In the concluding moments of Wednesday night’s school board meeting, director Shirley Issel made a passionate statement urging an end to the divisive rhetoric used by some sides in the argument over equity grants and science labs at Berkeley High School.

Here’s some of what Issel said:

Many people in this community have stood up for science. Many board members have stood up for science. The science department has some responsibility here along with the administration of the school to look into the delivery of this curriculum.

The other thing that is bothering me terribly is how the high school has become polarized, how parents have become polarized, how conversations and assumptions about one another are getting kind of ugly and unflattering. And it disturbs me that this notion of equity grants again pits one small school against the next, competing for scarce resources. How can that have a good ending?…

I really cannot bear to see the learning environment of our wonderful high school devolve into polarized struggles when I know how passionate is everyone is in this community to see all students achieve and all students individual needs being met. And by that I mean the students at the top who are achieving at twice the level on their AP tests of other students in the US. I’m proud of these students. When I hear these students speak, as I did at the students’ governance council, and say they were willing to give up their AP labs to make things equitable for low achieving students, it actually broke my heart.

Because you know what? No one needs to give up anything here. We can find a way to meet the needs of our high achievers, our middle students and our struggling students.

We have a philosophy on this board that focuses on the whole child, all their needs, and all students. That’s one of the great challenges of Berkeley. That we’ve made a commitment to be aware of and be responsive to the incredibly diverse needs in our community. And I don’t want to see one group pitted against the other. I want to find a way to be there for all kids.

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]
Listen live now to BHS science flap on KQED [1.13.10]
When Huyett met the BHS PTSA [1.20.10]
L.A. Times reports on BHS science lab issue [1.25.10]
D-Day for BHS science labs? [2.02.10]
Class sizes at BHS [2.02.10]
Amended school board agenda expected [2.03.10]
Superintendent puts proposal into context [2.03.10]
Lots of talk, but no action on BHS science classes [2.04.10]
BHS science lab controversy: a parent’s viewpoint [2.04.10]

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,...

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  1. Hi Shirley,
    I met you at the marathon SGC meeting, was glad to see your concern there and, after reading your comments at the Board Meeting, very glad you represent us on the School Board. Many thanks for speaking out for the need for amity in the school community and your appreciation of those students who have tried to foster community value — at expense of their education and with little recognition to show for it.
    I also wanted to take this opportunity to draw your attention to another facet of the redesign plan: the new bell schedule proposal, which would delay lunch by a whole period. If morning nutrition is a problem for students (as my daughter says it is — she has trouble concentrating at the end of 3rd period on late start days), I can’t see that delaying lunch by a whole period can help. Even if a nutrition break of 15 minutes is planned between 2 & 3 periods, the cafeteria certainly cannot serve everyone in that time. The plan would then be relying on students bringing snacks from home — a very iffy proposition. And even then, would the snacks (chips perhaps) really be nutritious enough to sustain the students through another period? I know the science lab issue has been first priority, but I wouldn’t want the new bell schedule to slip by unnoticed– it could have serious ramifications on students ability to concentrate and perform in their 4th period.
    Thanks for your timely interventions,
    Jeanine Castello-Lin

  2. Is truancy that bad? Maybe having the kids on the street – after age 16 anyway – is better than having them in class being disruptive.

    Losing the science labs will be a shame – science and math were the only subjects at BHS where kids got a real education. Spanish was a waste and English non-existent. I didn’t have high hopes for BHS, but the English program was shocking.

  3. Hey Lance,

    I think you missed one of the main points Shirley made, the board was being asked to review a plan without any data, in particular, attendance data. She sharply criticized the continued failure of administration to address such basic practice as data collection and analysis. She emphasized the most obvious but largely ignored fact, that a student cannot achieve if they don’t attend class.

    In the last couple of days during my mid day walk, I have counted 200 plus BHS students truant hanging in all the usual spots during 4th-6th periods.

    Same old same old. Just as Shirley admonishment was the same old, same old. Actually Wed meeting was tame compared to past tensions, the board was united.

    By the way, my oldest now an employed chemist, was truant 55 periods in 45 days during his freshman year. He had three F at the quarter. That year the auto dialer was busted until the school reviewed first quarter results, school attendance was even worse in 2000. His small school instructors and admin were no more help than the school, which was no help at all.
    It was on me to monitor, find, threaten, and discipline the kid.

    BHS still does have any truancy intervention plan, the DA has attended meeting with the district and city recently, admonishing Slemp’s administration for failure to address truancy.

    The Safety committee has been trying to address truancy for three years, last week’s agenda included a discussion with the district attendance and welfare reporting staff, Slemp told his subordinates to cancel district staff attendance at the meeting. Parents were forced to repeatedly ask Amy Frey the latest administrator in charge of attendance to explain how the high school reports and identify chronic truants. Frey answered she was new to the job and did not know anything. We have heard that song before.