Teachers & Staff at Berkeley High

Archived Responses: 


Dud English teacher at BHS - what are the options?

Sept 2014

Our 11th grader at Berkeley High has gotten the same burned out English teacher for the second time (also had him in 9th grade). This is really terrible for our son, who needs some inspired help in his English instruction. Wondering if anyone can advise on options - any way to get him switched to a better teacher at Berkeley High? Switch him to independent study and hire a tutor? Have him stay in the class and have the tutor supplement? He's a sensible kid and not resisting this, though he isn't full of self motivation in this area (hence the need for a little charismatic instruction.) Any advice welcome!

I suggest taking English at Berkeley City College. It may be too late this semester, but maybe next would work. The schedule is a little tricky, but you can probably make it work. Online class is also a possibility.

Another idea is book readings. A great way to learn about books and writing is to go to book readings and hear authors talk about their works. I find this more inspiring than even the most enthusiastic teacher. Mrs. Dalloways on College and Books Inc on Fourth St both have readings.

I think the best way to learn to write is to write everyday. Just like learning an instrument, regular practice is imperative. A diary or blog would be good. Have your son pick a topic and write a page every day. Maybe sports, politics, music, or electronics; whatever interests him. If he is reading and writing everyday, improvement is almost guaranteed. If you can both write and critique each other's writing, that would be great!

Having a teacher correct essays is not a great way to learn to write. The essays are so rare and the response so removed from the output that students don't learn that much. Everyday writing without correction is actually more useful in my opinion. Anon

Your son is old enough he could attend a Community college - Berkeley, Laney, Merritt, CCSF, DVC, CCC. ANON

Consider enrolling your son in UC Berkeley's ATDP course over the summer. My daughter really enjoyed their creative writing class with Mr. Franklin last summer. ATDP has a variety of writing courses to choose from. ATDP fan

Hi - I think my son had this teacher last year (rhymes with Driller). He's clearly lost any passion for teaching or even trying to inspire kids. Last year was a disaster for my son and I really sympathize with you on this one. Not much you can do really unfortunately I don't think, particularly now that we're several weeks into the school year. I think kids can request to switch teachers during the first week, but after that it's locked. Last year my son tried to propose writing topics for himself that would be more advanced and challenging, but the teacher didn't want him to do that - I'm assuming that he didn't want to have to deal with the extra grading. The teacher was also out on disability for most of the last several months of school last year and a useless substitute ''taught'' the class, which often consisted of all the kids playing games on their phones for the whole period. It's unconscionable to me that these teachers are allowed to continue to teach. Is there anything we can do about this???

To the parent of the BHS student who ended up with the same ''dud'' English teacher for 11th grade: First of all, I hope that you have already done something by now, but in case you haven't, I have a couple of suggestions.

Have you (1) put in a request using the yellow ''Schedule Change Request Form'' and/or (2) contacted your son's counselor? Those are the normal first steps.

Beyond that, request an appointment with the new (interim) Principal, Kristin Glenchur. If you're unable to speak with her directly, then talk with her extremely able assistant, Jana Jandra. Bring your request IN WRITING, outlining the precise problems your son experienced with this teacher in 9th grade, so that Ms. Jandra can hand it to Ms. Glenchur.

You should do this ASAP (this afternoon, if you're reading this on Friday), as the administration is loath to move students into a new class after the 3rd week of school.

