Principal’s Winter Letter

Dear BHS Families:

The school year is moving along quickly and when the rare pause emerges I am deeply thankful for the collective talent and energy of our students and staff. I am also thankful for the enduring and essential contributions of our parents and our community. Our school is uncommon in its breadth of interests and range of talents and for its mirroring of the complex blend of culture, background, and experiences that are increasingly the hallmarks of both our local and global communities. Berkeley High School continues to be a tremendous place to work and learn.

It has been a challenging month to remain optimistic as brutal events from Newtown, Connecticut to Damascus, Syria have claimed the lives of school children. As educators, we grieve these events and we relate them to the pain they surface for many kids at our school, and within neighboring communities, that have been impacted by young life passing violently and prematurely.

However, conceding our thoughts exclusively to tragedy would not be the healthiest thing for our kids or for us as a school community. So we once again look to our kids, our wonderfully creative and dynamic students, who reinvigorate our sense of optimism and renew our belief that something better is always possible.  We regain heart by recognizing their potential to create a world less likely to produce the sadness we have seen of late, and that affirms our obligation to invest ourselves in them each and every day.

Earning the right to call ourselves a great school will require a continuous determination and commitment to see that all students, regardless of who they are and how they come to us, leave us better prepared to meet the next set of life’s challenges. Our commitment must also include the development of the curiosity, character, and conscientiousness that will prime them not only for personal success, but for productive and compassionate citizenship as well. This is a charge we share as a school and a community.

Acknowledging the weight of recent news as well as the pace and distractions this season always brings about, I pass on some news and views from Berkeley High School and wish you and yours a relaxing holiday.

Respectfully,

Pasquale Scuderi
Principal
Berkeley High School

Teaching and Learning

This year we continue our development of common formative assessments and assessment techniques and, most importantly, linking the results of those assessments and techniques to our instruction and lesson design. This assessment focus in our work constitutes not a focus on creating more testing, but rather the further refinement of a way of working that helps us analyze and communicate student growth and progress toward established outcomes and standards. It shifts our focus to what is being learned rather than what is being taught, and helps us be more informed and targeted in terms of what to teach, how to teach or reteach, or what areas to accelerate based on student performance. Newly adopted common core standards and a push for increasingly coherent outcomes and skills across our school reminds us of author and educator Paul Bambrick-Santoyo observation that a standard has little if any value until you determine how progress toward it or mastery of it will be assessed.

On the formal side we developed and administered teacher-generated, common, formative pre-assessments in 15 academic subjects this year to students in all learning communities and will give those students post-assessments in the spring to look at growth or challenges with regard to specific skills and content. Developing these types of formal assessments, which include essays, exams, presentations, and projects, as well as informal assessments like teacher techniques to check for understanding in class or questioning techniques, help us pursue what scholar Rick Stiggins calls, “a balance between assessments of learning and classroom assessments for learning.”

We appreciate deeply the work that led to an increase in our Academic Performance Index (API) last year. This measure, calculated in large part by performance on current state tests, did rise from 715 to 734 between 11-12 and 12-13, and we appreciate the hard work of the administrators, students, and teachers who made this happen. However, our school has admittedly struggled with getting students to take these state exams seriously, and while we will continue to encourage and support participation in these tests, we are also certain that our work of generating standards-based in-house assessments, along with the continued development of project and performance-based assessments, will result in a smarter and more nuanced expansion of how we measure and assess student growth relative to the multiple valid ways that students convey or express their intelligence, talent, and creativity.

Elsewhere we are focused on the continued development of academic language for all students, while accelerating gains in this area for African-American, Latino, and English Learners. We broadly define academic language as the academic writing, oral language, and reading skills that will boost students’ abilities to engage in the myriad communication tasks required of college, career, and active citizenship. Emerging as a critical academic need from our accreditation process’ recent self-study, our focus in this area thus far has seen nearly 80 teachers receive additional training in the teaching of explicit academic language skills. Ultimately these efforts, in combination with the newly adopted Common Core State Standards, which outline literacy standards for science, social studies, and a variety of technical subjects, will bring our school-wide practices around academic or collegiate literacy in line with what author Mike Schmoker advocates for, a program where kids are engaged in “far more purposeful reading and writing in every discipline.”

