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Address verification work continues for Berkeley Unified

The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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The Berkeley Unified School District has continued its stepped-up efforts to cut down on enrollment fraud during its second year of widespread home visits and address verifications prompted by a new policy adopted by the School Board last year.

Wednesday night, the board got an update from BUSD admissions manager Francisco Martinez about how enrollment and address verifications have gone so far in the 2016-17 school year.

Martinez was charged by BUSD last year with keeping a closer eye on school enrollment. As part of the new board policy, students in certain grades are required to provide proof of residency — such as a utility bill and additional documents — before being allowed to re-enroll.

This year, the families of all students heading into middle and high school had to provide proof of Berkeley residency if they wished to continue to attend BUSD.

Of nearly 700 students who attended fifth grade in Berkeley last year, 33 did not provide the documents, and went elsewhere for middle school, according to Wednesday night’s enrollment update. Of approximately 740 rising ninth-graders, 28 did not submit documents and they, too, left for other districts.

District staff also visited 503 homes as part of the address verification process “when the staff believes this is necessary to ensure compliance with the Berkeley residency requirement.” As a result of that process, 89 students were not enrolled in Berkeley for the current school year. According to the report, home visits took place in Berkeley, Oakland and West Contra Costa County. … Continue reading »

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Students improve in literacy, lose ground in math

Community theater at Berkeley High School. Photos: Frances Dinkelspiel
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Berkeley students are showing gains in college preparedness and literacy, but math test scores are down, especially for black students, according to data presented Wednesday night to the Berkeley School Board at its first meeting of the school year.

Classes for Berkeley Unified students begin Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Wednesday night, School Board members got a report about the most recent assessment results, and reflected on the five Berkeley High graduates who died tragically this summer: four from fatal shootings in August, and one who drowned in June.

The board also voted to increase the budget, now officially at more than $3 million, for the John Muir Elementary modernization project, where the discovery of dry rot and structural issues with the foundation has required a $100,000 bump in the contract.

A major project to renovate Building A at Berkeley High — which includes the Berkeley Community Theater, the Florence Schwimley Little Theater, and the east classroom wing (primarily visual and performing arts classes) — can also begin now that the board has approved roughly $352,000 for design services that will serve to guide construction work down the line.  … Continue reading »

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Berkeley High may overhaul schedule, classes to address achievement gap

Berkeley High School. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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For the past ten months, a group of Berkeley High School administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students has been spending long hours brainstorming ways to reduce the school’s achievement gap.

While African-American and Latino students have made great strides in recent years, many are still not performing at the level of their white and Asian peers, according to school officials. And often they are not getting access to the kinds of classes and opportunities that could help them excel.

Consider these statistics:

The graduation rate for African-American and Latino students at Berkeley High is markedly higher than the rates for surrounding schools and the state, according to BUSD statistics. And they are going to college in large numbers. Eighty-five percent of the African-American students who graduated in 2013 were enrolled in college within two years of graduation; the rate for Hispanic and Latino students was 83.3%, according to Sam Pasarow, the BHS principal.

Yet white students are four more times likely to be in an advanced math class than African-American students, and seven times more likely to be in an AP science class than Latino students.

“There is still a fairly profound achievement gap,” said Tamara Friedman, one of the co-facilitators of the Berkeley High Design Team. “A value that is held in the school and the city is one of social justice. We feel we could do better.” … Continue reading »

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Herding unicorns: Irene Sazer, the Real Vocal String Quartet

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Long-time Berkeleyan Irene Sazer didn’t set out to capture unicorns. But in creating the Real Vocal String Quartet about a decade ago she had to find a particularly rare, almost mythical, species of musician: conservatory-trained string players comfortable with free improvisation and versed in an international array of styles from South America and Appalachia to West Africa and the Balkans. And oh yeah, they also have to possess considerable vocal skills. Despite a penchant for her violists to running off to study composition in graduate school Sazer has managed to maintain an exceptionally versatile cast, and she brings the latest edition of the RVSQ to Freight & Salvage 8 p.m. Thursday.