{Parenthetical note: You didn't mention whether your son was in one of the SMALL ''learning communities'' (i.e., CAS, AHA, or AMPS). If he is, then it will be harder to remove him, because teachers in those schools normally teach ALL the students in their subject matter in a given grade. If he's in AC or BIHS, then you will have an easier time.} ~ One of the legion who's''been there'

I am not sure if you can switch him...but maybe if you substitute with an inspiring tutor who can challenge him more and engage him on a conversation on his level ? I have watched with my son within a little bit of different scenario and the tutor made all the difference - I recommend him highly: kevinarnold333 [at] gmail.com Juliane

My daughter had this teacher last year (her freshman year) and I emailed the VP for her school several times to detail problems with the course- lack of feedback, lack of inspiration, lack of control of the class, multiple substitutes (a substitute to teach Shakespere who had never read Shakespere, for example). I discovered that if you combine these emails into a ''formal complaint''-which basically means filling out a form and attaching them and submitting them to the VP- you are unlikely to get the teacher again. Hoping this works because she CANNOT have him again. If you did complain about him when your son had him the 1st time- in the form of something written- perhaps you can use this to get him out of the class? BHS parent

How do bad teachers remain year after year?

Sept 2013

My daughter just started BHS. 9th grade. BIHS. Coming from a small, private K-8 school. She is doing well but some things have been a shock to the system for all of us. This set of questions has to do with teachers.

Does the school have any kind of formal program to review or give feedback of teachers? (For students or parents).

If a student gets a bad teacher is it hard/impossible to change? If it is possible when in the term can you make it happen? What kind of reasons will the school accept?

How do these teachers who are known to many as being bad, ineffective, disliked, etc remain year after year?

My daughter has two of six teachers (Honors Geometry and English Comp/Lit) that are just bad. They aren't really teaching, go off on tangents, don't return homework and are just unclear. She is an excellent student, ready and wanting to learn and it breaks my heart to look at her wasting a year in these classes. Yes, I know - she learns grit and resiliency, learning to teach herself, etc but it is a pretty hard thing to accept.

New to BHS (and BUSD) and trying to understand it all. Thanks. New to BHS parent

My daughter went through BHS a few years back. Maybe things have changed for the better, but when I called the counselor to talk about a teacher, I was literally told to get off the phone and stop taking her precious time away from students. When she was a junior, my daughter had a social studies teacher that hardly showed up for class and was later fired. During the time that all this was going on, the students had to kill their time with substitutes that mostly were clueless. My daughter never had a single good math teacher, even though she took honors classes. However, through all this, she did learn grit and resilience, as you say, and is doing very well in college. As you know, there are many great, dedicated teachers at BHS. You may just have to take the good with the bad. In the end, though, I think your daughter will come out fine as mine did. Former BHS mom

I am sorry about your child's experience. While the vast majority of BHS (and other BUSD) teachers are competent to outstanding, there are some, as in any organization, that need professional development or just are in the wrong job/burnt out. The current principal is serious about teacher excellence and holding teachers accountable through evaluations. The best thing parents can do is provide feedback to the vice principal assigned to your BHS small learning community and/or to the principal. The more specific you can be the better. Under the current principal, teachers needing improvement at BHS are being referred to BPAR (professonal development agreement monitored by a panel consisting of administrators and peer teachers) as an opportunity to receive assistance in addressing needed areas of improvement. Those referred have either showed marked improvement and/or have been released by the District. If the teacher is leaving the classroom unattended, this is a serious matter and should be reported to the school administration immediately. Karen H.

I would suggest you email the principal directly with concrete examples of what your child reports to you from the classroom. But it needs to be concrete and factual.

Don't sit and stew and wonder what to do, just start sending emails. You may not get a response, but you might. I have written and the feedback seems appreciated. anon

I feel for you and your daughter. My daughter also came from a k-8 private school to her freshman year at BHS last year. She had some very good and some pretty poor teachers. But your daughter won't be able to get out of a bad teacher's class. BHS is about the 'greater good,' not often about the needs of individual students.

My daughter did well academically but was miserableat BHS. She has friends who are loving BHS and thriving there. It really depends on the kid. My daughter transferred this year to Maybeck HS and is loving school again. Once again, there are no bad or irresponsible teachers.

