2020 Vision Plan Works to Help Before Students Enter Schools

By Emma Dudley

Efforts towards the 2020 Vision Plan for the Berkeley Unified School District continue as more solid proposals and planning for the future of students in the system take shape. Updates to the plan were presented to around 2,000 parents, youth, and organizations between November 3, 2009 and March 10, 2010 and revised to create the 2020 Vision City Council and School Board Report. The plan was introduced and passed in 2008, and since then members of the effort including the BUSD School Board, the Berkeley Alliance, Berkeley City Council, teachers, parents, and students have been working towards the goal of sending the entire class of 2020 off to college the fall after graduation.

Bridging the achievement gap is one of the main goals of the plan, as Berkeley High School has had a longstanding reputation of having a large difference in measured academic success between different racial and economic groups. BHS is trying to jump start the plan, and was the first to recognize its own problem.

“We were committed to doing this before anyone else would even talk,” said Principal Jim Slemp about the school’s strong initiative for the plan early on. “Some kids, through no lack of intelligence or anything else, are not doing as well as other kids.” The difference between white students’ and African–American and Hispanic students’ Academic Performance Index scores (APIs) is just one example of the gap. There are also large variations between GPAs, attendance, suspension, and expulsion records.

Efforts at the high school level, many behind the plan contend, will not solve these issues alone. “Kids have been in school since kindergarten and you can’t change [the achievement gap] altogether in ninth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade, because that’s a pretty huge gap,” Slemp stated, affirming that steps need to be taken from the bottom of the learning pyramid.
The programs that are part of the 2020 Vision are intended to do just that, by beginning to work with preschoolers to ensure that they will be prepared for kindergarten, and moving up through elementary and middle school. Priorities for the programs were finalized on March 9 by the BHS School Governance Council. These programs were outlined in the official report and will be put into effect between July 1 and December 31, 2010.

Teachers at the preschool level will be trained to use specific strategies for teaching and supporting children in the early stages of their education. Twenty entering kindergarteners will also be selected for the Summer Bridge program to help guide them into the system. A revised readiness assessment will be made available for students that are on the right track but not quite equipped to begin kindergarten.

Work with families is also instrumental in these early stages, and the programs seek to help support them along with their students. “Everything we do has to have an element of family participation in order to be successful,” said Nicole Sanchez, Executive Director of the Berkeley Alliance.

The steps are designed to continue up through the grade levels, with more organized enrichment geared towards entering fourth, fifth, and eighth graders and their families within the district. Youth who are considered to be “at risk” will be specifically targeted for these programs. The English Development Program will be available for all students through twelfth grade. Afterschool extra curricular programs will also be implemented at different levels, which will include tutoring, mentoring, and other activities for students, specifically in the South Berkeley region.

At the middle school and high school level, sixth to twelfth grade curriculums will involve more focus on technology, innovation, and environmental awareness to provide them with a skill set that will benefit them in the modern world. Incoming ninth graders, especially those making the transition from a smaller school to a very large one, will be provided with opportunities to learn how to be academically successful through study strategies. They will also be provided with an early orientation to BHS to help them feel more comfortable starting their freshman year. Student progress will be closely monitored, and there will be regulated intervention policies. “This will allow us to make sure that those who need services are getting them,” said Sanchez.

BHS also aims to strengthen its partnership with Berkeley City College so that students can continue taking classes there.
All of these newly prioritized programs are scheduled to begin in the year 2010, starting with the Summer Bridge programs in July.

Despite the state economic crisis and budget cuts, the plans are still on track, although there are certainly obstacles. “We are having to look for outside resources to help with some of the funding and shift from other projects to be sure we can support these initiatives,” said Sarah Jo of the Berkeley Alliance.

In Slemp’s words, “That’s going to be a challenge to us as a community: how committed are we?”