[BHS Etree] BHS Principal - Spring Letter and Updates
bhs at lists.lmi.net
Thu Mar 27 21:52:01 PDT 2014
Dear BHS Families:
With the third quarter coming to a close and spring break upon us, we
enter the home stretch of another school year. This year,
intensely-paced as always, nevertheless continues to be a very
productive and creative year for both students and staff at Berkeley
The size of our school, as well as the often intense nature of its
rhythms, makes it challenging to sometimes step back, slow down, and
appreciate the talents, skills, and personalities of our students and of
our staff. Yet when I find moments in the day and I am fortunate enough
to observe a compelling demonstration in a science class, see a work of
student art unfolding, watch kids master higher level mathematics, or
hear kids vigorously debate a social issue, I am brought back to why we
are here and I am instantaneously recommitted.
Rejuvenation at BHS resides in those windows wherein we can momentarily
set aside the sometimes misplaced urgency of adult issues, set aside the
requirements of operations and bureaucratic necessities, set aside the
demands of constant communication, and find our kids deep in
collaboration in a classroom, on an athletic field, a dance stage, or an
art studio. In these spaces, where our kids often further extend and
develop ideas, voices, and perspectives that are their own, the chaos,
the grind, and the usual stress can often give way to a calming and
affirming clarity about the importance of why this place is here, why
our school matters, and why we must all, educators, students, and
families alike, contribute to and work towards a shared vision or
conception of our learning community as an epicenter of possibility and
It continues to be a privilege to serve the students and families of
Acknowledging, appreciating, and recognizing the best dimensions of our
school should in no way indicate that we are not cognizant as a
professional community of our imperfections. The organization that
claims it has arrived, to paraphrase writer Jim Collins, has likely
already begun a slide into mediocrity. At Berkeley High School we will
then continuously work to refine and develop our universal instructional
strategies, our belief systems, and our classroom practices to better
endow our students with, or reinforce for them, the foundational skills
and fundamental concepts that are essential to their wider participation
in the curriculum, and, more importantly, to the deeper and more
thoughtful expression of their own ideas, perspectives, and conclusions.
Toward this goal we continue to offer professional opportunities to
staff. Through academic language and lesson design trainings, coaching,
and opportunities for teachers to observe each other's practice, we
believe we can improve our collective instructional strategies and
subsequently improve student outcomes. Our universal professional
development has aimed to better enable teachers to construct daily
lessons that incorporate focused modeling of /their/ thinking to
students, then facilitate guided practice for them, and subsequently
provide opportunities for students to collaborate; specifically, to
problem solve, discuss, negotiate, and think with their peers. It is
this type of instructional progression, a gradual release of
responsibility if you will, that best positions students to internalize
new learning, and then apply that new learning independently and in
creative and constructive ways.
Gaining proficiency as educators in the technical and structural
dimensions of our instructional practice does not, however, relieve us
of the responsibility to also consider and provide the contexts wherein
the teaching and learning can emerge in a manner that is relevant and
connected to student experience; connected in a way that demonstrates or
generates meaning or associations to our students' current and future
lives. In his 1902 work The Child and the Curriculum (I know, but I find
it extremely relevant still), John Dewey offered that a "lack of any
organic connection with what the child has already seen and felt and
loved makes the material purely formal and symbolic," and, he notes
subsequently, "there is a sense in which it is impossible to value too
highly the formal and the symbolic."
Our goal then is, and will continue to be, to create experiences wherein
well designed and thoughtfully structured lessons make new skills and
content accessible to kids, while concurrently infusing those lessons
with real world and real time connections to students' own communities,
perspectives, and experiences.
It is with those connections, reflected in some of the projects and work
being done in our various departments and learning communities (some of
which we share below), that we develop and deliver curriculum to our
kids that transcends the purely formal and symbolic and generates and
inspires meaningful learning that they can then apply in real-life
settings for the benefit of themselves, their families, and their
I wish you all a very good spring break.
Berkeley High School
*_What are We Doing?_*
*African-American Studies* hosted its third annual Black Scholars Night
and honored several students of African descent who are thriving
academically. Many thanks to Ms. Washington, Ms. Mitchell, Mr. Walton,
Mr. McDonald, as well as Ms. Rhonda Jefferson, Ms. Trahan, and our
Professor Emeritus, Dr. Robert McKnight for participating in the evening.