Best of luck to you and your daughter. Coming from a private school, BHS can be a shock . I think they do a great job overall for lots of their students - but not in every single class. Been there

Our daughter is a sophomore in same program, and last year I could have written exactly what you wrote! Same two terrible teachers I imagine for same subjects. I know what you mean: it broke our hearts too. It WAS a waste of time. She was so eager and wanted to be challenged and mostly wasn't. I don't know what to say except that everyone tells us it will get better. This year is better already, better teachers in math and English. Unfortunately, the school will not let you switch classes because of teachers. They are adamant about that. Our daughter is still glad she is at BHS; she did not want to go to a private high school. We have tried to focus on the good things at the school. As far as how bad teachers are allowed to keep teaching, it's a disgrace, but when you make a complaint they just say, '' oh he's a very caring teacher.'' There seems to be no system for addressing an issue like this. I'm sorry. Hang in there. Good luck. Sympathetic

The sorry reason: you're witnessing the strength of the teacher's union. Enough said. Anon

I don't have an answer to your question, only more questions. I think my 9th grade son must have the same math teacher! My son is in AC, but also in Honors Geometry. The teacher came with a bad reputation from multiple sources, with people saying that no math really gets taught and, yes, that the teacher goes off on tangents - as has already been demonstrated, with the teacher going off on at least one conspiracy theory rant that I think is totally inappropriate for a math class. Or for any class, without a balanced perspective.

My son is obviously a pretty good student or he wouldn't be in Honors Geometry, but he is also a do-only-the-amount-of-work-requested and not a bit more type of student, and he is perfectly content for the class to go off on tangents because he finds them amusing and then he has less work to do. This attitude worries me even more. In the meantime, I am not even sure how to know how much of Geometry he is NOT learning because of course I don't know the expectations. Nor do I really know how and when NOT learning geometry will affect my son's present and future education and life.

I also wonder how these teachers with such well known bad reputations get to stay year after year.

I look forward to hearing what kinds of responses you get to your message! Anonymous

I think you are asking really good questions--many of which I had, but never really acted upon. When my daughter had similar experiences with her Freshman year teachers, I also chalked it up to a hard life lesson. When I was particularly inflamed by one teacher's seemingly badly-designed, close-ended, biased assignments, I composed an angry email that, of course, I never sent. Later my daughter begged me not to send even a very mild comment.I think she felt the whole course was so flawed that there was no point even trying to rectify one little problem. However, I do want to share that my daughter also had an idiosyncratic Honors Geometry teacher who later became her FAVORITE--she felt she learned more in his class than in any other. I would be very interested to hear if other parents have had good communication with teachers/administrators about the apparent acceptance of bad teachers in Freshman year. cc

Hi - I am writing mainly because I too was trying to conceptualize a similar message to this network.... to see what strategies there might be for parents to have a unified voice to address concerns with some of the teachers at BHS?

There are two math teachers at BHS that I have heard about for years, in terms of their extremely INEFFECTIVE teaching ability. Pre-dating our time at BHS, from friends whose kids struggled in their classes. I know there are many kids and families who have been frustrated by these teachers. Well now my child, a Sophomore, has one of those teachers -- and from Day 1 she has described how confusing and unorganized he is, not to mention sometimes mean.

I know from my friends who have had him before that they have set up meetings with the BHS vice principals and tried to figure out how to help their own kids struggling with these teachers. BUT, they get stone-walled. Told to go meet with the teacher to figure it out.....it seems like there is a consistent pattern and if parents could be a larger, more unified group, BHS would not be able to just dismiss us one by one. But what is the forum for that?

I am sure there are other talented people who would like to work at BUSD. With all the focus on achievement gap, why are we supporting teachers who are not effective year after year? Not to mention hoping that students could actually thrive and develop an interest in math? My child is turned off to math now.

