Green Academy Turns Away Freshmen
Berkeley High School Principal Pasquale Scuderi announced on Wednesday May 30 that the Green Academy small school will not enroll a freshman class in the 2012-2013 school year. The school’s current freshman, sophomore, and junior classes will remain a part of the school and continue through the curriculum until they graduate.
BHS administrators finalized their decision to eliminate the next potential Green Academy class due to an inadequate class size, meaning too few incoming students chose the school as one of their top choices for the placement lottery.
Scuderi explained he was “disappointed” that they were forced to take such extreme measures in response to the lack of awareness about Green Academy’s unique benefits. However, he said, “I really think we need some time to rethink and reconsider how we’re doing green education.”
Despite a strong, innovative curriculum, a number of factors have made the school less appealing to incoming freshmen, particularly false perceptions in the community. Scuderi explained that one of the larger related problems has to do with the Small Learning Community (SLC) system as a whole. The current lottery system often segregates the school automatically, “not only racially and ethnically but also [by] level of academic readiness,” said Scuderi.
Students that have strong academic rigor in mind for their high school years lean towards Academic Choice (AC) and Berkeley International High School (BIHS) because of assumptions that other small schools are less challenging. Generally these larger schools are thought to provide easier access to Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) level classes, a perception that small school administrators have been working hard to change by offering new small school AP classes.
Glenn Wolkenfeld, one of Green Academy’s lead teachers along with Dagny Dingman and Andy Peck, explained that nothing limits a Green Academy student from graduating with three or four AP classes on their transcript.
“The community’s perception is based on really poor information,” Wolkenfeld said.
“At this school, some of those things have to do with race,” Scuderi admitted. He explained that students have a tendency to self-segregate and gravitate toward where they feel they will fit in, which creates a strong divide between small schools.
“I just hope we haven’t created a system that formally supports that tendency,” he said. Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) Policy Subcommittee has been looking closely at the student assignment system and considering how it might be modified to address that weakness.
“The real challenge is that we really believe in the curriculum,” Scuderi said, explaining that Green Academy’s subject matter is very relevant to a critical new age of industry and global development. When Green Academy replaced the School of Social Justice and Ecology (SSJE) just two years ago, it was a pioneer in green education because it dedicated an entire cohesive curriculum to environmental sustainability and scientific development research. In March, the school was recognized with an Eco Award through Diablo Magazine for being a top Bay Area “green” school.
Wolkenfeld also expressed that because the school is still so young, people haven’t had time to learn about its benefits, especially since other incorrect perceptions about SSJE carried over when Green Academy was created. A widely known fact among BHS staff and administrators is the level of hard work that Green Academy teachers have committed to making the program the best it can be, and advertising those strengths in the community.
“We provide this unique place where we can teach kids about science and sustainability, which is the number one issue that we face as a species,” said Wolkenfeld, who is a science teacher.
Scuderi stressed that the decision does not mean a certain end to the entire Green Academy, nor does it imply an end to the small school system. “We’re going to make very patient and informed decisions,” said Scuderi.
Wolkenfeld explained that he wished the community knew more about the unique and innovative opportunities offered in the school — for example, experimenting with different ways to generate clean energy — and the internships that many students participate in. Green Academy senior Michael Medley currently juggles two internships and is additionally creating an after–school program for middle school students with a focus on yoga and pilates.
In the coming year, BHS administrators and Green Academy leaders will continue to consider alternative options for the school, such as offering a Career Tech Pathway option for students of all schools to participate in, or a special Green Education Certification that students could earn by taking a particular set of classes. They also plan to assess information and analyses gathered by BUSD’s Evaluation and Assessment department, as they take an in–depth look at how to put the spotlight on Green Academy’s strengths.