We once again remind families that African-American history receives the
same UC/CSU credit as U.S. History, and encourage students and families
to consider this option when choosing social studies in the junior year,
or in the senior year as an elective.
Additionally, the administrative team, in consultation with the
department as well as the College and Career Center, and in response to
many community members and staff, plans to increase awareness and the
availability of information on Historically Black Colleges and
Universities (HBCU's) to students and families.
Look for a forthcoming email from Vice Principal, Vernon Walton, who
will be inviting parents to join planning and work sessions to develop
HBCU Tours for students, increase awareness of the annual Black College
Expo in Oakland -which offers fee waivers, on the spot admissions, as
well as workshops, and devise plans to increase the amount of
information on site about these tremendous college options. For more
information contact vernonwalton at berkeley.net
<mailto:vernonwalton at berkeley.net>
*Academic Choice *teachers are observing one another's classrooms this
spring and debriefing to improve practice, a process we are encouraging
throughout the school; meanwhile, all AC freshmen, sophomores, and many
juniors are engaged in an extensive research project in their history
classes, exploring, assessing, and defending a thesis on a topic of
*English Language Learners Program:* In March, Mr. Mulholland-Beahrs,
teaching recent immigrants in our language learners program for the
first time, will take students to BioBlitz, a 24-hour event, sponsored
by the National Park Service and National Geographic Society, in which
teams of volunteer scientists, families, students, teachers, and other
community members, work together to find and identify as many species of
plants, animals, microbes, fungi, and other organisms as possible.
A BioBlitz is being conducted in a different national park each year
during the decade leading up to the U.S. National Park Service
Centennial in 2016.
Our *Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS)* is celebrating
seniors as the college acceptance notifications come rolling in. AMPS is
more than proud to report seniors being admitted to, among others, UC
Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Howard, SFSU, Humboldt, UC Riverside, and
Sonoma State, and there are more letters to come!
AMPS juniors engaged in a public health community asset mapping project
which will culminate in our second annual health information fair for
Berkeley High. They will be applying their newfound knowledge, as well
as project management and community outreach skills, to a spring
interdisciplinary unit on stress and trauma and its impact on both
physical health and educational health.
*Green Academy* seniors are preparing their senior project, a most
relevant education-centered endeavor wherein they will propose how to
use the new Local Control Funding Formula money that school districts
are receiving under California's new education funding formula.
At the end of April Juniors from Green Academy will be visiting UC
Merced, the newest member of the UC system, which houses a strong Green
Engineering program. Several Green Academy alums are attending UC Merced
The third quarter in *Berkeley International High School (BIHS)* has
been full of activity. Our sophomore class visited four different
colleges on the annual college field trip to build college-culture and
learn more about the admissions process.
The annual *BIHS Art Exhibition* was held Thursday, March 27th, from
5:30-8:30. Ms. D'Adamo once again put together an evening that showcased
student work that was provocative, beautiful, gut wrenching, and
colorful. Many thanks to the many incredibly talented and thoughtful
students who showed their work.
The *Math Department* is gearing up for a significant transition to an
international mathematics progression that will help us help students
meet the upcoming paradigm shift in teaching and learning brought about
by the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
Elsewhere there are a record number of participants in the math club
which meets every Tuesday at lunch (approximately 65). They are getting
positive results in their monthly competitions.
Our AP and IB students and teachers are gearing up for the AP and IB
math tests. We offer 15 sections of these high level courses and our
students typically perform very well on them.
The *World Language Department * saw French students from Donatella
Carta's classes participate in a French contest at Cal that included 15
schools and about 70 students. Three of Ms. Carta's students won in two
categories out of three -- one first prize and two second prizes. None
of the other winning schools won more than one prize.
World Language teachers have created exemplary lessons using the
strategies of Constructing Meaning, an instructional framework that,
among other things, highlights the role academic language plays and
should play in both lesson design and delivery. These World Language
Department lessons integrate the instructional practice we call Gradual
Release of Responsibility, and the department has begun building a
catalog of lessons for all teachers to use and share for the rest of the
year, and as they take over different levels.
*Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS)* sophomore Jackson Grigsby was
chosen to be Speaker of the House at the Black Youth Leadership
Project's annual Legislative Open House in the Sacramento State Capitol
building. He had the opportunity to meet state representatives and
preside over a mock trial.
CAS Staff including Ashley Daly, Amy Crawford, Philip Halpern, and
Hasmig Minassian, along with Green team lead Dagny Dingman, recently
presented at the Educating For Careers Conference for California
Partnership Academies in Sacramento. They presented on the AP
Augmentation program, Community Retreats, and Digitial Media projects.
CAS Seniors are ending an in-depth study of education by creating
proposals for a BHS redesign effort to help increase success for all
CAS seniors in Advanced Digital Photography will be taking part in a
Photo Exchange with students from Sakai High School in Japan in April.
*The Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA)* held its annual art exhibition
at Kala Gallery and proved to be a huge success. All students had work
displayed at Kala and over 300 people attended the opening reception.
Please refer to the following link for pictures of the show:
In other AHA news, 9th grade students are studying AB 1266 (the
transgender bathroom bill) and hearing from guest speakers about why the
bill is important.
In science, freshmen are studying evolution, a unit which will culminate
in a trip to the California Academy of Sciences, and freshmen also
participated in an acting workshop with the Shakespeare Theatre Company.
*The Science department *has done extremely positive work this year
developing common assessments for biology and chemistry. Additionally,
Thursday June 5 from 5:30 - 7:30 is the annual AP/IB Chem and Bio Poster
session. It will occur in the community theater galleries. Look for
additional info via e-tree prior to the event.
*/MUSIC:/ *Several weeks back, Berkeley High Band & Orchestra musicians
performed at a CMEA Solo & Ensemble festival held at Cal State East Bay,
in Hayward. There were three ensembles and one solo performance, and
each of the performances earned the highest score: Superior. Karen Wells
and Mary Dougherty were most excited for their young musicians who
played their pieces beautifully and were solid representatives for
Sarah Cline and her jazz program continue to impress and have, among
other appearances this year, been seen at Yoshi's and also traveled to
Cuba where they played, learned, and raised funds in advance to bring
along music supplies for their fellow musicians.
*Physical Education and Athletics: *The PE Department and athletics now
has access to new gym space, a fitness center, and a multi-purpose room.
The winter athletic season was a success with both boys and girls soccer
and boys and girls basketball making the playoffs.
Individual nods here go to...
* Carlin Hudson, a four-year girls varsity soccer player with a 4.0
GPA, who was also named league player of the year.
* Yassine Hamdouni Alami - boys varsity soccer, a 4.0 student, also
named league player of the year.
* Last but not least, Desire Finnie, a 3.4 GPA student, league player
of the year, who also led the girl's basketball team to the Northern
California Division 1 basketball championships.
*SPECIAL EDUCATION: *30+ students in the BCC College Transition class
took their college reading and math assessments today.
In addition, students in INE Literature Exploration classes are making
solid progress to independently read 20 books in five different genres
this year. They are steadily advancing in their reading levels and they
recently wrote and recited their own "I Have a Dream" poem in tribute to
Dr. Martin Luther King.
Students in CLC classes have also been working to complete and refine
*_The Danger of a Single Story_*
One of the ways in which we can work toward all of our students having
the opportunity to make connections to content, and to engage with
learning in more than just formal or symbolic ways, is to ensure that
the curriculum we choose does not promote a single story in terms of
culture, ancestry, or experience.
The Danger of a Single Story, a compelling talk by author Chimamanda
Ngozi at a recent TED event, notes that the "unintended consequence" of
stories, literature, or in our case, curricula, that is homogenous in
terms of culture and experience, is that kids can potentially become
convinced that books, by their very nature, have to be about things with
which they can not personally identify. The importance of inclusive and
multicultural content has, in my opinion, rarely been articulated so
This Spring the teacher leadership team is reviewing curriculum in all
departments and communities to give us all a more holistic impression of
what we are offering or conceiving of as inclusive curriculum. This work
must help us train a critical eye on the areas where the cultural and
experiential components of our curriculum can be broadened and improved.
