Pasquale Scuderi on his first year as head of Berkeley High

Pasquale Scuderi, Principal of Berkeley High School: "The first year has been like being in a washing machine". Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Pasquale Scuderi accepted the position of Principal of Berkeley High School one year ago this month, succeeding Jim Slemp, who headed the school for six years. Scuderi came to the district in 2006 and was formerly a Vice Principal at BHS before moving to a post in the district administration.

The position of Principal did not prove an easy one to fill, despite a national search. Few are in any doubt that running Berkeley’s only mainstream high school, which is on an open campus in the city’s downtown with a register of more than 3,200 students, is a challenging task.

Scuderi’s first year on the job has required him to deal with a slate of gun-related incidents at the school, as well as budgetary pressures, the aftermath of an at-times bitter battle over science labs at BHS, and the transition of one of the small schools into the Green Academy. There were also compensations inside the classrooms and out, including a state girls’ basketball championship game and an early morning pig roast.

Berkeleyside interviewed Scuderi on June 27. We asked him for his perspective on the past academic year, reflections on successes and frustrations, and to outline his priorities for the next 12 months. The full transcript of the interview can be read here.

Interview snapshot
* Gun incidents at BHS made headlines this year, but great learning and inspiring achievements not covered by the media happened every day on campus.
* Scuderi’s primary goal in his first year was to get into classrooms to be able to observe teaching and give direct feedback to teachers and students. He achieved this on average 1.5 days a week.
* Scuderi feels he has earned the respect of students, partly because he listens to them and takes their opinions into account.
* On safety, a renewed intensity in dealing with prevention has paid off, but there is no room for complacency.
* A focus on attendance will go some way to tackling non-permitted out-of-district students and the historic achievement gap between white and non-white students.
* Scuderi’s four focus areas for next year are attendance, assessment, instruction and program development.

Berkeleyside: Looking back at the year, what would you say were the highlights for you?

I feel I have just started to get things done in a job that has been like being in a washing machine from the beginning. There hasn’t been time to stop and reflect because the one thing the job is is constant in terms of its pace.

It was easy for people who are not part of our daily operations to just let what was covered – the weapons and such – define us. For those of us who are here every day, that wasn’t the case. We’re still sending kids to Ivy League schools and running some very creative programs.

I could point to something in almost every community that was emblematic of the great work and great teaching that was going on in all of those communities, from the bus commemorating the Montgomery boycott that AHA did, to the girls’ basketball team… The list is too long to enumerate, but I can say there was something pretty terrific happening here every day in terms of teaching and learning.

That’s something that you don’t see if you’re not here every day, and it’s not something that people write about. You saw a kid give a fantastic presentation in a random biology class, or you watched a great bit of lecturing or a great Socratic seminar going on with the kids in a classroom. They tend not to make the headlines but they happen pretty consistently and pretty well here.

Berkeleyside: Did you go into the year with a few specific goals and did you manage to achieve them?

The primary goal was for me to get a sense of what was going on here, so the one commitment that I did make was to try to be in classrooms with a much higher frequency one would imagine someone in my position and in a place this size would be.

Last year I spent an average of one and a half days a week in classrooms. I don’t personally think that there is anything I can do that will make a bigger impact on improving teaching and learning than actually being in classrooms and giving direct feedback to teachers and students. I think that’s quality control, and education consulting and just good policy as a principal.

What we’ve found is that the demands on my time actually went down the more I was out because those conversations that teachers, students, and staff members think require a meeting to talk to me for 15 or 30 minutes are often things that can be solved in a brief five-minute conversation in the hallways, or after the bell when I was sitting in the classroom. So that negates the need to take up time in my calendar – that’s a benefit as well.

Berkeleyside: Do you feel you have earned the respect and trust of the students and how important is student involvement in deciding school policy and direction?

It’s hard to say. We haven’t administered any sort of customer survey at this point to gauge kids’ reactions. In general I would say my interactions with students were overall very positive. I genuinely like our kids and enjoy working with them. If it was all adults here I certainly wouldn’t be working here. The fact that I get to work with some pretty brilliant and exciting developing minds is part of why I’m here.

That said, there are days when you have to be the adult and the educator and the teacher. You’ve got to draw boundaries for kids. So there are kids I had perfect relationship with one day, but that relationship is strained the next day when I have to tell them something they don’t like.

I think part of the reason I had a pretty good year in terms of student relationships was that there were many conversations where kids openly disagreed with a decision we made or a policy we tried to put in place. And in some cases kids were right. Someone got a consequence for a behavior that they felt was unfair and we listened to that and at the end of the day reason prevailed.

If kids know that you are genuinely listening, there’s no better way to validate that — to, on occasion, when it’s warranted, let their reason and let their argument change your decision. There’s definitely times that we’ve done that.

As far as formal input, we’ll always look for ways to improve that. We had a really well functioning student leadership program this year and Chris Young did some great things – everything from our election convention to taking the student leadership group and making it far more a community minded body than just a social planning body.

I’m very proud of the students we had sitting on both Site Council and the BSEP Committee [Berkeley Schools for Excellence Project]. They gave really constructive feedback and decisive input when it came to deciding on budgets and weighing in on school policy.

Other areas where kids contributed were where we had folks sitting on the Ad Hoc Safety Committee. And there were some people that were pretty open about thinking that students shouldn’t have a voice in that, that that was an adult decision, but I think it was the right decision to have student perspective there.

One of the things we really want to pay attention to next year is day-to-day discipline and the disruptive behavior and the defiant behavior that ends up with the kid getting a referral down to OCI [On-Campus Intervention]. You put five or six of those things together and you’re talking about missing a week of class time in that particular class. We want to really engage students around how to get a more constructive and effective policy on how to deal with that lower level discipline that will allow teachers to keep teaching and allow some of those kids to be in the classroom more often.

Berkeleyside: How do you do that?

It’s about reaching out to kids that have experienced that directly. It’s a dilemma that you have in the classroom. You have the same five or six kids who always raise their hands, but how do you get the perspective of the kids who are not that willing to engage?

But we have that data. It’s easy to get the kids in and say, look, you had 20 referrals for defiant behavior last year, for talking in a classroom. What can we do to get to a better place on this? We don’t want to eliminate the possibility that you have some insight that can help us understand why you are being so defiant and disruptive. But we have got to get to a place where you can learn and a teacher can continue to teach.

