered the phone at the high school that students are not permitted off campus during free periods, she said "really? I didn't know that." She then suggested I speak with the security office. The gentleman I spoke with in security said his people check reported incidents; there are 6 on his staff to cover 17+ acres of campus; and they are doing the best they can. He then asked if I'd like to volunteer to keep the campus secure. All this was communicated with an air of hostility and annoyance and not what I, as a parent of a BHS student, expect or want to experience from staff of the BUSD. I am attempting to express to these organizations my concern with the education these young people are missing due to a combination of truancy, drugs and lack of a coordinated enough effort by the bureacracies involved to keep them in school. There's got to be some way to see that students who are enrolled at the high school are where they're supposed to be during the day and not loitering in public areas, breaking the law, harming themselves and creating a public nuisance. I expect to be able to call my child's school and speak with someone knowledgeable about school procedures. And, as a parent and concerned citizen, I also deserve respect, if not appreciation, from the security staff we hire to protect our students. Once again, I'm dismayed by Berkeley High's response to what I see as a critical situation.
It is true, according to my daughter, that students who are not in a class are not allowed on the campus during class time. This includes the library. I can understand the supervision problem that the school is dealing with, but I don't think it's fair to the city--or the students--to kick them off the campus if they happen not to have a 3rd period, or arrive early for their first class, which might be a 2nd period.

Also, since students can only be in the library when they are in class, I haven't figured out when students can use the library. Do they have to wait until their teacher takes the whole class? Again, I understand the supervision problem (30 years ago I was nearly raped in the BHS library). Can't the staff come up with a better solution so the library can actually be a usable space for the students?


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

How Involved do I need to be?

April 2000

My daughter is BHS bound for next year, it is the first time we will be dealing with the Berkeley Public School System. This is not totally by choice, and I am very concerned even worried. I need to know what are the best tools I can use to make it a successful experience for her academic success and her social well being? I hear parents saying, you need to be there and involved, I work part-time I can do that, but what does it concretely mean? I am sure it's not baking cookies anymore. Teenagers are embarassed by their parents presence...right? What should I know or learn from parents who are there?

It depends on the child. You can get away with minimal involvement if your child is pretty good about taking care of business. Just save a copy of her schedule (for teachers' names just in case), sign up for the BHS e-tree, and go to the open house (so you can get a look at her teachers). Everything else will go along fine on its own. If your child is not very good at paying attention to deadlines, assignments, announcements, etc. and doesn't want to talk to teachers and counselors when problems arise, then you'll have to help out. Do all of the above, plus be prepared to call and meet with teachers, department heads, and counselors as needed. - from an anonymous parent who has only been to BHS 2 times in 3 years
I would advise that you come to the PTA Meetings and see what ways you can be involved. There are many. Talk to your daughter and see what she considers "acceptable." I worked in the Information Booth once a week for 3 years. My daughter knew I was there once a week and avoided me (unless she needed lunch money). But I learned a lot about the school by being there and felt connected. I got to at least see those bulletins once a week! There are many options. Go to PTA.
Dear Parent,
BHS teachers and administrators expect Berkeley High students to take care of things themselves. So you as a parent have to work with your student so that he/she will be comfortable making appointments with her counselor or a teacher. Whenever I went to see someone at BHS, I always insisted that my daughter (who is now a senior) accompany me. Even though she is fairly shy, by the end of her junior year, she was pretty apt at making appointments, getting help, applying for special programs, etc.

You should be prepared to help her keep dates in when is sign-up for a sports' team, or an audition, or whatever. And certainly, when your student is making out their schedule, it behoves you to see what they have selected (what course, not what teacher), and compare that with what courses the school tells them they will need to take in order to graduate, go to college, whatever. I found reading the BHS catalogue very helpful and I tried to insist that my daughter read it with me.

I think one area of adjustment that is difficult for many kids, particularly kids who come to BHS from non Berkeley schools, is learning to focus. Your student will have to decide to apply herself or himself at the academics. No one will nag her or him. And concurrently, she/he will have to learn to ignor some things which other students will be doing, which might be deleterious.

All these skills become especially valuable as your student interacts more and more with the non-high school world.

And even though you mentioned that your student is going to BHS because there is no other choice, don't worry. BHS students seem to do very well in the world. And they certainly have a great understanding of the complexity and diversity in the United States. Good luck. -- A parent of a soon to be graduating student.