I stand by the curricular benefits of these focus areas, yet I also recognize that this is not the sum of our work. Organizationally we can work to create and support systems and procedures that focus on outcomes, but we are equally dependent on relationships, the working relationships between students and teachers in particular, to make the path to those outcomes vibrant, memorable, and instructive.

Sarah Green, a blogger and podcast host recently summarized the importance and power of leading students to not only be successful on school-related tasks, but to also lead them to appreciate and enjoy the processof learning.  She writes, ”A student who has learned to love the process of learning will never be redundant, her labor never commoditized. It’s the one skill that will serve us best in an economy that is uncertain, a world that is volatile, and a future that is anything but predictable.” With cultural, economic, and technological currents shifting more rapidly than at any time in history it is difficult to predict precisely what our kids will need in both the near and distant futures, yet if we instill in them a genuine affinity for the process of learning itself, we may well have prepared them to adapt to any situation and acquire whatever skills they need to be successful in a variety of possible futures.

The work of defining outcomes and objectives, using common assessment tools, ensuring the deepening of academic language skills, and employing research-based instructional strategies is hardly at odds with an imaginative teaching culture that fosters a love for learning and a deep appreciation for creativity and reflection. As educators we are most effective when we combine these technical and relational aspects of our work, when we combine coherent curriculum and common assessments with highly innovative and personally engaging teachers and creative lesson design. The intersection of these two dimensions of education is where I truly believe that the best preparation for productive and passionate futures for our kids resides. It is a challenging balance to strike, but one well within our reach as a staff and as a community, and so the work continues.

Teacher Spotlight

BHS is extremely proud of Ms. Tamara Friedman of the English Language Learners and World Language Departments as well as Mr. Bill Pratt of Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) for completing National Board Certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards gives National Board Certification to teachers who meet rigorous standards throughout a challenging and completely voluntary assessment process. Ms. Friedman and Mr. Pratt are to be commended for their work and their continued development of their craft should serve as a model for students and colleagues alike.

Emergency Preparedness

A little over a month ago, on November 9, a day that students had off and staff was assigned professional development time, our Dean of Students, Ardarius McDonald, worked with members of the Berkeley Fire Department, and parent members of the safety committee to organize disaster training sessions for BHS Staff.

In the event of a large-scale, city-wide or county-wide disaster, Berkeley High School could potentially be left to fend for itself and its students for an extended period of time, and while this is never a scenario one likes to imagine, it is critical that staff continue to develop some basic capacity and basic competency in the areas of first-aid, light search and rescue, and fire suppression.

While there is much work to do, the trainings we received will become part of our annual professional development scheme. Following our participation in the Great California Shake Out in October, we also continue to develop and refine plans for student/parent reunification and communication in the wake of a major emergency.

 

Under the supervision of the Berkeley Fire Department, AHA science teacher Devon Brewer practices fire suppression during emergency response training for the staff at Berkeley High School.

 

Campus Safety and Culture

Our On Campus Intervention Staff (OCI), safety officers, intervention team, attendance staff, counselors, campus monitors, teachers, and administrators have all in various ways made contributions to what we believe are significant improvements in campus culture this year as measured by year-to-year reductions in the number of suspensions and incidents we have logged.

“Total Incidents” which we define as disciplinary referrals, suspensions, or any other walk-in issues to OCI, totalled 939 from the beginning of school through winter break in 2011-2012 while for the same period of time this year, 2012-2013, we have logged 610 incidents. This means total incidents have dropped 35% from where they were last year at this time.