I don’t think getting input from kids who aren’t as willing historically to give us input is as difficult as we have made it. I think it’s a matter of slowing down and saying, look we have data that can point to exactly who these kids are. Let’s reach out to them personally. Survey them, discuss this with them. I think there’s a lot of perspective out there that’s not as difficult to get as people may think.

Berkeleyside: How do you feel that you’ve dealt with safety issues at the school, given this year’s gun incidents? Are you feeling confident moving forward into next year?

I don’t know that we’ll ever say we are absolutely confident in what’s going on. What’s happened this year is that we’ve had to deal with some very eye-opening incidents that I think are reflective of a larger societal problem. And I don’t say that to dilute our responsibility in protecting our kids. That’s always going to be number one.

Am I pleased with how we handled the incidents in question? The answer is yes. I think I had a bunch of people on campus behave as they should in very responsible and professional ways to prevent kids getting hurt.

The adjustments we’ve made in the aftermath of some of those incidents leave me with some confidence that we can continuously get better in terms of preserving student safety and preventing other incidents of that type.

I didn’t want to say this earlier in the school year, but the fact is that the incidents dropped off in what is traditionally the most chaotic time of the year – the end of the school year. We didn’t have any incidents even remotely similar to those things. I can tell you with confidence that I don’t think that happened purely by accident. I think the adjustments we made and a renewed intensity we brought to that, particularly in terms of supervision, led to some really good outcomes.

I’m confident that we’re going to maintain that type of intensity when it comes to that issue.

We are always going to have to play defense, we’re always going to have to be aware, and we’re never going to be able to get complacent about it. We’re a very big campus in a fairly populous environment that’s very accessible to public transportation.

Berkeleyside: You mention public transport and that brings up an issue that is brought up again and again by our readers – out-of-district students. Is this an issue at the school in terms of the number of students who are not eligible to be at BHS? Is it something that you track very closely?

I know that most of the students we have are, at least on paper, supposed to be here. Our database has Berkeley addresses. Now there are always questions about the legitimacy of those addresses. I couldn’t tell you what percentage of our kids are actually not in district.

There’s an amount of inter-district permits that are granted. But I think your question is about kids who don’t have a permit and don’t live in district.

One of the things I’m really going to focus on next year is attendance and in the work that we’re planning on doing and the type of documentation and workflow that we’re going to do on attendance I think some of those things are going to come to light sooner rather than later. When we start talking about really implementing a formal attendance policy that’s in line with the state ed code, you’re going to see a lot more kids from Berkeley High being referred to the district and that’s going to require more home visits and more home address verifications.

Berkeleyside: Another big issue is the achievement gap. What measures are being taken on this?

I’m going to go back to attendance because it’s one of the four major areas I want to focus on next year. And when you look at our attendance, whether it’s kids with a high number of unexcused absences or students that have three plus absences in the first month of school — anyway that I look at my attendance data it’s pretty correlative with our performance gaps.

So if my attendance rates for African American students are not as good as they are for white students or Asian students, I have a problem right off the bat in that whatever I do programmatically or in terms of classroom instruction, if a kid’s not there to be impacted by those adjustments or those creative ideas, obviously that’s not going to yield any performance improvement. I’ve got to get the kids who are struggling in class more often.

That’s not to say that white kids aren’t cutting class as well, but there is sufficient data to say that the attendance problem disproportionately affects the kids who are also most affected by the proverbial achievement gap.

In terms of the whole school and instructionally we’ve really got to get better about assessment. Right now the information we are relying on is two tests. We’re relying on the CST – and I’m not here to bash CST but we know that the higher that you get in terms of grade level, by the time I get to my juniors, getting those kids to participate, and participate in a very authentic way, has been a challenge.

We made some efforts to make that happen and we’re really thinking that we’ve positioned ourselves to get an academic performance index, but if we really want to get better in terms of education you can’t just rely on two annual measures: your exit exam data and your CST. We’ve got to be looking at far more consistent measures that are really rooted in the classrooms.

We’ve got people in the math department now who are trying to put the finishing touches on us having a common mid-term and a common final in all three of our beginning subjects: algebra, algebra 2 and geometry and that type of formative assessment really needs to be made available.

We’re talking in Academic Choice about giving every ninth grader a standard skills inventory so that right off the bat, so that if you’re a ninth grade teacher in that program – and there are other people who are considering adopting this type of program anyway – you get a pretty good indication of where your kids are strong and where they’re weak. And that stuff can be disaggregated by racial groups so that people can really focus on where there are gaps.

I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we could in terms of actually defining the problem. What are skills in that gap consisting of? I want to be able to have every ninth grade English teacher start off the year saying  that I know that the kids sitting in front of me particularly the black and brown kids are struggling with this type of writing convention, or struggling with literary response and analysis.

And you can do the same thing across the board and across the subjects. The science department has done a good job of putting together a common biology mid-term and final and also considering doing the same kind of pre-test if you will.

So I think assessment is really, really a huge part of it – and assessment that is not just the state-mandated annual kind, but assessment that teachers can use in their own classrooms. Because if they use that in their own classrooms they’re able to assign value to it that kids may not see in some of those other measures.

In other words, if a formative assessment I give you counts for your weekly grade, you’re more likely to put an effort into that because it’s going to affect your grade. So not only do I get the benefit of getting really good information about what you know and don’t know that informs my teaching, but I can also make this have value to you and it’s harder to deal with these big-ticket annual exams.

Berkeleyside: You mentioned you have four goals for next year and you’ve discussed attendance and assessment. Are those two of them, and what are the four?

We’re more comfortable calling them focus areas than goals because we’re going to have some formal goals that are going to come out in our self-study and our school-wide action plan. But rather than wait until March of next year when that action plan is put before the Site Council and then put before the School Board, and subsequently adopted, we need some sort of proxy vision to work with.

So, in addition to assessment and attendance, we’re also looking at instruction in general, and I go back to what I was talking about and the need to have people in the classroom.

