Janet Huseby, Berkeley High’s top cheerleader, steps down

Janet Huseby was last month honored at the BPSF luncheon for Distinguished Service to Berkeley Schools. Photo: Emilie Raguso

For more than a decade, Janet Huseby has been Berkeley High School’s “point person,” according to Principal Pasquale Scuderi.

After contributing her hard work to BHS for 23 years, and serving as outreach and volunteer coordinator for the past nine years, Huseby is preparing to pass on the torch. She will stay on as a college essay reader, continuing the work she started when she first came to Berkeley High.

“I sort of feel like it’s time to shake things up a little bit,” she said in an interview with Berkeleyside on Thursday.

Huseby began lending a hand at BHS when her oldest child entered high school in 1990. She became particularly involved in College and Career Center (CCC), and used her professional writing skills to help students endure the grueling process of writing college application essays.

In 2004, then-Principal Jim Slemp created the new position of outreach and volunteer coordinator with Huseby in mind, and she spent the next nine years helping to execute everything from day-to-day administrative activities such as prospective student tours, to events like the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. She organizes 60 volunteers per week just to staff the front desk.

Scuderi said Huseby acted as a much-needed bridge between the parent and administrative bodies.

“She’s been responsible … for really improving our capacity around communications with parents,” he said. “We’re going to miss Janet tremendously.”

Huseby said that throughout her years as volunteer coordinator, she’s built great relationships with parents and faculty members and has been amazed at the generosity of the Berkeley community.

“What has always really impressed me is the community has always come through,” she said.

As volunteer coordinator, she has been in charge of recruiting parents to help with all kinds of school needs — a task that requires persistence and strategic (polite but effective) communication via the Berkeley High e-tree, which she co-founded in 2000.

In an message posted on Thursday evening bidding farewell to Huseby, the e-tree editors described her has having been “the glue connecting the BHS Administration and the E-tree, supplying us with crucial announcements and answering our burning questions on a daily basis.” The email continued: “Janet has also been our most vocal champion and cheerleader — recruiting new subscribers, defending our funding and our editorial integrity. We cannot imagine how we will do our work without Janet’s help — we trust that rest of the BHS community will assist us as we move forward.”

Huseby said that even in last-minute emergency situations at the school — such as the time there was a computer glitch before the beginning of the school year, and she needed help administering new class schedules to every student individually — parents have always shown up to help.

“I’ve learned not to panic”

“You have to ask more than once, and I’ve learned not to panic,” she said. But she couldn’t think of a time, over nine years, when she asked for help and received none.

“So when I go on and on about what a great community this is, it really is true,” Huseby said. “It means a lot to me to live in a city where people will do that for their children.”

Beyond asking for their help, Huseby always strived to make sure the parents were appreciated and thanked afterwards.

“I figure my job is to help parents,” she said. “They’re rearranging their life to help, so you have to be respectful of that.”

This year’s AP and IB exams saw 140 parent volunteers turn out to supervise — a difficult but important task, as there are adult-to-student ratios that the school must maintain when administering the tests.

Other administrators and parents at BHS have admired Huseby’s ability to handle so many responsibilities at once.

“Janet’s dedication to all of Berkeley High School was extraordinary,” Vice Principal Ashley Milton said. “Her ability to communicate to the community and balance the small details of working here was incredible.”

Huseby has been in a unique position to see many changes at Berkeley High School. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Huseby’s services to the school district and the Berkeley community have reached far beyond her job as volunteer coordinator. She has headed the Parent Teacher Associations at Cragmont Elementary, Rosa Parks Elementary (then Columbus Elementary), King Middle School, and BHS, where was also editor of the BHS Parent Teacher Student Association newsletter. She conceived and wrote the award-winning Guide to Berkeley Public Schools in 1995 to help incoming parents, and her résumé boasts editorial contributions to the University of California, Berkeley, the Associated Press and Time Magazine.

Huseby has been a stable witness as Berkeley High “has improved dramatically” over the years. The changes have been due both to the school’s physical and structural changes and to administrative consistency, according to Huseby.

“Going through principals like tissues out of a tissue box”

Before Slemp became principal in 2003, “we were going through principals like tissues out of a tissue box,” Huseby said. “We had interim principals, and we had co-principals … then Jim Slemp came and stayed for seven years.”

She said one of Slemp’s major contributions, which may be lesser known, was cleaning up the campus. He hired Facility Manager Al Wilright to lead that effort and created a culture at BHS in which students and faculty respect the campus and keep it clear of trash.

Huseby also stressed the positive impact of the changes in building structure and layout.

“It doesn’t sound like such a big deal now that it’s in place, but because of the ’89 earthquake, they tore down two really unbecoming, awkward buildings,” she said. That, along with the installation of gates that created a more secure periphery around the campus, was key to changing the environment at BHS.