Berkeley High offers bridge program for entering freshman. But students can also take regular offerings like English or History. That leaves more room in the schedule for fun stuff like art. Sally (Jan 2000)
I know the District has a committee to discuss options, including types of classes. In the past summer school has been 6 weeks, 2 hours for each class, a variety of classes with students taking 1 or 2 classes. As an 8th grade V.P. I have recommended classes for students who aren't going away or have jobs. Students earn BHS credit. For some students, they learn where classes are located and get a feel for high schools. Last year applications for summer school were given in late April, early May. Doreen Sing

1999 and Earlier

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?


13-year-old about to start BHS - any advice?

March 1999

I have a 13 year old daughter about to start Berkeley High. My first question would be: any advice for parents of teens about to start BHS?

The rule at BHS is that kids can do very well there if they get involved and make it happen. They also can get lost in the shuffle if they don't. Kind of like real life. I do recommend the CAS (Communications Arts and Sciences) program. It is a small school within the big school and geared toward video production and communications. The teachers are very involved and it is a group of 60 kids each year who spend most of their school time together.) -- Barbara
re: Mom with 13 year old entering BHS. I had a recommendation from Terri Gerritz at MLK Middle School which we are planning to follow. She told me that the kids from King that she knew who took Ethnic Studies in summer school before 9th grade had not only enjoyed the class, but also felt a bit more familiar with the Berkeley High School plant, and were pleased to have lightened their load in the freshman year. Ethnic Studies is mandatory in 9th grade and it is a class with homework. Terri said the transition to more homework in high school is softened by eliminating this class from the fall or spring schedule. I hope that this class will fly this summer because my daughter is planning to take it in the 3 week summer session (June 21-July 9). Classes will not be offered if there are insufficient signups. - Edith
Re: entering Berkeley High. I highly recommend encouraging your child to get involved in one of the sports. For some this comes naturally. My son is not super-competitive or super-athletic but there are teams for those kids as well. If you child enjoys swimming, I highly recommend water polo. It's a fall sport, everyone who tries out gets on the team, and it's a great way to meet kids who are in different grades at Berkeley High. (For those for whom it is an issue, yes they do have to wear Speedos but they are very adept at wrapping towels around themselves while on deck and jumping into the water quickly.) Bill Gaebler is the coach and is a wonderful person. I also recommend the Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) program. It's not a cure all but does give the kids a much smaller group to associate with and some of the most caring teachers at Berkeley High. For more info on either feel free to contact me. Sally Nasman

Why we Like it

Nov 1999

I'm worried that recent postings, mine included, may be contributing to an overall mistaken impression that there are lots of us out here who are unhappy with Berkeley High School. I want to say that I think BHS is a great school and I have been 87% happy with it so far. There are many more positive aspects about BHS than there are negative. We often assume that people already know about the good stuff, so we complain about the bad stuff without putting it into the larger context. But of course this works no better than assuming your teenager knows you love him even though you are yelling at him all the time about being lazy.

So I would like to mention a couple of the greatnesses about Berkeley High School. I don't know about most of the great things, because I am a not-very-highly-involved parent with two not-very-highly-involved BHS kids, but here are the things that I appreciate:

1. The principal. I admire the candor and sincerity of Theresa Saunders. I can't remember ever dealing with a school administrator who just answers a question plainly, eschewing the usual bureaucratic blabbering, and who seems so geniunely to be striving to do the right thing.

2. Teachers. There are teachers at BHS who will knock your socks off. You can't imagine the thrill I get when Mr. "I Hate School" comes home talking excitedly about what he did in biology lab today.

3. Sports. I'm not into them, but my kid is. I can assure you there is a sport for every kid who wants to play. All the usual ones plus golf, lacrosse, crew, tennis, badminton, field hockey, swimming, diving, water polo, you name it for men AND women. I can't say enough good things about the dedicated coaches I meet, and the positive experience for kids of being on a team and feeling part of a group.

4. The Jacket - newspaper. I subscribe, I get it at home, it is quite a good read. It makes my high school newspaper look like Romper Room. By the way, subscribing to the Jacket is an excellent way to strike up a conversation with your kid about "what's new at school."