*_Chicano Latino Studies_*
The reimagining and reconstituting of a vibrant Chicano Latino Studies
Department is happening now with Vice Principal Jorge Melgoza taking the
lead for BHS. These exciting conversations are examining the possibility
of partnering with PUENTE, http://www.puente.net/, and the crafting of a
certification pathway that would include literature and history courses,
AP coursework, and advanced world language instruction.
A meeting will be held at BHS on April 25 at 6:00 p.m. For details
please contact jorgemelgoza at berkeley.net <mailto:jorgemelgoza at berkeley.net>
*_Writing Matters (but you knew that, right?)_*
The ability to write proficiently in an academic context is essential to
student success and factors in mightily where disparities in student
achievement and outcomes are concerned. Struggling, developing, and even
currently proficient writers need to further practice and develop this
skill as it is the mode of communication and the channel of explanation
through which almost all students will, to some degree, eventually have
their work, their learning, and their thinking judged in a college or
More immediately, essays, term papers for social studies classes, lab
reports for science, artist statements or art critiques, and numerous
other tasks in various disciplines or subjects make the ability to
write, more specifically, the ability to explain an idea or extend an
argument, essential to success in subjects all across the curriculum.
The ability to express ideas in writing is certainly not the only way
students can convey their learning or their ideas, but it is perhaps the
most prominent, critical, and recurrent challenge placed on students
when asked to make their reflective capabilities and their thinking
In response to this, Berkeley High School, for the first time in many a
person's memory, has begun a school-wide, universal writing initiative
that this year that has asked /all/ students in grades 9 through 11 to
write persuasive essays on regular intervals.
Teachers across subject areas have normed and scored this student work
together giving all teachers in all subjects an opportunity to better
calibrate around what our school's collective conception of proficient
student writing looks like.
We are making a long term investment here and have taken very seriously
the input and suggestions that will improve the program's effectiveness
in future years.
We've refined our school-wide writing rubric, and believe the more
detailed scoring will provide students with more actionable and precise
feedback as the program grows.
Next year we are considering including data sets in each of the readings
to better push students to synthesize and analyze information -one of
the science articles this year will include data.
We'll also expand time for teachers to review the results of these
essays with colleagues in order to adjust instruction in meaningful
ways. This is especially critical as we as a school will no longer
concede that academic literacy is the responsibility of English teachers
alone. Supporting academic language development and academic writing
development is now a shared responsibility across content areas; a
sentiment formalized by the new Common Core State Standards' inclusion
of literacy standards for science, social studies, and a host of
technical subjects in the framework.
*_Student Course Surveys_*
Considering interest from student leadership and parents, and in
consultation with teachers and programs who are already giving student
surveys or course evaluations at the end of the semester or the end of
the year, the administrative team has begun preliminary conversations
around the development of a school-wide student course survey that could
be given in each course or section on campus in the near future.
Obviously there are numerous details to be considered: who will have
access to the data? How can the data be collected in a way that gives
teachers and administrators an opportunity to truly grow and improve
their practice from the responses?
These and many more questions need to be resolved before we move
forward, but the interest is growing and the early discussions are
underway. Special thanks to Mr. Campisi and Mr. Sanoff for providing
models of this type of work to help begin the conversation, and to Mr.
Villavicencio for connecting interested student leaders to the discussion.
A good primer on the topic can be found via the link below.
School Safety and Student Discipline_*
Through the terrific work of safety and intervention staff, the quality
planning and classroom management of our teaching staff, and the
frequent use of alternatives like mediation and counseling, suspension
and discipline data is again trending downward.
There were 164 suspensions the first semester of the 12-13 school year;
the first semester suspension totals for 13-14 were 94, */a reduction of
/For more longitudinal context note that BHS issued 606 school
suspensions during the 2008-2009 school year./
Total Incidents, which include teacher referrals, walk in or student
self-referrals, and a host of other general issues requiring On Campus
Intervention services, dropped from 880 in semester 1 of 12-13 to 768
through semester 1 this year, a roughly 13% drop. There are admittedly
lots of variables in this total incident data, but generally declines in
this area can be interpreted as fewer problems and classroom referrals
across the school.
