William Huyett, Berkeley Unified School District Superintendent, this morning issued a statement to parents on the Berkeley High science/equity debate.

There are two important items in the statement. First, Huyett writes that the proposal is expected to come before the BUSD Board of Directors on February 3. BHS Principal Jim Slemp has been asserting throughout the controversy that the board did not need to approve the plan. Second, on my reading, the thrust of the statement is to support the elimination of 0 and 7th period labs, and find a way to provide the science curriculum — with lab time — in the regular school day.

Here’s the full text:

Dear Berkeley Families,

Berkeley High School is in the middle of a major redesign, primarily focused on four areas: Advisory Classes, Bell and Lunch Schedules, Decentralization of the Small Learning Communities, and the Configuration of Science Labs. Science is only one aspect of that; it is the subject of this letter.

At Berkeley High, students are currently required to attend science labs either before or after school for Advanced Placement (AP) classes and most College Preparatory classes. In nearly all other schools in California, science labs are held during the regular school day science classes when students are required to be in school, avoiding any conflicts for students who work, participate in sports or other extra curricular activities or are required to be at home before and after school.

The proposal from the principal and the school leadership is to integrate the labs into the regular school day, not to eliminate them as has been reported by the media. Typically in California, college prep science classes meet only five times a week instead of six times as many BHS science classes do. The proposal would bring instructional time in line with the rest of the state; however this would decrease instructional time over the current practice at BHS, especially for AP classes. Note that it is common for AP classes to have more learning time by extending a course into two years or over the summer.

The principal and leadership team believe that by offering a full science program during the regular day, science classes will be more accessible to all students, and that attendance and performance in science will improve. The proposal has received the support of the BHS School Governance Council and is expected to come before the BUSD Board of Directors on February 3, 2010. This Board review of the high school redesign has been delayed because the administration and science teachers are meeting to resolve the instructional time issues.

As Superintendent I have been following the redesign discussion closely, and have taken a special interest in the question about the science labs. I have met with concerned parents from both sides of the discussion and have personally been meeting with Principal Slemp and the science teachers. The Superintendent’s primary questions/concerns are the issue of requiring students to attend school during extended school hours; how to provide the instructional time necessary for AP and College Preparatory students and how to provide quality science labs and additional support for all science students.


William Huyett
Superintendent of Schools

Catch up on the story so far with Berkeleyside’s coverage:

Endangered science at Berkeley High School [12.11.09]
Science at BHS: An open letter [12.14.09]
Science and equity: BHS parents weigh in [12.16.09]
BHS Board meeting dominated by science issue [12.17.09]
The BHS science flap — the ripples are spreading [12.30.09]
BHS science/equity debate: The latest [1.06.10]
Next on the BHS agenda: Meeting with superintendent [1.11.10]

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (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 in Britain,...

Join the Conversation


  1. I think a trimester program and staggered lunches should be put back on the table. Here is what a well designed 5×3 trimester based bell schedule looks like – but before you over-react to the hours listed in this diagram, read past the link:

    That schedule goes from 8 to 6:05 and doesn’t include a lunch period. So, you might wonder, pardon me but… WTF?, right?

    First, you see that big blue area labeled “Athletics and Community Service”? You can cut that out. That ain’t “gym class”, which occur during regular class periods. That’s just something you put there for a residential private school. The Andover, trimester-based, 5×3 would fit in 8AM to 4:05, if adapted to a public school context. That system has students very strongly encouraged to take 5 courses per trimester, each class either 4, 5, or 6 hours per week. That leaves breaks in each student’s schedule and it is assured that over a staggered couple of hours, every student can take lunch every day during a suitably timed blank class period. You can’t always have lunch with your bestest friends but you always get lunch — and the cafeteria isn’t over-crowded.

    The homework load at Andover is supposed to be about 9hrs/wk, btw. So, “student time” – not counting lunch, transportation to and fro, and extracurricular athletics and community service works out to about 34 hours per week. High-achieving students are presumed to have the gumption and interest to also learn on their own.

