The Long-term Substitute Problem at Berkeley High
Every year the Academic Choice Advisory Council hears comments from distraught parents about the problem of long-term substitute teachers. Whether teachers go on a planned parental leave or suddenly decide to resign, the majority of students must first deal with several weeks of short-term substitutes who provide little or no instruction. If/when a long-term substitute fills the position, there is often another transition period for her/him to get up to speed. The long-term substitute must be replaced after 30 teaching days, resulting in more disruption. Many students lose an entire semester or even a year of learning. The chances are good that your child will face at least one or possibly several long-term disruptions in her/his career at Berkeley High.
The administration has told us that it is difficult to hire substitutes, especially in Spanish and biology. Having a permanent substitute on hand is expensive and doesn’t address the problem of multiple vacancies or subject expertise. In the few examples where the transition has been smooth, the teacher going on leave made sure to hire a substitute and provided her/him with lesson plans and materials. In other words, with proper planning, disruption can be minimized.
The ACAC has suggested several strategies to prevent this problem that occurs on an annual basis:
–We suggest that when a teacher informs the school they are going on parental leave, the District puts procedures in place to begin to recruit a long-term substitute immediately. The teacher will then provide the designated substitute with lesson plans and materials to minimize disruption.
–We suggest that parents be informed within two weeks by a letter providing information about the length of disruption, grading policies, and where to go for help.
–We suggest that the departments most frequently affected (Spanish, biology/freshman science and possibly history) seek summer grants for veteran teachers to develop materials to provide to substitutes. We appreciate that the District is facing budget cuts, but grants are available through parent fundraising organizations such as the Berkeley High Development Group, the Academic Choice Advisory Council, the Berkeley International High School Parent Action Group.
What You Can Do Now to Support Proactive Policies for Long-term Substitute Teachers in Berkeley High Classrooms
In the midst of classroom disruption:
Document: If your child’s teacher goes on leave or suddenly disappears, start documenting what is happening in the classroom. Who is supervising the students each day? What do the students do in class? Evidence is important in pursuing complaints and encouraging the administration to work for a speedy solution.
Ask for information immediately: The most frustrating part of losing a teacher is that the administration rarely informs the students what to expect. We suggest parents immediately contact the department lead teacher with copies to the departmental vice-principal and school principal to request a timeline for when a functional teacher will be in the classroom. Inquire about grading policies in the time of disruption.
Check back every week until the situation is resolved: Don’t wait for the administration to take care of things for you. In several cases, a persistent parent was the only thing standing between months of card games and phone surfing and a functional classroom. Your voice makes a difference!
Encourage independent learning: Some parents have tried to minimize disruption on their own by making use of Khan Academy’s free learning materials or in the case of AP classes, purchasing an AP test study guide and encouraging their student to work on the test material independently.
If a month has gone by without any sign of a competent substitute, consider filing a Williams Complaint. A “Williams” complaint is for complaints about the sufficiency of instructional materials; emergency or urgent facilities conditions that pose a threat to the health and safety of pupils; and teacher vacancy or misassignment.
If your student has dealt with disruption and you’d like to stop it from happening again:
Share your experience with BHS and BUSD administrators: If parents bring attention to this issue as a matter of concern to the community, we can bring resources toward a solution. Thousands of students have lost weeks and months of instruction over the years. If every affected family speaks out, we can help solve this recurring problem.
Urge administrators to create an effective action plan: This includes advance preparation for scheduled parental leave, timely notification to students and families about the disruption, and preparation of procedures and materials to minimize disruption.
Where can you speak out about this problem?
Seek help from parent groups and/or your child’s guidance counselor: AC and BIHS parent groups usually have a public comments section at the beginning of each meeting. Go to these meetings, share your story during public comments and ask for help. But don’t stop there. The more people we reach, the likelier the chance this problem will be taken seriously.
Contact the vice-principal responsible for the department: email, call and send a letter (all three if necessary to get a reply). Find the relevant vice-principal here: http://bhs.berkeleyschools.net/information/staff/
Contact Principal Erin Schweng and express your concern: Ask her to present an action plan to the community about the long-term substitute problem.
Berkeley High School Principal Erin Schweng
Email: email@example.com; Phone: 644.4803; Fax: 510-548-4221; Snail mail: Principal Erin Schweng, Berkeley High School, 1980 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704
Contact School Board Members: You can reach them by email, during their office hours, or by attending a BUSD School Board meeting. The terms of Ty Alper, Josh Daniels and Karen Hemphill end in 2018. Ask if they are running for re-election and if they pledge to work on issues important to you. Find emails, phone, office hours, and information about upcoming School Board meetings here: http://www.berkeleyschools.net/schoolboard/
Contact the Superintendent and Associate Superintendent: Ask them to present an action plan to the community about the long-term substitute problem.
Superintendent Donald Evans
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone: (via Executive Asst. Jessica Lopez) 510- 510-644-6206; Snail Mail: Dr. Donald Evans, Office of the Superintendent, Berkeley Unified School District, 2020 Bonar Street, Suite 322, Berkeley, CA 94702
Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi
Email: email@example.com; Phone: (via Executive Asst. Amber Spencer) 510-644-6257; Snail mail: Associate Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi, Office of the Superintendent, BUSD, 2020 Bonar Street, Suite 319, Berkeley, CA 94702