I want myself and my administrative teams to be very much cognizant of research-based classroom strategies. Are there clear lesson outcomes and objectives put on the board? It sounds like such a simple thing. And I’m not trying to standardize the school or sap people of their autonomy. But there are some things that I think should be consistent tools. Kids should be able to walk into any classroom and have some expectation of where to look and understand what it is that they are going to be expected to learn that day.

As a whole we need to get better at saying what our learning goals are for kids. I think sometimes educators get confused with writing what you’re going to do on a board with a learning goal. Saying read chapter five on the Vietnam War is not a learning goal, that’s an activity. Having kids know that by the time they leave a classroom they will be expected to comment and reflect on what US policy was in Cambodia during the Vietnam War – that’s a learning objective, that’s a goal. I think we need to see a little more sophistication.

There are plenty of teachers on campus that do this very well. What I’m advocating is that we see that on a more consistent basis.

I talked about using some pre-assessments to get an idea of where things are going. I think that if administrators have in their hands these sort of general learning profiles that let them as well as teachers know ahead of time what students are strong at in terms of skills and concepts and where they are lacking that’s a very powerful tool for an administrator to walk in with.

Because, again, if writing conventions are something you know throughout the ninth grade in a particular learning community kids are struggling with, you’re going to need to know why you’re not seeing kids writing a lot or getting explicit instructions on writing in those classrooms. That’s something they can have going in.

Supervision and evaluation are very important. We want to get to a place where evaluation is used to deal with teachers who are not performing well. We have so many tremendous people on staff where I think the supervision and evaluation component can become a very genuine conversation about what’s working and how to get that information out to other teachers who need additional strategies.

We need to know what things are working and how people are being successful in classrooms. Really having administrators out in the classroom and demystifying the fact that someone walks in the classroom with a pad is not synonymous with a cold or clinical audit but it’s the beginning of a really genuine productive conversation about teaching and learning – bringing coaching into that supervision and evaluation process.

Berkeleyside: By my count that’s three areas. Is that right?

Three areas. I’ll go into the fourth even though I’m trying to hold back. It’s summer and I’m still drinking like five cups of tea a day – that’s what this place does to you!

The last area that we’ve outlined is what we’re calling program development. And program development is for us just really looking at how we support students. We’re talking about not only developing our curriculum, which is critical – and that’s obviously tied to instruction and development – but I think having some coherence around our curriculum, from program to program and from department to department is really critical.

Program development is something we’re looking at in terms of really tightening up and making more effective the programs that we have on campus to do with kids who are struggling. We want to get better at dealing with English language learners. We want to see math scores improve for all kids, but in particularly for our African American and Latino kids. We’re talking about ways of supporting achievement in either progression of math.

And also we want to be very, very conscious of not just adopting an intervention or a support program because someone says its intent is to help kids. I’ve started trying to bring this into our consciousness a little more. When someone says they’ve got a great idea that’s going to help black or brown kids succeed better academically, the first question I’m going to ask them is the same question I would ask my curriculum teachers – which is “how am I going to know when your program has made an impact?”

We’ve seen some quantifiable success, albeit mild success in areas like our summer bridge program which I think was pretty effective where we took a group of bubble students – kids that could have gone either way, kids that were maybe not completely chronic truants or struggling students, but maybe C, C- students who could go either way – and supported them in a summer session prior to the ninth grade year. And then had an after-school class that provided direct study skills support, a space for them to do their homework… almost a case management model.

And we saw some improvement in GPA in those kids compared to kids who could have been selected for that program but didn’t get that intervention. So that’s the type of thing that we want to keep exploring.

We have a new person going into our academic support coordinator position. I want to see our tutoring programs get a lot more connected to what’s actually happening in the classroom. We want to tighten that up.

We realized that we were spending a disproportionate amount of money on administering the amount of tutoring services we were putting out there. The BSEP committee had decided to roll back that position a little and I think it’s now proportionate with what they are going to be administering.

And again, not to keep coming back to this, but one way our development programs are thinking a little tighter, what we’re looking for in terms of attendance is having a workflow that’s actually a web-based spreadsheet where any kid who’s getting into trouble with attendance – which is usually a pretty good indicator that there’s going to be some other issues – a counselor, the intervention teams and an administrator will all get to look at this spreadsheet and hopefully steer the kids to the services they need a little better.

We’re going to look to have all our newcomer English language learners and our long-term English language learners with one counselor this year and also have someone do some little case management with those kids and hopefully see some improvement with the kids that are getting reclassified to full English proficient.

So not only tying together the resources we have on campus but taking a really hard look at these things we’ve carried at no small expense for a long time and asking whether or not they are effective. I would rather have fewer programs that have a genuine, positive impact on the most struggling kids than just sort of flood the market with anything that says it’s supposed to be a positive for those kids. That’s a sort of complacency thing. We have all these programs but if they’re not having an impact they’re just perpetuating the problem.

So it may be taking a few steps back in terms of program development to ultimately to go forward. Or whatever that cliché is that I’m looking for!

Berkeleyside: What is the budget looking like going into next year?

We were planning for the worst. We had three versions of the budget in anticipation of the worst. So we really couldn’t have got better news in terms of the budget. We’re still looking to be right within our class sizes that are dictated by the local parcel tax measures.

The school board has been very generous in giving me a half-time Dean of Attendance position. I made a recommendation this afternoon on an individual to fill that position — an administrator to supervise this renewed and formalized effort to deal with attendance.

So we’ve got some resources. I could always ask for more but I’m grateful with how generous the board and district staff have been in setting us up for next year.

At a place this big with all the challenges we could always use more but we should be able to make a pretty good run with what we have.

Berkeleyside: That may be a good place to end. But one further question: are you ever going to get a vacation?

I will eke out five or six days in July. There certainly are people in my life who would wish I had more time off, but I didn’t sign up for a job that was going to give me these long leisurely breaks.

But I’m trying to find some time. The one thing this first year has taught me is that if you don’t find some space – it sounds cliché – but if you don’t find some space to take care of yourself, there’s absolutely no way you can take care of other people. And there’s absolutely no way you can take care of 3,200 teenagers. So I do plan on trying to find some rest.

Q: Well I hope you achieve that, and have a good summer. Thank you so much for talking to us.

You’re welcome. I hope we get to talk about a ton more positive things next year.