“It didn’t use to exist like that, [the campus] sort of bled into the city,” she said, adding that the changes made “a dramatic difference.”

The B building, which endured a fire in 2000 and was eventually taken down, once housed the entrance office — Huseby said they used to call it the “welcome booth”— and the library. But the building had a poor design and people had trouble navigating it.

“It was so poorly laid out that you’d say to yourself, ‘Hmm, I better walk them up there, because they’ll never find it,'” she said. “It was ridiculous.”

The elimination of the B building relocated the office and library and ultimately freed up space behind the C building to install the campus green and an open sitting area.

After her current position is handed over to a new volunteer coordinator, who is yet to be chosen by the district, Huseby will focus much of her time on publishing and selling the third edition of The Berkeley Book of College Essays. The book is a compilation of college essays from BHS students, which is read throughout the city both by students going through the college application process and by parents and other interested community members.

“It’s a unique collection because it’s all from one high school,” Huseby said. “It gives you a real sense of Berkeley High students.”

Huseby worked on the book with CCC volunteers Vicky Elliott and Elaine Ratner, both professional writers who “stepped up to help make it happen” this year, she said.

The third edition will include some essays from the original version, with newly added updates on where those students are now and what they’ve accomplished. It also has 30 new essays from more recent students.

The compilers expect it to be published in about six weeks, if not sooner. Huseby hopes that the third edition will reach more readers outside of Berkeley.

Fund: 30 years of boosting, supporting Berkeley schools (05.14.13)

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  • bgal4

    I will never forgot when Huseby followed Slemp instructions and attempted to take over control of the PTSA newsletter from the elected editor because he had written a fact based article about drug use and guns on campus. The source of the information was California Healthy Kids Survey, which at the time was censored from public consumption, the only district in the state to do so, and quotes from a BPD Lt who grew up in Berkeley, who father served on the council and was now a father of a student.

    The article was mild, but Huseby agreed with Slemp, the public did not have a right to know the results of CHKS survey of their kids or gun incidents at BHS.

    She also mistreated parents who kids were victims of crime on campus when the parents requested answers from admin.

    Finally, the old guard steps aside.

  • GingerOgle

    Many thanks to Janet Huseby for her long and valued service to the parent community. I never got to meet her in person, but I have seen her name so many times on the clear, informative messages she posted to the Berkeley Parents Network over the years. When we started BPN’s “Parents of Teens” newsletter in 1999, most of the postings we got were from frantic BHS parents writing about the chaotic situation at the high school – the revolving door of principals, the fires, the muggings. Janet posted answers to many of those questions, and she also kept us all informed about meetings, testing, information nights, etc. She started the BHS e-tree the next year and began organizing tours for prospective parents. My oldest graduated BHS in 2001, and it’s hard to imagine now, but when he started his freshman year, there was no e-tree, there were no tours of the campus, there was no parent information desk. The only way you could get information about BHS back then was to ask someone you knew, and hope they had correct information. Janet single-handedly changed all that, and we all owe her a lot. Thank you so much, Janet.

  • George Sherston

    If someone can find fault with Janet Huseby after her many years of excellent service in the BUSD there is no hope for humanity. Her actions regarding the newsletter were questionable but that is outweighed — by quite a lot mind you — by all the positive work she did. As for the allegation that she “mistreated parents” of any kind, well that’s just hogwash. It was so sad that the above was the first comment.

  • guest

    “If someone can find fault with Janet Huseby”

    The old guard stepping aside is not yet a bilateral process, one could say.

  • bgal4

    What is sad is that serious violence affecting Berkeley kids education was swept under the carpet, and Ms Huseby was a party to it.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    That is some serious hyperbole. Sounds like bgal4’s got her facts ready. You, on the other hand, aren’t even bothering with questions before dismissing her outright. It is possible to acknowledge mistakes graciously even if, in your opinion, they are outweighed by good deeds.

  • Berkeleygirltoo

    So you bash someone who has given thousands and thousands of hours and days to Berkeley kids because you did not get your way?

  • Berkeleygirltoo

    sounds like you have a personal axe to grind here. Let me guess…. your kid had his iphone stolen and you did not get the treatment you wanted?

  • bgal4

    way off, lousy guess.

  • annonymous

    Janet was the first person we met as entering freshman parents and she has worked tirelessly and absolutely nonstop for the success of Berkeley High and its student body. The community could not have asked for nor ever found a more devoted spokesperson for our high school. And she is funny and kind, personable and respectful of everyone I have seen her interact with at BHS.

    Thank you Janet, for all you have generously given to all of our Berkeley families over your many years of devoted work.