Seconding your positive remarks about Berkeley High (not forgetting its maddening faults):
Among its advantages:
--a wonderful pair of Latin teachers. They make BHS's Latin program the best of any language program I have ever seen.
--an excellent orchestra. The director manages both to include kids at every level of ability (the range is huge, from just-picked-it-up to accomplished), and to present interesting and challenging music, in both symphonic and chamber ensembles. My old high school had an award-winning music program, and it was nowhere near this good.

Let me add that the College/Career Adviser, Barbara Mitchell, has been recruiting people to critique students' college-application essays--November is the hot month for this. If you are one of those born with an irresistible urge to critique other people's writing, and want to help some BHS seniors get into college, an hour or two a couple of days a week will not only help the kids but give you a chance to read (and help shape) some fascinating and moving biographies. You can reach Ms. Mitchell at 644-6804.

Good things about Berkeley High: My sophomore daughter has a collection of friends of many races, classes, sexual orientations, interests, academic motivation and achievements. When she went to a college counselor recently (I know, I'm starting early!), the one requirement she stated was:"I want the college I go to to have lots of different races of people." She is getting an education in life at Berkeley High School that wasn't available to me growing up in a homogeneous town in New Jersey.
All of the negative stuff out there really can give the wrong impression about BHS. Although there are many problems, (and there have been for years), overall I've been more pleased than not with BHS, and both my kids love(d) the school. My older daughter, now a college junior, had many fabulous teachers and just one or two absolutely mediocre ones. Her UCLA frosh Eng prof actually told her that it was very evident that she had received excellent instruction from her high school English teachers (she was just average in writing skills and reading comprehension when she began 9th grade, so the credit really does go to her teachers). She now attends Northwestern University, and she says her BHS classes really prepared for the level of rigor at both UCLA and NU, and that she is not at a disadvantage because she is a BHS grad. She also feels that her experience at BHS has definitely helped her navigate successfully thru the layers of university bureaucracies. My younger daughter is currently a BHS senior, and she also has received an excellent education on the whole. I feel that BHS worked for them because they were forced out of necessity to learn to be assertive, take ownership of their education and search out those teachers who embody excellence. I know 2 Harvard alums who conduct college applicant interviews of seniors from around this area (including Lowell, Piedmont, CPS, HeadRoyce, LickWilmerding, and other private and public high schools thru the tunnel), and they both have independently marveled at how impressed they are by all the BHS applicants (not just the ones who get accepted to Harvard). They said that BHS interviewees have a special quality that sets them head and shoulders above other schools' applicants.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts about BHS. In my opinion it is a great school... and I think I have a standard for what that is having been involved with more than 11 high schools over the past 28 years. The programs are strong and the teaching staff is good. The issues around curricular expectations and delivery in English are true and yet we continue to work on them...I think that one thing our students get that can not be equally anywhere is the ability to require the "system" to hear them... They are open and honest about their thoughts and believe that the whole idea of expression is critical to who we are as people... They are right... The ability to do this can not be underestimated... It is, however, very unfortunate that BHS does not serve all students well... As everyone knows we are working on this... but it will not happen overnight... and to our great sorrow some students are lost along the way to drugs, truancy, low grades, "go-no-where classes, etc. However, this is not the norm...I welcome your continued support of our school and our efforts to make changes for the best...Just one thing more... we are seriously considering starting school later in the day two Mondays a month starting in February with the beginning of the second semester....Teachers need time to plan and think and the current pace of the school day is furious...It just does not allow time for thoughtful work...AND thoughtful work is what we MUST do...Specifically, we are looking at starting school somewhere around 10 or 10:30 AM on the first and third or second and fourth Mondays of each month....School would still get out at 3:20 PM. AS soon as we have a draft schedule I'll share it with you... Let me know what you think... Theresa Saunders (Theresa is principal of Berkeley High School)
I'd love to say a lot of great things about Berkeley High. Unfortunately I can't think of any. My experience with BH was horrendous. I had a child who came into BH with all As and Bs. She was a good student, but did not find a niche there. The racial great-divide affected her enormously as she found herself on the other side of the line from the crowds she used to hand around - two lines actually.