[Hat-tip to Berkeleyside reader Laurie Kahn for the idea for this interview.]

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  • http://twitter.com/JNGross J Nicholas Gross

    “I’m going to go back to attendance because it’s one of the four major areas I want to focus on next year. And when you look at our attendance, whether it’s kids with a high number of unexcused absences or students that have three plus absences in the first month of school — anyway that I look at my attendance data it’s pretty correlative with our performance gaps.”
    Nice to see someone finally identify the problem: an ATTENDANCE gap which leads to an achievement gap, not some mystical magical institutional bias that’s the favorite rallying cry of underperformers.  Let’s see if he puts some teeth into ensuring compliance with attendance.

  • lauramenard

    Words, just words…….

    the same words for years and years

  • lauramenard

    Pasquale,

    1. Will you allow safety officers/ admin to use plastic wrist restraints on a student suspected of carrying a firearm prior to search and seizure? If not, please explain why not and how your policies align with best practice. Note that restraining a suspect is standard practice for law enforcement and school safety officers in such circumstances. When BPD trained admin and safety officers they demonstrated this practice as primary to containing the threat and protecting themselves. The school’s policy prohibits the use of restraints, please explain the specific procedures the school agrees to use and how these protocols align with the training from BPD.

    Once we get this CRITICAL issue resolved I will move on to the next questions. 

  • lauramenard

    half-time Dean of Attendance position

    Should we place bets that they hire Pastor Michael McBride for this position?

  • Heather W.

    I say we let the carpetbagger McBride take over Huyett’s job. He is apparently a miracle worker.

  • jjohannson

    When I hear of the fits and starts of improvement at BHS over the years, I can’t help thinking of Jimmy McMillan’s political complaint, paraphrased: “The school is too damn big”.  Were the school to be split in half, it would still be over 50 percent larger than the public, city high school I attended.  It isn’t that a school of 3,200 students would, by definition, be impossible to manage with an abundance of resources.  But as a public school in a district of the state of California, BHS will be chronically underfunded, undermanned, under-everything until a  both an economic and philosophical revolution takes place in this state that both grows and redistributes our revenues differently and more equitably.  This will not take place by 2020, or maybe even 2030.  I think a discussion of enduring reform at BHS has to include at least consideration of a second high school in town.

  • lauramenard

    Size is not the problem, size provides the enrichment funding and reduces the potential for inner city rivalries ( the reason why many mid- size cities maintain one high school)

    Check out two websites of very well run schools much larger than BHS and review polices differences, mission statement, and focus on clear discipline and positive school culture.
    Both school have a long standing reputation for clear goals, distinction in both academics and extra curricular activities,  racially diverse student body in tough areas,  and child centered programming.

    Long Beach Poly brags about locking down the school in a tough neighborhood, the neighborhood takes  pride in sending their kids to such a successful program in a culture of continous improvement and high expectations for behavior. That would be over 4,500 kids.

    http://lbpoly.schoolloop.com/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1211910101796

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Logan_High_School

  • Guest

    The vast majority of the school districts expenses come from salary and personnel/benefits costs.  Even if we accept that the BUSD is currently “underfunded” (woefully or otherwise), if a large, new pool of revenue were to become available via a new tax redistribution structure, the unions would now make the argument that “long deferred” pay and benefit increases should be immediately enacted. 

    They would point to some other, wealthier school district where school employees earn more and/or enjoy better benefits and “rights” and argue that now is the time for Berkeley to step up and match those benefits and salary structures.  That would immediately soak up most or all of any revenue enhancement.  I know a mid-career, well-established BHS teacher who makes fairly decent living, but still cannot afford to buy a home in the area.  He would happily take a 10-20-30-50% pay increase if the union could negotiate that with the District.

    There is NO LIMIT to it…

  • Greg

    Laura,
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems your opinion is that BHS is ‘poorly run’.  By what metric are these schools ‘very well run’?

  • deirdre

    The interview covered a number of topics in depth that B’side hasn’t covered previously.  I’d definitely be interested in reading more in future about the summer bridge program, the skills assessment efforts, and the role of OCI, among other topics mentioned.  Although parents of current BHS students must hear plenty of information on a routine basis, it’s helpful for those households with future BHS students to get a sense of things from Berkeleyside articles.  Thanks to Laurie Kahn for suggesting the interview.

  • lauramenard

    OK, since Scuderi is “focusing” on attendance, the goal would be compliance with the provision in the education code, including parent notification in writing at 3 or more unexcused absences and SART/SARB conferences. BHS and BUSD has identified these requirements at top of their list since my first kid had 55 cuts in 45 days as a freshman in 2000. No progress yet. 

    Both of the high schools I listed comply with attendance practices as per ed code.
    Back in 2000, because of folks like myself,  the school started the  discussion of how to get teachers to uniforming andconsistently record attendance and send in the reports to the attendance clerk. It took several years to complete that first step.

    During the years 2000-2003 I systemically tracked attendance data and practices and notified board members of the discrepancies between the data reported to the state. Supt Lawrence eventually told the clerk to never speak to me or give me data.

    Safety issues, OMG, so many serious compliance issues.

    Call Logan and Long Beach Poly, ask them if they schedule an annual staff development session to train staff in their duties per disaster response plans.
    Both will say YES, Scuderi assured the board during the last meeting that this year BHS will finally make sure staff knows what their role and duties are in a crisis.

    I could explain plenty more but is convincing you or others on this
    blog  going to make a difference, not likely, filing with grand jury
    again might help though.
    See 2009 Grand jury report on TRUANCY.

  • lauramenard

    Greg,

    as I suggested review the school policies and practices, for instance
    http://lbpoly.schoolloop.com/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1259496270029

    another difference, at Logan staff routinely receives principal updates on school wide incidents, not just weapons. This means staff fully understands what is happening within the school culture, that does not happen at BHS.

    Compliance with SB 187, teacher notification of dangerous pupils provision, does not happen at BHS. Scuderi and Huyett have only agreed to comply with this law AFTER the recent gun incidents were made public. 

    Compare the # of safety officers per population at Logan or Poly with BHS, there lies the difference, policy, protocols, practices which reduce disruptions, oh yea, that is another one of Scuderi focus areas, reducing disruptions by the same kids.
    Scuderi will recommend a mentor, Poly and Logan will enforce the rules.

