B-Tech graduation rate soars under inspired leadership

Sheila Quintana with B-Tech students. Photo: Mark Coplan.

Sheila Quintana Principal at B-Tech, with students. Photo: Mark Coplan

This Friday, nearly 800 students from Berkeley High will attend their graduation ceremony at the historic Hearst Greek Theatre. But with equal fanfare, they’ll be joined by 62 seniors from Berkeley Technology Academy (B-Tech). Compared to the many hundreds from BHS, that might not sound like a lot, but consider this: two years ago, only seven B-Tech students graduated.

B-Tech provides a continuation high school diploma program for students who have either involuntarily been placed because of violations of Education Code 48900 or have chosen to be placed there because they are falling behind in academic credits at BHS. Many of the students are economically disadvantaged, nearly a third are homeless, and many have direct experience of violence and incarceration in their community. It’s a small school, with enrollment around 150, many of them in their senior year. The 62 B-Tech graduates this year are part of a class of 73 seniors.

“I want all 73 seniors graduating,” said Sheila Quintana, principal of B-Tech since July 2011. 

The statistical evidence of the change wrought by Quintana on the school is undeniable. From seven graduates out of 60 seniors in 2011, the school advanced to 44 out of 55 in 2012, to the 62 out of 73 this year. Attendance, too, has improved. Last school year, B-Tech had 59% attendance; this year, it’s 93%. B-Tech’s curriculum also acquired approval for the University of California’s “A-G” requirements.

The visiting committee of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) recognized the strides being made by B-Tech in its April 2013 report:

The principal of the school has been instrumental in bringing about important changes and improvements, and has developed a relationship with the District leadership that B-Tech staff view as greatly improved. Her efficient preparation included the involvement of the entire B-Tech staff in the WASC process. Her staff has also acknowledged her for her transparent leadership and guiding the staff in creating a more nurturing environment for students.

Quintana does not mince words when she talks about the key elements of her transformation.

“The focus on curriculum has been the biggest piece for us,” she said. “When I came in in 2011, B-Tech had no textbooks. The mindset was this was not a real school. The teaching staff left around 1:30 every day. The tone was bad.”


The B-Tech campus. Photo: Julia Hannafin

Classes at B-Tech are in double blocks, so there are only four, comparatively long classes each day. According to Quintana, that gives both teachers and students more time to dig into the material and cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.

“Students are able to recover a full year’s worth of English, math, history and science in one semester,” Quintana said.

The WASC report also noted that the double-block schedule creates fewer transitions in the school day, reducing potential conflict situations and opportunities for truancy. If students are absent for either first or third block, the school calls home.

B-Tech also puts a particular emphasis on technology education. The school has one iMac lab and is opening a second soon.

“The students love technology so that’s a great motivator,” Quintana said.

The school also recognizes the particular stresses and problems its students face.

“The psychosocial piece is huge,” Quintana said. “The majority of our day is removing the barriers. And sometimes its an individualized thing. We cocoon the student and we have adults who we identify to be with the student. The kids believe the whole community is checking in on them. Some of them, no one has ever checked in on them.”

Quintana said that the school develops an individual strategy for each student, and its implementation includes a home visit.

“That shocks them when we do the home visits,” she said. “We really, really want our kids to excel.”

Karen Hemphill, Chair of the BUSD School Board, said Quintana’s focus on individualized plans for students is just one of the many good things she has brought to the school.

“She cares deeply about the students there,” she said. “She’s doing a fantastic job.”

It has been about Quintana’s emphasis on the basics, Hemphill continued, citing as an example the way she has been very strong on finding alternative ways for students to make up academic credits. (Credit deficiency is often a reason students go to B-Tech in the first place.) Quintana has students enrolled at Berkeley City College and doing make-up classes, for instance.

Quintana has also forged a close relationship with the principal of Berkeley High, Pasquale Scuderi, said Hemphill, something that has not always been the case. “It’s not a small thing that B-Tech students will be walking the stage at the Greek Theatre tomorrow,” she said.

B-Tech also has strong counseling services, and partners with a number of programs to address drug use and violence, including the Alive and Free curriculum from Omega Boys Club, pioneered by Joseph Marshall.

“There’s a lot that we can do to improve. We want to be open to options that will help the kids to be successful,” Quintana said. “Students have been told that you come here and it’s a bitch and you never get out. That’s not the case any more.”

Workshop urges action on gun violence around Berkeley [05.29.13]

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  • bgal4

    As a resident in the area near B-Tech, I can not say enough about the positive changes in attitude and responses from B-Tech office staff when residents contact the school about neighborhood issues or concerns about kids cutting class smoking pot in Oregon St park.

    Great improvement over Victor Diaz.

    Congrats to Ms Quintana and students.

  • MARhoades

    HUGE congratulations! Way to go B-Tech!!

  • Chris

    Bravo! Just goes to show that back to basics and plenty of student attention are what gets results in many educational situations. The way the previous principal was running the school should be criminal.

  • bgal4

    Yet Diaz was rewarded funding for his own charter school by the same school board director who now extolls the virtues of teaching the basic and dealing with truancy. Diaz poor record and dubious behavior was ignored, a good example of how unaccountable Berkeley schools are, they gloss over failures, and move the goal posts regularly.

  • K Rivera

    Thank you for this article and congratulations to the graduates and Ms Quintana. I’m so happy for everyone.

  • Bill N

    Sadly, yes the numbers 7 to 62 say a lot. As you note above the changes have been incredible. The key will be keeping and supporting her efforts.

  • dwss5

    As a friend of mine says who happens to be yet another resident near B-Tech (Grant, St 2-3 blks from the school), there are still the SAME number of incidents about
    kids cutting class, smoking pot near the school just out of eyesite of the selfsame “B-Tech office staff”, rollin’/smokin’/spittin’ tobacco onto the street, littering ‘n loitering all over the place, … etcetera. A different year, a similar crowd of kids doing the SAME old d^&n crap!! The more things supposedly “improve” with Ms Quintana, the more things remain mostly the SAME. I don’t know, maybe it’ll take a schooltime incident with a gun or knife that “friends” of B-Tech students use around the neighborhood to REALLY shake things up at the school!!

  • guest

    Ms Quintana,

    Rarely does once see such genuine love in a smile, yours. And courage and tenacity as well.

    Previously B-Tech grads were noticeable at the Greek Theater ceremonies only by their antics on stage while receiving their diplomas: pimp rolls. break dancing, one student ripped off her gown to reveal a near nude body stocking.

    Please ask your students not to play into this modern day, black face buffoonery.…You, and they have worked too hard. All of them deserve the dignity of the moment.

    PS: Scuderi, show your worth, let’s see BHS match B-Tech in self respect.

  • bgal4

    The principal gives out her phone number so residents can call her directly when there is a problem. She will send down safety officers to retrieve the kids, contact Ms Quintana. Yeah, I see the kids along Derby, Grant Sts and some cause trouble by committing crimes. I think the school should be a closed campus.

  • I believe there are ongoing discussions, prompted by Sheila Quintana, about closing the campus at lunch time.

  • bgal4

    nice, thx tracy.

  • bgal4

    She isn’t the first, but hopefully the time is right and policy makers are pragmatic and able to move beyond the racial politics they cling to.

  • EBGuy

    No worries… the Berkeley taxpayers are on the hook for $7+million dollars in improvements at West Campus for the charter high school. Meanwhile, portables abound elsewhere… (PDF alert )