Lots of credit to teachers, as well as the Intervention staff led by
Ardarius McDonald, Dean of Students, David Luu, Student Welfare and
Attendance Coordinator, and Ms. Jasdeep Mahli, Intervention Counselor.
Our best programs and most effective people stand little chance of
having an impact on students if students are not here to be impacted or
influenced by them. We are again pleased to report improvements in
attendance through the end of February. Credit goes to increased
consistency of teacher record keeping, full participation of counselors
and administrators in making phone calls home, and most of all the
diligence and hard work of our Dean, Mr. Roose, and the attendance team
of Ms. Jessica Lopez, Ms. Sakuntala Yaramala, and Ms. Wanda Kelly.
Attendance is up .62% through February and our three-year change of
+2.32% is extremely positive. At a school our size, a 1% annual gain in
attendance is very positive so our progressive and continuing gains over
the past few years are very respectable.
*_College and Career Center Updates_*
The College and Career Center has been active with celebrating students
in each of our learning communities as they are receiving acceptances to
colleges around the country! We had our first ever Community College
Fair with over 150 BHS Seniors (and five local community colleges) in
attendance. We are looking forward to our College Fair on May 4th,
2014, with over 40 colleges coming to represent their sites and meet our
*_New Facilities Open at BHS_*
The generosity of our community through the BHS South of Bancroft
development has resulted in the opening of the "M" Building, a beautiful
new facility that replaces the portable classrooms at the southeast
corner of campus and provides us with 15 new state of the art
classrooms, a multi-purpose room, a fitness facility, and a pristine new
The classrooms provide new learning spaces with lots of natural light,
and the gym and multi-purpose room add not only great new facilities for
the athletic and physical education programs, but also provide
much-needed flexibility in terms of space on campus. Springtime has been
a particular challenge for large spaces at BHS as AP and IB exams, art
shows, performances, and state testing all converge to create a
challenging scheduling situation for facilities.
This spring, the new spaces will relieve some of the historical impact
on programs and events during that time frame and also provide terrific
new learning spaces for students and teachers alike.
The portable classrooms have been disassembled, removed, and work on a
new softball facility is now underway at the southeast corner of campus
(Channing and Milvia) with a preliminary completion date of next
November. This new field will benefit physical education, the softball
program, and other athletic programs by adding an additional outdoor space.
Again, a heartfelt thanks on behalf of our staff and students to the
community, district facilities staff, and the project managers for an
investment and work that will benefit kids for many years to come.
New State Assessments: SBA_*
9th and 11th GRADE STUDENTS -- SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment)
All 9th grade and 11th grade students will be taking the field test of
the new Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). 9th grade students will take
the test in their history class, and 11th grade students will take the
test in their English class. Testing will take four class days between
April 15 and May 2.
The assessments are completely new, and were developed in response to
the new Common Core State Standards. The SBA will have both an English
Language Arts and a Mathematics component. This year is a field test
only -- no results will be sent to school sites or families regarding
Why do we feel like this is not only an important test, but also a good
investment of instructional time at Berkeley High School?
SBA test questions are more holistic and varied than the previous CST
test. Question types include short answer, essay, multiple choice,
fill-in, as well as drag and drop. The range of question types honor
different ways of thinking and give students multiple ways to show what
they know and can do.
In keeping with our increasingly technology-based culture, the SBA is
taken completely on the computer. We will use the field test year to
get students familiar and comfortable with the format of this new
assessment. Next year, when results will be reported for the first
time, we want to be adequately prepared.
Because the SBA is computer-based, there are many accommodations easily
available for students, including students with special needs. Where
appropriate, students can take advantage of online dictionaries,
calculators, and have text-to-speech options built seamlessly into the
Previous paper and pencil tests required countless hours spent by our
counseling staff to complete accounting and packaging of testing
materials. By nature, the SBA is more environmentally friendly, and
frees up our school staff to be more available for direct student support.
We are excited about the ways we have been working as a school community
to help students think and write critically. Specifically, the
Constructing Meaning trainings have taken an incredible amount of
school-wide effort, and the SBA assessment is an opportunity for the
ways students are assessed to match the kind of teaching and learning
happening in our classrooms.
Marguerite Fa-Kaji and Catherine Ference are the parent-volunteer
facilitators of the etree; please direct any questions to them at
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