  • Eric

    I will comment separately on some content in the interview, but I first want to congratulate Berkeleyside for conducting this interview and publishing it in its entirety.  Way to use the medium!  How wonderful not to be subject to column inch restrictions and so be able to “go deep” with a key newsmaker.  And the interviewing was quite sharp — getting all four priorities out being a prominent example of that.  Well done!

  • Eric

    As to content, I am (predictably) drawn to this exchange:

    “Berkeleyside: You mention public transport and that brings up an issue that is brought up again and again by our readers – out-of-district students. Is this an issue at the school in terms of the number of students who are not eligible to be at BHS? Is it something that you track very closely?
    I know that most of the students we have are, at least on paper, supposed to be here. Our database has Berkeley addresses. Now there are always questions about the legitimacy of those addresses. I couldn’t tell you what percentage of our kids are actually not in district.There’s an amount of inter-district permits that are granted. But I think your question is about kids who don’t have a permit and don’t live in district.One of the things I’m really going to focus on next year is attendance and in the work that we’re planning on doing and the type of documentation and workflow that we’re going to do on attendance I think some of those things are going to come to light sooner rather than later. When we start talking about really implementing a formal attendance policy that’s in line with the state ed code, you’re going to see a lot more kids from Berkeley High being referred to the district and that’s going to require more home visits and more home address verifications.”A friend of a friend who volunteers in administration was tasked with sending out mailings to parents.  She observed that many of those were going to out of district addresses.  It’s one of these “oh what a tangled web…” moments — people who’ve lied their way into the district eventually slip up when asked for a mailing address in another context. If true, it suggests that a little correlation between data sources could be quite revealing.  I will volunteer my time to do it, gratis.I’m happy to hear that attendance will be a focus and that the principal anticipates that this will bring to light some of the abuses.  However, there are families — and yes, I personally know several — whose kids do attend regularly and yet are not supposed to be enrolled in Berkeley schools.  I do not want to continue subsidizing these folks’ lifestyle choices.  Oakland hills — Oakland schools, simple as that.I appreciate that Principal Scuderi has a lot on his plate and has to educate the kids that the district sends to him. That’s why I’m looking to the school board to crack down on the district.  Surrounding school districts are doing this too and we deserve no less.  Let’s go, school board — step up, or step out.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    “It was easy for people who are not part of our daily operations to just
    let what was covered – the weapons and such – define us…We’re still sending kids
    to Ivy League schools and running some very creative programs…They tend not to make the headlines but they happen pretty consistently and pretty well here.”

    Food for thought — In the private sector when things go smoothly, fewer people notice you. If you want your successes to be noticed, you have to promote yourself. A rule of thumb however, is that you don’t promote your successes when you are still trying to address a professional failure, because it’s perceived as trying to deflect attention from a problem. That’s life regardless of profession.

    I work at a consulting company & if something goes wrong, Sr. Executives put the spotlight the team involved to understand why a project derailed. To keep our jobs, we must explain ourselves with clarity, prove that we’ve been tracking issues and proactively dealing with them in an effort to prevent them from snowballing out of control.

    We are required to develop a plan of action with clear steps and a firm timeline (measured in weeks) so our corrective actions can be measured for timeliness. We also are required to attend executive quality assurance meetings to review action plan progress & ensure that a
    project doesn’t go off the rails again.

    In a really bad situation, we expect our clients to get angry, pull the business, and even on occasion to casually refer to the bad experience in blog posts, when they speak to the press, when they speak at trade shows, etc.

    This is what happens in the real world outside of the education system & is why it’s hard to sympathize with Mr. Scuderi. Most of what I perceive from him is an attempt to deflect attention from the problem (guns in school, drugs in school, gangs in school). The only way to handle “bad press” in private enterprise & in the school district is to show everyone through your actions that you personally won’t accept anything less that full accountability by everyone on your team. Mr. Scuderi’s actions and communications to the public haven’t shown that level professional commitment, which is why so many people in this community won’t let this go.

    A final thought — In the Atlantic Monthly there was a powerful article called “The World’s Schoolmaster.” It is an eye opener and deals directly with revolutionizing the learning environment through the use of quantitative data. It’s worth a read — here’s the link — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-world-8217-s-schoolmaster/8532/

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Attendance is one part of the puzzle. Here’s another part — http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-world-8217-s-schoolmaster/8532/

  • Guest

    I am really curious why they needed a Dean level person for this position? who is the beneficiary of this expensive arrangement?

  • Esquire

    “Am I pleased with how we handled the incidents in question? The answer
    is yes. I think I had a bunch of people on campus behave as they should
    in very responsible and professional ways to prevent kids getting hurt.”

    Mr Scuderi you claim you handled the incidents well (ex post facto). But you have failed to prevent the incidents ex ante. There were not one or two or three isolated incidents of gun possession – there were 7 with one incident even having a stray bullet. Just because you have not seen any in the last days does not mean you have solved the problem. Your assessment is frankly very naive.

  • Esquire

    Oh I’ll help with the data matching with Eric – gratis as well – I’ll even treat lunch. Another way is to look at the 2010 census – how many kids in the age range that BHS and BTECH supports are in the age group in the census. According to the census there are about 2,400 in the age range of 14-17. So where do the rest come from?

    Note: http://www.bhs.berkeley.net/index.php?page=school-data latest data are from 2008.

  • Esquire

    * Scuderi’s four focus areas for next year are attendance, assessment, instruction and program development.

    In the wise words of Homer Simpson: D’oh!

  • Esquire

    “Gun incidents at BHS made headlines this year, but great learning and
    inspiring achievements not covered by the media happened every day on
    campus.”

    Guns are on campus EVERYDAY as well – you just caught 7 instances of it and and your mumbled response is what the media caught on. EVERYDAY you continue to have an achievement gap. EVERYDAY you continue to have truancy issues. EVERYDAY a student is victimized on your campus and not reported.

    “I don’t know that we’ll ever say we are absolutely confident in what’s
    going on. What’s happened this year is that we’ve had to deal with some
    very eye-opening incidents that I think are reflective of a larger
    societal problem.”

