Charter school becomes top school in Berkeley

October 21, 2011 8:40:45 PM PDT
Not every high school in the Bay Area can say its entire graduating class was accepted to four-year colleges. In fact, very few can, but Cal Prep is now the top performing high school in Berkeley and most of those students come from underserved communities.

Cal Prep is a partnership between Aspire Public Charter Schools and UC Berkeley. Their college experience begins in high school. Every student here must have 15 college credits to graduate.

"I think I took four different college classes in my freshman year," said student Xavier Taylor.

Graduate students from UC Berkeley come to this high school to teach college courses or to tutor. Also, once a week some students are allowed to walk to U.C. Berkeley, less than a mile away to audit a class.

The school says it's preparing students not only to be college ready, but college successful.

"The retention rate for first year students, especially in our demographic, is so low and we don't want students to work this hard to get into college and then drop out," said interim principal Michelle Cortez.

Cal Prep is an Aspire Public School, one of the largest non-profit charter school organizations in the nation.

Their academic strategies set them apart. Once a week, teachers assess each student.

"If I am having a problem supporting a student and I can't figure out what works for them, then I can go and ask their English teacher where they have an A and say, 'What do I need to know so that I can support them?'" said teacher Sarah Salazar.

Class participation is mandatory and rubber ducks tossed at them ensure each student understands the material.

"In this classroom they are there and they have to participate because the conversation doesn't move until everyone is working on the content at hand," said Cortez.

California's superintendent of public schools, Tom Torlakson, says he wants to take those strategies that are working and apply them at other schools.

"What we want to do is compare the success elements of a school that is having its test scores and children thriving academically," said Torlakson.

A statewide education symposium is scheduled for next March.


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