And so now we have turned to private tutors -- call the tutors and we hear ''Oh, you have Teacher X....'' -- the teacher is well known in the tutor community too, gives them a lot of business of course! So we have to pay about $300/month for weekly tutoring -- something that is not easy for us but we can figure out how to make it happen. What about all the families who cannot afford this? What if the families who are paying for tutors instead gave even one month of tutoring $$$ to BHS for other programs, instead of trying to cover up for what we are already supposed to be getting from BHS?

Anyway, we have been frustrated with this and especially from the fact that this continues year after year and BHS does not seem interested in accountability. How to share a unified voice?

This is specifically in response to the individual who blamed the teachers' union for poor teachers. It may be different in other districts, but in Berkeley, the union works closely with the distrct to get help (through BPAR) for teachers needing improvement. It also does not always represent teachers for whom the distrct initiates dismissal proceedings. It does support the right of these individuals, and indeed all Americans, to due process. Finally, the teachers' union has recommended the dismissal of some teachers that the district has not even tried to dismiss. Anon

Dealing with a difficult BHS teacher

June 2011

I would like some advice about dealing with a difficult Berkeley High School teacher. My daughter had him when she went through BHS and we dealt with many issues with him. (Negative/punitive/unhelpful teaching style; talking about his students with other teachers in a snide manner; seeming to hamper, not help students achieve.) My daughter was a straight-A student and had never had problems with any teachers in her time through school. Many meetings with the school ensued (without explicitly saying so, they acknowledged that he is a huge problem but they can't do anything about it). We learned through other parents that there had been consistent and multiple complaints about this teacher. My daughter transferred out 2nd term and subsequently earned an A in her new class. Now my son has him but could not transfer out as it would have meant changing his whole schedule around. We have had the same problems with the teacher this year and my son's record is most likely going to be blighted with a low grade.

Question: is there anything I can do to prevent my son from having this teacher again, which could happen? Meet with his counselor? The Vice Principal as well? Has anyone had any success with such a process? Or do I need to take it up to the district level? Otherwise quite happy with BHS

You have all my sympathy. It is actually possible to fire a bad teacher, although the union requires ''due process.'' But this requires the administration to have a backbone, and to consistently document and follow up on complaints for up to three years (I'm told the teacher's file is then purged). Due process may even require the teacher to go on probation officially.

As a rule the administrators are well aware of who are bad teachers and consistently complained of; what is lacking is any advocacy for the kids. I couldn't believe that our principals failed to document the consistent failure of one teacher, whose (not at risk) students year after year got completely uncharacteristic low grades and mostly failed to be able to go on to the next level in the subject. One of my kids was able to transfer out of that class, but the other couldn't and suffered. It annoyed me to pay for a tutor to make up for poor teaching, but I wasn't willing to sue the school to make them reveal the damning statistics.

If you can't get the principal on your side and you go to the district, try to go with evidence from other families and the counselors. And be careful to stick to provable facts, when you put anything in writing. Hang in there!

RE: Many meetings with the school ensued (without explicitly saying so, they acknowledged that he is a huge problem but they can't do anything about it).

The whole district has BPAR , a process to deal with bad teachers. A teacher is put into the process after either they flunk an evaluation or sometimes they pay attention if enough people write complaints about that teacher. The old principal did not use this process, to the detriment of the school, so that is why it would feel like a complaint led to nothing. It used to lead to nothing. Apparently, the new one uses it judiciously. It takes 2 years and is very fair and thorough. The BFT has agreed to it since they don't want bad teachers either. At least one tenured teacher was let go this year and that had to be via BPAR since there was no other way possible. She is mad as a hornet and is charging racism. She is the worst teacher at BHS and finally they are getting rid of her. So if you think a teacher is mean and terrible, write it up and send it to the vice principal who is their supervisor or to the principal. Get brave and stick up for your son - it's the only way. BPAR is confidential so you will never know if a teacher is in that 2 year process until they get shown the door. That is why it is up to you to write a complaint letter. But I watched the school board meeting on TV when it was all about BHS and a math teacher said there are 2 or 3 math teachers in BPAR now. This upsets the teachers but the system is designed so that a teacher has to be a real problem to get the bounce from it. BHS mom

How do I deal with counselor who sexually harasses?