    Then Mr Scuderi when there is a problem it is a reflective of the society but when it is achievement it is not. Spoken like a politician! Berkeley is a city with 67% of the people having a college degree, a median income of $100,000 and an average property value of $750,000. Last time I checked my neighbors were not trying to bully me, rob me, show off a gun in my face.

    Perhaps the societal problem you are alluding to has something to do with students OUT OF DISTRICT.

  • Goodkind

    Thanks Tracey Taylor, you did a very fine job with this.
    And thanks Pasquale Scuderi, you have made many improvements at Berkeley High. Is it perfect? Hell no. Is it a LOT better? Hell yes. It is a whole new world after the dark ages of the last six years, where teachers and parents were bullied and intimidated, problems were deep-sixed and went unreported, and where academics suffered under the false notion that if some students performed up to par, the Achievement Gap would loom too large for the PR and platitudes that trumped everything else. There are some very good teachers and some very lazy ones. It sounds like better standards will be invoked. 

    Laura Menard asks good questions but it is still important to recognize improvements and there have been many. There need to be many more…and I think Mr. Scuderi would agree. What needs to happen more than anything is that all programs need to be assessed and evaluated and the ones that are not successful at teaching kids need to be scrapped. The tired dogma that small schools are good/small schools are bad should be retired. Small schools have all been in place long enough to look at each and every one with a very critical eye. Failing to educate our students in deference to some dogmatic political ideal should not be allowed  any longer. It is not fair to the kids. Raise the bar – everywhere at BHS – and do it now; pay attention to evidence. 

    And Berkeleyside commenters – stop complaining without recognizing improvements. This is a complex issue and the black & white approach does not apply. The patient has a very complex set of diseases and a return to health will be incremental. I for one think things are finally moving in the right direction and Mr. Scuderi has a lot to do with it, as long as he can find a way to retain the good teachers, get the slackers moving toward the door, and shine a big light on program evaluation.

  • Anonymous

    “…When someone says they’ve got a great idea that’s going to help black or brown kids succeed better academically, the first question I’m going to ask them is the same question I would ask my curriculum teachers – which is “how am I going to know when your program has made an impact?”

    Thank you Principal Scuderi, for beginning to recognize the individual identities of our kids. From “people of color” (or not) to “black and brown” doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a start. Can we hope that next year you’ll drop the color designations altogether and reference instead; motivation. family support, supervision, etc. – all the colorless things which are the true fulcrums of success.

  • Alan Saldich

    Laura, just to clarify for other readers, there is an automated system that notifies parents via telephone the same day that a student misses class. Maybe that didn’t exist in 2000, but my daughter goes to BHS (and loves it by the way) and we have received those calls when she is absent. If someone cuts class 55 times in 45 days, personally I don’t think that’s solely school problem, could be other issues that are as much the family’s responsibility.

  • lauramenard

    Alan,

    When the parent does not have the information they cannot intervene. The auto dialer was the result of a middle school parent and her year long persistence
    that systems be put in place. Nearly all the reforms in BUSD come  from parents advocacy.

    Since you suggest my family has issues, you should know I did intervene,
    and my oldest son is a model of success and resiliency, both
    academically and personally. He was an at-risk kid as a freshman due to  BUSD failures and having been the  victim of violent crime, in an
    environment where the high school social  include  drugs, alcohol use
    and the ability to walk off campus easily, and that parents are seen as an  afterthought by the school officials. Did you happen to read this week school board packet report on the status of home school communications, all the same UNRESOLVED issues discussed over and over again.

    The whole point of my years of advocacy is personal knowledge of how and
    why kids fall through the cracks, and whether or not  they develop the
    resiliency to overcome adversity  due to resources, family support, and
    school culture.

    I take some credit for the current interest in truancy prevention since  I started advocated for these systems back in 2000.  I developed a long time strategy using several forums pushing this critical issue forward consistently. I took a public stance saying  truancy not institutional racism is
    the first indicator of school failure and that BUSD must comply with the education code starting with parent notification. This made me very unpopular, but I kept at it  bringing forward proposals over and over again. Because UIA was appeased with the 2020 process, it has become politically safe for Scuderi, the school board and Supt to acknowledge truancy.  

    Did you know that my second son was also a victim of BUSD failure to protect him from serious abuses? Scuderi could have helped since he was the AC VP at the time.

    Or does that  reflect back on my personal failure in your way of thinking, that when bad things happen it must be our fault.

    Or does that explain  why I still get contacted by parents unable to resolve serious issues regarding school safety at BHS?

    In my life in Berkeley the personal is the political, unfortunately, and I would not wish the experiences on any parent or kid. But we are proud of our actions in this family, we did right.
     

  • lauramenard

    should read:
    environment where the high school social NORMS include  drugs, alcohol use

  • Heather W.

    Scuderi’s answer to that belies the problem: In fact, when the ‘stray bullet’ went through the bathroom wall, the first School employee heard it, called his supervisor, who called someone else, who called someone else… eventually the Police were called. In another incident, they left a kid in OCI w/ a gun still at his waist, said kid being unrestrainted — the police came into the room w/ the perp still sitting there with a gun. Out of SEVEN incidents, these two speak very clearly to how these incidents were poorly handled. BUSD has no plan of preparedness for events even at this level, let alone if a gang shooting were to occur on campus. Security staff has a hands-off policy and will not physically restrain an armed student, even when given special training by the BPD. Scuderi may be soothing some people’s need to feel all warm and fuzzy, but not me. 

  • Heather W.

    What improvements has Scuderi actually made that have impacted the overall health of the campus? 

  • Heather W.

    Here’s a perfect example of how that auto-dialer does not work: My friend, who stayed with me for a short while and thus got her child into Berkeley schools, no longer stays with me. I get auto-dials from the kid’s school several times a week. Does her mother get these messages? NO. In many cases, I’m sure, out of district kids use the phone # of the fake address they are using, thus the parent doesn’t get the call. Also, when I was a kid, I intercepted the school’s mailings to the house; do you not think that kids today don’t intercept and delete messages from the school when they can? I’m sure they do… 

  • Heather W.

    By the way, I have demanded that my friend take her kid to the district in which she currently resides as of the next school year; I’m not into providing a false address. 