Suspensions, those incidents generally pertaining to more serious issues like physical altercations, alcohol or substance issues, or vandalism, totalled 165 from the beginning of school through winter break in 2011-2012, while for the same period of time this year we have logged 104. This means suspensions have dropped by almost 37% from where they were last year at this time.

We see this in no way as a reason to become complacent, but the trend is encouraging. Reducing referrals and suspensions thoughtfully and without compromising or altering our expectations for students means that school culture improves in some aspects and elsewhere translates to more students who need to be in class actually being in class.


Holiday Meal

We are very proud of all the kids in student leadership who, under the supervision of Activities Director, John Villavicencio, served nearly 300 meals to folks who were hungry and in need last Saturday. The student efforts in organizing and executing the event combined with parents who were extremely generous with time and donations made for positive and community-minded holiday event.

Amelia Archer, Jawharrah Cabral, and Marina Rosenberg were among the many student leaders at the helm of the annual Holiday Meal. 

Attendance

In attendance, this year BHS has continued with our push to decrease unexcused absences, and we’ve also incorporated a focus on tardies. So far the numbers are encouraging.  For example, in period four we’ve seen a slight decrease in students arriving late, as well as unexcused absences.  Historically, period four has been our toughest period for attendance because it comes directly after lunch.  Chart below shows the percentage of BHS students arriving late or missing fourth period:
Two-year Comparison of Tardies and Unexcused Absences in BHS’ period 4.

aug 30 – dec 16

2011/12

aug 29 – dec 16

2012/13

percentage point

improvement

unexcused tardies

 

1.9%

1.7%

0.2

unexcused absences

1.8%

1.4%

0.4

This is an enduring challenge for us with so many of our students eating lunch off campus so please take a moment and remind students that it is critical to be on time for every class period every day.

True Student-Athletes

The North Coast Section (NCS) acknowledges student athletes with Scholastic Championship Team Awards which are awarded to teams whose team Grade Point Averages are commendable.

Congratulations to our Girls Cross Country team (team GPA 3.69) and our Girls Tennis Team (team GPA 3.81). We are very proud of their efforts inside the classroom and out.


Semester 1 Finals

Hard to imagine that soon after our return from winter break we will be headed toward the end of the first semester. Below is the calendar for the week of finals. January 21 is a school holiday to recognize Dr. King’s Birthday, and Tuesday, January 22 will be a regular schedule, while the schedule for the remainder of the week is provided below.

January 23rd

 

Time

Minutes

Period 1

8:30-10:30

120

Period 2

10:40-12:40

120

Lunch

12:40 -1:20

40

Finals Prep

1:26-2:47

81

January 24th

 

Time

Minutes

Period 3

8:30-10:30

120

Period 4

10:40-12:40

120

Lunch

12:40 -1:20

40

Finals Prep

1:26-2:47

81

January 25th

 

Time

Minutes

Period 5

8:30-10:30

120

Period 6

10:40-12:40

120

 

Counseling and College and Career News

On January 23rd BHS will host “Cash for College,” a financial aid workshop where seniors and their families receive hands-on support with completing financial aid applications.

If you are planning on applying for financial aid, you should sign up for a PIN# at www.fafsa.ed.gov  Counseling staff strongly recommends submitting your FAFSA as soon after January 1 as possible!

Parent Resource Center

Save the date. On February 13, the BHS Parent Resource Center is sponsoring and organizing a workshop called Phoenix Rising, this workshop will focus on implementing positive solutions to eliminate disparities and inequities for African-American students in the educational setting. Time and details will be forthcoming.

Registrar News 

Seniors planning on completing their studies by the end of fall semester need to file a “Petition for Early Graduation” with the Registrar’s Office. This also applies to Juniors looking to graduate in June of 2013. Forms are located in the Registrar’s Office which is located in the main office building.

Library 

The Library staff asked me to pass along thanks to all the donations that came to the BHS library through Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore!

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

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