Joining founding violinists Sazer and Alisa Rose are violist Darcy Rindt and cellist Vanessa Ruotolo, who have taken over for violist Matthias McIntire (now enrolled in a doctoral composition program at the University of Toronto), and cellist Jessica Ivry (who’s busy tending to her baby girl). The new quartet is celebrating the release of Slacker Ridge, a six-song EP featuring the previous line up. Expanding on the band’s 2009 eponymous debut album and 2012 follow up, Four Little Sisters, the new recording is as stylistically unfettered and hard to pin down as ever, with strikingly lapidary arrangements ranging from the Appalachian standard “Cluck Old Hen” and Sazer’s gorgeous pop “I Keep You Safe,” to a bevy of Rose’s luscious instrumental pieces and McIntire’s anxiously kinetic “California Residents Blissful Despite Impending Earthquake” (no wonder he’s in Toronto). … Continue reading »

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Hundreds expected to attend ‘Million Student March’ on UC Berkeley campus

Campanile by D.H. Parks
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Hundreds of protesters are expected to take part in a “Million Student March” demonstration Thursday, Nov. 12, on the UC Berkeley campus at 2 p.m.

UC Berkeley students and other activists plan to join a nationwide day of action demanding tuition-free public higher education, cancellation of student debt and a $15 wage for all university workers.

According to the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), the student governance body, “over 700 activists will descend on Upper Sproul Plaza at 2pm to hold the UC Berkeley Million Student March in conjunction with universities across the nation.”

The ASUC says the protest is expected to include Berkeley High students, city of Berkeley community members and 500 nurses from the California Nurses Association.

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BHS student to be disciplined after racist statement

Photo- Jackson Grigsby
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The student who posted an inflammatory and racist statement on a Berkeley High School library computer last week was a student of color, according to a school district spokesman. But the student, a male freshman, was not black, according to a city staffer familiar with the case.

BHS Principal Sam Pasarow told the high school staff that the student was “a student of color,” but did not specify which race, according to Mark Coplan, spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District. Authorities have said they are not releasing identifiable details about the student because they fear retaliation.

Coplan also revealed new details about how the racist, threatening message was discovered Nov. 4, the process Pasarow took to determine the culprit, and the timing of the message Pasarow sent to the community about the incident.

A parent volunteer in the library spotted the image while the student was sitting at the computer since the font was so large and the words captured the volunteer’s attention, said Coplan. The volunteer immediately notified library staff, and the student was detained and taken to Pasarow’s office, said Coplan. This was around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4.

“There is nothing that indicates that the student intended to post it,” he said. “The student was creating a document. A volunteer spotted the document because the wording was so big and brought it to the attention to the staff.” … Continue reading »

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School Board considers name change at Le Conte

LeConte Elementary School. Le Conte. Photo: Nancy Rubin
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Berkeley school officials are considering changing the name of Le Conte Elementary after community members raised concerns about its namesake, Joseph Le Conte, a deeply respected UC Berkeley faculty member and a passionate conservationist who helped found the Sierra Club.

Le Conte was also, however, a slave owner and staunch supporter of the Confederacy who held views that, from a modern perspective, no longer reflect Berkeley values.

“When I did some research on Le Conte and found out that he was an unabashed, devout racist,” said School Board Member Ty Alper at a board meeting in August, “it made me really uncomfortable that we have a school named after him.”

School board members said they believe it is important that district facilities are named after people who symbolize equity and equality. The board met Aug. 26 and agreed, in concept, to work toward changing the name of Le Conte Elementary, though more discussion will take place before the official vote. The board is planning to reshape its overall naming policy, then come back to look at specific sites. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Technology Academy starts semester with record low enrollment

BTA Principal Sheila Quintana. Image: BUSD
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Berkeley Technology Academy, the city’s alternative high school, was set to begin the year with record low enrollment, Principal Sheila Quintana told the School Board in late August.

Quintana gave the board an update on the school’s efforts at its Aug. 26 meeting, detailing recent successes and challenges since she was hired in 2011.

Quintana 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. Graduation rates, too, have risen in recent years.

“There’s been considerable progress,” Superintendent Donald Evans told the board.

Quintana reported to the board in August, however, that only 50 students had enrolled in her program, compared to an average of 86 in prior years.

“I have a whole staff, but I only have 50 students,” she told the board. “There’s a lot of reasons why, but I know certain articles that hit the news, parents are kind of upset about that.” … Continue reading »

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City Council seeks to move meetings to West Berkeley

The BUSD Headquarters on Bonar Street. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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Update, Sept. 15 The neighborhood meeting has been moved to Sept. 24 because of a scheduling conflict, district spokesman Mark Coplan told Berkeleyside today. Coplan explained by email that “It is a neighborhood meeting like we conduct when there is going to be construction or something that will have an impact on the surrounding area. We are not posting it or encouraging a larger audience so that our neighbors have ample opportunity to discuss the impact.” The district will be posting fliers in the neighborhood, and inviting residents in Daryl Moore and Linda Maio’s districts around the West Campus “to come and share their questions, concerns and expectations with Daryl and Linda, facilitated by the superintendent and board president.” Added Coplan: “The impact of the city’s proposed pilot on our neighbors is the only issue that involves BUSD. Any town hall or larger discussion about the COB’s plans to move their meetings would be conducted by the city.” (See a meeting flier here.)