    Hopefully in later comments I can offer some notions about how to eliminate “small schools” per se while preserving academic concentrations and simultaneously implementing potentially very effective “advisory” stuff. Much as I disagree on so much with Ms. Burke, boy oh boy does the “small school” system as currently realized sure look broken in my eyes, too. The more I look at it, the less I like.

  2. Many courses required for both high school graduation and college admission requirements have been taught in the 0/7 period for years, including Algebra 1 and 2, Geometry, Honors Geometry, French, Spanish, Journalism, World of Media, Best History, and more. Doing away with classes during zero period, of course, will kill two birds with one stone–there will be no more honors math program at the middle schools as well as making it nearly impossible to teach AP science classes, per the teachers who should be allowed to decide on this issue.

    Furthermore, the school day has always been defined by the bell schedule.

    The larger question is, why the sudden concern over classes taking place during 0/7 periods when there was never such a concern expressed before? This latest excuse to grab money from the larger school to fund small school projects is transparent, and it’s about the only transparent thing going on at Berkeley High. I suppose the earlier reason that only privileged students took science lab classes was too ridiculous even for Berkeley standards.

    My son has a job and plays sports–last year in biology he was able to take 7th period labs on different days, depending on his job and sport schedule. This is the practice of many kids at Berkeley High and it has never been a problem for those who want to work or play sports, or both.

  3. I am the parent of two recent BHS graduates and can testify that Mr. Lord is correct. In order to complete the required labs for science classes at Berkeley High, students must attend labs outside of the normal school day. Yes, there are many other activities scheduled during 0 and 7th periods (tutoring, clubs, sports, theatre, orchestra …) but all of these, except for science labs, are optional activities rather than components of courses required for college eligibility. Busy students must make choices. They may not be able to play a sport AND act in the school play, for example. Or hold a job AND play in the orchestra. But they should not have to choose between after-school jobs or extra-curricular activities and completing required courses.

  4. JNG,

    You write: “Your observation of “0″ and 7th (not 8th) periods doesn’t jibe with the school’s own bell system that was apparently instituted some time ago.”

    I’m not sure what you mean. I’m looking at the bell schedule on the BHS web site. Period 0 starts at 7:23, period 7 ends at 4:34 (which would have most kids with period 7 classes getting home around 5):

    As on example of an extracurricular activity whose schedule conflicts with that, the mountain bike team meets at 4:15. Extended periods are also difficult for some students who work.

    You write: “Your logic fails to account for those kids already taking the labs in the 0 and 7 periods, and who may not be able to take the classes during the other periods.”

    No, I actually think that those students are one of the more important issues on the table. What I’m not seeing, though, is any really compelling evidence that they “can’t” get a full and rich curriculum without these extra-period labs. Mr. Knoble described the case of a kid who would have trouble squeezing in both the science labs and satisfying the requirements of the supplementary diploma offered by the International School (BIHS). So there is one example of a cause for concern but at the same time I find myself wondering how appropriate a priority the supplementary degree is for BHS (and whether it is really quite certain that we are looking at an either/or proposition).

    You write: “unless you are telling me there is a racial disparity b/w kids’ ability to show up at certain times for classes?” My anecdotal understanding from hearing the educators speak is that there is, especially concentrated in the extra periods, and often for systemically structural reasons. It is less of a problem in the regular periods and thus more desirable to offer those labs during the regular periods.

    Your message got a little bit garbled after that – some kind of cut and paste SNAFU, I would guess. Making of it what I can I tell you this:

    As I’ve look deeper and deeper into these issues – and I’m sure I still have a long way to go – I try to keep an open but skeptical mind about both sides. It keeps getting more and more difficult, though, because somewhat consistently the proponents of the plan come forward with facts and additional details, while opponents come forward with more that ranges from simple vitriol to just bald-faced assertions that BHS should “give up” on the underachieving students to preserve resources for the others.

    I wouldn’t conclude that opponents of the plan are certainly wrong – but they sure aren’t making their case.

  5. TL:

    Your observation of “0” and 7th (not 8th) periods doesn’t jibe with the school’s own bell system that was apparently instituted some time ago. Suggesting that this is occurring “outside” “normal school hours is just plain misleading. There are tons of activities occurring in these hours BTW, not just labs. As I understand it the last bell is at 4:15, not 5 as you suggest, which is not unlike the hours I expended in high school (7:30 to 3:30) with lunch in between. There is hardly anything unusual about that.

