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Berkeley school board set to vote on slashed budget for cooking and gardening program

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UPDATE, 03.27.14: As expected, the Berkeley Unified School Board last night voted to commit $485,000 for the coming year to its gardening program, under the terms outlined it the proposal that called for gardening classes for pre-kindergarten through grade 7. [See the full proposal on the BUSD Board meeting agenda packet, starting on page 54.] Commenting on the move, Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center, said Berkeley was showing leadership in finding money from its budget for the pioneering program after losing nearly $2m in federal funding. “Who else is stepping up like that on their own dime?,” he said. “Berkeley is leading the way.”

ORIGINAL STORY: For the past few months the Berkeley school district has been struggling along with funding for its beloved cooking and gardening program. After some back-and-forth on proposals this winter, the board is now expected to vote March 26 to approve very reduced funding for gardening classes only in the 2014-15 school year.

Supporters – teachers, students and parents – pleaded with the school board at its March 12 meeting not to make further cuts to the cooking and gardening classes, which lost an annual $1.9 million in federal funding last fall. The program is already operating on less than half its former budget this year – about $850,000 — with bridge funds. Next year’s budget would be under $500,000.

“This has been a very difficult process for all of us,” Superintendent Donald Evans said. “This is a nationally recognized program. But that was when we had $2 million. We can no longer retain that type of program.” … Continue reading »

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2020 Vision: Skills improve, absences down, gap remains

Berkeley City Council and School Board special session, Jan. 28, 2014. Photo: Lars Skjerping
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A citywide initiative proponents hope will close the achievement gap in Berkeley public schools appears to be working, though significant disparities remain, according to data presented Tuesday night in a special session before the Berkeley City Council and School Board.

The 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth — called “2020 Vision” for short — is a broad collaboration dating back, in its earliest form, to 2008, and is designed to chip away at the achievement gap among racial groups in Berkeley schools by the year 2020.

According to organizers, African-American and Hispanic students consistently perform “significantly below their peers on state and district standardized tests and other measures that predict academic success, such as chronic absence, truancy, suspension, and dropout rates. By some measures, the disparity in the academic performance of Berkeley students along race lines, commonly known as the ‘achievement gap,’ is one of the widest reported in California.” … Continue reading »

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Schools

Berkeley School Board members to hold office hours

Berkeley School Board. Photo: Mark Coplan
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Members of the Board of Education will hold office hours in an attempt to make themselves more available to the community, the Berkeley Unified School District announced recently. Scroll down to see an interactive map of the locations and schedule.

Karen Hemphill, board president, will be at Café Leila, 1724 San Pablo Ave., on the second Saturday of each month from 10–11:30 am. … Continue reading »

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Portable classroom plan at Berkeley schools delayed

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A school district proposal to replace decades-old portable classrooms at Berkeley’s Washington Elementary and Berkeley Arts Magnet schools with a set of newer ones that are being removed from the Berkeley High campus, has been delayed for further consideration after concerns were expressed by parents at the schools.

At Wednesday night’s BUSD Board meeting, it was agreed that the plan (some of the details of which can be viewed here), that had originally been slated for approval on June 12, would be rescheduled to the Sept. 9 school board meeting.

The portables at BAM and Washington were installed in the lates 1960s as a temporary measure. In the latter case, they form Washington’s annex campus on McKinley St. across from the school’s main campus. The decision to switch them out with the BHS portables, which are 4-5  years’ old, was taken in 2011 as part of a system replacements plan funded by the 2010 $210m Measure I bond measure. … Continue reading »

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Willard names new principal, Thousand Oaks on hunt

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Debbie Dean has been named as the new Principal at Berkeley’s Willard Middle School. Dean replaces Robert Ithurburn who is leaving to take up a new post.

The decision was announced at the BUSD Board meeting on Wednesday night.

Dean has been Assistant Principal at Redwood Middle School in Napa for the past five years. Before that, she was an assistant principal and school social worker in the Oakland Unified School District. She lives in Berkeley and is the parent of a student at Thousand Oaks Elementary School

In a statement read by BUSD Board Chair Karen Hemphill at the board meeting, Dean was described as being “well organized” and bringing “a wealth of administrative, teaching and cultural experiences.” She “communicates well with a wide range of individuals, listens carefully, possesses an innovative mind, assumes responsibility, demonstrates a high level of energy, possesses a willingness to learn, is very approachable and knows the secondary education territory, particularly middle school, well. … Continue reading »

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Schools

B-Tech graduation rate soars under inspired leadership

Sheila Quintana with B-Tech students. Photo: Mark Coplan.
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This Friday, nearly 800 students from Berkeley High will attend their graduation ceremony at the historic Hearst Greek Theatre. But with equal fanfare, they’ll be joined by 62 seniors from Berkeley Technology Academy (B-Tech). Compared to the many hundreds from BHS, that might not sound like a lot, but consider this: two years ago, only seven B-Tech students graduated.

B-Tech provides a continuation high school diploma program for students who have either involuntarily been placed because of violations of Education Code 48900 or have chosen to be placed there because they are falling behind in academic credits at BHS. Many of the students are economically disadvantaged, nearly a third are homeless, and many have direct experience of violence and incarceration in their community. It’s a small school, with enrollment around 150, many of them in their senior year. The 62 B-Tech graduates this year are part of a class of 73 seniors.

