Superintendent Asks School Board to Approve Berkeley High Block Schedule, Advisories—With Delays

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday February 09, 2009 - 01:57:00 PM

Bill Huyett, superintendent of the Berkeley Unified School District, and Jim Slemp, principal of Berkeley High School, have recommended that the Berkeley Board of Education approve the Berkeley High redesign plan—which will introduce block schedules and advisory programs among other things. 

They are asking the board to approve the plan with some exceptions, and delay implementation of it until the 2010-11 school year due to the state education budget crisis. 

The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposal Wednesday. 

Huyett’s decision comes after a study session with the Berkeley High administration and board members on Feb. 4 and a public forum hosted jointly by the high school and the Berkeley High Parent Teacher Student Association Wednesday, where the plan received mixed reactions from the audience.  

At Wednesday’s meeting, a majority of the parents present said that although they approved the advisory programs, they were skeptical about a block schedule since it would result in a loss of instructional minutes. 

In their report to the board, Huyett and Slemp state, “It is the intent of these recommendations to have the board approve the concepts of advisory and a new schedule to provide increased personalization and student support while directing the school and district to continue to develop the specifics of how to implement these reforms.” 

They asked the board to approve the implementation of weekly professional development time beginning in 2009-10 and the continued planning of a new small school. 

In terms of the redesign’s first goal, “increased personalization and student support,” the administrators advised the board to support the school’s 11-point recommendation to maintain the existing small schools and add a fifth small school, and give special consideration to “Green Academy” programs and grants currently being proposed at the state level. 

Huyett and Slemp also asked the board to approve an advisory program—which the high school wanted to implement this fall, with specific curriculum scheduled to be completed by April. 

The exceptions recommended by Huyett and Slemp include that instead of the plan providing that the “advisory will be one of each student’s eight classes,” advisories should be a part of the regular schedule for each student, with implementation recommended for fall 2010. 

Huyett and Slemp asked the board to approve the alternating block schedule—which the high school wanted to implement this fall—but recommended that it be delayed until the 2010-11 school year, given the “uncertainty of the economic environment.” 

Their report said that the “block schedule would provide opportunity for more courses during the span of a year and provide time on a regularly scheduled basis for advisory and academic support.” 

Additionally, it said that the high school and the district need to work together during the next six months to determine a schedule and a funding model, as well as to settle any contract issues, before Feb. 1, 2010.