Photo/Jeremy Franklin
Photo/Jeremy Franklin

The long-running debate over scheduling changes at Berkeley High School is nearing its denouement. Changes are being proposed as a way to tackle the so-called achievement gap, where too many students are underachieving in high school. At the core of the proposed changes is a required advisory period, so students can have, in theory, more personalized guidance through their high school career.

What has created controversy for many parents, however, is that in attempting to address the achievement gap, it seems as though the revised schedule would dramatically trim the amount of time available for science labs and for advanced placement (AP) and international baccalaureate (IB) courses. I say “seems” because the schedule proposals have yet to be fixed, and there is a bewildering porridge of proposals, commentary and analyses on the changes. Interested parents can find much of the material on the BHS PTSA site, but I defy anyone to sort through it without devoting inordinate time to understanding. The PTSA site also hosts public comment on the proposals, but again it is entirely unorganized.

As a parent of a Berkeley International High School student (one of BHS’s programs), I received the following perspective from the BIHS Parent Action Group last night:

BIHS staff have created some example student schedules to see how the trimester proposal would work with BIHS course requirements. In [lead teacher Matt Meyer’s] words, some of the example schedules were “awesome;” some were not. Until the SGC firms up the proposal, and in fact until a full master schedule accounting for BIHS’s 900+ students can be assembled, we won’t really know how close to “awesome” the outcome would be. As a result, overall teacher reaction has been mixed, as they await more clarity on specific impacts.

Things that seem likely at this point:

  • If a trimester proposal goes forward, it will likely be based on the “red” schedule, with a full-period advisory for one trimester for freshmen and sophomores only.
  • Some two-trimester courses would end up being split between first and third trimester; some might even be split between two different years. As a result, some students would have different teachers for the two halves of a class, which would require more coordination between teachers to make sure they cover the same material at the same pace.
  • Current juniors (Class of 2011) would face the hardest transition, since under the current timetable the changes would be implemented in the middle of their two-year IB program. BIHS staff say they haven’t heard any indication that the schedule change might be approved but implementation delayed for a year to allow for better planning.
  • Students not seeking an IB diploma would have more options in their junior and senior years than with the current semester schedule. Students pursuing the IB diploma would continue to have little to no schedule flexibility as juniors and seniors.
  • The trimester schedule proposal is budget-neutral compared to the current schedule, which is a significant factor in why it was the winning proposal.

Significant unknowns:

  • Which current full-year classes would be two trimesters, and which would be three. (BIHS staff are optimistic that they would be able to set these parameters for BIHS/IB courses.)
  • The impact on BIHS houses/student groupings.

The final public meeting on the proposed changes is being held tonight in the BHS library at 7pm. The Scheduling Committee meets Monday in Conference Room B from 3:45 to 6pm, when it plans to make a final recommendation on changes. Finally, on Monday, November 16, the School Governance Council holds an all-day meeting (from 9:45am to 3:30pm) to discuss and vote on the Scheduling Committee’s proposal. The meeting will be in the foyer of the Community Theater, and is open to the public.

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...