My daughter's English teacher actually crossed out her A on a paper and lowered it to a B because it was not word processed. We had no computer at the time - the teacher's attitude - "Too bad - she'll have to stay after school and use one here." She did not care that my daughter had stayed up half the night re-writing her essay so it would be neat. She did not care that my daughter had other activities after school, she did not care that this discriminated against children of lesser means.

At orientation the counselors had said "call your child's counselor if your child has not hooked up with a group after a few weeks". I did - the counselor's words were, and I quote "so what do you want me to do about it". I called the counselor again when her grades went from A s and B s to D s and Fs in 10th grade. Again she wanted to know what I wanted her to do. I asked her about the "at risk programs" and was informed that my daughter was not at risk because she had Ds. (By the time she got all Fs she had missed 19 out of 21 days of school). I called the school health clinic to have my daughter seen for counseling. They agreed, but in respect to her privacy would not even tell me if she was going! NOT even if she was going?

Needless to say - she never dropped out - the school came up with a better suggestion - Independent Studies. My daughter did this for a while and eventually, gradually stopped going. Oh yes, did I mention free drugs? The park across the street is a great source.

I was a great believer in public schools, but I will not send my son to BH and I don't recommend it for anyone else unless your child is white and a very good student, oh yeah, make sure you have a computer at home. Mine was a good student, but that was not enough!

One of the great surprises to me as the parent of a freshman is the overall quality of the teaching staff. Aaron Ward in math and Allison Johnson in English have made a particularly good impression. Beyond that, we haven't hit any duds (knock on wood.)

To the parent who wrote:" My experience with BH was horrendous. ..." What a poignant post this was. My heart goes out to this parent. I am always astonished by the difference between the color blindness of children in my third grader's class and the separation that develops in middle school and (apparently more so) in high school. Mixed race children seem to face the greatest difficulty, because they are pressed to choose between their heritages. And there seems to be no easy answer. And the teacher's insensitivity to the family's economic situation is grotesque.

RE: "[>Oh yes, did I mention free drugs? The park across the street is a great source.]" Isn't the Berkeley Police Department a block away? Aren't there cops on campus? How can this be a perennial problem? Yet it seems to be.

The Berkeley public schools offer immersion and bilingual education for students with English as a Second Language (ESL) and while these programs keep cultural ethnicity together, the programs in practice (not theory) do not necessarily give children a quality English education. Both my children have been part of a strong Hispanic bilingual program at Cragmont and Columbus which I appreciate, but there are flaws that have limited a more thorough English education for native speakers and non-native speakers. The early literacy learning program currently in place at my son's elementary school is the beginning of a more rigorous plan to bring fluency and literacy to children by third grade by not allowing those who fall behind to move ahead until they have passed state-mandated tests for literacy. Elementary school is where more rigorous standards for teaching English must be set in order for middle and high school English programs to improve. Still, this brings us back to the lack of higher standards for teaching English at BHS. The written word and all its fluency and beauty can only be appreciated by reading quality books, for example, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, taught with the purpose of increasing and enriching fluency. However, I believe English is taught down to the level of many students who have not been adequately prepared to read and write in high school. This leaves students who are fluent and prepared to read and write with more complexity and fluency sitting around bored. The solution? Offer AP English classes to freshman, not as seniors (or juniors who petition); or, introduce poetry, reading and writing to all students and teach up to the level of a college-prep high school English class, not down, giving students the option of dropping out if they find the class too difficult; or, offer more "remedial"--a different word should be used, perhaps, "pre-college prep"--classes in English that will bring literacy levels up for students. However, this comes to the question of lack of diversity if AP classes are offered, assuming only white students would qualify, with ethnicity and color becoming factors in English literacy. I read a BHS Jacket article about the recent Poetry Slam where a student recited a poem he had written that showed humor and self-awareness around the fact he was the only nonwhite student in an AP class, and he's only half-white--find a way to bring literacy to all students at all levels.