Jan 2011

My daughter attends BHS and was reassigned to a new counselor, a man who has been accused of sexually harassing at least one student. The district admitted that his behavior was inappropriate but failed to label it as sexual harassment. After reading the news stories (http://www.berkeleyside.com/2010/09/16/bhs-counsellor-served-with-restraining-order I find it unbelievable that the district could come to this conclusion. If the district believe he's innocent, he should be exonerated; if not, he should be fired.

I am not comfortable letting my daughter see this man, even with his office door kept open, which, from what I gather, is currently the ''solution'' being offered. The superintendent and the school board have not responded to my phone calls and e-mails. This man is the counselor for many Berkeley students. How are other parents whose children are in this position handling it?

This case was a ''he said, she said'' one with no witnesses and not enough evidence to fire Mr Smith. The girl's family and lawyer have strenously tried to find other girls who had similar problems with Mr Smith, but to my knowledge none have come forward. If the district fires Mr Smith I suspect they would face a wrongful termination lawsuit and lose. If your daughter really does have Mr Smith as her counselor I'm sure you can request another counselor. BHS Mom

I, too, have been concerned about how BHS and BUSD have handled the issue of the Academic Choice counselor who has been accused of sexual harassment. I, too, agree very strongly that if this man is innocent, he should be very publicly cleared of ALL charges. Otherwise, how is this community to heal, to place our trust in this person's counselor wisdom?

My son does not have this counselor in question as his counselor, but was assigned to him briefly in the past. (Sometimes, the caseloads are changed as the kids are assigned alphabetically.) I have told my son that until this case is cleared up, he is not to meet with this counselor. My daughter will be attending BHS next year.

I, too, have had no response from the school board or superintendent and have called and sent letters. When I tried to speak to the principal of BHS, his assistant listened patiently to my concerns and suggested I call the district personnel office. I did, and the person who spoke to me basically told me nothing of substance, but that our children are safe, and the passage of the public letter that talks about inappropriate conduct was part of a larger paragraph. In response to my concerns that my daughter might be assigned this counselor next year,she said that if this occurred then I could call the principal.

As the family of the student who made the accusations are pursuing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, I would suggest contacting them, calling the BHS Principal 644-4569 (his assistant told me that there have not been many calls about this!), and/or BUSD Personnel 644-6150.

So it looks like parents are being put in the position of dealing with this issue, individually. I resent this and think that it is so unfair to my kids, your kids, and especially the kids whose parents don't know about this issue. I also think that this is unfair to all the BUSD teachers and counselors who do make good decisions every day. We entrust our children to them.

On a positive note: having to deal with this issue at least has forced us to have one of those ''difficult''conversations with our children ---- power dynamics between adults and kids, sexuality and sexual harassment, the reasons for silence, speaking up....

How do you contact your child's teacher?

April 2000

how do you get to speak with your child's teachers? I started calling 3 weeks ago and left messages for specific teachers. This week I started leaving the messages with their department heads, English and Math. I make a point of being positive, we really like the teachers, but we do want to check on our student's progress and materials required in the class. So what has your experience been and what works? Frances

Your experience with BHS teachers has been mine. My experience was several years ago and involved several departments. Eventually one Spanish teacher did leave a message about an email address. Sadly, it was his own personal email address. I don't know what the current email address status is. But considering that these teachers all have voicemail, I was astonished at the thundering lack of response. I too resorted to department heads --without notable success. I've never seen a less responsive group of teachers -- with apologies to those teachers who do respond. I haven't interacted with them but I'm sure they're there. Don

