In the first of three community forums, (SVHS) teachers and administrators gathered in the auditorium of Wednesday night to lay bare their plans for souping up their college-prep program.
, SVHS students will be required to complete A-G requirements—the college preparatory sequence recommended for admission to the University of California system—which mandates that students take 220 credits in five major subject groups, including four years of English and a minimum math enrollment of Algebra 1 for freshman.
In 2009, only 45 percent of SVHS graduates elected to complete the A - G curriculum.
The "Why" Behind Increased Requirements
The increased requirements are intended to serve as an umbrella curriculum for students to explore a variety of post-graduate options.
"It's not college or career, it's college and career," said Superintendent Louann Carlomagno.
"When people say college, they think it means Yale or Cal" said Erin Fender, a representative from the Berkeley Education Think Tank Career Academy Support Network (CASN). "In reality, college programs include any post-secondary education," said Fender, including "apprenticeship, certificate programs, trade and technical programs, or the traditional four-year University."
So, why require that students complete the more rigorous requirements if not necessary for admission to a trade program?
In short, because the modern workplace requires flexibility.
"Employers are looking for the identical skills that colleges are looking for," said District Director of Curriculum Lynn Fitzpatrick. "These A-G classes, which are more challenging, develop those traits in our students. We want students who are working on a project, and when it gets hard they will stick to it."
To combat the fallout from a strenuous first-year program, the high school has created a Design Team to direct the classroom setup so students can achieve.
Made up of teachers, administrators, and counselors with representatives from CASN, the Design Team has created a revamped freshman year to create an intimate environment to help students adjust.
"A lot of freshmen come onto campus and feel lost...we want to make sure they know they're a part of this high school, and this is going to do that," said Design Team Member and History Teacher Andy Gibson.
Though the plans are still rough, the first year students will be grouped into "teams," which will be made up of an assorted group of students who will interact and study with the same grouping of teachers.
By interacting in groupings, faculty will be better able to keep track of their students' progress, and make sure kids aren't lost in the system.
Students will take a new student-directed learning class with their team called "freshman seminar," where students will be able to seek extra help in subject areas and study skills outside of the traditional classroom.
The district is preparing to hire two extra faculty members to implement the program, and has already factored the costs into next year's budget, said Carlomagno.
In addition to the re-working of faculty-student interaction, the Design Team is also exploring using summer school, online classes, and a targeted tutoring program to help students struggling with the pre-college high school classes.
Area Middle Schools are working on a similar program of targeted in school support and after school tutoring, to help eighth graders catch up and prepare for high school.
"That's the great thing about this age...we know these kids are all very resilient; they can excel and exceed if we expect it," said Adele Harrison Principal Karla Conroy.
"I think it's fantastic that my son gets to be a part of this pilot program," said Lynn Curry, whose 14-year-old son, currently enrolled at the , will be attending SVHS next year.
Alice Horowitz, the mother of a 14-year-old rising freshman, values the A - G coursework already: her older daughter, a senior at SVHS, completed the coursework and has already been offered a scholarship to Tulane University.
But, both women agree, the requirement doesn't affect their children, who would likely have enrolled in the college prep coursework anyway.
"The requirement really helps the kids who don't have parents behind them for this. They want to go to college, but they don't know that this is the standard —so it's covering that base," said Horowitz.
But, as a anonymous question revealed, not all parents are as confident that their child will succeed under the increased academic standards.
The question read: "Will my student be able to graduate from high school if they don't meet the A-G challenges?"
"It would depend on the circumstances," said Carlomagno. "If kids have some extreme needs then my answer is yes, we would figure out a pathway."
Two other forums will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at, 6:30 - 8 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 17 at , 6:30 - 8 p.m. (Spanish). Spanish translation and childcare available at both forums.