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Crowded classes overwhelm teachers

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Rebecca Gerek's AP Statistic class began the year with 36 desks, and 43 students. In the chaos of the overcrowding, Gerek tried to convince students to voluntarily drop the overflowing class, but according to Gerek, “I've had students say, 'I'll sit on the floor.'”


    AP Statistics is literally bursting at the seems, with the classroom size just barely accommodating the class size. Gerek expects even more problems to arise when students go use the computer lab later in the year, with students likely being required to double up on computers.


    Overcrowded classes have infected Abraham Lincoln High School this 2013-2014 school year. Before some last minute rescheduling in the first grading period, class sizes were at over 40 students in AP statistics, physics, and drama classes. Last year they were never any classes with over 40 students. Even now there are more students than the Teacher's Union's requested 35 in all of these classes.


    Manalang Balisi, vice principal, explained that part of the scheduling issues have been a result of the switch from the old scheduling computer system, the Student Information System, to the new system, Synergy. She further explained, “Counselors were only trained on the new system a week before schedules were released.”


    Gregory Calac began the year with over 40 students in all four of his physics classes. Physics class overcrowding has been a major scheduling issue this year, with three less sections this year.


    Calac also expressed concerns about safety, saying, “It's just not as safe with this many students in a lab.”


    The huge classes are straining resources from physical room space to teacher attention. Gerek explained, “It's like looking at a mob. You don't establish personal relationships with people, and for me, that's the best part of teaching.”


    Calac mentioned, “[Overcrowding] makes it incredibly hard to do labs and activities, which make science fun.”


    Gerek also predicts trouble with grading work of such a large class. She noted, “In pre-calculus, kids would take a test Friday and ask, 'Are you done grading?' on Monday. When I have to grade essays, it's going to take a lot longer [than a weekend].”


    Balisi is already beginning to determine what classes will be available next year. She said, “It's a juggling act. I look at the master schedule like a sudoku.”


    Balisi recommends that students come to her with opinions on scheduling for next year. She ended with, “I really want to know what students want in highschool. Our students are our first and foremost priority.”

Extended hours give teachers a reason to complain


A minor controversy erupted at the end of last year at Lincoln High School regarding extended hours.  Extended hours are given to teachers and faculty members who do work outside of regular class time. 

    For example Elaine Walenta, drama teacher, dedicates her time to produce quality plays and Christian Geiser, drawing teacher, performs the daunting task of being the senior class sponsor.  They receive compensation for the number of hours they work after their regular school hours.  Questions about the fairness of extended hours have arisen and teachers have differing opinions on the matter.

    In a letter to fellow staff members on May 28, 2013 Paul Cameli, English teacher, voiced his frustration with the system.  "Twenty-nine percent of teachers who teach four or fewer classes are getting extended hours," the message reads, "Of the teachers teaching five classes, eighty-nine percent were not paid for any extended hours."  In other words some teachers have only four classes but receive extended hours for items relating to their class.

    Mentioned was the fact that the AP Human Geography teacher was listed as receiving 15 hours for “AP Human Geography Planning” which could be considered regular duties. 

    Cameli later clarified in an interview that he felt the extended hours policy wasn’t clear.  "It's not a personal issue but an inequity issue."  To resolve the problem, he wants the administrators to have a more transparent policy.

            When asked about Cameli’s beliefs expressed in his letter, Barnaby Payne, principal said, “Well, I don’t agree; in fact a list of teachers and their extended hours is public information.” 

    When asked about his extended hours, Leon Sultan, AP Human Geography teacher said, “I was given 15 extended hours last year in order to provide afterschool tutoring to my AP Human Geography students.  This was mislabeled as ‘planning’ by the administration. The hours were not used for planning but rather for tutoring.”

    Sultan provides his AP students with an afterschool study session before every test.  Many of his students have never taken an AP class before and are unfamiliar with the pace.  Sultan’s tutoring sessions helped improve students’ test scores, fifty-nine percent of his students passed the AP exam, above the national average of fifty-three percent.