I have had a very difficult time getting in touch with any of my son's teachers at BHS, at least until this, his senior, year. (Previously I have had to go to the school and find teachers between classes and make an appointment to talk with them--the only one who ever called me back when I called was Ms. Singman.) However, once I actually met and talked with Michael's teacher--math, science, Spanish, English--I always saw an improvement. I think two things happened--the teacher suddenly was able to see my slightly goof-offy kid in a different way and my son changed a little because he knew I was talking to the teacher. I totally recommend going to the teacher first; I found the teachers to being really hard working and caring, for the most part. I have changed my mind about a few teachers after talking to them and been able to help my son see the teacher in a more positive way. So even though it was difficult getting the initial meeting, it has always been a good experience for us. (The senior year teachers have been available and have called me back or communicated via e-mail--Ms. Leventer, Mr. Bye, and Mr. White.)

I am replying to the query about how to contact teachers at BHS. I have had very little luck with the phone. If you are lucky you will get a return call weeks later. Usually you won't get one. The way I have succeeded in communicating has been through e-mail and through going to the school and finding the teachers.

At Back to School night many teachers have given out their e-mail addresses. I like e-mail in this situation, because if I have more than two simple sentences to say, this allows me to think about and carefully express whatever concern I might have. Sometimes I am more articulate this way. This only works with teachers who do e-mail, though.

The other way I have found works to reach teachers is to just go to school and find them. I try not to be intrusive about it and do it at inconvenient or awkward times. Most of my child's teachers have been very receptive to the contact and have been happy to talk to me. If it's not convenient I ask them when I can talk to them at another time. Sometimes they'll arrange to phone me or we arrange another time to meet. I think that, even though they are busy, they appreciate the fact that I am concerned or interested in what is happening and make an effort to meet me halfway.

I know this is impossible for a lot of people in the middle or beginning of a workday, but sometimes I haven't found any other way. It can be worth it to take a sick day or personal time. Sarah

regarding contacting your child's teacher: Some always call me back, some never do. I give up easily so I don't usually pursue it if they don't return my call.

New question: I hear that most teachers have email now. How come it's so hard to find out what their email addresses are? The BHS website has only a few listed on its Staff Directory page at http://www.bhs.berkeley.k12.ca.us/directory/staff.html, and the few I see there are strangely encrypted. (Why? It's confusing and it impedes emailing from that page - I don't see how it's useful.) It appears that some teachers have email accounts from the school district "name [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us" but not all of them do. Why is that? Does the district not provide email addresses or is it just easier for teachers to use their personal email accounts? I found a directory lookup on the BUSD site http://mail.berkeley.k12.ca.us/Directory/ but it seems to be very incomplete and maybe incorrect. Four of the 5 BHS teachers I checked returned "no match found", and the one email address I did get was different address from the one the teacher actually uses. It sure would make it easier for us parents to communicate with teachers if they all had email addresses that are easy to find. Anonymous

I'd like to respond anonymously to the parent who posted the question in the April 6th newsletter: "How do you get to speak with your child's teacher?"

Teachers and administrators at BHS seem to vary a great deal in how responsive they are to parents. In my experience, most will return voice mail messages within a day or two. Some give out their e-mail addresses, and at least one gives out her home phone number. With my child, it seems that the teachers who are reachable also do an excellent job in teaching.

I had an odd experience with one teacher, however, during the 1st quarter of my child's freshman year. The 1st report card came out with a C+ in Ceramics, while all the other grades were As. My child had no idea why, and seemed demoralized about continuing in art. So I tried for months to reach the teacher by phone, leaving many voice-mail messages, to get concrete feedback on what my child could do to improve. I also called BHS counselors, vice principals, and the principal, who all left messages for the teacher to call me. Finally the office staff recommended that I come to the class in person to speak with the teacher. The teacher scheduled an appointment to meet with me the next day, then called to reschedule, but didn't show up at the rescheduled time, and never called me again. He did, however, change my child's grade to an A -- again without explanation!. This teacher, by the way, was the chair of the Art Department.