It brings me to the "blanket" statement in the newsletter from a mother who says "I don't recommend it [BHS] for anyone else unless your child is white and a very good student,..." This is, of course, not true. It's easy to blame the institution, and when you have a personally bad experience with the institution, naturally, you blame it, react negatively and act accordingly. However, if left entirely in the hands of the institution many children will fail within it, whites and nonwhites, because every student has individual needs that parents, teachers, counselors may or may not understand. I am very positive about BHS in spite of being fully aware of its "blackboard jungle" qualities, problem teachers, and administrative snafus--problems abound that need to be fixed and cannot all be fixed this semester, or next--and really, you can't make every experience for your child a positive one. My concern is not only that my child succeed, but for all students to find success somewhere for themselves while going to BHS, because the experience will teach them how to succeed after BHS as well--some are slow learners; some will never learn. In talking to students from freshmen to seniors, whites and nonwhites, I find attitudes too many to figure, but know teenagers want more independence, at the same time they need strict, no-nonsense guidelines to follow or rebel against at their will--they need to test authority; they also want and need to figure things out on their own, not to be spoon-fed, nor given authority trips. As a parent, you can only hope to keep tabs and keep up with it all, but most importantly, keep in touch.

Dec 1999

Karen Wells, the Orchestra, the PEP Band, the Jazz Bands, Carla Herndon, the Latin Department, The Art Department, Corinne Eno, the Theater Department - all these things have made Berkeley High interesting and fun for my daughter and our whole family. I ate lunch one day at the Good Food Cafe and it was great! Thanks for doing this newsletter Sally. I hope I see everyone at Bonnie Baldwin's Parenting Teens Class at the Adult School. ~Anita


A comment about Berkeley High School
My daughter is finishing her senior year at Berkeley High. In general the math department seems very good at Berkeley High. However the English dept does a poor job of preparing the students. The kids seem to read enough, but they are assigned very few papers to write. And the teachers could have provided a lot more vocabulary work. My daughter never received an assignment to write a research paper in her English classes, nor did she seem to receive instruction in how to write a research paper. Furthermore the district permits the Literary Magazine to be an English class, although the teacher does not assign them any work, either reading assignments (such as reading reviews printed in newspapers) or any writing assignments. I really hope that the class is examined by the administration. If it is kept as a class, then more substantial content should be required.

Another problem that kids have at Berkeley High is getting appropriate classes. I don't think that the counselor's have enough to help students, or to review students' choices. Parents need to read the Berkeley High class description booklet, and carefully review classes that their student is signing up to take. And then the parent has to pray, that the class continues to be offered at the time advertised, and that the teacher is still teaching the class. If your student ends up with a hole in their schedule, it is very important for the parent to go to the school and supervise the "fix" that your student is offered. I often felt that there were insufficient teachers at Berkeley High, so that the school did not demand that each student take an English Class, a Math Class, and a Social Science class each semester. Another impression I have is that, except for the Math Department, the teachers' expections of the student is low. I think all the classes should be more challenging. K (1/00)

After seeing the API values for Berkeley High, my response was exactly the opposite of the one expressed by a parent complaining that BHS is "not functioning" - I felt that the scores finally gave parents an indication that despite the many problems at BHS (phones, bells, attendance enforcement, etc.), the school, teachers, and students are doing an amazing job. That such a diverse school scored so highly (even acknowledging the problems with relying too heavily on such test scores as a measure of the quality of the education) is truly an accomplishment to be proud of. I, too, find it difficult to see beyond many of the problems on a day-to-day basis, but I think we should take a moment from complaining and celebrate the many remarkable aspects of this school. --Anonymous. (Jan 00)
More problems with Berkeley High

Writing - In three semesters of English, my son has been assigned one paper longer than one page. In history, he has had no long writing assignments. In science, he has not had one project requiring research.

Textbooks - My son's chemistry teacher has never assigned any reading from the textbook. Why do we issue textbooks if they are not to be used? In US history no textbook was ever issued, so the teacher showed movies instead of a final.

Course Outlines - With the exception of Latin, none of my son's teachers have given out course outlines. I find it very difficult to help my son with his school work if I don't know what he is studying and when.

Secret tests - Why do BHS teachers seem to have a policy of keeping test results secret from parents? Virtually every test my son has taken at Berkeley High has had to be given back to the teacher. How am I to monitor my son's progress without access to his test results?

Counselors - As frequently stated by others on this list, it is very difficult to get a counselor to return calls. The only success we have had so far was a getting a temporary fill-in counselor who did return calls, but she was gone in six weeks. Since then both my wife and I have never had a call returned by a counselor.

Assistant Principals - The only way I ever got a call back from an assistant principal was to have a former School Board member call the Superintendent. This got me a call from a very angry vice-principal and an unsatisfactory result.

