When enrolling into her Small Learning Community (SLC) in ninth grade, Berkeley International High School (BIHS) junior Rylyn Jaggar ended up with her third choice. She is among a number of students who did not receive their first SLC choice. Though many may point fingers at the administration, the question remains: how does the process work in the first place?
When each student submits a ranking of their preferred small schools, a lot of factors are taken into consideration to increase equality and diversity. According to Berkeley High School (BHS) Vice Principal Kiernan Rok, who is in charge of the SLC lottery process, “the lottery process takes student preference into account.”
Another factor is “the zone, which is a proxy for neighborhoods in Berkeley.” Each student is designated into one of three zones based on their home address. This applies to students in and outside of Berkeley.
“The last factor is gender,” said Rok. “The lottery balances [gender and zone] so that there isn’t disproportionality, and then prioritizes student preference as much as possible within those parameters.” However, neither Rok nor the administration is responsible for assigning every ninth grader into an SLC. Rok oversees “computer software that is used to assign students based on those different inputs.”
The system tries to create a balance of all three of the aforementioned factors by arranging as much student preference as possible while trying to remain diverse in gender and zone.
Sometimes this can end up placing students into their fifth choice, in which case Rok would replace the student into a different SLC.
Additionally, the SLCs don’t share the same amount of space: Academic Choice (AC) is the largest, BIHS is the second largest, while the Academy for Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), Communications Arts Sciences, and Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA) all share a similar amount of limited space.
This can leave some BHS students without their first, and sometimes second SLC preference.
However, every student who is unhappy with their learning community has the option to reenter the lottery in sophomore or junior year to try to get into a SLC that better supports or challenges them.
Ultimately, these factors are meant to increase diversity and equality, fit each person into the allotted space of each SLC, and maximize student happiness by sticking to student preference as much as possible.
According to Rok, these are factors that “try to create some level of balancing within our diverse student body.”
Although Jaggar chose both AHA and CAS before BIHS, she ended up getting her third choice. She questioned the overall value of small schools.
“If you are in a small school that you don’t want to be in, you are more likely going to do badly in that small school, so I don’t think it helps students as much to be in [SLCs].”
In other words, those students who didn’t retain their first choices may be struggling more academically or socially in communities they don’t feel entirely uncomfortable in. On the contrary, without these communities, the opposite could occur. Students may not be able to access communities that continue to challenge them in an academic or social way.
For Jaggar, she ended up enjoying BIHS.
“There’s definitely issues with it, but I have ended up liking the people and teachers a lot, even if the academic pressure is a little bit over the top”.
Unlike Jaggar, BIHS junior Daisy Paris-Kaufman isn’t happy with their placement in BIHS. “I’m trying to transfer into AC, because I would like a broader selection of classes, and there are a bunch of extra projects in [BIHS] that I am not interested in doing.”
“It’s very rare that [CAS] gets a student that doesn’t want to be there,” said Stephanie Schaudel, a CAS History teacher. “Almost everybody who is here had [CAS] as one of their top choices.” Often, those who didn’t receive their first choice ended up in AC or BIHS to comply with the lottery factors or the space requirements of each SLC.
Schaudel suggested increasing the size of the smaller schools at BHS.
“I think that the smaller schools being a bit bigger would be a really cool potentiality at BHS,” Shaudel said.
However, this would also take away from other SLCs that depend upon those extra students to fill each class.
“What I hear from students is that they can feel comfortable going to any of their CAS teachers if they are having a problem, or can just be a little more vulnerable to say, ‘I’m having a really hard day, could I have this accommodation?’” Shaudel said.
“I think that becomes more possible when you are in a smaller community.”