So the lesson I learned is that you have to be ready to go to BHS in person if you have a question to discuss with a teacher or a problem. And you won't always get the right results. In my situation, I never got to speak with the teacher.

Re: talking to teachers. I generally start with phone call, followed by note sent via student with request to phone me and I give certain hours, followed by show up at their classroom at any passing period, before 8am (if they teach 1st period)or at the begiing or end of lunch. Then in person I ask when they suggest I come back to talk. If that fails, (e.g.- once the teacher didn't show up at our appointed time (grrr)-then I do the same drill with Dept. Chair. In most cases it's much easier than that. Mr. Collier, the History Dept. Chair called me back the very same day I called him. He was still working at 10:45 pm. THe phones sometimes don't work properly, so don't assume the teacher is a flake if you don't get a response. Winifred

On contacting teachers-- I check my voice mail daily except when I am not at school. I call back but often, the person I call back does not answer. I may try two or three times, but then I give up. When you call a teacher or a department head, speak clearly, leave your day-time phone number, and a way for a teacher to leave you a message if you are unavailable when the teacher calls. Most of us return calls during school hours (especially now that we are having problems with negotiations). If you still have trouble, call the department head and leave the same information. Also, please be aware that when the phones go down (as seems to happen all too frequently), messages can be wiped out.

As for email, I would guess that less than half of BHS teachers have it. Furthermore, only those with access to computers that are in a wired building can easily access their email. The whole school should be wired this summer. School email addresses are all of the form First_Last [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us. Mine, for example, is Judith_Bodenhausen [at] berkeley.k12.ca.us. Try a teacher's name and see if it works.
Judy Bodenhausen

From: Anna

How to contact your child's teacher?
     1) Set up standing meetings (1st Friday every month)
     2) Send a self addressed stamped envelopes for the teacher to mail 
     back monthly reports.
     3) Call the attendance office and check absence/tardies
     4) Calendar report cards and set up a meeting w/each teacher 1 month 
     before report cards are written.
     5) Attend PTA meetings for unfiltered information.
     6) Check the school's web site.
     7) Ask teacher for email address.

I'd like to follow up on several suggestions made by parents for connecting with teachers. Firstly, definitely go to Back to School Night and make sure that the methods of contact are discussed that evening. Often they will be presented, but you may have to ask. Incredibly, some of the teachers even give out their home numbers in efforts to stay in contact, but they only seem do do that at Back to School Night. Many now have email and this works great. I used to be amazed at the low attendence at these nights, especially in the spring, but do feel that helpful information is given by the teachers and you can get a real sense of the teacher.

The second point is involving your child in facilitating this contact. Hopefully, parents are letting their child know they wish to talk to the teacher, and hopefully the child will see this as supportive. In this case, the student sees their teacher daily and can indicate their parents desire to connect and perhaps even their desire to have their parent connect. The need to be assertive and persistent is one of the strengths and limitations at Berkeley High school, but when students can learn these skills of advocating for their own needs and finding ways to open communication paths, they are learning some skills that truly enhance the rest of their education and lives. I think my daughters did learn this at BHS. I am impressed by their determination and persistance.

Resolving Teacher Problems

June 1999

My 16-year old daughter recently spewed forth a whole year's worth of complaints about her teachers @ Berkeley High School. She doesn't communicate a whole lot about any of her experiences, but this time was different. She is in 10th grade. When this year started she was doing great in math, earning all A's & A+'s. In the second semester they disbanded her math class and put her in a class with all new kids. I think there wasn't a regular teacher for a couple of months, but they hired a teacher that lives in Tracy and commuted to Berkeley every day. A couple of months ago this teacher quit suddenly. I think the department chair taught for a week or two, and then they hired a non-credentialed teacher who is still there. Needless to say, my daughter has had a rough time with all of this. The other day I sent an email to her counselor, Regina Segura, as well as the principal. I heard from the principal today by voice mail. She addressed all my concerns and said that it is possible to choose math teachers in 10th, 11th, & 12th grades. I would appreciate recommendations from you for math teachers. By the way, the new BHS principal is an amazing woman, incredibly exciting and dynamic. I was really happy that she contacted me.