  • Heather W.

    Scuderi’s self-congratulatory comments about not having any guns on campus in the last days of school is ludicrous; here’s why: as it has been stated numerous times in several comment sections, those 7 guns are only those who the most brazen were bragging around about and is but a small number of guns that are hidden in backpacks etcetera every day. Also, by the last days of school, the kids that are most likely to cause problems are also those who have truancy problems, and often are no  longer at the school, either by dropping out, extended truancy at years end or who got kicked out. Thus, the number of students who are most likely to have a gun on campus is reduced. Just because Scuderi’s staff didn’t catch any more incidents does not mean they were not there. He just didn’t see them. That could be a failing on his staff’s part as well. Remember that there were no actions enacted to secure the school at all at year’s end. 

  • Anonymous

    Right On!

    BHS, BUSD and the school board have always claimed that “onerous logistics” is the reason for not dealing with registration fraud. Not true. Their tacit approval of this fraud is, as always, self serving. Tolerating registration fraud works as a public relations campaign for personal political agendas. 

    In flush times (when many Berkeley kids were in private schools anyway), milking our district though a little victimless fraud must have been considered no more than “creative” social justice, plus it assured the participants support. Support for what? Support for whatever else was on the administration’s and board’s self aggrandizing agenda.

    As nice as it is to be popular with the “people”, inside and outside our district, school board members really, really, want to get re-elected. We’ll see how many get elected or re-elected without a strong commitment to ending registration fraud.

  • Alan Saldich

    I was just trying to clarify there is indeed a system to notify parents of absences. As Heather points out below it may not be perfect and certainly clever kids (or not so clever ones) can certainly intercept the messages & delete them, but to me it’s a lot more of a system then existed when I was in high school.

    And my other point was simply that there must be other issues going on for someone to miss so much school, and it may not be solely the responsibility of the administration.

    That’s all I meant, I wasn’t trying to impune your family or anything.

  • Anonymous

    BHS, BUSD and the school board have always claimed that “onerous logistics” is the reason for not dealing with registration fraud. Not true. Their tacit approval of this fraud is, as always, self serving. Tolerating registration fraud works as a public relations campaign for personal political agendas. 

    In flush times (when many Berkeley kids were in private schools anyway), milking our district though a little victimless fraud must have been considered no more than “creative” social justice, plus it assured the participant’s support. Support for what? Support for whatever else was on the administration’s and board’s self aggrandizing agenda.

    As nice as it is to be popular with the “people”, inside and outside our district, school board members really, really, want to get re-elected. We’ll see how many get elected or re-elected without a strong commitment to ending registration fraud.

  • Goodind

    “What improvements has Scuderi actually made that have impacted the overall health of the campus?” That’s a good question. The whole place feels better. Teachers are held more accountable. Finally we have a principal who doesn’t lie. He does visit classes and does insist on decent teaching to a greater degree. He attends events and cares about fixing problems instead of ignoring them. I know that not lying is a low bar but it changes the whole tenor of the school to have an honest person who is willing to look at problems with open eyes and try to imagine solutions. If you can, watch this presentation to the school board, copied off the BUSD website here.http://www.berkeley.net/uploads/Board%20Updates%202010-11/BUSD_Board_Updates_06-01-11.pdf 
    3.1-I BHS Study Session 
    The Board conducted a Study Session with Berkeley 
    High administrators and teachers. The study session is 
    broken down into 30 minute segments to facilitate 
    viewing and to maintain a higher quality. ** See the 
    Study Session at Vimeo.com: 
    BHS Study Session One: http://vimeo.com/24631509 
    BHS Study Session Two: http://vimeo.com/24598274 
    BHS Study Session Three: 
    http://vimeo.com/24631953BHS Study Session Four: 
    http://vimeo.com/24632561 
    BHS Study Session Five: http://vimeo.com/24633357 
    BHS Study Session Six: http://vimeo.com/24633836 (If these links don’t work from here then find them on the BUSD site on the School Board meeting page for June 1. )
     
     If you knew the last principal and you watch this, you will see how different things are now.Think of it as a person with cancer. Being on chemo is hard but it is a road to possible  recovery.  Everyone hopes it will work. No one knows if this is the exact cure but good people are taking their best shot at it.Everyone hopes the patient will recover.The former principal mouthed platitudes, hid problems, lied upwards and bullied downward. So it is better now but not fixed yet.

  • Jasper

    Pasquale,

    Your tone and intelligence are just what Berkeley High needs to preserve it’s uniquely rich educational experience while implementing common sense accountability and safety measures.

    As a student when you were Vice-Principal, I never would have expected you would be given this opportunity, but I am so glad you have been and look forward to following your progress.

  • Maureen Burke

    Goodkind,

    One reason some parents complain endlessly is because the same problems pop up over and over and over. There is no institutional memory at BHS. Most families spend no more than a decade there and new families show up and the same battles are fought. If BHS and BUSD would actually respond to criticisms instead of try to hide the problems, there would not be a need for seemingly endless complaints. I don’t think most people enjoy the role. I sure don’t.

    Here’s an example: problems with BHS getting UC approval for classes. This is a very basic task every California high school must perform and BHS failed to do this for over a dozen classes under Mr. Slemp’s tenure. When I saw half of my son’s classes were not on the UC list despite being designated so by BHS, I inquired and was met mostly with lies and had to file a California public records act request to get information. When my son applied to colleges, he was not accepted at a UC where he wanted to go. He asked admissions why and they told him he did not have enough UC-approved credits compared to other applicants. They advised him to file an appeal after hearing the story of how BHS failed to get courses approved by UC and advertised them as UC-approved anyway. He was accepted after supplying all the information gathered from UC and from the public records act request from BHS. I imagine to this day there have been no procedures put in place to avoid this bad outcome for so many students. I also imagine some school board members and other district ideologues continue to claim there is no problem. Well, we experienced it. It was a problem. I just hope other families don’t have to face this, and hope Mr. Scuderi will take a look at this issue. It is possible he isn’t even aware of the problem.