    You write:

    Your logic fails to account for those kids already taking the labs in the 0 and 7 periods, and who may not be able to take the classes during the other periods. How many of those people are being excluded now? Moreover the addition of science “labs” to other courses can be done within the existing framework, unless you are telling me there is a racial disparity b/w kids’ ability to show up at certain times for classes?

    with good reason since her rationale is transparent and IMO blatantly biased

    I don’t know her kids. I know MY kids are told to work within the system and to make use of the resources available to them. They’re not allowed to complain if there is a tool or course there for them that they choose not to use, and then complain that there isn’t something else that best suits their particular lifestyle.

    You write:

    Thomas, the whole talk from these folks is Orwellian…. its a farce. The school district is blatantly favoring one group over another, and then trying to sugar coat it by suggesting that the losing party really is better off because no one wanted to take classes in that period anyway. Well apparently many of these students and their parents don’t agree with that double talk.

    You write:

    I’m open to any CHANGE when it can be shown to have some demonstrable value to one group before it used to clearly impair another group. Right now all we have is fluff and vague allusions to programs that are purportedly going to result in improvements; that doesn’t offset the actual harm we know will be caused to a real program that apparently delivers real results.

    good talking to you


  6. What was particularly INTERESTING in the Forum discussion was Krasny’s constant reminder about the ABSENT unresponsive principal Jim Slemp.

    Hemphill= politician, capable of manipulating empty words

    Peggy Scott= Awesome, well- informed, well intentioned committed parent concerned about integrity, all kids needs, fairness, and capable of speaking truth to power in a climate of retribution.

    Who missed the careful approach the science teacher took, in contrast to the small schools activist Halpern prepared to list the same four points organized in the Supt latest attempt at covering up the true nature of this ongoing (7 -8 years) controversy.

    This conflict is not about educational equity, discrimination or how to address institutional racism. Nor is the conflict due to criticism of or opposition to quality integrated social services tied to the classroom (however myopic UIA vision is). The conflict is a reaction to a classic power grab orchestrated by a political network supported by Mayor Bates.

    Considering the outrageous insubordination yet again by Jim Slemp, (recent SGC meeting) what does it take to hire a principal with integrity.

  7. JNG: The extra “0” and “8” periods are outside normal school hours. They conflict with extracurricular activity schedules. From first to last bell is basically a nine-hour day that starts at 7:23 and in the morning and leaves kids not getting home until around 5.

    One of the interesting facts that came out during the discussion on KQED today is that in overwhelming numbers, the underachieving students are tracked to a science curriculum that includes *0* lab hours, and that this change will enable that to change. That is to say, the redirection of these funds are expected to *increase* the number of BHS students taking lab courses.

    You write: “It just annoys me that suddenly everyone is very concerned about “state mandated” school day hours under the guise of trying to help, when in fact their intent is just the opposite.”

    Ms. Hemphill made an interesting comment on the radio today. She hears comments like yours pretty frequently, you won’t be surprised to learn. I gather she is in the habit of biting her tongue in those discussions but she mentioned that what she often wants to say is (I’m paraphrasing her) “So, you are saying that I have lower standards and goals for my kids than you do?”

    It seems like a slippery slope down into unproductive discussion if we casually start accusing people of having the intent to do the opposite of helping.

    I hope you’ll seek out and listen with an open mind to some of the teachers and staff who are trying to bring about the proposed changes.

  8. LK: sorry for making it appear that the comment was directed to you; I merely read the letter and responded without noticing that you had posted it. It just annoys me that suddenly everyone is very concerned about “state mandated” school day hours under the guise of trying to help, when in fact their intent is just the opposite.

  9. “…or are required to be at home before and after school”

    “…by offering a full science program during the regular day”

    As I understand the schedule as you publish it, these periods ARE part of the school day. For you to suggest that the current schedule is some kind of onerous requirement on students is disingenuous, particularly since the people subject to the burden are not in favor of you taking it away.