I wish to echo Fran's good advice about resolving teacher problems and bringing them up early in the semester. Appalling, but something can done if you keep at it. I would also like to put some perspective out there. I know parents expect an awful lot of a public high when their child enters. The high school cannot get rid of every bad teacher. I and many parents have had the experience of having more than one bad teacher in high school (I went to Lowell, at the time the only academic college prep public high school in San Francisco, where the Algebra teacher spun a basketball on his finges throughout class, and a teacher who seldom showed up to English class - we were often there for 45 minutes with no teacher at all), and believe me, your child will have more than one bad teacher to record in his high school life at BHS. Parents can be much more proactive today than our parents in the past, however, so getting involved helps, but in talking to parents I feel there is a belief that if BHS doesn't provide the best teachers for their child they'll look to private schools, and I believe this negates all the positive things BHS has to offer -- diversity, some really great teachers and courses, and of course, your child's connection to school life - it's his or her life, not your life.

With over 3,000 students (way too many I believe, but it is the only public high school for Berkeley), the beginning of the school year is truly chaotic, and I am going to stick up for the new counselor, Steve Butler. Yes, the school administration knows how awful the school year began as a bureaucratic mess. Steve Butler was put on the front line the first day of student registration and had absolutely no training (he was hired late) on the computer since Charleen Calvert left in a huff and didn't bother to institute any training for new counselors (she, apparently, was responsible for getting the schedules online; I don't know who would be responsible to see that counselors get training and orientation). By the end of the week, his temper was frazzled; yes, he made mistakes, but he's not perfect nor is the system in place anywhere near to efficient yet -- maybe next year it will be smoother. My child's schedule was in a mess because the computer didn't get her schedule right, but the smartest thing she did (she didn't do this last year when her schedule was screwed up and suffered for it the whole semester; she also waited last year until the last day to register) was to immediately go to her counselor (that was Steve Butler), standing in line from 1:15 to 4:15 (she was the last person he saw that day and it was the second day of registration), and sticking it out with him while he figured out how to work the computer, and she was finally out at 4:45. Many students chose to go on the last day, rather on their given day, and that's a BIG mistake! And, in hindsight, perhaps the best advice is to go as soon as you can, even before your given day - they'll take any student who comes in whether or not your last name matches the alphabet of the day. However, things are still not smooth because the computer did not match up to her revised and printed schedule, but she's in class, the teachers are teaching, and we'll see if her schedule still gets rearranged. Chalk this all up to experience in real life frustrations -- perhaps the first for your child whose environment has been carefully controlled and monitored by his or her parents, but this is the beginning of your child learning the "ropes" -- how to deal with life's not so straight road.

BHS is a large organization with many wonderful and exciting people and programs... However, also like any other institution, it is not perfect. With this said, it is important for me to state that we do have a concrete vision for academic success for all students. This means that each of us, as school staff, have a commitment to do all that we can to ensure that all students are provided with the experiences and support they need to achieve.This may sound naive and simple but that is just why it is powerful. We have one goal, one direction, one emphasis and one focus...Success, though, takes time... Rome, nor anything else, gets built in a day... I realize that we are dealing with, handling, if you will, the lives of young men and women over the course of a four year period and within this context one day is a very significant amount of time... but...Rome still does not get built in a day... It takes years to put in place a system that is effective and efficient under the best of conditions...BHS is well on the way and will continue to be successful. The issue is to work together, collaboratively, to achieve the goal.

If you want to know how you can help... sign up for the email tree and attend the meetings, volunteer in classrooms or with the counselors or College Counselor...Your help, as parents and community members, is always welcome... Theresa (Theresa Saunders is the Berkeley High School principal.)