Op-ed: Berkeley Unified Superintendent responds to story on Berkeley Technology Academy

Last Friday, I stood in line to congratulate our graduating students at the Greek Theatre, including students from our continuation high school, Berkeley Technology Academy (BTA). As I watched them walk confidently on and off the stage, I reflected on the article published on Berkeleyside (June 3, 2015), and felt it was important to share my view of our students and staff at BTA.

Berkeley Technology Academy is an alternative high school comprised of students who have not been successful in a comprehensive high school setting; many of the students enter BTA credit deficient for the path to graduation. As indicated in the Berkeleyside article, over 90% of the students who attend BTA bring with them a history of profound exposure to complex traumatic stress that often has created significant barriers to both academic and personal development.

As stated in an op-ed piece published on Berkeleyside by BTA teacher John Fike, “the profound challenges and issues we must address are not isolated to BTA.” The complex issues that teenagers have to face today are not just confined to the continuation campuses where some of the most traumatized students are enrolled; many young people are struggling against significant headwinds which affect their social, emotional and academic progress. A traditional academic approach must also incorporate a thoughtful, thorough and effective strategy for addressing the behavioral health needs of our students.

As more and more educators, counselors and mental health professionals have recognized the critical imperative of addressing the psychological and emotional health of students, school districts are evolving to incorporate a more comprehensive approach.

Berkeley Unified has a history of addressing the “whole child” needs of our students. Many of our students need a multi-tiered system of behavioral support and interventions in order to be ready and able to succeed academically, and our staff is engaged in further strengthening that system of supports, of which BTA is a part, to better address a significant range of student needs across the entire district.

Every student has both challenges and strengths — both headwinds and tailwinds — and we must do everything we can to be sure that we are part of what pushes these students forward and into a better future.

The Berkeleyside article acknowledged Principal Quintana’s efforts and successes in her two years at BTA, and I stand by that description of this outstanding principal, who has worked tirelessly for the school, the students and the staff.

As the article noted, she “has worked to revamp BTA’s record keeping and data collection, upgrade campus infrastructure, and win accreditation for its coursework so the BTA diploma carries more clout for graduates.” In addition, programs such as Restorative Justice and Alive and Free have been highly effective at the school.

While I do not want to dismiss all of the concerns raised in the original article, I do feel that the article was not representative of the many achievements of our students and staff. It is important to recognize that the students at BTA are indeed capable of academic success. When adults around them acknowledge and build upon that capacity with the right supports and structure, these young people can turn their lives around.

Among this year’s graduating class, over a third have been accepted to two and four-year colleges, while many others are attending technical schools or are entering the work force. BTA has helped provide hope and transformative options for young people, and I am proud that so many are now college and career ready. I hope you will join me in celebrating the positive achievements of these young people.

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Donald Evans is Superintendent of Berkeley Unified School District