    On the subject of the fairness of extended hours, Sultan explained, “In the future, I hope that all staff feel that they can apply for extended hours, and that the application process is fair and transparent. I also hope that the needs of students are put first, and that we continue to have a budget that allows us some room to pay for things that enrich the student experience at Lincoln.”

    Payne also explained that there are no guidelines currently in place about extended hours, and they are just given on a case by case basis.  However as a result of the letter, Payne decided to start working on an application process so any teacher can apply for extended hours.

Frozen furnaces freeze faculty


For years, students have complained about the temperatures at Lincoln High, particularly in the North Wing, where the band room and drama room are located. Unfortunately, problems such as overbearing cold fronts in these rooms are unlikely to be fixed in the near future, due to the complicated workings of the current boilers housed in the north wing and new building. In reality, the systems are not broken but are instead dragged down by some tricky design choices.


    “Three years ago, we installed new boilers at Lincoln”, said Lance Tagomori, assistant principal and captain of building and grounds at Lincoln. “The main building, new building, and north wing are all on a timer and temperature gauge, so when the weather is hot, it’s shut off by timer.” Because of this system, heat waves are often stopped soon after they start, due to temperature gauges tracking at which point heaters add to the natural heat.


 But while this leads to more reasonable habitats in the main building, the systems become muddled within the other areas of the Lincoln grounds. “The north wing can’t be turned back on manually, so the school system has to be called in to get those boilers working again,” says Tagomori. Due to this situation, the north wing often suffers from extreme cold, as commonly noted by students who work in the Band Room and Auditorium. 


“Room 155 has so temperature control, so it’s always cold,” said Elaine Walenta, English and Drama teacher, “and the little theater also has no control, so it’s always either really hot or really cold.”


Adding onto the uncomfortable temperatures is the concept of equity among teachers for climate culture in their classes. In the main building and north wing, teachers are required to work with malfunctioning or even broken heaters, which often continue to emit heat even while off, leading to unbearably hot rooms during even slightly warm days. Teachers in the new building, on the other hand, have the power of operating thermostats that give them whatever temperature they desire, though they still rely on the working boiler systems. 


    However, for a period of time where temperatures become less of a concern. “From October to May, the boilers are always on,” Tagomori explains. “Unfortunately, if you get a hot day in the middle of that, you’re just stuck with it!”


    Those in overly hot rooms, though, are out of luck, due to air conditioners being fairly uncommon in San Francisco buildings.

Lincoln High School ditches regular physics classes

   The beginning of the school year saw the starting of many new courses and the overloading of many classes, but perhaps the biggest change to Lincoln's course options is the removal of all regular physics classes and replacing them with only conceptual physics. 


    "Over the years, we find most students benefit more from conceptual," says Mr. Albert Jou, AP and conceptual physics teacher. 


    The main difference between regular and conceptual physics classes is the emphasis on problem solving and showing knowledge through application. A regular physics class would focus on equations and spend less time fleshing out concepts, and students are expected to understand how to apply these concepts in their work. Conceptual physics deals less in problem solving and more with learning the basic concepts of physics, hence the name conceptual.  


    The hiring of a new physics teacher, which Lincoln is currently in the process of doing, will mitigate the large class size and the overloading of conceptual physics classes. Budgeting is not a factor in the prevalence of conceptual classes, but rather the fact that physics teachers felt students would understand the subject better by knowing the concepts than struggling with math.


    However, with the lack of regular classes, the next physics course available to students is AP Physics. When asked whether he thinks conceptual students could handle the transition to an AP course, Jou says, “I don’t expect them to. Most students won’t take it. Out of all my classes, only one AP class comes out of it.”


    For the students who want a more challenging and comprehensive physics course, they will not be left out, for there is the promise of an honors physics class next year in addition to conceptual, offering a slightly wider range of science courses to pick from. 


    “We were going to have an honors physics this year, but we were too late,” says Jou. “We definitely plan to have it next year.”