“I want all 73 seniors graduating,” said Sheila Quintana, principal of B-Tech since July, 2011.  … Continue reading »

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Pat Mullan, recommended music gigs in Berkeley

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The Berkeley Public Library might seem like unpromising territory to develop a thriving practice as a jazz trombonist, concert presenter, and all-around East Bay mover and shaker, but Pat Mullan is an expert at creating spaces for the culture she loves. She spent a quarter century ensconced at the downtown branch, where she found numerous ways to bring jazz into the stacks. But since retiring seven years ago, Mullan has poured her energy into the hard swinging 19-piece Junius Courtney Big Band, which performs a program focusing on the music of Thelonious Monk tonight at Yoshi’s with powerhouse guest vocalist Zoe Ellis (Berkeley High class of ‘88). On Friday, Mullan brings her unusual trombone quartet Trombonga to the Westside Café on Ninth Street.

When she first started playing with the Courtney Big Band in the early 1980s the ensemble had faded from view after decades as an East Bay institution under the leadership of its namesake New Orleans-born Berkeley-based trumpeter. She quickly arranged for the band to perform at the library, and started calling around for other gigs. Her dogged efforts have kept the ensemble together, working regularly with biannual showcase concerts at Yoshi’s. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley teachers, district agree on 2.5% wage increase

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The Berkeley Unified School District and the Berkeley Federation of Teachers have agreed to a retroactive across-the-board 2.5% wage increase and reached consensus on other contract negotiations for 2012-2013.

All wages, including salaries, stipends, daily rates and hourly rates for BFT members will be adjusted to reflect a 2.5% increase, effective July 1, 2012, the district announced in a statement released last night.

Teachers will also receive an additional one-time payment equal to 2.5% of his/her 2012-2013 salary. The district contribution to health and welfare benefits remains unchanged.  This is in addition to the 1% bonus negotiated for all employees in the fall of 2012. … Continue reading »

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Hayward chief named Berkeley schools superintendent

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The Berkeley Unified School Board on Wednesday night formally appointed Donald Evans as the new Berkeley superintendent of schools by approving his contract. Evans, who was has been superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District for the past two years, will take up the position on July 1.

Berkeley Unified Board President Karen Hemphill said the board had been impressed with Evans’ experience and achievements, as well as his reputation for forging fruitful partnerships and having a collaborative leadership style. In Hayward, Evans held two town hall meetings for the community every year, for example.

“When we look at his body of work, he ticks a lot of the boxes that we wanted in Berkeley,” Hemphill said.

One of Evans’ last tasks in Hayward was submitting a plan to the district to raise the achievement levels of African American students, an issue of direct relevance to Berkeley. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley works to save schools’ edible programs

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The Berkeley Unified School Board on Wednesday night made it plain it will do what it can to ensure Berkeley schools’ nationally recognized cooking and gardening program survives. The program faces federal funding cuts worth $1.9 million annually.

While a final decision and a vote on a budgeting model will likely come at the BUSD Board’s next meeting on May 22, the board members gave their tacit approval to a rescue package proposed by a superintendent’s advisory committee set up six months ago. The committee was tasked with identifying funding options, both short- and long-term, through donor and corporate giving campaigns, as well as public-private partnerships. … Continue reading »

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Julie Sinai appointed to Berkeley school board post

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Julie Sinai, former chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates and now director of local government and community relations at UC Berkeley, was unanimously appointed to a vacant school board seat on Wednesday night. Sinai emerged from a slate of nine candidates in a quick, non-contentious vote by the four sitting members of the Berkeley Unified School District board.

“I’ve been a parent, I’ve been past staff, I’ve been a partner,” Sinai said in her three-minute presentation at the special board meeting. Before her position with Mayor Bates, Sinai had been director of school-linked programs for BUSD. “I’m ready to help get the work done with the board.”

The vacancy was created when board president Leah Wilson resigned in March because of her appointment as Court Executive Officer for the Alameda County Superior Court. Sinai will serve the remainder of Wilson’s term, which expires in November, 2014.  … Continue reading »

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10 people apply for vacant school board post

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Ten Berkeley residents — including a former aide to Mayor Tom Bates, the former top administrator for the city of Oakland, a UC Berkeley law professor, a nuclear scientist, a Berkeley High math teacher, and a longtime member of the high school’s Safety Committee — have applied to fill the vacancy on the Berkeley Unified School District board.

The applicants are vying to fill the seat vacated March 31 by Board President Leah Wilson. The district will whittle down the list to a set of finalists by April 24. Those candidates will be invited to give a three-minute presentation to the board and the community at a May 1 meeting. The school board hopes to select Wilson’s replacement by May 8. … Continue reading »

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Schools

Hayward chief is finalist for BUSD superintendent spot

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A national search for a new Berkeley schools superintendent has ended practically right next door in Hayward with the announcement Friday morning that Donald Evans has been chosen by the School Board as its preferred finalist for the position.

Evans has been superintendent of the Hayward Unified School District since 2011, and has previously worked in Compton, Oakland and East Palo Alto. He started out as an elementary school teacher in San Diego in 1988.

Karen Hemphill, Berkeley School Board president, said Evans’ range of experiences — with elementary and secondary students, and struggling students as well as high-performers — and his long history in California set him apart from the pack. … Continue reading »

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