Original story, Sept. 2 The Berkeley City Council, set to resume its meetings later this month after summer recess, is exploring a potential move to West Berkeley to the Berkeley Unified School District’s meeting room on Bonar Street.

Last week, the School Board considered the request, and voted to hold a town hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 15, to allow community members to give feedback about the proposal.

Council has been looking for a new meeting space since 2011. Its current meeting space at Old City Hall, the Maudelle Shirek Building at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is lacking in a variety of ways.

According to a June 23 staff report, “The physical condition of the building is very dilapidated and poses significant dangers. The capacity of the hall is not adequate to accommodate the public on nights when there is significant interest in agenda items. In addition, the safety of the elevator is precarious, the toilet facilities are not adequate and the sound system makes hearing the meetings very challenging for both the council and the public.” … Continue reading »

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BUSD poised to adopt tougher school enrollment policy

Berkeley High School has 3,300 students, most of who travel off-campus for lunch. Photo: Melati Citrawireja
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Berkeley school board officials are considering tougher enrollment requirements to curb illegal enrollment in the district, following the initial success of new registration requirements this year.

Stricter enforcement in recent months led the Berkeley Unified School District admissions office to reject 11% of applicants from private middle schools to Berkeley High School for 2015-16 after it was determined they did not actually reside in Berkeley, according to Francisco Martinez, the BUSD admissions manager. About 150 students applied. Thirty-seven students were flagged for follow-up and officials found that 17 of them did not reside in Berkeley, he said.

Read Berkeleyside’s 2014 story on fraudulent enrollment in Berkeley schools.

BUSD, for the first time, also required all currently enrolled fifth graders to prove their Berkeley residency before being accepted into sixth grade, he said. About 8% of the 684 students did not reapply for admission, despite an aggressive campaign to inform families of new requirements. … Continue reading »

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Getting low with Cornelius Boots and Joëlle Léandre

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From his earliest stirrings as a musician, Cornelius Boots has always gravitated to low, rumbling tones. Since moving to the Bay Area about 12 years ago, he’s created a series of darkly dramatic ensembles, such as Edmund Wells, an unprecedented bass clarinet quartet, and the texture-minded duo Sabbaticus Rex.

In recent years, Boots has focused on mastering an array of bass shakuhachis, and he celebrates the release of his quietly enthralling album Mountain Hermit’s Secret Wisdom with a solo recital 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the Trinity Concert Concerts series, at the Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. The “Heart and Blood” concert is a double bill with a Boots’ frequent collaborator, Mark Deutsch, who performs on his patented Bazantar, an upright five-string contrabass with dozens of sympathetic strings. He invented the instrument to accommodate his passion for new music, free improvisation and North Indian classical music. … Continue reading »

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Mrs. Dalloway’s to give Berkeley teachers $100 in books

Mrs. Dalloway's books
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Every kindergarten and first grade teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District will soon have the opportunity to buy $100 worth of books, thanks to an offer made by Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore and the best-selling author James Patterson.

The bookstore at 2904 College Ave. applied for a grant from Patterson to distribute gift certificates to teachers. It learned this week it had gotten $8,500, according to Marion Abbott, one of the store’s owners. That means 85 teachers will get $100 apiece.

“It’s very exciting,” said Abbott. “Unlike some book stores that are putting in new floors or buying vans, we are putting the money into teachers’ hands. I think it is really going to make a difference.” … Continue reading »

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School board reviews recess restriction as punishment

Photo: Nick Kenrick
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Two years ago, Berkeley parent Sinead O’Sullivan got tired of hearing from her kindergartener that he was missing recess for misbehaving. She knew he wasn’t a saint, but she didn’t think taking exercise away was going to improve his behavior.

“It’s not effective,” O’Sullivan said. “ The kids who get (recess taken away) are the high-energy kids, who can’t control their bodies. It’s the last punishment they need.”

“Many kids who get recess taken away have behavioral challenges. I say, deal with a behavior problem the way you deal with a reading problem,” she continued. O’Sullivan complained to the school, which then tried other solutions to help her son manage his behavior, she said.  But the next year, he was losing recess again.

O’Sullivan did her homework. She found the following in California’s educational code:  “The governing board of a school district may adopt reasonable rules and regulations to authorize a teacher to restrict for disciplinary purposes the time a pupil under his or her supervision is allowed for recess.” … Continue reading »

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