Walt (Jan 2000)

I'm replying to the "textbook" comment in the Feb. 1 newsletter that a chemistry teacher never required reading of the textbook. As the science department chair, I appreciate this sort of information. I believe that students should be assigned reading from science textbooks and given help in reading them. I will pursue this further with the teachers. You might be interested to know that our textbook budgets are not adequate. The current chemistry textbook is nine years old. We'd like to get a newer, more readable textbook, but the costs are high and the budget is low. Steve Brand, BHS Science Chair (Feb 2000)
Nothing can be changed unless the school board is informed of the specific complaints of parents. Call 644-6147 and ask for the board member's email addresses and attend school board meetings on the 1st and 3rd Wednesday's of the month. They have comments from the public by filling out a card for a presentation of 3 minutes for the first 1/2 hour of the meeting. Budget considerations will be coming up soon and if the high school is to receive the proper attention and dollars to go with it, parents must speak out. Uniting is a very good idea. Repeated letters to the board, business manager and superintendent are helpful too. This is an election year and 3 seats will be open to fill. Good luck. Anonymous (Jan 2000)
A clarification on last comment under the BHS "gripes" section. Only two Board Seats will be up for city wide election this fall (the terms for the other 3 seats do not expire until 2002). Additionally, the Student Board Director comes up for student election every year. Nancy
Re:Knowing your child's test scores and keeping track of their progress. Most of the teachers at BHS have e-mail and use it. I have recieved phone calls and e-mail from 3 of my daughter's teachers and have kept track of her that way. If you really want to know what is going on in the classroom, e-mail the teacher and communicate directly with them. That is what I do. "Laurie (2/00)
On a more positive note regarding communication and schoolwork: In the Freshman CAS group, Rick Ayers, English Teacher, sends out a weekly update by email of all the work the students will be covering in English and History for the week. Instructions regarding student assignments are reviewed and information about tests given is included. The English and History classes are integrated so that assignments are complementary. Research papers and notebooks get feedback. The history text is used. Reading is varied and extensive. I think it's terrific!! Joan (2/00)
  >After seeing the API values for Berkeley High, my response was exactly 
  >the opposite of the one expressed by a parent complaining that BHS is 
  >"not functioning" - I felt that the scores finally gave parents an 
  >indication that despite the many problems at BHS (phones, bells,   
  >attendance enforcement, etc.), the school, teachers, and students are 
  >doing an amazing job....
I agree. I think that we, far too often, complain, and not without cause, about things, conditions, etc. that are not "perfect" or even best... But, and I read this email faithfully, we do not take time to celebrate and congratulate each other for the wonderful work done by the entire staff... So... let me boast a little. Our scores are exceptionally good whether you consider all our aspects - size, diversity, D/F rates, facilities, day-to-day operations, etc. or not. The teachers and students pulled with the administrative staff and gave the test to every student... by encouraging and supporting students in taking the test seriously. The result is that our scores are great. No, we did not get an 800 but we scored well. We are the largest high school in our county and the most diverse. We have students at all academic achievement levels and still all of them performed well. this is something about which to celebrate... Yes, we do have a lot of work to do because the disaggregated data is troublesome... However, I do believe that it is important to stop and smell the roses and enjoy our success. T.
Theresa Saunders, Principal
I am unhappy with quite a few of the administrative decisions at BHS and I have done my share of complaining. However! some of my fellow complainers are making me even more unhappy: My son came home yesterday talking about his "cool" teacher who reads the daily bulletin to the class in a sarcastic voice, making fun of the principal and administration. My son thought this was very clever. We had a heated discussion - he did not agree with me that it's wrong for the teacher to be behaving this way in front of the kids. Please. Keep complaining, but complain thoughtfully, constructivly, to adults, not to the kids. It is not only unprofessional and counterproductive for a teacher to be doing this but it sets an EXTREMELY bad example for the kids.
My daughter complains that there is no working public phone on campus. If she wants to call home, she has to leave campus and go to the post office. Is this true? If so, why don't students have access to a phone? There should be a very good reason.

My daughter also tells me that if it is raining, there is no dry place for the students to go to eat lunch. She has to choose between eating lunch and getting wet on the one hand, and going to the library to stay dry but missing lunch, on the other. Is this true? If so, why not provide a sheltered place for lunch?