    More recently the issue of advisories came up again at BHS. Many parents and teachers thought that battle had been won when numerous studies showed that lost instructional time from advisories hurts student achievement.  Mr. Scuderi criticized BHS staff who did not vote for an expansion of advisories. One of the best BHS science teachers, someone who actually brought in money to the school for the biotech program and has always helped her students achieve the highest AP test scores in the science department, disagreed with the idea of expanding advisories due to the decreased instructional time that they engender. This highly qualified and experienced teacher has since been reassigned to BUSD elementary/middle schools against her will. This is a big loss for all BHS students. It looks like political maneuvering is alive and well at BHS. It is a very sad state of affairs.

    If you’re concerned about retaining good teachers at BHS, you might want to ask Mr. Scuderi why he did not stop the reassignment of one of their best science teachers to elementary schools after she criticized further loss of instructional time via expanded advisories. It is time to stop retaliatory management in our schools.

  • Goodkind

    Maureen Burke – You will get no argument from me on any of this. It sounds 100% spot on. All I said was that it feels like things are better. It helps if you know how bad they were before. I think that course approval problem happened under Slemp, no? That house of cards was held up by many lies, not surprised to hear another.

    Who is the science teacher? I am relatively certain advisory is tied to the federal grant (even though hardly any $ goes to BHS.) But advisory at BHS is worthless. My son had potlucks in his, every month. Total waste of time except for community building. The one thing they were supposed to learn was how to write a resume. I know several seniors who told me they did not know what a resume was  when I was helping them with job searches in June so as for curriculum, it seems like  there isn’t any. Did I mention advisory was a total waste of time?

  • lauramenard

    BSEP funds library media technology programming, yet how many students graduate having this information and skills?  I would love a list of BHS teachers who actually make use of the library ensuring students leave to college prepared in research methods.  At other LARGER high schools, the library media technology teacher schedules all history and English classes for instruction in research methods using the classroom teachers’ syllabus for coherence and the computer lab we paid for.

    This is an example of program development, the benefits of which reach all levels of students ability. We built the new library how many years ago, and fund how many FTEs supporting library, media and technology programming? 

  • Maureen Burke

    Yep, the course approval mess happened under Slemp. I don’t know whether there have been any steps taken to ensure the mess doesn’t happen again. That’s one of the basic problems at BHS–no institutional procedures in place to correct problems.

    I think you’re right about the DOE grant being tied to having advisories and it sounds like you actually read that sorry excuse for a grant that Slemp submitted without school board approval (although they voted to approve it after the fact anyway). How about the part where 50% of Slemp’s time was to be devoted to “visioning?” Is there still no curriculum for those advisories? Is anyone going to actually gauge whether BHS will have met the performance parameters listed in the grant? Seems like the only group that benefits from that grant is BayCES, now the National Equity Project.

    Whether or not the advisories are a good idea, no teacher should be punished for voting against them. In the interests of a BHS turnaround from cronyism, duplicity, ethical transgressions and dumb moves, Mr. Scuderi should not be involved in the teacher’s removal from BHS. And unfortunately the BFT seems worse than useless when teachers are subject to retaliatory actions.

  • lauramenard

    “And unfortunately the BFT seems worse than useless when teachers are subject to retaliatory actions.”

    Agree, I know horror stories against highly qualified teachers  the district recruited specifically for their performance with minority youth outcomes in other districts, and when targeted by PCAD activists for not getting in line with their dogma, the teachers were subjected to abuses of legal process  BFT ignored.

    Where is BFT on the campus security issues, I have asked board members if BFT has a position and no one seems to know.  Are BHS teachers really OK with teaching to strapped youth?

  • Sarahb445

    I am a student at Berkeley High, and I for one never felt unsafe on campus in the first place, and I DID notice a change towards the end of the school year. There were new security guards, police cars parked around the school and gates that were often open were kept closed to limit the amount of student flow on and off campus. I can speak for myself and many of my fellow students that we like and respect Mr. Scuderi very much, and believe he handled this difficult situation in his first year of teaching very well. 

  • Heather W.

    Unfortunately, I have to disagree that “the whole place feels better” means anything. I’ve talked to and heard about many students who feel the campus is safe, and they are enjoying their tenure at BHS. However, there are still many students who are victims of violence, sexual assault, harassment and bullying — and they do not feel better because all too often they are not cared for, and the people who have committed crimes against them are not held accountable. It makes no sense to “hold teachers accountable”. The teachers aren’t the problem. I have never held that Scuderi has any malignant motivations; I’m sure he’d like to see things improve — this after all his career. However, what I hear from him are placations and half-truths. I am very glad that you feel things are improving; perhaps they are, but taking in the larger picture, it’s a day late and dollar short. 

  • Gsgal1

    I’m sorry Heather but Mr. Scuderi seemed anything but self-congratulatory in his comments. He was merely stating the facts. It is unfortunate the school must “police” students at a time when learning should be taking place. This problem of weapons stems from poor family values, unsupervised teens, lack of morals, and outright disrespect for humanity. Parents should have the first and foremost responsibility to their children. School is for learning! When parents want to regain control over their children and start parenting again and assume full legal, moral, and ethical responsibity for THEIR children perhaps this topic wll no longer be up for discussion!

  • Gsgal1

    Heather you sound very angry and hostile in your comments. Passive aggressive comments don’t dilute the overall tone of your negativity. I truly hope you are on the PTA, school board, or some other medium to make the school a better place. Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones dear…

  • Guest

    I know so many out-of-district Berkeley High students and BHS prospective students who will be enrolling in Fall 2012. Some said that they are using a friend’s address and others said that they are renting a studio so they can have a Berkeley address. So, even though they *have* an address, none of them *is* a resident of Berkeley. 

    With the budget restrictions and current economic crisis this not only impacts the quality of education that the Berkeley residents receive at BHS but also it does affect the rental market in Berkeley by decreasing the supply and benefiting the people who rent a property with the only purpose of getting into Berkeley schools. Many of those people come from affluent neighborhoods (Oakland Hills, Temescal, Kensington, even Albany) and have better credit scores than other people with who they compete for smaller/lower cost rental properties. This seems totally unfair and a problem that continues to be unresolved. Scuderi does mention focusing on attendance, however, I do not see how this will solve the issue as the students’ families may receive the notifications in their rented properties and/or friends’ properties. So, it seems to me that Scuderi will continue to turn a blind eye to the issue.